So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Conversations over dinner: Saint Galileo

Catholic bashers love to wax poetic about the Galileo thing. The problem is, the stuff that comes out of some people's mouths is nothing less than anti-Catholic bigotry. The promoters of the Galileo urban legend conveniently abdicate the use of their brains to sift history for any depth and meaning beyond the stereotyped tabloid version of history that reinforces a convenient, polite intolerance that is accompanied by a willingness to engage in calumny to prop up their own weak characters. Their velvet fascism is hardly the kind of behaviour for which civilized people should want to be known.

A couple of commenters at Yahoo News have captured the appropriate response to an (unwitting?) exponent of revisionist history:
One of the main causes of persecution is intolerance, something the Catholic (C)hurch has a great deal of experience with. They've been using it for centuries. Ask Galileo.
Two Replies
What was it about the Pope's statements indicated intolerance? There was no intolerance in his statements.
As for Galileo, the Church was tolerant and patient with him and he was tried for attacking the Pope who was supporting him. Galileo was imprisoned in his own home and was treated well for disobeying the Pope who was his friend. It turns out that the Church was correct on the science that Galileo was only half right.
Yes, the Galileo story is quite a bit more complicated than 'The Church was angry and anti-science and was MEAN to Galileo' which is what many people believe. Keep in mind that the first describer of heliocentrism, Copernicus, was in fact a Catholic monk.
Galileo's work was sponsored by the Church and, as was the common practice of those days, Galileo went to talk to his sponsor about his plans to write a book based on his discoveries. Now, Galileo wanted to make a book that simply declared that heliocentrism was correct, and didn't mention geocentrism at all. The pope told him that he should instead write his book in the Socratan style (i.e., Socratic method) (the most common style of the day) as a dialogue between someone who supported geocentrism and someone who supported heliocentrism. Galileo agreed.
Fast forward a year or so and the book is published. Sure enough, it is a dialogue between geo/helio-centrists. But there's a problem. See, Galileo wasn't exactly the most... tactful... person, and he was kinda annoyed that the pope had told him to write it in this style. So when people read the book, the geocentrist, named 'Simplissimus' (Simplicio), was a bumbling buffoon (which would have been okay), whose facial features matched the pope and whose choice of words and phrases matched the pope as well. Galileo was libeling the Pope.
It is this libel, the depiction of the pope as an idiot, which got Galileo in trouble and got his book banned. His science, which had been supported by the Church for years, wasn't really a problem.
Corrective Chit Chat

A colleague was surprised to learn the facts about Galileo's behaviour over a recent dinner conversation. The colleague, who began to spout the usual litany of complaints against the Church before I seeded the conversation with a remark about Galileo's problematic presumption, had bought into the tabloid version of events massaged into her brain by who knows which media organization's limp "news" articles and/or other casual conversations founded on nothing more than lazy thinking.

Galileo, a tactless and rather stubborn individual, had also wanted to change Holy Scripture to match his theories about the natural world. By so insisting that Scripture be, in effect, rewritten, he incurred the objection of the Church hierarchy at the time which rightly pointed out that Galileo's proposition represented, among several legitimate criticisms of his approach, a misunderstanding about the way truth is variously presented in Scripture (literal or empirical, allegorical, tropological or moral, anagogical).
"The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go."—Caesar Cardinal Baronius, contemporary of Galileo Galilei. The quote is often wrongly attributed to Galileo.

At the time, many prelates in the Church encouraged study of the Copernican theories Galileo was attempting to ratify but had not proven. Galileo had not found any stellar parallaxes originally sought by Aristotle, for example (and only proven much later in A.D. 1838). He had not proven the theory of heliocentricity, yet he insisted that others conform their understanding to his mere claims without critical assessment of the theories in question.

Galileo, as has been pointed out by the two bloggers above, had allowed his vanity or pride to get the better of him. He alienated his supporters and was censured for his uncouth behaviour and his, at the time, unproven theories that he demanded be accepted without authentication.

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.

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