Thursday, November 13, 2008

Galileo, Galileo…

"First, the truth of Scripture must be held inviolable. Secondly, when there are different ways of explaining Scriptural text, no particular explanation should be held so rigidly that, if convincing arguments show it to be false, anyone dare to insist that it still is the definitive sense of the text. Otherwise, unbelievers will scorn the Sacred Scripture, and the way of faith will be closed to them."
- St Thomas Aquinas (13th Century)

Whenever Catholic bashing comes around, you can be sure these three all-time favorites always crop up: the Inquisition, the (In)fallibility of Popes, and that classic Galileo controversy. It is no surprise then that these three items are gleefully raised as talking points by the pro RH-bill camp in the on-going debate. Some people even went to the extent of referring to the 14 Ateneo professors as “the Galileo-14”, in an attempt to highlight the supposed contrast between scientific progress and “blind, religious dogmatism”. It is both exasperating and amusing in a way that most of these critics who use the Galileo argument continue to misinterpret the historical facts and issues, almost four centuries since the events transpired. (sigh)

Contrary to the misconceptions of critics,

- the Roman Inquisition did not charge Galileo with heresy - it censured him with violating the 1616 injunction against supporting the then dubious Copernican theory. Big difference there. No, he was NOT excommunicated either.

- Galileo was neither imprisoned in a dungeon or tortured. As noted scientist and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead remarked, in an age that saw a large number of "witches" subjected to torture and execution by Protestants in New England, "the worst that happened to the men of science was that Galileo suffered an honorable detention and a mild reproof.". He was placed under house arrest, under secure and comfortable circumstances, all the better for his own protection from extremists.

- At the time, Galileo could not offer proof of his theory. Cardinal Bellarmine of the then Holy Office said, had Galileo been able to offer scientific proof, “.. then it would be necessary to proceed with great caution in explaining the passages of Scripture which seemed contrary, and we would rather have to say that we did not understand them than to say that something was false which has been demonstrated… the heliocentric theory might indeed be correct, but until it was conclusively proven it should not be treated as fact since it differed from the current interpretation of the Bible." The trouble is that critics tend to view early 17th century with 21st century eyes.

- Although three of the ten cardinals who judged Galileo refused to sign the verdict, his works were eventually condemned. Anti-Catholics often assert that his conviction and later rehabilitation somehow disproves the doctrine of papal infallibility, but this is not the case, for the Pope never tried to make an infallible ruling concerning Galileo’s views. The Church has never claimed ordinary tribunals, such as the one that judged Galileo, to be infallible. Church tribunals have disciplinary and juridical authority only; neither they nor their decisions are infallible.

- Galileo actually taught that the sun was at the center of the universe, not just the solar system; later evidence showed that the sun also orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Thus, both Galileo and his opponents were partly right and partly wrong. Galileo was right in asserting the mobility of the earth and wrong in asserting the immobility of the sun. His opponents were right in asserting the mobility of the sun and wrong in asserting the immobility of the earth. Had the Catholic Church rushed to endorse Galileo’s views - and there were many in the Church who were quite favorable to them - the Church would have embraced what modern science has disproved later.

- The 14 Ateneo professors, are no Galileos. Modern science has already proven that life begins at conception: the main argument against abortifacient drugs and devices. On this point, modern science, the Catholic Church, and the Constitution, are united.

- Let us put Galileo to rest. May he rest in Peace. Amen.


John-D Borra said...

That's a wonderful way of putting it, and in vintage WillyJ style: erudite, yet forceful.

Good read!

sunnyday said...

I appreciate the clarifications very much. I've had my share of encounters with non-believers (or believers who had an axe to grind with some pious Catholics) who uses these incidents to lambast the Church. Unfortunately, my knowledge of details then was too limited for any serious and exhaustive discussion.

WillyJ said...

Oh, they never tire, but the facts remain. Actually I get quite tired responding to it too, and when I hear about it, the first thing that now comes to mind is that funky song by Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody :-)

William said...

Never mind the truth, the false story and Church bashing is more fun.

bill at Multiply Catholic Friends