Galileo and the Catholic Church Got in a Fight. Here’s Why.

By pintswaquinas July 2, 2024

Whenever secularists claim that the Catholic Church is anti-science, they usually bring up the infamous case of the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564–1642). Supposedly, the Church condemned and tortured Galileo for suggesting that the Earth and other planets go around the sun (heliocentrism). Many scientists at the time thought that the sun went around the earth (geocentrism).

It’s true that Galileo and the Church ran into conflict, but the story is more complicated than current retellings suggest.

At the time there were scientific arguments against heliocentrism.
Galileo struggled to prove heliocentrism, but pressured everyone to accept it. The Church and many scientists were more cautious.

Galileo’s challengers noted that if heliocentrism were true, we should see parallax shifts in the stars’ positions, but we don’t. (A parallax is when it looks like something you’re observing has moved when really you were the one who moved.) Galileo failed to respond to this challenge.

Further, Galileo claimed that the ocean’s waves were caused by the movement of the Earth. Scholars found this argument ridiculous.

Galileo mocked the Pope.
Pope Urban VII was actually open to Galileo’s ideas, but he urged caution since the scientist had so much riding against him. He gave Galileo permission to write a book where characters discuss the pros and cons of the geocentric and heliocentric models of the universe.

Galileo published the book under the title, “Dialogue Concerning Two Chief World Systems.” He named the proponent for geocentrism “Simplicio” (meaning “Simpleton”). The character became a mouthpiece for Pope Urban’s geocentric arguments. Unsurprisingly, the Pope took offense at being portrayed as a buffoon.

The Church eventually commanded Galileo to stop teaching heliocentrism, mostly because it was fed up with his behavior. It never officially condemned the heliocentric position as heresy.

Church authorities never tortured Galileo or even threw him into prison. He was put under a fairly comfortable house arrest in a country villa.

Did the Church handle this case perfectly? No. But the modern retelling of the brave scientist versus the science-hating Church is simply a myth.


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