Discoveroids Defend the Inquisition

For almost 400 years, the Inquisition’s trial of Galileo, a/k/a the Galileo affair, has been recognized as a classic confrontation of science and religion.

Galileo’s book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, discussed the astronomical evidence he produced — see Creationism, Galileo and the Phases of Venus — in favor of the sun-centered solar system first proposed by Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543), about which see Copernican heliocentrism.

In that post we also discussed 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.


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.

Under threat of torture, the trial ended when Galileo renounced the solar system and confessed heresy. See — Recantation of Galileo. June 22, 1633. But that wasn’t enough. His book was banned and placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, and he was kept under house arrest for the remaining seven years of his life.

Although the Church has recognized its error — see List of apologies made by Pope John Paul II, and now holds Galileo in high regard, from time to time, we encounter people who actually defend what the Inquisition did, and put the blame on Galileo. The Discovery Institute did that about a year and a half ago — see Discoveroids Defend the Galileo Trial. As we said then:

The reason creationists defend what happened to Galileo is because they crave the kind of power that religion once had in the West, and they secretly wish that they too could do that sort of thing to those who teach things they don’t like.

Today the Discoveroids are doing it again. This just popped up at their creationist blog: Listen: Did Galileo Prove the Catholic Church’s Irrational Opposition to Science?, and it has no author’s by-line. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

On a new episode of ID the Future [Wowie, a podcast!], host Andrew McDiarmid interviews science historian and author Michael Keas about Keas’s new book, Unbelievable: 7 Myths About the History and Future of Science and Religion.

They keep plugging that book. We wrote about it back in November — see Yet Another Discoveroid Book — Truly Amazing. Then they say:

Download the podcast or listen to it here.

We’ll omit that link. If you want to listen to the thing, click over there and find it for yourself. After that they tell us:

The myth this time is that the Roman Catholic Church tortured Galileo for opposing official teachings on the structure of what we now call the solar system.

We’re not aware of any reputable source claiming that Galileo was actually tortured. But the threat of torture was implicit in the Inquisition’s trials. The Discoveroids continue:

In fact Galileo had found support for heliocentrism but hadn’t proved it scientifically [Huh?]; there were scientists and theologians both against him and for him; and he wasn’t tortured, anyway.

That’s how they defend what was done to Galileo? Their brief post concludes with this:

There’s plenty here for both scientists and theologians to learn — as well as anyone who thinks Galileo shows the Church was at war against science.

Plenty to learn? Well, yes. It’s always interesting to learn who defends the Inquisition in that matter. Aside from that, there’s plenty more that could be used to fertilize the lawn.

Copyright © 2019. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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26 responses to “Discoveroids Defend the Inquisition

  1. And Galileo presented both sides!

  2. I once read (somewhere) that Galileo was prisoned because he was working for the RCC and opposed their wishes so was punished, and not because he was sun-centered.

  3. Galileo didn’t prove that the Earth orbited the Sun.
    That’s right.
    He thught that he had good evidence for the motion of the Earth in the behavior of tides. He didn’t accept the idea that the tides could be fully explained by the attractions of the Sun and the Moon, but needed the motion of the Earth. He was wrong.
    And, by the rules of law at that time, Galileo was correctly convicted. He had promised not to defend heiocentrism, and he broke that promise.
    And, as I understand the Church’s 20th century report on the Galileo case, they did not apologize, and they did not admit that the Chruch was wrong. They said that certain officials were wrong, but not the Pope, nor the Church itself.
    So what caused people to accept heiocentrism?
    First of all – and this is an important point for the evolution-creationism so-called controversy – Copernicus provided an alternative to geocentrism. It had long been known that there were difficulties with the standard geocentric model of the motions of the heavens. But, lacking an alternative, the Aristotle-Ptolemy model was all that was available.
    Galileo did not see, with his telescope, the motion of the Earth. What he did see was that there were unexpected tings in the heavens. The Sun ws not perfect – it has spots. The Moon has mountains. Jupiter has satellites. In bried, there is no reason to believe that the heavens were different in kind from the sub-lunar world. The idea that the heavens were made of stuff which behaved differtly than the material here on Earth.
    Kepler provided much better caculations for the motions of the planets. Newton provided the coup de grace.
    Nobody “proved” that the Earth went around the Sun.
    What was done was to provide a much better model for the motions of the heavens. And Newton provided an exact theory which tied together the dynamics of things on the Earth (“micro-gravity”, we might call what we observe on Earth) with the motons of the heavens (“macro-gravity”, so to speak, whch nobody had directly observed, and didn’t observe until the space programs of the mid 20th century).

