< Galileo

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When Galileo was defending the copernican model, it was not scientifically superior to the Ptolemaic system. Copernicus still tried to use circular orbits, and as they failed, had to use epicycles and other resources of Ptolemaic kinematics. Only after Kepler's work (that was largely ignored by Galilei) was incorporated in the theory, and Newton's law of gravity gave a sound physical basis to the whole system, was the heliocentric model undoubtedly superior.

Also, despite what is said, the Church did not approve the Ptolemaic system as real. It simply stated that both were simply devices to predict positions. It was Galileo who tried to force an acceptance of the Copernican system as "real"

Wasn't the church in definite favor of a geocentric universe, though? At least, there were many religious arguments put forth for it, and Copernicus undoubtedly published posthumously for some reason or another. Also the church had just finished some council or another where they decided there absolute and final stance on all sorts of issues, which I vaguely recall Galileo was opposing somehow...maybe the non-Aristotelian physics. In any case, I agree that the church was being fairly nice until Galileo got out of hand.

--Josh Grosse

I think you got some confusion with the terms philosopher and scientist Josh Grosse.

Not to mention superior. Anyway I left your text there. I'm not AxelBoldt that likes deleting here and there.

--little guru

The word "scientist" itself is probably recent. Newton called himself "natural philosopher".

Didn't mention superiority, and I'm not mixing philosophy and science up - the two fields split fairly recently, and much earlier material falls into both categories, in scope if not methodology.

Even in its early form, though, the Copernican system was clearly superior to Ptolemy in that the model of a tilted Earth rotating around the sun explained the oddly-inclined motion of sunspots in a simple way that Ptolemy could not, for example. Yes, Copernicus got a few things wrong like circular orbits, and Galileo himself was mistaken about his theory of tides being caused directly by the rotation of the Earth, but overall, his theories were still far superior to Ptolemy.

The church might not have accepted Ptolemy as "real" (and I don't think my text claims that), but at no point did Galileo ever claim that Copernicus' model was real either. The churuch's main concern was with scripture that claimed the Earth was stationary. The generally-accepted Ptolemaic system fit with that; the Copernican system (even in its early less-than perfect form) did not. Galileo pointed out that by _assuming_ a Copernican model, you could more easily calculate and predict certain things, but at no point in his life did he ever claim (at least publicly) that the system was "real"; he firmly backed away from such claims at every opportunity. De Revolutionibus itself is a masterpiece of weaseling and backpedaling.

Note: As I understand it, De Revolutionibus is no such thing, except in so far as there is an introduction that states the theory is intended for calculations and not as a description, which was not put in by the original author.

Did Galileo claim the universe was heliocentric, though? I can't imagine why he wouldn't have - after all, he defied the church to publish material on it (assuming the Dialogues mention the topic), and it seems more likely that he would do so if he though it was genuinely valid.

--- Actually the church claimed that in the book of Joshua when the text says that miraculously "the sun stood still" it implies that the sun rotates around the earth. This among other texts led the church to believe that be bible claimed that the Copernican theory was false, but it is now commonly understood that these texts were only intended to describe what the spectators saw, not to describe the natural processes behind the events, so the church now has no problem with the heliocentric position.

Does anyone besides me feel that Galileo should be credited, even more so than Newton, for founding modern science by conducting experiments rather than relying on mere conjecture (as Aristotle did). Or was there someone before Galileo who not only relied on experiment, but realized that it was the only way to really learn anything about the world?--


I think Francis Bacon came before Galileo in that regard.


Bacon may have philosophized about the scientific method; Galileo actually practiced it.
Bacon did in fact perform some experiments, mostly in alchemy, but it is true that most of what he did was promoting the method in writing, speculating, and collecting other people's (Arab's) results.


By the way, is there any historical evidence of a person using a telescope to examine the night sky, prior to Galileo? In "Galileo's daughter" the author says Galileo first picked up a telescope ten years after its invention by Dutch spectacle makers. People used it to spot ships coming over the horizon. She claims Galileo first turned it towards the sky.

