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Opposition to Galileo was scientific, not just religious (aeon.co)
447 points by rfreytag on Oct 6, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 217 comments

There is no question that there was religious opposition to Galileo within the Catholic church. However, it was not unanimous, and there were some notable exceptions.

José de Calasanz (saint), the founder of the Piarist order, was a friend of Galileo, and had some of the teachers of his congregation study with Galileo, so that the science they learned could be taught in his schools.

Moreover, when Galileo fell in disgrace, Calasanz instructed members of his congregation to assist him. When Galileo lost his sight, Calasanz ordered the Piarist Clemente Settimi to serve as his secretary.

Also worth mentioning: geocentric view was based on Aristotle and not scriptures. My undergraduate was in Theology and graduate degree was Historical Theology. Back then the dominate foundations of Theology in the Church was Plato vs Aristotle and one would consider themselves to be in the camp of one or the other and well Aristotle kind of won the popular vote back in those times.

Here is the article on Artistole's thoughts on The Heavens. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Heavens

"Aristotelian geocentric view that the earth was the center of the universe..." https://books.google.com/books?id=MHnwAAAAMAAJ&focus=searchw...

I think the "religious" opposition was more based on power politics than on scriptures, faith, etc.

I mean, from many people's point of view, it usually is.

Any good book you recommend about these topics?, a lot of things are not clear in my mind, like why is Galileo known for "fighting" the Catholic Church about this, but not Copernicus? I have to admit I haven't gone further than some Wikipedia articles.

"Blind watchers of the sky", by Rocky Kolb, is an awesome book about the history of astronomy which spends quite a lot of pages about Galileo's trial. It is wonderfully written and full of humor: Kolb is a notable astrophysicist, but also a gifted writer.

The best article I know if


As mentioned by another user below. The story in that link is really a great read. However, I'm unable to tell you how accurate or complete that account is.

Aristotle won in the west. In Eastern Christendom, Plato won.

In the pre-Crusades 'dark ages', Europeans were by-and-large ignorant of Aristotle. Christianity was popular, and the philosophic framework was predominantly Neo-Platonic.

Fortunately, Aristotle's work was preserved and commented upon by Islamic scholars. Averroes and Avicenna are two important Islamic scholars who commented on Aristotle. After the Crusades, this was reintroduced to the West.

As Aristotelianism was reintroduced to Europe, there was actually an intellectual crisis of sorts, ultimately resolved by St. Aquinas. See 'Scholasticism' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholasticism

The legend of early Islamic scholars "preserving human knowledge through the dark ages" is extremely overdone.

Eastern Christendom fleeing the encroachment of Islamic invaders (which is largely what reintroduced Aristotle to the West, not Islam) had grappled with the conflict between Platonic and Aristotelian theological influences for centuries prior to the Crusades. The dispute between Gregory Palamas and Barlaam of Seminara is the culmination of that conflict. In fact, there arguably wouldn't have even been Crusades if Islamic armies hadn't been actively assaulting Byzantium for centuries.

I think it's disingenuous to say that Aquinas resolved anything. He played a role in moving the West towards Aristotle, but that was not exactly an advancement. It'd been dealt with before.

Exactly. The modern myth of Islamic invaders "preserving" anything was just a myth and as far as I know is very recent.

The areas that we today identify with this faith had the history of a lot of science work before the invaders came. And the religion was also not that one:

From the five holy "sees" only Rome survived the invaders:


"Rome, in Italy (Saint Peter and Saint Paul)

Constantinople, now Istanbul in present-day Turkey (Saint Andrew)

Alexandria, in Egypt (Saint Mark the Evangelist)[14][15][16]

Antioch, in present-day Turkey (Saint Peter)[17]

Jerusalem, in the Holy Land (Saint Peter and Saint James)[18]"

It wasn't a legend or a myth, but also there was no "Dark Age." It also wasn't preserving knowledge it was actually spreading and fusing knowledge during the "Islamic Golden Age." http://www.storyofmathematics.com/islamic.html

Note how "unislamic" (compared to the later stricter views) that so-called "Golden Age" was:


Richly illustrated. Versus


"For many years, Wahhabi clerics opposed the establishment of a television service in Saudi Arabia, as they believed it immoral to produce images of humans.[19] The introduction of television in 1965 offended some Saudis,[20] and one of King Faisal's nephews, Prince Khalid ibn Musa'id ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz,[21] was killed in a police shootout in August 1965 after he led an assault on one of the new television stations.[20]"

Thanks for clarifying. In any case, it seems that Aristotle was mostly forgotten in the North and West parts of Europe, whereas Aristotle was known and discussed in the Middle-East and Mediterranean parts.

At your last paragraph, when you say "It'd been dealt with before" who/what are you referring to?

Aristotle was always such an obvious idiot ("women have fewer teeth than men" is my favorite nonsense) I have always+ wondered why anyone paid attention to him, ever.

+ Well since I was a teenager anyway

Interestingly enough, while Aristotle's conclusion was in fact wrong, it was rather scientific for its time. That passage in particular gets mocked a lot, but if you look at the source, you'll note that the conclusion was based on physical observation, even though the accounts he relied upon were demonstrably false:

"Males have more teeth than females in the case of men, sheep, goats, and swine; in the case of other animals observations have not yet been made: but the more teeth they have the more long-lived are they, as a rule, while those are short-lived in proportion that have teeth fewer in number and thinly set."[0]

He got it wrong, but the way he went about getting it wrong is significant.

The Aristotelian method might not have been the scientific method as it's understood today, but there's little doubt that it was [i]a[/i] scientific method. Truthfully, it's difficult to overstate just how significant an impact Aristotle's writings, and other Greek philosophy (particularly metaphysics), had on the later development of empiricism and the scientific tradition. I doubt that there was a single early modern philosopher (those who birthed what we'd consider modern science) who wasn't extremely well-read of Aristotle.

Aristotle must be read within his historical context. Both in terms of what he was responding to (Plato, various pre-Socratric philosophers, and his contemporaries), as well as what came after. His shadow is a long one, felt even to this day. Early modern philosophers, medieval Islamic scientists, and the others who helped lay the groundwork for the scientific method were all influenced by the Greeks, even when they disagreed.

0. Aristotle, History of Animals, Bk. II, Pt. 3. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/history_anim.2.ii.html

He got it wrong, but the way he went about getting it wrong is significant.

I'm probably just dense - how did he go about getting it wrong?

Observation: counting teeth. This was before modern dentistry.

Ugh... isn't that what one is supposed to do before making such a claim?

Hell, why didn't he just Google it?

Thanks for this reply. If you look at the tree of replies to my message you'll see I address several of the issues you raise. In particular, you say,

> He got it wrong, but the way he went about getting it wrong is significant.

I understand your point but I don't give him a bye for having a rediculously small n, since he was well schooled in inductive reasoning. I have further discussion in other comments so I won't bother to summarize her.

The biggest point, really, is his outsize impact on early christianity and later Islam, which I personally can't all consider benign.

Still, at the end of the day, we two don't need to come to an agreement :-) -- even more so that any disagreement is in degree. Some days I feel that the only people who've actually read the classics are people I already know!

> I don't give him a bye for having a rediculously small n, since he was well schooled in inductive reasoning

Really, you're going to fault him for not adhering to the standards of disciplines not invented until thousands of years after his death?

Have you actually read any Aristotle? I don't think anybody could read Aristotle and come away with the impression he is an idiot. Obviously he is far from modern levels of scientific knowledge, but that doesn't make him an idiot. He invented multiple branches of science.

It's been 35 years but yes I read and studied Aristotle (& Plato, Epictetus, Sophocles, Euripides, Homer..) in school, in Greek. I still find Platonic constructions useful while I consider, for example Aristotle's moral models simplistic at best and much less insightful than those of his predecessors such as Epicetus). I'm well aware that the moral models of different societies rarely translate well into other societies (not just Bronze Age to present day, but also present day to present day) but I remain unimpressed by Aristotle.

I'm not saying I would particularly like Plato as a person, or that I even agree with him on many things, but I find him a wide ranging thinker with much to offer the present.

I think Aristotle got a lot of credibility by being seized upon by some early christian thinkers. The world would be in a much better shape had they leant on some of Sophocles' lost plays instead :-).

So, what makes you consider Aristotle an idiot?

Well I described one in the message you replied to: the value of a person is derived solely from their value to the polity (I am glossing massively so no nitpicking on the wording: you can go read yourself as he is widely translated). And I think his approach to observation is lame even when compared to his contemporaries, thus I don't agree with Bluestrike2's defense.

And yes my view of him is formed in its context. Classical Greek society was profoundly weird by contemporary western standards, the closest analogy most people might understand might be 8th century islam. I always get a laugh when I see Greece portrayed in film, or cited by a politician: sure, I can and do draw a line philosophical from Athens to London, but but it is almost incomprehensible today without study. Then again I feel the same way when I see physics or computing in film.

There's another important piece of context Bluestrike2 mentions though you might have missed it: the modern view of science is very recent the result of several profound revolutions / dislocations / breakthroughs. Apart from the lovely lack of specialization, 2-3K years ago, philosophical (AKA scientific) theories were discussed more in essay form, like literary criticism rather than through reasoned debate, somewhat rigorous analysis and euclidean-style proof from postulate and theorem. I have read some Vedic era Sanskrit disputations on the nature of zero and they suffered from the same thing.

And yet, all that being said, I think Aristotle doesn't deserve the level of good press he gets. Though frankly my writing on this thread is more than I have really thought about him in 35 years. He simply doesn't have contemporary impact that many of this predecessors do on my daily life.

Just to mention one thing, Aristotle more or less invented formal logic. Without this we probably wouldnt have modern science or computers. If you want to argue he was an idiot and doesn't have any impact, you will have to make a better argument.

Well, at least for some populations [0][1] women do have fewer teeth than man, and this difference increases with age. So Aristotle could've been onto something.

[0] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17917610

[1] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00784-010-0445-3

And I am sure if one was to read through everything you said in your life 1000 years from now, you could just as easily be painted an idiot. People say stupid shit. Aristotle was a person, therefore, Aristotle said stupid shit.

Good point

Maybe he was an idiot, but everyone who lived in the previous 4 billion years was a worse idiot. In the land of the blind and all that.

He was preceded by giants -- he was at best an ordinary human.

Fortunately Aristotle doesn't care what I think.

Ordinary humans don't have others talking about them thousands of years later.

Well, we are obviously typing about Aristotle, so you seem to be wrong.

