The Galileo myths

By Ken Perrott 30/03/2011 29

Dr Marc Crislip

For a while there I had wondered if I was the only one who noticed the current attempts of theistically motivated historians and philosophers to rewrite the history of the Galileo affair. But no, greater minds have come to a similar conclusions. I picked up this quote from Marc Crislip on the most recent podcast of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe:

“Galileo was a man of science oppressed by the irrational and superstitious. Today, he is used by the irrational and the superstitious who say they are being oppressed by science. So 1984.”

So true.

Last year was the International Year of Astronomy, celebrating in part Galileo’s original use of a telescope to observe heavenly bodies. An important celebration for science.

But it was also taken up by Christian apologists, historians and philosophers. A number of books were published rewriting the history in a way more sympathetic to the church. Opinion pieces were written and the apologist blogs eagerly leaped on the bandwagon. An all too common atmosphere of martyrdom was spread. George Sim Johnston, wrote recently on the Catholic Education Resource Centre blog that “the Galileo case is one of the historical bludgeons that are used to beat on the Church.”

Galileo and Sakharov

Andrei Sakharov – credit Wikipedia

So there you are – the Church was the victim in the Galileo affair! Bloody hell – that’s like say the Soviet leader Leonid Breshnev was being persecuted by Andrei Sakharov when this great scientist and Nobel peace Prize winner (Sakharov) was exiled to the city of Gorky for criticising the Soviet government. And that history should be rewritten to reflect that interpretation!

So the honest history of the Galileo affair offends the church. It must be rewritten? The orders have gone out. Faithful historians, opinion piece writers and bloggers have followed their commands.

So we get claims that actually “Galileo was wrong!” That because of Einsteinian relativity one cannot detect a difference between a heliocentric and geocentric solar system! (That will have Einstein spinning in his grave.)

That Galileo was wrong about his support for heliocentricism because his detailed attempt to explain the tides was incorrect (so was everyone elses – gravitational theory had yet to appear).

Galileo was wrong because somebody thinks that an experiment he referred to using the leaning tower of Pisa may have been done by student or been a “thought experiment.”

Or that genuine historians are persecuting the church because they are perpetuating a myth that the church had tortured Galileo and imprisoned him.

A Clayton’s myth

This later myth is really a “Clayton’s myth.*” A myth you have when you don’t have a myth. Because no-one of any understanding promotes it yet those who wish to present themselves as victims claim it is being used as a bludgeon.

Maurice A. Finocchiaro puts this myth into context. He has investigated the available documents thoroughly and in his chapter of the book with the same name,  ’Myth 8: That Galileo was imprisoned and tortured for advocating Copernicanism,’ he concludes:

“We should keep in mind, however, that for 150 years after the trial the publicly available evidence indicated that Galileo had been imprisoned, and for 250 years the evidence indicated that he had been tortured. The myths of Galileo’s torture and imprisonment are thus genuine myths: ideas that are in fact false but once seemed true–and continue to be accepted as true by poorly educated persons and careless scholars.’

That is this myth gained traction initially because the only document available was the Inquisition’s sentence which implied torture had at least been threatened if not used and that he was to be imprisoned. Many years later, with our access to more material, no serious historian appears to be perpetuating the myth.

But apologists are perpetuating their own myth that they are the victims of misrepresentation.

The basic question

There is a sense in which popular understanding of the Galileo affair is not quite right or incomplete. When one peruses the documents we find that the real issue was not a conflict between Galileo’s support for  a heliocentric solar system and the Catholic Church’s insistence on a geocentric solar system. It was actually more basic than this.

Galileo’s crime in the eyes of the church was his temerity in holding a belief which the church had decreed he should not. They saw this as an intrusion into theology, and in arguments strikingly similar to those being used today against some atheist scientists, they charged that Galileo was intruding into forbidden territory. He should have left theology to the theologians. Sound familiar?

Galileo had effectively been arguing, as a faithful Christian himself, that when there was a conflict between evidence based ideas and scripture the evidence based ideas should be held as correct. Scripture being far more abstract required interpretation and these conflicts just meant that more interpretation of the scripture was required.

The predominance he gave to evidence and testing ideas against reality rather than scripture was a necessary step in the scientific revolution leading to modern science. This makes the history of the Galileo affair important for our appreciation of scientific progress today. It is this basic aspect, rather than Galileo’s’ support for Copernicanism, which needs more historical research and presentation.

And none of this is helped by religious apologists promoting their own myth – that they are the victims and the truth about the affair is being used as a bludgeon to beat on them.

* A local saying derived from the advertising campaign for a non-alcoholic drink – “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”.

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29 Responses to “The Galileo myths”

  • Very well said, Ken!

    And also, thanks for the pic of Dr Crislip – now I can put a face to the voice when I listen to his podcasts :-)

  • Clever John – a double or triple dig!
    Because of course special relativity applies to unifrom linear motion, not rotating or accelerating bodies. Which is the mistake those who wish to disprove Galileo with Eistein make.

