Atomic Theory Of 400 BC
    By Hank Campbell | September 6th 2012 02:09 PM | 59 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    If you've been in science media for any length of time, there are two arguments you will hear invoked to support almost any questionable position; that Einstein did his best work while he was a patent clerk and that Galileo was oppressed by the Catholic Church.

    One of those is wrong; Galileo was not actually oppressed by a Church, he was really oppressed by fellow scientists(1) , the Pope was actually quite supportive of Galileo but fellow scientists were looking for ways to torpedo him. Yet colloquially, Galileo is held up as this sort of 'religion against science' example in a way that shows many people believe it was some sort of unscientific Dark Age prior to his arrival.  Not true at all.
    Medieval scientists are just victims of some bad public relations. Fortunately, Professor John Freely, physicist and book author, is here to set the record straight, in a book called Before Galileo: The Birth of Modern Science In Medieval Europe:

    You've all read or heard the narrative I laid out above.  Galileo was this lonesome Rationalist on the hill defending Copernicus against European voodoo Shamen defending Ptolemy and he basically created modern science. Yet between the sack of Rome and Galileo, there was 'a science Renaissance before the science Renaissance' happening many times, some of it was just happening in Islamic countries and spreading into Europe, which is part of the reason why people with Teutonic dispositions gave it little credit. Some of it only exists in fragments.  Philoponus of Alexandria had debunked Aristotle a thousand years earlier, for example, Galileo was just fortunate enough to drop balls off that Leaning Tower in Pisa rather than living in Egypt, and Philoponus gave us 'impetus theory' and an understanding of kinetics as well, a refutation of Aristotle's antiperistasis.

    It's a shame, we'd all be a little better off if we learned the real chain of history and how nature was the first physics laboratory and religion was a big part of that discovery. You may have heard of Roger Bacon, the Franciscan friar and "Doctor Mirabilis" who was an early advocate of understanding the world according to natural laws, but Freely rightly notes that Peter Peregrinus was the dominus experimentorum of the day, even according to Bacon.

    Farther back, we get a look at Leonardo Fibonacci, he who everyone that took a class in Pascal programming knows because of his Liber quadratorum and its "rabbit problem", how many rabbits you have if a single pair of rabbits whose offspring also gives birth to a pair of rabbits starting in their seconds month, as do theirs, and so on.

    Basically, by the time of Galileo, Aristotle had been under attack for a long time; what was lacking was something firm.  It was all there, though. Galileo did not so much stand on the shoulders of giants, if I may paraphrase, but to pick up the pieces they left behind and create a pedestal. Aristotle lasted for a reason.  Experimentalism is necessary for modern science but if there is a World Series of Great Thinkers, you'd be crazy not to have him  on your team. But thinking can only take you so far, even before Aristotle, and I want to talk about the 'Empedoclean impasse' - either a thing is or is not - that existed in ancient Greece and has its echo in the more modern conservation of mass. It was a science controversy then, in the way that matters of philosophy and science were inextricably entwined, and it pitted science versus religion in 400 B.C., but not on the sides you would expect.  Parmenides was on the side of ancient Greek conservation of mass. The universe was indestructible and evidence showing otherwise was an illusion created by our senses.

    A generation later Democritus instead codified something revolutionary that explained how things could change yet stay the same; an arche between the immutable nature of Parmenides and the relativistic 'flux' of Heraclitus. This arche was composed of irreducible physical substances which collide and form into what we find in nature.  He came up with atomic theory - “The universe is composed of two elements: the atoms and the void in which they exist and move.”  His teacher Leucippus is quoted by Freely as stating, "Nothing occurs at random, but everything for a reason and by necessity."

    Democritus meditating on the seat of the soul, by Léon-Alexandre Delhomme, exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1868. Now in in the garden of the musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon.  Plaque: Hippocrate arriva dans le temps que celui qu'on disait n'avoir ni raison ni sens cherchait dans l'homme et dans la bête quel siège a la raison, soit le cœur, soit la tête (La Fontaine). Photo: Jean-Louis Lascoux (January 13th 2008). Link: Wikipedia

    Why didn't it catch on, then or in the later years of Europe?  It wasn't suppression, religious people then and later were not anti-science, they were instead objecting to atomic determinism.  They believed in free will, just like secular humanists do today.

    The arche was refined and became the elements (earth, fire, air, water), plus an aether that arrived later.   John Dalton wouldn't figure out atomic theory in the modern sense until 2,100 years later and then the 'elements' became solid, liquid, gas and plasma.  An Ionian intellectual descendant of Democritus would move to Athens and become the teacher to Pericles, whose education and enlightenment would lead to the Classical period in Greece and then the creation of Plato's Academy and explaining the motion of celestial bodies - which would one day make Galileo famous.

    If you want to learn about all of that and 200 other lesser-known scientists who led to the birth of modern science, "Before Galileo" is the book for you.  Freely packs a lot of good stuff into 315 pages and makes the case that modern science in Europe benefited from a thousand years of work leading up to it.  We just have to look past the public relations efforts to find it.


    (1) Get Radical - And Maybe Be A Better Scientist

    "If you think Republicans ignore 'inconvenient truths' about climate, imagine what you would think if you were a scientist in the early 1600s and Galileo ignored a whole moon...When his idea about the tides did not match Kepler or math, for example, he set about ridiculing both and ignoring facts that disagreed with him - sailors all around the world would have been baffled (had they been able to read) at Galileo's data concluding that the tides only happened once per day if they happened at all, they happened at the same time every day, and that Luna had nothing to do with them...He had some glaring stuff wrong, he was simply convinced he was right on the biggest issue."


