Friday, February 28, 2014

Foolish and absurd in Philosophy

When Galileo appeared before the Inquisition in 1616, consultants were hired to appraise his heliocentrism, reporting:
The sun is the center of the world, and entirely immobile by local motion.

Appraisal: All have said the stated proposition to be foolish and absurd in Philosophy; and formally heretical, since it expressly contradicts the sense of holy scripture in many places, according to the quality of the words, and according to the common exposition, and understanding, of the Holy Fathers and the learned Theologians.

The earth is not the center of the world, and not immobile, but is moved along Whole itself, and also by diurnal motion.

Appraisal: All have said, this proposition to receive the same appraisal in Philosophy; and regarding Theological truth, at least to be erroneous in faith.
This translation is from a new paper, The Inquisition's Semicolon: Punctuation, Translation, and Science in the 1616 Condemnation of the Copernican System, by Christopher M. Graney:
This paper presents high-resolution images of the original document of the 24 February 1616 condemnation of the Copernican system as being "foolish and absurd in philosophy", by a team of consultants for the Roman Inquisition. Secondary sources have disagreed as to the punctuation of the document. The paper includes a brief analysis of the punctuation and the possible effects of that punctuation on meaning. The original document and its punctuation may also have relevance to public perception of science and to science education.
Nearly everyone omits the first semicolon above, thereby giving the impression that a scientific idea was "foolish and absurd" just because it was contrary to the Bible. The consultants only used the Bible as a reason for saying that the Earth's motion is "formally heretical".

There were legitimate scientific arguments against Galileo's Copernicanism, such as those listed here, here, here, and here. There were also theological arguments on both sides.

Wikipedia recently deleted this statement about Galileo's telescopic discoveries:
None of these findings, which were difficult at first for other astronomers to verify, proved that the Earth moved, or directly contradicted either Aristotle's model or Christian doctrine.
The statement is correct. The sources all agree that Galileo did not have the proof that Cardinal Bellarmine wanted, but the editors deleted the statement anyway because of an argument about "how science works". They say it was unreasonable to expect proof.

Owen Gingerich points out that decades later the great scientist Robert Hooke was also asking for proof, just like Bellarmine. Gingerich argues that stellar parallax by itself may not have convinced Bellarmine or Hooke. Scientists were convinced by the combination of the Newtonian framework with certain crucial experiments like stellar parallax. He does not mention that the relativistic framework of the 20th century showed that motion was relative and both arguments are valid.

It is impossible for an experiment to prove the Earth's motion because the laws of physics are valid in any frame of reference. Poincare made this argument, and later Einstein did also. Galileo gave a version of the argument, saying that we might not notice motion in the lower deck of a ship, but he also claimed that his goofy theory of tides proved the motion of the Earth. Bellarmine's position was closer to the modern view than Galileo's.

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