November 28, 2007
Accusing Galileo of bad faith (while tap dancing with Torquemada)
Some things are incredibly tedious for me to go through, and I'm afraid that Dinesh D'Souza's "He didn't suffer all that much" is one of them.
It is D'Souza's position that because of a false atheist claim that the elderly Galileo was physically tortured, the Inquisition is in need of reexamination. And maybe other stuff we've learned is all wrong too. Maybe Galileo is more to blame than we were all taught in school. For the Inquisition (it turns out) was surprisingly benevolent, and Galileo really forced their hand by violating an earlier order not to teach heliocentrism.
NOTE: D'Souza's "He didn't suffer all that much" essay is in red, because I have too many other quotes interspersed throughout.
Is there an irreconcilable conflict between science and religion? Today's outspoken atheists, including Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, seek to set science and religion at odds largely by invoking the Galileo case. For example, Harris, in his book The End of Faith, condemns the Christian church of the Renaissance for "torturing scholars to the point of madness for merely speculating about the nature of the stars."It is not my goal to defend a shrill and obnoxious atheist like Harris, but as D'Souza has quoted only him as the leading "example" I think it is fair to supply the Harris quote in its context:
In 1907, Pope Pius X declared modernism a heresy, had its exponents within the church excommunicated, and put all critical studies of the Bible on the Index of proscribed books. Authors similarly distinguished include Descartes (selected works), Montaigne (Essays), Locke (Essay on Human Understanding), Swift (Tale of a Tub), Swedenborg (Principia), Voltaire (Lettres philosophiques), Diderot (Encyclopédie), Rousseau (Du con trat social), Gibbon (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), Paine (The Rights of Man), Sterne (A Sentimental Journey), Kant (Critique of Pure Reason), Flaubert (Madame Bovary), and Darwin (On the Origin of Species). As a censorious afterthought, Descartes' Meditations was added to the Index in 1948. With all that had occurred earlier in the decade, one might have thought that the Holy See could have found greater offenses with which to concern itself. Although not a single leader of the Third Reich-not even Hitler himself-was ever excommunicated, Galileo was not absolved of heresy until 1992.Harris does not say that Galileo was tortured; only that he was convicted of heresy, and not exonerated until 1992. It is true that Galileo was convicted of heresy and sentenced to life imprisonment "for holding as true the false doctrine taught by some that the sun is the center of the world" (the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment) and it is also true that he was vindicated in 1992. Here's the Pope John Paul II statement vindicating Galileo:
Thanks to his intuition as a brilliant physicist and by relying on different arguments, Galileo, who practically invented the experimental method, understood why only the sun could function as the centre of the world, as it was then known, that is to say, as a planetary system. The error of the theologians of the time, when they maintained the centrality of the earth, was to think that our understanding of the physical world's structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of Sacred Scripture....Well, better late than never.
Is there something wrong with me in finding it appalling that the world's leading scientist was hauled before the Inquisition, convicted of heresy, and sentenced to life imprisonment?
Not that this justifies atheists (or anyone else) exaggerating what was done to him, and he does not appear to have been tortured. But if atheists have made the false claim that he was, is that really an occasion to leap to the defense of the Inquisition?
At any event, I am unable to find any claim by Harris that Galileo was tortured. Instead, he complains about the Church (not limited to "of the Renaissance" as D'Souza claims) "torturing scholars to the point of madness for merely speculating about the nature of the stars."
Is that necessarily a reference to Galileo? Isn't it possible that he meant to refer to Giordano Bruno? The latter was a scholar, philosopher and cosmologist who held firm to his belief in the plurality of worlds, and ended up being burned at the stake for it:
Bruno continued his Venetian defensive strategy, which consisted in bowing to the Church's dogmatic teachings, while trying to preserve the basis of his philosophy. In particular Bruno held firm to his belief in the plurality of worlds, although he was admonished to abandon it. His trial was overseen by the inquisitor Cardinal Bellarmine, who demanded a full recantation, which Bruno eventually refused. Instead he appealed in vain to Pope Clement VIII, hoping to save his life through a partial recantation. The Pope expressed himself in favor of a guilty verdict. Consequently, Bruno was declared a heretic, handed over to secular authorities on February 8 1600. At his trial he listened to the verdict on his knees, then stood up and said: "Perhaps you, my judges, pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it." A month or so later he was brought to the Campo de' Fiori, a central Roman market square, his tongue in a gag, tied to a pole naked and burned at the stake, on February 17, 1600.Such a defiant attitude certainly sounds crazy by today's standards. Bruno was a distinguished scholar, and all he had to do was comply with the very reasonable demands of the well-meaning but misunderstood Inquisitors such as the "learned theologian" Bellarmine, who oversaw his trial and his burning alive.