    Gerhard Adam
    Sounds like an interesting book.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Why didn't it catch on, then or in the later years of Europe?  It wasn't suppression, religious people then and later were not anti-science, they were instead objecting to atomic determinism.  They believed in free will, just like secular humanists do today.
    Yes, and that is precisely why the obvious does not catch on today. Moreover, this is the reason for that even those before Galileo were not the first ones to come up with those 'profound' thoughts. The same comes up again and again in ever so slightly different wordings since at least about 25 thousand years, which is when magic mushrooms were already consumed (they tend to facilitate epiphanies), there are just no records. If robots will not take over soon, we will still a thousand years from now have the same idiotic discussions, simply because most people fear and refuse the most obvious truths, period, nothing to do with intelligence (or even necessarily science).

    [BTW - only mentioning republicans once - not bad! This is a pretty good article for somebody who tells the world that politics will care about scientists' votes (~ 0% of the population) if only academia fills their ranks with people who are stuck in the 18th century. Well done. ;-) ]

    I’ve ordered it.

    Amazon Price is £16.38 (UK), $18.39 (US).  Even allowing for VAT, that’s an example of Rip-off Britain.  Though I have saved about £3 by ordering through Amazon Marketplace.

    Weren’t Aristotle and his tutor Plato always at loggerheads?  Just as well there’s 200 miles or more between their craters on the Moon.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    He'll be happy!  At 86, an author does not write for any reason other than love for sharing knowledge - but selling a few books won't hurt either.
    "Galileo was not actually oppressed by a Church, he was really oppressed by fellow scientists."

    To separate the two (church/science,) and present them in opposition before they were in fact separate disciplines/subjects, is an anachronism.

    I agree with your point but not to do so, when in modern times it is standard thinking, is to eliminate context.  But yes, until a hundred years ago there was no science without religion.
    It is better remain silent than to give the wrong context because it "fits" modern ideology/sensibilities. The impulse to do so is, in my opinion, a major source of confusion in historical thought and in modern political thought. A Point of historical research is to understand that our "standard thinking" is not really "Standard," and that it cannot be projected backwards without certain consequences. There is no end of heartache and misunderstanding down this road, though to a certain type I think it feels good. It does not help that the appeal to what you call "standard thinking" is so often really an appeal to "standard prejudice." Reading some of your other recent articles (Do Democrats Really Care About Science?,) I have a feeling it is a prejudice that you have a tendency to play to.

    You're reading far more into this than exists, the same way people read more into the role of the church and Galileo - because it matches a world view that already exists. Oppressed people do not get put up in swanky villas and the Pope helped Galileo pick the title of his book, his patrons were the wealthiest people in Italy.  The ban on the book made him famous, it did not hurt sales - that turned it into a bestseller.

    Telling someone not to write unless it agrees with your cultural bias is goofy.
    "Telling someone not to write unless it agrees with your cultural bias is goofy. "
    >>That is very true but I didn't say that.

    "You're reading far more into this than exists"
    Then again, maybe you're not seeing what is there.

    The rest of it (Oppressed people do not get put up in swanky villas) is just one run on non sequitur. The kind of thing you'd hear at one of the recent political conventions (pick your choice as to which one.)

    Okay, what you are leaving out is an example.  Granted, in a 600 word review points are going to be made for context and are not going to be 10,000 word treatises on the subject (I am not in the humanities, so we give people credit for having a good grounding in science history, and don't feel the need to spoon feed everything about one scientist) but are you contending Galileo was treated harshly, are you contending Pope Urban VIII was not his friend and did not help him pick the title of the book to avoid controversy that happened anyway, that the Pope did not want a convincing argument regarding Copernicus? Or are you contending that scientists were not much harder on him, because he was wrong on the tides?

    Either you don't know what you are talking about or you don't know what a non sequitur is, based on your comments - I am hopeful you can clear that up.
    The "ban" on the book made him famous? Silly me, I thought it was the book itself. The Church is really responsible for his success then? Yes, I see the clarity of your thinking.

    Yes, the Pope was his "friend" and his patrons were wealthy as any schoolboy knows. The original point was that anachronisms are not helpful in historical analysis. None of your factual points are relevant to that issue. Nothing follows from them that is relevant to that issue.

    Yes, the Pope was his "friend" and his patrons were wealthy as any schoolboy knows.
    So we agree that 'the church' was not hard on him, which is what I said and you disputed.  100% of his patrons were members of the church, they were also interested in understanding the world according to natural laws, like I said.  Those are not mutually exclusive, like I said.  The group who were hard on him were other scientists and for good reason - when his calculations got the tides wrong, he set about ridiculing Kepler and ignoring the contrary data.
    Does the sentence that I wrote, and that you quote, say the Church was not hard on him? NO.
    Friends, by the way can be very hard on one another. Especially when they are called simpletons in a public forum. He was not allowed to think/say that the earth moved for about 15 years and held under house arrest for another decade. That is "hard " to me.

    Did I primarily dispute that the church was not hard on him? (although I agree that it was but that it is perhaps not as B/W tale as is often told.) No, I disputed making simplistic distinctions between science and religion at that time in history.

    Your point about his patrons being members of the church and wealthy does not make the point you want it to make. (That they were not hard on him.) In that time 99.7 percent of society was dirt poor, illiterate, peasants. The Church controlled society. You had to have church patronage to get anywhere. It was the only avenue. It is not like he had a broad choice of options. A very small part of literate people hung together and revolved around the church in a social sense.

    Galileo had many religious aspects to his thought as well. His rejection of the ellipse in favor of the circle is one.

    When you use the term "natural laws," especially from century to century, you are talking about a lot of different things. And a "Natural Law" that required a moving Earth, was certainly not in favor.

