Three items appear below:

1 The Great Galileo Myth                          J Bergman
2 Galileo Not Persecuted by the Pope    Frank Russo
3 Facts Still Unforthcoming                       John H Williams

The Great Galileo Myth

Jerry Bergman

(Investigator 95, 2004 March)


A review of the Galileo controversy reveals that a major reason for his difficulties was opposition from scientific colleagues, not the church. The church became involved primarily as a result of pressure from the academic community. This paper also concludes that reactions of today's scientists to innovative ideas and unorthodox views in the area of origins indicates that not much has changed in the past three centuries.


The Church's historical opposition to the heliocentric solar system (i.e., the belief that the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun) is often used to prove the harmful influence of religion on scientific progress. Typical is William's claim that "Galileo was forced to write about Copernican ideas as if it weren't so that the Earth orbited the Sun" (2003. p. 19). A better example was an editorial that claimed "Western civilization has progressed since Galileo was branded a heretic for ... daring to adopt a radical new theory that Earth is not at the center of the universe." (Marrison, 2002, p. 10)

The Galileo affair may be not only the most quoted example of "persecution" of science by religion, but one of the most misunderstood events in history. An example is the claim by Charles Darwin's great, great grandson Matthew Chapman in his book about the Scopes trial:

For supporting Copernican theory in the mid-1600s, Galileo was tried by the Roman Catholic church and put under house arrest for the last eight years of his life. He was not "pardoned" until 1988 when Pope John Paul II finally conceded that the church had made a "mistake". 1988! Over three centuries to concede a scientific point that every man of reason had accepted two hundred years before (2000, p. 136-137).

Chapman added that Galileo "had been prosecuted by theologians" and then quotes the trial attorney in the famous Scopes trial of 1925 as stating, "Haven't we learned anything?... Are we to have our children know nothing about science except what the church says they shall know?" (2000, pp. 194-195).

This common myth is contrary to the historical record. As University of New Mexico history of science professor Timothy Moy concluded:

Galileo's trouble with the Church later became a popular archetype for the historical relationship between science and religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. For most of the medieval and Renaissance periods, and even stretching into the eighteenth century Enlightenment, the primary supporter of research and teaching in the sciences was the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, one historian of science, John Helbron, has recently published a book entitled The Sun in the Church that documents how the Church, in the aftermath of the Galileo affair, continued to promote research into evidence for heliocentrism, even to the point of turning entire cathedrals into giant pin-hole cameras to measure the apparent diameter of the solar disk at various times of the year (2001, p. 45).

The Galileo affair has continued to be a subject of much public interest (Sobel, 1999). A review of the historical record shows that the Galileo's trial "was not the simple conflict between science and religion so commonly pictured" (Hummel, 1986, p. 116) and that the popular conception of the situation is a myth (Lessl, 1999).

It is widely believed that the eventual acceptance of the heliocentric position was one of the many triumphs of science over religion. This view, immortalized by Andrew White (1955), has been naively repeated ever since (Harris, 1973) even though it has been thoroughly refuted by many researchers (Brooke, 1991).

It is more historically accurate to conclude that, although many Jesuits and other clerics opposed Galileo, the main opponents of the new Copernican position were academicians teaching science in the universities, and that much, if not most, of Galileo's support came from church officials. The distinction between the scientific/academic community and the church was far less pronounced in Galileo's time than it is today. In Galileo's day most European educational institutions were associated with a monastery or other church institution, and professors in Catholic schools often were required to follow the rules set for priests, even having to take vows of celibacy. Nonetheless, academic and clerical roles were often clearly distinguishable although not totally separate as they usually are today (Livingstone, 1987; Moore, 1981).

