PM3125: The Galileo Affair

Any one who studies the actions of the Roman Catholic Church throughout history, up to and including today, cannot if they are rational, honest and moral conclude anything other than the Roman Catholic Church is an evil institution which does not come from God. I do not mean by this any hatred for individual Catholics - I myself was raised in a Catholic family. I see them just as among the victims of this evil institution, but thankfully an ever greater number are leaving it. Nor do I pretend that no other religious group has done evil; but that other groups have done evil and are evil does not make the Catholic Church any less evil. The crimes of others do not make the Catholic Church any less criminal.

Today I want to talk about the Galileo affair, which is just more proof of how evil the Roman Catholic Church is. Most people are familiar with the tale - Galileo Galilei was an Italian scientist in the 16th and 17th centuries, one of the first people in history to use a telescope to make astronomical observations; his discoveries included four moons of Jupiter, the first discovery of a moon in our solar system other than earth. In his day, the mainstream view was that the earth was a fixed point in the universe and the sun and the planets revolved it - the geocentric model. An alternative model, the heliocentric model, proposed that the earth and the other planets revolved around the sun. The heliocentric model had been proposed in the ancient world, such as by the Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos in the 3rd century BCE. But in the 16th century, the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus revived the theory, and argued it better explained the observed motion of the planets and sun. Galileo became aware of this theory, and through his own astronomical observations became convinced of its correctness. For advocating this belief, the Catholic Church persecuted him, and placed him under house arrest for the remainder of his life. By doing so, the Catholic Church declared itself to be forever an enemy of science and truth, and on the side of ignorance.

You would think that the Catholic Church today could offer no end of apologies for the wrong it did to Galileo. But, on the contrary, there are those voices who insist that the Catholic Church was right to persecute him! No rational, honest and moral person can possibly defend the Catholic Church's acts; this proves the reprehensible character of its defenders.

Let us consider the tract The Galileo Controversy by "Catholic Answers". Let us start with the introductory paragraph:
It is commonly believed that the Catholic Church persecuted Galileo for abandoning the geocentric (earth-at-the-center) view of the solar system for the heliocentric (sun-at-the-center) view... For Catholics, the episode is often an embarrassment. It shouldn’t be. This tract provides a brief explanation of what really happened to Galileo.
So, it should be clear, their contentions are (1) the Catholic Church did not persecute Galileo for his beliefs and (2) there is nothing in the affair for which Catholics should be embarassed, for the church did nothing wrong.

One of their central arguments is that geocentricism "was the received view among scientists at the time." It is of course the history of science, that new and better ideas come along from time to time, and at first the majority of scientists reject them, but with time the majority realises they are correct and adopts them. That is absolutely no justification for the Catholic Church to be interfering in this process by seeking to persecute the advocates of that minority idea, rather than leaving the scientific process to run its course unmolested.

Another one of their contentions is that "Galileo did not prove the theory". That a scientific theory is not yet conclusively proven is no justification for the Catholic Church to persecute its proponents.

They also seem to take Galileo to task for being too forthright in his defence of his views, in claiming them proven before all the proof was in: "Galileo could have safely proposed heliocentricity as a theory or a method... His problem arose when he stopped proposing it as a scientific theory and began proclaiming it as truth, though there was no conclusive proof of it at the time." But if this is any fault of Galileo at all, it is no justification for the Catholic Church's persecution of him.

Next they complain that Galileo had the gall to not restrict his opinions to science, but to move on to questions of theology and biblical interpretation: "Galileo would not have been in so much trouble if he had chosen to stay within the realm of science and out of the realm of theology... he insisted on moving the debate onto theological grounds." That any one, whether a scientist or not, expresses their views on theology or biblical interpretation is no justification for them to be persecuted by the Catholic Church. It was entirely reasonable for Galileo, when people used religious arguments to attack his scientific positions, to try to respond to those religious arguments. The Catholic Church's decision to persecute him for doing so was entirely unreasonable, and a reflection of its evil nature.

The attitude taken by the authors of this tract is really unbelievable. Galileo was entirely in his rights to disagree with publically the geocentric view which we now know to be wrong. The Catholic Church did an evil deed in persecuting him for doing so. But the authors of this tract say it is Galileo's fault, for he provoked them into persecuting him by refusing to back down. This is like the schoolyard bully who beats up another kid, and then says it is the kid's fault for not doing what the bully demanded. That is what the Catholic Church is - worse than a schoolyard bully. And here we have its craven acolytes blaming its victims.

They don't know where to stop: "Galileo was, in fact, treated surprisingly well." They didn't burn him at the stake? Well, you were lucky, the bully could have given you a far worse beating!

