The Galileo Myth
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.