Sunday, February 27, 2011

The inquisition strikes back

This posting follows: Copernicus and the Church

By claiming that the sun, and not the earth, was at the center of the universe, Copernicus directly challenged the Church's sacred worldview, based on the Aristotelian model. But while Copernicus was the first one to publicly challenge the Church's view of the world, many followed. What he had started could not be stopped.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a German astronomer, developed the Copernican worldview and turned it into a mathematical model. The three laws of planetary motion he conceived are still in use nowadays. These mathematical laws, based on elliptical motion, accurately explained all planetary observations. However, by suggesting that the planets were moving in elliptical orbits and not in the heavenly perfect circular motion, Kepler deviated even further from the Aristotelian model. He was excommunicated from the Lutheran Church in 1612.

Kepler's contemporary, the Italian scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), in his most renowned experiment dropped two bodies of different weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and demonstrated, once and for all, that all bodies fall at the same speed regardless of their weight. This was the first time that an experiment was used to determine scientific truth, and was an indisputable proof that Aristotle's theory and the Church's dogma were fundamentally mistaken.

But this was not enough for Galileop. Being the first person to apply telescope to the study of the heavenly bodies, Galileo also revolutionized astronomy. His observations led him to discover the moons of Jupiter and the phases of the planet Venus, and convinced him that Copernicus' heliocentric model, with the sun at the center, was the correct one. In 1633, Galileo was brought before the Inquisition for a grave suspicion of heresy. He was forced to formally renounce his beliefs, and was sentenced to life-long house arrest.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Copernicus and the Church

As we saw in a previous posting, Copernicus, who postulated a model in which the sun was at the center of the universe, knew that the clear advantages of his model would not protect him from the hostile reaction of the orthodox authorities and the Inquisition. It was not until 1543 – the year of his death – that he eventually published his complete work On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.

It is clear from the extent of the criticism of his work that Copernicus challenged not only the knowledge of the cosmos, as portrayed by the church, but he challenged knowledge itself: should our impartial experience determine our understanding, or is it our knowledge that the world should conform to?

For example, Tolosani, a contemporary of Copernicus, wrote:

[Copernicus] seems to be unfamiliar with Holy Scripture since he contradicts some of its principles, not without the risk to himself and to the readers of his book of straying from the faith. ... in his imagination he changes the order of God's creatures in his system. ... he seeks to raise the Earth from its lower place to the sphere where everybody by common consent correctly locates the Sun's sphere, and to caste the sphere of the Sun down to the place of the Earth, contravening the rational order and Holy Writ, which declares that heaven is up, while the Earth is down.

It was most likely, therefore, that the Church would have condemned Copernicus and burn his work, had it not been for an introduction inserted by the publisher. The introduction stated that the book merely presented a simpler way to calculate the positions of heavenly bodies, and that the hypotheses contained within made no pretense to truth that, in any case, astronomy was incapable of finding the causes of heavenly phenomena. This unauthorized insertion, although appalled many, ensured that the book was not immediately condemned. In fact, it was publicly available for over 70 years before it was subject to censorship.

Although some were sentenced to death for their support of Copernicus’ heliocentric system (for example, Giordano Bruno was burnt alive in 1600) it was not until 1616 that the Church placed the work on the List of Prohibited Books (Index Librorum Prohibitorum) and decreed that the propositions that the Sun is immobile and at the center of the universe and that the Earth moves around it, judging both to be ‘foolish and absurd in philosophy,’ and the first to be ‘formally heretical’ and the second ‘at least erroneous in faith’ in theology. By then, however, Copernicus’ mathematics had already been widely in use, and although many still viewed it as a hypothetical calculation model, it was unavoidable that questions about the nature of the cosmos as derived from the model would arise.

The scientific revolution had begun.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Quotes From the Honest Guru

Yesterday I had an oyster. It wasn't fresh. It gave me indigestion. A totaly new meaning to "The world is my oyster"

(image credit)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Quotes From the Honest Guru

More than any other quality, the combination of arrogance and closed mind have led people to the path of success.

Quotes From the Honest Guru

Challenge is overrated by those who don't have enough of it