  • Well said? Hardly. I still don’t know where to start!

    It is a bit sad that this blog post resorts to attacking strawmen and other fallacious arguments before finally asserting conclusion that just didn’t follow from the arguments.

    Firstly the apologists aren’t saying that the Church was the victim of the Galileo trial itself, they are saying that they have been the victim of the myth that Galileo was tortured. It’s not very convincing to ridicule the first position (which no one seems to advocate) and then conclude that therefore the second position is false.

    Next there is the assertion that historians have some kind of concensus that Galileo was tortured. And then a display of the “No true Scotsman” fallacy in saying that no real historians doubt Galileo’s torture. I couldn’t find anyone (certainly no historians), other than atheist bloggers of a particular stripe who has studied that matter and concluded that Galileo was tortured.

    I don’t think the people who think they are using Einstein to ‘disprove’ Galileo are representantive of the Christian apologists at all. And yet the implications of the blog post seems to be that they must hold this position and therefore are wrong in the historical aspects, even though >99% don’t hold that position and it wouldn’t affect the historical truth of the matter.

    And why do you quote a historian who disagrees with your thesis, and then merely assert that new documents and new historians debunked him since? And yet you won’t name what this evidence or who these people are? And yet one would think it would be a big news story if they had proved it? As you have presented it, I think it would be strange that anyone would find it persuasive.

    There are several good reasons to think that Galileo was almost certainly not tortured. Firstly the legal regulations (1.) would not have allowed it, and historical evidence shows that these were followed very strictly. Secondly, the Tuscan Ambassador (a close friend of Galileo) would have surely noted torture in his reports to the Duke on Galileo’s condition, but he did no such thing.

    1. “Directory for Inquisitors, by Friar Nicholas Eymeric, of the Order of Preachers; Commentated by Francis Pegna, S. T. D. and J. U. D., Auditor of Causes in the Apostolic Palace.” Part III., on the “Practice of the Inquisatorial Office,” chapter on the “Third Way of Ending a Trial for Faith.” Venice, 1595.

    Perhaps you could supplement the blog post with something convincing?

  • Chris, it’s not clear what is upsetting you as you seem a bit confused about my article let’s try and clarify things.

    1:  My reference was to Johnson who wrote:  “the Galileo case is one of the historical bludgeons that are used to beat on the Church.” He simply says “the Galileo case” – not claims of torture. The church is quite embarrassed enough about that affair without the addition of torture.

    2: I did not claim “that no real historians doubt Galileo’s torture.” Quite the opposite. Nowadays with the availability of more documentation no reputable scholar claims this. The myth may have been common in the period after the trial when only the sentence itself was available as that did imply torture and imprisonment.

    You claim that atheists today “concluded that Galileo was tortured.” Who are these? I myself haven’t come across any atheist with knowledge in this area making such a claim. Or is this just a bludgeon being used against atheists in general?

    3: I provided examples of arguments used by apologists to “prove” Galileo wrong. Of course not all arguments are used by all apologists. References to tides is relatively common. I have found several making the mistake of using relativity (I had a long debate with local philosopher of religion Glenn Peoples about this claim – he was stubbornly adamant as always). But it is such a silly claim I would be surprised to find it to be common.

    But the apologist claim that the “torture and imprisonment myth is common and asserted by knowledgeable atheists” is common and you assert it yourself. As I have said I just font see any truth in that apologist claim.

    4: I did not “quote a historian who disagrees with [my] thesis.” Quite the opposite.

    I can only conclude that you have completely misread my article or had a knee jerk reaction to it.

    In my experience the word “Galileo” does get the knees of Christian apologists jerking.

  • Hi Ken,

    I misread your article, and I apologise, I will explain shortly where I misinterpreted you.


  • Hi Ken,

    I concede the points you have labelled 2. and 4. However I think you are wrong in relation to points 1. and 3., that is I think it is clear that an often voiced opinion is that Galileo was tortured.

    My misreading of your article comes from two sections:

    “For a while there I had wondered if I was the only one who noticed the current attempts of theistically motivated historians and philosophers to rewrite the history of the Galileo affair. ”

    (I mistook this as advocacy for the myth that Galileo was tortured, which I think is fair enough, it is still pretty common to find people who say the church tortured Galileo, not least in the media)

    And in the list of a litany of faults you find with Christian apologists:
    “Or that genuine historians are persecuting the church because they are perpetuating a myth that the church had tortured Galileo and imprisoned him”

    (Here I thought you were saying that the apologists mistake was thinking that Galileo’s torture is a myth, rather than saying they are wrong to think “real historians are saying Galileo was tortured”.)

    So, sorry about that, having misread those passages, the article seemed to be a “Galileo was tortured” tract.

