Faithless Fairy Tales: Galileo
By Jeff Laird
This is the second in a series of articles examining how inaccurate, warped versions of real historical events are misused in order to attack Christianity. These Faithless Fairy Tales may satisfy “once upon a time” appetites, but they don’t represent the truth. These are some of the more common anti-religious historical myths thrown at Christians, debunked by means of the actual storylines.
Whenever science and religion are discussed, those with an anti-spiritual axe to grind are all but certain to mention Galileo. His troubles with the Catholic Church have become the stuff of legend, in no small part because what’s told is usually more fantasy than reality. Biased caricatures sound good to the skeptical ear, but the truth is more complex and much less convenient. In reality, Galileo discussed his ideas openly with Catholic scholars for years. The lynch pin of the debate was actually scientific, not religious, and Galileo himself always maintained a belief in Biblical inerrancy. It was a poorly worded book which really got him into trouble.
Pop culture usually summarizes the Galileo affair something like this: Galileo proved the earth orbited the sun, which directly contradicts the Bible. Christians refused to accept this, so they excommunicated him, imprisoned him, and suppressed his discoveries.
In reality, Galileo promoted the idea that the earth orbited the sun, on the basis of his observations, which he saw as perfectly compatible with the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) cited known errors and contradictions in his model, as well as prevailing beliefs about physics, and chose not to overturn established ideas without hard proof. Works promoting the conflicting view were prohibited. Some years later, a new Pope asked Galileo for a balanced representation of the two sides. The resulting work was widely interpreted as implying the Pope was an idiot for questioning the sun-centered model, and Galileo was placed under house arrest.
Galileo’s telescope helped him discover the moons of other planets and the motions of heavenly bodies. He interpreted what he saw as supporting heliocentrism: the view that the Sun, not the Earth, is the orbital center of our planetary system. This wasn’t Galileo’s original idea; scientists like Aristarchus and Copernicus had suggested it long before. He shared these observations with others, including Catholic scientists, as early as 1610. Technology being what it was in the 1600’s, however, there were still disparities between actual observations and Galileo’s model, such as stellar parallax…
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