--Ed Poor

There is an account of Thomas Harriot observing the moon with a three-power scope in June of 1609, and no recorded account of Gallileo doing so before Obtober of that year. Galileo did have telescopes before then, so it is likely that he did so earlier, but it is just as likely that any number of people who had the first telescopes in 1608 did so but did not record it. Galileo should certainly be credited as the one who popularized the practice, but it is unlikely that he was in fact the first.


Okay, he's not the first. I've stirred up a lot of trouble today. Gotta start checking my sources and distinguishing between what I guess/hope and what I know (tucks in tail, slinks away).

--Ed Poor

It is commonly taught in science classes that Galileo was the first, so it is natural that that factoid would end up here. Here's a good rule of thumb: anything you ever learned about history in school is probably wrong.  :-) Note, for example, The Myth of the Lone Inventor. Factoids of "X was the first to..." form are about as reliable as "X invented..."


I think Bacon and Galileo should be mentioned in any article on the development of the scientific method. I don't know about "credit" in terms of "lone inventor", but it would nice to know what part each had in science's development. I make no claims for or against either. It's science I love, not dead white males (nothing against them, though).

--Ed Poor

I certainly agree that any article on the foundations of science ought to mention both men; but this isn't an article on that--it's an article on Galileo. If he, personally, was influenced by Francesco Bacone, then that should be mentioned. But otherwise, I see no need to necessarily mention him, though I'm sure some description of Galileo's role in founding modern science might mention Bacon in passing.


The following passage seems a bit anti-church:

he was forced to recant and put under life-long house arrest. The Church, and most everyone else, held to a Ptolemaic, or Aristotelian view, incorporating an Earth-centered theory of the universe. Recent scholarship has highlighted the fact that many of Galileo's problems with the Inquisition stemmed more from his lack of judgment than from any great desire by the Catholic Church to suppress his ideas.
Nevertheless, Galileo remains a classic case of a scholar forced to recant some of his best work because it offended powerful forces in society.

What exactly was he "forced to recant"? The mobility of the earth?

What were the terms of the "life-long house arrest" and when did it start? Was he guarded, told not to leave his estate, or what?

In what way did Galileo's "lack of judgment" contribute to his problems with the Inquisition?

Note that I am not challenging, just asking for details. Ed Poor

The article as it stand is not NPOV, but the usual caricature of the case. --AN

Very much seconded.

If you have actual historical facts to add, feel free to do so. I object to any change of words as a gesture of "neutrality". I think the case is quite clear, but there is a lot of historical revisionism, understandably, given the continuing popularity of irrational mindsets.

I wonder about 'irrational' and 'antirational' in this entry Not that I accept Kuhn and paradigm shifts lock stock and barrel, but if you're in the midst of a paradigm shift and you yourself are perfectly adequately trained in the old paradigm how is it 'irrational' to not accept the new paradigm? The proof the opponents of Galileo relied upon was not purely scriptural (which is irrational in scientific inquiry, and to that extent should certainly be detailed and condemned in the entry), but older science. And don't believe that they stopped at Ptolemy - they were entirely aware of the centuries of further observation and refinement through the Muslim scientists; the model was wrong, but wasn't it as 'rational' as Newtonian physics was in the face of modern physics? So is opposition to new scientific theory on the basis of older theory inherently irrational, or cautious? --MichaelTinkler

I agree, the word "irrational" is too strong. Particularly since the Copernican model wasn't really that much better than the improved Ptolomeic model at predicting things (though it was a lot simpler and more elegant). Maybe "narrow-minded" fits better? --AxelBoldt

I think "conservative" is the correct word here, rather than "irrational" or "narrow-minded".

