Galileo affair  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Galileo affair, in which Galileo Galilei came into conflict with the Catholic Church over his support of Copernican astronomy, is often considered a defining moment in the history of the relationship between religion and science.

In 1610, Galileo published his Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger), describing the surprising observations that he had made with the new telescope. These and other discoveries exposed major difficulties with the understanding of the heavens that had been held since antiquity, and raised new interest in radical teachings such as the heliocentric theory of Copernicus. In reaction, many maintained that the motion of the Earth and immobility of the Sun were heretical, as they contradicted some accounts given in the Bible as understood at that time. Galileo's part in the controversies over theology, astronomy and philosophy culminated in his trial and sentencing in 1633 on a grave suspicion of heresy.

"I, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzo Galilei, Florentine, aged 70 years

Galileo Galilei goes on trial at Rome April 12 1633 although he is suffering from arthritis, hernias, kidney stones, and gout. The Inquisition threatens the astronomer and mathematician with torture on the rack if he does not retract his "heretical" defense of the Copernican idea that the sun is the center of the universe and the Earth a movable planet. Torn between wanting to fight for the truth and not wanting to offend the Church, Galileo equivocates, saying that the heliocentric design "may very easily turn out to be a most foolish hallucination and a majestic paradox," but he does what is necessary to save himself, saying on June 22 1633, "I, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzo Galilei, Florentine, aged 70 years, abjure, curse, and detest the aforesaid errors and heresies, and I swear that I will never again say or assert that the sun is the center of the universe and immovable and that the Earth is not the center and moves." He is sent to his villa outside Florence, where he will be confined for the remaining 9 years of his life.

René Descartes takes warning from the trial of Galileo Galilei; now living in Holland, Descartes stops publishing in France.




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