    In brief, the story of the acceptance of heliocentrism provides an excellent lesson for how the creationists are not doing science. Once there was a good alternative to geocentrism, it was accepted. Without a good alternative, there was nothing to do other than accept geocentrism, in all its faults.

    I realize that I am going to hear about the phases of Venus proving that Venus orbited the Sun. But that doesn’t prove that the Earth orbits the Sun.
    The retrograde motion of Mars was known since ancient times, and was accounted for in the old model. Tycho Brahe attempted to save heliocentrism by suggesting a model where Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn orbited the Sun, while the Sun and Moon orbited the earth. This is the standard model used by today’s geocentrists.

    Even today, it is difficult to “prove” heliocentrism. IMHO, the best argument today is simple: Nothing in aastronomy makes sense except in the light of the heliocentric model of the Solar System.

  4. Yes – heliocentric theory has been proven. “Proof” in science means an overwhelming preponderance of evidence. So has plate tectonics theory and evolutionary theory and atomic theory and the theory of ice ages, etc.

  5. Don’t forget Galileo had two daughters placed in convents (gaining special dispensation to do so) and the Church had direct control over his youngest, Celeste. Galileo had ‘skin’ in the game beyond his evidence; he knew what the Church could do to his daughters and Celeste did indeed die.

    Galileo’s scientific contribution was immense but the one that got him into trouble was his thought experiment about the inclined plane. This is exactly what described Newton’s First Law. And so Galileo deduced heliocentrism but didn’t have the math to express it. This was where Newton created calculus to do what Galileo couldn’t. Galileo is the giant upon whose shoulders Newton said he stood… and this model (as Galileo explained by analogy with his detailed documentation of the moons orbiting Jupiter) had absolutely nothing to do with the tides. The tidal model Galileo presented he thought might be related to the curved orbit of the Earth, a reasonable assumption deduced from his work calculating artillery trajectories which also indicated an orbiting Earth. So the Church convicted Galileo mostly out of spite for creating the dullard character named Simplicio representing the Church. Remember, one had to gain permission from the Church to publish anything and so they used the excuse that he had failed to represent his ideas properly when gaining that permission. It was a kangeroo court from the get go.

    Also, it is rarely noted that Copernicus refused to publish his model until after his death. Golly, I wonder why? I’m sure it had absolutely nothing to do with daring to question the Church’s geocentric model (absorbed wholesale from Ptolomy’s model) or the fallout that would inevitably ensue if the wrong people were annoyed.

  6. The real reasons for the Church going after Galileo are heavily debated among scholars. One thing is clear, which is that Galileo didn’t suffer fools gladly. (2 Corintihians 11:19)

    When was heliocentrism accepted universally? Surely in Newton’s time. Let’s say 1700?
    What observation or experiment “proved” heliocentrism?

    To put things in the language of creationists, Newton didn’t directly observe or test gravitation in the heavens, he just assumed that what worked on Earth, which we can call “micro-gravity”, worked throughout the universe, what we we can call “macro-gravity”. Likewise with his laws of motion, like F=ma. He didn’t weigh the Moon or feel the forces on it. And, in the language of creatonists, F=ma is just circular reasoning, for what is Force, and what is mass, outside of his assumption of F=ma?

  7. Michael Fugate

    Didn’t they accept heliocentrism because it promised to provide better astrological forecasts? Omens were big in those days – just like they are in the fringes at WND today.

  8. AIUI, soon after Copernicus’s book was published, a new calculation of the astrological data was published, using Copernicus’s model. The new model did not provide markedly better predictions of the planets, but it was widely accepted.
    My interpretation is that there was a latent demand for a new model. That is the main reason for the acceptance of heliocentrism. The fact that new observations fit more naturally in the new model was a big bonus, but that was in no sense evidence. The Church authorities were asking for evidence.