Also, the article says:

Galileo is a classic case of a scholar forced to recant a scientific insight because it offended powerful, anti-rational forces in society

What are the other cases? -HWR

Petr Beckman's History of Pi (sounds boring as hell, doesn't it?) is a marvellous account of the history of political suppression of ideas. --LDC

I took out the "threat of torture and death" bit. Is there any evidence that he was threatened with that, beyond the generally known unfriendliness of the inquisition? He was never imprisoned, and lived at the villa of an archbishop after the trial. --AxelBoldt

Axel, yes, the threat of torture is generally well known (do a Google search: galileo torture), although apologists insist that it was only "formal" and has to be seen in light of the times, etc. I have inserted a source which summarizes the case.

Regarding conservative vs. irrational, I cannot call the use of physical force to prevent the publication of ideas which contradict your own anything but "irrational", because its underlying assumption is infalliblity. However, I agree that being conservative is equal to being irrational, so I think the substitution works just as well. -- Eloquence

The article mentions that he was arrested; EB says that after the verdict he lived with a bishop friend and later in his own house. Furthermore, EB claims that Galileo lived in comfortable quarters throughout the trials and never was imprisoned. But you're right, Google paints a different story. --AxelBoldt

Andrew Dickson White is not a reliable source for the history of science. He had a b-e-e-e-g axe to grind against organized religion, and his entire scholarly work was devoted to proving that religion had 'warred' against science. He was, by the way, a very unhappy alumnus of the college at which I teach (Hobart, Geneva, NY - that was before we admitted women and changed the name to Hobart and William Smith Colleges - separate and equal and all). So he went on to be the first president of Cornell - that's not because he was a great historian, but because he knew Ezra Cornell, et al. He was very embittered by his early religious education, and hardly a dispassionate historian. Please. Don't use A.D. White, even if he is in the public domain. Much of the historiography of 20th century History of Science has been the tale of overcoming White. --MichaelTinkler

Indeed, a very good friend of mine and the late, lamented JHK from grad school spent last summer at Cornell reading witch trial manuscripts that White bought from German collections at the end of the 19th century (uh - 'bought' is a euphemism for the worst kind of American library 'collecting') and is working on not only an article on the witch trials in 17th century south Germany, but a parallel piece on Andrew Dickson White and the suppression of evidence. It's one thing to be sure that someone had been to an obscure archive and read a document and not reported on it, but to know that he owned the manuscript and managed to not include it in his work! That's special! --MichaelTinkler

having just reread the entry LORDY! A 30 year-old process against Giordano Bruno was proof that they meant it? Hadn't the Inquisition gotten anyone else in a generation? That's exactly the kind of argumentation A.D.White and Brecht use. Not sound. 'Show trial'? In front of the media of what nation? Please! Don't project your 20th century models on the 17th. That's not history, it's the kind of silly advocacy journalism that makes 'popular history' unuseful in the long run. Oh, well, just wait until you get to Bruno. He's not the sacrificial lamb of experimental science that White makes him out to be, either. --MichaelTinkler

I too have an axe or two to grind about organized religion. It is the most destructive force to ever befall society. An encyclopedia which seeks to describe reality will have to take these historical facts into account, and it will have to deal with historical revisionists who will try to rewrite what they see as unpleasant facts. The difference between those who seek to rehabilitate the church in its shameful persecution of Galileo and those who seek to rehabilitate Hitler or Pol Pot is that the church is responsible for more and enduring suffering through history.

White will be used as a source unless you can prove, through citation of other, more reliable sources, that specific statements of his are false. Axel, regarding the imprisonment, White writes:

The opening strategy of Galileo's enemies was to forbid the sale of his work; but this was soon seen to be unavailing, for the first edition had already been spread throughout Europe. Urban now became more angry than ever, and both Galileo and his works were placed in the hands of the Inquisition. In vain did the good Benedictine Castelli urge that Galileo was entirely respectful to the Church; in vain did he insist that ``nothing that can be done can now hinder the earth from revolving. He was dismissed in disgrace, and Galileo was forced to appear in the presence of the dread tribunal without defender or adviser. There, as was so long concealed, but as is now fully revealed, he was menaced with torture again and again by express order of Pope Urban, and, as is also thoroughly established from the trial documents themselves, forced to abjure under threats, and subjected to imprisonment by command of the Pope; the Inquisition deferring in this whole matter to the papal authority. All the long series of attempts made in the supposed interest of the Church to mystify these transactions have at last failed. The world knows now that Galileo was subjected certainly to indignity, to imprisonment, and to threats equivalent to torture, and was at last forced to pronounce publicly and on his knees his recantation, as follows:

Also, regarding his "comfortable villa":

To the end of his life - nay, after his life was ended - the persecution of Galileo was continued. He was kept in exile from his family, from his friends, from his noble employments, and was held rigidly to his promise not to speak of his theory. When, in the midst of intense bodily sufferings from disease, and mental sufferings from calamities in his family, he besought some little liberty, he was met with threats of committal to a dungeon. When, at last, a special commission had reported to the ecclesiastical authorities that he had become blind and wasted with disease and sorrow, he was allowed a little more liberty, but that little was hampered by close surveillance. He was forced to bear contemptible attacks on himself and on his works in silence; to see the men who had befriended him severely punished; Father Castelli banished; Ricciardi, the Master of the Sacred Palace, and Ciampoli, the papal secretary, thrown out of their positions by Pope Urban, and the Inquisitor at Florence reprimanded for having given permission to print Galileo's work. He lived to see the truths he had established carefully weeded out from all the Church colleges and universities in Europe; and, when in a scientific work he happened to be spoken of as "renowned," the Inquisition ordered the substitution of the word "notorious."'

White also deals extensively with many of the same apologist arguments used today:

It is a disgrace to society that we still have to deal with the same kind of bullshit more than a hundred years later. Regarding Bruno, yes, he was not a strict experimental scientist, that is widely known today -- he was more of a pagan/atheist, and such people should expect to get burned. Of course, Galileo was also accused of being an atheist. -- Eloquence

Well, it would help if White were a more honest historian. If you're quoting White, no historian of science in the late 20th and early 21st century will take you seriously. Sorry to be so blunt. --MichaelTinkler, who isn't an early modern historian, but who hangs around with them in the off-season.

Most historians wouldn't take me seriously for saying that organized religion is the most destructive force to ever befall society either -- such is not a fashionable thing to say, even if it is true. The situation in the 21st century is not really that much different from that in the 19th -- people still hold views that are completely illogical and harmful to society. The great new thing is that now we have nuclear bombs and biological warfare to fall into the hands of such people.

The good thing about Wikipedia is that, while it attracts people from all sides, it does not favor views based on their popularity in higher circles. As I said, present contradictory evidence, and the quote will be shortened, summarized or complemented.

No, most historians don't take categorical statements like that very seriously. As I say, I'm not an early modern historian, let alone a historian of science - but I know people who are, and among that crowd A.D.W. is an example used in historiography seminars of how not to do things. Call it hegemony if you like, but he's not just fallen out of fashion - he's been rejected. --MichaelTinkler

Having read this talk-page I really look forward to the Andrew Dickson White entry. I just did a search and found a page [1] which claims that [A.D.White's] book has become something of a running joke among historians of science and it is dutifully mentioned as a prime example of misinformation in the preface of most modern works on science and religion. Poor fellow ;-) --css

I hate to admit it, but I failed to buy my own copy of his 2 volume autobiography when I saw it at the Book Nook in Ithaca last year, so I'm bowing out. Too formidable for me! --MichaelTinkler

Michael: A statement becomes not any more true or relevant by repeating it.

css: What else do you expect on a page by "Reasonable apologists" but apologist rhetoric?

The quotes from White are at odds with Encyclopedia Britannica, which is the only source I have. Information on the web may be influenced by White, so that is unreliable too. Since Michael says White is discredited, it seems to be wrong for Wikipedia to blindly follow White's lead and ignore EB's stand. Michael, isn't there a standard modern biography of Galileo which we can turn to?