For this, another apology was issued, also by Pope John Paul II:
Four hundred years after his execution, official expression of "profound sorrow" and acknowledgement of error at Bruno's condemnation to death was made, during the papacy of John Paul II.While today we think of those who speculate about the nature of the stars as astronomers, in those days there were plenty of astrologers who did the same thing. Tommaso Campanella was an astrologer who was tortured and imprisoned and eventually was described as feigning insanity:
In Naples he was also initiated in astrology; astrological speculations would become a constant feature in his writings.According to the Galileo Project, "during these imprisonments he often lived under the worst conditions and was tortured several times."
While I am not a scholar of the Inquisition, I think either Bruno or Campanella would fit within the general parameters Harris describes. To what extent they were tortured, to what extent it was for speculations about the stars, and to what extent it drove them to madness I cannot say. But considering what happened to other scholars, I think it is a little disingenuous to characterize Harris's claim as a false statement that Galileo was tortured.
I was never taught that Galileo was tortured, although I was taught that he landed in the hands of the Inquisition repeatedly. I believed then and I believe now that it is one of the most regrettable periods in Christian history.
Unless I am reading him wrong, D'Souza is going out of his way to imagine a "false torture smear" against the Inquisition (even though he doesn't show the smear was made by any of the atheists in question), and then he bootstraps that into a defense of the Inquisition against the atheists.
What in the world is going on with this guy? Does he think that atheists are morally worse than the Inquisitors?
Or is he a professional apologist, leap-frogging from a defense of "conservative Muslims" against "cultural leftists" to this latest defense of the Inquisition against godless atheists?
These questions may sound argumentative, but I feel forced to ask them because he is on record as stating that atheists share the blame for Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. (More on that later.)
Before the 16th century, most educated people accepted the theories of the Greek astronomer Ptolemy, who held that the Earth was stationary and the sun revolved around it. The geocentric universe was a classical, not a Christian, concept. The Christians accepted it - though not because of the Bible. The Bible never says that the sun revolves around the Earth. Christians accepted Ptolemy because he had a sophisticated theory supported by what seemed like common sense (i.e., everything does seem to revolve around the Earth) and that gave reasonably accurate predictions about the motions of heavenly bodies.Actually, there was Biblical opposition, based on the following passages:
Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, and Chronicles 16:30 state that "the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved." Psalm 104:5 says, "[the LORD] set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved." Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that "the sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises."Well, I suppose that because those passages come from the Old Testament, it is possible that the contrast D'Souza draws between the "classical" and "Christian" concepts means that he does not think Christians were bound by the strictures of the Old Testament. I'd like to think that they aren't, and it's nice to imagine that D'Souza would agree with me on this, but I'm not so sure that's what he really means. But even if he did mean it, he wasn't the Pope in 1633, nor was he charged with running the Inquisition. I think it's a fair to say there's geocentrism in the Bible, although I think theologians should feel free to reinterpret it, but I doubt very much the Inquisition would have agreed with me.
The data right up to Galileo's day favored Ptolemy. Historian Thomas Kuhn notes that throughout the Middle Ages, people proposed the heliocentric alternative. "They were ridiculed and ignored," Kuhn writes, adding, "The reasons for the rejection were excellent." The Earth does not appear to move, and we can all witness the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening.Bellarmine "proposed" and Galileo "agreed"? He makes it look like an arm's length gentleman's agreement between friendly peers when it was anything but that.
It was an order from the Inquisition, with a threat of stronger action, and Bellarmine was in turn ordered to formally issue it to Galileo:
On February 24 the Qualifiers delivered their unanimous report: the idea that the Sun is stationary is "foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture..."; while the Earth's movement "receives the same judgement in philosophy and ... in regard to theological truth it is at least erroneous in faith."Never mind that this was an edict agreed to under duress. Never mind that when the Inquisition threatened "stronger action," they probably didn't mean hiring a collection agency. To D'Souza, this was a solemn agreement with an honorable institution, in which Galileo had "given his word," as if he were a modern person signing a contract to buy a house.
Unbelievable. But this continues in like vein, as if Galileo was duty bound to obey his masters, until eventually, he "dishonored" himself by cheating on them!
For several years, Galileo kept his word and continued his experiments and discussions without publicly advocating heliocentrism. Then he received the welcome news that Cardinal Maffeo Barberini had been named Pope Urban VIII. Barberini was a scientific "progressive," having fought to prevent Copernicus' work from being placed on the index of prohibited books. Barberini was a fan of Galileo and had even written a poem eulogizing him. Galileo was confident that now he could openly preach heliocentrism.How dare he! The sheer effrontery of Galileo!
Why, this is almost as dishonest as Benjamin Franklin breaking his indenture bond! Or a slave running away from the master he was duty bound to obey!
And despite his perfidious behavior, look how kindly Galileo was treated!