  9. Michael Fugate

    Paolo Antonio Foscarini is the only theologian I could track down who supported heliocentrism at the time. He wrote a banned book.

    Anyone know of others?

    Benedetto Castelli and Giovanni Francesco Sagredo defended Galileo, but neither was a theologian.

  10. Our dear SC has promised to try to avoid historical blunders. Perhaps this one

    “For almost 400 years, the Inquisition’s trial of Galileo, a/k/a the Galileo affair, has been recognized as a classic confrontation of science and religion.”
    isn’t that bad, but at least it’s an unjustified oversimplification. For one thing Galilei, unlike Copernicus, had insulted the Pope in his latest book. There was much more to it:

    “But the list of historical ideas the New Atheists and their online acolytes get wildly wrong is long. Amongst other things, many of them believe:

    That the Galileo Affair was a straightforward case of religion ignoring evidence and trying to suppress scientific advancement.”
    For some reason the phrase “the intellectual equivalent of creationism” pops up in my mind – creationists also like their unjustified simplifications.
    Another example:

    “His book was banned and placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, and he was kept under house arrest for the remaining seven years of his life.”
    Yet another book – Galilei’s last one – on the same topic wasn’t; the RCC did exactly nothing when he published in the Republic of the Seven Provinces. Now who else likes such cherrypicking?

  11. @JSJ: ““Proof” in science means an overwhelming preponderance of evidence.”
    That’s correct. Still all that evidence can be correctly desrcribed by geocentrism as well – with the Sun revolving around the Earth and the planets in our Solar System revolving around the Sun. Galilean transformations are relative.
    The reason that nobody tries this is because of the complex math involved. You’d need fourth degree equations to calculate the positions of the other planets compared to the Earth. Those are very hard to solve. Elliptic equations, which result from Geocentrims, are much easier.
    Galilei was wrong in this respect.

  12. “the RCC did exactly nothing when he published in the Republic of the Seven Provinces…” not mentioning, of course that the same final work had already been banned in France, Poland, and Germany for the religious reasons already stated, that the Inquisition had banned all his works and these places upheld that religiously inspired ban. But Holland, you know… not so open for Inquisitional enforcement! So it’s not that the Church did nothing as suggested but that they had less influence in some places to stop the publication from being printed and sold. The Galileo Affair is still about ecumenical political power suppressing the quest for either knowledge or truth and it remains a good example of what happens to the pursuit of knowledge and truth about reality when it comes into dispute with incompatible religious claims.

    Also, to claim the geocentric model accounts for all the evidence is true as long as one accepts a veritable host of presumptions… like the sudden reversals of various celestial bodies without any real interest in explaining how that might come about and by what marvelous reversing planetary mechanism. Nothing to see with this retrograde action, people, so just move along and remember: when you say ‘geocentrism’ then you’re also saying all the evidence has been accounted for! Yup. Sure has. Just like POOF! in the creationist explanation. Just go with it so that you can claim with a straight face that the explanation is complete.

  13. The sudden reversal of motion, known as retrograde motion, was known in ancient times, and was accounted for in the Ptolemaic model. It was not a sudden reversal of the laws of the model, but was accounted for by the ordinary motions of the spheres. The spheres were rotating with a steady, unchanging motion.
    In today’s geocentrism, Mars is orbiting the Sun in an ellipse, while the Sun is orbiting the Earth in an ellipse, and there is no reversal of those motions needed to account for retrograde motion.

  14. Tom, your explanation reminds me of using the incorrect term ‘braking’ rather than accelerating in a negative direction. The reversal I spoke of was a planet changing to the opposite direction, whereas you say it was the ‘ordinary’ motion of the sphere. What the model actually accounts for is a planet continuing forward but in a sudden 360* turn towards the point of reference – Earth – so that it appears to be traveling backwards. The point I raised is that there was absolutely no mechanism – godly or worldly – offered by Ptolemy to ‘explain’ these sudden loop-dee-loops by Venus heading first around the Earth, and then towards it, and then away from it, and then continuing on its original merry orbit in the geocentric model. That’s the reversal I am talking about because it really is a planet traveling in the opposite direction… even if it continues forward. You suggest this motion ‘fits’ with the Ptolemy model… in the same way, I point out, that POOF!ism ‘fits’ with creationism. It’s a necessary element (wholly unexplained but taken on faith of the religious kind) or the whole explanatory model falls apart.