The person you are replying to was pointing out that we don't talk about ordinary humans today to contradict the GP. So you echo the point and then say he/she is wrong?

Just making a point doesn't make it true. Namely, Aristotle could fall into a certain definition of an ordinary person and still be talked about until sun fades away. And you could be an extraordinary person and be forgotten one decade after you die. Just because society deems you something doesn't mean you are that.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Don't judge people of history based on today's principles. They are remembered in history for significant reasons and you'll miss out on learning from them. (Unless they are famous for just death, destruction and lack of morals and ethics AKA most Roman Emperors. In the case of Caligula he was insane. But the rest enjoy.

I don't know if he was an "idiot," or not, but there's value in having something to oppose. Kind of like a diagram that isn't correct, but can be seen by all and iterated to something that IS correct.

Most mathematical minds prefer Plato.Verbal types adore Aristotle.

No. The church thinkers actually believed what was in the Bible: Augustine, Saint Basil, St. Thomas Aquinas.

And the scriptures were made by the people who understood very little about the world, compared to what the current science knows. Therefore the creation is described using the concepts that we today know for sure don't exist. Specifically, in the creation myth:

"And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so." (Genesis 1:7)

The firmament is what people believed separated the water that rains "from above" from what we see as "heaven."


The Latin translation, accepted by the Church, made in 4th century AD, uses word that is cognate with English "firm." The firmament was believed to be firm, like metals, and the gods "opened" it when it rained, and then closed it back.

They didn't even know that the rain is really in the clouds.

Their "world model" involved non-moving Earth. Aristotle came later.

It's true that Aristotle wrote what he wrote, but his teachings were never a part of the Bible.

Edit: kindly see my next answer down the tree if you don't want to read the Wikipedia yourself, the highest church thinkers really supported exactly the model with the firmament, the Earth in the middle, because Bible. Also see my top post here regarding the main article.

You are a little too quick to paint an almost caricatural image there, perhaps informed by more recent religious developments, such as the literalist interpretations (mostly, but not exclusively, an american phenomenon).

The reality is that the people who shaped the debates within the Catholic church back then tended to be well educated, and possessing all the attributes of one raising through a hierarchy - above average intelligence, determination, and skill. It is pretty extreme to describe them all as narrow-minded fundamentalists.

Before telescopes, Plato and Aristotle were state of the art knowledge in cosmology (inasmuch as this field even could be said to exist back then). An educated person, including top theologians back then, would have been well acquainted with their views. It is also the case that the Catholic church has been historically more open to scientifically-backed knowledge than most people give it credit for - look at all the Jesuits who had successful careers as scientists, while also remaining men of faith.

Please be aware that observing the (mostly american) present-day religious phenomena does not provide you a good basis for judging religious thinking in the past, especially that related to the non-protestant churches.

> Before telescopes, Plato and Aristotle were state of the art knowledge in cosmology

No, they were not. They were just popular but not state of the art, as neither from them actually preformed astronomical observations or did the calculations. There are people before and after these two who did much more. Because they actually did some real science.



"This work calculates the sizes of the Sun and Moon, as well as their distances from the Earth in terms of Earth's radius."



"Repeating Eratosthenes' calculation with more accurate data, the result is 40,074 km, which is 66 km different (0.16%) from the currently accepted polar circumference of the Earth."

Aristarchus of Samos:


"presented the first known model that placed the Sun at the center of the known universe with the Earth revolving around it"



"Estimation of the size of the universe

Archimedes then estimated an upper bound for the number of grains of sand required to fill the Universe. To do this, he used the heliocentric model of Aristarchus of Samos."

Everything before that year that that carpenter was born, and before his followers continued to depend on older or plainly less informed texts.

Again, that was a fairly quick but narrow reaction.

I did not say "astronomy". I said "cosmology". The choice was conscious. The one is the more practical study of celestial phenomena, and you are correct that neither Plato nor Aristotle were astronomers. The other concerns itself with the large-scale structures and phenomena, both in time and space. Astronomy studies what is going on out there. Cosmology tries to figure out how it all works together.

Astronomy was not an immediate concern to theologians. But they obviously were interested in what was then a proto-cosmology, intertwined with philosophy. If you were an educated person back then, and you were interested in an overall synthesis of how the universe works, Aristotle had it, and you were sure to read his books.

Also be aware that back then nobody had proof positive that Aristarchus (who was much closer to the current definition of an astronomer) was right. Just like today, there were many competing ideas. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that he was on to something. But really it took the invention of the telescope, and the scientific revolution after 1600 to definitely tip the balance.

It is good that you fight narrow-mindedness, but be aware that its antidote is having a broad understanding of these issues. Spend some time thinking about that, okay?

No again. In order to be the "state of the art" in cosmology (as you define it that "concerns itself with the large-scale structures and phenomena") you should know what the "large-scale" actually is. That is what I quoted that these other Greeks actually calculated. The orders of magnitude.

And no, this is also not true: "really it took the invention of the telescope"

It's Tycho Brahe who measured enough:


"he was the last of the major naked eye astronomers, working without telescopes for his observations."

I don't understand why people who don't know history try to argue here. In fact, I think I know, you don't have to try to explain me.

You are equating knowledge with mere numerical literacy, e.g., you are imagining that knowledge is a set of fundamental constants to be measured, and that he who knows the constants to the highest precision is the greatest.

In fact knowledge is the thing that allows you to choose which constants to calculate at all. It is not intuitive why a light in the sky should have a size. What is the size of a sunset? What is the size of a rainbow? What is the size of an eclipse?

Knowledge is not the mere accumulation of measurement. It is the organizational structure that allows you to separate between what we can and cannot measure, what we have measured before and have not measured yet. It is what tells us whether "the" sun is a singleton or that "a" rainbow today is not the same today as tomorrow.

> who don't know history

I think you would benefit from reading up on the current consensus among historians on the Conflict Thesis before presenting it to those of us who have caught up on our Ferngren, Barker, etc.

Read my links. Those Greeks were much more right than Plato or Aristotle. We know that today. The first one didn't measure anything. The second one was the teacher of Alexander the Great, but also not particularly good scientist, compared to these other Greeks. We know because we have even better tools today, and we compared. They were better scientists.

Conflict Thesis has nothing to do with the facts I've presented. I haven't invented any. Where have you found any error in these?

No one is saying that the bible has a physically accurate account of the world, only that the church at the time based their understanding of the physical universe primarily on Aristotle, and I don't think you'll find many historians arguing otherwise on account of us having writings from them arguing and justifying their positions.

> No one is saying that the bible has a physically accurate account of the world

Can you point out even one instance in which the Bible is inaccurate about the physical nature of the world? I'm curious

There are many. Just read and think about it. Start with the story that the sun and moon stood still in the sky for an entire day, with no dusk, sunset, or dawn while Joshua led the Israelites to murder their enemies.

Or perhaps grab any part of the creation myth—the whole of the universe, our galaxy, our arm of the galaxy, our place in that arm, our star, our solar system, our planet, all the plants and animals and us...all made in just a handful of hours each.

Or how about the notion that not one, but two lucky guys met death and were returned from it days later. Or that mud can cure blindness. Or 5,000 people can be fed to satisfaction with tons of leftovers from just a couple fish and loaves of bread. Or that a jug known to be full of water can transmogrify into wine. Or bodies of water momentarily drying up, or having waters recede on command, to permit human passage. Or stars falling from the sky and crashing into earth. Rivers turning to blood. Sudden overnight pestilence that kills only the first-born of an entire nation, unless you painted blood on your doors. A woman turned into a pillar of salt.

Of course, asking such a question as yours implies one ought to take seriously and somewhat bordering on completely literal that which the Bible says that remotely touches on and involves the physical nature of the world. Otherwise the question doesn't make any sense. Because from the creation to the revelation, all of its stories say something about the physical nature of the world.

Absolutely not true that "the church at the time based their understanding of the physical universe primarily on Aristotle."

We talk about the religious view. For the religious view the Bible was actually relevant for the Church:


"Augustine wrote that too much learning had been expended on the nature of the firmament.[9] "We may understand this name as given to indicate not it is motionless but that it is solid." he wrote.[9]

Saint Basil argued for a fluid firmament.[9]

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the firmament had a "solid nature" and stood above a "region of fire, wherein all vapor must be consumed."[10]"



Before the Christians, the Jews also had such interpretations:

"According to The Jewish Encyclopedia:

The Hebrews regarded the earth as a plain or a hill figured like a hemisphere, swimming on water. Over this is arched the solid vault of heaven. To this vault are fastened the lights, the stars. So slight is this elevation that birds may rise to it and fly along its expanse.[8]"

That section of the Jewish Encyclopaedia is itself unsourced and, to the best of my knowledge in Jewish cosmology, was not actually Jewish view of the cosmos.

Please give your citations for the relevant Jewish cosmology at the time the "creation myths" were made.

This is laughably wrong. Aristophanes wrote an entire comedy on the subject, "The Clouds", in the 5th century B.C.E. STREPSIADES: But by the Earth! is our father, Zeus, the Olympian, not a god? SOCRATES: Zeus! what Zeus! Are you mad? There is no Zeus. STREPSIADS: What are you saying now? Who causes the rain to fall? Answer me that1 SOCRATES: Why, these, and I will prove it. Have you ever seen it raining without clouds? Let Zeus then cause rain with a clear sky and without their presence! STREPSIADES: By Apollo! that is powerfully argued! For my own part, I always thought it was Zeus pissing into a sieve. But tell me, who is it makes the thunder, which I so much dread? SOCRATES: These, when they roll one over the other. STRESIADES: But how can that be? you most daring among men! SOCRATES: Being full of water, and forced to move along, they are of necessity precipitated in rain, being fully distended with moisture from the regions where they have been floating; hence they bump each other heavily and burst with great noise. STREPSIADES: But is it not Zeus who forces them to move? SOCRATES: Not at all; it's the aerial Whirlwind. STREPSIADES: The Whirlwind! ah! I did not know that. So Zeus, it seems, has no existence, and its the Whirlwind that reigns in his stead? But you have not yet told me what makes the roll of the thunder? SOCRATES: Have you not understood me then? I tell you, that the Clouds, when full of rain, bump against one another, and that, being inordinately swollen out, they burst with a great noise. STREPSIADES: How can you make me credit that? SOCRATES: Take yourself as an example. When you have heartily gorged on stew at the Panathenaea, you get throes of stomach-ache and then suddenly your belly resounds with prolonged rumbling. STREPSIADES:

Yes, yes, by Apollo I suffer, I get colic, then the stew sets to rumbling like thunder and finally bursts forth with a terrific noise. At first, it's but a little gurgling pappax, pappax! then it increases, papapappax! and when I take my crap, why, it's thunder indeed, papapappax! pappax!! papapappax!!! just like the clouds.


