Up to Philosophers in Disgrace and Demand



(life imprisonment)

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) is the greatest philosopher scientist of the Renaissance. He discovered the law of falling bodies. He made crucial improvements to launch the telescope in its crucial role in the enhancement of warfare (and, for a few interested, astronomy). No wonder Galileo, having the first series ever of good home made telecopes on his attic, became the discoverer of many now familiar celestial bodies and features. His attitude of knowledge acquisition (not reading too much, not listening to much to others, ample, careful and systematic observation and a modest amount of independent thinking) was the most influential model for later systematic scientific research. No wonder, after some piling up of position data of planets and stars, he started to agree with Copernicus that the earth orbits around the sun like the planets.

He should have been more careful with that.

In the early 1630's Galileo Galilei came under investigation by the Inquisition for heresy.  He had a lot of influential friends, among whom Venetian generals and admirals still grateful for his telescope. They managed to keep him off the pope's hot stake, but in 1633, Galileo was condemned to life inprisonment. Efforts by influential persons to free him did not cease until his death.

After struggling the battle for the immovability of the earth for another century, in 1734 Catholics started to fear their God so much that they decided to move Galileo's remains from a simple grave to a mausoleum in the Church of Santa Croce in Florence. Shortly afterward the Roman Catholic church relaxed its rules against discussing the motion of the Earth, although Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic & Copernican remained on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (the Vatican's "Index of Forbidden Books") until again one century later, in 1835.

Again one and a half century later, in 1979 the Roman clerical "Pontifical Academy of Sciences", a body without any scientific authority, issued a report on Galileo's conviction. Church "expert" prepared a speech read by Pope John Paul II speech about its findings.

Finally, on the December 17th 1992, the pope cleared Galileo of heresy.

Not out of love for the man, or a change towards a more positive attitude to independent thinking. And least of all out of interest in his views.

Had the papal mafia only succeeded in tricking Thomas Aquinas into the contemporary highschool physics book as the inventor of the law of falling bodies ("Thomas' law"), certainly Galileo would still be burning in the virtual papal hell.