John Heilbron: On Galileo and the Catholic Church
Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein, in his article "Climate of Change: The Catholic Church's Dance with Science" (Associated Press, May 27, 2015), quotes my history-of-science professor from my Berkeley days, John Heilbron, on the Church's relationship with science:
The Catholic Church "has got an uneven and not always congenial relationship with science," said science historian John Heilbron, who wrote a biography of Galileo. But after ticking off some of the advances in science that the church sponsored, the retired University of California Berkeley professor emeritus added, "probably on balance, the Catholic Church's exchange with what we call science is pretty good."So . . . why the brouhaha over Galileo way back when?
Galileo was put under house arrest for the rest of his life after he continued to publish work showing the Earth orbiting the sun, despite warnings from the pope and the Inquisition. But it was more than a theological issue, said Heilbron . . . . It was partially a personality conflict between Galileo and Pope Urban VIII, former friends. The pontiff felt betrayed personally by the astronomer because Galileo had promised to include in a postscript the pope's philosophy that contradicted Galileo's work, Heilbron said. Galileo didn't. And it was also about geopolitics, because the church was trying to fight back against the Protestant Reformation and felt the need to show that it would not permit dissent, he said.This means that while the Catholic Church might not necessarily have been against science, the Church didn't especially distinguish itself in the Galileo story. For readers interested in more about this story, see my blog entry on Heilbron's biography of Galileo
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