Tom Gilson

“The Myth of Galileo: A Story With A (Mostly) Valuable Lesson”

Joe Carter ends a detailed and eye-opening correction to the myth of Galileo, and concludes with:

I suspect that there are many more lessons that can be gleaned from this story. But I find that the real moral is not so much in the story itself but in the fact that the story even needs to be told in the first place. While I first heard the story of Galileo in elementary school, it wasn’t until long, long after I had graduated from college that I finally learned the truth. No doubt some people are just now hearing about it for the first time. How is that possible?

[From the evangelical outpost: The Myth of Galileo: A Story With A (Mostly) Valuable Lesson]
Commenting Restored

The comment function here has been out of service, possibly causing frustration, for which I apologize. You can comment again now, and it will save and post as it should do. First-time commenters' comments will not appear, however, until approved in moderation.

26 thoughts on ““The Myth of Galileo: A Story With A (Mostly) Valuable Lesson”

  1. That was possibly the most disgusting example of Christian spin-doctoring I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen many).

    Joe Carter should be ashamed of himself.

  2. Jordan, that post was documented (see the bottom of the post), it presented the facts in detail, and it is supported by a number of other responsible historians (for example here and here).

    Your statement of disgust is mere emotion with no documentation. Did it occur to you that he might in fact have been telling the truth? I strongly encourage you to read the links I’ve provided for you, for they not only show that the Galileo myth is false, they also explain how it came to be that so many people have thought it to be true.

  3. Tom wrote: “Jordan, that post was documented (see the bottom of the post), it presented the facts in detail, and it is supported by a number of other responsible historians”

    The point isn’t whether or not his post is factually accurate. The point is that it’s full of the sort of spin usually reserved for gutter politics and the like. Carter attacks Galileo’s character (oooh, he had a big ego, he was “argumentative”, and he insulted the Pope!) and whitewashes the Churches actions (Galileo was really getting on people’s nerves, so it was perfectly alright to lock him up and force him to recant… besides, they locked him up somewhere nice… if anything, they should be commended). It’s basically the same story told from a very skewed angle in order to support an agenda that would otherwise be difficult to support.

  4. You mean factual accuracy is irrelevant?

    Did you read those links I gave you? Did you read how the Galileo myth was created, and for what purpose? What’s wrong with correcting a myth?

  5. Tom wrote: “You mean factual accuracy is irrelevant?”

    Irrelevant to my criticism, yes. Note that I accused Carter of spinning, not lying. He attacks Galileo’s character and whitewashes the Church’s wrongdoings. It’s classic spin.

  6. Tom wrote: “As is your response.”

    So are you honestly telling me that Carter didn’t attack Galileo’s character and whitewash the Church’s actions?

  7. I don’t admit that.

    “Spin,” as I understand it, is the practice of focusing persons’ attention on a limited portion of a true account of something, so that they ignore what is contrary to the spinner’s interests and accept what agrees with the spinner. Spin does not typically involve lying, but it can certainly be manipulative (and often deceptive) by its imbalance, its pulling things out of context.

    Joe Carter told a true account of the Galileo situation. He did it to correct a long-standing myth, which had been intentionally created in order to create a false belief of a war between science and Christianity (have you read those links I gave you yet?). The myth needed correcting. He told good and bad regarding both the church and the scientist. He did not whitewash the church.

    Everybody agrees Galileo made a huge error of diplomacy–he was rude–when he put the Pope’s arguments in the mouth of a character named Simplicio. This is not just Joe Carter’s opinion. The same kind of thing could be said of the rest of Joe’s account.

    Now let’s review: “‘Spin,’ as I understand it, is a practice of focusing persons’ attention on a limited portion of a true account of something.”

    You have focused on nothing whatever that I have written, or (especially) what Joe Carter wrote, except that he had negative things to say about Galileo and some positive things to say about the Church. You called those a character attack and whitewashing, respectively, ignoring the fact that Joe Carter also provided balancing perspectives.

    I was going to say this with my answer to your first comment, Jordan, but I didn’t want to make this a personal attack on what you’ve written, and tu quoques aren’t always so helpful anyway. I tried to show you a larger and more balanced factual perspective. Now I have to really point to it, for the facts on this are also clear: You are spinning like a deejay, Jordan.

  8. So Galileo wants to overthrow the predominant view of Aristotelian astronomy. He had not yet proven the case and had recently proffered some theories that were proven to be totally wrong. He had good reason to believe it but the establishment of the day was resistant to change. Therefore he tried to use the church to force this belief into science.

    Let me make sure I understand this. The Catholic church deserves scorn because they did not use their power to push a not-yet-proven scientific theory to be accepted?

