Galileo Quadricentennial

Myth vs fact

2009 was the year of the bicentennial birth of Charles Darwin (1809–1882), and it’s no accident that assorted atheists were making sure that everyone knows that. But they have some competition from those wanting to name 2009 as the “International Year of Astronomy”, because it’s the quadricentennial of the first use of the telescope by Galileo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei (1564–1642), usually known by his first name only. Not to be outdone, the atheists have long used Galileo as a story of “science versus religion”. So what are the facts?1

Not science vs religion, but science vs science

Many historians of science have documented that the first to oppose Galileo was thescientific establishment, not the church. The prevailing ‘scientific’ wisdom of his day was the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic theory—an unwieldy geocentric system, with the earth at the centre of the universe and other heavenly bodies in highly complex orbits around the earth. And it had its origins in a pagan philosophical system.2

Galileo challenged all that, when he promoted Copernicus’s earlier idea that the Earth moved around the sun, i.e. the heliocentric or geokinetic theory.3And much like the evolutionary establishment today, the Aristotelian establishment reacted furiously. As Arthur Koestler wrote:

“The first serious attack against Copernicus on religious grounds came also not from clerical quarters, but from a layman — none other than delle Colombe, the leader of the [ardent Aristotelian] league.”4….

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