In 1609 Galileo turned his
newly perfected spyglass to the heavens; in January of 1610 he discovered the
satellites of Jupiter, and within a few months published his astonishing
findings. In his Sidereus nuncius or "Starry
Messenger" he allowed himself one Copernican remark. Some people had refused to accept the notion
of an of the earth revolving about the sun because they could see no way to
keep the moon attached in orbit about a moving earth, but everyone - geocentrist
or heliocentrist - agreed that Jupiter was moving. This should give some pause, Galileo wrote, to those who refused to
accept Copernicus' idea because a moving body couldn't carry along a moon.
Before the year was out
Galileo had discovered the phases of Venus, a pattern that showed Venus
traveled around the sun, contrary to the Ptolemaic arrangement. The observed phases of Venus proved Ptolemy
wrong, but did not prove Copernicus right.
Like Copernicus before him, Galileo never found an observational proof
of the earths motion. Nevertheless,
the fat was in the fire, so to say, and presently Galileo followed Kepler's
footsteps in offering an explanation of certain scriptural passages such as the
account of Joshua at the battle of Gibeon.
He maintained that the Bible should not be taken literally as a
scientific textbook, since its purpose was different, and he quoted Cardinal Baronius,
librarian of the Vatican, that "the Bible teaches how to go to heaven, not
how the heavens go."
As a consequence of
Galileos well-publicized opinions, conservative churchmen in Rome became
worried that the standard interpretation, that Copernicus system was just a
calculating device, not to be mistaken for physical reality, was under
attack. The issue was particularly
sensitive because Western Christendom was no longer monolithic - north of the
Alps the Protestants were interpreting other Scriptures their own way, and the
Roman theologians, determined to maintain a unified front, were not prepared to
put up with an amateur interpreter like Galileo. It is interesting to note that Pope John-Paul II has recently
declared that Galileo was a better theologian than the professionals with whom
he was contending. In any event, just
to make sure that everyone understood what was involved in the cosmological
issue, the Congregation of the Index moved to place Copernicus' De revolutionibus on the Index of Prohibited Books until
corrected, and for the first and only time, the Congregation actually specified
how a book was to be corrected. In this
case ten changes were ordered, almost all to make the book appear more
hypothetical. Toward the end of the
glorious cosmological chapter Copernicus explained why the earths swift motion
around the sun does not produce any observable consequence in the positions of
the stars themselves: they are simply too far away. So vast, without any
question, is the divine work of the Almighty Creator. Why would such a pious statement be
excised? Because it contained a whiff
of reality, as if this was the way the Creator had done it.
The drama that unfolded in
1632, when Galileo published his enthusiastically pro-Copernican Dialogue on the Two Great World Systems,
and his trial by the Inquisition the following year, is well known. I don't have time here to rehearse the story
with the careful nuances that it deserves.
Suffice it to say that Galileo was vehemently suspected of heresy though
not actually convicted of it, but for disobeying orders in teaching the
Copernican doctrine, he was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life
Galileo remained a hero in
Italy, and after a century a Venetian printer sought to include the Dialogo as the fourth volume in an
edition of all of Galileo's works, though the book had been placed on the Index in 1633. The permission was actually granted, but with a requirement that
an explanation be included about the difference between theses and
hypotheses. Then, a few years later,
Pope Benedict XIV ordered the removal from the new edition of the Index in 1758 of the indictment of books
teaching the mobility of the earth. The
Popes message was obscured by the fact that Copernicus' De revolutionibus, Kepler's Epitome
of Copernican Astronomy, and Galileo's Dialogo
nevertheless remained on the list.
These books did not disappear from the Index until the edition of 1835.
The publication of
Copernicus' De revolutionibus in 1543
was of course only the initial step in what Alexandre Koyré called the march
from a closed world to an infinite universe.
Displacing humankind from the unique center of the cosmos to an orbiting
planet was not necessarily a bad thing.
Kepler argued that the moving vantage point gave us a much better view
of the heavens, and Bishop John Wilkins declared that the center was a pit of
corruption - how much loftier to be out among the celestial bodies. In fact, it is the vastness of both space
and time that proves to be a greater threat to the traditional Biblical view
that we occupy a focal point in the purpose of Creation itself, as if the
universe was made for mind, and we are the living embodiment of that
fundamental idea - a theme that I hope we will explore on Friday.
If our conference were more
leisurely, I would examine more fully the human impulse to know our place in
the physical universe, an exploration closely akin to our religious
aspirations. In what way, if any, are
we significant in the cosmic scheme of things?
Such tacit questions moved the King of Denmark to provide a ton of gold
to support Tycho Brahe's observatory on Hven, and today motivate funding for
the Hubble Space Telescope and for the Search for Extraterrestrial
Constraints of time force me
to skip about 300 years in the story of cosmology and theology, including
Richard Bentleys 1693 sermons on A
Confutation of Atheism from the Origin and Frame of the World, one of our
best sources for the philosophical thinking of Isaac Newton. Neverthess, I wish to touch on some critical
questions from the twentieth century that have particular relevance to our
Contributed by: Dr. Owen Gingerich