Galileo and Duality

BooksOne new thing I learned from Galileo’s Daughter was the extent of Galileo’s good faith efforts to submit to Rome.  After the edict of 1616 against Copernican heliocentrism, Galileo bent over backwards to clear the manuscript of his Dialogues for publication — with both the head Office of the Inquisitor in Rome, and his local Inquisitor in Florence.

Another thing I learned was that (by the face value of his words, at least) Galileo’s intention in publishing the Dialogues was not to overturn geocentrism in favor of heliocentrism, but to show the world that Italians and Catholics were not toothless hick fundies:

“I am thinking of treating this topic very extensively,” confessed Galileo, “in opposition to heretics, the most influential of whom I hear accept Copernicus’s opinion; I would want to show them that we Catholics continue to be certain of the old truth taught us by the sacred authors, not for lack of scientific understanding, or for not having studied as many arguments, experiments, observations, and demonstrations as they have, but rather because of the reverence we have toward the writings of our Fathers and because of our zeal in religion and faith.”

Italian astonomers, in other words, could tolerate the cognitive dissonance of admiring Copernicus on a theoretical level, while rejecting him theologically. [p. 140]

(Galileo also carefully spells out this overarching purpose in the Introduction to the Dialogues.)

Initially, pope Urban VIII was on board with this project as well.  In his pre-papal identity as Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, he had “successfully intervened … to keep ‘heresy’ out of the [1616] edict’s final wording,” and as pope he remained a friend and supporter of Galileo:

Although no one recorded the content of Galileo’s springtime sessions with Urban in 1624 [5 strolls through the Vatican Gardens], there can be little doubt they assessed the fallout from the momentous decree that had dominated their last days together. … The eight years since the edict had not swayed Urban from his position on Copernicus.  He still saw no harm in using the Copernican system as a tool for astronomical calculations and predictions.  The Sun-centered universe remained merely an unproven idea–without, Urban felt certain, any prospect of proof in the future.  Therefore, if Galileo wished to apply his science and his eloquence to a consideration of Copernican doctrine, he could proceed with the pope’s blessing, so long as he labeled the system a hypothesis. [pp. 136-138]

I find it interesting that, way back then, the “literal interpretation of scripture” camp allowed for this “cognitive dissonance” between the practical usefulness (pragmatic truth?) of a sun-centered model, and the theological simplicity (religious truth?) of an earth-centered model.  Usually it is the Enlightenment that is blamed for the divorce of religious truth from scientific truth.  (Of course, there were other literalists in Galileo’s day whose minds  could not contain this cognitive dissonance, and it was they who subjected Galileo to ecclesiastical trial and hounded him to his grave.)

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One Response

  1. Also, I can’t imagine any 6×24 literalists “admiring … on a theoretical level” any theory of the universe being more than thousands of years old.

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