BTW, White claims that Galileo was cut off from his family -- in fact, his daughter cared for him when he was under house arrest, but she died early. He also was not "cut off from his friends": even when already blind, he did science with the help of a good friend and student of his in his home.

When White says that "it is now fully revealed" that Galileo was threatened with torture, does he cite references? --AxelBoldt

I do not find EB very reliable, especially on historical matters. IIRC, they still state that Caesar burned the Library of Alexandria, and their information on the Crusades and the Inquisition is biased.

Just because Michael and apologists state that White is unreliable is no reason not to use him.

Information on the web may be influenced by White,

Uhh, yeah.

Regarding sources, see [2]

If there's controversy, then the controversy has to be openly discussed in the article, you cannot just pick one side because you like it better, label everyone else as an "apologist", and be done with it.

The URL you gave contained the word "torture" only once, and not in relation to Galileo. It didn't contain any references. --AxelBoldt

Sure, if you want to represent the apologist side of the "controversy", that's fine by me. I won't be putting arguments for Flat Earth Theory on Wikipedia either, though.

Regarding the use of the term "apologists": Note that css explicitly pointed to a page labeling itself as apologist -- this is the term used by these people for themselves, so how can it be incorrect for me to use it on them?

A reference is not only one if it is at the bottom of a page or fully expanded. White writes:

I shall present this warfare at some length because, so far as I can find, no careful summary of it has been given in our language, since the whole history was placed in a new light by the revelations of the trial documents in the Vatican Library, honestly published for the first time by L'Epinois in 1867, and since that by Gebler, Berti, Favaro, and others.

I'm not sure if the printed book contains an expansion of these references, however, it should be easy enough to pin them down. Furthermore, regarding torture, I have explicitly cited Hellman as a source -- the book is only a popular one, but should be good enough unless you can give me any good reason that it isn't. Honestly, this whole discussion is pretty pointless. The article is quite neutral and objective as it is. You wouldn't want to read one I write when I'm not trying to be neutral.

The article is not neutral because it fails to mention the controversy. You have yet to answer the charge that White is generally considered to be a nutcase. Are there historians of science around who take him seriously, in other words, is there a true controversy here, or has the matter been settled in the last hundred years? Do contemporary historians of science cite White's work? --AxelBoldt

Michael Sharrat, in Galileo: decisive innovator(Cambridge, 1994), indicates that Galileo was unsuccessfully threatened with torture to force a confession that he had held Copernican views after they were proscribed, which Galileo repeatedly denied. That is something obviously quite different from threatening torture to suppress Copernican views. -HWR

You have yet to answer the charge that White is generally considered to be a nutcase.

No, not at all. No evidence has been presented for that, so why should I even consider answering such a plump ad hominem attack?

Gee, I dunno, Eloquence (or plain ol' Erik) ...more to the point, why should any of us expect someone egotistical enough to give himself such a nom de plume. who thinks he should be paid for his contributions, and who states at the outset that he has an ax to grind, to even bother? There has been evidence given -- Michael points out that, among historians of the period, White's theories are discredited. Moreover, one of the duties of anyone who wants to be considered a good historian is ethically obliged to consider the events and actions of the people he studies in the context of the period in which the occurred. You don't do this. White didn't, either. Finally, we rely on common sense, when we don't have primary sources to tell us something. Everything Axel has said makes sense; his conclusions are logical and fit in with what we know about peole in general. All you have is a pathetic dependence on a discredited historian. You should pay us.

So is there an actual argument you are trying to make here? I'm not seeing anything of the sort. Nor do I see any evidence against White in general, or the quote in particular. By the way, I'm completely open to alternative explanations of the historical incidents in question, as long as they are listed as such, or even to replacing particular statements, as long as good reasons are cited. So far it looks like you don't like the facts, nor do you want to do any work. Of course, if you pay me, I'll dig into the revisionist claims myself. :-) -- Eloquence

Sorry -- what point didn't you get?