They put the word "imprisonment" in quotes, as if to suggest that Galileo was not really imprisoned. But house arrest is still a form of imprisonment; it was evil for the Catholic Church to imprison him, even if it was house arrest. Trying to make the Catholic Church sound good for only putting him under house arrest, is like defending a bully on the grounds that he could have given his innocent victim a worse beating than he did (and of course, it is the victim's fault, for the victim didn't do what the bully demanded.)

Now let's read this:
While instruments of torture may have been present during Galileo’s recantation (this was the custom of the legal system in Europe at that time), they definitely were not used.
Threatening people with instruments of torture is a form of violence, and even can be considered a form of psychological torture. Threatening people with instruments of torture simply for professing a scientific or theological belief is an evil act - an evil act of which the Catholic Church is guilty, and for which it fails to truly apologise. To say that it was "the custom of the legal system" is no excuse.

Placing someone under house arrest, and threatening them with instruments of torture, is a form of persecution. It is not a severe a form of persecution as using those instruments of torture, or killing someone, but it is a form of persecution nonetheless. That the Catholic Church was not as evil in this case as it could have been does not change the fact that it did an evil deed. 

They argue that: " turned out that his ideas were not entirely correct, either...  As more recent science has shown, both Galileo and his opponents were partly right and partly wrong." This is a very twisted presentation of the facts. No doubt, Galileo's position was not entirely correct. And yet, it was nearer to the truth as we now understand it than were his opponents; to present both as being "equally right / equally wrong" is a grave distortion of the truth. And the fact that he was not entirely right is no excuse for the Catholic Church's decision to persecute him.

Finally, they say: "the Catholic Church today acknowledges that Galileo’s condemnation was wrong. The Vatican has even issued two stamps of Galileo as an expression of regret for his mistreatment." And yet, here we have this tract arguing that he wasn't really persecuted, and it was really his own fault, and Catholics have no reason to be embarassed about what the Catholic Church did to him! And, in case anyone argues that this tract does not negate that because it is not official Catholic teaching, may I note the Catholic hierarchy approvals at the end of it:
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004
They will argue, no doubt, that a nihil obstat and an imprimatur is not an indication that the Catholic hierarchy necessarily agrees with the contents of the tract. But, it is a statement, approved by a Catholic Bishop - and not to my knowledge ever in this case contradicted by the Vatican authorities - that the work is "free of doctrinal or moral errors". If minimising the evil of imprisioning someone and threatening them with physical torture simply for advocating a belief about astronomy, and advocating that the Bible should be interpreted in such a way to be compatible with that belief, is not a "moral error" according to Catholic moral teaching, the only possible conclusion is that Catholic moral teaching is gravely deficient. So by this nihil obstat and imprimatur the Catholic Church condemns itself, and that condemnation will continue as long as those declarations stand unrevoked.

The Catholic Church does not come from God. The Catholic Church comes from the Devil. I was raised Catholic, but now I know this. Pray that all those victims trapped within its clutches come out from it.

The Galileo Affair: Part II

An article entitled Galileo by Anne W. Carroll at the “Catholic Education Resource Center”:

Out of the scientific revolution came a controversy which has been used ever since to attack the Church, the Galileo case. There are two main areas of attack: that the Church persecuted and severely punished Galileo for his scientific beliefs, which now everyone knows to be true; and that the Church condemned his scientific beliefs as heretical, thus showing that the Church is not infallible. By studying the actual historical facts of the Galileo case, we can see that both of these charges are false.
She is dreadfully wrong – the Church did persecute Galileo and it did punish him; whether it did so “severely” is a question impossible to answer, given that “severely” is a relative term – they can always point to cases in which the Catholic Church persecuted people more severely – well, they didn’t have Galileo burnt at the stake, which is something they did do to others – but it could always have persecuted him less severely, including but not limited to by not persecuting him at all.

She begins as usual for Catholic apologists with a smearing of Galileo – “always starting arguments”, “a tendency to mock his opponents and overstate his case”, etc. Of course, Galileo was no saint, he no doubt had some personal flaws like most of us have; but note that she besmirches the character of Galileo alone, and not any of the other players in her story – none of whom, by any meaningful definition of the term, were “saints”. Who claims Pope Paul V was a saint? Was he without personal flaws? What about Robert Bellarmine – a man who is rightly called a murderer. He was one of the judges who sentenced Giordano Bruno to be burnt to death, for the supposed crime of disagreeing with the Catholic Church’s religious views. The fact that the Catholic Church considers him a “Saint” is a sign of just how morally bankrupt the Catholic Church’s notion of “Sainthood” is. Whatever Galileo’s flaws, he never rose to the level of evil to which that supposed “Saint” Robert Bellarmine rose – how many people did Galileo sentence to death? Indeed, concerning those flaws cited by Anne W. Carroll, one has to ask whether they are flaws at all, as opposed to signs of a person willing to argue forcefully for their own ideas – and is that a bad thing? Of course, they may turn out to be wrong; but do they not in a sense have greater intellectual courage than was had by those cowards of the Church (such as the murderer Robert Bellarmine) who insisted that they declare their convictions less forcefully? (“The Church officials were willing that heliocentrism be taught as a hypothesis (not a fact) and discussed in scientific circles…” to quote her words.)