    Please accept my apologies for anything said that shed more heat than light.

    Cheers and adieu,

    You have some great points Craig. Welcome to the evil post modern camp.
    After sixteen years, in the same rooms where Giordano Bruno was questioned by the Inquisition on the relationship between science and faith, and burned at the stake, the same Cardinal Bellarmine, who challenged the theses of G. Bruno, also questioned Galileo Galilei, in the famous inquisitorial trial, which ended, however, with the "Abiura" dell'Inquisito,
    You're reading far more into this than exists. lol

    Two things here:

    In his Dialogo, Galileo effectively used three characters, representing himself, a sockpuppet, and a strawman, a technique used in modern times by the Chinese sage Fēng Săshā.

    However, he seems to have put himself at risk by using the name Simplicio for the strawman representing the Aristotelian position.  That would, to the tabloid reader of his time, have been the equivalent of calling the Pope a simpleton.

    Thomas Aquinas had achieved a remarkable synthesis of Christian theology and Aristotelian philosophy, thereby countering the threat from nominalism, whereby (according to G.K.Chesterton)
    Why were men in the extreme west, such as King John if I remember rightly, accused of being secretly Moslems, as men are accused of being secretly atheists? Why was there that fierce alarm among some of the authorities about the rationalistic Arab version of Aristotle? Authorities are seldom alarmed like that except when it is too late. The answer is that hundreds of people probably believed in their hearts that Islam would conquer Christendom; that Averroes was more rational than Anselm; that the Saracen Culture was really, as it was superficially, a superior culture. Here again we should probably find a whole generation, the older generation, very doubtful and depressed and weary. The coming of Islam would only have been the coming of Unitarianism a thousand years before its time. To many it may have seemed quite reasonable and quite probable and quite likely to happen.
    However, this left Scholasticism vulnerable to the inevitable collapse of Aristotelian physics.

    Regarding Giordano Bruno, according to his Project Galileo Biography,
    It is often maintained that Bruno was executed because of his Copernicanism and his belief in the infinity of inhabited worlds. In fact, we do not know the exact grounds on which he was declared a heretic because his file is missing from the records. Scientists such as Galileo and Johannes Kepler were not sympathetic to Bruno in their writings.
    If one reads his Wikipedia biography, it is apparent that there were many things closer to central Christian theology which he went against, and are much more likely to have provided the impetus for his arrest and trial.  One could have said persecution, but the Latin root of that word suggests that they were after him, but he seems to have gone for them like a rodent with Toxoplasmosis goes for a cat.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Gerhard Adam
    Robert ... are you suggesting that the early conflicts with the church may have been bacterial in origin?   :)
    Mundus vult decipi
    After what I’ve been reading on Science 2.0 recently, I begin to think there may be something to it.  When it comes to religion, some people portray a reckless streak, I am thinking in particular of Theo van Gogh (whose name no Englishman can pronounce properly.)

    The English playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) seems to have been another in the same mould, though there is the possibility that he may have gone in for such behaviour as a front for an occupation as a government spy.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Chinese sage Fēng Săshā
    Thank you for the chuckle!
    Never is a long time.
    Robert is the GK Chesterton of Science 2.0.  You cant just skim over him or you miss all the good stuff!
    Bruno was executed because of his Copernicanism and his belief in the infinity of inhabited worlds. ... Scientists such as Galileo and Johannes Kepler were not sympathetic to Bruno
    Ahh - the same same again and again. This is almost precisely today's situation with the many worlds of modal realism being refused by many scientists. We have progressed so little yet are so proud.
    Thanks for the note above.

    You leave off the last three words of the sentence you quote.

    " their writings"

    It is at least possible that "scientists" concerned for their lives would not openly support a man condemned and burned at the stake in their writings (that is, openly.) Personally, given the times, I don't think we should expect to find too much of this kind of support. Nor should we always take the lack of such open support at face value.

    There is always this kind of silent "editing," a catering to the powers that be, going on in the past. Look at the Bible and how the few Romans presented in the New Testament are represented. Extraordinarily nice guys weren't they!

    Galileo, in the end, was not allowed to write what he thought for himself. It is unlikely he could write freely what he thought about someone else.

    I think we have made some progress here but there is still resistance to new ideas and, as long as science is done by human beings, it is likely to remain this way. Will the editors of "Nature" choose to accept this or that article and such (Carl Woese is just one example.)


    Craig, you write

    "Galileo, in the end, was not allowed to write what he thought for himself."

    Nobody denies that Galileo was a martyr for free speech, as it is defined today. Was he a martyr for "free speech" as is was defined in his own time? I don't know. I can't imagine what "free speech" would have been in Galileo's time. Was he treated harshly by the church by our standards? Indeed he was. Was he treated harshly by the standards of his own time? That's open for discussion. One could argue that he escaped lightly - by the standards of his own time.

    But more importantly for this discussion: was he a martyr for science? That's hard to believe if you look at the facts. His theories were dubious, by the standards of his own time (as Hank points out with the example of the tides). But the also were dubious by the standards of our time. If a modern Galilei would present a problematic theory without convincing proof - just as the real Galilei did - few modern scientist would declare it correct. With the exception of SUSY and String Theory, of course :-)

    Galilei could have taken the position that his theories were just that, theories that had problems. That would have been entirely reasonable, by the scientific standards of his and our time. The irony is here that his collision with the church maybe could have been avoided if he would have taken that reasonable position.

