The Catholic Church is no longer actively opposed to science, as we’ve mentioned a few times before — see, e.g.: The Catholic Church and Science, and also The Catholic Church and Evolution. But that wasn’t always the case.
All of you are familiar with Galileo’s famous confrontation with the Inquisition, known as the Galileo affair. For almost 400 years, the trial of Galileo has been cited as a classic confrontation of science and religion, and the trial end with a confession of heresy — see Recantation of Galileo. June 22, 1633.
Galileo was compelled by the Inquisition not only to confess heresy, but also to renounce the solar system. 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.
We’ve written about the astronomical evidence Galileo produced in favor of the sun-centered solar system — see Creationism, Galileo and the Phases of Venus. We’ve also written about occasional attempts to re-write history, to show that Galileo was the bad guy in the drama — see Defending the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, and also The Galileo Affair — Was the Inquisition Wrong?
Today we found yet another attempt to re-write history. It’s Rethinking the Galileo case, sub-titled “The famous trial does not show that church opposed science.” It appears in the Catholic Sentinel, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, which claims to be “the oldest Catholic newspaper on the West Coast.” Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:
Those with a predisposition to argue that the Catholic Church opposes science inevitably turn to the 1632-33 trial of the astronomer Galileo Galilei. … It turns out that even the Galileo affair, while not a proud moment for Catholicism, in no way shows an anti-science agenda. Scholars have revealed inconvenient truths for church critics.
Okay, we’re willing to consider what the author, Ed Langlois (managing editor of the Catholic Sentinel) has to say. Here it comes:
Few people know it, but Galileo was punished not for his science, but for propagating a theory with insufficient proof. A 1615 letter from Cardinal Robert Bellarmine makes it clear that he and others in church leadership were open to changing their views had Galileo backed up his ideas.
BWAHAHAHAHAHA! It sounds like they employed a particularly rigorous form of peer review in those days. But of course, Galileo did have evidence — it was twofold. First, the phases of Venus were compatible with a Sun-centered solar system, but not one that was Earth centered. While not proof of heliocentrism, it was certainly disproof of the geocentric model. Also, there were the moons of Jupiter, which Galileo was the first to observe. We described their importance in Creationism, Galileo and the Phases of Venus.
Then the Catholic Sentinel tells us:
Galileo was promoting heliocentrism, a theory that the Earth moves around the sun. The paradigm shift had been proposed in 1543 by Copernicus, a Polish priest. For decades, the church allowed the theory to be debated, but demanded scientific proof before it allowed the theories to be discussed as anything more than mathematical models.
“The church was never against the idea. It just said Galileo did not have proof,” says Benedictine Brother Louis de Montfort Nguyen, a monk-scientist who teaches a course at Mount Angel Seminary on faith and science. “So it was questioned. That is the way science works.”
Science was a rough business in those days. If you couldn’t prove your theory, they’d put you on the rack. The defense of the Inquisition continues:
It’s important to understand that science in the 17th century was not the same as it is now. Philosophy, theology and physical studies were linked then. The committee of cardinals that looked at the Galileo case didn’t overstep its bounds as modern critics might say. They were the experts. Not until decades after Galileo’s death, when Isaac Newton offered his math, did proof of heliocentrism emerge. The church eventually was able to accept heliocentrism because it had never declared that the Earth was the center of the universe.
Newton proved heliocentrism? BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Although this article claims that the Galileo trial was all about science, from records of the trial we know of two specific scripture passages were used as evidence against Galileo:
Ecclesiastes 1, verse 5: The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
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.
The article in the Catholic Sentinel goes on for a great number of paragraphs, but we’ve excerpted enough. What we can’t understand is why they do things like this. Why can’t they proudly say what we know to be true — that they’ve grown wiser than they were 400 years ago? Articles like this are an embarrassment.
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