Creationism, Galileo and the Phases of Venus

Nothing’s going on out there that we can post about. Even the incurably crazed websites we prowl for amusement aren’t very amusing today. So let’s talk about one of the most famous anti-science episodes in Western history, the Galileo affair.

As you know, Galileo was hauled before the Inquisition and charged with heresy for publishing a book describing evidence for — gasp! — the solar system. That was clearly contrary to scripture, so it couldn’t be tolerated. We know of two specific scripture passages were used as evidence against him during the trial:

Ecclesiastes 1, verse 5: The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

And also:

Joshua 10:13: And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

Additionally, he was threatened with torture. Being no fool, Galileo confessed (see Recantation of Galileo. June 22, 1633). His book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was banned and placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, and he was kept under house arrest for the remaining seven years of his life. According to Wikipedia’s list of authors and works listed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, more than a century after it was banned, a censored version of Galileo’s book was permitted in 1741, and almost another century passed until the entire book was finally removed from the Index — in 1835.

You know all that. But what was Galileo’s telescopic evidence demonstrating the solar system? You’ve heard about the phases of Venus, but what was that all about? Have you ever seen it illustrated in a diagram? Well, here you go then. Check this out:

That comes from this website, The Astronomical Revolution. The first frame shows what the phases of Venus would look like from Earth if the Sun were not in the center. In that model, Venus always shows a crescent — it’s never fully lit. The second frame shows what Galileo saw, with the Sun in the center. At predictable intervals, one can see a fully lit Venus. But there’s another way to look at it.

That comes from this website, Motions of Planets – History of Science and Astronomy. It shows the scriptural view with the Sun behind the Earth. (Imagine the Earth between the Sun and the orbit of Venus.) From that perspective, Venus always appears fully lit, without phases. Galileo’s observations didn’t show that either.

That was the classic disproof of the geocentric model. But Galileo was also the first to see the four biggest moons of Jupiter, and the significance of that is sometimes overlooked. Aside from seeing four objects which clearly didn’t orbit the Earth, which alone was unsettling to the scriptural picture, there’s something else which is mostly forgotten.

An old argument for why the Earth had to be motionless was that if it moved, it would leave the Moon behind! (This was before Isaac Newton explained that gravity works “out there” as well as on Earth.) But Galileo had found four bodies that orbited Jupiter, and that were never left behind — yet everyone agreed that Jupiter was moving. So if Jupiter moved and its moons were somehow never lost, the same could apply to the Earth’s Moon as well.

Anyway, the Inquisition wasn’t impressed, and Galileo suffered the consequences. That’s how it goes when anti-science forces are in power. Oh, the Church eventually came around to accepting the solar system (see Science and the Vatican).

What about creationists who still insist on the literal truth of scripture, but who nevertheless accept the solar system? They’re either hypocrites or idiots — or both. If you haven’t seen these old posts, you may want to check them out: The Earth Does Not Move! and also, according to the bible, The Earth Is Flat!

So there you are. Some denominations are slower than others. Maybe they’ll all come around eventually. Thus endeth today’s lesson.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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12 responses to “Creationism, Galileo and the Phases of Venus

  1. There is a long answer and a short answer to this question. Here is the short answer.

    Things were a lot more complicated. Galileo’s problems sprung from not only what he said but how he said it. The Roman Catholic Church was not in the least concerned about whether the Sun or the Earth moved, what was at stake was that the authority of the Church was being challenged. Both Copernicus and Kepler had not only got away with publishing heliocentricism but had had the encouragement of those in high Catholic offices.

    Galileo chose the wrong way to publish his work. He wrote a popular book in Italian. He, a layman, tried to change Church doctrine. He insulted (his friend) the Pope.

    He published his opinions before he had the evidence to substantiate them. This, combined with the enemies that he had made, was his undoing.

    The Church of course came out very badly in all this and, having dug a hole for itself, just kept digging.

  2. Ceteris Paribus

    @Alan(UK): “The Church of course came out very badly in all this and, having dug a hole for itself, just kept digging.”

    You are free to say that in the UK where there is little political or social penalty imposed on voters or even office holders for their non-theistic views, and many of them can be seen walking around in public actually proclaiming anti-theocratic views every day of the week.

    But in the US, just last Tuesday our president again obeyed the mandate of congress to proclaim the annual “National Day of Prayer”. And by unanimous vote of a US court of appeals, our court system currently holds that only the president, and not a mere citizen, has the power to further challenge the constitutionality of the national prayer law.

    And so on this Sunday when many places in secular Europe are holding national elections on a non-work day for many of their voters, many US voters are safely in their pews or the seats of their mega-church theaters, listening to a creationist preacher explain why they must vote for the godly candidate in the next election. Which of course in the US is by law arranged to be held only on a week day, when most citizens of working age are likely to have competing events on their daily calendar.

  3. Today’s geocentrists – yes, there are people today who follow their reading of the Bible and say that the Sun moves around a fixed Earth – tend toward Tycho’s model of the motion of the planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn revolve around the Sun, while the Sun (and the Moon) revolve around the Earth. Tycho’s model has no problem with the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter; and the Bible has nothing to say about the motions of Venus and the moons of Jupiter.

    What I think is interesting is that no one noticed that those passages about the motion of the Sun around a fixed Earth were to be taken figuratively until the naturalistic evidence and reason made geocentrism untenable. It is even more interesting is that few people can give good reasons for rejecting geocentrism. I dare say that the evidence for evolution is more accessible to laymen than is the evidence for heliocentrism.

  4. Tomato Addict

    >”What about creationists who still insist on the literal truth of scripture, but who nevertheless accept the solar system?”

    As much as we might want them to be left behind as the world move on, I suspect gravity will pull them along too.

    It occurs to me to suggest a “Theory of Reality”, and much like gravity, the advance of knowledge tends to pull everyone else along with it (perhaps kicking and screaming). Occasionally individuals might build up enough denial that they achieve a sort of “escape velocity” and go sailing off into the Creatio-verse.

    I think I may start calling them “Creationaughts”.

  5. Tomato Addict says:

    I think I may start calling them “Creationaughts”.

    A cumbersome term, so try again. Whatever one calls them, they inhabit the retard-o-sphere.

  6. Tomato Addict

    >”A cumbersome term, so try again.”

    Maybe that should have been Creationaut, but with just one less letter I can get Creatio-nut.

  7. Creonaut might work. Short, simple.

    As in “Mom, Dad, I’ve dropped out of school and am training to be a Creonaut.”

  8. “Creonaut” does have fewer syllables than “retard-o-sphere”. Seems to me it will be more catchy. Just sayin’.

  9. Retired Prof

    Also “creo,” while it suggests “creationism,” also means “I believe.” It points to the problem from two directions. Nice.

  10. NeonNoodle


  11. retiredsciguy

    Creationaughts, Creationauts, Creatio-nuts, Creonauts, Cretinauts — I mean, really?

    They are just creationists, plain and simple. Call them anything else and no one will know what you’re talking about, unless by chance they happened to read this particular post on this particular blog. Sorry to spoil your fun, fellas, but you really can’t beat “creationist”. It is a term that has truly earned all of its negative connotations.

  12. Tomato Addict

    RSG> “Call them anything else and no one will know what you’re talking about…”

    Creationist already don’t know what they are talking about. Why should they get to have all the fun?

    Ans curvaceous;y mocking squirrels. 😉