II. Galileo and the Church of Rome
(Reprinted from Bulletin of Tychonian Society, no.35-36, Jan.-Aug. 1983)
Whether a rehabilitation of Galileo will have been promulgated by the Vatican, and if so what form it will have taken, are questions without answer at the moment I am writing these lines. There are, however, straws in the wind that presage possibilities. One of these straws is a speech which the Pope, on May 9 of this year(1983), delivered to an audience of almost 200 scientists, among them 33 Nobel laureates and 22 cardinals in the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace in Rome.
To reproduce a translation of the complete French text, which recently has come in my possession through the kind offices of the Curia's Secretariat for Unbelievers, would demand too much of the Bulletin's cramped space and also be largely outside its scope. Suffice it here to quote the appraisal of Nature in the issue of May 12, 1983. The critic, Robert Walgate, called it "a most cautious and uncommitted speech on the subject", and "a piece of classic prevarication - no doubt enforced by ultra-conservative elements in the Church." I can understand why Walgate gives these grudging comments, for the Pontiff's words indeed do not strongly prejudge the issue. They still offer a ray of hope that the secular sciences will be shown the place where they belong: barely above the "raw" phenomena, but light-years lower than Divine Revelation.
Though John Paul's oration contains a carefully worded paean on the sciences and a vaguely phrased
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apology from the side of the Roman Church - it stops short of specifics, and must almost certainly have irritated many of the zealots for Galileo's vindication among his audience. The convener of the meeting, Professor Antonino Zichichi, so concludes, for instance, the clearly disappointed Nature, "will have to continue longer with his efforts to persuade the Church finally to rehabilitate the 'father of science'".
I of course hope that Zichichi will never succeed in those efforts. And to hope this is, it seems to me, not hopeless. For almost at the end of his discourse the Pope put a restriction on what he called science's "admirable task." "To be sure," he told his hearers, "your specialization imposes on you indispensable rules and limitations in your investigations, but let outside these epistemological boundaries the inclination of your spirit carry you to the universal and the absolute."
It is this sentence which compelled me to send Karol Wojtyla, Bishop of Rome, the following letter.
Pitt Meadows, September 30, 1983
Only recently I have been able to study the complete text of your speech of May 9, 1983 about the Galileo affair. A critic in the scientific periodical Nature of May 12 called it "a piece of classic prevarication", a sentiment, which from his point of view I can understand, but do not share. Quite the contrary. For, unless I completely misunderstand the closing paragraph of your oration, I conclude from your
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mentioning the epistemological boundaries set to science and research that you, in concord with the instrumentalist views of, e.g. Thomas Aquinas, Robert Bellarmine, Pierre Duhem and virtually all modern philosophers of science, quietly wanted to remind and to warn your audience that at bottom the Galilei case is not a physical but a philosophical dispute. For the proud and myopic scientific realism of the Newtonian period with its "Science has proven that..." is not only lingering on among laymen, but also among the learned cadres of today, notwithstanding the devastating criticisms of a Sir Karl Popper, a Kurt Gödel, and their numerous disciples everywhere.
Man will "on his own" never reach absolute truth. However rationally and emotionally compelling a scientific theory "saves the appearances", there may be a better one that research has not yet stumbled on - to this appraisal by the sages of the ages the modern philosophy of science happily again has returned.
You are undoubtedly aware that according to the prevailing Einsteinian adage the pre-Copernican viewpoint, to quote Sir Fred Hoyle, is "as good as anyone else's - but no better", all motion at the present held to be relative in a finite but unbounded Universe of which the circumference is nowhere and the centre everywhere. Inevitably however, any discussion about motion assumes a shared preconception of rest. Or, as the late philosopher of knowledge, Polanyi, with admirable candor, formulates it: "every object we perceive is set off by us instinctively against a background which is taken to be at rest".
Overlooking the obvious question whether astronomical statements procured on such a sub-logical
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basis should ever be seriously considered, Christians, surely, have no need to build their cosmology on an instinctive, unverifiable notion. They believe, and therefore know, that there exists a higher mode of being than the one in which they temporarily find themselves alive, and that only observed from that mode, from the Great White Throne of Almighty God, the last Word about absolute motion and absolute rest can be ex cathedra proclaimed. And has been proclaimed!
During the first sixteen centuries of the Ecclesia Christi, she, on authority of the Divine Revelation entrusted to her, held on to an unmoved Earth hung upon nothing in the centre of the observable Universe, the unaided senses of all men daily attesting to the veracity of this proposition. Be it since 1822 hushed up, officially this is still your Church's position. And I submit that there is not the slightest need for her to change this traditional attitude. Empirical science has no voice in the matter, since, says the late atheist Bertrand Russell, it "ought not to contain a metaphysical assumption which can never be proved or disproved, by observation - and no observations can distinguish the rotation of the earth from the revolution of the heavens".