    You leave off the last three words of the sentence you quote.
    " their writings"
    Oh how right you are! But still - it is the same today! You can't imagine how much time I waste arguing with established people in QM about that it is time to come out of the closet. There are hundreds who know full well that concepts like "genuine stochastic" are fundamentally meaningless. They nonetheless simply refuse to for example support the QRC because I do not completely remove all even potentially as criticism of naive realism interpretable words. They know - if you write what you know is true, it is career suicide (except you are already famous, but then few become famous without being corrupted along the way)! Same same, again and again.
    Amir D. Aczel
    C'est fantastique!!

    Amir D. Aczel
    To claim that the church has always been supportive of what would become known as scientific methods, and supportive of the results of what we recognize as scientific inquiry, requires ignoring vast amounts of documentation, most of it written and preserved by religious institutions themselves.

    It has always been very easy to be a heretic, and in the centuries when religious institutions wielded great secular power, the danger of being called a heretic meant that most inquiry into the functioning of the natural world was kept private. The few exceptions were people who had enough personal power or powerful patrons to protect them. The fact that a few such people existed does not change the fact of the general climate of fear which was imposed on inquiry.

    Gallileo was fortunate for a long time - he had powerful patrons in the Church. But when he lost them, and was no longer protected, he was at the mercy of the Inquisition - and the Church records show that the Church was not at all supportive of his challenges to their theology.

    Today we see biology, cosmology, geology and other sciences under strong attack by religious institutions around the world, in a continuation of that history of religious opposition to facts. Do you remember studying the religious response to Benjamin Franklin's invention of the lightning rod? Probably not; like other past religious attacks on science, it's not taught in schools because it makes church authorities look foolish. But the Catholic church took about about two hundred years to start using lightning rods: the practical cost of rebuilding church towers and recruiting new bell ringers finally overcame their theological objections to a mechanical device which allowed one to escape God's wrath. The original religious responses to Darwin's "Origin of Species" are widely available, though. The same religious mindsets, sometimes the same religious arguments, are still present and vigorous today, although they are not universal any more.

    It's seriously deluded to deny the long and extremely well-documented history of religious opposition to facts about nature.

    Look, I get it if you are in the militant atheism business but otherwise your knowledge of history and culture is so flawed as to be middle school-ish.
    Today we see biology, cosmology, geology and other sciences under strong attack by religious institutions around the world,
    The Vatican holds a stem cell conference every year and has the strongest astronomy group in Italy.

    Who attacks geology?  You are taking a tiny number of goofy young Earth creationists and extrapolating them out to being all religion. It is as silly as a religious person claiming atheists are all amoral rapists.
    If you read my note, I do not say all religious sects attack the sciences. However, since there are members of religious sects who do attack geology, cosmology and biology in the U.S. Senate, in the U.S. House, in state legislatures and on local school boards, your implication that they belong to a fringe group we can ignore is naive. Further afield, members of similar religious sects have taken control of the secular authorities in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uganda, and a host of other countries.

    The fact that the Vatican holds stem cell conferences and has an official astronomer are good signs, but once again, holding out exceptions and saying "see, look at these, ignore the anti-science in their other actions" doesn't work. What about the Church declaration that condoms increase the chance of getting HIV? I could go on, but that one item caused more human damage than any number of stem cell conferences can counterbalance.

    The fact that I am not compelled to cover up the failings of religion does not automatically mean that I am an atheist, does it? If it does, there are large numbers of atheists in high clerical positions, since many faithful can see the errors committed in the name of religion.

    I suppose you are trying to make a broad point, but now you are just getting around to it.  Okay, some religious people have anti-science positions.  This article never said otherwise, it simply said that invoking Galileo non-stop is filtering history through a social agenda, since other scientists were the ones calling for his head, not his pal Papa Urban. I got no dog in the condom or abortion fight; I think abortion is awesome.  When I was a young guy and wanted to know how to meet women and use some condoms, my dad told me, 'Go to an abortion clinic. You know those women are doing it'.  He was a wise man.

    55 members of Congress on a witch hunt against biology don't count a single cleric among them, nor do they say the Earth is 6,000 years old. 54 of them are all in the same party, and it isn't the party that Americans associate with religion.  The modern anti-science left in America is doing more harm than Catholics ever did.  
    You are trying to slide around my original central point, which is that the Church and, later, the Protestant sects, did not broadly support what we would call scientific inquiry. And that some (not all) Catholic and Protestant (and Muslim and Jewish and Hindu) sects today only accept the pieces of the sciences which are theologically neutral or which, accidentally, support their theology. Those basically anti-science sects attack both the science and the scientists whenever they think an article of the sect's theology is threatened by scientific inquiry. Like the research which found that the use of condoms greatly reduces the spread of HIV, which is seen to threaten Catholic theological positions on birth control.

    And members of those anti-science sects control positions of power both in this country and around the world. They are not a powerless fringe group, they are central to the workings of American culture and the dynamics of international relations.

    You should re-read the documentation written during Galileo's downfall. Pope Urban abandoned him, and without that protection the Inquisition took over and found him vehemently suspect of heresy, forced him to recant, and put him under permanent house arrest. All this is according to Church documents which still exist, so it's really foolish to claim otherwise.

    Also, the "anti-science left" is irrelevant to what we are discussing - we were discussing the attitudes and actions of religious anti-science folks. Using such red herring arguments is usually the sign of a writer who knows he's in the wrong. As are ad hominem attacks, like calling people "militant atheists".

    If you have actual original sources which prove my points to be factually incorrect, please do link to them. Otherwise, your article will be taken as propaganda by those who value actual, verifiable facts.

