The Center of the Universe

Today my mind was sent to reflecting on Geocentricism (earth-centered universe) and Galileo simply came along for the ride. Galileo fought a serious and costly battle for the right to search for truth opposed to superstition and status quo tradition.

There were those, in his day, who thought all truth was already taught in some scholastic syllogistic manner. The teaching approach of his day was to defend that “body of truth” against all comers. Anything not already thought of by the defenders and past heroes was simply modern evil. They even sanctified this “truth” by employing the Bible, in the form of syllogisms, to support it.

When Galileo pointed his primitive telescope at the heavens, however, he witnessed some truth(s) that had never been available to any man prior to his time. This was very threatening indeed! Some, not all by any means, of the philosophers of his day even refused to look through his telescope. These “defenders” believed the scope might “bewitch” them. They said his tool for exploring for truth (the telescope) was not necessary to truly understand the world or truth. In fact it hindered it. All one needed was what was already there . . . or, as they often claimed, listen to those who have already decided the truth!

These men’s tactics resulted in the ultimate condemnation of Galileo to the great embarrassment of the Catholic Church for the next several hundred years.

Galileo was condemned for telling the truth; truth that no one had understood prior to his time. In his personal copy of DIALOGUE CONCERNING THE TWO CHIEF WORLD SYSTEMS (the book that won him condemnation) Galileo made this note on the front leaf:

“Take note, theologians, that in your desire to make matters of faith out of propositions relating to the fixity of sun and earth you run the risk of eventually having to condemn as heretics those who would declare the earth to stand still and the sun to change position — eventually, I say, at such a time as it might be physically or logically proved that the earth moves and the sun stands still.” (Galileo on the front leaf of “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” translated by Stillman Drake, Modern Science Library, 2001).

Without a lot of imagination that same thought could be applied to those who today are the heirs of Galileo’s opponents. They still refuse to look through the Telescope . . . or books that might challenge the tidy system they have constructed. The rhetoric is the same; “I don’t need to be bewitched by that scope” simply changes to “I don’t need to be poisoned by that change agent book . . .” Like the philosophers of the 17th century they have fashioned a house made with cards, unable to withstand scrutiny.

There are many things we can learn from the Galileo affair, but we usually only use him as a bat to beat up on the Roman Catholic Church. It escapes us that we might be the Cardinals all over again . . . men and women who when confronted with evidence that conflicts with our preconceived theory simply close our eyes and say “that is the devils tool!”