  9. I agree with Jordan 100%. I just love to see this rush to defend a medieval dictatorship. It’s like watching communists defend the Soviet Union.

    The Inquisition was not known for being fair, for having due process, or for meting out proportional judgments, right? And heliocentrism is heretical because it blatantly contradicts what is written in the Bible. Now, given these facts, might someone reasonably fear that publishing a work on heliocentrism might endanger his life or liberty? Obviously. The Evangelical Outpost piece claims that Copernicus was afraid only of ridicule from the “scientific community” (pshah!), and that Copernicus was worried about “peer review”. Peer review?! This is medieval Europe, not 20th century England.

    Galileo may have been arrogant. So what? Arrogance is a crime? And if Galileo’s work was imperfect, that’s a criminal offense? The church couldn’t leave science to the scientific community? What happened, did the peer review system so feared by Copernicus break down? LOL!

    And let’s not forget that as a result of Galileo’s “trial”, the church banned Galileo’s works and the teaching of heliocentrism.

    Why is Galileo famed as a victim of the church? Because he was too arrogant and uppity to be cowed like Copernicus. The church couldn’t effectively intimidate him like so many others. Galileo was no saint, but he showed the bloody church dictatorship for what it was.

    The EO piece also says that house arrest did Galileo some good. Yes, I’ve heard this sort of thing before. Like how the Holocaust was good because it led to the creation of Israel. And how Soviet persecution of Solzhenitsyn was a good thing for Solzhenitsyn. These are absurdities necessitated by a belief that the world is orchestrated by a totally good God.

  10. I’m agnostic about Galileo. He was attacking the authorities of his day when he could have easily promoted his theory without legal trouble if he was deferent.

    On the other hand I despise the tyrannical tactics of the Roman church in those times.

  11. I think that reading this discussion emphasizes the problem at hand: popular skeptical myths about religion.

    Folks like Jordan and Doctor(logic) sweep in to condemn any alterations to the mythical version as disgusting or biased. They offer no contradictory facts, or anything more than moral outrage. If you don’t laud Galileo’s every action as commendable, and condemn every iota of the church, you upset their sense of decency. They have no sense of historical context, they demonstrate an absurd level of the modern superiority complex (nothing in the past could be as good as anything we have now – everything good was thought up within the last few decades), and they don’t even try to fight fact with fact. All they can do is spout more of the “nuh-uh” shtick.

    Legitimate history doesn’t paint either side as perfect, or as wholly evil. It’s a more nuanced story than backwards priests attacking a secular saint. Some of the comments here, particularly by the two voices mentioned above, show exactly the kind of ignorant aggression they accuse the church of perpetrating.

    Educational, indeed.

  12. dl, I followed your comments on EO, and you have said some ridiculous things. Case in point:

    The EO piece also says that house arrest did Galileo some good. Yes, I’ve heard this sort of thing before. Like how the Holocaust was good because it led to the creation of Israel. And how Soviet persecution of Solzhenitsyn was a good thing for Solzhenitsyn. These are absurdities necessitated by a belief that the world is orchestrated by a totally good God.

    But there is a real benefit in the case of Galileo – he did actual scientific work that was necessary toward actually demonstrating what he thought to be true. To wit, he suffered no real harm, anyway; I made a point of comparing his house arrest to that of, say, Paris Hilton. That Galileo suffered at worst a minor harm to complete one of his most infamous works renders your comparisons irrelevant.

    My estimation is that of MedicineMan’s (and I expressed such in the EO comments) – the truth behind the story is really that there is a great deal more to the story than a rogue scientist flying in the face of an oppressive church in the name of science. In fact, there’s more to the story than even Joe provides, but it is at least a start to dispelling the myth.

  13. MedicineMan wrote

    [According to Jacob and DL,] if you don’t laud Galileo’s every action as commendable . . . you upset their sense of decency.

    But DL had previously written

    Galileo may have been arrogant. . . . And if Galileo’s work was imperfect . . .

    What clearer example of not “laud[ing] Galileo’s every action as commendable” could you have needed to not contradict the facts? I ask that question literally, I’d like a direct answer.

  14. I agree with Paul’s comment – it’s probably truer that the reactions are due to not properly vilifying the Catholic Church for its horribly inhumane treatment of Galileo. Heck, the truth is probably something worse; I bet they castrated him or something while he was on house arrest. You know what they say about history being written by the winners…

    (I hope the sarcasm was thick enough for everyone’s tastes.)

  15. doctor(logic),
    you response seems more driven by emotion than anything else.
    Is this how you usually handle yourself?

