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Newsgroups: alt.sci.planetary
From: (Henry Spencer)
Subject: Re: Reaction to new theories
Date: Tue, 27 Jul 1999 23:43:46 GMT

In article <>,
Eric Crew  <> wrote:
>>Such comparisons are made only by the ignorant.  The idea that the Earth
>>orbits the Sun was greeted with great interest and widespread acceptance
>>in Galileo's time, even within the Church.
>Surely not! They threatened to torture him. The RC Church only formally
>accepted the validity of Galileo's views a few years ago.

I'm sorry, but before comparing yourself to Galileo, you should learn a
bit more about him and his history.

The Church *later* took a dim view of the heliocentric theory, but at the
time, it was well received by both astronomers and "laymen" within the
Church.  It is a matter of historical record that when the Jesuits taught
astronomy in Japan and China a few decades later, they taught the
heliocentric theory.  Copernicus's book had been out for 70 years before
the Church (stirred up by Galileo's activities) got around to noticing
that it contained improper statements, and the full extent of the Church's
disagreement with it was a requirement that nine sentences be changed, to
make the wording less definite and more hypothetical.

The Church of the time was quite receptive to the idea that dogma on such
matters might have to be changed, provided that new ideas were presented
as *theories* until convincing evidence was available, and provided that
discussions of the theological issues were conducted by those who were
competent to do it.  Galileo violated both rules, and then had the supreme
tactlessness to insult the Pope at a time when the Pope was under quite a
bit of political pressure to make an example of him.

The formal threat of torture was a standard feature of Church trials at
the time.  Ominous though it sounds, there is no evidence that it was
meant seriously in this case.  Quite the contrary:  Galileo was being
formally threatened with it to convince him to tell the truth... and when
he nevertheless persisted in obvious, blatant perjury (he was claiming
that he hadn't held Copernican views recently, but his own writings flatly
contradicted this, and the records show that the judges knew it), the
court quietly let the matter drop.

After the trial, during which he was treated much more nicely than was at
all usual (for example, he never resided in the Inquisition's dungeons...
a flat violation of the normal rules for such trials), Galileo got off
with, basically, a slap on the wrist and a pledge to keep his mouth shut
in future.  His perjury and other serious offences were ignored; some
minor and questionable charges were upheld.  The court was clearly under
orders to find him guilty but not to be too hard on him.  Somebody --
almost certainly the Pope -- was angry and wanted Galileo taken down a
peg, but did *not* want him ruined.

>>  (The preface of Copernicus's
>>book includes an enthusiastic letter of praise from one of the most
>>influential cardinals of the time!) ...
>I think the position was that Galileo was Italian, where the authorities
>were intolerant, but Copernicus was a foreigner in a more liberal
>atmosphere and with support from astronomers in other countries.

Uh, "astronomers in other countries"?  Cardinal Schoenberg was not an
astronomer, and he was writing from Rome -- he was the right-hand man of
three successive Popes.  Indeed, there is reason to suspect that he wrote
to Copernicus at the suggestion of the Pope.  Schoenberg's letter praises
Copernicus to the skies, briefly states Schoenberg's understanding of the
heliocentric theory (which had been circulating by word of mouth for some
years), and begs Copernicus to publish it as soon as possible.

(By the way, one of the nine improper sentences which later had to be
changed was in Schoenberg's letter.)
The good old days                   |  Henry Spencer
weren't.                            |      (aka

Newsgroups: alt.sci.planetary,sci.astro
From: (Henry Spencer)
Subject: Re: "artifact" enthusiasts (was Re: NEAR Rendezvous Burn a Success)
Date: Sat, 12 Feb 2000 00:33:22 GMT

In article <881js7$jjr$>,
Robert Clark  <> wrote:
> Alright I am starting to get a bit ruffled at this "revisionist" view
>of the Galileo trial.

It's not "revisionist", just historically accurate -- unlike the popular
mythology about it, which bears little resemblance to the truth.

>Is the purpose of the statement:
>"Galileo was widely, but incorrectly, seen as an anti-establishment
>religious crazy like Giordano Bruno"
>to show the Catholic church was right to burn Bruno at the stake for
>asserting the stars were suns in themselves possessing populated

No, the purpose of that statement was to establish that there were many
people who disliked Galileo, for incorrect reasons.

