Monday, July 12, 2004

Galileo again

Joe Carter has a post up about Galileo, going over the history which I've covered before. The comments on his posts have degenerated into name-calling right now, but before they did, someone did bring up the question of what all this history proves. That the church wasn't quite so narrow-minded as they were thought to be? They still punished him for his heresy.

I think what it proves is that, as in any story, we have a tendency to find both heroes and villains, and we tend to simplify the story until the villains are truly villainous and the heroes are truly heroic, ignoring the inconvenient contradictions. Heh, I'm sounding like a post-modernist. The Church did not handle Galileo well, but they did not mishandle his case as badly as they are accused. By simplifying the story into a myth, we do a disservice both to the Church and to Galileo. The Galileo story is used to turn the religion into a villain and science into a hero, fueling contempt for religion by turning science into something it's not: a clear truth that is obvious to anyone with an open mind. Science is never obvious--it is difficult and murky and a lot of hard work separating the wheat from the chaff. We scientists are done a disservice by those who want to turn science into a quick and easy answer. Society as a whole is done a disservice when science is no longer considered debatable, where all ethical considerations are swept aside in the breakneck race for scientific progress. Laying the Galileo myth to rest would do a lot to curb this attitude.

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