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Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion Hardcover – April 30, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (April 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674033272
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674033276
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #721,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Defining myth as just “a claim that is false,” editor Numbers and 24 other scholars debunk 25 falsehoods about science and religion. The most familiar—that the church imprisoned and tortured Galileo, that medieval Islam was hostile to science, that medieval Christians thought the earth was flat, that the church fought against anesthesia—have long been discredited, yet the briefs on them so admirably distill their history that Wikipedia should swipe them. Others—that the church suppressed science, prohibited dissection, and martyred Giordano Bruno for his scientific work—still have their propagandists. Some remain quite lively, such as that Christianity birthed modern science (see Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God, 2003), that intelligent design challenges evolution scientifically, and that creationism is a strictly American phenomenon. Many are known primarily, perhaps, to specialists, and one or two may startle those who thought themselves in the know about such figures as Descartes and Newton. The pieces on all 25 have been written and edited for accessibility, making the book excellent for ready reference as well as recreational reading. --Ray Olson


An illuminating study of the relationship between science and religion...This book features the contributions of a team of 25 scholars that includes agnostics, atheists, and Christians. Their collective objective is to dispel the "hoary myths" of the supposedly bellicose relationship between religion and science. Readers will be fascinated by the evidence that for advocating Copernicanism, Galileo was not imprisoned (as commonly thought) but interrogated--albeit under the threat of torture--and set up in an apartment. Other misconceptions concern the connection between Darwinian thought and Nazi biology, Einstein's belief in God, and Islam's alleged hostility toward scientific enquiry. (C. Brian Smith Library Journal 2009-03-02)

A revealing book...Using "myth" in the popular sense, to mean falsehood, Galileo Goes to Jail debunks widespread misconceptions. (Douglas Todd Vancouver Sun 2009-05-15)

A splendid book. (Christopher Howse Daily Telegraph 2009-06-06)

As a collection, these myth-busting arguments work to soften the wedge responsible for the schism between science and religion. The topics and writing style will appeal to all readers, but students of science and religion should consider this essential reading. (J. A. Hewlett Choice 2009-07-01)

Informative and thought-provoking reading. (Ernan McMullin The Tablet 2009-10-10)

The volume's careful organization and execution reveal the kind of planning and teamwork absent from too many edited collections, but which have come to be expected from Numbers...Each chapter of Galileo Goes to Jail begins with two or three epigraphs that clearly convict scholarly and popular literature of perpetuating the myth in question. Most authors then explore the nuances of the myth, its origin, complexity, and longevity, before telling the "rest of the story." (Mark A. Kalthoff First Things 2009-10-01)

The authors necessarily spend the bulk of their time debunking attacks on religion in the name of science, but they also clear the muddy waters left behind when pro-religion forces try to obscure the scientific record...As Numbers points out in his introduction, fewer than half of the contributors are religious believers at all; and of those, there are only two evangelicals, one Catholic, and one Jew. In other words, they have no axe to grind, and their only agenda is to set the historical record straight. Given all of the polemics published today, this is a breath of fresh air. (Ryan T. Anderson Weekly Standard 2009-10-19)

[Ronald L. Numbers] is a religious agnostic whose scholarship on the history of American religion and science is marked by meticulous accuracy and impartiality...[This book was written] with ordinary readers, not specialists, in mind, making this a truly rare book: where else can you find such authoritative scholarship delivered so accessibly and fairly on such an important subject? (Edward B. Davis 2009-08-28)

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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Mark S on February 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"Galileo Goes to Jail" is a collection of twenty-five essays detailing the misconceptions (or "myths" as used in the popular, not academic, sense) about the encounters between science and religion throughout Western history. Written by authors who are acknowledged experts in their respective fields, many myths are dispelled with thorough research and an unbiased, critical eye. Although amateur historians (Charles Freeman, Rodney Stark), professional historians (Richard Westfall, Jonathan Israel) and scientists (R.C Lewontin, Richard Dawkins, S.J. Gould) are cited as purveyors of some of the myths, the common thread of these essays is that the myths originated with the two late-nineteenth Americans - John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White.

