It’s funny how two people can read the same book and get totally different insights. When I read Galileo’s Daughter I found it inspiring that both he and his brilliant daughter (a Poor Clare nun) were devout Catholics who had deep faith in God and the Church. I found it interesting that his goal with his scientific work was to defend the Italian Catholics’ reputation against infidels and Protestants. At the time I wasn’t even considering becoming Catholic, but reading this book definitely piqued my interest in the Church.
My dad, an atheist, is reading it now and had this to say:
I have resumed my reading of Galileo’s Daughter and last night came to the part where the Vatican issued an opinion on the Copernican writings that the sun was the center of the universe. Galileo had been speaking out for this theory also. The pope convened a committee to review it and the committee was chaired by Cardinal Bellarani who was the Inquisitor at the trial of Giordano Bruno, who was, of course, burned at the stake for his astronomical observations. Amazingly the committee voted unanimously that Copernicus’s ideas were heretical.
A priest in Florence had written a book saying that Copernican theories actually complemented the Bible. The printer of that book was arrested and the priest died suddenly at age 36 (probably didn’t eat well and exercise).
Cardinal Bellarani had soldiers pick up Galileo and bring him to the Vatican and told him he really shouldn’t be saying Copernicus was right. That there was no hard evidence to prove it. Galileo said that maybe his calculations had been a little off and maybe Copernicus was wrong. What a wimp. He should have told Bellarani to stick it in his ear and he would say whatever he wanted. That’s what I would have done!!! [In case it’s not obvious, he’s being facetious in these last couple sentences. -JF]
I’d like to respond to this but am not sure what to say. The facts he states above are true. My take on it is:
(1) Yes, the Church burned people at the stake and censored certain scientific thought. I don’t think they should have done it. But it’s not like that indicates that there’s something inherently evil about the Church or religion in general. People have fared far worse in atheistic societies (see: Stalinist Russia).
(2) It seems totally outrageous to us to execute people for questioning religious authorities. And I do think that this is wrong, but I can see how it didn’t seem like an outrageous idea back then. Today God is irrelevant to our luxurious lives. Food, shelter and medicine are abundant. It’s easy to be blase about God and the soul and the afterlife when everything is going so well here on earth. But in pretty much every other time and place people were all too close to the concept of suffering and death.
I sometimes look at my children and remember that if I’d lived a couple hundred years ago it would not be unlikely that at some point in my life I’d bury a young child. I realize then why people took matters of religion so seriously back then. If one of my children were to fall seriously ill the question of God and what he wants us to do to be with him in the afterlife would be the absolute #1 priority in my life. I wouldn’t want to screw it up. I can see how people back then, who faced the death of infants and children and loved-ones all the time, would take it very seriously when they perceived that someone was trying to lead people away from God. Death was not a distant, theoretical concept for them, so matters of faith were of the utmost importance.
(3) This one is a stretch and I won’t mention it in my reply but, for what it’s worth, I sometimes wonder if God was not using the Church to advance science in the whole Galileo affair. Galileo was on the wrong path with his ideas about astronomy. He thought comets were reflections of the sun inside the earth’s atmosphere and ridiculed astronomers who suggested they were celestial bodies. He thought the tides were caused by the motion of the earth. Given the path he was on, I don’t think much more would have come of his investigation into astronomy.
It was only when his beloved Church told him to stop studying the orbits of the planets that he moved on to study motion and mathematical proportions. And those studies revolutionized science. Albert Einstein said that his work in this area makes him “the father of modern physics — indeed the father of modern science altogether.”
It’s interesting what you see when you give the Church and God the benefit of the doubt.
Anyway, those are my thoughts off the top of my head. Anyone have any suggestions for additional points I could make in my reply?
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