Well then, reflect what a noise is produced by your belly, which is but small. Shall not the air, which is boundless, produce these mighty claps of thunder? STREPSIADES:

And this is why the names are so much alike: crap and clap. But tell me this. Whence comes the lightning, the dazzling flame, which at times consumes the man it strikes, at others hardly singes him. Is it not plain, that Zeus is hurling it at the perjurers?

This segment from "The Clouds" nicely illustrates the mockery which a person who observes and rethinks the nature scientifically receives from the religious people, who only trust the dogma.

It's obvious that only Socrates here claims that the rain comes from clouds, or that the thunder is the result of the discharge, and gets mocked for that.

Even today very much alive.

From the other sources we know that Socrates was then accused "corrupting the youth of the city-state and asebeia (impiety) against the pantheon of Athens" and that he was for that crime sentenced to death.


That's why Platon decided to only philosophise about the "ideas" and not to discuss or analyze the nature phenomena. He didn't want to end like Socrates.

The opposition by the church was two-fold. It was on the grounds that Galileo had not sufficiently proven the Copernician system. Nevertheleless, it endured 9 popes before controvery was stirred up when the debate moved into the venacular and his theory started getting pitched against Scripture, instead of just continuing the debate among astronomers.

But even the authors of the judgement against Galileo didn't consider it final, as Cardial Bellarmine wrote:

    I say that if a real proof be found that the sun is fixed and does not revolve
    round the earth, but the earth round the sun, then it will be necessary, very 
    carefully, to proceed to the explanation of the passages of Scripture which 
    appear to be contrary, and we should rather say that we have misunderstood 
    these than pronounce that to be false which is demonstrated.
Also there was no prohibition to continue to discuss the theory in the context of Astronomy, just to stop making claims about validity of scripture (which is what got Galileo in trouble later in life).

It's worth noting there have been many scientific discoveries advanced by churchmen or churchwomen which on the surface appeared to contradict points of doctrine. However, the scope of the two are different and can coexist. This happened again with George Lemaître, who formulated early hypothesis about the Big Bang, concerning himself with the "how", not the "why" and resisting concordism arguments.

I don't believe there are any geocentric claims in scripture. To what scripture are you referring?

To my understanding, its just a number of verses that express things in the same kinds of phrases we use today (e.g., "the sun stood still", "the sun rose").

We still use that language today, knowing full well that Earth orbits the sun.

To be willing to accept evidence to the contrary is wonderful but to limit oneself to only what can be justified in terms of "misunderstanding" not contradicting is fundamentally limiting. The truth can have no sacred cows they are a disease of the mind stunting growth forever.

I feel like that's more of a "political" statement, something that seems to be common among religious leadership even today. Whenever science proves something to contradict a holy text with enough certainty that the religious org can't ignore or refute, they save face by claiming that the evidence in the holy text was merely misunderstood, misinterpreted, or mistranslated. It's understandable, if intellectually dishonest.

It is also worth noting that Galileo had a very big mouth and had many enemies. The publishing of this work was a perfect opportunity for them to pounce. It wasn't so much the church hating science as much people hating Galileo and using the church to an end.

In Sleepwalkers (great book), Arthur Koestler argues that many senior church figures were keen and supportive followers of Galileo's physical investigations, but repeatedly warned him not to cross the line between observing the universe, and questioning the role of God and Man. Galileo was too proud to keep to one side of that line, and Koestler laments that the current epistemological opposition of science and religion dates from that unnecessary conflict.

> Koestler laments that the current epistemological opposition of science and religion dates from that unnecessary conflict.

I don't think that's even remotely true; the current (well, in America particularly and to a lesser extent other predominantly Christian places) epistemological opposition of science and religion (which is really substantially more limited than that, but that's how its often portrayed) is of more recent origin, stemming from the conflict between the literalist inerrantist views of certain parts of the Protestant community and various scientific conclusions about the origin of species, the age of the earth, and cosmology.

Yes. IIRC, the pope allowed him to write a book on his views but to include both sides of the debate. Galileo did so, but put the traditional view into the mouth of a character named "Fool"...

Also worth mentioning: Galileo himself was "within the Catholic Church".

"Also worth mentioning: Galileo himself was "within the Catholic Church"."

Also worth mentioning: not being in the Catholic Church during that era was called "excommunication" and was banishment from public society all together

No, excommunication simply means being outside the sacraments. It had nothing to do with public society.

Galileo was under house arrest at some point, but that had no canonical relation to any excommunication.

Your technical definition is correct, but you need to consider the practical implications. When you got excommunicated from the Church, people basically stopped taking you seriously, and no one wanted to associate themselves with you. As a consequence, you had no choice but to move elsewhere, i.e. self-banishment.

Interestingly, Galileo called his years in Padua (Padova) the happiest of his life. Florence was much more directly influenced by the church, whereas Padova was part of the Republic of Venice, which was not under the thumb of the church, despite of course being catholic.

If you ever get to visit Padova, there's a great tour of the university that shows a lectern that he used. To put it bluntly, it's a pile of junk, but the story behind that is pretty interesting: rather than hire actual skilled craftsmen to build it, his students - who were not "blue collar" types -wanted to build it themselves as a sign of devotion.

This is just not true in general. The implications were very dependent on where you lived.

You should look up Paolo Sarpi who was a leading figure in the Venetian Republic who Galileo corresponded with frequently. Pope Paul V tried to have him assassinated at one point. If anything he became a more influential leader in Venice after the assassination attempt.

The freedom to work without the more extreme elements of the church getting in the way that was possible in the Republic of Venice at that time is one of the many reasons the position that Galileo opposed the church is hard to defend. If he opposed the church then why did he return to Florence in 1611 instead of staying in the republic.

Excommunication is not the same thing as heresy.

As I understand it (lapsed Catholic), there are two senses to excommunication.

In one sense, it means that you are ineligible to receive the sacraments, and if you do receive them, they are invalid. This would be the case for someone with un-confessed sins, including heresy, or using birth control for that matter.

In another sense, it is the formal finding of excommunication by the church authorities. That's where a person is supposed to be banished from society.

I don't think that Galileo was ever excommunicated. Feyerabend claimed that the church fathers chose a wording in their finding that stopped one step short of accusing Galileo of heresy (for which they would have had to torture and murder him).

People who are formally excommunicated aren't banished from society; in fact, they're not even allowed to skip Mass.

The first type of excommunication you're talking about is the automatic kind. If you commit grave (not venial) sins and haven't been to confession yet, you cannot receive Communion without committing a sacrilege. No formal decree from the bishop is necessary for this. In fact, no one even needs to know you committed a sin, for you to be in this state.

A formal excommunication is a public announcement intended to shame a sinner into amending his life and re-entering a state of grace by repentance and confession. I believe in some cases it requires a public act by the sinner, to let the community know that the public charge of excommunication has been answered. So, to contradict your position, a public excommunication is not a shunning but rather is meant to bring the sinner back into the community.

It might be a useful practice for the Church to do more of...

Stupid question: given General Relativity, and in particular that all reference frames are equally valid, including rotating and accelerating ones, in what sense is heliocentrism more 'true' than geocentrism?

E.g. you can pick a geocentric reference frame and all the math works out (albeit you'd need to define large fictitious forces, etc., but again, they are only 'fictitious' from the perspective of a different reference frame; in the chosen frame they look quite real!).

Isn't the choice between geocentrism and heliocentrism purely one of convenience, and we can simply pick and choose whichever reference frame is most convenient for calculation purposes?

For example, if I'm interested in things happening in daily life, I pick a reference frame at rest with respect to the ground beneath my feet. If I am figuring out satellite orbits, I use a geocentric frame. If I'm calculating a trip to Mars, I use a heliocentric frame (perhaps a rotating one).

If so, why do we still define heliocentrism to be more correct? Is the argument really an implicit throwback to Newtonian absolute space and time, which Relativity rejected?

You're right, mathematically speaking the two systems are the same. As a matter of fact, the calculations that describe the attitude of a spacecraft flying not far from the Earth are usually expressed in a geocentrical reference frame. It's much simpler, yet produces the same result you would get using the heliocentric frame.

The real disadvantage of the geocentric system is that it is a barren model: it does not allow science to advance. It is able to explain the motion of planets with exceptional precision, but it does so by using a mathematical construction (the epicycles) that does not lead to a deeper understanding of the inner laws of nature. On the other side, the heliocentric model (when corrected with Kepler's idea of using ellipses instead of Copernicus' circles and epicycles) was a big step towards the bigger understanding of gravitation that was produced by Newton's law of gravitation.

I think the answer is precisely the realization that heliocentrism is a convenient framework for specifying the correct relationships. If one formulated their geocentrism-with-epicycles model to be precisely equivalent to heliocentrism in all physically observable details, just with Earth as the origin to their coordinate system, and acknowledged this equivalence, then that would be perfectly correct as well, albeit unduly cumbersomely framed. But the useful thing is that insight, that what happens is equivalent to the clean heliocentric model, whatever coordinates you might prefer to think of it in terms of.

Is it possible for a geocentric, epicyclic model to get the 3D positions of the solar system bodies approximately correct, as opposed to just their angular motion with respect to Earth?

I cannot edit my post any more , but I can still reply to it, and it seems the answer is yes:


- but you need eccentricity to get the speeds right: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHmjGUxWRAI (10 minutes in.)

Furthermore, the result is not equivalent to the heliocentric model because it has many more parameters.

The modern view is indeed that there is no preferred reference frame. It's just a matter of choosing a coordinate system.

If you wanted to make a distinction you could say that the laws have a simpler form in a heliocentric coordinate system, but this is only really true if you make certain approximations.

Of all the answers offered here, the only ones that get to the heart of the matter are those that make the distinction between inertial (non-accelerating) frames of reference, and those that rotate (and therefore have at least centripetal acceleration). In Newtonian and post-Newtonian mechanics, only inertial frames are equivalent. A geocentric frame (with a rotating Earth) spins the whole universe once a year; fix the Earth's spin, and you set the universe spinning once a day.

You can have accelerating frames of reference in Special Relativity; for example, one can set Rindler coordinates on a body that is uniformly accelerating.

Addtionally, you can have locally inertial frames of reference that are inequivalent. Consider two space stations orbiting Earth at different altitudes. The occupants are in free-fall in both cases, but there is a relative acceleration between them.