Bruno *was* a religious crazy.  The popular mythology elevates him to the
same state of near-sainthood accorded Galileo, on the theory that he was
boldly defending heliocentric astronomy against the forces of bigotry and
ignorance, and was executed for it.  Balderdash.  Bruno didn't even
*understand* heliocentric astronomy, and his vague and mostly mistaken
notions about it were entirely incidental to what happened to him -- he
was executed for his religious beliefs, not for his astronomy.  (A full
explanation of his beliefs would take too long, and I'm not sure I could
do it correctly from memory anyway, but a key feature was that his view of
the ideal world had no place for a centralized Church.)  Kepler's view of
Bruno is on record:  "I pity the man...  He had asserted the vanity of
all religions and had substituted circles and points for God."

>"for example, when he persisted in blatant perjury despite threats of
>torture, they quietly let the whole issue drop rather than pursuing it."
> Is the point here that Galileo should have forced their hand by
>continuing to profess the heliocentric theory?

No, the point here is that the judges went out of their way to let him off
lightly, even when the evidence clearly convicted him of quite serious
crimes.  Indeed, there are many irregularities surrounding his trial; it's
quite clear that the rules were being bent pretty hard in his favor.

Also, contrary to the popular myth which has him caving in and recanting
when threatened with torture, he had *already* recanted and he did *not*
change his statements when threatened -- he clearly knew that the threat
was an empty one.

> Was the Catholic church really a nice bunch of guys because they chose
>not to torture or burn at the stake the greatest living scientist?

No, the Catholic church of the day wasn't a nice bunch of guys.  But for
heaven's sake, blame them for something they *did* do -- like burning half
a million people at the stake for witchcraft, basically because it
distracted the populace from the reality of unending oppression by the
state and the Church -- and not for something they didn't do!

> I also find highly dubious the assertion that if Galileo had never
>made allusions to the pope or theology he would not have been prevented
>from teaching the validity of the heliocentric theory.  It's difficult
>to believe the Catholic church would have allowed him to continue to
>teach publicly a theory that was in direct conflict with curch doctrine.

It is a matter of historical record that the Church's initial reception of
the theory was warm and friendly interest.  As I have mentioned elsewhere,
publication of Copernicus's work was strongly endorsed by one of the most
powerful cardinals.  Neither Copernicus nor Kepler had any problems with
the Church.

The Church, historically, had no objection to *theorizing*.  Indeed, there
was precedent for Church doctrine changing, when compelling evidence of
error was presented.  One of Galileo's crucial mistakes was to state the
heliocentric theory as a *fact*, not a *theory*, when in fact he had no
particularly convincing evidence.

Indeed, the eventual mess was *mostly Galileo's fault*.  It was *his*
tactless and confrontational support for heliocentric astronomy, more
than anything else, which resulted in the Church coming down against it.
The space program reminds me        |  Henry Spencer
of a government agency.  -Jim Baen  |      (aka

Newsgroups: alt.sci.planetary,sci.astro
From: (Henry Spencer)
Subject: Re: "artifact" enthusiasts (was Re: NEAR Rendezvous Burn a Success)
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 22:15:18 GMT

In article <87ul4k$dee$>,
Robert Clark  <> wrote:
>> Heliocentric astronomy got in trouble only later, when it was championed
>> by Galileo -- an arrogant, thoroughly tactless man whose zeal consistently
>> overrode his judgement.
> That's certainly an unorthodox view of Galileo vis a vis the Catholic
>church. May I ask which biographical reference on Galileo this stems

The best single source on this that I've seen -- it's not something I've
made a real study of -- is Arthur Koestler's "The Sleepwalkers", which is
a history of Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler, and Galileo.  Koestler has his own
point of view and there are issues he doesn't mention, but he did his
homework (for example, he *read* Copernicus's book, something very few
modern commentators have done, and he spends some time discussing the
misconceptions that have grown up around it), and he writes well, and I'd
say that's the best place to start.  Another virtue of his book is that
it's available as an inexpensive paperback, or was relatively recently.
The space program reminds me        |  Henry Spencer
of a government agency.  -Jim Baen  |      (aka

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