Book Review: Galileo, Science and the Church
by Jerome Langford.
1987. The University of Michigan Press. Ann Arbor. 207 pages.
Reviewed by Clifford L. Lillo
The Foreword, written by Stillman Drake, says,
. . . as Father Langford points out in his opening sentence, the Catholic Church has not been allowed to regard its ancient condemnation of Galileo as a dead issue. The effective prohibition of a scientific thesis which later became an established truth has stood ever since as a symbol . . . Galileo's condemnation was the first of two outstanding events in modern times that have come to symbolize the conflict of religion and science. Indeed, without the treatment accorded to the views of Galileo and Darwin, the very concept of such a conflict might never have been formulated (p. ix).
This cogently illustrates why every creationist should read this-book. Simply put, Drake believes that if it had not been for the harsh treatment of these two men by the Church we might not have the religion/science conflict today. But, does that mean theologians should blindly accept criticism from secular scientists and modify church doctrines or disbelieve the Bible? I think not. The facts regarding Galileo's censure by the Catholic Church are often erroneously reported by those who have not taken the trouble to research the subject thoroughly. Langford corrects many of these wrong impressions by presenting a detailed account of the circumstances surrounding the life of Galileo and his conflict with Church authorities.
The author begins by describing events leading up to the time of Galileo. He states that the Reformation "was not a sudden outburst against the Catholic Church begun only when Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church in 1517 (p. 4)." On the contrary, conditions favoring a revolt had been occurring for several years in spite of attempts by the Church to carry out reforms demanded by influential political and religious leaders.
Prior to 1530, the geocentric theory of the universe (which holds that the earth is motionless and is at the center of the universe) was the accepted astronomical system. Then, Copernicus published his view that the earth itself moves and is not the center but only one planet among many. By 1594, Galileo embraced that view even though he had no real proof that the Copernican system was anything more than a theory. Many scientists of the day, political leaders, and Church authorities rejected the new theory. On February 26, 1616, the Holy Office of the Catholic Church stated,
. . . Galileo . . . was . . . admonished by the Cardinal of the error of the aforesaid opinion and that he should abandon it; . . . the said Commissary did enjoin upon the said Galileo - . . and did order him . . . to relinquish altogether the said opinion, namely, that the sun is in the center of the universe and immoble, and that the earth moves . . . (p. 92).
Later, after publication of his Dialogue on the Great World Systems in 1632, Galileo was tried and convicted. He was ordered to abjure his heresies and condemned to prison for three years. Langford says that "After the trial and abjuration, the sentence was commuted (p. 157)." Drake comments that, "It is interesting to see that Father Langford . . . believes that the Church made a mistake in the case of Galileo . (p. x)." But, what if the Church had censored him for some of his other beliefs? Will and Ariel Durant say that Galileo wrote in 1615,
As to the arrangement of the parts of the universe, I hold the sun to be situated motionless in the center of the revolution of the celestial orbs . . (Durant, p. 607).
In their comment, the Durants say,
By the humor of history this is a proposition that no astronomer holds today. Perhaps all astronomy, like all history, should be taken as hypothesis (Durant, p. 607).
Galileo was also wrong in his theory about tides. Langford says, It is on the fourth and final day [Four "days" of discussion divide the Dialogue] that Galileo proudly unveils his "clinching proof", his theory of the tides. Here, Galileo felt, was a physical effect which could have only one necessary cause: the double motion of the earth . . .
Galileo rejected Kepler's explanation that the tides are caused by the moon's attraction (pp. 126, 127).
It is easy for scientists to criticize the Church for convicting Galileo of heresy since later developments showed the Copernican theory of the earth moving around the sun was the correct one. But Galileo was not divine, nor even a prophet of Cod, and thus had erroneous ideas the same as many other scientists have, even today.
Dr. Lanfgord is no longer a cleric and is Director at the University of Notre Dame Press, in South Bend, Indiana. The book, now in its tenth printing, is as relevant today as when it was written in 1966.
Durant, Will and Ariel. 1961. The age of reason begins. Simon and Schuster. New York