New Galileo book raises religious, science issues

Mon Jul 20, 2009 6:11am EDT
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By Ed Stoddard

DALLAS (Reuters Life!) - The current struggles between religion and science in areas such as evolution and "intelligent design" are thrown into sharp relief in a new book about the Italian astronomer Galileo and his trial by the Roman Inquisition.

Author Dan Hofstadter described the Galileo affair as "the great religion-science clash of 1633 that in some form has persisted into our time."

The focus of the trial was the scientist's embrace of the Copernican view that the Earth revolves around the sun - a view informed by the observations Galileo made with his famous telescope.

Christians had been ordered not to teach or promote the Copernican take on the solar system. It was essentially for this reason that Galileo found himself in hot water with the clerical establishment.

Hofstadter spoke with Reuters about his book "The Earth Moves: Galileo and the Roman Inquisition," and the relevance of this 17th century episode today.

Q: You describe Galileo's trial as the "the great religion-science clash of 1633 that in some form has persisted into our own time." Can you elaborate?

A: "It has persisted into our own time in two ways. First the whole question of what a scientific theory is was raised at that time and it has been raised again by those who support intelligent design. It's essentially the same quarrel.

"The other point is that although Pope John Paul II said in 1992 that it was the error of the theologians of the time to think that, and I'm quoting now, 'our understanding of the world's physical structure was imposed by the literal sense of sacred scripture', the current Pope, Benedict XVI, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger said in March of 1990 that the church was more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and went on to claim strangely that geocentricism, the idea that the Earth is at the center of the solar system, was correct.   Continued...