Rotating frames of reference tend to distract users into confusing coordinate artifacts with physical ones. As a trivial example, suppose we vary the Minkowski metric by introducing a rotation into Cartesian coordinates: dS^2 = -\left(1 - \omega^2 ({x}^2 + {y}^2) \right){dt}^2 + 2 \omega (- y dx dt + x dy dt) + {dx}^2 + {dy}^2 + {dz}^2. Here a non-massless object far from the origin will have |d\vec{x}/dt| > 1, or in other words a coordinate velocity greater than c.

This is essentially the same as your last sentence.

However, when we calculate the four-velocity \eta^\mu of any non-massless object, even far from the origin, we will see that dS^2 < 0 for all nearby points along its worldline. In other words, there is no superluminal motion -- there is just movement against a set of coordinates, and a different choice in coordinates will vary that.

We can certainly do Standard Model physics (or classical particle dynamics) in a rotating system of coordinates, using a number of approaches.

However, it is usually easier to use a different system of coordinates, and even better to abandon the idea of using any global system of coordinates in a spacetime that is not Riemann flat.

Newtonian physics allows different frames of reference. Non inertial frames of reference need pseudo-forces. Einstein's relativity deals with non absolute space and time, that is, time speeds up or slows down depending on your 'frame of reference', the only thing remaining constant is the speed of light in a vaccum.

The choice isn't purely one of convenience because assuming 'heliocentrism' allows for a more elegant and universal set of equations to explain everything, from quarks to galaxies.

When you're dealing with the motion of objects close to the Earth, a geocentric reference frame is entirely appropriate.

However, when examining the motion of the planets a heliocentric reference frame is "more correct" in that the motion of the planets in that reference frame suggests a deeper truth: that the primary influence on the motion of the planets is somehow the Sun.

Not a physicist so my answer may be totally wrong, but my first _guess_ would be that geocentrism necessitates unequally valid reference frames. You would need different equations to represent the movements of Venus and Mars relative to Earth as you would need to represent their movements relative to each other. Or at least it certainly seems to me like you would at first guess.

Perhaps you could use matrix algebra to apply geocentric laws of motion to all reference frames, and then simply translate them into a reference frame where Earth is the "actual" center of things? But then you're just admitting that Earth isn't the "actual" center of things.

I think most simply, the entire solar system revolves around the sun and not the earth.

Isn't that simply begging the question though?

If you adopt a geocentric reference frame, then the Sun appears to rotate around the Earth, and all the other planets also appear to follow epicyclic paths around the Earth. You can predict the motions of every planet and star equally well, the equations are just different.

So again, why is one more 'correct' than the other, besides calculational simplicity?

Geocentrism and Heliocentrism are not just calculation frameworks for making observations of the sky. They are also an attempt to create a model of the fundamental rules that govern the heavens, and then to create observable predictions based on those rules.

Heliocentrism is the better model of the two, because the paths of the planets are dominated by force of gravitational attraction to the sun. This force is what you model, regardless of your frame of reference. You can use this model to create observational predictions for any point in the solar system, but the forces that your modeling are essentially the heliocentric ones.

But to your larger point: In my grade-school science class, we were all taught that heliocentrism was itself supplanted by the discovery that the sun is rotating around the galaxy, and that modern cosmology doesn't center around anything at all. Heliocentrism is still more accurate than the geocentrism that it replaces, but is still regarded as a stepping-stone to modern theories.

The simple answer of why one is more correct, is because it's deemed as correct by the scientific community, which comprises the scientific experts on that issue.

The larger issue you raise is one that was especially prominent in mid-20th century philosophy of science, specifically in Thomas Kuhn's concept of a "paradigm shift". A radically new scientific theory does not displace an existing theory because it is more "correct", since ad hoc modifications (e.g., epicycles) can always be made to the existing theory to account for new evidence that appears not to fit. However, at some point the existing theory will come to have so much baggage, and the new theory will explain the world so much more elegantly (e.g., with calculational simplicity) that the new theory will overthrow the old one and become the new "paradigm". Note that this is not because the old theory could not accommodate all the facts; any old theory can if you modify it enough, but at some point when you have to make all sorts of strange adjustments to the existing (old) theory it just becomes wildly implausible when compared with the new theory. At some point scientific consensus changes and the the new "paradigm" is accepted. You can read more about this at Wikipedia:




I've always thought of the difference between geocentric and heliocentric to be an ego thing. Setting Earth as the center of the Universe works great, for everyone on Earth. It enforces the idea that Earth, and through that, Humans, are so important that the Universe is really centered on the Earth.

Maybe this is the case, maybe its not. To assume that the Earth is the center because of us is pretty egocentric.

Heliocentric places it in a more objective way, I guess? Changes the reference point to be consistent with the known laws/theory/whatever of gravity.

It could also be a scaling thing as well. Applying the equations to planets while setting a reference point based on our sun would provide equations that are more easily adaptable to other galaxies or solar systems that also have planets rotating around the sun. Sure, we could try and create formulas that describe the motion of other galaxies in reference to the Earth, but that would fall apart if the Earth stopped existing.

I'll admit I'm way out of my depth here! But wouldn't the fact the planets experience orbital decay that ultimately cause them to be pulled into the star they are orbiting, mean that heliocentric is "more correct" when discussing a planet's relation to a star?

You could still calculate that with an earth-centric approach, it just might not be fun. As far as the physics go, it doesn't care which point or body you pick to be non-moving - the math all works out, it's just relative to a different point. And with that, there's no spot in the universe you can point at and say "That point is not moving", so there's no "fundamental zero" we can compare everything to.

Perhaps the point is that "more correct" is subjective. Both approaches will give you the right answer, it's just that heliocentric makes finding the answer easier.

Are these "large fictitious forces" the same thing as Dark Matter today? That would be pretty interesting, if so.

That's a good question, but the short answer is no.

Fictitious forces relate to particular choices of coordinate systems (and their origins). For example, the centrifugal force is an easy way to think about the tendency to be pulled "down" by an astronaut aboard a spinning space station; that astronaut can think of a set of cylindrical coordinates with the origin at the centre of rotation of the station, or of a set of Cartesian coordinates with the origin at some point on the "floor" and centrifugal force is simply natural-seeming. However, if the astronaut uses a non-rotating set of Cartesian coordinates whose origin is outside the entire station, for example, centrifugal force no longer seems very natural as an explanation. Alternatively, close inspection of the path traced by a dropped tablet would also conflict with expectations from a real centrifugal force.

Careful study of the movement of stars in the outer reaches of certain types of rotating galaxies threw up a surprise: the linear velocities of stars orbiting far from the centre should be much faster in order to maintain their roughly circular orbits than observational evidence of their speed allows. This difference does not change with a change of coordinates, so it is not an artifact of a choice of coordinate systems. Thus it is not really fixable with a fictitious force; so far the only "fix" we know is to either use known real forces that are generated by the non-gravitational content of the universe (possibly adding not-previously-known matter) or to keep the matter content constant but modify one or more forces. (Hybrid approaches are also possible). The space for introducing truly new long-range forces has been heavily constrained by experiment on Earth, and a "fifth force" is essentially ruled out. We have not yet ruled out many viable forms of previously undetected matter, however some forms are no longer plausible.

Dark Matter introduces invisible mass far from the centres of galaxies that help to suspend these surprisingly slow-moving stars. Modifications of gravity have also been proposed that bend the trajectories of such stars less towards the centres of their galaxies.

Dark Matter also explains the peculiar velocities of galaxies within several clusters; they move as if attracted to unseen mass in the cluster. Previously mentioned modifications of gravity have to be further modified to incorporate these observational results.

Collisionless Dark Matter also explains the behaviour of several known (past) galactic collisions where gravitational lensing preceeds the visible matter and especially the energetic gas and dust that collided as the galaxies passed through one another. This so far has not been fixable by yet more modifications of gravity, however people are trying that approach too (e.g. https://arxiv.org/abs/1606.09128).

It's not a stupid question.

General Relativity does not have global frames of reference. Borrowing from Special Relativity, an inertial frame of reference is on in which the Poincaré isometry group applies at every point in the frame of reference, and that means that fundamental physical constants do not change with translations, rotations or Lorentz boosts. That is, as you move back and forth along the spacelike axes, or rotate clockwise or counterclockwise around them, or acquire boosts, or move futureward, some set of constants are invariant; in pure SR the constants are the spacetime intervals -- the distance from one event to another. In the Standard Model of Particle Physics, there are other invariants, such as the fundamental charge and the speed at which a massless particle moves.

Special Relativity is a theory with global inertial frames of reference. General Relativity has no global frames of reference at all, except in the (flat, Minkowski) spacetime of Special Relativity. Instead, GR has the concept of the LIF -- the _locally_ inertial frame -- which exists everywhere in the tightest possible definition of local (specifically, in the local section of the fibre bundle, or in the limit where spacetime intervals go to zero), but only exists in _some_ bigger regions of spacetime (those that are flat -- or at least effectively flat, in the Wilson sense of an effective field theory).

None of this has to do with sets of coordinates; even in SR you can choose among a variety of coordinate systems (e.g., polar coordinates, Cartesian coordinates) and place the coordinate system's origin anywhere. Using different coordinates even in the spacetime of Special Relativity can help focus on aspects of a system under study, and indeed one can even use Rindler coordinates in Special Relativity to consider systems that include acceleration, or more often to treat a uniformly accelerating object as at rest at the coordinates' origin point.

In GR covariance is introduced to express all physical laws in arbitrary coordinates. Arbitrariness here certainly includes systems in which spacelike _coordinate_ distances (or the period of an oscillator) vary with position, or even in which the speed of light _against a set of coordinates_ varies with direction.

The Einstein Field Equations are written in a form that is independent of the choice of coordinates; they stay in that form even under a change of coordinates -- this is the generally covariant form. Newtonian physics, for example, can become much more complicated when you make a change of coordinates -- in this discussion, in dealing with planetary orbits under a change from a sun-centric polar coordinate system, or even a sun-centric Cartesian coordinate system to an Earth-centric system. In General Relativity the same Einstein Field Equation (EFE) form is used.

The calculational price for covariance is high -- the EFEs are ten non-linear partial differential equations. Even today that's heavy calculating. So anywhere one could get a decently correct answer using Special Relativity or Newtonian mechanics, especially where one can make a good choice of coordinates, you'd choose to do that instead. Where bodies move slowly against the chosen coordinates compared to how light moves against the same system of coordinates, and where the distances between massive bodies is large, the errors will be small to negligible.

