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The Galileo Myth

September 4, 2009

One of my big things on this blog, as many of you know, is to clear away the crap that gets in the way of real conversation with atheists and Christians. Most of that is from misconceptions and myths that we will build up about the other side. You should see some of the conversations I have with Christians about atheists, in trying to clear up the myths Christians have about what atheists think. It’s rather entertaining and one of the reasons I’m writing Chaplain of Pirates.

But, atheists have myths about Christians as well. One of their favorite is what I call the “Galileo” myth. It basically goes something like this: Galileo was brutally oppressed and imprisioned by the Catholic of the church for teaching that the earth rotated around the sun. Usually, Galileo is shown to be the hero, standing up to a backward, dogma driven church to show them the way to scientific enlightment. In some versions I have seen, Galileo is shown to be a closet deist, or even worse, an agnostic. The origin of this myth is often traced backed to the French Revolution in an attempt to discredit the church.

In the book, Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, we find this myth just isn’t true. The book is a number of different essays from respected historians and published by Harvard University Press. So, this book is not ideologically driven, especially when you consider the essays on ID.

Anyway, we find out that the only part of the Galileo myth that is true was that he was “imprisoned”. Which we find, consisted of house arrest in an Italian Villa by the sea where he was allowed to entertain visitors, had lavish meals and write outside letters.

Actually, the church was originally receptive to Galileo (and Kepler’s) research. The Vatican gave him a lot of kuddos and then sent him on his way. Again, the pope was one of Galileo’s patrons. What actually happend is that powerful academics around the pope got huffy and started accusing Galileo of teaching heresy.

You also have to remember that the data was not fully in regards to the earth revolving around the sun. We often forget that folks back were not able to research everything we have now. So, we commit historical anachorisms and think of them as stupid, backward people. Well, they weren’t. And, at this point, all the date of the earth revolving around the sun was not in.

Well, the Vatican was reluctant to bring Galileo up on charges. He was told he wouldn’t have to recant anything, but to hold off teaching until things could be confirmed. Even further, Galileo dedicated his new book to answer his critics to the new pope, who loved the book.

But sadly, in a medieval repeat of the whole evolution debate, the “media” of the time went to overdrive, fanning the flames of stupidity, factionism, and fear.

So, the end result is that Galileo was “convicted” of heresy. But, he was not tortured. He wasn’t thrown into a deep, dark, dank, prision. He was allowed to retire to his own home, even though he couldn’t travel. The church made a decision based on the evidence they had at the time and a misunderstand of a biblical passage. But, as bad as that was, it didnt result it Galileo’s death or even torture.

My whole point with this is that atheists and Christians discussion would be so much better served if we follow the principle of charity. That is, that we put each other’s positions in the strongest possible light, instead of relying on myths, half truths, and out right made up stories.

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53 Comments leave one →
  1. Sam Jones permalink
    September 4, 2009 11:12 am

    Galileo was placed under house arrest because he still had powerful friends. He was however a convicted heretic and if he hadn’t have recanted, or had dared relapse, he would most certainly have been put to the question and then burned. You dont know much about the horrors perpetrated by the catholic church at that time do you. For some more entertainment, you should look up what happened in Bamberg during the 15th and 16th centuries. Men, women and children (some no more than 6!) were burned en mass for the sake of your religion. Cathars in the Languedoc were burned en mass, some eye witness accounts say more than 3000 met their end there. The Spanish Inquisition routinely held ‘auto le fey’ in any villiage which was unfortunate enough to be in their way. The inquision was still routinely removing Jewish children from their parents as late as 1900. Your silly delusion has much to answer for and although one great man, arguably one of the greatest thinkers of his time escaped with his life, he died a broken man who had lived the greater portion of his life under the threat of a terrible death. Many thousands of others were not so lucky.

  2. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 4, 2009 11:25 am

    Sam,
    Welcome to the forum. I have stated elsewhere that I think the church has certainly committed atrocities, so I’m well aware of them. I’m also aware the church has much to answer for, and have indeed called out the church on my occasions. With a degree in history, I’m pretty sure I can give you a bigger list of atrocities by the church.

    Your post is pure speculation and relying what you have heard about the Galileo incident. If you want to keep hold on to the myth, be my guest. But don’t expect me to take you seriously if you do.

    We aim for respectful and learned dialogue on this blog. Always have and always will. So, welcome to the conversation, glad you are here, but be prepared to be called out if we think your statements are Skubulos.

  3. Andrew permalink
    September 4, 2009 12:38 pm

    The legends are certainly worth debunking (and the Inquisition has many of its own, for that matter).

    But the core of the matter for most atheists that I know was that he was forced to recant, his book was banned, and he was prohibited from publishing more or teaching or defending his position. That is to say, that the Church had arrogated to itself the authority to suppress a scientific opinion which it didn’t like (for whatever reason).

  4. Ray S. permalink
    September 4, 2009 1:01 pm

    A quick check of Wikipedia (article and discussion page) shoots holes in your spin of Galileo’s treatment that the hands of the Catholic Church.

    The data was in. Astronomers of the early 17th Century knew the Ptolomeic model was wrong and that the Earth had to orbit the sun. There were competing heliocentric models for a time, but geocentric models were clearly wrong to astronomers.

