- Series: Midway Reprint Ser
- Paperback: 354 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (June 15, 1978)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226734811
- ISBN-13: 978-0226734811
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,667,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Crime of Galileo Reprint Edition
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From the Back Cover
Scientific endeavor and social authority, in one form or another, are characteristics of man's life on his planet that are expected to endure for as long as we can see ahead. In this essay, which aims at analyzing their complex relations, we intend to go at length into the episode which provides, namely, the trial of Galileo and the circumstances that brought it about. But, as we work out the general conditions attendant and dissimilarities occur with the further phase of conflict which is being played out in our time.
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And that’s precisely what happened some four centuries ago, according to Giorgio de Santillana here in his 1955 classic “The Crime of Galileo,” when Galileo’s new telescope and the resulting discoveries confirmed the heliocentric Copernican system and disproved the long held Ptolemaic theory that the earth was the center of the universe. The author claims that, “Like Galileo, Copernicus had foreseen resistance not at all from the Church authorities but from vested academic interests.” In the 1590s, the general academic consensus was that nature had a certain order about life. For instance, rocks fall and fire rises. There were two distinct entities – heaven and earth – that were subject to different rules. Galileo challenged this fundamental academic assertion.
The author’s thesis is simple and compelling; his supporting documentation, however, is less convincing. The overall story of Galileo’s trial is fascinating and absolutely deserves to be retold; the present version presented here, however, leaves much to be desired, even though the author coldly claims that pre-existing literature (before 1950) on Galileo’s trial ranges “from average casual incompetence to prevarication and plain filth.”
There are two main parts to de Santillana’s narrative, although his book is not broken down that way.
First, there is the story of Galileo’s early discoveries and the subtle reaction of the church in 1616. The astronomer quickly determined that the best way to out flank the entrenched academic elite with his new and revolutionary Copernican evidence was to co-opt the ruling political elites. Thus, he named the moons of Jupiter after the House of Medici and wrote about his discoveries in common Italian rather than the more academic Latin. Contemporaries argued that Galileo wrote in the common vernacular to win over the common man against the Church. De Santillana explicitly rejects this charge.
What made Galileo so effective, according to the author, was neither his telescopes nor his theories, but rather his persuasive personality and his exceptional ability to write. He was a communicator and an entertainer – a potent blend in any society at any time. “You have a way of bewitching people,” the Pope supposedly claimed with alarm. It was not so much what Galileo was saying, although that was important, but rather the way he was saying it: in colloquial Italian rather than Latin aimed at the political ruling class and the common man rather than the academic elites and with a felicity that defied traditional scientific treatises. “In short,” the author writes, “this man was a troublemaker.”
In February 1616 the Papacy issued a decree denouncing Galileo’s theories, calling them “foolish and absurd,” banning all books and lectures arguing that the sun was the center of the solar system on pain of imprisonment.
The inquisition of Galileo in Rome led by Cardinal Bellarmine in 1616 remains something of a mystery to this day. Or, as the author puts it, “a curious inconclusive oddment in history.” And yet “it is, and will remain to the end, the kingpin of the case” against Galileo. The scientist was evidently humble and cooperative. Official records of the proceedings have disappeared. However, the author suggests that Galileo was under no injunction not to speak of his findings and opinions, as would later be claimed. In 1616, the Church's Council of Trent had proclaimed: “Petulant minds must be restrained from interpreting Scripture against the authority of tradition in matters that pertain to faith and morals. This was good news (of sorts) for Galileo. ”So long as his teachings remained purely a matter of mathematics and theory, everything was copasetic, so long as the Catholic Church was concerned.
Galileo laid low, so to speak, after 1616, but the sudden and unexpected appearance of comets in 1618, just as the Thirty Years’ War began, brought the issue of heliocentrism back into the front of the public mind. Galileo gently re-emerged on the public scene in 1623 with the election of Pope Urban VIII, a man from Florence and a committed patron of the sciences. Moreover, Bellarmine was for several years dead. Therefore, things looked rather auspicious, politically speaking, when Galileo entered the public debate on the nature of the comets.
Despite his friendliness to scientists before his became Urban VIII, the new pope now directed Galileo that he was free to speculate on the nature of the universe so long as he conceded his theories were clearly and obviously wrong no matter how convincing the physical evidence because “God is capable of great mysteries.”
In 1629, confident that he was politically in the clear, Galileo published his famous Dialogue on Great World Systems, “clearly one of the great works in western world history,” according to the author. Galileo tells the story of the Copernican system via a fictional dialogue between three characters: Salviati, Sagredo, and Simplicio.
Pope Urban VIII was by 1630 mired in the Christian religious civil war known as The Thirty Years War – and he was losing on the foreign policy front. And now here came Galileo, writing in Italian for a lay audience and heaping ridicule on the Church’s position of heliocentrism. It was the worst possible time politically for the Church to face a challenge to its teachings and authority. Meanwhile, Galileo himself was increasingly feeble with old age; the summons to Rome to answer questions before the pontiff seemed almost a death sentence.
The epic trial of April 1633 pivoted on the questionable injunction of 1616, that was supposedly delivered verbally by Bellarmine, but was determined to mean that Galileo agreed not to “hold, defend, nor teach that opinion (Copernicus’ heliocentrism) in any way whatsoever.” The injunction of 1616 issued by Bellarmine is the linchpin of he whole case against Galileo according to de Santillana. It literally all came down to the words, not anywhere verified, that he agreed not to teach heliocentrism “in anyway whatsoever,” to include putting the arguments in the mouth of a fictional character who ostensibly loses the debate, as was the case in the Dialogue. According the author: “the authorities had gone off the deep end.”
Two themes come into full. First, the injuction of 1616 was a flimsy reed upon which to lean when attacking Galileo for treason. And, de Santillana concludes, “[its] falsification is beyond doubt.” Second, the Church held a deep and personal animus against Galileo because of his “vain, glorious ambition,” further marked by his temerity of publishing in Italian, thus making fools of the Church’s official position.
Galileo called his theories “dreams, nullities, paralogisms, and chimeras” in a failed attempt to escape conviction in 1631. He figured out too late “…that the authorities were not interested in truth but only in authority.”
Galileo lived 8 full years after the sentence of 1633, much to everyone’s surprise, and albeit under house arrest. To his last breath Galileo refused to concede or confess to any heresy and remained, as always, a committed and devout Catholic.
De Santillana also shows that the powers-that-be will not necessarily require the top members of the scientific community to be the ones who publicly oppose the "science heretic" (a term that I think Isaac Asimov may have coined). De Santillana shows that Galileo's most popular opponent was a scurrilous priest who preached against Galileo in terms that were as absurd and outrageous as they were ignorant. (He claimed, for example, that Galileo did not see moons around other planets but that, rather, he saw spots before his eyes due to syphilis.)
Comparison to other cases of science heretics show similar patterns although De Santillana does not go into comparison. For example, Darwin was also officially opposed by established scientist in his day, but the most popular opponents of evolution were non-scientists who made outrageous and ignorant arguments. In both cases (Galileo and Darwin) the pop culture attacks were egged on by more respectable figures behind the scenes.