So, to recap, "Isn't the choice between geocentrism and heliocentrism purely one of convenience, and we can simply pick and choose whichever [coordinate system] is most convenient for calculation purposes?" Yes, essentially, but one has to be wary about artifacts of the coordinate system that vary under a change of coordinates. A classic example involves latitude-longitude coordinates on Earth: there is a coordinate singularity at each pole, but the singularity goes away upon a change of coordinates (e.g. to local East-North-Up coordinates, or ECEF coordinates, or Cartesian coordinates with any number of possible choices of origin). Likewise, epicycles in planetary orbits change or vanish under different systems of coordinates, and so are unphysical.

I changed "reference frame" to "[coordinate system]" there to capture what an observer is doing: laying out an observer-centric set of coordinates. No such set of coordinates is the correct one, but any observer can choose manifestly useless sets of coordinates or draw incorrect conclusions from the motions of objects against one particular set of coordinates (not just what system of coordinates, but also where the origin is).

Earth-Centric model was actually scientifically better at that time. With Occam's razor you would prefer it.

- Even church agreed that Earth is not static, but is rotating.

- Nobody observed star parallax, major proof for Copernican model was missing until 19th century.

- Ptolemaic model with its epicycles provided better predictions.

- Copernican model is also wrong, planets are orbiting around center of gravity, which is outside of sun..

The Ptolemic model was not better at the time, but it wasn't really worse. The Copernican model provided roughly the same observational accuracy, and was very slightly simpler. Occam's razor would probably prefer the Copernican model in a vacuum, but the differences were too slight to prefer unseating the incumbent.

> Copernican model is also wrong, planets are orbiting around center of gravity, which is outside of sun..

Well, a bigger shortcoming is that Copernicus still insisted that orbits be circles instead of ellipses.

> Ptolemaic model with its epicycles provided better predictions.

Not only did the Copernican model include epicycles, it actually included more epicycles than the Ptolemic model (modern myth notwithstanding). Both models could improve accuracy by adding more epicycles, and for the same amount of computation, both models produced predictions of roughly equal accuracy.

The one improvement the Copernican model provided, was that it removed something called the equant (and replaced it with more epicycles). The equant allows for non-constant orbital velocity around an epicycle, by instead having constant angular velocity around a point that is not the center of the circle. When Copernicus' work was published, the removal of the equant was considered by many mathematicians to be the main argument in favor of heliocentrism (although some considered it just a computational model, with geocentrism still being correct with respect to reality).

>planets are orbiting around center of gravity, which is outside of sun..

The only planet with a barycenter with the sun outside it's radius is Jupiter. And that only slightly. (with an altitude of 0.07 of the sun's radius)

The earth-sun barycenter is 0.0006 times the sun's radius from it's _center_

Heresy! There is only one true barycenter in solar system! :-)

Even then the definition of the surface is different than the definition of the surface of, say, the Earth, so I'm not sure what "outside" the Sun means precisely.

The sun is roughly a sphere of a fixed size. What is there not to understand ?

Plenty as it happens. Look up the definition of the surface of a star. It's not as simple or intuitive as one would expect.

I believe he's referring to the "fixed size" part of it, really only an argument a true pedant would make.

Pedant? Or maybe just making conversation about the interesting differences between human experience and understanding of terms and what definitions astronomers use. Why do so many people on HN react as if every comment is a competition?

Just to be pedantic, the barycenter of the Solar System [0] is "sometimes" outside the Sun, but is also often within the limb of the Sun. [0]https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Solar_system_barycen...

Interesting. Does the barycenter then have a barycenter over time?

By definition a barycenter is a center of mass, so since a barycenter itself has no mass, it would not have it's own barycenter.

It could have a "mean location" though!

Ah, that's what I mean!

To put it the other way around, that's either the position of the barycenter relative to the sun, or the position of the sun relative to the barycenter. If you're going to pick one and say it's not moving, the barycenter is a good choice. The barycenter only moves relative to the rest of the galaxy.

My understanding was the sun is orbiting around a constantly (though subtly) shifting point because of the complex interactions of all the planets that orbit it. Each planet orbiting the sun alone would have a different barycenter. Put them all together and you get a much more complex picture. Correct me if I'm wrong.

It's not that the barycenter is moving, it's that the orbit of the sun is not even remotely circular. The barycenter only moves in response to forces outside the solar system (the galaxy).

On the other hand, if you look at the barycenter of, say, Earth + Sun, then that barycenter will move around because there are a bunch of other planets involved. But the barycenter of the solar system is more stable, due to the conservation of momentum and all that, and the distance from the solar system to the nearest objects that would influence it.

Thanks, that is a better explanation.

I'm sure there is an average center that is implied by the repeating pattern of the plot I posted.

It's barycenters all the way down.

- The Copernican model held uniform circular motion around the sun, which is at odds with even the crude experimental evidence of the time.

- If the Earth was a high-speed ball flying around the sun, shouldn't we be thrown off the planet? (Note that this is before Newton's law of gravitation)

- To be visible from such a distance, the stars would have to be >1AU in diameter according to the best measurements of the day.

- Some of the more esoteric portions of Copernican model were dangerously close to actual heresy, for example about the nature of matter in an infinite universe.

It should be noted that what saved the heliocentric model was not so much Kepler's elliptical motion but Newton's gravitational theory.

Occam's razor is not science, but it is rational. Science is about running physical experiments to verify your understanding, and to include proper controls to validate the experiments.

A lot of research does not have a component of science to it, but the studies are rational. Rational != Science

What the church believed is neither here nor there.

Failure to observe stellar parallax is not scientific evidence for geocentricity, as there is an explanation, obvious to anyone who understands parallax (and, as it happens, correct), for the non-observation. Consequently, Occam's razor (which is a methodological assumption, not an axiom of either logic or the scientific method) does not apply.

Kepler had fixed the prediction issue.

I do not believe the center-of-gravity issue was considered at that time, and if not, could not be a reason for preferring geocentricity at that time (and by the time it was recognized, geocentricity was already scientifically untenable.)

> With Occam's razor you would prefer it.

> - Ptolemaic model with its epicycles provided better predictions.

These two statements are contradictory.

How so?

OP thinks the assumption of "epicycles" tips the balance of "least assumptions" to the contending theory. (He did not elaborate the full count of assumptions of either.)

I think this is a good test case for The Razzor. (tm) /g

(Not concerned here with the meta question of why even accept aphorisms as fact.)

Epicyles are observable phenomena and noted from antiquity. The Ptolemic System was an answer to the cosmic riddle that incorporated a reasonable, integral and coherent, explanation for this naturally observable phenomena. The Copernican System also explains the phenomena per its internal logic.

So Epicyle, imo, is not an assumption in either case, since it was not 'introduced' into the model. It is an inherent property of the system P and subjective side-effect (observer relative) phenomena in the system C.

The Copernican System assumes the following:

1 - Earth is not flat.

2 - Earth is rotating around its axis.

3 - Earth is rotating around the Sun (just like any other body in Solar System.)

We know these are facts today since we have proof that explains these "counter intuitive" and "unfamiliar" phenomena. We (1) experience a flat ground, (2) do not feel as if we're on surface of a moving body, and (3) clearly see :) that everything rotates around Earth!

That is the 'factual' state of affairs at some point in the Middle Ages.

Practically no one in the time period you care about thought that the Earth was flat.

Both systems (Copernican and Ptolemaic) had epicycles.

This is basically the thesis of Paul Feyerabend who used it as his main argument against there being a scientific method. His book "Against Method" is one of the best works on Philosophy of Science I've read during my university education.

And to follow-up; several works on the history of science are great and it is great for learning that history is very messy. Also in science things are never as black and white as people several decennia down the line tend to think about how those scientific discoveries went went down.

I really liked "The Invention of Science" by David Wootton which I read a couple of months ago. A Guardian review of that work can be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/28/invention-of-s...

Genesis: The Evolution of Biology by Jan Sapp (https://www.amazon.ca/Genesis-Evolution-Biology-Jan-Sapp/dp/... talk about a trolling title :]) is pretty good in that vein too.

For quite a while I've suspected that you might be able to support Feyerabend's argument using modern learning theory. In particular I suspect that this is relevant:


Science is essentially a learning process. Since every learning method has a performance envelope and fares better against some fitness landscapes than others, restricting science to a singular method effectively prohibits learning over fitness landscapes whose structures lie outside that method's envelope.

In layman's terms: a single scientific method will be unable to learn certain things, or at least unable to learn them in a reasonable amount of time.

This is also why I am eternally skeptical of all business and management "methodologies." If there were a closed-form methodology that always yielded successful businesses there would be no entrepreneurs. Large companies and investment funds would simply execute this closed-form method deterministically and reliably pump out successes while retaining 100% ownership. Entrepreneurs exist because creating successful companies is an "AI complete problem" that requires the full multi-approach multi-paradigm multi-methodology capabilities of a human intellect... and even then it's hard.

(E.g. I put down Lean Startup when I realized I was just reading a description of gradient descent in the business domain. Gradient descent only works over very regular fitness landscapes with clear peaks and well-connected paths to those peaks. In a rocky fitness landscape you will get stuck at a local maximum almost instantly and never go any further.)

>(E.g. I put down Lean Startup when I realized I was just reading a description of gradient descent in the business domain. Gradient descent only works over very regular fitness landscapes with clear peaks and well-connected paths to those peaks. In a rocky fitness landscape you will get stuck at a local maximum almost instantly and never go any further.)

Funny, that's exactly how I interpreted the book, but I didn't see that as a bad thing. Of course, a naive gradient descent won't solve everything, but will help on a lot of things satisfactorily. Maybe LS won't help you build the next Airbnb, but not all business must reach Unicorn Status. Pretty clever on Ries' part

> Science is essentially a learning process.

Science is a testing process which we engage in to learn. Minor, but critical difference.

> a single scientific method

"Hypothesize and test." That's it, there is only one.

Now, which strategy do you use to pick the best hypothesis, and to test faster, etc? That's the part you don't want to get dogmatic about. (eg gradient descent.)

"Against Method" is freely available here: http://mcps.umn.edu/assets/pdf/4.2.1_Feyerabend.pdf

Just the beginning of the book. But you can buy it at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Method-Paul-Feyerabend/dp/184....

I came here to say the same thing. People really should read more Feyerabend, it's fascinating.

I tl;dr'ed the article (sorry), but I wanted to say one thing about epicycles. They are not wrong and certainly can be used to explain motion, but the problem with them is that you can keep adding epicycles to fit any continuous orbit at all (this actually is because a Fourier series can converge to any continuous periodic function). This is my favourite visualisation of this fact:


Exactly. From a geocentric perspective, it's not wrong as long as you're explaining past events (which, as you noted, can be done by adding epicycles).