    You are trying to slide around my original central point, which is that the Church and, later, the Protestant sects, did not broadly support what we would call scientific inquiry.
    No, I deny your thesis that religion has some special role in denying science. Do you think the church of organic food is somehow superior?  No, cultural movements, just like political groups, map science to their preferred topology.  Even rational humanists can't escape being labeled as misogynists and intolerant because their upholding of science sometimes defies a partisan agenda. Religion did not invent ignoring science and embracing mysticism, it existed long before religion did.  Most groups still do it today, they just are not formal churches - you, for example, seek to frame this historical event as being a religious problem, and certainly some histories are written that way, but history is not science and the science of the day shows that Galileo was right (eventually) but he ignored inconvenient facts, the ultimate pseudoscience mentality - and what some religious and anti-religious people do today.
    In Galileo's case, to take one example out of a multitude, it is thoroughly documented that several Popes, many cardinals, many friars, many priests, many preachers, and many theologians explicitly stated that they rejected his facts because those facts ran counter to the Bible and to their interpretation of Christian theology.

    How can you say "I deny your thesis that religion has some special role in denying science" when the people denying science so often say they do it as part of their religion? Did you follow the Dover trial? It was dripping with religious anti-science activity.

    I asked you to point me at some facts which contradict my points. You don't do that, because you can't do that. The facts support my points, and contradict your points.

    Facts are facts. They're called facts because there is overwhelming evidence that they are true. You are denying things which can only be denied by closing your eyes, putting your fingers in your ears, and saying "na na na na na".

    I can't understand how you can be writing on a science site. You would be more appropriate on a Sparkle Pony site. And yes, that's an ad hominem attack on you, but your comments are such non-sequiturs that it's clear you don't want to engage in a scholarly discussion, you want to ignore all those inconvenient facts and make me go away. Which is fine. I wish you health and happiness, and an early retirement from writing.

    Facts are facts. Indeed they are. But were the "facts" of Galilei "facts" by the standars of his own time (or even by the standard of our time)? No, they weren't.
    The church accepted the heliocentric worldview as soon as it was proved by the facts - even if it ran counter to the bible. As long as there weren't any convincing proofs, the church rejected the heliocentric worldview on theological grounds. It wanted to be sure before it committed itself to a heliocentric view. The church permitted scientific enquiry - even if it ran counter to the bible. But natural philosophers had to be careful if they presented they opinions as facts. As such, the chuch stiffled free speech. But that's not equivalent to fostering an anti-scientific attitude. One could argue that in this case the attitude of the church was in a certain sense more scientific than Galiliei's attitude. He was treated abominally by the church - but a martyr for science he wasn't.

    This "interpretation" of the events leading to Galileo's silencing by the church ignores a vast number of surviving original documents which contradict it. It is based on some agenda, not on the facts of the case.

    Galileo was not the only one who had published or spoken about the movement of the earth by this time, or who had given their evidence for that movement - the Church, through several Popes and administrations, firmly ignored all evidence and suppressed such ideas as much as it could. The Church only accepted the movement of the earth when the knowledge of the evidence grew so overwhelming, and was so widely known, that the Church began to look foolish and ignorant - then it changed it's theology to match the observed motion of the earth. And all of that is documented in the Vatican archives and other library archives of letters and writings of the period.

    Well, since you have intimate knowledge of "the Vatican archives and other library archives of letters and writings of the period", you certainly know Horatio Grassi. You know that he - a Jesuit! - made an interesting discovery about comets. You also know that Galilei ridiculed him. You know, in other words, that Galilei was a seriously flawed scientist.. You know that he was a martyr for free speech, but not a martyr for science.

    You also know that it's not true that "the Church, through several Popes and administrations, firmly ignored all evidence and suppressed such ideas as much as it could." In 1620 the Sacred Congregation of the Index published its corrections on Copernicus work. There were 10 of them (on a book of several hunderd pages), all with the intention to change the presentation of his ideas from a description of reality to a mathematical hypothesis. The Congregation limited Copernicus' free speech, but from a strictly scientific point of view the corrections were reasonable: there was no convincing proof (by the standards of his time) of his heliocentric views. Moreover, the Congregation didn't demand to destroy the copies of Copernicus' book - it was enough that the corrections were added on a separate piece of paper. The church did not firmly ignore evidence and certainly did not suppress ideas "as much as it could" - Copernicus' ideas still were available in their original form, in 1620, four years after the church declared that the heliocentric worldview was wrong.

    You're talking about a "vast number of surviving original documents" which contradict my "interpretation" and you can't quote a single one of them?

    I'm afraid it's you who's having a problem with facts, not me.

    On second thought ... I think I know what your problem is. Maybe you know a bit about history, churches, religions, Galilei etc. But I suspect you don't know anything about science. Probably that's the reason why you don't understand the points I'm trying to make and why you think that accusing me of "interpretation" is a strong move.

    I've quoted Popes and cardinals, and the documents are out there if you want to read them. But just to get you started:

    To see how scholarly use of key original documents can illuminate this subject (and to see the documents translated into English) try "Behind the Scenes at Galileo's Trial: Including the First English Translation of Melchior Inchofer's Tractatus syllepticus" by Richard J. Blackwell.

    If you want to dive into latin, try Liberti Fromondi's "Ant-Aristarchus siue Orbis-Terrae inmobilis: liber unicus : in quo decretum S. Congregationis S.R.E. Cardinal. an. [1616] aduersus Pythagorico-Copernicanos editum defenditur", an influential argument against Copernican heliocentrism.

    For a more accessible sampling of some key documents, translated into English and intended for a general readership, you can try

    And - just the fact that the face of Venus showed phases like the moon's was enough to prove heliocentrism, and the fact that Jupiter had moons was enough to disprove the Church-approved description of the world. Galileos telescope was a real danger to the status quo. Yes, Galileo provided sufficient evidence to support heliocentrism in his own day - that is why the original prohibition was laid on him to stop believing, discussing and teaching anything that supported Copernicus' view of the solar system. Until Galileo started producing new evidence, the Church had not taken strong measures against Copernicus' work, but as the evidence started to roll in, they prohibited it.

