GALILEO’S LETTER TO THE GRAND DUCHESS CHRISTINA OF TUSCANY (ITALY), 1615
Galileo’s astronomical observations (briefly discussed on page 389 of the textbook) was met with resistance, particularly from the Church. Galileo, though a scientist, was also very religious. He found no contradiction between his religious beliefs and his scientific work.
In 1615, he wrote this letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, a patron and supporter.
Instructions: Please respond to the following questions. A question goes with the paragraph(s) indented below it.
1. According to Galileo, why was there opposition to his discoveries? Who eventually came to “see the light”? Who did not?
To the Most Serene Grand Duchess Mother:
Some years ago, as Your Serene Highness well knows, I discovered in the heavens many things that had not been seen before our own age. The novelty of these things, as well as some consequences which followed from them in contradiction to the physical notions commonly held among academic philosophers*, stirred up against me no small number of professors-as if I had placed these things in the sky with my own hands in order to upset nature and overturn the sciences. They seemed to forget that the increase of known truths stimulates the investigation, establishment, and growth of the arts; not their diminution or destruction.
*Galileo is referring to people we would today call “scientists.” In his time, the study of natural phenomena was known as “natural philosophy.”
Showing a greater fondness for their own opinions than for truth they sought to deny and disprove the new things which, if they had cared to look for themselves, their own senses would have demonstrated to them. To this end they hurled various charges and published numerous writings filled with vain arguments, and they made the grave mistake of sprinkling these with passages taken from places in the Bible which they had failed to understand properly, and which were ill-suited to their purposes…
Well, the passage of time has revealed to everyone the truths that I previously set forth; and, together with the truth of the facts, there has come to light the great difference in attitude between those who simply and dispassionately refused to admit the discoveries to be true, and those who combined with their incredulity some reckless passion of their own. Men who were well grounded in astronomical and physical science were persuaded as soon as they received my first message. There were others who denied them or remained in doubt only because of their novel and unexpected character, and because they had not yet had the opportunity to see for themselves. These men have by degrees come to be satisfied. But some, besides allegiance to their original error, possess I know not what fanciful interest in remaining hostile not so much toward the things in question as toward their discoverer…
2. What did Galileo say he discovered? How did he defend his discoveries?
Persisting in their original resolve to destroy me and everything mine by any means they can think of, these men are aware of my views in astronomy and philosophy [natural science]. They know that 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 while the earth revolves about the sun. They know also that I support this position not only by refuting the arguments of Ptolemy and Aristotle, but by producing many counter-arguments; in particular, some which relate to physical effects whose causes can perhaps be assigned in no other way.* In addition there are astronomical arguments derived from many things in my new celestial discoveries that plainly confute the Ptolemaic system while admirably agreeing with and confirming the contrary hypothesis. Possibly because they are disturbed by the known truth of other propositions of mine which differ from those commonly held, and therefore mistrusting their defense so long as they confine themselves to the field of natural philosophy [natural science], these men have resolved to fabricate a shield for their fallacies out of the mantle of pretended religion and the authority of the Bible. These they apply with little judgement to the refutation of arguments that they do not understand and have not even listened to.
* Aristotle’s model of the universe, which had existed since the fourth century B.C.E. (about two thousand years before Galileo’s lifetime) placed the Earth at the center with the sun, moon, and other planets revolving around the Earth in circular orbits. Ptolemy, who lived in the second century C.E. made some refinements to Aristototle’s model This model worked fairly well, but natural philosophers did observe planetary movements, such as those of Mars, which did not move entirely in a circular orbit. These are the “physical effects” referred to by Galileo.
3. According to Galileo, what kind of campaign did his detractors wage against him? What was Galileo’s view of the Bible?
First they have endeavored to spread the opinion that such propositions in general are contrary to the Bible and are consequently damnable and heretical. They know that it is human nature to take up causes whereby a man may oppress his neighbor, no matter how unjustly, rather than those from which a man may receive some just encouragement. Hence they have had no trouble in finding men who would preach the damnability and heresy of the new doctrine from their very pulpits with unwonted confidence, thus doing impious and inconsiderate injury not only to that doctrine and its followers but to all mathematics and mathematicians in general. Next, becoming bolder, and hoping (though vainly) that this seed which first took root in their hypocritical minds would send out branches and ascend to heaven, they began scattering rumors among the people that before long this doctrine would be condemned by the supreme authority. They know, too, that official condemnation would not only suppress the two propositions which I have mentioned, but would render damnable all other astronomical and physical statements and observations that have any necessary relation or connection with these….
Now as to the false aspersions which they so unjustly seek to cast upon me, I have thought it necessary to justify myself in the eyes of all men, whose judgment in matters of` religion and of reputation I must hold in great esteem. I shall therefore discourse of the particulars which these men produce to make this opinion detested and to have it condemned not merely as false but as heretical. To this end they make a shield of their hypocritical zeal for religion. They go about invoking the Bible, which they would have minister to their deceitful purposes. Contrary to the sense of the Bible and the intention of the holy Fathers, if I am not mistaken, they would extend such authorities even into purely physical matters – where faith is not involved – they would have us altogether abandon reason and the evidence of our senses in favor of some biblical passage, though under the surface meaning of its words this passage may contain a different sense.
I hope to show that I proceed with much greater piety than they do, when I argue not against condemning this book, but against condemning it in the way they suggest-that is, without understanding it, weighing it, or so much as reading it…
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