The reason the model is not so useful (to paraphrase my college physics professor) is that you can't use it to predict things in advance with reasonable certainty (i.e. you don't know what epicycles you need until after you've observed it).

And, in fact, modern astronomers still use epicycles when studying Galactic orbits.

It was also personal and political, not just scientific or religious. There were, of course, people that were opposed to Galileo publishing because of his models (whether for religious or scientific reasons), but there were also (and perhaps more critically) people that were against his model being published because of Galileo.

Also I think it's important to keep in mind that it's a bit anachronistic to draw such a strong distinction between science and religion. In those days they were much more strongly related. Science and understanding the universe was likened to developing a better understanding of God. Therefore religious logic and "internal logic" (rational and empirical) would hold similar weight.

The opposition to Galileo was not really religious or scientific. More than anything, it was political. You can't understand what happened outside the context of the religious wars of the time. His findings undermined the authority of the Catholic Church.


There are plenty of examples of political suppression of science in our own time. The Nazis and Communists were two extreme examples.

In our own society, religion doesn't have this kind of power any more. But there are still political pressures on researchers to be PC. I'll let you think up some examples yourself.

> But seen from Earth, stars appear as dots of certain sizes or magnitudes. The only way stars could be so incredibly distant and have such sizes was if they were all incredibly huge, every last one dwarfing the Sun.

What?? Oh, Wikipedia fills in some crucially missing info in this hypothesis.

> However, early telescopes produced a spurious disk-like image of a star (known today as an Airy disk) that was larger for brighter stars and smaller for fainter ones. Astronomers from Galileo to Jaques Cassini mistook these spurious disks for the physical bodies of stars, and thus into the eighteenth century continued to think of magnitude in terms of the physical size of a star. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnitude_(astronomy)

Thank you so much for this. I was wondering about this so much and it really gnawed on me that the article didn't bother explaining further.

Mike Flynn has a very long and detailed story of Galileo and more generally geocentrism vs. heliocentrism at http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-great-ptolemaic-smac...

Among the things I learned:

* The Copernican model had more epicycles than the Ptolemaic

* Galileo thought tides were caused by those same epicycles.

The idea that science and religion are distinct spheres, or even things that might be in opposition to each other, has been so thoroughly established in our modern consciousnesses that it's easy to forget that in the past they didn't really make such a distinction.

Science and Religion aren't at odds with each other, they never have been.

What has been at odds is religion and scientific discoveries that contradict or disprove the religious story. Heliocentric system flew in the face of the bible, and that created the problem.

Bruno was burned alive for holding fast to the idea that there are more solar systems than just our own, and that the universe is basically infinite, both ideas that contradict the church's story

To say that religion is anti-science would be disingenuous, but to say that religion isn't often at odds with science or that it hasn't stifled scientific progress in the name of maintaining the myths of its teachings would be equally so...

Bruno was burned alive for being a complete prat, and pissing off all the wrong people, actually. Formally, he was condemned because:

> In the spring of 1599, the trial was begun before a commission of the Roman Inquisition, and, after the accused had been granted several terms of respite in which to retract his errors, he was finally condemned (January, 1600), handed over to the secular power (8 February), and burned at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori in Rome (17 February). Bruno was not condemned for his defence of the Copernican system of astronomy, nor for his doctrine of the plurality of inhabited worlds, but for his theological errors, among which were the following: that Christ was not God but merely an unusually skilful magician, that the Holy Ghost is the soul of the world, that the Devil will be saved, etc.

He also has the interesting distinction of being excommunicated by three major denominations (the church of rome, the lutherans, the reform church, and elizabeth/CofE didn't like him much either) which is possibly a unique distinction for his time.

tl;dr: bruno had a seriously abrasive personality, heterodox and incoherent theological views, and the result wasn't pretty. His science, such as it was, had little to nothing to do with it.


It amazes me that a literal wizard is held up as a martyr for science these days.

It's amazing how the narrative is distorted to push an agenda, isn't it?

Well, it sounds like he was burned alive for some fairly mundane opinions that were not tolerated by the religious authorities who had at that time the power to murder anyone who disagreed with them.

or, in a word, politics.

this being a time in which the vatican had the single largest mercenary force in europe, and all. The church wasn't just "the religious authorities". The vatican had been the most stable de-facto state for much of Europe for something close to a millienia at that point.

Heliocentric system flew in the face of the bible, and that created the problem.

Rather, in the face of a specific interpretation of the Bible. There are other literal interpretations of the Bible that are much more in tune with scientific knowledge of astronomy and origins, but they are not well-understood among less educated religious folk that follow the Bible. Likewise, certain interpretations of the Koran lead to terrorism, while other interpretations don't. It's interpretation that matters, especially if believers insist on literal interpretations. Sadly, few people are willing to be open-minded enough to consider the possibilities, and that often goes for all sides of a debate.

True. If I insisted on a totally literal interpretation of NOAA's web site I'd say they were geocentric, with all their references to sunrise and sunset.

Belief virtually requires a closed mind, since an open mind would allow observation that contradicts the belief. It's not sad, it's a feature.

Let's say that blind belief requires a closed mind. Everyone at the end of the day relies on faith at some level or other. Even scientists believe in their hypotheses until their hypotheses are proven wrong. Then they change their beliefs. The fact of the matter is that everyone still believes in something at all times. I have yet to meet a scientist who precludes his everyday thoughts with, "well, then again, it's also possible that we're in the Matrix and this is all a computer simulation, or that I'm not real at all, even though I appear to have agency, etc, etc, but barring all of that, which requires a higher burden of proof, here's what I currently think and believe..."

> I have yet to meet a scientist who [...]

And yet you've also never met a scientist who says: "This is my current hypothesis so I've vanquished all possibility of doubt. I'm going to publish it without even testing because it MUST be right."

You should entertain the notion that the word means something entirely different to religious people than to others.

> The fact of the matter is that everyone still believes in something at all times.

Even if that were true, the only reason you're saying it is to show that even scientists make that mistake. You're trying to drag them down to your level, hoping the equivalence lends weight to your unsupported ideas.

The difference, to the degree that belief isn't just an empty word to a scientist, is that it's not seen as a good thing in the scientific community. You might believe that god ensures your slippers remain under the bed where you left them but if you use that in an argument nobody will take you seriously and there's no social pressure to do so.

You should entertain the notion that the word means something entirely different to religious people than to others.

You have a very narrow definition and/or experience of what religious people are like. You should entertain the possibility that there are religious people who are more open-minded than you think.

Even if that were true, the only reason you're saying it is to show that even scientists make that mistake. You're trying to drag them down to your level, hoping the equivalence lends weight to your unsupported ideas.

I don't say this lightly: you have issues, man. We should not propose that we know what's going on in other people's minds. It leads us to become spiteful, frustrated, unhappy people.

> Everyone at the end of the day relies on faith

> We should not propose that we know what's going on in other people's minds.

Both are you, and incompatible with each other. It seems that you think you should tell other people what's in their minds, but that nobody should tell you what you think...

And yes, we should not under normal circumstances. But when someone tries to tell us something crazy, such as that we are belief focused, we should examine their motives and see if they have a reason to want us to think we do... You obviously do because you're trying to normalize the idea of belief.

> I don't say this lightly: you have issues, man.

Yes, apparently you do. You don't even read the thread again before saying it, to see if you were the one throwing stones.

Scientists do not generally have faith in their hypotheses in the same way that religious believers have faith in the claims of their holy book or their religious leader. That would be an equivocation on the usage of the term 'faith', one usage being merely confidence or trust, which can be apportioned to the available evidence, and the other usage being a religious belief in doctrines regardless of available evidence.

If you start with the conclusion that the claims in your holy book are true and then work backwards from that by reinterpreting it when it seems to clash with the available scientific evidence, that would be exercising religious faith. If you hypothesize something and withhold a certain level of confidence in your hypothesis until it can be tested, you are not exercising faith in the religious sense of the term.

It sounds as if you've taking your conclusion that religious faith must be blind and ignorant and worked backwards from there.

I remain unconvinced that people who consider themselves religious are any worse at adjusting their world view to scientific evidence than people who do not.

I'm only describing how the term faith is used by religious believers. They take a certain set of claims "on faith", and when contradictory evidence comes along there are various reactions, like outright denial, shelving of the issue entirely in the hope of getting answers later (like after you're dead), reinterpretation of the religious claims to better fit the existing models or to be completely unfalsifiable and therefore out of reach of investigation, and full on apologetics.

I've been a religious believer for decades, and have been surrounded by religious believers my entire life. I enjoy talking with them about what they believe and why (when they're willing to engage of course). They can be completely rational and skeptical, appropriately adjusting their worldview according to the evidence with no problems in any other realm except when it comes to the religious claims they have been brought up to believe. The psychology of it is fascinating to me.

> It sounds as if you've taking your conclusion that religious faith must be blind and ignorant and worked backwards from there.

Faith must be, yes. All faith. It's what exists in absence of, or despite, evidence.

> I remain unconvinced

Thankfully that's a bridge we don't need to cross. We've led you to water, your unwillingness to drink it isn't anyone else's failure.

> certain interpretations of the Koran lead to terrorism

No, any belief in it or any other religion, leads to killing and oppression. As Old Man Jay says, it's the act of believing, not the belief per-se that's the issue.

When you believe that there's a god above who will reward you infinitely it's going to skew your worldly actions one way or the other. You'll do what you're told, right or wrong, and that's the #1 ingredient for ISIS, Nazis, etc.

> other literal interpretations of the Bible that are much more in tune with scientific knowledge of astronomy and origins

And there are discussion of Star Wars that attempt to explain the Death Star in terms of the economic power of the empire. If you tried hard-enough you could see Winnie-the-Pooh as a messiah-figure and use the story as a creation allegory, but it wouldn't give you any value. You can't retcon fact into a work of fiction.

> all sides of a debate.

Unlike the evening news, having a differing opinion doesn't make something a debate. In real-life the right answer is rarely an average of all answers.

It's easy to dismiss religion, and entirely reasonable to do so, as it is to dismiss alien-made crop circles.

And yet you seem to have no problem making normative judgements. . .

Of course I don't. I grew up in and around religions. This isn't like me trying to tell some single African woman about child rearing or anything.

I have insider knowledge, as much as anyone else, and I resent your implication that I'm not allowed to have an opinion.