From our twenty-first century secular scientific and materialistic perspective, and in view of the atheism generally intertwined with science today, it is easy to dismiss the seventeenth-century controversy as a primary proof of the Church's antipathy to the results of scientific research that conflicted with religious dogma. Seeger concludes that the Galileo conflict is usually cited as an example of the "supposed warfare between science and theology." In fact, he concludes it is "merely an instance of the perpetual clash between an individual's freedom of thought and society's establishment of authority. ... Conflicts between the individual and society are always taking place" (1981, p. 168).

A Short History of the Heliocentric Revolution

The reactions of seventeenth-century Europeans to the heliocentric theory can be understood only by evaluating the entire situation in its historical context.

Throughout history, most civilizations understood the Earth to have existed primarily for their benefit. The stars guided them at night and revealed information about their lives, the Sun warmed them and lighted their way, and the rain clouds were created to water their crops. Until the sixteenth century most of humanity accepted the geocentric world view, viz. that the Sun, planets, and stars all circled the Earth. The common people took it for granted for generations because it fit a simplistic, straightforward view of the Earth-Sun relationship. Geocentrism was both part of their total world view and intertwined with their religious beliefs.

It seemed obvious to anyone who had the blessing of vision that the Sun rises and sets, and that the Earth is stationary (Bentley, 1966). Few scientists since Aristotle challenged it, and since Augustine few churchmen had questioned the theory until Copernicus. Seventeenth-century scientists and non-scientists alike argued that if the Earth moved around the Sun, wind would blow constantly at a uniform speed and intensity (Draper, 1957). If it moves, why do we not feel its movement as we do when we ride a horse? They were not aware that the Earth is blanketed by an atmosphere that moves with the Earth, but compared their experience with traveling on horses to the Earth traveling in space. Also, if the Earth were traveling around the Sun, what stopped everything from flying off, and what prevented the Earth itself from falling into the Sun? Since they had no understanding of centrifugal force or gravity, the new idea was to them blatantly foolish (Walsh, 1911).

Since it was axiomatic that the Sun moves around the Earth, they argued that anyone who denied this obvious fact was wrong. Even today we say "the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West." For years, new astronomical discoveries were altered or interpreted to fit into the established system by elaborate intellectual schemes (Leith, 1973). It was for this reason that it took several generations after Galileo to prove the heliocentric position true (Wallace, 1986).

Although an early sixteenth-century physician probably originated the modern heliocentrism theory, the one first credited with its scientific development was Nicholas Copernicus (Leith, 1973). Copernicus (1473-1543) was a priest, a student of canon law, and, later, a professor of astronomy. His research on the Sun, Moon, and planets eventually culminated in his 1530 work noted above (Nash, 1929). Importantly, Copernicus received much support from the church and its popes, especially Clement VII (Hagen, 1908). Cardinal Schonberg and a Protestant clergyman, Andreas Osiander, both helped Copernicus to publish his great work (Koestler, 1959). They even arranged for its printing, and the work was dedicated with permission to Pope Paul III (Hoyle, 1973).

At this early date, the opposition was mostly from the academic community. Gingerich (1981) notes Copernicus' book was highly regarded in Lutheran circles and extensively studied throughout their university system. Fear of exposing himself to the ridicule of common people was a major reason why Copernicus' work was not published until shortly before he died. The main reason they opposed the theory was because it proposed a radically new view of the Universe that contradicted the common view of most people.

The Campaign Against Galileo

When Galileo began his crusade for the Copernican position, to his surprise it provoked the ire of many establishment professors. Galileo no doubt reasoned that Copernicus was a respected orthodox scientist who published his work without major problems from the Church (Hoyle, 1973; Kesten, 1945).

The problem developed when Galileo's ideas were looked upon favorably by certain influential churchmen and scientists, causing jealousy in many of his rival scientists (Drake, 1957). A major reason for the academic opposition to Galileo was all the various "natural" philosophies, including physics and chemistry, were firmly based on Aristotelianism (Drake, 1980). Many scholars of the time did not value observation, experimentation, or research, a major means of support for Galileo's conclusions (Wallace, 1977; Ronan, 1974). For centuries, many scholars concluded that the basic truths of nature were to be found in Aristotle's writings and those of his learned commentators (Wallace, 1981). Logical arguments and reason, they believed, were often more to be trusted than were the evidence of one's senses (Santillana, 1955).