    I see no evidence presented that the church was receptive to heliocentrism, but plenty that scripture was authoritative enough to have an inquisition. Galileo was called to a papal trial in 1632, convicted and ordered imprisoned. You want to tell us how nice they were that the imprisonment was commuted to house arrest and an order not to publish anything else on the subject. Galileo spent 10 years under house arrest until his death in 1642. Wasn’t the church compassionate for not using the pear or the heretic’s fork? At least they didn’t burn him alive, like they by their own admission did to 3,000 to 5,000 people.

    How can you chastise atheists for committing historical anachronisms when you then blame the ‘media of the day’ for fanning the flames? You are in no position to talk about stubbornly holding on to myth my friend.

    You’ve also missed the true reason for condemnation of the church in this matter. It really isn’t based on whether they were stupid in 1632. It is based more that it is only in my lifetime that the church admitted it was wrong and apologized for the Galileo incident.

  5. Matt Jordan permalink
    September 4, 2009 1:45 pm

    I’ve never quite understood why folks who are interested in the Big Questions get so worked up about the evils that have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity. Whether anyone here is doing so or not, I think it’s undeniable that some people put forth those evils as a serious kind of evidence against the Christian faith. But, um, how exactly is that argument supposed to go? What we so often see is:

    (1) Christians have done terrible, terrible things in the name of Christianity.

    (2) Therefore, Christianity is false.

    Which looks like a bad argument. The missing premise must be something like:

    (P) For any religion R, if adherents of R have done terrible, terrible things in the name of R, then R is false.

    That fixes the argument–(1) and (P) together do imply (2)–but it sure would be nice to hear some kind of argument on behalf of (P). It’s not exactly a self-evident truth, is it?

    There must be some kind of deeper assumption lurking here. Something along the lines of “A good and all-powerful God would not allow atrocities to be committed in his name.” That strikes me as a little more plausible than (P), but it’s still far from an obvious truth.

  6. Ms. Crazy Pants permalink
    September 4, 2009 1:50 pm

    Matt: I haven’t seen the argument done that way. It’s

    1) Christians say you need Christianity in order to have morals
    2) Christians have done terrible, terrible things in the name of Christianity.
    3) Christianity does not give one morals.

  7. Andrew permalink
    September 4, 2009 1:55 pm

    I’ve never quite understood why folks who are interested in the Big Questions get so worked up about the evils that have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity. Whether anyone here is doing so or not, I think it’s undeniable that some people put forth those evils as a serious kind of evidence against the Christian faith. But, um, how exactly is that argument supposed to go?

    Partial list:

    1. Christian apologists claim that Christianity is the source of moral behaviour. Atrocities committed by the Church are thus counterexamples.

    2. Christian apologists claim that the success of Christianity is evidence for its validity. Showing that Christianity actually did most of its spreading by ruthlessly wiping out dissent is thus a counterexample.

    3. No faith worth believing in would require the sorts of behaviour that the Church has engaged in; people would believe it because it was obviously true, not because men in funny hats would order their gruesome execution if they didn’t.

    4. No God worth believing in would allow such atrocities to be committed in his name.

  8. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 4, 2009 2:21 pm

    Andrew,
    5) You are begging a question as to prove that Christianity motivated such behavior or whether other forces were at work.

  9. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 4, 2009 2:24 pm

    Um, Ray, please tell me you aren’t using wikipedia in refutation of a set of scholarly articles by learned historians? You aren’t doing that, right? The essay in the book addresses each of those things in turn. I suggest you read it and then we can talk.

  10. Andrew permalink
    September 4, 2009 2:28 pm

    5) You are begging a question as to prove that Christianity motivated such behavior or whether other forces were at work.

    No more so than the apologists referred to, who think nothing of blaming any atrocity they can find on atheism.

  11. Andrew permalink
    September 4, 2009 2:50 pm

    Hm, one of the amazon reviews suggests that the Templeton foundation had a finger in this book – is that so?

  12. Ray S. permalink
    September 4, 2009 2:51 pm

    I cannot refute the articles you cite as I don’t have them to read. I also don’t really have the time to read them even if you magically poofed them into my hands. You seem to claim that 10 years of house arrest and a ban on publishing are justifiable. I do not.

    You have all the data and can reach Wikipedia. You show what is wrong at Wikipedia or better yet, sign up and fix the article. That’s why I pointed tot he discussion page. There are lots of notes there about who knew what when about heliocentric theories. Next to nothing in the discussion about the trial and after effects, which I again point out, we seem to agree on the facts: Papal trial, conviction, imprisonment ordered but commuted to house arrest for the remainder of his life, and a ban on publishing or discussing heliocentrism. But you think that is somehow justifiable.

    BTW the 3000-5000 burnings at the stake during the Inquisition came from the Catholic Church’s site, not Wikipedia.

    I’ll take Wikipedia over an apologist any day.

  13. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 4, 2009 4:32 pm

    Andrew,
    As I don’t play the “atheism is evil, CHristianity is good, look at all the dictators, blah, blah, blah” card, I dont’ really feel the need to discuss this point.

  14. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 4, 2009 4:32 pm

    I have no idea. And why would it matter if they did?

  15. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 4, 2009 4:40 pm

    Ray, this whole statement just shows you are completely unwilling to address anything I actually say nor look at the evidence presented. It’s th equivelant of sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “lalalalalala”.

