Galileo's Mistake: A New Look at the Epic Confrontation between Galileo and the Church

Galileo's Mistake: A New Look at the Epic Confrontation between Galileo and the Church

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by Wade Rowland
     
 

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The modern understanding of the notorious 1633 trial of Galileo is that of Science and Reason persecuted by Ignorance and Superstition—of Galileo as a lonely, courageous freethinker oppressed by a reactionary and anti-intellectual institution fearful of losing its power and influence. But is this an accurate picture? 

In his provocative reexamination of

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Overview

The modern understanding of the notorious 1633 trial of Galileo is that of Science and Reason persecuted by Ignorance and Superstition—of Galileo as a lonely, courageous freethinker oppressed by a reactionary and anti-intellectual institution fearful of losing its power and influence. But is this an accurate picture? 

In his provocative reexamination of one of the turning points in the history of science and thought, Wade Rowland contends that the dispute concerned an infinitely more profound question: What is truth and how can we know it? Rowland demonstrates that Galileo’s mistake was to insist that science—and only science—provides the truth about reality. The Church rejected this idea, declaring that while science is valid, truth is a metaphysical issue—beyond physics—and it involves such matters as meaning and purpose, which are unquantifiable and therefore not amenable to scientific analysis. In asserting the primacy of science on the territory of truth, Galileo strayed into the theological realm, an act that put him squarely on a warpath with the Church. The outcome would change the world. Wade Rowland’s thoughtful exploration promises to disarm the most stubborn of skeptics and make for scintillating debate.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rowland seeks to dispel what he calls "the myth of Galileo": that he was attacked by an ignorant, closed-minded Church for having discovered the truth, which contradicted Church belief. Rowland (Ockham's Razor) argues that this traditional perspective on Galileo's 1633 trial is both simplistic and wide of the mark. Instead, he builds a compelling case that Galileo and the Church differed over something far more important than whether the earth revolved around the sun-they differed on the very nature of truth and how mortals can come to know it. Modeling the structure used by Galileo in his own book about Copernican theory, Rowland makes use of fictionalized dialogues to explore issues of epistemology and concludes that Galileo, by promoting the idea that scientific experiments alone can lead to a meaningful understanding of the natural world, was a very real threat to the coherence of the Church. Rowland does an impressive job of bringing the 17th century to life. It's important to note that, as he makes clear throughout, he believes that religion can allow for a comprehension of reality in ways that science cannot, and that many of the world's present ills are due to "the transition from the Age of Faith to the Age of Reason," which Galileo helped accomplish and the wisdom of which Rowland seriously questions. Still, his book will appeal to most readers interested in the current debate about the relation between science and religion, and particularly to those who, like him, posit limits to the reach of science. 8 pages of b&w illus. not seen by PW. (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Galileo's 1633 trial by the Inquisition has almost mythical status as exemplifying the conflict between enlightened science and the Church's ignorance. Historians of science have known that that is not the whole story and have explored various aspects of the conflict, from the cultural (James Reston's Galileo: A Life) to the political (Mario Biagioli's Galileo Courtier). Rowland's work takes these new views a step further. He agrees that the two sides were both attempting to realign their worldviews while maintaining control of the discussion, but he argues that the terms of the discussion are still being negotiated; Galileo's mistake was to insist that only science has true answers and deny a role for religion. Rowland uses the Church's dispute with Galileo, along with current philosophical trends, to argue that science provides not definitive answers but only changing models of reality and that there may be more than one way to the truth. Most historians of science would say that Rowland is correct in gauging the role of the Church in Galileo's trial, but this work is likely to be controversial in arguing that the Church still has a role today. Recommended for general and academic audiences.-Eric D. Albright, Tufts Univ. Health Science Lib., Boston Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A revisionist argument that the Catholic Church was right to try the father of astronomy on charges of heresy in 1633. Galileo's key error, Canadian historian Rowland finds, was not his advocacy of the Copernican scheme of the solar system, in which the planets rotate about the sun, but his contention that the scientific method is the sole means to determine truth. In support of this thesis, Rowland undertakes a detailed examination of the history behind Galileo's trial. While much of the material is undoubtedly familiar to students of scientific history, he presents with considerably more sympathy than usual nowadays the Church's position on scientific matters, hammered out over more than 1,500 years, with considerable effort devoted to accommodating the philosophies of first Plato, then Aristotle, within the orthodox worldview. Galileo's support of the Copernican system was a threat, Rowland contends, because of its unstated assumption that the nature of the universe can be learned from observation and reason rather than faith. Granted this premise, it is hard to argue with his conclusion that Galileo's prosecution was justified both by law and custom. Where many readers will part company with the author, however, is when he sets up Galileo as an embodiment of the failure of modern civilization to provide spiritual and human values. Much of this argument is presented in dialogues among Rowland, a secular friend, and an Italian nun in the context of the author's travels in Italy for research. These bring in considerable local Italian color as background and give the somewhat abstract points a more human face; on the other hand, they sometimes distort basic science in order to scoredebating points. Well-presented scientific history with an interesting philosophical twist: take with a grain of salt.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781628722420
Publisher:
Arcade Publishing
Publication date:
12/03/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
328
Sales rank:
1,005,493
File size:
2 MB

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