The real threat of Galileo to his contemporary scientists was less his position on heliocentricity than his insistence on observation, research, and experimentation to determine reality (Bergman, 1981). It was for this reason that G. A. Magnini, an eminent astronomy professor at Bologna, openly declared that Galileo's observations, which indicated that Jupiter had satellites, must be incorrect (Ronan, 1974). Although the scientific revolution emerged gradually, and many of Galileo's ideas can be traced to before the thirteenth century, Galileo openly challenged the whole system of determining truth that existed then, and therein lay most of his problems (Wallace, 1981; Burnam, 1975).

The opposition was generated primarily by "... a body of dissident professors at Pisa who ... had allied themselves with a set of courtiers at Florence" (Ronan, 1974, pp. 131-132). Most of the early organized opposition came from the academicians: they were qualified to argue against it, whereas the common people, few of whom were literate, usually could not articulate valid reasons for their opposition (Barbour, 1971). Conversely, Galileo had many powerful supporters both in and outside the church, a fact that openly infuriated his opponents.

Moy notes that Galileo by 1616 had the "support of some powerful liberal theologians, particularly Cardinals Roberto Bellarmine and Maffeo Barberini" later Pope Urban VIII (2001, p. 44). The clergy that were opposed to heliocentrism were often opposed because of the arguments of the astronomers and the clergy then often tried to use their positions to influence others. Likewise, today many clergy oppose creationism, and their opposition is often based primarily on the authority and power of Darwinists.

To ensure success, Galileo's opposition worked hard to build their case. Although it eventually became apparent that the scientific community's arguments against Galileo's position were not as convincing as they first assumed, Galileo's writings themselves were far less than convincing. Moy concludes that Galileo's 1632 book, which he believed finally proved his case for heliocentrism, did not, but rather:

Galileo's new proof made no sense; it was a cockamamie argument about how the motion of the tides proves that Earth orbits the Sun, and it just doesn't work. When push came to shove (and it did), Galileo simply did not know how to prove that Earth truly moved. Galileo had therefore crossed the line set out sixteen years earlier, he had promoted an idea contrary to Scripture without providing convincing proof of its truthfulness (2001, p. 45).

It is no wonder many of Galileo's critics remained unconvinced. On the other hand, many in the church were anxious for new ideas, and the honors it bestowed upon Galileo made his enemies furious:

They were all jealous of the special treatment Galileo was given [by the church, and], of his large salary and of the continual favours bestowed upon him personally by the Grand Duke. In addition, the academics were furious that this braggart of an anti-Aristotelian should be in a position to promote his iconoclastic views (Ronan, 1974, pp. 131-132).

In Galileo's day "no one had yet come up with a convincing proof that Earth really flew around the Sun at great speed, as Copernicus's proposal required" (Moy, 2001, p. 44). Santillana concluded that during the first half of the seventeenth century:

a major part of the Church's intellectuals were on the side of Galileo, while the clearest opposition to him came from secular ideas. It can be proved further ...that the tragedy was the result of a plot of which the hierarchies themselves turned out to be the victims no less than Galileo – an intrigue engineered by a group of obscure and disparate characters in strange collusion who planted false documents in the file, who later misinformed the Pope, and then presented to him a misleading account of the trial for decision (1955, pp. xii-xiii).   Frustrated at trying to stop Galileo with scientific arguments, his detractors decided that it was much easier to quiet him on grounds of heresy. As a result, the church was used by the academic community to squelch what they felt was a threat to both their method of knowing and their authority. Ronan notes that Ludovico delle Colombe's anti-Galileo faction were:
  disappointed with the way the argument on floating bodies had gone, [and] decided that it was time to carry the attack on Galileo into court circles, and to shift the emphasis from problems in physics to the far more dangerous ground of religious fidelity. Formal court banquets provided suitable occasions, and one day, when Galileo was not present, the opening salvo was fired by the pious Dowager Grand Duchess Christina who raised the question of the religious orthodoxy of the Copernican view. Unwittingly primed by Boscaglia, the university's strongly pro-Aristotelian professor of philosophy, the Grand Duchess questioned the Benedictine monk, Benedetto Castelli, who was a well-known pupil of Galileo's, asking him whether a moving Earth was not contrary to the Scriptures (1974, pp. 144-145).