Indeed - it's shocking how many adherents to these imaginarily-discrete spheres even see room for the separation of philosophy and science. Philosophy requires science to evolve, and science requires philosophy to provide context.

Of course there was scientific opposition to Galileo. Scientific ideas get hammered out through debate and disagreement. New ideas in science often take decades or even centuries to fully develop and reach broad acceptance.

That is why it is important that new ideas can be discussed freely, which wasn't the case in Galileo's time.

They are now, but the uninformed reader can't assume that that's static throughout history. There will have been some point where that became fully true, some point where it wasn't, and some continuous function of time defining the extent to which that's true in between. Can you define any of the latter two things on the list?

> They are now, but the uninformed reader can't assume that that's static throughout history.

Scientific ideas are not discussed freely. They are driven by funding, which is disproportionally awarded to novel results. Non-novel results or failures to reproduce are overly ignored and under-funded.

Many persons who were very serious about religious faith in that time period, e.g. Catholic priests, also had great enthusiasm for rigorous mathematics and scientific advancement.

For example, Fr. Paul Gudin, a Jesuit priest, was a mathematician and astronomer. He was interested in and supportive of the work of Johannes Kepler and provided him with a telescope when Kepler was experiencing financial difficulties[+].

[+] http://www.faculty.fairfield.edu/jmac/sj/scientists/guldin.h...

In fact, Kepler, a Lutheran, was named Imperial Mathematician of the Holy Roman (i.e., Catholic) Empire.

After the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, the HRE effectively sanctioned the ability of princes to choose between Catholicism and Lutheranism. It should be noted, though, that the Emperors tended to be fanatical Catholics, which leads to the Thirty Years' War (tl;dr: Protestant King of Bohemia dies, gets inherited by Catholic Emperor, Bohemia rebels). At the end of that war, the Peace of Westphalia effectively guarantees freedom of religious worship for Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists, independent of the religious beliefs of rulers.

This article serves as quite a fascinating reminder of the problems of new scientific paradigms (see quote pulled out below). All the argumentation about the history of the churrch seems a lot less relevant to me than how if YOU were an astronomer at the time, how sceptical would you have been at this weird thing?

Excerpt: "Copernicus proposed that certain oddities observed in the movements of planets through the constellations were due to the fact that Earth itself was moving. Stars show no such oddities, so Copernicus had to theorise that, rather than being just beyond the planets as astronomers had traditionally supposed, stars were so incredibly distant that Earth’s motion was insignificant by comparison. But seen from Earth, stars appear as dots of certain sizes or magnitudes. The only way stars could be so incredibly distant and have such sizes was if they were all incredibly huge, every last one dwarfing the Sun. Tycho Brahe, the most prominent astronomer of the era and a favourite of the Establishm"ent, thought this was absurd, while Peter Crüger, a leading Polish mathematician, wondered how the Copernican system could ever survive in the face of the star-size problem.

This may either calm or further motivate people concerned about the issues with replicability in science, the current "reproduction crisis" in biology and psychology. Scientific progress today is certainly messy, slow, filled with political drama, and lacking a good philosophical footing, but it would be a mistake to think it was ever the noble act of discovery we sometimes get nostalgic about.

The whole metaphor of "discovery" in science is incorrect. You don't suddenly "see" the truth once you get better telescopes or a new imaging method. Everything you see is an accurate depiction of universal laws, as filtered through the distorting layers of our own internal models. Every new "discovery" in science must be slowly generated, models emerging and feuding for generations, before future scientists have enough research to look back on the past and deem some visionaries and others crackpots.

By far the best writing on this subject I have found is over at the fantastic Renaissance Mathematicus blog.

Galileo, the Church and Heliocentricity: A Rough Guide. https://thonyc.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/galileo-the-church-a...

Galileo, Foscarini, The Catholic Church, and heliocentricity in 1615 Part 1 – the occurrences: A Rough Guide. https://thonyc.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/galileo-foscarini-th...

And part 2 https://thonyc.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/galileo-foscarini-th...

Acceptance, rejection and indifference to heliocentricity before 1610. https://thonyc.wordpress.com/2012/08/16/acceptance-rejection...

Strangely, the article omits a reference to the preferred model of the time, namely the Tychonic system [1]. In the Tychonic system, all the planets revolve around the Sun, but the Sun and moon revolve around the Earth. It was seen to be a very tidy theory that took advantage of the best aspects of the Copernican theory, but resolved the problem of the lack of observed parallax.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tychonic_system

The article does mention it:

Brahe had theorised that all planets circled the Sun, while it circled Earth. Locher noted that Brahe might be right, but what was clear was that the telescope supported Ptolemy.

A somewhat better article on this is here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/lq6/the_galileo_affair_who_was_on_th...

There were also politics involved. Galileo insulted the pope and did some other controversial stuff. He wasn't persecuted for his scientific beliefs.

What about the Orthodox?

"The Church" is really an anachronism. You are speaking of the Roman church which is about only half of Christianity at the time: Western Europe.

What about the other half of the Church? Eastern Europe, Russia, Asian, Norther Africa, the Middle East, Greece?

How did they receive Galileo?

I've always been fascinated by this total amnesia over the Orthodox Church as if it didn't exist or was only a few percent.

Actually, given the time frame, focusing on the Catholic church is already meaningless in Western Europe. The Reformation was already well underway, indeed Galileo was outspoken during the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

The Lutheran church was very anti-Copernican; Martin Luther himself condemned it as heresy 80 years before the Galileo affair.

And the necessary next question: how fast did ideas travel at the time given technical, linguistic and cultural borders. I'd love to know the first mention of Galileo's (or Copernicus') ideas in Moscow, Terran, Mumbai, Mexico City, Beijing etc

I watched a course on Coursera and it made similar argument regarding opposition to Galileo by Church. I think it makes very important point and is noticeable everyday where deeply political arguments are passed off as scientific or logical.

Not just where arguments are deeply political, but when we seek to punish people for simply saying or thinking things we don't agree with.

But it was logical.

The amazing thing about the entire discussion is how it really was a scientific discussion that evolved over time.

There are clearly scientific ideas that we take as simple truths now that will be disproved in the future. They are clearly going to be a little more nuanced than planetary motion but it's great to see how the scientific community has and will evolve.

Ultimately, the argument for the helio-centric model is aesthetic. It is more elegant than the geo-centric when describing the dance of the stars.

So, are both systems equally right and equally wrong?

- Ultimately we're talking about a change in reference frame, which is a vector subtraction. They're mathematically transformations of each other.

- Since the Sun doesn't have infinite mass it, in fact, also orbits the Earth

- Neither system is an inertial reference frame. If we assume the Earth is infinitesimal, at the very least the Sun orbits the Jupiter-Sun barycenter (which is almost outside the Sun proper). So if anything we should speak of a "J-S centric model"

- Both are useful. The geo-centric model is quite useful and still used in astronomy (Never-mind tracking satellites, try understand your coordinates in the heliocentric reference frame.)

- The "corrections" of the geo-centric model are higher order harmonics, and can fit any motion and it's an early application of harmonic analysis. In fact, they're not actually corrections to the model, they are motions that naturally arise when describing circular motion wrt a point outside its axis.

- What's wrong with non-inertial reference frames anyway? Consider them "fictitious" or consider them real, we can calculate and consider the non-inertial forces.

The comments here are very good and I'm glad people care about the real story and its nuances. For too long people have been taught that Galileo dared to contradict the bible, the church threw him in prison, and that's that.

The problem with saying that there was scientific in addition to religious opposition to Galileo kind of misses the point. That would like saying there was scientific in addition to ideological opposition to genetics in the Soviet Union in the Lysenko years. The reason while both Galileo and Soviet biologists were put on trial was because the power structure at the time opposed them, not because of legitimate scientific concerns.

Oh, please. First, the article quotes the opposition of only one person, and from that it doesn't follow its title at all. The realistic title would be "The Opposition to Galileo also at least once appeared as scientific, not just religious."

Now why I say "appeared" there? Because the arguments quoted in the text "looking through the telescopes it appeared that epicycles existed" isn't "scientifically" meaningful argument. As soon as we accept the relativity of motion, it's clear how meaningless the statement "it looks so from here" is.

Moreover, "scientific opposition" doesn't result in the house arrest by the church.

Both the Bible and that-other-newer-book- which-is-not-politically-correct-to-be-named have the verses that reflect the false understanding of the nature, and that is indisputable. It's true that there are today enough people that don't take these verses seriously, but in fact, the reasonable people did so, like seen in the article, already at least some 400 years ago.

Good for us, because otherwise most of us would be peasants today.

This reminds me of the story of Hippasus, who was sentenced to death by his fellow Pythagorean philosophers because he discovered irrational numbers.

The ironic thing in this debate is that almost all arguments in Galileo "Dialog" were wrong. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/earth/galileo-big-mistake.html

Do 2 wrongs make a right?

So, here's the funny thing. The Church has been vilified over this for centuries, but as it turns out they weren't actually wrong to believe in geocentrism; in a relativistic worldview either belief is equally correct.

Anyone who is interested in Astronomy and development of historical models of the heavens should check out this season of the Scientific Odyssey podcast (http://thescientificodyssey.typepad.com/). I found it through HN and Chad Davies does a fantastic job of creating a narrative from early civilization, and we are just now discussing Galileo. It's very niche but fairly accessible, and one of my favorites.

Do you have to believe that the sun orbits the earth in order to believe that the earth is the center of the universe? Is it possible that the Earth is the center of the universe given all light in the universe points in the direction of Earth.

I found the book "Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love" by Dava Sobel fascinating, really clarifies many misconceptions about Galileo.

Scientific opposition is a good thing. Religious is not.

The opposition was not scientific. Read the book "The War on Science" and keep thr enlightenment from slipping away.

The importance of this article for our current times is in the last two paragraphs.

I am tired of the Catholics trying to rewrite history. I got deep into this issue several times.

First, go to the source. We have the documents from Galileo trials, so first, read what was actually said. http://www.tc.umn.edu/~allch001/galileo/library/1616docs.htm Here is the most relevant part:

  Proposition to be assessed:

    (1) The sun is the center of the world and completely 
  devoid of local motion.

    Assessement: All said that this proposition is foolish 
  and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it 
  explicitly contradicts many places the sense of Holy 
  Scripture, according to the literal meaning of the words 
  and according to the common interpretation and 
  understanding of the Holy Fathers and the doctors of 

    (2) The earth is not the center of the world, nor 
  motionless, but it moves as a whole and also with diurnal 

    Assessment: All said that this proposition receives the 
  same judgement in philosophy and that in regard to 
  theological truth it is at least errouneous in faith.
Here, "philosophy" more or less means science. So, yes, Galileo was criticized on scientific grounds, which is totally fine as indeed, there were some problems with his theory (like the lack of movement of stars).

