Apologies to Galileo


I was wrong… doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?  Especially since it is coming from a Christian?

Seriously, though today I ran across this post from Christian History that has corrected my perceptions of the life and times of Galileo Galilei.  The items in the artcle make my writing about the events surrounding his life (here, and here), especially in regard to his heliocentric model of the solar system are not quite historical.

No doubt this will appear again in a later post, but I did want to point out this short passage that was quoted in the article from science historian Ron Numbers, editor of the recently published Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion (Harvard University Press):

Galileo suffered very little abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church. He was never tortured, he never faced death. In fact, he was never imprisoned. His penalty was house arrest at a pleasant villa on the outskirts of Florence, Italy.

Galileo’s problems with the church stemmed far less from his astronomical and physical views than from his lack of diplomacy, and from his impertinence in trying to instruct the church on how to interpret Scriptures, as some Protestants had attempted to do in the previous century.

It would seem that much of the contention between science and faith at that time are legendary, but interesting that the facts remain.  At least in Numbers’ opinion, it was Galileo’s tact and lack of diplomacy that caused such a stir.  There is a lesson in that somewhere.

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About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

6 responses to “Apologies to Galileo

  • Shamelessly Atheist

    No, Galileo wasn’t imprisoned. I’ve always known that. His imprisonment was commuted to house arrest for the rest of his life. How merciful of the Church.

    At least in Numbers’ opinion, it was Galileo’s tact and lack of diplomacy that caused such a stir. There is a lesson in that somewhere.

    So, because Galileo was a bit uppity he deserved his punishment? Really? Does that lesser treatment and his independent nature excuse the Church’s actions? I don’t think so. And there are lessons to be learned- religion works hard to suppress independent thought. A second lesson is don’t let the Church back in charge.

    Of course, the treatment Galileo got was nothing compared to Giordano Bruno, who was indeed burned at the stake for heresy in 1600. Imagine how long it will be before he gets an apology…

  • Aaron


    Just to clarify, I do not think that he was deserving of punishment. In fact he and that issue has been a lightening rod for me in my discussion about where the church establishment went very wrong. No doubt that they still went very wrong, and his “lack of diplomacy” is no excuse for not listening to him. The lesson for me is that as a member of the church I need to learn to tolerantly listen to people with whom I disagree, no matter the presentation. (Not to say that I will encourage less-than savory behavior!)

  • Matthew

    Also note that house arrest was not his only punishment. He was also forced to recant his belief in the heliocentric model.

  • Erp

    I believe his book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World, was also placed on the Index of Prohibited Books (removed 1824). At the same Copernicus’s work was put on but editions with some revision were apparently ok (apparently claiming heliocentricity was only mathematics not actuality). Kepler’s works went on also when they came out.

  • Doc Bill

    I think it’s important to consider what happened with Galileo in the context of the time he lived and not with our erudite sensibilities and knowledge. The Vatican knew that Galileo was right. They confirmed his work. But, the Church was faced with a huge dilemma. Consider the educational level of most of the world at that time. Illiterate, for the most part. The Church was as much a political governing body as it was a spiritual body. Can you imagine the havoc if the Church stood by and did nothing?

    I’m not suggesting there would have been panic in the streets, but certainly the Church would have taken a blow in credibility and at that time (perhaps all times) there were factions looking for opportunities to seize power and influence.

    All things considered I think the Church chose a moderate path.

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