When Galileo Stood Trial for Defending Science
Four centuries ago, the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei put his freedom and his life at stake to convince the religious establishment that the Copernican model of the solar system – in which the Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun – represented reality physical.
After his own observations and the discoveries of other astronomers, no one could really say that what we saw through the telescope was an optical illusion and not a faithful reproduction of the world. The only defense left to those who refused to accept the conclusions first proposed by Renaissance mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, and strengthened by the accumulation of scientific facts and reasoning, was to reject the interpretation results.
Theologians concluded that a moving Earth and a stationary sun were in conflict with literal interpretations of the Scriptures and the geocentric Ptolemaic model, which had been adopted as the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church. The negators cited, for example, the book of Joshua, in which, at Joshua’s request, God commanded the sun, not the Earth, to stop at the ancient Canaanite city of Gibeon.
READ MORE: 8 Things You Might Not Know About Galileo
Galileo’s Inquisition is launched under the Pope
Galileo, however, continued to publish his book, Dialogue concerning the two main world systems, in which he made fun of those who refused to accept the Copernican system. On April 12, 1633, the chief inquisitor, Father Vincenzo Maculano, appointed by Pope Urban VIII, launched an inquisition of Galileo and ordered the astronomer to appear at the Holy Office to begin the trial.
The trial of Galileo, a man described by Albert Einstein as “the father of modern science”, took place in three sessions, on April 12, April 30 and May 10, 1633. The sentence was pronounced on June 22.
During the first session, the prosecutor Maculano presented a warning against Galileo 17 years earlier, in which Galileo had received the order of the general commissioner of the Church to abandon his Copernican ideas and not to defend or teach them in any way. This document was significant, because in his book (published in 1632), Galileo presented arguments in favor of the Copernic model, even if he added a preface and a coda which seemed to imply that one could not conclude which of the two models was correct.
READ MORE: Long lost letter reveals how Galileo attempted to deceive the Inquisition
When asked what instructions he had received in 1616, Galileo replied: “Lord Cardinal Bellarmino [who had been Chief Theologian of the Holy Office] told me that since the opinion of Copernicus, taken absolutely was contrary to Sacred Scripture, it could neither be held nor defended, but it could be taken and used in a supposed way. “Galileo even produced a copy of the letter Bellarmino had given him, which said the same.
From a purely legal point of view, this brought the evidence incriminating and practically justifying Galileo, because, while the injunction document spoke of “not detaining, teaching or defending in any way whatsoever, verbally or in writing “, Bellarmino’s letter used the much weaker language of” not holding or defending Copernicanism “.
But a special commission appointed to examine the Dialogue and to determine whether he violated the ban on holding, teaching or defending Copernicanism in any way, issued a report concluding that by writing the book, Galileo had disobeyed the injunction. One member, the Jesuit Melchior Inchofer, said that Galileo was “strongly suspected of firmly adhering” to Copernican opinion and “in fact, he maintains it”.
Feeling undoubtedly intimidated and fearful for his life, Galileo then admitted that, in certain parts of his book, the arguments in favor of Copernicanism seemed stronger than they should have been, due, he said. he says, “vain ambitions, pure ignorance and inadvertence”. He offered to repair the court-ordered book, ending with a clemency appeal, based on his age and infirmity.
A summary of the trial proved to be extremely detrimental to Galileo. It even contained false allegations made against him some 18 years earlier, such as the fact that he had been heard to say that God was an “accident”.
Galileo is sentenced and forced to withdraw from work
On June 22, 1633, Galileo was ordered to kneel because he was found “vehemently suspected of heresy”. He was forced to “completely abandon the false opinion” of Copernicanism and read a statement in which he retracted much of the work of his life.
In its extremely narrow perspective, the Church acted within the framework of its legal authority: Galileo was condemned for two incontestable facts. By writing the Dialogue he violated the injunction issued by the Commissioner General in 1616, not to defend or teach the Copernican model. He also obtained permission from the Church to print the book. without revealing that such an injunction existed.
Galileo was an old blind man still under house arrest when a then little known poet, John Milton, visited him in 1638. Milton later referred to his visit with the scientist as he argued against licenses and the censorship in a speech to the English Parliament in 1644..
The poet warned his compatriots: “It was she who tarnished the glory of Italian minds; that there had been nothing written there for so many years other than flattery and fustian. It was there that I found and visited the famous aged Galileo, prisoner of the Inquisition, for having thought in astronomy differently than the Franciscan and Dominican licensees thought. “