“Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world …” Augustine

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Since the issue of past persecution of science by the Catholic church has come up let’s talk about some of these martyr’s to science, shall we?

Giordano Bruno,

Who was not burned at the stake for advocating the idea that there were other inhabited planets orbiting around other stars. He was condemned for being a pagan advocate for the hermetic tradition. Hermetic writings treated the sun as a god, and the rest of the universe as moving, and hence alive. This it turns out is the real reason Bruno was attracted to Copernican helio-centricism. His belief in the sun’s divinity nicely dovetailed with a heliocentric world view. Bruno was a martyr to pagan mysticism, not scientific inquirer.
What was done to him was wrong, but to make him out, like Cosmos did, to be some sort of scientist persecuted by the evil Catholic Church is a load of crap.

Galileo Galilei,

Whose friends and admirers included the Pope and Jesuit college in Rome. There was much more involved in Galileo’s trial then a simple confrontation between religion and science. Ironically, the majority of church intellectuals were on Galileo’s side while the clearest opposition came from secular ideas of the academic philosophers (see “The Crime of Galileo” by Giorgio de Santilanna).

The truth is, on the whole, the Church had no argument with Galileo’s theories on science.

Their objections lay with his attacks on Aristotelian philosophy (as formulated for the Church by Thomas Aquinas’ Scholasticism) – and all the metaphysical, spiritual and social consequences associated with it. Aristotle’s philosophy was thought necessary for the formulation of religious and moral laws. Galileo was also caught up in an intellectual power struggle between the older secular elites which ran the universities and had a vested interest in defending Scholasticism and a new generation of pragmatic young Turks like himself. The Church, being threatened by Protestantism felt it imperative to defend Aristotle. His friends in the Jesuits in effect told Galileo, “We know you’re right, but give us time to break the news to the masses. The middle of a war with the Protestants is no time to be undercutting what was considered the basis of our faith. So please publish in Latin for the elite and not in the vernacular for the masses.” Not only did Galileo ignore the advice of his Jesuit friends, his “Dialogue Concerning the Two Principle Systems of the World” includes a dim witted buffoon named Simplicio, a thinly disguised caricature of the Pope who had been Galileo’s friend and admirer. Is it any wonder that the Pope and the Jesuits turned against him?

In short, Galileo was being a total dick.

In spite of this Galileo never repudiated his faith and remained a devout Catholic. Only Galileo’s determination to remain within the Church can explain his determined efforts to convince the Church hierarchy and why he declined all chance to escape to the safety of the Venetian Republic.

Kopernick (Copernicus),

Whose helio-centricism was proposed without a single shred of empirical evidence. Such evidence would not be available until Galileo saw through his telescope that Venus had phases like the moon. A mechanical explanation for planetary orbits would await Newton’s “Principia”. (Newton, BTW would remain a devout Christian who spent more time in Biblical study than in scientific pursuits). What motivated Copernicus wasn’t science but neo-Platonist philosophy which taught that the sun was symbolic of God’s ability to create and therefore deserved primacy at the center of the universe. This was in opposition to the Aristotelian view which dominated the Church as Thomas Aquinas’ scholasticism) which assumed that the Earth was the center of the universe.

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