    Galileo’s telescope allowed him to carefully plot out why the moons of Jupiter could appear to have retrograde action when in fact the evidence was clear that they orbited Jupiter without any sudden changes in direction and his inclined plane thought experiment justified the mechanism of how planets could do this. He simply played this same hypothesis forward with Venus and it was a much simpler explanation that fit the data rather than the sudden loop-dee-loops by large bodies.

  15. But yes, there is a mechanism in the Ptolemy model, and a reason. The reason is that celestial things travel invariably in circles in circles. First of all, there is the primary circle which carries the “fixed” stars around the Earth in about 24 hours. Then there are the secondary circles which carry tertiary circles. Let’s just leave it at that, because there are more complicatioms.
    Each tertiary circle carries a “planet”, like the Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, etc.
    Now, if you calculate the position of Venus, as it moves steadily on its tertiary circle, and as the tertiary circle moves steadily on its secondary circle, and the secondary circle moves steadily on the primary circle, you describe the way that Venus moves across the sky. Including the reversals of motion.
    It isn’t elegant, but it works. It makes predictions. It does not have any moments where the rules are broken. All of the circles are always turning at the same speed and direction. And, btw, Copernicus’s model used the same circles within circles idea.

  16. Mike McCants

    “Stellar parallax is so small (as to be unobservable until the 19th century) that its apparent absence was used as a scientific argument against heliocentrism during the early modern age. It is clear from Euclid’s geometry that the effect would be undetectable if the stars were far enough away, but for various reasons such gigantic distances involved seemed entirely implausible: it was one of Tycho Brahe’s principal objections to Copernican heliocentrism that in order for it to be compatible with the lack of observable stellar parallax, there would have to be an enormous and unlikely void between the orbit of Saturn and the eighth sphere (the fixed stars).”

  17. I don’t think that Galileo differed from Copernicus on the details of the motions. And I don’t think that he had any reason for the steady motions of the circles. He ignored Kepler, who found out that varying motion along an ellipse worked much better.
    I don’t know whether Tycho Brahe actually got into the details. Galileo complained that he didn’t.

  18. “to claim the geocentric model accounts for all the evidence is true as long as one accepts a veritable host of presumptions”
    Nope – the only one is that Galilean transformations are relative. That means that any explanation for the examples provided works as well for geocentrism as for heliocentrism.

    If I like I can take an unmoving Earth as my reference frame to calculate the movements of any other celestial body.
    Pretty basic physics; extremely complicated math. Like I wrote.

    “Galilean invariance or Galilean relativity states that the laws of motion are the same in all inertial frames.”
    Including an Earth placed in the origin of a reference frame – which means geocentrism.
    Saying that physics prefers heliocentrism implies rejecting Galilean relativity. It’s weird how many people fail to understand this. They do understand “the train moves relative to the railroad is the same as the railroad moves relative to the train”. For heliocentrism vs. geocentrism this principle of relativity works exactly the same.
    Galilei was wrong in this respect.

  19. @Mike M
    Yes, the lack of a detectable parallax of the fixed stars was a difficulty for heliocentrism. But long before the first measurement of that parallax, everybody had given up on geocentrism. Even the Catholic Church. So the measurement of the distance to the stars was not a deciding experiment.
    Somewhat earlier was the detection of stellar aberration. Which was considered as a measurement of the orbital speed of the Earth.
    Another difficulty was the problem of the exact motion of Uranus. But by the time that was discovered, nobody considered that as evidence against heliocentrism.
    There was Haley’s prediction of the comet, which was welcome verification of Newton’s mechanics. But I don’t think that it changed any minds about heliocentrism.