    Once again, for the record, the article in said book was NOT written by an apologist, but a historian. Get your facts straight. And, Ill take a real historian over wikipedia any day. Im sorry you dont. I really don’t know what to say to that. And, as I read the orignal essay and wikiepdia, I’m not going to engage in the debate until you do. Otherwise, we will just be talking in circles. Plus, I might mentioned that this articles were peer reviewed for content. So, yeah, I don’t think wikipedia measures up, do you?

    And second, once again, I never said it was justifiable, I said it’s not as bad as the mythmakers make it out to be. IF you are going to do history, you have to tell the truth. The myth that Galileo suffered for science is just overblown or full of half truths. Period.

  16. Matt Jordan permalink
    September 4, 2009 4:45 pm

    I’m pretty sure that item #1 on Andrew’s list is another way of stating Ms. Crazy Pants’ suggestion. So here’s a response to both:

    The argument is clearly invalid.

    Some Christian apologists do, in fact, argue that morality depends upon Christian faith. There are lots of different kinds of dependency, however, and I feel compelled to note that the plausibility of the claim

    1. You need Christianity in order to have morals.

    may well change when we clarify what ‘need’ means here. (Is this an epistemic need? A metaphysical need? A practical need?)

    Nevertheless, let’s acknowledge that lots of people embrace Ms. Crazy Pants’ suggested first premise. We can state it a bit more formally this way:

    1* Christianity is necessary for morality.

    Ms. Crazy Pants and Andrew then point out the uncontroversial fact that Christians have done terrible things. This is tantamount to:

    2* Claiming to be a Christian is not sufficient for moral behavior.

    Now, Andrew has suggested that 2* is a counterexample to 1*, and therefore we should believe that “Christianity does not give one morals” (Ms. Crazy Pants’ phrase) or “Christianity is not the source of moral behavior.” But neither conclusion follows from 1* and 2*.

  17. Ms. Crazy Pants permalink
    September 4, 2009 4:52 pm

    I need to do more reading, which I can’t do right this second, but it will be happening, but why I’m skeptical still of what was written is because the number of people who have typically said “it’s not as bad as it sounds” on a lot of issues. For every person who wants to go back to “olden days” they never think that maybe women and minorities would really prefer not to. Those “olden times” tended to suck for a lot of them. On the extreme side is Donohue, who I think was the one that said in Ireland that not everyone was actually full-blown raped, so it wasn’t that bad (that one really burned me up). The people who always say “it’s not as bad as you think” are never or at least rarely the ones who ever had to suffer through whatever kind of situation it is.

    The way you presented the case on Galileo sure sounds nice, but I suspect the real truth lies somewhere between torture and bliss.

  18. Matt Jordan permalink
    September 4, 2009 4:58 pm

    And a quick response to the other items on Andrew’s list:

    Christian apologists claim that the success of Christianity is evidence for its validity. Showing that Christianity actually did most of its spreading by ruthlessly wiping out dissent is thus a counterexample.

    Even if we grant for the sake of argument that everything in the Galileo book is wrong and grant that we can and should trust the recommended Wikipedia sources as sources of established historical fact, there’s still a LONG way to go before you can claim that “most” of the spread of Christianity is due to ruthlessly wiping out dissent. Best of luck with that project, by the way.

    No faith worth believing in would require the sorts of behaviour that the Church has engaged in; people would believe it because it was obviously true, not because men in funny hats would order their gruesome execution if they didn’t.

    I think, at the risk of seeming unkind, that this is a bit silly. It’s not especially clear; maybe that’s the problem. I’m not sure what’s meant by a “faith” “requiring” something. I mean, if your claim is that Christianity itself–and not merely, say, its representatives–required people to torture heretics, then I flat-out reject your assumption. I also think it’s pretty dubious to claim that a faith “worth believing in” must be “obviously true,” and I’d really like to know what, precisely, counts as “obvious truth.” I’d also like to know what you think of the many millions of persons–and I am one of them–who actually converted to Christianity because it seemed to them more likely to be true than any of the alternatives. No fear of many hats here.

    No God worth believing in would allow such atrocities to be committed in his name.

    This is almost exactly the principle I suggested in my first post above. You can’t, I think, seriously put this forth as a self-evident truth; if it’s both true and as important as you seem to think, it would be nice to hear an argument for it.

  19. Matt Jordan permalink
    September 4, 2009 5:02 pm

    That should be “funny hats,” of course, not “many hats.” But I’m not afraid of many hats either. Just some.

  20. Sam Jones permalink
    September 4, 2009 5:03 pm

    No, you misunderstand. The treatment on Galileo is beside the point in this conversation. You claim that Galileo was not mistreated, I disagree. The point here is that his research was supressed by the church for the benefit of the church. He and many other great thinkers of the time were terrorised by this so called institution, and for what? A non-existant supernatural entity? Galileo was eventually proved right but it took until 1712 for his work to be finally published. His work was fact, verifiable, replicatable, observable and yet intellectual dwarves suffering from delusions of grandeur saw fit to supress it for their own political needs. Galileo was ahead of his time but the church believed it knew best. I see that as rank arrigance. The church holds itself up as the final arbiter of moral standards and yet it’s public demonstration of those morals fails on almost every occassion. How much further would we as a people be in scientific endeavour if the church had never existed? Howmany people would have lived had not the church been allowed to continue it’s 1000 year holocaust against anyone who dared to disagree even slightly with the tenents written in a few mistranslated books. The Bible you follow is not the word of God, not least because God does not exist. More than that, the Bible is at best a collection of oral myths passed down through stone age society and bares no resemblance to reality. Every assertion made about the natural world by the Bible, without exception has been debunked by science. There is no further need for this metaphrical crutch we call religion and many thousands of examples where life would have been better without it. When I read about Galileo, I weep for the man who was so terrified of the ‘establishment’ that he dared not speak of that which he and anyone else who cared to look, could see with their own eyes. The Church is an anachronism that will die eventually. It is not required any longer and just as we nolonger believe in fairies it is time to shed the shackles of ‘god’ and move on with our evolution.

