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Physicist: The Galileo dispute involved science as well as religion

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What is the heliocentric model of the universe?
Copernicus’s universe

Of course. From physicist Christopher Graney at Aeon:

In 1614, when the telescope was new technology, a young man in Germany published a book filled with illustrations of the exciting new things being discovered telescopically: moons circling Jupiter, moon-like phases of Venus, spots on the Sun, the rough and cratered lunar surface. The young man was Johann Georg Locher, and his book was Mathematical Disquisitions Concerning Astronomical Controversies and Novelties. And while Locher heaped praise upon Galileo, he challenged ideas that Galileo championed – on scientific grounds.

The Geocentric View of the Solar System
Ptolemy’s Earth-centred universe/Wikimedia

You see, Locher was an anti-Copernican, a fan of the ancient astronomer Ptolemy, and a student within the Establishment (his mentor was Christoph Scheiner, a prominent Jesuit astronomer). Locher argued that Copernicus was wrong about Earth circling the Sun, and that Earth was fixed in place, at the centre of the Universe, like Ptolemy said. But Locher was making no religious argument. Yes, he said, a moving Earth messes with certain Biblical passages, like Joshua telling the Sun to stand still. But it also messes with certain astronomical terms, such as sunrise and sunset. Copernicans had work-arounds for all that, Locher said, even though they might be convoluted. What Copernicans could not work around, though, were the scientific arguments against their theory. Indeed, Locher even proposed a mechanism to explain how Earth could orbit the Sun (a sort of perpetual falling – this decades before Isaac Newton would explain orbits by means of perpetual falling), but he said it would not help the Copernicans, on account of the other problems with their theory.

What were those problems? A big one was the size of stars in the Copernican universe. … More.

This feels new. And we could use more of it. At one time, Cool science writers could afford to get it wrong (because those they maligned Didn’t Matter). Is there now a trend toward getting it right?

If so, is it possible that the recent “Bible says” fiasco at Nature made a difference?:

From David Klinghoffer at Evolution News & Views:

The science story itself is fascinating and to all appearances solid. Human remains dating to some 3,700 year ago from ancient Canaanites yielded DNA revealing a startling overlap with modern-day Lebanese. The latter thus appear to harbor descendants of the long-ago population (“Continuity and Admixture in the Last Five Millennia of Levantine History from Ancient Canaanite and Present-Day Lebanese Genome Sequences,” American Journal of Human Genetics).

He quotes a dozen instances of deadweights claiming that the find “disproves the Bible’s suggestion” that the Canaanites were wiped out.

Only one problem:

The Bible is detailed and unambiguous in relating that the Canaanites survived Joshua’s invasion. So it’s no wonder they have living descendants. I’m not here to pass judgment on ancient Canaanites or ancient Israelites, on the Bible, Joshua, or anyone else. But come on, reporters, where’s your elementary cultural literacy, of which knowing a thing or two about the Bible is a key element? More.

The part that’s hard to accept is this: At one time, if you were not a clergyman or scholar, you would need to go to a library that shelved a Concordance (a book that lists all instances of a term’s appearance in the Bible). But today, for example, we have sites like Strong’s Exhaustive Bible Concordance (where see Joshua 17:12, 13). And Bible Hub where, loafing in your basket chair with a long cool one and a laptop, you could read Joshua 16:10 “They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer …,” “They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor. … ,” “Judges 1:29 Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in …” “Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them ..”. “Judges 1:30 Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in …”

This is not a politically correct Bible story but it is a pretty easy one to access.

Yet Science ran a “correction” that continued to misstate the issue. Which is this: They were plain flat-out wrong because they were too Cool to look up the relevant passages in the Bible online.

Klinghoffer asks, “Who will tell the reporters?”

A better question is, who needs to? If it turns out that, increasingly, someone does need to, that is a straw in the wind…

See also Extra! Extra! A handy guide to the normal fake news: Surviving information overload: (excerpts)

4. False and prejudiced history repeated so often it becomes fact

Do you remember when the Catholic Church burned Copernicus at the stake for suggesting that Earth orbited the sun? Me neither. Popular science writing frequently retails false history.

