Sunday, 4 December 2016

Nobody Expects the Italian Inquisition  

Behold the visage of a Great Man
Galileo (1564-1642) was truly a great thinker and scientist and a herald of the scientific revolution to come. As such Galileo relied on the scientific experimental method to advance knowledge. Today, most educated people are familiar with the power and utility of the scientific empirical method. However, in Galileo's day the usefulness of the technique to elicit new knowledge was vastly underestimated by the educated men of the time. This takes me neatly to the educated men of the time: Throughout the Middle Ages, education was controlled by the Church. Men of letters were invariably monks. Furthermore, the curriculum was strictly controlled by the church. Emphasis was strongly directed toward Christian devotion. Philosophical development of Christianity from the 4th century AD onward evolved from ancient Greek philosophy, particularly the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. The wisdom of these sages was deemed sacrosanct and not to be questioned. To question or refute some aspect of Aristolean doctrine was tantamount to heresy. And you know what happens to heretics, don't you? They get a light singeing with the dedicated singeing rod administered with loving care by the Inquisition. During the 16th century the laity in the West could receive an extensive and deep education if they could afford it at one of the Catholic controlled universities. Inevitably the education centred on Latin grammar and theology according to prevailing Catholic dogma. Galileo as a young man studied medicine but his studies were curtailed due to financial circumstance and he never completed his degree. Even so his talents were recognised and he managed to secure a teaching position at the Italian university of Padua. 

Due to Galileo's fertile, inquisitive and scientific nature, he broke new ground in the physical sciences. He is remembered for his seminal work on the laws of motion and mechanics. Once he acquired the new fangled telescope he published several tracts on his findings. From his observations he became convinced of the truth of the heretical Copernicus heliocentric world view. According to Catholic dogma, the Earth was the centre of the universe. This was in accord with Holy Scripture and supported by the ancient Greek savants. To say that the Earth orbited the Sun was to invite a visit from the infamous 'Inquisition'. Generally this was not a pleasant experience (see above regard to singeing implement). 

A simplistic synthesis indeed: Actually many learned Clergy were sympathetic to the Copernicus system. It simply wont do to see the Catholic Hierarchy, as a whole, totally opposed to the Heliocentric system and to new science. Some Scholastics were convinced, especially after peering through Galileo's telescope and were prepared to recant, albeit slowly. Tis true the more pedantic and devotional (stupid) of the ecclesiastic fraternity refused to partake of Galileo's visual revelation and remained steadfast in their dogma. Generally history has not been kind to such folk.

 It seems that there were sensible elements within the Catholic Church trying to reconcile the rapidly advancing, and as far as they could see, unstoppable march of science with prevailing theology. Smart Clergy realised that theology needed to be receptive to the new science even if it meant discarding cherished and long held notions about the world. After all, theology is about fluid interpretation. If you are clever enough and inventive of mind you can reconcile all, even science and theology, but this is nothing but sophistry and intellectual gymnastics and thus should be judged as such. 

Galileo was a genuinely pious man and tried hard to accommodate his observational science with prevailing Catholic theology. Sadly, the conservatives prevailed and Galileo's views and publications were deemed inimical to Catholicism and placed on the 'Banned Book List'. On occasion his books were singed with the dreaded singeing rod' (I made this up). Throughout his later career he was interrogated by the Inquisition and Papal representatives. As a matter of whimsy (not really), Galileo wrote a book (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems) comparing both the accepted Ptolemaic and the upstart Copernicus systems. He phrased it in the form of a debate. The adherent to the Ptolemaic system was represented by the character of, 'Simplico' . Galileo's argument and thrust of debate is clearly in favour of the heliocentric viewpoint. The Pope of the day certainly got the point and regardless of his moderate stance, the outcome was predictable. Whatever the Pope's private views, in public, he was fettered by political and theological constraints and let's be frank, Galileo was not being very subtle: In Italian 'Simplicio' has the connotation of 'simpleton'. Galileo had powerful friends and thus his final years were spent under gentle house arrest rather than rotting away in a dank dudgeon.  

From our lofty perspective of nearly 500 years later it is hard for us to appreciate the power hefted by the Catholic Church in the preceding centuries. The tentacles of Catholicism reached through all levels of society. Monarchs quaked at the feet of Popes and generally complied with Papal edicts and Catholic doctrine. Henry the VIII was a bold exception. But that is another story for another day. I wonder if Henry would have had the temerity to break with Rome if England had been a continental power. The channel is a mighty antidote to the disease of Catholic power. Sorry, I'm starting to digress. 

At the fundamental level, science and theology are irreconcilable. Theologians and scientists who attempt a 'fusion' based on some form of commonality are involved in a doomed enterprise. Scientific methodology and scientific knowledge is totally contrary to notions such as 'blind faith' and 'revelation'. Simply put, it is impossible to reconcile the rational with the irrational. In any 'knowledge 'conflict between science vs religion, religion is always going to come off second best. Religion always peddles inferior and often shoddy intellectual goods. Thoughtful theologians have always known this. This is why, religion, when they hold sway and power over matters secular have always endeavoured to suppress new knowledge and individuals of intellectual quality. Now, isn't that the sad truth?


  1. Oh No! Not the comfy chair!

    1. O yes, Tony F the comfy chair was one the chief weapons of the Spanish Inquisition together with surprise and a fanatical devotion to da Pappa.

  2. if you reduce your self off from sleep, you narrow down at the possibility to construct muscle. All you really want to do to feature lean muscle mass is get a pen, pencil, gym membership, grocery list, mattress, and get to paintings. For more ==== >>>>>>