Monday, August 4, 2014

More Galileo myths

The Renaissance Mathematicus writes:
How much can you get wrong in an eight hundred word biographical sketch of a very famous sixteenth and seventeenth-century mathematicus and philosophicus? – One helluva lot it seems?

If someone is doing the Internet equivalent of being a big-mouthed braggart and posting an article with the screaming title, “10 Absurdly Famous People You Probably Don’t Know Enough About” you would expect them to at least get their historical facts right, wouldn’t you? Well you would be wrong at least as far as “absurdly famous” person number seven is concerned, Galileo Galilei. Tim Urban the author of this provocative article on the ‘Wait But Why’ blog appears to think that history of science is something that you make up as you go along based on personal prejudice mixed up with some myths you picked up some night whilst drunk in a bar.
He is a little hard on the site -- it was just reciting the standard Galileo myths.

He previously posted:
Now anybody reading, in particular, the popular literature on Galileo with a half way critical mind will very rapidly become aware that it is all permeated with an incredible level of hyperbole, it would appear that Signor Galileo is superhuman. If we just take some of the statements from the, on the whole fairly good, Wikipedia article we have the following collection of exaggerated statements:

Galileo has been called the “father of modern observational astronomy” the “father of modern physics” the “father of science”and “the Father of Modern Science.” Stephen Hawkins says, “Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.”

At the bottom of the article we have the following title: The Person of the Millennium: The Unique Impact of Galileo on World History.

I have also in my reading come across the following claims: “G is the inventor of the scientific method”, “G was the first to apply mathematics to science”, “G discovered the first mathematical law of science” and so on and so forth…

The image of Galileo Galilei has been inflated like a dirigible airship that floats above the early modern period obscuring the efforts and achievements of all the other scientists, his shadow only being broken by the light of that other god of science Isaac Newton. Unfortunately this image is total bullshit and its propagation leads to a major distortion in our understanding of the historical development of science.
On another post, he makes an odd distinction between theory and hypothesis:
The heliocentric hypothesis says that heliocentricity offers a possible model to explain the observed motion of the planets; it says nothing about the truth-value of this model. The heliocentric theory says that the universe is in reality heliocentric. In 1616 the Church banned the heliocentric theory but not the hypothesis. This might at first seem like splitting hairs but in reality it is a very important distinction. Astronomers were completely free to go on discussing and researching the possibility of heliocentricity but until they produced actual proof that the universe is indeed heliocentric they were not allowed to claim that it was. So in reality the Church was here not even attempting to actively suppress a line of scientific activity. As a side note it should be pointed out from an epistemological standpoint the Church was right to deny the correctness of the heliocentric theory at that time, which does not however excuse their primitive attempt to ban it.
Typical definitions of theory are this from Webster's:
a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena ("the wave theory of light")
Or WordNet:
a tentative theory about the natural world; a concept that is not yet verified but that if true would explain certain facts or phenomena ("A scientific hypothesis that survives experimental testing becomes a scientific theory")
The Church never banned the heliocentric theory. Scientists were free to use heliocentric principles to explain and predict the night sky.

There was probably more free speech in 17th century Italy than anywhere else in the world.

In the recent 5 Common Evolution Myths, Debunked, endorsed by evolutionist professor Jerry Coyne, the first myth is some goofy quibble about the definition of the word theory:
Myth 1: It's just a theory

The truth: The word "theory" has a different meaning inside the scientific community than it does elsewhere.

In everyday language, you and I would use "theory" to describe a whim feeling: a theory that eating the crust on your sandwiches makes you taller, or, say, that Marty Hart's daughter on True Detective was actually involved with the Tuttle clan the whole time (pshh).

Either would totally work in this case. In the general sense, an idea doesn't necessarily need to make sense, or even be true, to be considered a theory.

A scientific theory, on the other hand, refers to a comprehensive explanation for a variety of phenomena.

It begins as a hypothesis. Then, if enough evidence exists to support it, through repeated and thorough testing, it moves to the next step in the scientific method — a theory — where it is accepted as a credible explanation.

One example is atomic theory, which shows how matter is composed of atoms.

Evolution, similarly, is accepted by the vast majority of scientists and backed up by research in fields such as embryology, molecular biology and paleontology.
No, the dictionary definition of "theory" matches both everyday and scientific use.

Consider the above science examples, "wave theory of light" and "atomic theory". These are extremely useful theories, even without necessarily accepting the underlying hypotheses as correct. Many physicists would say that light consists of particles, not waves, and that atomic theory oversimplifies atoms. Scientific theories are not necessarily proven. Sometimes the evidence for them is extremely weak or non-existent, such as with string theory.

For some reason, evolutionists and Galileo myth-promoters want to define a theory as something that is "accepted as a credible explanation." It is a spineless way of arguing that something is true with demonstrating it.

If Galileo were really the father of modern science, he would have understood that he could have a theory like heliocentrism to explain the astronomical observations, without heliocentrism being necessarily provable. If he had understood that, then he would not have had any trouble with the Pope. Galileo's mistake was to claim that he could prove heliocentrism, whereas relativity shows that it was impossible for him to have any such proof.

In Coyne's case, promoting evolution is intertwined with promoting atheism and leftist politics. So he doesn't really want to talk about what can be proven. He wants to be able to say that there is an atheistic theory for life on Earth, and therefore we should accept atheism.


  1. "Sure, we had lots of mayhem and murder. But at least we produced the intellectual giant named Galileo. What did the peaceniks of Sweden ever produce"

    Oh well. I guess it was just mayhem and murder after all and nothing else.

  2. Surely, Galileo invented quantum mechanics too and the papers just haven't been found yet. The Plagiarist invented quantum mechanics (statistical interpretation) so why not Galileo. Its coming.

    100 years from now the Story Tellers will tell us Master Witten invented everything with string theory.

  3. Yeah I saw the kids rushing out of school to get their free eGalileo experiment kits from the few suckers still left working after listening to Coyne talk about atheism all day long. Next experiment: "How to avoid doing something productive by talking about atheism all day long. All hail Galileo!"

  4. Smolin now claims at Woits place that he invented everything. Holy moly. he's the biggest crackpot on the planet.

    I think the Schrodinger goof plagiarized Hermann Weyl. Weyl built the foundations of modern physics and gets no credit whatsoever.

    1. Smolin wrote: "For what its worth, can I mention that I wrote a paper in 2002 showing that quantum mechanics can be derived from a matrix formulation of string/M theory: Matrix models as non-local hidden variables theories."

      And yes I agree that Weyl made huge contributions to the foundations of physics, without getting much credit.