On the immanent level Galilei was not completely wrong but only relatively right. Imagine the Earth as seen from the Sun, then she indeed revolves around it. Seen from the Earth it is contrariwise the Sun that runs the annual course Copernicus assigned to us. Their motions are relative, and the irony of ironies certainly is that in Galileo's Dialogue not super-clever Salviati but simpleton Simplicio, during the discussion about revolving sunspots, states this simple truth on which Einstein could build his theories!
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Much more could be adduced, on the transcendent as well as on the immanent, exegetical, and scientific levels, to clinch the case for the ultimately geocentric position that your Church has not yet abandoned. I am sure that you are aware of those data, (comprehensively discussed in the Bulletins of the Tychonian Society, which, if so desired, I shall be happy to send you).
In 1633 your predecessor was right in condemning Galilei's unproven assertion, but the Church he unnecessarily exposed to the ridicule of men attempting to know what cannot be known, but only believed on the authority of Him, Who cannot lie. Wiser would have been to dismiss the affair and to cut it down to size by flatly stating that she had - and still has! -more important things to do than busying herself with time-bound scientific theories that come and go ad infinitum. Andrew Dickson White's notorious History of the Warfare of Science with Theology could then not have been written, and today the sagacity of such a stance would begin to compel the grudging respect due to it among those again wise enough to realize that the truth behind the veil of the facts - that is behind our perceptions of reality, the only things we have - cannot be unveiled, but only revealed - if He is there! - by the God, Who created those facts and the laws of the modes in which they appear to us. None of mankind's "proofs", not even in mathematics, finally touch bottom in the infinite. As Annie Dillard recently put it in a marvelous metaphor which, I am sure, you will appreciate: "I think science works the way a tightrope walker works: by not looking at its feet As soon as it looks at its feet it realizes it is operating in midair."
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Allow me to end with Bellarmine: only if not - as still is the case - by means of an invalid modus ponendo ponens, but experimentally it would be demonstrated that the Earth, moving through space, circles the Sun, "then it would be necessary to proceed with great caution in explaining the passages of Scripture, which seemed contrary, and we would rather have to say that we did not understand them than to say that something was false, which has been demonstrated."
Until today that required hard-nosed and logically impeccable demonstration has not been given, and is according to the ruling theory impossible to give. Why then should the Bible have to buckle under the weight of an hypothesis about a motion that cannot be shown to be a motion?
With the prayer that He, Who created the Universe and Who is the only One for Whom this Universe is truly an object, may prevent you from judging the fallible word of man more trustworthy than His Infallible Word, I remain,
With due respect,
W. van der Kamp
In this letter I have restricted myself to the logical point at issue. The Bulletin cannot tackle the frightful complexity of all that is at stake in the matter which the Secretariat for Unbelievers and its advisors have to settle. Only a few remarks I allow myself.
I shall be the last to deny that the sciences have improved the human condition. But whether sub specie
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aeternitatis, the ledger shows a credit balance? Interpreting Scripture with the insights we owe to postCopernican research, the Bible is supposed to reveal to us that God Almighty needed not six days, but six or more billion years to produce people who, after about six thousand years of steadily progressing civilization, now are capable of destroying themselves and their world. For the Day of Judgment, warningly foretold in God's Word, secular science also has a more pleasing substitute. Read a Jastrow and his compatriots: if humanity will take its marching orders from trustworthy scientific prophesy it may confidently expect a glorious future and a kind of immortality in the extra-terrestrial conquests of its computer-programmed descendants.
Does the Pope really expect a harvest for Heaven from cooperation with these men? Does he think that by throwing St. Bellarmine to the wolves they will become sheep flocking to his Church - urging their followers to follow them and to accept all those unscientific "essentials of the faith"?
The spirit of Vatican II was supposed to work great things. Indeed it did. Exactly what has happened to the "liberalizing" major Protestant denominations now happens to the Roman Church: its adherents leave in droves, its seminaries lack the necessary novices, its schools are closing, its priests preach higher criticism. Rehabilitation of Galileo - John Paul II must be blinded not to see this - will only accelerate this trend. Not reverse it!
Nobody can reasonably expect from a Calvinist that he would mourn if the believers who turn their backs on "modern" Catholicism would join one of the smaller "fundamentalist" denominations that still hold fairly fast
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to the traditions delivered to them. These believers will not, I am afraid. But if they did: how many among those groups are not infected by evolutionism, that latest pernicious consequence of the Copernican turn-about? And among those churches that still resolutely reject Darwinism - how many dare to face the worldly ridicule awaiting them for proclaiming with the Psalmist an Earth that cannot be moved?
