Friday, May 30, 2008

The Atheistic Fable About Galileo

Atheists, in attacking religion in general and Christianity in particular, present the cases of Galileo and Copernicus. Both scientists, some atheists claim, were not merely treated unfairly but were persecuted and even tortured. I remember, in an undergraduate philosophy of science class, reading Galileo's "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems." Two of the main interlocutors are "Simplicio" and "Sagredo." Simplicio represents those Aristotelian scientists who maintain that the sun revolves around the earth, and Sagredo (Galileo himself) represents Copernican heliocentrism.

So what happened to Galileo? Carl Sagan said he was placed "in a Catholic dungeon threatened with torture." (cited in D'Souza, 101) Sam Harris writes of the Christian tradition of "torturing scholars to the point of madness speculating about the nature of the stars." (Ib.) Bruce Jalosky writes: "Copernicus's views were not embraced by the church; the history of his persecution is well known." (Ib.) And, writes Dinesh D'Souza, "Daniel Dennett singles out the Catholic church and faults 'its unfortunate legacy of persecution of its own scientists.'" (Ib.)

So I always thought. And I was wrong. See Stanford's D'Souza, in his brilliant What's So Great About Christanity, Chapter Ten - "An Atheist Fable: Reopening the Galileo Case."


1. Neither Copernicus nor Galileo were "tortured" for their scientific views.

2. Galileo was treated fairly by the Inquisition. D'Souza cites historian Gary Ferngren, who writes: "The traditional picture of Galileo as a martyr to intellectual freedom and a victim of the church's opposition to science has been demonstrated to be little more than a caricature." (Ib., 110)

3. Galileo was found faulty for certain religious teachings that had nothing to do with science.

4. Galileo was correct in affirming Copernican heliocentrism. But Galileo's proof for this was incorrect. For example, one of his main arguments was that the rapid motion of the earth around the sun was responsibile for the ocean tides. As we now know, this is false. And, it was questioned at the time.

5. After Galileo recanted from lying, he was treated quite nicely and allowed to continue other forms of scientific research.

See the entire chapter for many more details as D'Souza gives a historically convincing argument that all the atheistic fuss about the church mistreating and even brutalizing Galileo and other scientists is simply a fable.