In 1633, Galileo returned to Rome, where he was again treated with respect. He might have prevailed in his trial, but during the investigation someone found Cardinal Bellarmine's notes in the files. Galileo had not told the present Inquisitors - he had not told anyone - of his previous agreement not to teach or advocate Copernicanism. Now he was viewed as having deceived the church as well as having failed to live up to his agreements. Even his church sympathizers, and there were several, found it difficult to defend him at this point.Oh my God! Galileo was not strictly honest! With the Inquisition! About opinions which were evidence of heresy!
I'm getting the feeling that D'Souza is just plain not on the same page of history that I'm on. OK, I admit my bias. I don't like the Inquisition. You know, Torquemada and all that. I don't consider it a nice or honorable thing to burn people alive for their opinions, and I see no duty towards such people to do be any more honest than is necessary to save your skin in the hope you might be able to somehow sneak through whatever contribution you might have to the advancement of human knowledge. Lying to the Inquisitors strikes me as about on the same level of dishonesty as lying to Stalinist commissars or Khmer Rouge officials.
I'm sorry, but this really comes down to good guys and bad guys, and I don't accept the Inquisitors as the good guys.
It has been widely repeated that Galileo whispered under his breath, "And yet it moves." Pure fabrication. There are no reports he said anything of the sort. One should be charitable toward his motives here. Perhaps he issued his denials out of weariness and frustration. Even so, the Inquisitors can also be excused for viewing Galileo as a flagrant liar. Galileo's defense, Arthur Koestler writes, was so "patently dishonest that his case would have been lost in any court." The Inquisition concluded Galileo did hold heliocentric views, which it demanded he recant. Galileo did, and he was sentenced to house arrest.Well, I'm glad we're finally going to show the ingrate a little charity towards his motives.
Weariness and frustration? Hey, I'm feeling that way reading through D'Souza's gray, bleak, and downright grim polemic. (Inquisition apologies -- especially from an apologist for Islamism -- leave me with an ugly feeling, and I've been putting off this post for three days.)
Contrary to the claims of Sam Harris and others, Galileo was never charged with heresy and never placed in a dungeon or tortured. After he recanted, Galileo was released into the custody of the archbishop of Siena, whose terrible punishment was to house him for five months in his own episcopal palace. Then he was permitted to return to his villa in Florence. Although technically under house arrest, he was able to visit his daughters at the Convent of San Mattero. The church also permitted him to continue his scientific work on matters unrelated to heliocentrism, and Galileo published important research during this period.More polemical twisting. He was charged with suspicion of heresy, but recanted:
Galileo was ordered to Rome to stand trial on suspicion of heresy in 1633, "for holding as true the false doctrine taught by some that the sun is the center of the world", against the 1616 condemnation, since "it was decided at the Holy Congregation [...] on 25 Feb 1616 that [...] the Holy Office would give you an injunction to abandon this doctrine, not to teach it to others, not to defend it, and not to treat of it; and that if you did not acquiesce in this injunction, you should be imprisoned". The sentence of the Inquisition was in three essential parts:Back to D'Souza:
Galileo died of natural causes in 1642. It was during subsequent decades, Kuhn reports, that newer and stronger evidence for the heliocentric theory emerged, and scientific opinion, divided in Galileo's time, became the consensus we share today.I guess burning Giordano Bruno at the stake was part of the harmony. By the way, the "gags" they used for burning at the stake were not mere pieces of cloth; they were iron contraptions like this which were inserted between the jaws, locked the tongue in place, and fastened around the neck in the back:
Being iron, of course the gag would have been reused. (I wonder how carefully they washed off the charred residue from the mouths of previous victims...)
(Sorry, I'm trying to have fun, but gallows humor is a bit of a strain where it comes to burning people alive.)
Back to D'Souza.
The church should not have tried Galileo. But his trials were conducted with comparative restraint. Galileo himself acted in bad faith, which no doubt contributed to his fate. Even so, that fate was not so terrible. Alfred North Whitehead, the noted historian of science, concludes from the case that "the worst that happened to men of science was that Galileo suffered an honorable detention and a mild reproof, before dying peacefully in his bed."Well, considering what could have happened to Galileo, and what did happen to others, yes, his trials were conducted with comparative restraint.
What bothers me the most about D'Souza is to see him so casually passed off as just another "conservative" by the MSM. He doesn't speak for me. If he is a conservative then I need to reevaluate the term.
I am sick of the game playing and the endless false dichotomies. Why, for example, must I choose between D'Souza and Dawkins? Between religious conservatism/fundamentalism and atheism?
What about neither?
Why don't more libertarians or centrists appear in the MSM as alternatives to the left?
This isn't quite the HITLER WASN'T SO BAD argument that Glenn linked earlier, but I've been increasingly concerned about the constant revisionism that's going on everywhere. If you think about it, if Bush is like Hitler, then could Hitler have really been so bad? And Torquemada -- was he really any different than, say, Donald Rumsfeld?
