Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
Tentative Conclusions Based on Questionable Sources
David J. Krause
Henry Ford Community College
Dearborn, Michigan 48128
From: JASA 34 (June 1982): 124
In the abstract to his "The Establishment of a Heliocentric View of the Universe" (Journal ASA, Dec. 1981) Jerry Bergman promises an analysis "researched using both primary and secondary sources." However, the result seems instead to be a rather tentative collection of statements and conclusions virtually all of which are based on secondary and tertiary sources at best and a number of which are questionable. (Where was Copernicus a professor of astronomy? What, if any, "observations of the heavens caused him to accept a heliocentric view . . . ?" If "the scientists strongly believed that the Copernican theory was ludicrous," what shall we call Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and their supporters? Roger Bacon lived 300 years before Galileo.)
Bergman is certainly correct in seeing this episode as something more than a simple Church-science confrontation, but surely he goes too far in his attempt to minimize the implications of Galileo's trial. For example, how can Bergman's conclusion that "The interference of the Church in his work was actually minor. . .," and particularly that he afterward "lived his life researching and writing about his theories." be reconciled with Galileo's formula of abjuration, which required him to "with sincere heart and unfeigned faith ... abjure, curse, and detest the aforesaid errors and heresies ... and swear that in the future I will never again say or assert, verbally or in writing, anything that might furnish occasion for a similar suspicion regarding me;", his later observation, "nor can I go forth to defend myself, there having been issued an express order to all Inquisitors that they should not allow any of my works to be reprinted which had been printed many years ago or grant permission to any new work that I would print ... so that it is left to me only to succumb in silence under the flood of attacks . . .... and his complaint, after the manuscript of his Discourses has been taken from Italy and published in Holland, that "I have not been able to obtain a single copy?" (All quotes from Santillana, one of Bergman's sources).
In my opinion, a much more coherent analysis and interpretation of this episode will be found in an earlier Journal ASA paper, T. H. Leith's "Galileo and the Church: Tensions with a Message for Today" (Mar. through Dec. 1973).