In one recent example, many media outlets informed us that the Bible must be wrong because it states that the Canaanites were exterminated. But modern genetic studies showed that descendants survived the massacres. As a matter of fact, as David Klinghoffer painstakingly details, we can learn in many places in the Bible that the Canaanites survived. Yet the sources of plainly false information were grudging in their corrections:

Even the reputable journal Science, in a reporting article, had to backtrack with an editor’s correction, blandly styled as an “update”:

“This story and its headline have been updated to reflect that in the Bible, God ordered the destruction of the Canaanites, but that some cities and people may have survived.”

Klinghoffer responds,

Not “may have survived.” In the Bible’s account, they definitely survived, in large numbers. The original headline? “Ancient DNA counters biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites.” It should be, “Ancient DNA confirms biblical account…”

But that would be expecting too much. James Hannam offers many other examples at First Things,

As it happens, much of the evidence marshaled in favor of the conflict thesis turns out to be bogus. The Church never tried to outlaw the number zero or human dissection; no one was burnt at the stake for scientific ideas; and no educated person in the Middle Ages thought that the world was flat, whatever interpretations of the Bible might imply. Popes have had better things to do than ban vaccination or lightning conductors on churches. The thought of a pope excommunicating Halley’s Comet is absurd, but this has not prevented the tale of Calixtus III doing just that from entering scientific folklore. More.

This particular type of fake news misleads readers as to the nature and source of controversies around science, including some in which much is at stake.

and also from Extra! Extra! A handy guide to the normal fake news: Surviving information overload: 

5. Pigeonholing stories in a way that misleads the reader about the issues

Peter Steinfels explained the problem clearly in the New York Times (Nov. 22, 2003),

You can’t analyze religion with categories like “liberal” and “conservative”‘ that ultimately stem from politics. Everyone who regularly writes about religion has heard that complaint, and felt some sympathy with it.

Many religious conflicts or controversies just don’t break down into two sides; sometimes there are three, four or more. And even in those cases where there is a clear-cut division between those who favor a change and those who oppose it, the contending camps frequently don’t translate nicely into liberal and conservative. More.

He made clear, however, that he thought the distortion was “unavoidable.” Few media folk felt they needed to take heed and the long, slow decline of traditional media probably accelerated a tiny bit as a result. People who care about religious issues went elsewhere for real news.

The main fake news damage done by these inappropriate labels is the false picture that circulates among non-adherents. The non-adherent may believe that a religious denomination is “going conservative” when it acts on complaints about a thrice-divorced clergy counselor or that it is “going liberal” when it helps fund an AIDS hospice. He gains no sense at all of the religious underpinnings of these decisions. So score one for continued ignorance and bigotry.

Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista

3 Replies to “Physicist: The Galileo dispute involved science as well as religion

  1. 1
    DLH says:

    Academic job security was behind the Inquisition v. Galileo.
    The Academicians at the University of Piza found their jobs threatened by Galileo’s science and popularity. Galileo had strong support both by the Church and Government. Prof. Roy Peacock discovered that the secret “Pigeon League” was the primary driver against Galileo. It was named after and led by Lodovico delle Colombe (the “Pigeon”), the arch-enemy of Galileo.
    They crafted a secret attack accusing him of speaking against the Bible – though Galileo was a strong Christian and upheld the Bible. Caccini was the lead public accuser of Galileo. See: A Brief History of Eternity, Roy Peacock

  2. 2
    News says:

    DLH at 1, Galileo was definitely a strong Christian, as Dava Sobel’s Galileo’s Daughter (excellent read!) shows.

    But some of that must be interpreted in the context of the times. His son became a priest and his two daughters became nuns, in part because of social status issues: They were born out of wedlock as G., a nobleman, could not marry their lower-caste mother.

    Galileo had a tendency to speak his mind imprudently. Cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine gave him good advice in that matter, advice that he, unfortunately, did not accept: Hold your idea as a hypothesis; do not proclaim it as a fact, or anyway not at this time.

    Sobel has the gift of making the past comprehensible on its own terms.

  3. 3
    Axel says:

    I once read that Galileo was only prevented from becoming a priest, himself, because his father, who actively opposed it, was so powerful.

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