  21. September 4, 2009 5:14 pm

    That the Church might have done worse to Galileo does not imply what they did was good. Fussing over the historical details doesn’t change that.

    Jonathan wrote: “My whole point with this is that atheists and Christians discussion would be so much better served if we follow the principle of charity. That is, that we put each other’s positions in the strongest possible light, instead of relying on myths, half truths, and out right made up stories.”

    I’m with you on the charity, but that is not enough; both sides need to be honest with themselves about their own position and in presenting that position to others. A half-honest conversation isn’t very helpful.
    Maybe even more basic than that – Respect and Trust. Without those qualities, can we even have a conversation?

  22. Johann permalink
    September 4, 2009 5:14 pm

    The origin of this myth is often traced backed to the French Revolution in an attempt to discredit the church.

    Galileo recanted, and as result got off with only lifetime house arrest and a ban on his work instead of following the trail blazed by Giordano Bruno. You seem to think that this discredits the Church significantly less than if the rumors about his imprisonment were true. I find that baffling.

    Shall we let Aung San Suu Kyi know that she should be glad she got off easy?

  23. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 4, 2009 5:21 pm

    MCP,
    Actually, the article is not mine, it’s a scholar who wrote it.

  24. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 4, 2009 5:50 pm

    Ok, I think this is going to be my last statement on the subject, but the rest of you can argue away.

    1) My whole point in posting this is to correct historical mistakes in the myth. Do I wish he wasn’t imprisioned at all? Of course. But, as I can’t change political and cultural factors during his time, there is nothing anyone can do about it, but deal with the truth as is, not what we wish it to be. Once again, I was NOT making value judgements on Galileo’s imprisionment. But for the standards OF THE TIME, not our own, he did get off easy. We must take each historical age and consider it within the bounds of its time.

    2) I would agree with Tomato’s point about honest about their own position and not having half honest conversations. This is exactly the point. If we are alway suspicious of each other’s motives, we will never get anywhere. To the best of my ability, I try not to call anyone’s motives or honesty into question. I sincerely believe that all of you take the positions you do because that’s what you think. If I ever say otherwise, please call me on it.

    3) Along those lines, I would ask that people deal with each other’s actual statements, rather than using “boilerplate” statements, such as Sam’s. He throws everything into this statement like this, “Galileo was oppressed-the church was evil-the bible is false-the church held back science-God doesn’t exist” and every other boilerplate argument from the atheist play book.

  25. September 4, 2009 6:25 pm

    Jonathan: I did not intend to criticize your position. I honestly think the quibbling over historical details (Sam and Ray) doesn’t get us anywhere. Even if we could all agree on exactly the same facts, there could still be disagreement over the interpretation.

    OT: Has anyone else noticed the tiny smiley 🙂 tucked away at the far-right edge near the top?

  26. Sam Jones permalink
    September 4, 2009 6:50 pm

    She (!) does not make bioler plate assertions. I defy you to prove that a single claim in the Bible stands up to scientific scrutiny. The treatment that Galileo received at the hands of the church is beside the point. His (subsequently) scientifically verified observations were witheld from the knowledge of the populace by a corrupt establishment for the sake of a non-existant entity. The church claims moral superiority over the rest of us and yet cannot adhere to it’s own principles. EVERY SINGLE ‘observation’ of the natural world detailed in the bible has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt time and again to be false. I am continually astonished at the capacity and appetite of the uneducated masses to believe unconditionally despite all evidence to the contrary in a ‘god’. The Church as we know it is an institution only interested in it’s own survival at the expence of that which is the blatant truth. The church may be prohibited from burning ‘heretics’ these days but don’t think for one instant that given even the slightest chance they would return to their old ways. The Bible which you follow so assiduously is a collection of allagorical oral myths as best. It bears no resemblance to the originals which were themselves plagurised from much older traditions. THERE IS NO GOD ANC I defy you to provide a single shred of evidence to he contrary. In the meantime, science has, for the best part of 2 millenia been castrated by the followers of this silly delusion who seek only to hold onto their own power. Thousands upon thousands have been put to hideous deaths during that time and innovation and scientific enquiry held back. We are now exiting this dark age and we are now seeing religion for what it is, unsubstantiated myth. You told me that you would not take mr seriously unless I agree with your interpretation of history which is narrowtp say the least. I see the same church that condemned thousands to a terrible death is still failing to move with the times, still refusing to see what is demonstrated right before their eyes and still attempting (in it’s toothless and clumsy way) to persecute anyone who says that the king has no clothes on.

  27. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 4, 2009 7:31 pm

    Nah, I didnt think you were Tomato, I was actually agreeing with you.

  28. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 4, 2009 7:36 pm

    My apologies, Sam, didn’t realize you were a she.