  1. You are posing as an historian (basically, since you are commenting on and writing on an historical topic), yet you insist on relying upon the work of someone who has been discredited by the academic community. Your refusal to accept that this is true because there is no "proof" (what do you want? You have first-hand knowledge from members of his peer group). This is just troll-like behavior.
  2. You refuse to approach this from an NPOV, which is non-wikipedia behavior. It's also bad history. You justify this by saying that organized religion is a destructive force -- something that can be argued successfully in either direction, depending on the facts one pick and chooses. However, that isn't the subject of the article, nor a justification for your approach.
  3. since what you have written is not good history, nor NPOV, AND since you don't seem to have any respect for the fact that there are others out here who actually might have a clue and aren't just dilletantes, the fact that you think you should be paid is pretty silly.


yet you insist on relying upon the work of someone who has been discredited by the academic community. Your refusal to accept that this is true because there is no "proof"

Exactly. A simple statement by someone else is not enough. I do not care about credentials, only about facts and logic. Your use of troll is merely a killer phrase to avoid argument.

You refuse to approach this from an NPOV

Absolutely not. I want the article to present all reasonable sides of the debate. As I said, feel free to add to the article if you think something is missing. -- Eloquence

E- as your entire contribution to this article is based on your a priori non-NPOV belief that orgainized religion is a destructive force, and because you have chosen largely to base your contributions on the work of one historian who has been discredited in the eyes of his peers (to a great extent because he did not write from a NPOV, and picked and chose facts to support his cause, rather than a greater truth), you may have to just lump it when this is re-written in a NPOV way.

"based on your a priori"

Incorrect, my beliefs are based on facts (as I perceive them) and logic (applied to these facts).

'a priori' to your contribution, at least, and, as far as I can tell, to your doing any research -- note that I do not disagree with your perceptions nor your beliefs. However, to remain neutral, you must not allow your perceptions (colored by your a priori belief that organized religion is destructive) to exclude evidence with which you disagree.

"non-NPOV belief"

How about some thinking before coming up with oxymorons like that? Or is this just your feeble attempt at playing with a killer phrase in order to evade discourse?

For someone so "eloquent", you are not living up to your nom de plume -- in fact, you're just being rude. Non-NPOV is not an oxymoron, either -- it is a perfectly valid expression for the absence of a neutral point of view. That is, in the 'pedia, we strive for neutrality. If something does not bear up under the NPOV test, it is not- or non-NPOV. Not feeble, just logical. Hardly a killer phrase

"one historian who has been discredited"

No evidence whatsoever has been cited to support this allegation. Sorry...what kind of evidence are you looking for? I could point out that a disproportionate amount of the sites about White's works that come up on a Google search have an anti-religious or anti-Christian axe to grind. Not proof that he is discredited, but interesting that very few current scholars of the History of Science choose to cite him. Michael Tinkler offered the reaction of friends in the academic community. You may not like what he said, but other wikipedians would certainly say that Mr. Tinkler has always presented well-researched and defended arguments on the site, and has always acted in an ethical manner.

Having taken the time to read much of White's "Warfare" on the web, I can assure you that White did not consider his evidence in the context of the time, nor did he attempt to approach his subject with any neutrality. Such a work would not meet the requirements set for today's historians. Today, we are actually expected to discuss issues in depth, citing our sources and arguments to the contrary. White's work is little but a selection of quotations and citations chosen purely to suit his thesis. Moreover, he judges all of his subjects by the same measuring stick, no matter the time or location. You have every right to disagree personally, but when contributing to what is supposed to be an encyclopedia with (we hope) high standards, one might expect that those standards also matter to you.

"you may have to just lump it"

Try again, Sherlock. Take your lame attempts at historical revisionism somewhere where they will be appreciated.

Actually, I'm one of the least revisionist historians around. I study dead white people, mostly. I just happen to enjoy looking at what we know about actual circumstances (for example, the ones that Axel mentioned regarding Galileo's house arrest) than relying on historians who actually call Bishop Usher a "great mind". and you may not care about credentials, but actually Walking the Walk is advantage some of have over people who just barely fake the talk.