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On Trial For Reason: Science, Religion, and Culture in the Galileo Affair


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by Maurice A. Finocchiaro.



This is a book which was mentioned in another thread during 2019. As with many books, this may be somehow linked to investing but that could be too much of a stretch for many.


The book deals with the Galileo controversy(ies). The author is a ‘scholar’ and an ‘authority’ on the subject. The book is basically an updated summary of previous publications (which were also very good but perhaps too granular and detailed). The book may also interest readers who like to explore the intersection (clash?) between science and religion. Some may also see a parallel with today’s controversy about climate change (something the author does in other publications, using a balanced approach).


The geostatic and geocentric side had some merits and some fundamental flaws. That was not (and, to this day, is not) a binary question. The author does an excellent job at trying to distill Galileo’s intimate, personal and evolving position concerning the different hypotheses. It is interesting to see how Galileo, initially, on an evidence-based framework, rejected the Copernican view only to adopt it, based on the same framework, once direct observations with the telescope (1609) became available. Galileo was a fascinating human being: rational thinker, science foundational father, philosopher and a great writer. Like the author says, Galileo played a key part in defining the truth of nature and the nature of truth. Galileo was not only a precursor in scientific findings but also in the “method”.


In retrospect, even if the controversies persist to some degree on many levels, it can be said that Galileo was on the right side of the argument for the scientific hypotheses and for the method.


A takeaway from the book and Galileo’s story is that it must have been exceedingly difficult to stand against the crowd and various leaders of dogma opinions. I have incredible respect for the individual for what he accomplished but, in the grand scheme of things, I wonder if he shouldn’t have adopted the “strategy” used by Copernicus. In my view, the cognitive path leading Copernicus to describe the new world was even more impressive given the lack of direct observations available during his time on Earth. Copernicus was perhaps wise enough to have his major work opportunistically published right before his death. Despite a persisting myth, Galileo was not physically tortured but the mental torture must have been awful and I would say that he suffered unnecessarily.


The book does not cover the “And yet it moves” controversy, the famous words that may have been muttered around the recantation.

Much can learned from the book and the 2020 message (resolution?) may be that there is little to gain from yelling in the wind. Eppur si muove.



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