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Response to NastyRiffraff (Reply #39)

Wed Mar 12, 2014, 12:25 PM

59. "So, basically, the Church condemned Galileo because he was a pain in the ass."

Actually, that is a perfectly legitimate statement.

Galileo told a longstanding friend of his, Pope Urban VIII, that he was going to write on the Ptolemaic system versus the Copernican system in his Dialogue on the Two World Systems. Urban, who was well aware that Galileo was an advocate of heliocentrism, asked (not ordered, asked) Galileo to treat the geocentric model with respect and not ridicule. When Galileo did not do this, Urban was displeased. Moreover, Galileo quoted Urban, and put Urban's words in the mouth of a man named Simplicius -- "simpleton" is a good translation. Naturally, Urban really did not appreciate being called an idiot in print. So he had Galileo called before the Papal Inquisition to explain himself. Remember that Henry VIII of England had people executed for less.)

Before I go on, let me say a few words about the Papal Inquisition. Don't confuse it with the Spanish Inquisition, a wholly separate organization. The name Inquisition comes from the Latin inquirere -- to look into, or to examine ("inquire" is from the same root). In the Papal Inquisition, defendants had such things as the right to counsel, the right to be told the specific charges against them and their property would not be seized by the Inquisition. Torture was permitted, but only when specifically authorized by the Pope or the head of the Inquisition (at that time, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine) and was to be used only once.

One thing that should be pointed out is that a major part of the Dialogue on the Two World Systems was concerned with a basically flawed theory about tides. Galileo believed that tides were caused by the sloshing back and forth of water in the seas as a point on the Earth's surface sped up and slowed down because of the Earth's rotation on its axis and revolution around the Sun. He advanced this theory because Cardinal Bellarmine called for evidence that the Earth circled the Sun, and Galileo thought this would suffice. Unfortunately for him, the theory is flat-out wrong, and could be shown to be wrong -- for one thing, it said that there should be only one high tide per day, not two. Galileo clearly knew of this problem, but essentially blew it off.

Another thing that should be pointed out is that the Vatican assigned two Jesuits, Christoph Scheiner and Orazio Grassi, to look into Galileo's science. Both had solid credentials as astronomers. However, Galileo had managed to alienate both of them. Schiener was one of the first astronomers to observe sunspots and was, as far as he knew, the first to describe them in a scientific paper. (In fact, the first paper on sunspots was published the previous year by David Fabricius, but his paper was unknown outside of Germany.) Galileo attempted to grab the glory of having first seen sunspots from Scheiner, and compounded this by plagiarizing Scheiner in his own paper.

Grassi and Galileo disagreed on the nature of comets. What made things worse was that Grassi was right and Galileo was wrong. Grassi had observed a comet over a period of time, and had noticed that the moon moved faster in the sky than the comet did; Grassi reasonably (and correctly) assumed that the comet was further from the earth than the moon was. Galileo believed that they were optical illusions in the atmosphere. After several rounds of argument in various pamphlets, Galileo wrote an essay, Il Saggiatore -- "The Assayer" -- attacking Grassi and his theory. This essay is still taught in Italian schools as a masterpiece of polemical writing. Naturally, having been held up to ridicule, Grassi was no friend to Galileo.

No, calling Galileo a pain in the arse is founded solidly on the facts.

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