Now as to her absurd contention that Galileo was not persecuted – let us use her own words against her: “The next day [February 25, 1616], Pope Paul V was notified of their opinion. He asked Cardinal Bellarmine to warn Galileo that if he did not abstain from discussing his theory as fact, he could be imprisoned.” So the Pope threatened Gallileo (through a supposedly saintly intermediary), that if he did not stop advocating for his beliefs, he would be thrown in prison. How is that not persecution?
Many Catholics today like to whinge about the supposed persecution of opponents of same-sex marriage, for example when a government official, charged with the responsibility of implementing government policy, including that regarding same-sex marriage, loses their job due to a refusal to do so. I don’t know this for a fact, but it would not surprise me if Anne W. Carroll was among their number; and if she is not, no doubt many Catholics who would quote her arguments approvingly are. So let’s get this clear – a government official who loses their job because they refuse to implement some government policy they disagree with is being persecuted, but a person who is threatened (not idly) with imprisonment by the Church for declaring openly and unreservedly their beliefs is not? What incoherent hypocrisy. Of course, the objection was incoherent hypocrisy to begin with – suppose a taxation official was fired due to a belief that collecting taxes to fund an immoral war in Iraq was immoral, suppose a soldier was not just fired, but imprisoned, for refusing to be deployed to an immoral war in Iraq, suppose that a police officer was fired for refusing to enforce a law against marijuana possession that said police officer believed to be immoral – would these Catholics be jumping up and down complaining about that government official being persecuted? Of course not; for in the Catholic dictionary, “persecution” is defined as doing something the Catholic Church doesn’t like.

The irrationality of Anne W. Carroll is momentously obvious. She appears to have that lauded ability to believe six impossible things before breakfast. She begins by saying “Galileo was clearly not persecuted”. Clearly, he was. He was ordered (under threat of torture and/or execution) to publicly renounce his views, and placed under imprisonment for the rest of his life. That is a form of persecution, compared to which some government official being fired for refusing to marry same-sex couples is absolutely nothing. She pathetically tries to minimise how it treated him – such as by describing his imprisonment as “comfortable house arrest”. Due to his willingness (no doubt in part out of genuine fear for his life) to submit to the Catholic Church’s bullying, he was spared the full measure of its torturous and murderous fury; but that does not make what he endured to not be persecution, which it truly was.

What about her claims that “his arrest was not painful” and “nor did he seem to suffer much for his views”? If Anne W. Carroll thinks that house arrest is such a trifle, how would she like to be put under house arrest for the rest of her life? Maybe, if Anne W. Carroll was placed under house arrest for the rest of her life, she might also during that period write “an important book” – if she were to do so, would that demonstrate that her house arrest was not in any way wrong? That the Catholic Church did not treat Galileo as evilly as it could have does not change for a moment that the Catholic Church treated him in an evil manner; and Anne W. Carroll, rather than condemning evil as she ought to do, is seeking to do all she can to minimise and excuse it.

Next, we must consider her claim that “Such punishment as he received he brought upon himself by refusing to moderate his statements…” The persecution of Galileo by the Catholic Church was entirely wrong, and nothing that Galileo did warranted it. Anne W. Carroll’s argument is like that of the abusive husband who says “she brought it on herself by refusing to do what I told her to do”. Galileo was entirely entitled to express his views publically; the Catholic Church was utterly and completely wrong in seeking to persecute him for doing so; there is absolutely nothing that anyone can with honesty and integrity say in the Church’s defence; that Anne W. Carroll seeks to defend it just shows how utterly devoid of honesty and integrity she is. In no way does Galileo have any fault in this affair; the entirety of the fault lies with evil men such as Robert Bellarmine, Pope Paul V and Pope Urban VIII. By declaring Robert Bellarmine to be a Saint, the Roman Catholic Church has declared its utter moral bankruptcy clearly before all – if anyone is deserving of sainthood, an innocent man such as Galileo is a far better candidate than a murderer like Robert Bellarmine could ever be.

Finally, we have the laughable attempt to excuse this yet another instance of Catholic evil through some petty theological quibbling. They start out by declaring the Pope to be infallible; then they pile upon that declaration some list of vague and obscure criteria, which they interpret in such a way so as to conclude that any Papal decisions which they do not feel entirely comfortable in defending as correct fall outside of the vaunted bounds of the infallible. (Of course, any Papal decisions which they treasure will, by hook or crook, be found to fall within those bounds.) Anyone approaching this debacle with any intellectual honesty can only reach one conclusion – claims of papal infallibility are preposterous, and the attempts to salvage them only prove the case.