Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian mathematician and astronomer who was tried and found guilty by the Catholic Inquisition for claiming that the sun – not the earth – was at the center of the solar system. This view had been previously proposed by Copernicus, and it runs counter to the Biblical story.
Forced to recant under threat of torture, Galileo was placed under house arrest where he spent the rest of his days, eventually becoming blind.
Historian of science David C. Lindberg disagrees with the contemporary myth, however, that this conflict was about religion stifling scientific progress. Lindberg says that Galileo’s struggle epitomizes the ongoing political tension between traditionalism and liberalism. And the historical evidence supports Lindberg’s claim.
What we usually don’t hear in the TV documentaries about Galileo is that some scientists opposed and even ridiculed Galileo’s claims, as did the conservative Dominican religious order. However, the more liberal Jesuits supported Galileo (until Galileo insulted and alienated them) along with a few liberal scientists.
So the situation was far more complicated and not so simple as some contemporary opponents of Catholicism (and organized religion in general) tend to see it.
Lindberg also points out that in the 21st century, Catholicism has embraced scientific inquiry while fundamentalist Protestants still adhere to a literal interpretation of the Bible. What Lindberg overlooks, however, is the ham handed way that some Catholics tend to embrace scientific truth claims, calling them “scientific truth” as if they were beyond question or, perhaps, further development. It’s almost as if some Catholics have made a leap of faith to the scientific paradigm that’s so prevalent and, sometimes, potentially dangerous when left unquestioned.¹
To this Neil adds:
I think great care must be used with the word “literal.”
For example, I think it is literally true that the original writings were 100% inspired by God – that is, the writings turned out exactly as He wanted them to.
But do I take every verse literally? No, because some sections are historical, some are poetry, some are parables, etc., and many contain figures of speech. The parables didn’t involved people who literally existed, but they involved principles that were literally true.
When Jesus said it is better to cut off our hands and/or gouge out our eyes rather than sin with them I hope He was using hyperbole :-).
In my experience those who are theologically liberal often take verses just as literally as those they accuse of being literalists. For example, they quote Jesus as saying, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” as a blanket statement against making any moral judgments. Yet that passage is talking about not judging hypocritically and there are plenty of other passages telling us how to judge problem (e.g., John 7:24). » See in context
¹ For example, while extremely vocal on some issues (e.g. homosexuality, contraception and abortion), some Catholics remain mute on other issues, turning a blind eye to vast tracts of wasted human potential and suffering (e.g. the experimental medication of some third world peoples and the excessive and unnecessary medication of some psych. patients). Just why this is so remains unclear. But it possibly involves ignorance and, in some instances, might fit with Michel Foucault‘s idea that morality usually has a political agenda.
- Why did church authorities charge Galileo with heresy (wiki.answers.com)
- Infallibility (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- Recreate Galileo Galilei’s Lunar Journal (ronit18.wordpress.com)
- Memo to Rick Perry: Galileo Was a Liberal (desmogblog.com)
- What are some important events of Galileo’s life (wiki.answers.com)
- Divining Perry’s meaning on Galileo remark (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Minor myths: the Galileo Gambit (newanthropocene.wordpress.com)
- The Caucus: Divining Perry’s Meaning in ‘Galileo’ Remark (thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Scientist of the Month (smartypots.wordpress.com)
- Galileo skeptics confound Catholics and astrophysicists alike (weinterrupt.com)