Scientists learn from very early in their training the faults of suppressing information, perhaps most iconically in the person of Galileo Galilei, who published evidence supporting the Copernican theory that the planets orbited the Sun (primarily his observations of Jupiter’s satellites), and was proscribed and forced to recant his beliefs by the Catholic Church.Galileo is presented as the person who proved the Copernican theory, and the Church as anti-scientific and out-dated. Since neither you nor I were present then, we can only understand about the facts if we delve a little deeper.
Scientists view Galileo in heroic terms, and the Church’s resistance to the Copernican theory was ultimately futile. Without the Copernican theory, we’d have never made it to the Moon. So it is fitting that Galileo’s famous hammer and feather experiment was actually demonstrated by Cmdr. Dave Scott at the Apollo 15 landing site on the Moon.
Myth #1: The Catholic Church hates science
Scientific discoveries require funding to be sustainable. The Church funded many scientific discoveries over the centuries and many eminent scientists where priests, for example, Georges Lemaitre, who proposed the big bang theory; or religious or sponsored by the Catholic Church. Nicholas Copernicus, who proposed the heliocentric theory was a canon of a Cathedral, and dedicated his work to Pope Paul III. These are just a couple of examples from a whole list of priest scientists.
Myth #2: The Church was afraid that science would prove the Bible wrong
The Church did not immediately endorse Copernicus theory, because She decided to proceed with caution until things were proved conclusively. This is because the Church believes She has been entrusted with the mission by Jesus Christ, to safeguard the truth, so that people may not be misled. So proceeding with prudence, She did not change her stance before time.
The Church does not say that the Bible is a scientific or historical book. Though it contains these aspects, it was written with the intention of showing God's creative, redemptive and salvific action in human history, containing stories, wisdom and lessons to teach people. So interpretation of Scripture should be in the context of what it was written.
Myth #3: Though scientists knew that heliocentric theory was true, the Church rejected it
The accepted theory, not within the Catholic Church at the time, but among scientists, was towards geocentricism. Even Copernicus delayed the publication of his work because he feared ridicule from his colleagues. The Church did not interfere with science first. It was Galileo who interfered with religion first. He said that on the basis of his theory, the Bible is wrong. This was what the Church officials took exception to, not the theory itself. Even so, his trial and arrest were unwarranted.
Myth #4: Galileo was attacked though he did not provoke anyone
Galileo went to Rome to get Church approval, since this would guarantee good publicity for his work. The then pope, Urban VIII, was a friend of Galileo, and agreed.
Galileo placed a character of his making, called Simplicio in the book, who was a kind of joker and fool, and had Simplicio speak the Pope's words. The Pope felt mocked and insulted and Galileo was tried by a court.
Myth #5: The Pope's reaction contradicts papal infallibility
First, papal infallibility is applicable when the Pope is speaking in his public and official capacity as spiritual head of the Universal Church. This happens rarely, for example in the case on a canonization or the promulgation of a dogma. It is not applicable outside this realm, and certainly not in Galileo's case.
Second, the subject of the proclamation should be with regard to faith and morals, which was certainly not true in this case.
Also, the Pope should make a solemn proclamation to be held by all the faithful, and there are well defined, unambiguous formulas in which such teachings are made.
Finally, Papal infallibility is a charisma, personal to the Pope, not communicated to another. But in Galileo's case, the Pope did not personally conduct the trial, rather a certain Cardinal Bellarmine conducted it.
Myth #6: Galileo was tortured into submission by the Church
The reason matters went to such a stage was because of the personal reaction of Pope Urban to what he perceived as Galileo's mockery. Yet, quite contrary to belief, Galileo was treated very well when under house arrest, and was well provided for. The Church does not deny that Galileo's case should not have resulted in arrest and recently, Pope John Paul II apologised for the mistreatment of Galileo, though it was just a personal overreaction of a previous Pope, acting on his own, and outside the scope of his role as pastor of the Church.
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