Following the rise and predictably rapid fall of Twentieth Century Fox's remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (see last post), this was supposed to be about some largely unknown real-life protocols associated with the premise of the film. I'll get to them next time, but since last week my CB thoughts have been on Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who not only -- among his other many accomplishments -- improved the telescope for making astronomical observations, discovered the phases of Venus and Jupiter's four largest moons, invented the geometric and military compass, and promoted the Copernican model of a heliocentric solar system against a defensive Catholic Church. He also consistently revealed his own humanity in the process.
On December 23, the Associated Press (AP) reported a story that the Vatican is actively recasting Galileo as a man of faith who bridges the gulf between science and religion. This is the same historical figure whom the Roman Inquisition brought to trial in 1633 and determined to be "vehemently suspect of heresy," supporting views contrary to Holy Scripture. The verdict required him to "abjure, curse, and detest" his opinions on heliocentrism, banned his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, and forbade him to ever publish again.
Why the makeover? For starters, 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of the telescope, an instrument of science that, perhaps more than any other, dramatically changed the way we human beings view the heavens -- and ourselves. (The Vatican has maintained an observatory since 1774.) Another reason is that 2009 begins the International Year of Astronomy, an initiative co-sponsored by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Oranization (UNESCO). The purpose of IYA 2009 is no less than "to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night-time sky, and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery." (Personally, I think we need more initiatives like this. We've forgotten more about our place in the cosmos than we remember.)
But underlying the Vatican's efforts where Galilei di signore is concerned is something that transcends tubes, lenses, and a year-long project to help others rediscover what used to be an integral part of what it means to be human: the conscious goal of realigning "science-friendly religion" and science where such is not only possible, but when doing so will presumably make a significant difference in how the world perceives the Catholic Church.
I've shamelessly borrowed the phrase "science-friendly religion" from a recent post on Newton's Ocean, a very well-written, always informative, and entertaining destination for anyone who appreciates reading about the science that surrounds us. I like Newton's "science-friendly religion" in this context because it brings into clear focus what I most often think of when I personally see or use the phrase "science and religion." The former suggests an openness and tolerance the latter does not.
It's difficult for us to imagine today the intellectual and religious climate of the time when Galileo was making his astronomical observations and learning how they supported a heliocentric model of the universe. The cosmological shift from an Earth-centered solar system to one in which planets moved around the Sun was profound and as revolutionary as the particpating heavenly bodies themselves. It also came to light more or less gradually through the efforts of many individuals. Among them, Copernicus (1473-1543) supplied the predictive mathematics supporting the sun-centered hypothesis. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) uncovered the mathematical laws governing planetary motion, which were later refined by, and further explained through, the law of universal gravitation discovered by Isaac Netwon (1643-1727). Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) published works supporting heliocentrism and, notably for CB readers, the plurality of worlds.
Mathematics aside, Galileo's confirming telescope-based observations made heliocentrism too real to be ignored by a powerful institution which had long advocated that Earth was the focal point of God's creation.
What we call today the Scientific Revolution could not be stopped, of course, though the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, established by Pope Paul III in 1542, did its part to slow things down. During the late 16th and early 17th Centuries the Congregation investigated heretical doctrines and other challenges to the integrity of the faith presented by philosphers exploring cosmology, including the views advocated by Bruno and Galileo.
Bruno was incarcerated during a seven year trial and finally was burned at the stake at the age of 52. Galileo's trial was swift by comparison. In addition to the conditions mentioned above he was ordered to prison. Later this sentence was commuted to house arrest for the rest of his life. He was about 69 years old at the time. He died nine years later in his home outside of Florence, blind in both eyes but bouyed by relationships with his son, Vincenzio Andre, and with Vincenzio Viviani, a teenaged math prodigy and personal assistant who shared the astronomer's home.
Readers of Dava Sobel's bestseller, Galileo's Daughter, will already know that Galileo, a lifelong devout Catholic, never married but had three children. His mistress, Marina Gambia, lived in Venice when Galileo arrived in Padua to teach mathematics and philosophy at the famed university there. No one knows when or how they met, but they were together twelve years and yet always lived apart, even after Marina gave birth to their first child. She was 22 and Galileo was 36 when their daughter, Virginia Galilei, was born in 1600. Virginia's surviving letters to her father, translated by Sobel, serve as unifying threads in Sobel's compelling narrative.
Galileo's life story is full of examples of human frailties and strengths recognizable by us all. In addition to fathering children outside the social protection of marriage, Galileo avoided marrying Marina, though he saw his illegitimate children as rightful heirs. He supported them as best as he could on a professor's salary, placing his daughters in a convent when they came of age, then arranging for a Grand Duke to formally legitimize his son. At trial, facing the prospect of torture and imprisonment, he softened his position on Copernicus in an effort to keep his Dialogue from being banned. The strategy was not successful.
After the Holy Office of the Inquisition announced its verdict, Galileo became so distraught that he couldn't sleep for days. He remained in bed, flailing his arms, shouting, and rambling incoherently at the injustice he felt. In time he rallied, recalibrating his emotions and focusing his intellectual power to write Two New Sciences, a work that inspired Newton and others in their mathematical explorations of nature. Because the book appeared in Holland, a Protestant country, and because Galileo claimed (falsely) to know nothing about the circumstances leading to its publication there, he generally avoided further trouble.
What I find so interesting about the AP story is the speculation that the new empahsis on Galileo's faith may have originated from Pope Benedict XVI himself. Quoting the Rev. John Padberg, director of the Institute of Jesuit Sources at Saint Louis University, "Pope Benedict XVI is ardently convinced of the congruence of faith and reason, and he is concerned, especially in the present circumstances, of giving reason its due place in the whole scheme of things."
The "present circumstances" include, but are certainly not limited to, Benedict's decision last January to cancel a speech at Rome's La Sapienza University following protests there in response to Galileo's treatment during the Inquisition more than 350 years ago. The protesters also questioned the pope's support of science.
From many perspectives, giving reason its due place in what has come to be known as the Galileo affair still has a long way to go. Pronoucements and speeches, sponsored conferences and even a proposed statue inside the Vatican gardens may help in degrees, but only additional time and consistent demonstrations of science-friendly religion effectively communicated to the public, as well as the academic community, will significantly alter the pattern of opinion. Not of Galileo, but of his Church.
History reveals it's not Galileo's image that needs reworking.
Next stop: Protocols
Colored version of the "Flammarion Woodcut," published in L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire, by Camille Flammarion (1888). The engraving's origin and date are unknown.
Andreas Cellarius, Harmonia macrocosmica (Amsterdam 1661), illustrating a heliocentric solar system and Earth's seasons.
Banner bus photo created by Dorothy Delina Porter