Tuesday, January 15, 2008

BBC, the Pope and Galileo

The BBC are reporting that

Lecturers and students at a prestigious university in Rome want a planned visit by the Pope to be cancelled as they object to his position on Galileo.
The protest is because

Pope Benedict was in charge of Roman Catholic doctrine in 1990 when, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he commented on the 17th-Century Galileo trial. He has been quoted as saying the trial was "reasonable and just".

Except he wasn't. As this posting by John Allen on the National Catholic Reporter's site makes clear, he was quoting another philosopher, Feyerabend. The article appears to be a review of the views of several philosophers about the Galileo case and an attempt to draw a conclusion from that - not about Galileo, but about 20th century views of science and truth.

This was easily discovered in about five minutes with google - it's rather disappointing that the BBC journalists couldn't be bothered finding out if the claim was true, but then perhaps it's not surprising given the ignorance bias shown in the last line of the report:

Fifteen years ago Pope John Paul II officially conceded that in fact the Earth was not stationary.

This almost has echoes of Regensberg.

1 comment:

Phil A said...

Ah - but it played so nicely to certain prejudices.

Galileo was a reasonably adept power player, doing well enough, among the Pope's favourite courtiers.

It is probable he became a target of ordinary court and scientific politics.

From what I recall though I can’t find a reference Galileo published a discussion to illustrate the theory with two fictional protagonists, the not too bright one who attacked Copernican teachings bore a certain similarity to the Pope.

Making use of this his enemies put their own interpretation on it and drew to the Pope’s attention.

Basically the Pope then had to react, or lose face and thus power. Galileo's failure to follow the Church's 1616 edicts on Copernicus’ teachings provided a convenient mechanism, even though Galileo had been actively promoting Copernicanism since 1609.

The whole matter has been misinterpreted by scientists, with an apparently limited understanding of the Byzantine complexities of 17th century Italian politics. It is trotted out again and again as an example of the forces of ignorance/religion against now proven rational thought, by anyone with an axe to grind.