    The reason I don’t take you seriously is certianly NOT because you don’t accept my view of the world. I don’t take you seriously because the above, long winded and pointless rants with no proof of your actual positions, but rather, a reliance on tired old slogans that are not very good conversation points. They certainly would make for good Speaker’s corner material in your part of the world. When you are read to stop using “when did you stop beating your wife” arguments, then we can chat.

    And, as far as I can tell, no one here is “persecuting” you. If you percieve that, then rest assured, that is not happening.

  29. Ray S. permalink
    September 4, 2009 7:46 pm

    For someone who claims to want to ‘clear away the crap that gets in the way of real conversation with atheists and Christians’, you sure have a way of leaving your own trail. You have a track record of dodging the difficult question with a ‘read this book’ or ‘I plan to post on that later’. Those are conversation stoppers, not starters.

    So you decide to bust the atheist myth about Galileo’s imprisonment and torture. Please cite an atheist promoting that view. I looked. Here is a reference I found. But wait, that’s an atheist site debunking the torture and imprisonment charge in 2007, citing Dinesh D’Souza claiming that atheists lie about the matter. In fact, what I keep finding is theists claiming atheists exaggerate the punishment handed out to Galileo.

    While I imagine there may be some atheists who are loudly and proudly misinformed on the matter, inimical to your stated desire is the lumping of all atheists into believers of your trumped up ‘myth’. There is at least one of us more interested in truth and distinguishing facts from fantasy.

    Now, in the interest of scholarship, let me quote from ‘Retrying Galileo, 1633 – 1992’ by Maurice Finocchiaro, arguably one of the leading living experts on the life of Galileo (p11):

    Regarding the question of the intention, the Inquisition was unconvinced by Galileo’s denial of malice, and to resolve its doubts it conducted a “rigorous examination” of the accused. Galileo apparently passed this test.

    The term rigorous examination was the standard inquisitorial jargon for torture.

    While Finocchiaro offers evidence that Galileo was not actually tortured, he does say that those subjected to rigorous examination might well be threatened with torture and even attached to a torture device without any of those acts being what he calls ‘actual torture’. It is only fair to also point out that Galileo would have been 68 at the time of his rigorous examination.

    From href=”http://www.enotes.com/literary-criticism/galilei-galileo”>Enotes.com:

    Today, experts on the life and works of Galileo are increasingly coming to believe that he was a victim not of his ideas, but of politics. Several scholars have called into question the very existence of the document of 1616 in which Galileo was supposed to have promised never to teach or write about the Copernican system. Instead, some specialists now argue that the sharptongued and not always diplomatic Galileo became a convenient pawn in a power struggle between members of the Church of Rome as a result of the Counter-Reformation—a time when the Catholic Church was trying to reform itself in response to the Protestant Reformation. As Maurice A. Finocchiaro observes, Galileo’s trial occurred “during the so-called Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants….” At that time “Pope Urban VIII, who had earlier been an admirer and supporter of Galileo, was in an especially vulnerable position; thus not only could he not continue to protect Galileo, but he had to use Galileo as a scapegoat to reassert … his authority and power.”

    Still want to defend the Catholic Church on this one?

    Oh, by the way, the author of that article in the mythbusting book you’re pimping is none other than …
    Maurice Finocchiaro. Does he actually blame atheists for the myth or is that someone else’s invention? Hint: a search for the term ‘atheist’ in this book on Google Books does not reference any of the pages about Galileo.

  30. erp permalink
    September 4, 2009 8:06 pm

    Myths can be quite interesting. I stumbled across the following from a church website (from a youth)

    For the week everyone was assigned a bunkmate and for some odd reason the leaders thought it would be a good idea to put the small town Baptist girl with the northern Atheist. As shallow as it may sound I didn’t think I was going to wake up in the morning. I don’t think I have ever prayed to God as much as I did that first night. But as the week progressed, I began to sleep better when I realized that just like Christians, Atheists sleep at night too.

    http://www.northmin.org/sermons/2008/080713.htm (and this a liberal church though in the deep South).

    But back to the main topic.

    Galileo was brutally oppressed and imprisioned by the Catholic of the church for teaching that the earth rotated around the sun. Usually, Galileo is shown to be the hero, standing up to a backward, dogma driven church to show them the way to scientific enlightment. In some versions I have seen, Galileo is shown to be a closet deist, or even worse, an agnostic. The origin of this myth is often traced backed to the French Revolution in an attempt to discredit the church.

    I agree that this is mostly a myth; however, it does contain a good kernel of truth. The idea that he espoused, that the earth revolved around the sun, was suppressed. Galileo’s works on the matter, Kepler’s works on the matter were placed on the Index. So why the myth? Perhaps because it is sometimes easier to praise (or attack) a man or woman than the idea they come up with. We can see it a bit even in some religions. What is more important to Christians, Jesus or what Jesus taught?

    I agree with Jonathan that it is a very bad idea to to use Wikipedia as a source. Use it as a place to find possibly better sources (i.e., check the references in the articles). However I disagree with the implied idea that historians are necessarily better. There are whiggish historians, marxist historians, etc, etc. They will have biases and the good ones recognize this. They will try to be careful to use good arguments and sources (unlike many wikipedia articles).

