There’s a Mystical Island somewhere in the waters of the Mediterranean where the soothing music of the lyre is buoyed by a gentle breeze and life goes on forever. You may recall the stories from ancient Greece about mortals visiting its eerie caverns, consulting with the Gods and philosophers of ages past. According to Homer, Odysseus stopped by on his ten-year odyssey.
My source (who asks to remain anonymous), returning from his secret, recent visit to that Mystical Island, shared with me his conversation with Galileo, the retired Tuscan astronomer and mathematician who had taken up residence there in 1642, nine years after his inquisition, where he was found to be “vehemently suspect of heresy.”
Galileo was a gracious host, my friend said, as he turned on his recorder for me to listen:
Galileo, raising his glass:
Salute. Enjoy. This is the best Toscana wine, a gift from my daughter, Virginia, some years ago, from her monastery’s vineyard. I saved it for a time like this. In that old wine barrel over there. That barrel’s big enough to hold my books and me. I kept it during the inquisition in case I had to escape.
The inquisition was about your book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, wasn’t it?
Yes, I compared the Ptolemaic, earth-centered, solar system with the Copernican, sun-centered solar system. I first titled the book as the Dialogue on the Tides, but the Inquisition, which approved all books, made me change it, since if the church accepted tides it would mean that the earth rotated. The Greeks, including Aristotle, believed the earth was fixed and the sun rotated around the earth. In the Old Testament, God commanded the sun to stand still so the Jews could win their war in daylight. The Bible said so. Aristotle said so. There could be no debate! Findings to the contrary were “scientifically false.” I argued that the Bible is to teach men how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. God gave us senses to use and we had to use them. The heavens were so clear in my telescope! I could see the mountains and the shadows on the moon, the four moons circling Jupiter. Copernicus was right. Unfortunately, I had to recant my findings before the Inquisition, but in my heart I knew, “eppur si muove” – the earth moves.
That must have been a terrible time for you. As you know, some 350 years after your inquisition, the Church embraced your work. The Catholic Encyclopedia admits that at your inquisition the “ecclesiastical authorities committed a grave and deplorable error, and sanctioned an altogether false principle as to the proper use of Scripture.” The Encyclopedia also points out that you were always allowed to offer your work as a hypothesis, for astronomers’ work. What was rejected was the assertion that Copernicanism was in fact true, contrary to Scriptures.
Ah-h-h. When facts and the Scriptures conflict, it is man’s interpretation of the Scriptures that error.
Ah, yes, and not too long ago, Pope Benedict XVI said: “Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author. It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose ‘writing’ and meaning, we ‘read’ according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein.”
Unfortunately, today, we experience a similar troubling time. Since your work, scientific discoveries of others are claimed to conflict with truth.
Recently, there has been the work of a host of scientists about our Earth, concerned about its limited resources and man’s abuse. These scientists conclude that man is not sovereign over our Earth, free to use it as he chooses; but rather a part of God’s creation, with sobering responsibilities for the earth’s future, which is humankind’s future as well.
America’s new President says that much of earth science – particularly about human abuse of our Earth and human responsibility for global warming and its effects – is a “hoax.” He’s putting government environmental scientists’ work “under siege”, as UCLA Constitutional Law Professor Dan Farber puts it.
Agencies are required to removing documents from government web pages. Researcher’s papers must be submitted for “internal review” before they can be published.
“Scientist gag orders” are in effect.
It looks like the EPA’s scientific integrity policy, which bans “all EPA employees, including scientists, managers and other Agency leadership from suppressing, altering, or otherwise impeding the timely release of scientific findings or conclusions” is being ignored.
When our press disagrees and challenges the President, he propagandizes the press is spreading falsehoods and is “corrupt.” Laws are being passed to stifle disagreement and protest, calling peaceful protestors “eco-terrorists,” holding people in secret prisons.
True, no one burns at the stake as in your day. But …
Reason. Does Belief or Reason prevail? Belief stands for the proposition that unrestricted research and its conclusions that conflicts with beliefs are dangerous. Reason is open to whatever is discovered. In my time the priests said I was incorrigible, that I set out to prove God did not study astronomy before he sanctioned the Scriptures. But that was never true. God is not the fool, the fool is the man who denies Reason.
Friend: In 1939, the German playwright, Bertroit Brecht, wrote the “Life of Galileo.” He quotes you:
“He who does not know the truth is merely an idiot. But he who knows it, and calls it a lie, is a criminal.”
His words, my thoughts. The Inquisitors denied the truth of my work, but used my charts (based on my “heretical” assertions) to navigate their ships because there were financial interests at stake.
Friend: What about these words attributed to you by Brecht?
“In this respect the pursuit of science seems to me to require particular courage. It is concerned with knowledge, achieved through doubt. Making knowledge about everything available for everybody, science strives to make skeptics of them all.”
Yes! His words, my thoughts.
Friend: And these words attributed to you by Brecht?
“Now the greater part of the population is kept permanently by their princes, landlords and priests in a nacreous haze of superstition and outmoded words, which obscure the machinations of these characters. … These selfish and violent men, who greedily exploited the fruits of science to their own use…. They drenched us with their threats and bribes, irresistible to weak souls. The fight over the measurability of the heavens has been won through doubt.”
Yes! His words, my thoughts.
Friend: And these words attributed to you by Brecht?
“I maintain that the only purpose of science is to ease the hardship of human existence. If scientists, intimidated by self-seeking people in power, are content to amass knowledge for the sake of knowledge, then science can become crippled, and your new machines will represent nothing but new means of oppression. With time you may discover all that is to be discovered, and your progress will only be a progression away from mankind.”
“I, as a scientist, had a unique opportunity. In my days astronomy reached the market places. In these quite exceptional circumstances, the steadfastness of one man could have shaken the world. If only I had resisted, if only the natural scientists had been able to evolve something like the Hippocratic oath of the doctors, the vow to devote their knowledge wholly to the benefit of mankind! As things now stand, the best one can hope for is for a race of inventive dwarfs who can be hired for anything.”
I wish I had known Brecht. He was brilliant. He revealed my essence.
We are seeing many today marching against the deniers. We may be on a verge of change where the works of science for all mankind will again be honored. It will take our will, our effort.
I succumbed in fear of torture at the Inquisition. I should not have. Ignoring my findings for 350 years because the facts conflicted with belief? Was that good? If you and the scientists in your time succumb to your deniers, will not the harm be devastating?
Friend: Brecht also quotes you as saying:
“Man, tortured man, lifts up his head and says: I can live. So much is gained when only one man stands up and says ‘No.’”
I applaud Brecht. Take that as my message for you.
Friend: Thank you. I will be back to this Island soon. So much to learn. I want to talk to others here; gain their wisdom. We’re in quite a turmoil in America right now!