Galileo Galilei

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Everyone knows the name Galileo Galilei now days and reveres it. His observations were astonishing to say the least. He was a spokesperson for logic, mathematics and most importantly, scientific methodology. As respected as he is now, almost five centuries ago this was not the case. What is now accepted knowledge was seen as heretical in his time. It was indeed an uphill battle for him. To prove the Sun was stationary and that in fact it was the Earth orbiting it went completely against a Church-dominated society where the Bible was the ultimate authority in all things and science came second.

What Galileo did was an assault to their perfect reality. In those times everything was organized and perfectly explained. All objects outside Earth were perfect spheres held together in perfect symmetry. Galileo observed differently, in his letter The Starry Messenger he depicted our moon as he observed it. He observed features on it much like here on earth; there were craters and mountainous terrain, a far cry from perfect spheres. The moon was not the only heavenly body to be pull-down from perfection; the Sun has spots, it was not perfect as he described it on his Letters on Sunspots.

Of course, his retractors brought up any number of possible conclusions to explain the imperfect away. The Moon and Sun had to be perfect; many proposed the telescope was faulty or that even new starts were circling the Sun, all in an effort to maintain the status-quote. These were not the only observations Galileo made in his life-time; he discovered other moons belonging to another planet and a planet that had phases like our Moon. Galileo observed four moons orbiting Jupiter.

The fact these moons rotated around something besides the Earth itself showed not all heavenly bodies orbited Earth, as Aristotle and Ptolemy had assumed. The phases of Venus were also a big discovery as well since Galileo observed Venus had phases like the moon. The Ptolemic view predicted Venus should always be in a crescent phase since the sun was just beyond it at a fix point. Additionally, the Ptolemic system predicted Venus would never change shape since is at a fix distance from earth, but Galileo disproved all of these.

When he observed the different phases of Venus it meant the Sun was illuminating Venus at its center. Since Venus was orbiting the Sun and moving back and forth away from Earth, it explained Venus change in apparent size; meaning the farther away the smaller it looked and vice versa. Galileo observation on Venus supported what had been previously predicted by Copernicus. Galileo was among the first to realize that mathematics was needed in the study of the natural universe.

He was a strong advocate of this; he saw geometric shapes, weights and numbers all around us. He made great use of this while supporting the Copernican system in using time, distance, size as mathematical measurements. The great benefit being that mathematics is a precise language and one that can be methodologically followed and understood. The idea mathematics was the language of nature went completely against the mind-set of the time; in which philosophy and the teachings of the ancients were taken as absolute truths.

Mathematics would require a person to be less free with their philosophical imagination and more procedural, precise. This also would have made the individual think for himself instead of just accepting ancient philosophies matter-of-factly. This would have been seen as highly disrespectful and blasphemous which for the times it meant a threat to their reality. Nature was not just for the philosopher but it could be quantify and explain with mathematics.

Sequently, predictions could be issued base on mathematical observations of nature such as the law of falling objects discussed in the last book written in his life; The discourse of The Two New Sciences. Galileo discussed in the Two New Sciences that the path of any projectile is Parabolic or curved not straight. Galileo experimented with acceleration and proposed that all objects (in a vacuum) when dropped from the same high at the same time fall at the same rate. Additionally, he observed uniform acceleration in falling objects; that is to say a falling object increases speed at a predictable time rate.

He further stated that in absence of friction a rolling object can move indefinitely; this was his law of Inertia. In arguing for the Copernican system Galileo demonstrated he was well equipped in balancing church and science. Where others saw the Copernican system contradicting the Bible Galileo argued the Bible was open to interpretation; this also meant it was open to be misinterpreted, making the Copernican system not contradictory but misunderstood by those doing the misinterpreting.

He stated that science does not have to be against the Bible but it could be in its service; as was the case with the story of Joshua in which Galileo held the Ptolemy system to not be adequate to explain Joshua’s miracle day; for with Ptolemy’s system Joshua’s miracle day wouldn’t have lengthen but become shorter instead. Galileo also noted that nature and the divine word, being the Bible, both came from God and therefore could not be contradictory; each had its own individual purpose, the divine word for salvation and nature for the service of humanity.

Thus Galileo believed that the physical can be explained by science and the spiritual by the bible. Galileo was as much a great observer as he was a great debater, but he was not alone and there was no lack in adversaries. One counter argument could have gone as follows: Dear Grand Duchess Cristina; With nothing but the upmost respect and reverence I feel it is my duty to warn you about this so called scientist named Galileo Galilei, who seeks nothing but to upset the Church and confuse those of a lesser mind.

By now there’s no doubt that someone as well informed as you are has heard about this fellow, yet I still must warn you of his pervasive need to be right, despite all contradictory proofs. He seeks to negate common knowledge. This so call man of science dares not see what is evident that the earth is at the center for it is the heaviest of objects. It is absurd to postulate the earth moves; no one has seen it move before and if the earth did move why is it then that all heavenly spheres remain fixed in relation to each-other.

Not to mention, the Earth is made of rock not aether; it can’t possibly move. Finally, it is absolutely ludicrous for this gentleman to disregard common knowledge, all it’s held together ever-the-same, so perfectly in the crystal spheres; perfection need not change. Galileo never actually proved the Earth moved around the Sun, but it did not matter for he had done enough work to extrapolate it did. Much of the anger and fear projected at Galileo had to do with a threat to reality. The Church had to be right at all times for the Bible derived from God and God is perfection.

Even though, Aristotelian science came from Aristotle and not the Bible, it did not matter. The Aristotelian view had been with the Church for so long that they had become one in the same. Galileo was fighting an uphill battle, but armed with the tools of the new science, anyone could test his results for themselves. I think it was this ability to see for one’s self, to follow the mathematics to Galileo’s own conclusions that eventually did away with the Church’s grip over science. I think Galileo’s triumph over the Church marked modern science’s first main victory for the mind of man.

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