    “Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion” is edited by Ronald L. Numbers does seem to address both pro-atheist and pro-Christian myths. The table of contents follows:

    * Myth 1. That the Rise of Christianity Was Responsible for the Demise of Ancient Science
    David C. Lindberg
    * Myth 2. That the Medieval Christian Church Suppressed the Growth of Science
    Michael H. Shank
    * Myth 3. That Medieval Christians Taught That the Earth Was Flat
    Lesley B. Cormack
    * Myth 4. That Medieval Islamic Culture Was Inhospitable to Science
    S. Nomanul Haq
    * Myth 5. That the Medieval Church Prohibited Human Dissection
    Katharine Park
    * Myth 6. That the Copernican System Demoted Humans from the Center of the Cosmos
    Dennis R. Danielson
    * Myth 7. That Giordano Bruno Was the First Martyr of Modern Science
    Jole Shackelford
    * Myth 8. That Galileo Was Imprisoned and Tortured for Advocating Copernicanism
    Maurice A. Finocchiaro
    * Myth 9. That Christianity Gave Birth to Modern Science
    Noah Efron
    * Myth 10. That the Scientific Revolution Liberated Science from Religion
    Margaret J. Osler
    * Myth 11. That Catholics Did Not Contribute to the Scientific Revolution
    Lawrence Principe
    * Myth 12. That René Descartes Originated the Mind-Body Distinction
    Peter Harrison
    * Myth 13. That Isaac Newton’s Mechanistic Cosmology Eliminated the Need for God
    Edward Davis
    * Myth 14. That the Church Denounced Anesthesia in Childbirth on Biblical Grounds
    Rennie B. Schoepflin
    * Myth 15. That the Theory of Organic Evolution Is Based on Circular Reasoning
    Nicolaas A. Rupke
    * Myth 16. That Evolution Destroyed Charles Darwin’s Faith in Christianity—until He Reconverted on His Deathbed
    James Moore
    * Myth 17. That Huxley Defeated Wilberforce in Their Debate over Evolution and Religion
    David N. Livingstone
    * Myth 18. That Darwin Destroyed Natural Theology
    Jon H. Roberts
    * Myth 19. That Darwin and Haeckel Were Complicit in Nazi Biology
    Robert J. Richards
    * Myth 20. That the Scopes Trial Ended in Defeat for Antievolutionism
    Edward J. Larson
    * Myth 21. That Einstein Believed in a Personal God
    Matthew Stanley
    * Myth 22. That Quantum Physics Demonstrated the Doctrine of Free Will
    Daniel P. Thurs
    * Myth 23. That “Intelligent Design” Represents a Scientific Challenge to Evolution
    Michael Ruse
    * Myth 24. That Creationism Is a Uniquely American Phenomenon
    Ronald L. Numbers
    * Myth 25. That Modern Science Has Secularized Western Culture
    John Hedley Brooke

    http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/NUMGAL.html?show=contents

    (note sure how this will look once submitted).

  31. Andrew permalink
    September 4, 2009 8:24 pm

    @Matt Jordan: I was short of time, so that was the cartoon version.

    On Christian morals:

    There is no robust measure, at all, on which Christians as a class are more moral than others. You do get the occasional study showing correlations (some positive, some negative) between some measure of religiosity and some measure of morality, but these are mostly superficial and no consistent picture emerges (other than the obvious correlations with authoritarian followers, which is more about keeping traditions than religion as such).

    Looking at Christian hierarchies gives no better a picture. Despite the fact that undesirable characters are not supposed to be allowed into the priesthood in the first place, we still find plenty of them (and not just pedophiles, either).

    The examples through history of Christian hierarchies that also wield secular power, and the various atrocities they committed, whether crusading against pagans as in Prussia and the Baltic states, crusading against heretics as with the Cathars, witch-burnings (usually not by the Inquisition), suppression of individual “heretics” like Galileo (whether for discovering inconvenient scientific facts or for offending the wrong person makes little difference), closing down other religions en-masse as happened in the 4th and 5th centuries, and so on ad nauseam, just fits into the same pattern; Christians are no better than anyone else (even if not necessarily, on average, any worse).

    Note also that religious tolerance was the norm before Christianity showed up (with some exception for the Jews, but even they were less obviously intolerant than the Christians, and therefore were not persecuted as much by the Romans, who didn’t much care who or what you worshipped as long as you acknowledged the Imperial cult). The only other religion the Romans are known to have seriously objected to was the Druids, who were stamped out on the grounds of practicing human sacrifice, which was going too far even by Roman standards (they had abolished that a few hundred years earlier).

    Then there’s the Bible itself, which is full of divine immorality, genocide and other atrocities (we know now that things like the book of Joshua are pure fiction, but until quite recently that was often taken as being at least based on actual history); even the NT promotes intolerance by slandering and condemning unbelievers; all fuel for a Church hierarchy that reflected the intolerance of its source material.

    Then after all this, Christian apologists have the gall to claim that only their faith can serve as a source of morality. It doesn’t fly; secular approaches to ethics are easily shown to be superior in all respects.

  32. Andrew permalink
    September 4, 2009 8:27 pm

    OT: Has anyone else noticed the tiny smiley tucked away at the far-right edge near the top?

    It’s a wordpress statistics tracking image. I have no idea why it is a smiley though.

  33. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 4, 2009 8:36 pm

    Ray,
    I’m sorry if you think I’m dodging, but believe it or not, I have a life outside this blog. I can’t answer every question or address every issue. If I feel like someone has addressed a question already, I feel no need to repeat what has already been said. I post something and then let everyone talk about it. I’m not exactly sure how that’s avoiding the issue. No one gets edited on this blog and no one has been banned. If I were dodging, I would edit, ban or delete as “Pastor” who must not be named tends to do on his blog. I try to let the conversation flow and jump in where I can.