    Galileo was not alone in being silenced - over 200 examples of similar orders have been uncovered in the archives, even though the clerks at the time did not keep good notes (which scholars complain about constantly). Galileo was part of a widespread attack on scientific inquiry; he's just the most famous victim.

    Gerhard Adam

    ...Pope Urban abandoned him...
    Doesn't the fact that he could be "abandoned" already argue that he had support and lost it [likely due to politics rather than science}?
    ...sects today only accept the pieces of the sciences which are theologically neutral or which, accidentally, support their theology...
    What does that mean?  Perhaps you could describe a science that isn't "theologically neutral"?  In my view, the only way science isn't "theologically neutral" is when someone interprets scientific data with a particular religious agenda or objective. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    1) Galileo had theological opposition from clerics as soon as he began teaching and writing - the attacks on him were vicious, and without powerful patrons in the church, he would have been silenced very quickly. He was only allowed to continue to challenge the churches theology because some powerful churchmen prevented his enemies from succeeding. Once he lost that protection, the religious institutions took over and he was silenced for his belief in the motion of the earth.

    2) To me, all science is theologically neutral. But to the religionists I'm talking about, everything must be weighed for it's conformance with their interpretation of their holy book. For them, no, most of science is not theologically neutral.

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but you deny your own thesis.  You argue that the church opposed Galileo's view, but then correspondingly you argue that the church protected him.

    In truth, you're talking about the politics and individual beliefs that still pervade all manner of issues today and the affiliation of any particular group simply isn't that specific.  In other words, the church was not a homogeneous mass that argued against science, so the protection he received as political and neither religious nor scientific.
    ...the religious institutions took over...
    Took over what?  Give me an example of where the church or religion has ever successfully stifled scientific progress.   Most of what is cited simply doesn't hold up when compared to other instances of political intrigue or arguments against authority/political power. 

    Your second point is irrelevant, just as claiming that there is a group that is arbitrarily anti-corporate, or communist, or socialist, or hippie, that is opposed to everything that they deem to be not "natural" or that interprets everything from the prism of their own perspective.

    Of course, that's what people do, but it is simply wrong to claim that religion, en mass, is anti-scientific.  Individuals certainly are, but you won't find any evidence to suggest that it is either universal or a requirement of those that practice it.

    In fact, I would argue that the charge of heresy was more apt to be put on other religious sects rather than science.  Again, in my view, heresy was largely a political accusation intended to control those that were vying for power, so if it was perceived that a particular scientific argument could undermine the political authority, then political opposition was likely to ensue.

    I have seen little or no evidence to suggest that any of these situations were based on theological arguments. 

    What makes this difficult is that people often want to argue about the church from its religious position, but the church isn't a religious organization as much as it is a political one.  Especially in earlier periods where it was in direct contention for becoming the ruling authority of kingdoms.  There has always been far more harm done to individuals based on personal beliefs than anything ever perpetrated by the church.  Even the infamous Salem Witch trials were finally stopped by the church, because the townspeople would've completely annihilated each other due to their superstitions, which were not shared by knowledgeable church leaders.

    It is no coincidence that the belief of the "average" religious person would garner little support from theologians and church leaders.  Many of the concepts that are set out as "religious" are little more than marketing for those that would exploit the gullible.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I did not argue that the Church protected him - a few powerful churchmen protected him for awhile. The church institutions always were a threat, because his writings contradicted the story of Joshua, and the bible's assertion that "the foundations of the earth are fixed so firm that they can not be moved,", as well as it's assertion that the sun "runneth about from one end of the heavens to the other." Additionally, he contradicted the biblical "fact" that the moon was a great light, and a number of other theological points held to be sacred and unalterable by the religious people of the day.

    They believed that allowing heresy in others turned themselves into targets for God's wrath, and so they tried to root out heresy wherever it was found. This was not the cynical political process you describe, although of course cynics used it to their own advantage. Most of the zealots who attacked heresy believed that they were instructed to do so by God.

    You have a very modern view of religion - you would have been forced to recant those thoughts by torture or threat of torture back then, if you'd been bold enough to write them publicly.

    Gerhard Adam
    I did not argue that the Church protected him - a few powerful churchmen protected him for awhile.
    Which is precisely my point.  How many individuals does it take to be considered "the church"?

    Why is it that those that oppose Galileo are considered "the church" while those that support him are simply church members?

    The point is that all these views are simply the views of members, and the fact that those that protected him were high enough in the church hierarchy to wield such power, strongly suggests that they were more representative of "the church" than others were.

    However, as I said, I find the whole concept moot, since it is all political and has little or nothing to do with science and/or religion.
    Mundus vult decipi
    The Catholic Church, and later the Protestant Churches, publish their theology. They state, fairly clearly, what the official stand of the Church is on various issues of faith and belief. That's what I (and anyone else who understands how the Church structure works) mean when I say "the Churches position" - it's what they, as an organization, publish as their collective position.

    The Catholic church is not a democratic institution. Certainly members of the clergy sometimes disagree with official teachings, but the official teachings nevertheless are the official positions of the Church. And the positions of the Church, in the case of Galileo, were firmly against some of his discoveries, and forbade believing in those discoveries and teaching them to others.

    So no, I'm not an outsider deciding which faction within the church was the 'real' Church. The Catholic Church, with the Pope at it's head, decided that Galileo had violated Church teachings, and acted on it.

