Thursday, April 15, 2010

Galileo Had It Right

Image credit here.

Galileo had it right 500 years ago--literal interpretations of the Bible are risky.  Moreover, possibly or probably not what God would have wanted.  From The Writer's Almanac for April 12, 2010:

It was on this day [12 April] in 1633 that Galileo Galilei stood trial before the Roman Inquisition, to defend the publication of his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632).

Galileo did become interested in the theory of the universe expressed by Copernicus, and then he discovered something that he thought would prove the theory beyond question: the telescope. A Dutch eyeglass maker is credited with inventing it in 1608, and as soon as he heard about it, Galileo set one up himself, and became the first person to use it to observe the sky. He deduced that the moon was illuminated by a reflection of the sun on the Earth, he saw that Jupiter was orbited by moons, and he studied Venus and realized that the only explanation for its changing phases was that it orbited the sun. He thought that, finally, no one could disagree that the planets orbited the sun, so he started talking openly about his ideas. He wrote and lectured for the educated public, figuring that they were a more receptive audience than scholars.

But of course people did disagree: The Church claimed it was at odds with the Bible, particularly a verse in the Book of Joshua that describes God stopping the sun in the sky, and one in Psalms that says Earth was put on its foundations and would not move. Galileo responded publicly by explaining that the truth of the Bible was not always literal, that it used metaphorical imagery.

Bolding that follows is mine:

He wrote: "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations."

Eventually, he was allowed to return home under house arrest, where he became blind a few years later, and died in 1642. In 1718, the Church lifted its ban on Galileo's work, with the exception of the Dialogues, which was banned until 1822.

 I think Galileo and I would have hit it off.

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