In this case the science professors and establishment scholars actually were greater enemies of science than religion. Certain secular astronomers even refused to look through Galileo's telescope to verify his observations, whereas the Jesuit astronomers in contrast were willing to look through his telescope and "saw the phenomena for themselves, were convinced, and turned to honouring and feasting Galileo: after all, was he not Jesuit trained, a true son of the Church, whose fame brought distinction to the Order?" (Ronan, 1974, p. 127). Not only were these Jesuits delighted with Galileo, but during a visit to Rome he had an audience with Pope Paul III that evidently made such a favorable impression on the Pope that:

afterwards church dignitaries vied with one another to do him honour. In brief, the trip was an unqualified success, a triumph for Galileo and his telescope. ... As far as Galileo was concerned, he was overjoyed with the reception he had received; his telescopic observations had been confirmed by the highest astronomical authority in the land; he had the support and friendship of Prince Cesi and, it seemed, the sympathy ... [of] Cardinal Barberini. Church and society were on his side; what more could he ask? (Ronan, 1974, p. 131)

Galileo's main problem, what Santilana called his "fatal mistake" was his:

rash indiscretion, his insistence on throwing open to the common people, by writing in the vernacular, a question which was far from being settled...the proper approach would have been to write elaborate tomes in Latin and then patiently wait for the appraisal of the scholars... (Santilana, 1955. p. 18).

When Galileo was brought to trial the second time, he was a man of nearly 70, in poor health, and, partly for this reason, the churches' interference in his life work was actually minor. He had many research interests, most of which he could pursue without problems, and the trial only forced him to regard any findings that directly supported the Copernican system as theory and not fact (Brodrick, 1964; Drake, 1957, 1967, 1974, 1981, 1983). It is also commonly claimed that Galileo was tried and found guilty of heresy. In fact, "Galileo was never charged with nor tried for heresy, as is commonly believed. Heresy was a far more serious offense and carried a much stiffer penalty" (Moy, 2001, p. 45). Galileo was in fact tried and found guilty only of not keeping the agreement he made in 1616 to discuss heliocentrism as hypothetical only until definitive proof was forthcoming.

Although the outcome of the second trial hindered him from directly researching heliocentrism, Galileo nevertheless continued to make major discoveries in his many other areas of interest. His last major astronomical discovery made in 1637 proved that the Moon swayed or vibrated as it circled around the Earth. Galileo's defeat was primarily psychological, although it is true that some branches of the Catholic Church later attempted to suppress his heliocentricity work. And, as is quite clear from the literature, the reasons for suppression included the opposition of major portions of academia against Galileo and his ideas.

Ironically, the Catholic Church's response probably encouraged many people who otherwise would not examine the heliocentric view, and as a result many eventually accepted it. Although the heliocentric revolution had begun with Copernicus, most universities still taught geocentricity years after Galileo died (Spielberg and Anderson, 1987). When Harvard was founded in 1636, the faculty remained "firmly committed to the Ptolemaic theory." The facts reviewed here are widely known among science historians. An article published in a journal that is openly hostile to the religious world view concluded that:

While scholars have (naturally) been unable to come to a consensus on why Galileo was tried by the Inquisition, almost all historians agree that it was not primarily because Galileo believed in the Copernican heliocentrism (Moy, 2001, p. 43 emphasis in original)