    If Galileo had lived in most areas controlled by the Calvinists or the Lutherans or the Anglicans, he would have also faced persecution. The Protestants had no truck with heresy either, and most Protestant leaders also believed that the earth sat unmoving at the center of the universe, as the Bible said.

    Gerhard Adam
    This was not the cynical political process you describe...
    Of course it was.  You certainly don't think that the Borgias behaved according to theological doctrine do you?  There were many writers that opening acknowledge the corruption of church members and leaders. 

    It was every bit, perhaps even more so than today, a cynical exercise in politics.  Even today, does any believe that there is some theological conflict in the church regarding pedophilia?  That there's some issue of doctrine involved?  Of course not.  It's political.  People wanting to do damage control and avoid controversy.  It's purely political just as it has always been.

    Even the concept of the church has little theological basis and even less biblical basis for existing.  It doesn't particularly matter whether the church would be upset at such an analysis [either now or in the past].  It is what it is. would have been forced to recant those thoughts by torture or threat of torture back then, if you'd been bold enough to write them publicly.
    Ironic that you should mention that.  You're simply illustrating that the power has shifted from the church to governments.  Your statement is undeniable when applied to secular governments in today's modern times.  Even the most "freedom-loving" "liberal" governments are quite prepared to torture if it satisfies their political objectives and interests.

    Again ... it's just business as usual for those wielding power.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I think abortion is awesome.
    But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    So, too much in that comment, that is what you are telling me?  :)
    To add a few facts from Church documents about the Galileo affair, which began under Pope Paul V:

    In 1615 Paul V ordered that Galileo be tested by the Inquisition, and Galileo was questioned by Cardinal Bellarmin, who then commanded him "in the name of His Holiness the Pope and the whole Congregation of the Holy Office, to relinquish altogether the opinion that the sun is the centre of the world and immovable, and that the earth moves, nor henceforth to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatsoever, verbally or in writing.". Galileo aquiesced.

    In March, 1616, Pope Paul V decreed that "The doctrine of the double motion of the earth around it's axis and around the sun is false, and entirely contrary to Holy Scripture." The decree also condemned the writings of Copernicus and "All writings which affirm the motion of the earth." Pope Paul V also forbade all teaching of these heretical ideas.

    Pope Urban VIII succeeded Pope Paul V, and was more sympathetic to Galileo's disagreements with theology, but eventually Urban turned angrily against Galileo, after the publication of the Diologo. In that book, Galileo put Pope Urban VIII's arguments against the Copernican view of the solar system as one person's part of the dialog, and the refutations of those arguments into the other person's part of the dialog. Urban took it personally.

    After another bout with the Inquisition in 1633, Galileo was forced to publicly recant, on his knees:

    "I, Galileo, being in my seventieth year, being a prisoner and on my knees, and before your Eminences, 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."

    The publication of all of his works (including any future works) was secretly banned, his previously published works were put on the Index, and he was sentenced to house arrest, in which he remained until he died.

    The Catholic Church was not alone in condemning Galileo's work - for the most part, the Protestant sects also condemned the idea of a solar system, and a rotating earth.

    An old, and very well documented, discussion of this and other anti-scientific actions by both Catholic and Protestant sects is at

    Gerhard Adam
    In that book, Galileo put Pope Urban VIII's arguments against the Copernican view of the solar system as one person's part of the dialog, and the refutations of those arguments into the other person's part of the dialog. Urban took it personally.
    Well, that's certainly one way to spin it.  Galileo, was to put it mildly, a fool, when it came to dealing with other people.  It generally isn't a good idea to bait your friends with characters like Simplicio, simply because you want to pick a fight.  Well, he picked that fight and lost.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Still pushing the conflict thesis, I see.  A bit like those politicians in parts of the world formerly under communism, who rise to power on the basis of ancient hatreds.

    Only one word to answer that — Hirngespinst.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Gerhard Adam
    Let's conduct a little thought experiment to see how much things have changed. 

    Let's assume that we have worked out a fundamental theorem of economics that is unequivocal and demonstrably scientifically true.  For our thought experiment, let's assume that this economic theorem demonstrates that free markets can't work and that the only viable long-term economic model would be closer to what we call "socialism".

    Now, I can quite confidently declare that half the audience reading this will feel that this isn't a valid thought experiment because they "know" that such a thing would never happen.  How do they know?  Because of their belief.

    Similarly, what do you think would be the political reaction of someone that published such a proof?  Do you think they would be openly embraced for having for a solution for our economic woes, or would they be threatened and pilloried as an "enemy of the state"?

    In fact, we can easily see this in today's society where all manner of beliefs govern the reactions that people have, regardless of scientific merit, because the science doesn't count when it comes to re-inforcing a bias.  So the GMO foods crowd see corporate evil, the AGW crowd sees government corruption, and the evolutionists see creationist incursions.

    Everyone's got an enemy; a boogeyman.  Which is worse?  The church condemning the view of the sun being the center of the solar system, or anti-GMO advocates destroying a corn field?  Everyone's got an agenda, and religion has little to do with it.

    When was the last time you saw "truth" win out against the religion of patriotism?  This is particularly disturbing because certain political factions have seen fit to even label a President of the United States as a traitor.  What do you think they would've done with Galileo? 
    Mundus vult decipi
    You are using a classical rhetorical device of changing the meaning of a word (religion) and then proving that under it's new meaning, my arguments are specious. There is no religion of Patriotism, or as someone else (perhaps you?) mentioned earlier, a religion of Organic Gardening. Religion, as the word is used in common language and in legal writings, is a fairly specific thing.

