Even Galileo was free to believe what he wanted

Myth 7 in Galileo Goes to Jail is that Giordano Bruno was a martyr for science; the author, Jole Shackelford, corrects this by pointing out that Bruno was burned alive for heresy, not science. Oh; that’s all right then.

He sets the stage by quoting from…guess…The Warfare of Science (1876), by Andrew Dickson White. The White-Draper thesis is the great bugbear of the revisionists on this subject, and after awhile one starts to wonder why it is so urgent to correct the mistakes of a history (however influential) dated 1876.

Whatever. White made the mistake of implying that Bruno was killed for being a Copernican when in fact he was killed for being a heretic. All right – he was killed for being a heretic. And?

And he had some nerve, that’s what.

How did this defrocked monk and unrepentant heretic who denied the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – the key to Catholic teaching of redemption and eternal life – come to be “the world’s first martyr to science”? [p 63]

Does that read like straight secular history to you? It doesn’t to me. It reads like indignant Catholic history. It reads as if Shackelford takes heresy for granted and thinks Bruno should have repented for it, and as if he thinks Bruno was very wrong to “deny” the “doctrine” of the “Holy Trinity” and also as if he thinks redemption and eternal life are meaningful concepts and things it is possible to have. The article doesn’t read like that throughout, but it often comes close. There’s a strange deafness to the possibility that “heresy” is not a crime and that killing people for it could have a chilling effect on free inquiry.

The Catholic church did not impose thought control on astronomers, and even Galileo was free to believe what he wanted about the position and mobility of the earth, so long as he did not teach the Copernican hypothesis as a truth on which Holy Scripture had no bearing.

Oh I see – liberality itself then. He could think what he liked, provided he shut up about it, but as for saying it aloud – well really. How dare he.

More later.

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