The Major Sin of the Church

The Church's major sin was probably capitulating to the pressure from the scientific community, certain Jesuits and other enemies of Galileo. Only as a result of pressure from the secular establishment and the Aristotelian philosophers did the Church firmly side against Galileo (Himmel, 1986). An important factor in the controversy over heliocentrism was the matter of how to interpret the Scripture's descriptions of nature in harmony with the authority of factual observations about nature. The struggle was "a complex power struggle of personal and professional pride, envy and ambition, affected by pressures of bureaucratic politics" (Himmel, 1986, p. 116).

The Catholic Church was by no means innocent, but in fact was guilty of much repression and persecution of dissidents, including various Protestants, Jews, and others who dared to disagree with it. The scientific community, though, also has been historically guilty of much persecution of its dissidents, heretics, and even its most promising sons (Brewster, 1841; Nash, 1929). And science may be even more guilty than some religionists (Walsh, 1911).

Significance of the Galileo Case

The same problem still exists today, and many mainline Church leaders are again making the same mistake that they made in Galileo's time by siding with the secular establishment and supporting evolutionary naturalism (Johnson, 1995; Moore, 1979). They have again rejected Galileo's "Book of Nature" concept and elevated nature not only to a god status, but the creator as well.

Religion has no monopoly on intolerance. Intolerance is a characteristic of imperfect humans and a trait that all of us must work assiduously to overcome. Testifying today against Darwinism can result in death threats, as has happened to Fred Hoyle's colleague, Chandra Wickramasinghe (threats that, according to the March 1982 issue of Discover magazine, the police took "very seriously.") Today, more than ever before, we must realize that in experimental science ideas should be silenced only by empirical evidence that comes from experimentation and replication (Redondi, 1987; Langford, 1965). Since Origins Science is at its core, history, and not directly based on empirical, laboratory science, much speculation is involved. It is unfortunate for science that there is not more tolerance in this area in this, the twenty-first century.


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(Investigator 96, 2004 May)

Bergman's article on Galileo (#95) did not require 65 references.

The Pope gave Galileo authority to write a book comparing Copernicus and Ptolemy – the heliocentric and ptolemaic systems. The book was supposed to be in dialogue form with Galileo neutral. Instead Galileo backed Copernicus. This threatened to cause a rift between the Pope and leading Catholic scholars who still accepted Ptolemy.

Nevertheless, the simple fact is the Catholic Church did not persecute Galileo. This we see plainly by:

1. Galileo was a personal friend of the Pope;
2. The Pope gave Galileo a villa to live in, to which the scholars of Europe had access.

Frank Russo



John H Williams

(Investigator 97, 2004 July)

In Investigator #93 I wrote about Jerry Bergman's article in #91, and complained about his non-response to my requests for some illumination on Intelligent Design (ID).

I was provocative and had my tongue well in cheek in suggesting that he'd be "more comfortable in seventeenth century Italy, writing Pope Urban material critical of Galileo". This was a device to elicit a response, and one came in #94 repudiating the nonsense/pseudoscience promulgated by his more 'creative' co-creationist colleagues such as that put out by Jack Chick.

However, in his letter he stated, "I…want to deal with one concern at a time… I thought I would start with his comments about Galileo". (#94 p5)

Since I've been asking for elucidation on "key issues" his nine-page article, plus over 60 references, in reply to a brief 'stirring' aside of mine, which didn't promulgate "the myth" Bergman discussed, is unacceptable and insulting! I thought that Dr Bergman and I were having some kind of debate. I've repeatedly challenged him to respond and have scant respect for him for his failure to do so.

Instead of giving us "the facts" on ID, Bergman offered a piece on Galileo!

Having read Galileo's Daughter, based on 124 letters written by Maria Celeste between 1623 and 1633, I wrote that Galileo was forced to "write about Copernican ideas as if it…were a theory only". In Bergman's article he wrote "Galileo was found guilty…of not keeping the agreement he made in 1616 to discuss heliocentrism as hypothetical only until definitive proof was forthcoming". 