    All I have said here is that there is a long, well documented history of religious attacks on scientific inquiry and that Galileo's battle with the Catholic Church is one of those well documented attacks. Well documented by the Catholic Church, in fact.

    Mr. Adam, you are clearly destined to be a follower of Mr. Campbell; your non sequitur "answers" and your lack of actual facts match up well with his. So I wish you, too, a happy and healthy life, and an early retirement from writing.

    Gerhard Adam
    I didn't change the meaning of religion:

    [count noun] a particular system of faith and worship:

    the world’s great religions

    [count noun] a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion:

    consumerism is the new religion

    Mundus vult decipi
    You switched from meaning 1 to meaning 2, although the original discussion was about meaning 1. Then you wrote as if the discussion had been about meaning 2. That is intellectually dishonest, an ancient rhetorical device used to confuse the discourse and sway readers who don't notice the slight-of-hand. It is not a valid technique for working through an issue based on facts.

    Gerhard Adam
    Wow ... talk about living in your own little world.

    I did nothing of the sort.  I specifically suggested a "thought experiment" to demonstrate how a particular behavior would occur based on individual's belief.  This was used to illustrate how the political power had merely shifted from the church leadership to more governmental leadership.  However you would see the same things manifesting, because it was about individual belief and the ability to enforce it.

    Of course, your view is more convenient, because you simply define out all the other variables.  There's no possible way to argue about the behavior of secular components, since you've defined everything so that the only opposition must be religious [in the sense of belief in a divinity], since no other belief system can be included in your examples.

    Your accusation of intellectual dishonesty is usually the refuge of those that have no argument.  Your point was some simplistic insistence that members of the church opposed science, despite the fact that it was members of the same church that protected Galileo.  Then when I pointed out that it had little to do with religion, and was primarily based on power and politics, so it wasn't really that unusual, you insist that I"m practicing sleight of hand.

    Sounds like you simply want this to be about religion, despite the fact that is about beliefs and the power to enforce action on those beliefs.  There's certainly no biblical basis for an opposition to science, and there's certainly no theological one.  Therefore the only basis for a religious opposition to science is because some felt that it compromised the power structure ... sounds political to me.
    Mundus vult decipi
    He did the same thing to me as you can see from my comments above. Not only did he switch topics but put words in my mouth instead of directing his points to what I actually said. This while all the time complaining about other peoples' (mostly laypersons) intellectual "filters." I' don't mind someone pointing out the shortcomings of others but not if they insist on playing intellectual Three-card Monte with me.

    The only other thing I'd say is that what he says is true in some ways but trite. The view of Galileo that he opposes
    (quote from his article: "Galileo was this lonesome Rationalist on the hill defending Copernicus against European voodoo Shamen defending Ptolemy and he basically created modern science.) is a characterization that would not carry water at the undergraduate level (somewhere in the sophomore year is my guess.)

    It is also confusing and inaccurate. "Science," at that time, is partly freeing itself from the "rationalist" tradition in favor of empiricism. To view Galileo/science as primarily "rationalist" is utter confusion. It is difficult to get more "rationalist" than Aristotle and Aquinas, both of whom where at the center of "religion." In fact, two more brilliant and rational people likely never existed.

    Regarding Galileo, our view of him has been somewhat skewed by emphasizing heliocentrism over what was, in my far-from-humble opinion, his greatest achievement namely his mechanics.

    Through this, like the angry dad of popular imagination, he dragged mathematics and physics to the altar and married them at the barrel of a shotgun.  It has been a somewhat troubled marriage in the centuries succeeding, with one partner or the other claiming priority.

    However, in a way, Paul Dirac has solved that problem by merging both into a compound tetraploid organism, rather like Gigabyte was formed from Megabyte and Hexadecimal in ReBoot.

    Coming back to our understanding of Galileo, for my generation the pitch was effectively queered by the play Life of Galileo by Bertold Brecht, who was using him as a political football.

    Stamp from the former German Democratic Republic, depicting Brecht and a scene from his
    Life of Galileo.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    I have now read the book, and find it quite interesting.

    The author is very much at home with his material, and certainly knows his equants from his epicycles.

    It could have done with a bit more proofreading.  There are some errors of writing, for example he gives the dates of Pierre de Fermat as 1539–1565, somewhat difficult for a contemporary and rival of Descartes.  Perhaps that is what 86 years do for one!

    Nevertheless, he gives a very clear account of how connected scientific Europe was through the early years.  Even though the Dark Ages were very dark indeed, this is all the more credit to men like Boethius and Cassiodorus who, after the fall of Rome, kept the pilot light going after the main boiler had gone out.

    In the 1970s, I knew a lot of students from the Middle East at Reading University.  For them I learnt a lot about the world of Islam, including the term Jâhiliyya (ignorance) used to describe the times before Islam.  One downside of this is, as a Professor who had travelled in Egypt told me, the people there do not feel a sense of connectedness with their ancient civilization.  This is very unlike us British, who feel very much connected to our “caveman” ancestors, even though we are in a large part descended from later invaders.

    Then came the 19th century, and people like Thomas Henry Huxley in Britain and John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White in the USA, who brought in the Conflict Thesis, namely the proposition that there is an intrinsic intellectual conflict between religion and science. 

    Here is a view of the Moon, taken with my compact camera.  Half of the labelled craters are named after medieval mathematicians or people who had supported astronomy, which shows in what high regard they were held by those who mapped the Moon in the 17th century following the invention of the telescope.  Most of the others are ancient Greeks, in addition there are two Arabic astronomers and two (arrowed blue) subsequent to that period.  I think it most unfair to think of that time as a Jâhiliyya.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Wow, lovely moon shot Robert!
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at