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1. Fred Hoyle, Astronomy and Cosmology, SanFrancisco, W.H. Freeman & Company, 1975, p.48.
Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances. New York, Harcourt Brace & World, Inc., Harbinger Book, p.164.
2. Ronald W. Clark, Einstein. The Life and Times. New York, Company 1971, p.80.
3. Quoted in D.W. Sciama, The Unity of the Universe. New York, Doubleday 1961, p.102-103.
4. William G. Pollard, Rumours of Transcendence in Physics, in American Journal of Physics. 52(10), October 1984, p. 881.
5. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge. New York Harper & Row,1964, p. 12.
6. C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1956, p.26.
7. H.L.Armstrong, What Did the M.M. Experiment Really Show?, Bulletin of the Tychonian Society, May-June 1977, no.16, p.5.
8. Martin Gardner, The Relativity Explosion. New York, Random House, 1976, p.135.
9. Ibid. p.87
10. P. Birch, Is the Universe Rotating?, Nature 1982,298. pp. 451A54.
11. Fred Hoyle, The Intelligent Universe. London, Michael Joseph Ltd., 1983, Criticism quoted in Creation Vol.3, no.9,1985, p.4.
12. Lincoln Barnett, The Universe and Dr. Einstein. New York, NAL,1959, pp.9 and 73.
13. Lewis Thomas, On Science & Uncertainty, Discover Oct.1980, p.58
14. George Berkeley, Works, London, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd.,1951, Vol W, p.46.
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15. See, e.g., Loyd Swenson Jr., The Ethereal Aether. Austin, University of Texas Press, 1972.
16. J.D. van der Waals, Ober den wereldaether. Haarlem, Erven Bohn,1929, pp.66-87.
17. Morris R. Cohen and Ernest Nagel, An Introduction to Logic. New York, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962, p.98.
18. van der Waals, Wereldaether. p.74.
19. Herbert Dingle, Science at the Crossroads. London, Martin Brian & O'Keeffe, 1972, p.207.
20. G.B. Airy, On a supposed alteration in the amount of Astronomical Aberration of light, produced by the passage of light through a considerable thickness of Refracting Medium. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London, 1871, pp.35-39.
21. Quoted in Gerardus D. Bouw, With Every Wind of Doctrine. privately published, 1984, p.187.
22. Ibid. p.188.
23. Albert A. Michelson and Edward W. Morley, Influence ofMotionof the Medium on the Velocity of Light, American Journal of Science. 1886, p.270.
24. A.C.S. van Heel and C.H.F. Velzel, What is Light. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1968, pp.179-180.
25. van der Waals, Wereldaether. pp. 78~80.
26. Ibid. p.81.
27. Francis A. Jenkins and Harvey E. White, Fundamentals of Optics. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1957, p.397.
29. van der Waals, Wereldaether. p.78.
30. van Heel and Velzel, What is Light. pp.180-181.
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31. Albert A. Michelson and Edward W. Morley, On the Relative Motion of the Earth and the Luminiferous Ether, American Journal of Science. Third Series, Vol XXXIV No.203-Nov. 1887, pp. 333-345.
32. Ibid. p.341.
33. van Heel and Velzel, What is Light. p.184.
34. S. Tolansky, An Introduction to Interferometry New York, John Wiley & Sons, 1973, p. 98.
35. Swenson, Ethereal Aether. p.118.
36. Bernard Jaffe, Michelson and the Speed of Light. Garden City Doubleday & Company 1960, p.80.
37. Sciama, Unity. loc. cit.
38. L. Essen, The Special Theory of Relativity. London, Oxford University Press, 1971, pp.4-5.
39. Swenson, Ethereal Aether. p.24.
40. Ibid., p.XXI.
41. Gardner, Relativity Explosion. pp.113414.
42. Quoted in Edward R. Harrison, Cosmology. Cambridge University Press, 1981, p.226.
43. Quoted in Dean Turner & Richard Hazelett, The Einstein Mvth and the Ives Papers. Old Greenwich, The Devin Adair Company 1979, p.154.
44. Jenkins & White, Optics. pp. 404-405.
45. A.A. Michelson & Henry G. Gale, The Effect of the Earth's Rotation on the Velocity of Light, Astrophysical Journal. Vol LXI, April 1925, No.3, pp.137-145.
See also. Saignac, Ives, etc. in Turner & Hazelett, Einstein Myth
46. Jenkins & White, Optics. bc. cit.