    My whole point was that I was not going to have the discussion if Wikipedia was your only source.

    So, when I post something, I intend it to start discussion that I don’t feel the need to finish. As you said, Finocchiaro was the orginal author, as I was going to point out before I noticed you stated that. And, as I wasn’t accusing atheists specifically, but rather a myth that’s been accepted in our culture. But, as you said, the Galileo discussion was political, not religious. So, if you agree to that, I’m fine with that.

  34. Ray S. permalink
    September 4, 2009 9:58 pm

    No matter what the reason, the Catholic Church was wrong for what it did to Galileo during the latter part of his life and for the long delay in acknowledging and correcting their error in that matter.

    That it could have been worse is not an acceptable excuse.

    The Catholic Church has a spotty record, even today, of supporting science. It is as inaccurate to say they unilatterally oppose it as to say they unilaterally embrace it. This does not distinguish them from other creeds though.

    While it is fashionable to disdain Wikipedia, for what it purports to be it is quite accurate. A quick check of its source, revision history and discussion pages can illuminate the relative reliability of the content. In its best use, it at least represents the consensus of multiple authors instead of the potential bias of one. It also has the advantage of being as close as the internet. Not being a college student or on a college campus, acquiring access to a specific source is not always possible on short notice. (how I miss that!)

    I’ve now read enough of Finocchiaro’s work and reviews thereof, and least a little about Numbers to speculate that the histrionics of the OP were not encapsulated in the book. It doesn’t seem like you either, Jonathan. What was the source?

    It might surprise you to learn I also have a life outside of blog comments. But I’m here, investing the time, because I saw potential in the dialog. Frankly there has been some very high quality stuff, but also some deep disappointments. I don’t have the time to go off and read 10 chapters for tomorrow’s post and I’m not buying arguments requiring years of study to discern subtle nuances. That’s not conversation, and it’s not enlightening.

  35. September 4, 2009 10:21 pm

    Ray-
    I think that there is a lot of straw man going on here, and knowing Jonathan, you are completely misconstruing what he is saying. He is NOT trying to defend the Catholic Church, nor does he condone or accept what the church has done in the name of protecting Dogmatic principles, or of spreading the gospel. He is merely saying that there is a myth that exists about Galileo that exaggerates his punishment, and it is one that has been uttered, maybe not on this blog, but at least at Ohio State on a fairly common basis.

    Andrew-
    You miss something that has been claimed on this blog since the beginning by all of the Christians writing on it, and that is that the position the Christianity is about morality is false. In fact, i think most of us would argue that it is not only possibly, but a fact that there are many good people who aren’t Christians. We are a collection of sinners, broken and failing, and when we claim that Christianity is about morality, it runs contrary to 2,000 years of teaching, and 500 years of a reformation thats genesis was in the fact that a gospel of morality and works was being preached, not a gospel of grace.

  36. Andrew permalink
    September 4, 2009 10:33 pm

    @Eric:

    I was trying to answer Matt’s question about why people cared about the issue at all; the fact that the objectionable position isn’t taken on this blog isn’t really relevant to that.

    I’m curious now about your position on morality though.

  37. Matheus permalink
    September 4, 2009 11:21 pm

    How does one reconcile the hypotesis that christianity, or certain brands thereof, gives people morals with the fact that christians are not more moral on average?
    That’s what I would like to see Jonathan address.

  38. Ray S. permalink
    September 5, 2009 12:16 am

    From the OP:

    But, atheists have myths about Christians as well. One of their favorite is what I call the “Galileo” myth.

    It’s not an atheist myth. You can call it half myth if you like since the evidence for torture is weak at best. You can all it anti-Catholic. It’s not anti-Christian unless you want you have all Christians assume responsibility for the Catholic Church’s actions.

    Then comes the attempt to ameliorate the Church: The data wasn’t in – but in actuality it was. The astronomers knew heliocentrism was correct, even though some of the details would not be settled until after Galileo died.
    it was a misunderstanding of a bible passage – Reams could be written regarding misunderstanding bible passages. How is that an excuse? There are still people today who espouse the geocentric model. Where do you think their evidence comes from?

    You want to debunk something? Debunk the myth that Intelligent Design is a scientific theory.

  39. Ms. Crazy Pants permalink
    September 5, 2009 1:50 am

    We are a collection of sinners, broken and failing, and when we claim that Christianity is about morality, ….

    I was once again lectured last night in person by someone who said without the bible, one has no basis for morals. I think the person is suggesting much more when they say that. I take that as suggesting that anyone that doesn’t get their morals from the bible isn’t moral?

    There is lots of basis for morals outside of the bible. There was a basis for morals before monotheism even. Morals can actually be reasoned out. Morals just don’t pop out of thin air, they do have something supporting them, but to say that the bible is the only thing that supports morals is egotistical and false.

    It is from statements like what I mentioned I think the view that Christians think they’re most moral come from. It doesn’t help to have some conservative types yelling it all over the air-waves 24-7.