So, Bergman agrees with my point, and I didn't present the line that the Catholic Church persecuted Galileo for heresy.

Naturally, having seen the phases of Venus as early as 1609, plus other observations of the Sun and of Jupiter's moons, Galileo was convinced. Unfortunately, his fiery personality, provocative ways and his literary brinkmanship, using highly readable vernacular Italian, created conflict. He made enemies of those academics who were Aristotelian, as well as Dominicans who were anti-mathematics. He reneged on his agreement and was found guilty of contumacy (obstructiveness), and had to abjure to save himself more serious trouble. However, given what we know of him, he's likely to have privately said something like "E pur si mueve!" ("It still moves".)

Galileo's 'aside' is all the more likely due to his not having forgotten what happened to Giordano Bruno, who was burnt at the stake in Rome in 1600 for insisting that "the Earth travelled around the Sun, rather than remaining motionless".

When called to Rome, Galileo, 68 and in poor health, was threatened by Pope Urban with being dragged to Rome in chains. He was forced to pronounce on his knees this recantation: "I, Galileo, being in my 70th year, having before my eyes the Holy Gospel, which I touch with my hands, abjure, curse and detest the error and the heresy of the movement of the Earth”.

This lie was a gross humiliation which allowed him to live another eight years or so. In pardoning Galileo in 1993, Pope Paul stated that "Galileo's realisations about the Sun and Earth must have been divinely inspired" and "the presence of the Creator stimulated his mind" etc. Bergman may concur but I view it as a fine example of world-class spin we've come to expect from the Vatican, and it only took three and a half centuries for it to lift the inquisitory edict!

Despite his genius Galileo believed that orbits were circular to"keep the fabric of the cosmos in perfect order", ignoring Kepler's work. He considered gravity "an occult quality" and thus was some way from explaining tidal movement. He was the founder of the 'school' of experimental method, and I am skeptical of Bergman's claim (in #96 p45) that "religion" was his"major motivation".

I would be surprised if Galileo's writings showed that he "realised that God reveals himself both in the scriptures and in his creation, and to get closer to God, it is incumbent upon the believer to study his creation [some capitals omitted]".

This bit of purple prose reveals the author's strong need to legitimise the idea of creationism. By showing such great men of science as 'believers' (for some the threat of torture, burning or excommunication were unattractive alternatives), his"believerism”, which he criticizes in non-believers, has clouded his usual disinterested academic objectivity.

As a postscript to my long search in making sense of Bergmans beliefs, I offer this brief summary, via some net browsing:

Creationists are
(a) Old Earth
(b) Young Earth and
(c) followers of Intelligent Design (ID)

"Intelligent Design is the irreducible complexity in the living world that cannot be explained by evolution. In public debate 'IDers' generally avoid using religious references, but an intelligent designer may be implicit as God. Their ideas echo the arguments of Natural Theology (?), which fell out of favour with scientists in the mid-19th century. In 1991, ID proponent Phillip Johnson, a professor of law at UC/Berkeley, wrote Darwinism on Trial, which catalysed a growing movement. The Discovery Institute in Seattle is a stronghold of ID." (Author unknown, found while googling ID & Bergman).

Finally, I refer Dr Bergman to his article in #91, p16: "At some point I crossed the line, realising the case against evolutionism was overwhelming and, conversely, the case for the alternative, creationism, was likewise overwhelming."

If the case for creationism is "overwhelming”, it shouldn't be too difficult for a highly articulate polymath like Dr Bergman to tell us. That he hasn't is a tribute to his avoidance, his capacity to hint and tease without providing substance, and his submission of articles on ‘scientists who believed' as distractors.

Here's a somewhat inelegant Americanism, Dr Bergman: please put your money where your mouth is!