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Vatican astronomer: Galileo case was not science vs. religion

Catholic World News - January 08, 2014

In a discussion of the notorious trial of Galileo, a public spokesman for the Vatican Observatory has observed that Church officials were not seeking to suppress science, but rather trying—in a mistaken way—to defend science.

In the 17th century, explained Brother Guy Consolmagno, science was regarded as a branch of philosophy. “When Pope Urban VIII criticized Galileo, it wasn’t from the point of view of being a Pope, but from the point of view of being a professional philosopher,” he said.

Galileo himself was a “devout Catholic,” whose two daughters were nuns, Brother Consolmagno said. “Even though in retrospect we can look back and realize what the Church asked was unreasonable, he did it.”

The Vatican astronomer concluded that it is simplistic to think that Galileo’s attitude toward science and religion reflected the thoughts of the 21st century. “He was a man of his times,” he said.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jan. 09, 2014 2:25 PM ET USA

    The science of Galileo's time was inadequate to prove conclusively that the earth revolved around the sun and rotated about its own axis. It was not until 1729 that James Bradley used a large telescope to demonstrate the aberration of light. Based on this demonstration, in 1741 Benedict XIV granted the imprimatur to the first edition of "The Complete Works of Galileo." It was not until 1851 that Focault used a pendulum to demonstrate the rotation of the earth about its axis.

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