  40. Andrew permalink
    September 5, 2009 2:41 am

    To understand the conservative types yelling about morality, you have to understand what it is that divides liberals and conservatives on moral issues. The best theory (based on psychology, anthropology and other studies, not just dreamed up) for that that I’ve seen so far is this (taken mainly from a talk by Jonathan Haidt):

    There are about five innate “moral emotions”, which we all feel to some extent naturally even from birth, but our experience of them is adapted in various ways during development, including changing how strongly we feel them and what real-world concepts we tie them to. They are:

    1) compassion
    2) fairness
    3) in-group loyalty
    4) authority
    5) purity/sanctity

    The difference between liberals and conservatives is that while both sides accept items 1 and 2, liberals reject 3 to 5 (not necessarily consciously) as being false values, valuing diversity instead of the in-group, cooperation and consensus rather than authoritarian power structures, and rejecting imposed limits on, for example, sexual activity.

    This is why it is inevitable that, even disregarding religion, conservatives will always see themselves as more moral than liberals, because they see liberal politics as infringing on areas that they consider moral issues but which liberals do not.

  41. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 5, 2009 7:22 am

    I dont support ID, so Im sure there will be something in the future.

  42. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 5, 2009 7:46 am

    As Eric said, Im not defending the Catholic churches actions. But rather, trying to give a full color picture of the actual historical event.

    I’m not saying that wikipedia is not a good start point. Far from it. I just don’t think you can rely completely on it, especially when actual scholars are being discussed. But, maybe we are going to have to agree to disagree on this point.

    I don’t think that original post was histronic at all. Maybe Im wrong. I didnt call anyone morons, or question motives. The facts are I have run into this objection about Galileo in conversations with atheist. So, I assumed it was a standing myth. If that assumption is wrong, then I certainly apologize. But, I tried to be very careful about the tone of the original post.

    And I’m glad you are here, Ray, investing time. I certainly wasn’t implying you don’t have a life. I don’t expect everything on this blog will please everyone. You should hear some of the objections I get from Christians about evolution. But, I think that’s the way it is with real dialogue, there are disappointments, frustrations, and good stuff all mixed in. I certainly doubt I or any of the Fellows will get it right every time. But, we are trying. I dont expect everyone to do hours of research to have conversations here, but everyone is trying to make their arguments better.

  43. AdamK permalink
    September 5, 2009 8:47 am

    The christian cruelty that bothers me is not historical. It’s present-day cruelty directed against women and gay people.

    It’s Catholic bishops teaching that condoms cause AIDS and that it is wrong for HIV-positive husbands to use a condom, even if they put their wives’ lives at risk.

    It’s Protestants claiming that tragic pregnancies gone wrong should be forced to continue by law, risking women’s lives and health and condemning non-viable infants to a short life of torment.

    It’s christians of all stripes voting against the civil liberties of gay people.

    All because their morals come from god.

    Christians seem unable to function with out some out-group of human beings to demonize and torment.

  44. Ray S. permalink
    September 5, 2009 9:21 am

    I’m with you 100% AdamK until your last sentence. I understand why you wrote it, but I’d be hypocritical of my own indignancies in this thread to go along with blasting all Christians.

  45. AdamK permalink
    September 5, 2009 10:14 am

    Ray, you’re right, and I retract.

  46. Ash permalink
    September 5, 2009 10:37 am

    The Galileo myth certainly still flourishes, but to call it an atheist myth is misleading; I’ve heard it accepted by theists, apatheists, agnostics and atheists alike (blame the standard of education in England if you like). Interestingly though, the first time I heard it debunked was on an atheist site. By atheists.
    I think the problem is that the commentating audience here is well informed and well educated; or more to the point, to read a blog like this already indicates an interest level that is likely to be invested with knowledge. So by all means, address common fallacies and myth like this, but maybe refrain from labelling it as atheist or Christian myth specifically – chances are, you’re preaching to the choir…!

  47. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 5, 2009 11:05 am

    Fair enough. I now declare the Galileo myth, no longer an atheist myth, by the power vested in me by nobody. 🙂

  48. September 5, 2009 1:00 pm

    …by the power vested in me by nobody.

    Great, now I have Nowhere Man stuck in my head.

    Wait, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

  49. Johann permalink
    September 5, 2009 5:17 pm

    The Galileo myth certainly still flourishes, but to call it an atheist myth is misleading; I’ve heard it accepted by theists, apatheists, agnostics and atheists alike…

    Interesting, that. This post is the first time I’ve heard of it.

    …by the power vested in me by nobody.

    In nomine blogi… 😉

  50. September 6, 2009 4:26 pm

    Students for Freethought OSU had a history professor lecture on this exact topic last year, and the conclusion was similar to Jon’s.

  51. Matt Jordan permalink
    September 8, 2009 4:15 am

    @Andrew:

    I don’t know if you’re still checking the comments on this post, so I’ll keep this short. You concluded your post by saying that

    secular approaches to ethics are easily shown to be superior in all respects

    which I think is false.

    Let me go on record as saying that I hate it when people use phrases like “in my dissertation, I argued that” because it’s almost impossible for someone to use such phrases without sounding like, like–what’s the expression? ah, yes–a total prick.

    Nevertheless: the first chapter of my dissertation explains why I think this claim of yours is false. It’s a long chapter and I won’t try to summarize it here. The title is “The Problem(s) with Nontheistic Moral Realisms.” If you’d like to take a look at it, email me at jordan [dot] 384 [at] osu [dot] edu; I’d be happy to send it along.

  52. MortalSoul permalink
    November 10, 2009 12:50 pm

    Could someone more learned than myself please point out the “myths” in the following account…

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