Galileo the Heretic: Science and Scripture

Yesterday I watched a movie I checked out at the LaFarge Library about Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). The movie is based on the book Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel and is titled Galileo’s Battle for the Heavens. I came away feeling so sad for this unbelievable man. He was constantly at odds with religious officials with regard to his pursuit of knowledge, still he remained a pious and obedient Catholic.

Galileo was considered a heretic in his day. For at least three decades he risked his life to study our universe. He was actually a hero of knowledge who continues to inspire contemporary scientists and freethinkers. The dictionary defines a heretic as a “person believing in or practicing religious heresy.” Was he really a “nonconformist,” a “nonbeliever,” a “pagan,” or a “heathen?” Maybe some think he was?

image

During the 17th century and even later, freethinking was really frowned upon. You could be burned at the stake for partaking in scientific, mathematical, and other studies! Galileo lived in a time when a book of banned books was kept. It makes me sad. I have to be thankful that I am alive today. I can express my opinions openly. My century is far from perfect, but I am in a much better place than Galileo was in relation to my consumption and sharing of knowledge.

The movie I watched was perfectly titled Galileo’s Battle for the Heavens. I found myself wondering if God could really frown on the discoveries made by Galileo? Though he was basically haunted by the Holy Office for several decades, he never turned his back on the church and at times was even apologetic for being smart. The movie touched on: his career as a professor/mathematician at the University of Pisa (1589); his explanation of the tides (1595); his experimentation with a pendulum/natural accelerated motion and balls/inclined planes (1602-1604); his observations and sketches of the lunar craters and mountains of the moon (1609); a demonstration of one of his telescopes (1609); his discovery of the four moons of Jupiter (1610); and his research on sunspots (1612).

The secret archive of the Vatican dates back to 1612. I realized how close this was to some of the most important discoveries made by Galileo when I looked back at a post I wrote last year. In 2012, I wrote about the religious archive and the trial documents of Galileo in a post titled 400 Year Old Archive: Secrets of the Vatican. At that time, romereports.com stated that the Vatican secret archive contains 50 miles of shelving. Now I am curious how much of those documents are related to Galileo’s studies of the heavens?

image
~~~~~~~~~~
Galileo facing the Roman
Catholic Inquisition in a
painting by Cristiano Banti
(1857).

~~~~~~~~~~

For at least 30 years, the Holy Office/Inquisition had a firm hold on one of the most intelligent men to ever walk the Earth. From 1611 until his death in 1642, poor Galileo was muffled by religious officials. Why? It is hard for me to understand and frankly, it makes me feel embarrassed to be Catholic. I think religious groups still suppress knowledge to some extent for if we have wings, we can fly. I can only imagine what his unhindered soul could have become?

By 1616, the Inquisition believed Galileo’s theory that the sun centered the universe was “absurd in philosophy and formally heretical.” He was summoned to Rome by Urban VIII in 1632 and was told that if he didn’t appear he would be “arrested and brought to Rome in chains.” In April of 1633, the formalities of the Inquisition were in full force and the “father of science” was detained by the Inquisition for close to 20 days. At the end of that detainment, Urban VIII decided that Galileo would face imprisonment for an undeclared amount of time. He was threatened with torture, and eventually sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life.

It is unbelievable that Galileo was forced to endure physical suffering while he was under house arrest!! In 1634, the genius was suffering from the pain of a hernia and asked the Holy Office for permission to leave his home to visit a doctor in Florence. His request was denied and he was told that if he asked again, he would be imprisoned once again. Even after he went completely blind in 1638, the Inquisition did not return Galileo’s freedom. He was granted permission to attend church on Catholic holidays if he didn’t speak to anyone. So sad.

At 77 years old, Galileo became seriously ill. The year was 1641 and a heroically smart man was silenced and blind. He died in 1642. With his death came the loss of a heavenly mind. I believe in God. I believe I am a good person. I believe in Heaven. I find it really hard to believe that God saw it right to prosecute a man who only treasured knowledge. I understand that his pursuit of scientific knowledge was contradicting scripture, still I find it hard to believe that my God accepted the things which were done to Galileo. Maybe I will never understand??

**Additional reference used~ The Galileo Project/Galileo Timeline/Rice University.

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5 Comments on “Galileo the Heretic: Science and Scripture”


  1. Galileo’s story makes me grateful for all the rights I have.

  2. richholschuh Says:

    Your observations are thoughtful and respectful. There is often a clash when two (or more) completely different perspectives are artificially overlaid. It doesn’t work/compute/shake out; relevancy is absent… it’s as if one was trying to describe a musical composition using the metric system.
    The Roman Catholic church and Galileo’s inquiries were worlds and heavens apart. That he found a way to live in the middle for so long is a wonder and a tribute, and also a sad state of affairs.
    I am moved by your closing paragraph – that you find it hard to believe that God would accept, that God might find right what happened to Galileo. This is a perfect example of overlapping incompatibilities: to equate, or even conflate, a concept of God with a concept of human religious structure (the Vatican) doesn’t work. They are different worlds, using different words, to arrive at a different (often premeditated) conclusion. This is our challenge, as humans, to peer through the confusion and peel away the filters.
    Thank you for the insightful discussion. And I wish a fruitful year of discoveries on your voyage through time!


  3. […] Click on: Galileo the Heretic Science and Scripture My Voyage Through Time […]


  4. “You could be burned at the stake for partaking in scientific, mathematical, and other studies!” Technically, this was unlikely. Galileo wasn’t persecuted because the church was anti-science, but because his science didn’t match theirs. An important difference since many hold up Galileo as proof that the church was antiscience (they had a scientist as a pope in 1000AD!). Obviously, they had some other problems, though.

    I have not seen the movie, but have read Sobel’s book. Very good read. A must for anyone interested in this.

    To be fair, Protestant reformer Martin Luther was also critical of heliocentrism before the “Galileo Affair” took place. They all had been influenced by mistaken Greek science, such as that promoted by Plato and Aristotle.

    God didn’t accept what happened, but He knows the free will of men doesn’t always lead to the correct choices. The RC church would eventually clear Galileo, though centuries later. Galileo’s commitment in studying creation to learn about God no matter what, makes him one of the icons of Christianity and science.


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