But Galileo was called an heretic because he contradicted the literal meaning of the bible. "formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts many places the sense of Holy Scripture, according to the literal meaning of the words and according to the common interpretation and understanding of the Holy Fathers and the doctors of theology" : this is your regular creationist saying that the bible has to be interpreted literally and that you are a heretic if you don't. Problem: said creationist can throw you in jail if you don't abide to his worldview.

That's why from this time (from a bit earlier actually) universities found it primordial to gain independence from the clergy and that science and religion diverged from each other.

Is this religious assessment coherent with others? Of course not! Religion is not much about coherency. Copernicus heliocentrism was well accepted by the church as he was less confrontational, richer and more religious.

Did Galileo act like an asshole? Maybe, though church did need some trolling at this time. Was his condemnation political? Most certainly! But the salient point is that the motivation may have been political, the justification was religious. And that was unacceptable to scientists that you could justify dogmatism and rewrite science books for political motives. The refusal of this is what gave us modern science.

> What were those problems? A big one was the size of stars in the Copernican universe. Copernicus proposed that certain oddities observed in the movements of planets through the constellations were due to the fact that Earth itself was moving. Stars show no such oddities, so Copernicus had to theorise that, rather than being just beyond the planets as astronomers had traditionally supposed, stars were so incredibly distant that Earth’s motion was insignificant by comparison. But seen from Earth, stars appear as dots of certain sizes or magnitudes. The only way stars could be so incredibly distant and have such sizes was if they were all incredibly huge, every last one dwarfing the Sun. Tycho Brahe, the most prominent astronomer of the era and a favourite of the Establishment, thought this was absurd, while Peter Crüger, a leading Polish mathematician, wondered how the Copernican system could ever survive in the face of the star-size problem.

This is a fascinating observation, and given the information they had at the time, I can see where Locher is coming from. Given two possibilities, one involving absolutely enormous stars and one involving a earth that circled the sun, both extraordinary claims, and no sure way (yet) to evaluate which was true, it's human that he supported the more comfortable hypothesis, and he wasn't provably wrong given the information they had.

> That is unfortunate for science, because today the opponents of science make use of that caricature. Those who insist that the Apollo missions were faked, that vaccines are harmful, or even that the world is flat – whose voices are now loud enough for the ‘War on Science’ to be a National Geographic cover story and for the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to address even their most bizarre claims – do not reject the scientific process per se. Rather, they wrap themselves in the mantle of Galileo, standing (supposedly) against a (supposedly) corrupted science produced by the ‘Scientific Establishment’.

The problem with this is that it conflates the public social debate with an internal scientific debate. Galileo vs. Pope Paul V is not the same debate as Galileo vs. Locher. The former is a debate driven by social needs that tries to drive opinion starting from what the pope wanted rather than observation (which is in fact a rejection of scientific process). The latter is two competing scientific hypotheses.

Likewise, picking one of the example debates (do vaccines cause autism?) there are two possible debates. The public debate is driven by social needs--mostly people trying to find meaning in the suffering caused by their child's autism, and people trying to take advantage of that need. This is absolutely a rejection of scientific process: scientific process attempts to explain phenomena, not find explanations that make people feel better. The internal scientific debate is largely not a debate, because the evidence that vaccines don't cause autism is, at this point, so overwhelming.

"Wrapping oneself in the mantle of Galileo" IS inherently an unscientific position: being pro- or anti-establishment is irrelevant to scientific process. The fact that Galileo happened to be anti-establishment at the time is irrelevant to the fact that ultimately his hypotheses were proven correct.

The real problem here is that a large part of the scientific community doesn't recognize that the social debate and the scientific debate are two different debates. Scientific evidence which is persuasive in a scientific context (studies have shown no correlation between vaccines and autism) does not persuade everyone in a public social context. Emotional approaches are also necessary (would you rather your child died of whooping cough? Or as one person with autism said, "It's painful that some people would rather have a dead child than a child like me.").

An amazingly reasonable thread for what could be just ignorant mud-slinging.

Agreed. Came here hoping to see a good discussion, was not disappointed.

Let's not dilute the term "scientific". Scentific method is relatively recent, and consists of very specific sets of steps. So no, Galileo's opposition was not scientific.

Definitely not true. Please study the work of Johannes Kepler on planetary motion, he lived in the same period.

Scientific opposition is expected, that is the method in which science works. Scientist want proof for a claim, the church didn't want to be wrong.

That's not true at all. In fact, the church was okay with Galileo's models, but they were not okay with how he was slandering the leadership.

To be fair, the Church's influence in what we would call science back then was incredibly powerful. I think its unrealistic to see 17th century science as this secular institution like we have today. Of course the 'scientists' of the age followed a church friendly narrative. It was in their interests to do so. I think we will never really understand the chill on speech and research the Church had during the medieval and later periods. I would say its significant considering that the ancient Greeks (Aristarchus of Samos) were able to figure out the heliocentric model, arguably because they didn't have a large Christian Church structure working against them.

I find that modern revisionism to make religion seem less villainous is fairly common nowadays. I don't know where this is coming from or why its on social media so frequently, but its concerning. I think splitting hairs to make the Church look good is a questionable narrative and a form of feel good politics for certain religious people and certain types of habitual contrarians the internet is so fond of. I imagine we're witnessesing a pendulum shift towards more religiosity considering how the west has swung the other way for so long.

Regardless, its still wrong and the hundreds years of fighting to secularize science and to progress past religiously acceptable models wasn't done because Locher was a bad guy, but because the Pope and and the religious establishment was, regardless of the individual merits of the many monks and priests, who ultimately had to tow the party line regardless of their own findings, mathematical skills, or opinions. Blasphemy was certainly a serious charge back then. The wonderful thing about secular science is that there's no serious punishment for being wrong or going against the grain, flawed as it may be. The worst you can expect is being punched by Buzz Aldrin and even then you really have to earn that.

As someone who is both Catholic and a software engineer, I find quite the opposite - people today are all too quick to villainize religion in general and Catholics in particular. I see people point out short comings that make up a relatively minor percentage of Church's history and impact on society, and completely leave out things like the preservation of Classical works, expenditures on science, the development of the university system, the creation (at least in the West) of hospitals and orphanages. It is no mere splitting of hairs - religious people are flawed as all people are, but nonetheless have lots to be proud of.

Moreover, there are tangible costs to going against the grain of secular science: loss of livelihood, others refusing to publish your work, isolation. Often it's not that you've "earned" it, there's plenty of examples of the scientific consensus recently being wrong (or at least stating positions that are too strong), with consumption of certain kinds of fats being my favorite example.

>As someone who is both Catholic and a software engineer, I find quite the opposite

I find that religious people find persecution everywhere (war on Christmas for example) where it doesn't exist. Its probably difficult not to considering how protective we are to things near and dear to us. Perhaps you should consider that you are not an impartial viewer here.

>loss of livelihood, others refusing to publish your work, isolation.

Which is much better than torture, death, etc. I think you're making my argument for me. We both seem to agree that when theocracies are in charge, life is much, much worse. The secular scientific system is far from perfect, but in every single way better than the theocratic one.

I find it to be incredibly dismissive when presented with a list of great Catholic scientists throughout history, detractors brush that aside by essentially saying "Well, they had no choice but to pretend to be Catholic back then!"

What these scientists thought about their religion is often documented, but the detractors don't care to read any further as it might hurt their argument.

In reality, the enthusiasm for science in Catholicism comes from the knowledge that because the universe is created with a purpose, you can be confident that you will be able to find answers. There will be nothing capricious, arbitrary, or futile about the endeavor.

The great irony is the Big Bang theory is often given as a scientific alternative to the idea of a creator. Edwin Hubble usually gets the credit for it but it was actually Georges Lemaître, a Catholic priest.

I'd argue that curiosity that leads to science predates all religion and is built into our dna via evolution. I think projecting cultural motivators for natural motivation is questionable. In another culture you'd say Islam was a motivator for science and you'd be just as wrong. The evidence we have shows that this is a natural part of being human and would come about in any culture- and has! Our most innovating culture, the ancient Greeks, were pagans with relatively low levels of religiosity for example. Religious belief really has no bearing on curiosity and innovation but theocratic structures can, and do, hold back progress.

> knowledge that because the universe is created with a purpose, you can be confident that you will be able to find answers

Except the deeper we go down the more complex and chaotic things seem. The simplistic Newtonian age and doctors who just had to "rebalance" humors are long dead. I think your assumption here is fairly bewildering.

>they had no choice but to pretend to be Catholic back then!

Just because it bothers you doesn't make it any less true. Historically, most people didn't have a choice in religion. Apostasy was a serious crime in Christian soceities up until recently and still is in many parts of the middle east.

Islam at times has been a motivator for science and other intellectual endeavors. I don't need to be from another culture to say that, and I'm not wrong.

What actually bothers me is that what I said was true, yet some people are unwilling to take even a superficial look at the evidence.

It's a form of presentism.

The detractors like to project the current cultural climate onto history, when in reality, this perception of conflict between science and religion wasn't around before the staged Scopes trial in the 1930's.

I'm sorry, but there is no revisionism about religion seeming less villainous, just the opposite.


is fairly balanced.

That's really a lot of nonsense, though I'll grant you that "progress-stifling, working-against-science church" is a long-entrenched meme[+].

[+] https://www.quora.com/Why-did-science-make-little-real-progr...

Here here.

People see science as this "amoral entity" that generates truth, and anyone who opposes it to be the anti-Christ of societal progress. You have to understand that people are behind science, and people are flawed.

In other words, statistics don't lie. But the people who collect them do.

Would also add that much of the Dark Age myth originated from the renaissance humanists.

I've always found it funny that so much of the movement was examining original sources instead of what someone wrote about them, yet so many people read the renaissance works and don't look back to the original sources just before them.

A lot of the myth of the "Dark Ages" has been exaggerated to show how the Reformation "saved" us from them. A lot of this historical revisionism comes from the Enlightenment era.

The Renaissance itself didn't occur ex nihilo in a benighted world of ignorant superstition either; it was a wholly organic evolution of the great learning and development that occurred before it, especially in the 12th and 13th centuries. The period we call the "Dark Ages" were certainly more chaotic than the era of classical antiquity, etc., but by no means did culture and learning stagnate.

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