This is not to say that atheists (and demagogues like Glenn Greenwald) are not doing the same thing as D'Souza. A mischaracterization here, a twist there, and pretty soon all Christians are guilty of the Crusades, and the Inquisition.
Naturally, this makes D'Souza feel justified in retaliatory communitarianism, blaming all atheists for the crimes of some:
It's time to abandon the mindlessly repeated mantra that religious belief has been the greatest source of human conflict and violence. Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history.He elaborates at TownHall:
So in addition to the mountain of corpses that the God-hating regimes of Stalin, Mao, Pot Pot and others have produced, we must add the body count of the God-hating Nazi regime. The Nazis, like the Communists, deliberately targeted the churches and the believers because they wanted to create a new man and a new utopia freed from the shackles of traditional religion and traditional morality. In an earlier blog, I asked what is atheism's contribution to civilization? One answer to that question: Genocide.It would certainly be fair to say that anyone targeted by the Communists for not being atheist would be a victim of Communist atheism, but most of their victims were not killed for their religion, but because they were deemed class enemies, like the Kulaks in Russia and the landlord classes in China. To call Nazism atheism is, I think, a real stretch, as they were not all atheists. Many were Catholic, many were Lutheran, some were Muslim, and some claimed to be pagan revivalists.
But the argument is an attempt to conflate all atheists with Communists and Nazis:
Should religion now be blamed not only for the crimes committed in the name of God but also those committed in the name of atheism?That depends on whether atheism is the equivalent of religion, doesn't it? Are not atheism and theism both competing views of the unknown? If you kill people for disagreeing with your view of the unknown (which you contend to be known), then you are to blame for the killing. But to blame people who had nothing to do with the killing, simply because they shared the killers' view of the unknown, that strikes me as monumentally unfair.
To D'Souza, and to another atheist he cites (in the familiar pattern of "my way or the atheist way"), it's eminently fair:
Consider what the atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett says in discussing religion. He says judge it by its consequences: "By their fruits ye shall know them." Dennett says he doesn't care if these consequences were intended by the founders of the religion or if they represent its highest and noblest values. He writes: "It is true that religious fanatics are rarely if ever inspired or guided by the deepest and best tenets in those religions. So what? Al Qaeda and Hamas terrorism is still Islam's responsibility, and abortion clinic bombing is still Christianity's responsibility." Fine: I accept Dennett's standard. But then by the same criterion, the mass murders of atheist regimes are atheism's responsibility. If the ordinary Christian who has never burned anyone at the stake must bear some responsibility for what other self-styled Christians have done on behalf of religion, then atheists who think of themselves as the kinder, gentler type do not get to absolve themselves for the horrible suffering that their beliefs have unleashed in recent history. If Christianity has to answer for Torquemada, atheism has to answer for Stalin.Well, by that standard, hippies have to answer for Manson!
And clowns have to answer for Gacy. And law students have to answer for Bundy! Etc.
D'Souza or Dawkins? Sorry, but no thanks!
But it often seems that the sicker I get of fake dichotomies, the more there are.
Hey, if Dawkins gets to be Stalin, does that mean D'Souza gets to be Torquemada?
Seriously, it wasn't long ago that D'Souza performed a tap dance around Islamic terrorism, and now he's tap dancing around the Inquisition. It's a free country, and I defend his right to do either. But the more he does these things, the more I think he helps encourage the very nihilism he would condemn. There's nothing new about the post modernist view of bad guys as good and the good guys as bad.
An old idea, really. Because, in the days of the Inquisition, the bad guys were the good guys!
But if we're going to tap dance with Torquemada, doesn't it work better as comedy?
Maybe D'Souza doesn't go for the chorus lines with trendy tonsures and two-toned tap shoes.
Every man has his own view of torture...
But I draw the line at accusing Galileo of bad faith.
The text of Galileo's confession to various "heresies":
I, Galileo Galilei ... aged seventy years, being brought personally to judgement, and kneeling before you Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord Cardinals, General Inquisitor of the universal Christian republic against depravity ... swear that ... I will in future believe every article which the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Rome holds, teaches and preaches ... I held and believed that the sun is the center of the universe and is immovable, and that the earth is not the center and is movable; willing therefore, to remove from the minds of your Eminences, and of every Catholic Christian, this vehement suspicion [of heresy] rightfully entertained against me, ... I abjure, curse and detest the said errors and heresies,... and I swear that I will never more in future say or assert anything verbally or in writing, which may give rise to a similar suspicion against me ... But if it shall happen that I violate any of my said promises, oaths and protestations (which Go averts!), I subject myself to all the pain and punishments which have been decreed ... against delinquents of this description.A dishonest confession, to be sure. Why has D'Souza not condemned it?
posted by Eric on 11.28.07 at 12:29 AM
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