  16. Not that DL can’t respond himself to Scott’s question, but I’ve got a minute here.

    I also noticed the emotion in DL’s last post above, he normally doesn’t respond like that. However, if you read past the emotion, there is still substance to what DL wrote. The presence of emotion or rhetoric does not *automatically* negate the possibility of logic and substance (even allowing for reasoned disagreement with the substance of what he wrote).

  17. Paul,

    I ask that question literally, I’d like a direct answer.

    Because the EO portion gives some of the positive and negative moves made by both sides. The response? It’s ‘disgusting spin’. DL, Jordan, and their philosophical buddies are treating anything foolish Galileo did to exacerbate the situation as irrelevant. They want the mythical version, where nothing he did was in the least bit a factor in his treatment, and nothing the Church did can possibly be the product of rational thinking.

    DL’s mention of Galileo’s arrogance and error weren’t presented as concessions, they were presented with an intent to 1) blow them off as completely irrelevant and 2) confuse the issue into a matter of legality, not history.

    However, if you read past the emotion, there is still substance to what DL wrote

    I have to disagree. There’s nothing to that type of response but the emotion. The entire foundation of their reaction to the EO piece and the debunking of the “evil Church” myth is that the truth doesn’t paint a sufficiently negative picture of religion.

  18. MM, you may have a valid point about whether DL is fair and balanced toward Galileo, my only beef was your first statement of it, and maybe I’m being too picky. It’s not an issue that I’m going to press on with though, it’s really DL’s.

  19. “DL, Jordan, and their philosophical buddies are treating anything foolish Galileo did to exacerbate the situation as irrelevant.”

    I can’t speak for DL (or my “philosophical buddies”), but I think Galileo’s supposed foolishness is irrelevant, morally. If a rapist says of his victim, “Well, she was dressed like a floosy”, I might actually become so emotional as to treat the victim’s outfit as irrelevant. And if the rapist’s lawyer then argues that the crime wasn’t especially violent, and that it actually did the victim some good (hey, she never would’ve finished that novel if she hadn’t been rendered too afraid to leave the house…), and that I’m just being overly emotional in my insistence that the rapist’s crime is unmitigated by the foolishness of his victim, I will, in the typical obstinate fashion of my philosophical buddies, continue to “condemn every iota of the [rapist]” and “laud [the victim’s] every action as commendable.” Heck, I might even have the audacity to accuse the lawyer of spin.

  20. Poor analogy.

    Sexual violence is never a morally justifiable response to a woman’s choice of clothing. There are, however, certain morally justifiable responses to women’s choice of clothing in certain situations. If she is dressed obscenely, obscenity laws apply, and she could be arrested for it.

    The point is that there are appropriate and there are inappropriate responses to behaviors. There can be appropriate legal responses to foolish behaviors. It is foolish to point a squirt gun (water pistol) at the President of the United States. Try it and you’ll find yourself quickly and violently pinned to the floor by Secret Service agents and then hauled away.

    Galileo acted foolishly. From Joe Carter’s post:

    But while he was intelligent, charming, and witty, the Italian was also argumentative, mocking, and vain…. he continued to pick fights with his fellow scientists even though many of his conclusions were being proven wrong (e.g., that the planets orbit the sun in perfect circles)…. Galileo’s response was to produce his theory that the ocean tides were caused by the earth’s rotation…. he took the words that Pope Urban had used to refute his theory of the tides and put them in the mouths of Simplicio.

    Was the church’s response proportionate to his foolishness? I caution you to slow down before you answer. Your initial impulse is going to be to judge them by 21st century liberal standards. But that introduces a boatload of confusion. Today’s liberal standards call for tolerance of other cultures’ standards. Will you be intolerant of another century’s standards?

    Again, don’t rush to answer. The question is whether the level of consequences delivered to Galileo was appropriate to his offense. Don’t change the subject by saying, for example, that the church was being anti-scientific and that’s awful. Joe Carter’s post makes it very, very clear that even if the church was heavy-handed, they were heavy-handed in regard to his political foolishness and not heavy-handed due to being haters of science. (I’m going to repeat that it in a follow-up comment, because that is the major point that has somehow been lost in this discussion.)

    Back to the analogy, though. Jordan was implying that foolishness, like female flaunting of flesh, never deserves a consequence. The analogy fails because it just isn’t true that female flaunting never calls for a consequence.

  21. Okay, let’s try to get this thing back on track. I’m repeating something from my last comment:

    Don’t change the subject by saying that the church was being anti-scientific and that’s awful. Joe Carter’s post makes it very, very clear that even if the church was heavy-handed, they were heavy-handed in regard to his political foolishness and not heavy-handed due to being haters of science.