  20. @FrankB
    As I understand physics, the epitome of Galilean relativity is expressed in Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics, in which one can take just about anything as the reference frame. One can take the coordinates relative to a rotating satellite. It is just a practical matter of what makes your calculations easier.

  21. Hans-Richard Grümm

    But the Earth is not an inertial system, as seen by Foucault’s pendulum etc. Heliocentrism is not just geocentrism transformed by a Galilei transformation.

  22. The Foucault Pendulum is from the 19th. century, well after universal acceptance of heliocentrism.
    Moreover, at most, it demonstrates the daily rotation of the Earth, not the annual planetary revolution of Earth around the Sun. One could be a weak geocentrism, saying that the Earth rotates without moving from its fixed place at the center of the Universe.
    But today’s geocentists say that the motion of Foucault’s pendulum, as well as Colioros Effect, are due to the mass of the Universe rotating around the Earth.

  23. “not mentioning, of course that the same final work had already been banned in France, Poland, and Germany”
    Not mentioning either, equally of course, that “in January 1639, the book reached Rome’s bookstores, and all available copies (about fifty) were quickly sold.”

    Finocchiaro, Maurice A., ed. (2014). The Trial of Galileo: Essential Documents.

    Funny, isn’t it, that the all-powerful Inquisition wasn’t capable of preventing the sale of the banned book in its own city? Now how would that have been possible? Mmmmmm ….. perhaps because the secular authorities played a decisive role. In other words, blame the kings of France and Poland. As for Germany – that didn’t exist as a political entity in the 17th Century anymore than the USA. “Banned in Germany” is totally meaningless (not to mention that large parts of the area were and are protestant and couldn’t care less about RCC bans).
    Ah well – the enthusiast anti-catholic finds it hard to resist an opportunity to pick some cherries!
    (Just in case: I’m no catholic; never been and never will)

  24. “a good example of what happens to the pursuit of knowledge and truth about reality when it comes into dispute with incompatible religious claims.” Or, more generally, ideological claims brutally enforced. E.g. biology (and to some extent physics) under Stalin.

    Wikipedia on the Coriolis force: “Italian scientist Giovanni Battista Riccioli and his assistant Francesco Maria Grimaldi described the effect in connection with artillery in the 1651 Almagestum Novum, writing that rotation of the Earth should cause a cannonball fired to the north to deflect to the east….In 1674 Claude François Milliet Dechales described in his Cursus seu Mundus Mathematicus how the rotation of the Earth should cause a deflection in the trajectories of both falling bodies and projectiles aimed toward one of the planet’s poles. Riccioli, Grimaldi, and Dechales all described the effect as part of an argument against the heliocentric system of Copernicus. In other words, they argued that the Earth’s rotation should create the effect, and so failure to detect the effect was evidence for an immobile Earth.” After Galileo’s death but before Newton’s mechanics and, as with the stellar parallax, failure to observe was taken as evidence of the Earth’s fixity.

    So we have controversy between the systems as late as 1674! Foucault’s Pendulum was 1851.

    With hindsight, Kepler’s Laws should have been conclusive. Not only did they greatly smplify compared with Ptolemy or Tycho Brahe, but they gave rise to novel regularities (the 2nd and 3rd laws) that could not be derived from the earlier models.

    To map the process of replacement of geocentrism by heliocentrism, I think one would have to do a lot of digging into the learned literature of the time. there is probably scholarly literature n all this.

  25. An important fact to be mentioned is that the Aristotle-Ptolemy model had serious difficulties, which were widely recognized.
    The celestial spheres which supposedly carried the planets intersected. This violated the principle that two things could not occupy the same place, and what would happen if a planet were to collide with the sphere of another planet?
    And, while the major features of the planetary motions were accounted for, the exact positions were not.
    Galileo mentioned one problem, rather dechnical in nature: if the Sun stood still for Joshua, as the Bible said; and if the mechanisms were as described by Ptolemy, then the day would be shorter, there would be less daylight for the battle. Reading the Bible literally in that passage was inconsistent with Ptolemy.

  26. You know you are on the wrong side of history when you feel compelled to defend the Spanish Inquisition.