Ronald Numbers: […] Occasionally, there were problems [between science and religion] — for instance, between Galileo and the pope. But Galileo had gone out of his way to insult the pope, who had previously supported him. He put the pope’s favorite argument against heliocentricism into the mouth of the character Simplicio — the simple-minded person.
Steve Paulson: So Galileo wasn’t really arrested because of his science. It was because he was a lousy diplomat?
Numbers: Yeah, he was a terrible diplomat, thumbing his nose at the most powerful person who critiqued him. Also, Galileo was not as badly treated as many people suggest. When he was summoned down to Rome by the Inquisition, he lived in the Tuscan palace. And then when he was asked to move into the Vatican, to the palace of the Inquisition, one of the officials in the Inquisition vacated his three-room apartment so that the distinguished guest, Galileo, could have a nice apartment. And they allowed him to have his meals catered by the chef at the Tuscan embassy. Ultimately, he was under house arrest in his villa outside of Florence.
Paulson: Is the whole notion, then, that Galileo faced possible execution because of his scientific statements just baloney?
Numbers: [It was] highly unlikely [he faced execution]. In fact, I don’t know of a single pioneer in science who lost his life for his scientific beliefs.
Paulson: Well, what about the 16th century philosopher and cosmologist Giordano Bruno? I’ve always heard that he was burned at the stake because of his Copernican view of the universe.
Numbers: No, it was for his theological heresies, not for his Copernicanism. He happened to be a Copernican, but that’s not what got him into trouble.
My two cents
So that’s the reason for the conflict—diplomacy, not scientific discoveries. I will do well to remember this sequence of events, because in the past I was spoon-fed a jar of false allegations. For those who fed me, I’m not sure if they spoke out of deceit, or maybe they were just ignorant.
If this is the case with the history of science, I wonder what other canards I’ve been fed by Christianity’s enemies—and what other canards such people refuse to let go of.
Paulson, S. (2007). Seeing the light — of science. Available: http://www.salon.com/2007/01/02/numbers_12/. Last accessed 3rd Jan 2013.