    The issue at the time was not science, it was politics. Whether the church handled it correctly or not, it is historical revisionism to say that they mistreated Galileo out of their dislike for science. But that is the kind of historical revisionism to which the world has been subjected since Draper and White. (See my links in my first comment above.)

    Draw whatever conclusions you will about the church in Galileo’s day: but if you draw the conclusion that they were primarily motivated by being anti-science, you’re just wrong. And that, my friends, is the issue.

  22. “Sexual violence is never a morally justifiable response to a woman’s choice of clothing.”

    And locking someone up against their will (even when it’s somewhere nice) & forcing them to recant is never a morally justifiable response to the expression of an opinion, regardless of how irrational or heretical. That was the point of my rape analogy. What the Church did was wrong, regardless of how morally or intellectually offended they were by Galileo’s mere words.

    “Galileo acted foolishly.”

    Fine. I’m not disputing that (or agreeing with it, necessarily). I’m just saying it’s irrelevant, since his “foolishness” was not the sort that deserves punishment.

    “Was the church’s response proportionate to his foolishness? I caution you to slow down before you answer. Your initial impulse is going to be to judge them by 21st century liberal standards. But that introduces a boatload of confusion. Today’s liberal standards call for tolerance of other cultures’ standards. Will you be intolerant of another century’s standards?”

    Absolutely not, as I am not a cultural relativist (not all variations of liberalism are culturally relativistic… mine certainly isn’t). What the Church did was every bit as wrong then as it would be now. Don’t you agree?

    “Joe Carter’s post makes it very, very clear that even if the church was heavy-handed, they were heavy-handed in regard to his political foolishness and not heavy-handed due to being haters of science.”

    His tone (and the tone of many posts in this thread) implied that Galileo had it coming, and that what the Church did to him wasn’t as bad as all that. Why else would he mention Galileo’s character flaws and the “silver lining” of his persecution? Also, why does it matter whether the Church’s heavy handedness was political or anti-scientific? Is one somehow more excusable than the other?

    “Back to the analogy, though. Jordan was implying that foolishness, like female flaunting of flesh, never deserves a consequence. The analogy fails because it just isn’t true that female flaunting never calls for a consequence.”

    No, I was implying that the wrongness of rape is not mitigated by the supposed foolishness of the victim’s choice of attire, and that, likewise, the wrongness of locking someone up & forcing them to recant because their opinion(s) offend you is not mitigated by the supposed irrationality or offensiveness of said opinion(s). I was not implying that nothing foolish ever deserves a consequence.

  23. No, I was implying that the wrongness of rape is not mitigated by the supposed foolishness of the victim’s choice of attire, and that, likewise, the wrongness of locking someone up & forcing them to recant because their opinion(s) offend you is not mitigated by the supposed irrationality or offensiveness of said opinion(s). I was not implying that nothing foolish ever deserves a consequence.

    I’ll accept that correction. Sorry I misunderstood.

    Absolutely not, as I am not a cultural relativist (not all variations of liberalism are culturally relativistic… mine certainly isn’t). What the Church did was every bit as wrong then as it would be now. Don’t you agree?

    I’m glad to hear you’re not a relativist! I agree it was wrong then, as it would be now. I would say that it in their culture and time, the mistake was more understandable than it would be now, but not more right.

    The church has made many mistakes over time, and this was one of them.

    Also, why does it matter whether the Church’s heavy handedness was political or anti-scientific? Is one somehow more excusable than the other?

    Not more excusable, no. But it makes a very large difference in this regard: the Galileo myth, since Draper and White, has been used to show that the Church has been opposed to science. This is a false belief, and the Galileo story (rightly understood) cannot be used to support it–for the conflict at the time was not in regard to science.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe

Subscribe here to receive updates and a free Too Good To Be False preview chapter!

"Engaging… exhilarating.… This might be the most surprising and refreshing book you’ll read this year!" — Lee Strobel

"Too Good To Be False is almost too good to be true!" — Josh McDowell

Purchase Here!

More on the book...

Discussion Policy

By commenting here you agree to abide by this site's discussion policy. Comments support Markdown language for your convenience. Each new commenter's first comment goes into moderation temporarily before appearing on the site. Comments close automatically after 120 days.

Copyright, Permissions, Marketing

Some books reviewed on this blog are attached to my account with Amazon’s affiliate marketing program, and I receive a small percentage of revenue from those sales.

All content copyright © Thomas Gilson as of date of posting except as attributed to other sources. Permissions information here.

Privacy Policy

Clicky