As is typical with any collection of essays, some are not as good as the rest. In this book, Myths #22 and 23 are disappointments in an otherwise enjoyable and thought-provoking collection of essays. Myth #22 doesn't really argue against (or for) "Quantum Physics Demonstrated Free Will". Indeed, Daniel Patrick Thurs writes simply, "And its spread is due to a very good reason. It is in one sense, absolutely true," and then he writes, "If the historian as historian has any role, it is to expose the roots of such controversy rather than to leap into the fray and parrot the arguments of one side or another" (p. 197). And so the essay goes on - not really saying much of anything of interest or insight. I don't know why this essay was included. The intention of Myth #23 is to refute the claim that intelligent design is scientific.
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85 of 116 people found the following review helpful By The History Detective on March 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I do recommended this book and I applaud, as mentioned in the intro, that all of the authors of this book, which includes many atheists, wanted to get the correct version of history out there. As both a history guy and an Engineer this subject greatly interests me, so I was very excited to read this book. Though I may be a conservative and believe strongly in God, I like many of the authors, do want to see history be fair and balanced or be taught without any bias and by the facts. However, this is very difficult with most of the history books, professors, and media out there being very left of center. With that said this book does a very good job in destroying some of the religion vs. science myths that unfortunately have permeated our society for a long time.

The Good: The book does a very good job at getting at the myths that have been created by men such as Draper, White, and Gibbon and have unfortunately been retold over and over again in classrooms around the world. These articles clearly and concretely made the case that the mythical "Dark Ages" never happened, that no one believed the Earth was Flat in the Middle Ages, the fact that the Catholic Church, Christianity and the Noble rulers of Europe have greatly supported science both financially and rhetorically and also by setting up universities and societies, that the Galileo story and its circumstances are greatly over exaggerated and untrue, that religion has played a very important role as the driving force in the lives of many of humanities greatest scientists, that Bruno was not killed for his science but for heresy, and that human dissection and other medically linked issues were not banned by the Church.

The Bad: I do have a problem with 3 myths in the book.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By William Kerney VINE VOICE on December 3, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really had high hopes for this book. There are indeed a number of myths that are commonly held to be true by our popular culture: that religion and science conflict, that Christians are or were flat earthers, that the Church prohibited dissection, that Galileo went to jail for his beliefs, that science displaces faith, and so forth.

The book addresses each of these topics (and more), which is great. What isn't as great is the mixed quality of the essays. Many of them seem to take at face value all the myths - except the one they are refuting!

It's frustrating seeing a Marxist scholar write the title chapter on Galileo Goes to Jail, for example. While he refutes the myth that he went to jail, he basically accepts the rest of the Conflict Thesis uncritically - the theory by Draper and White that the rest of the book disproves.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Nick Kaspar on February 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is filled with essays by leading scholars of the history of religion and science. Some are believers, some are not, and some lie somewhere in between. All the essays written are insightful and offer excellent counter arguments to the simplistic idea that religion and science are in a never ending conflict with each other. Each essay is well argued and supported with copious notes and citations to historical documents. After reading "Galileo goes to Jail," you will walk away with a deeper understanding of the nuanced relationship between science and religion. This is a must read for anyone interested in the science and religion.
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17 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Barbara L. Lemaster on July 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Before science and religion can engage in a meaningful dialogue, author Ronald Numbers suggests that several myths (used in this book to mean falsehoods) should be disregarded. The book actually is a collection of essays that Numbers has collected from leading scientists and scholars.

The first three myths have to do with the early Christian church and science (which were not at loggerheads); the fourth myth details medieval Islamic culture and its contribution to scientific achievement. The fifth myth (that the early church prohibited human dissection) was one I'd not heard before.

Several of the myths deal directly with scientists themselves: Darwin's supposed deathbed conversion back to Christianity (#16); Galileo's imprisonment at the hands of the Catholic Church (#8); Einstein's belief in a personal God (#21); and Descartes' mind-body dualism (#12). The book is written by scholars but is perfectly accessible to laymen with an interest in the history of science.
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