It’s Galileo time again!

This is a post on The Renaissance Mathematicus, the blog of science historian Thony Christie. Seems that folks are still pushing the idea that the Church was in an all-out war with Galileo. Read:
It’s Galileo Time again!

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The Galileo Affair is as much about politics as it is science. When you run up to the big bull and punch it in the nose you need to be prepared to deal with the consequences. That’s what Galileo did. Compare that to Copernicus who also talked about Heliocentrism, but knew that he had to use the fig leaf of theoretical and abstract language so as not to challenge church authority.

Copernicus: “Wow, look at how the math works out so much better if you put the Sun in the middle of the Solar System.”

Galileo: “The Earth moves about the Sun, you fools!”


Galileo also had the disadvantage to be promoting heliocentrism soon after an even more obnoxious “I have everything figured out in my system. Listen to ME!” mystic (he tended to get run out of every town he stayed in for insulting prominent locals) included it in his set of ideas, alongside an infinite universe, extraterrestrial life, non-trinitarianism, hermetic mysticism, and several other heresies.

Would that be a certain Giordano Bruno?

Yes, though I expect he was not the only one promoting such ideas. Just the most prominent, and one of the slowest to figure out that keeping your mouth shut is, occasionally, a good idea.

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Galileo was never declared a heretic and remained a Christian throughout his life .

Thanks for sharing that article. It was an enjoyable read.

I have heard that the whole narrative of the Galileo Affair that this article is debunking was actually created during the Enlightenment as propaganda against the Church. I’ve also heard that it was created during the Victorian Era. I can’t confirm either of these statements, though.

I will say that I am well aware of the Victorian Era’s disdain for the Medieval Period and the misconceptions about it that have arisen because of it. As someone who studies the Medieval Period (as a hobby, not professionally), I’m glad that more and more historians are moving away from the whole “dark ages” narrative. It’s still popular, though, and I regularly have to inform people that calling those times “the dark ages” isn’t really something that’s done anymore in the academic world, and give the reasons as to why.

It’s such a challenge to clear up misconceptions that have been stamped into people’s brains their entire lives, especially when it’s based on bits and pieces of factual information here and there. I remember being present for a local debate between a YEC and an atheist biologist. At the time I was simply OEC. The biologist said something in response to what the YEC was arguing that stuck with me, and it was something along the lines of this: “A little knowledge can lead to really bad conclusions.”


Personally, I’m disappointed in my self. For some reason I have never created a massive thermonuclear reactor and placed it in outer space, or anywhere else. I’m working on it.

The Bible does say there was a beginning, and good science confirms it.

If you guys really want a comprehensive and fascinating look at the Galileo affair, I have just the series! Again, it’s historian of science Thony Christie, in a series of 3 video interviews for History for Atheists. Long, but well worth the time. History for Atheists tries to clear up misconceptions about the church perpetuated by angry/militant atheists. You get a very good understanding of exactly what was going on at the time. And the church was anything but anti-science–far from it!

Thony Christie Interview - The Galileo Affair Part 1

Thony Christie Interview - The Galileo Affair Part 2

Thony Christie Interview - The Galileo Affair Part 3

They also list some good resources and book recommendations.


Yes, but suspicion of it was present: “this person is promoting one of the odd, but not blatantly heretical ideas that that loud heretic did a few decades ago, could he be suggesting some of the others?”

Apparently, one time Galileo was asked what the set of three dolphins on the cover of his book meant. He said that he thought it was the emblem of the publisher. If that book had been by Bruno, or another Hermetic Mystic, then they would have had some great significance that wouldn’t make any sense to others.

Yes, but I always thought I should be able to make a sun or three. Where’s the challenge? I mean, everyone else I know creates a medium size star that burns 600,000,000 tons of hydrogen every second.

Hi @beaglelady -

You are making a fine distinction. His written works were added to the index of banned books and he was placed under house arrest, which could certainly be interpreted as hostile acts.

I agree that the Roman Catholic Church was not virulently anti-science. But they did not welcome having a scientist to tell them their hermeneutical approach to Scriptural passages — well established for over a millennium— was wrong.


There were no innocent parties in this case. Another way to put it is if Galileo had been vociferously defending Geocentrism he probably wouldn’t be a notable part of history, and he probably wouldn’t have been under house arrest for the final decade of his life. However, I think we should judge the RCC in a historical context and not judge them through a modern lens. It is entirely understandable that the church would be resistant to challenges of their authority in the 17th century since science was in its infancy and societal views were moving at their usual glacial pace. It’s a bit like people judging Darwin’s views on race through a modern lens. Darwin was as much a product of his time as the church was in the 17th century.


The fact is he was not declared a heretic. Only the pope could declare somebody a heretic. Galileo did get in trouble with the church, however, with a bunch of indelicate blunders. He would have been okay had he presented his ideas as ideas only. And there was zero evidence for heliocentricity at the time. He was placed under house arrest, but was housed in decent quarters and given servants. I do hope you and everyone will listen to this wonderful presentation. You will learn a lot. It’s so nice to hear two atheists defending the church. And I learned that Galileo wasn’t above falsifying the dates on his discoveries.

It was reasonable for the Church at the time to want to see some evidence before entertaining new ideas on interpretation of scripture.

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I wholeheartedly agree. Well stated!

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