    With regard to point 3.:
    That said I don’t think that the Christian apologists are unwarranted in leaping to the Galileo case in recent times. Sam Harris and Stephen Fry are just two examples of high profile atheists which have said Galileo was tortured (look at the transcript the Intelligence^2 debate if you don’t believe me), as have media organisations, such as the NY Times, the Independent etc… And anecdotally a number of people have said Galileo was tortured (even to death!) within my earshot in recent years.

    In reference to point 1.
    In light of the “Galileo was tortured” myth actually being quite widespread and widely voiced, I think it would be fair to accept that Mr Johnston means the “Galileo was tortured” case when he says “Galileo case”, afterall, “Galileo case” could refer to any number of things. Being beaten with the “Galileo was tortured” stick, is probably what these apologists are militating against.

    Again, very sorry for thinking you were saying Galileo was tortured. However it is more common that you seem to think!

  • OK, Chris, apology accepted.

    Maybe you think my writing was not sufficiently precise – I was trying to make a difficult point. But your knee jerk response probably also supports my point – that there is a myth out there that “atheists” and “scientists” are claiming Galileo was jailed and tortured. I have several times had this charge laud against me and found those making it extremely unwilling to concede their mistakes.

    I really don’t see any evidence for that claim. And I note you yourself do not supply anything of substance. Reference to a debate are hardly easily checked and I am sure if one checked all that was said in that specific debate by both sides one would find many errors (eg the common apologist myth that Hitler was an atheist). That’s the nature if debates.

    No. What about a paper or book by an atheist historian or specialist in the history or philosophy of science?

    I reject your assertion “the “Galileo was tortured” myth actually being quite widespread and widely voiced” – that was the point of my article. It is an apologist myth. That’s why I asked for proper evidence.

    It’s just not good enough to make the vague claim that the original myth is “more common that you seem to think!” especially today when there has been so much research.

  • Okay Ken,

    I already gave you some examples of well known atheists that are saying Galileo was torture. Here are a couple:

    Sam Harris in his book “The End of Faith” repeats that Galileo was tortured. Stephen Fry, after Hitchens had earlier brought up the topic of Galileo, says “…reference was made to Galileo and the fact that he was tortured, for trying to explain the Copernican theory of the Universe says “.

    Sure, they aren’t historians, but is that what is needed before a response from an apologist is justifiable? The fact is atheist historians and philosophers of science aren’t getting as much (or any) media time compared to pop atheists and authours.

    I agree that modern research community doesn’t give much credence to the torture myth, but they aren’t the people that are getting air time on the matter, it is Harris, Fry et al.

    It’s a bit unfair then, to say it’s a knee jerk reaction for people to respond to pop atheists. Just because there are some atheists who do know the truth of the matter doesn’t mean that the ones who are misinforming people aren’t getting their message out there more efficiently and that apologists should respond to it.

    If that were true, then you and I would be silly for taking creationists to task. It doesn’t seem that people of any real understanding hold it to be true, and yet creationists get a large share of this media and cultural talk time. Not a perfect analogy, I admit.

  • I probably should edit my spelling before posting replies! “Galileo was torture” (I’m sure he was a nice guy to hang around with once you got to know him!).

  • Here is the problem Chris (and this is why I am say that it is an aplogist myth that atheist and atheist scientists are claiming that Galoileo was tortured and imprison):

    You are asked for evidence to back up your claim that there is an atheist myth being promoted. (you say, for example: “the “Galileo was tortured” myth actually being quite widespread and widely voiced,”).

    You produce one reference to a debate – hardly a credible source. Can’t be checked easily and all sorts of things can be said in the heat of a debate (eg the old Hitler was an atheist or Darwinist lie).

    Your only reference which could be credible is that to Sam Harris’s book. You say “Sam Harris in his book “The End of Faith” repeats that Galileo was tortured. “

    Now I have that book, in electronic forms, and have checked. The index gives one reference to Galileo (p 105). This is:
    “Although not a single leader of the Third Reich—not even Hitler himself—was ever excommunicated, Galileo was not absolved of heresy until 1992.”

    There is no other mention of Galileo in the book. I have searched both a pdf and epub version – no other reference!

    It is possible if I had the time to watch the debate video again (I have it somewhere) I might find your claim of Stephen Fry’s comment is also without basis).

    So, Chris, I have had a look at your claims. They don’t hold water – although, I agree, they may be a common belief in some circles.

    Consequently I stick with my idea that the story there is a widespread myth that Galileo was tortured and imprisoned and that it is being promoted commonly by athesiests (pop or otherwise) is in itself a christian apologist myth.

    Re the question of acceptance of creationism. The survey data show that even in NZ about 24% of the population accept creationism, reject evolutionary science. This indicates that about 40% of NZ’s Christians probably reject a fundamental scientific picture. That rejection is activiely promoted – it has to be taken seriously. I beleive that responsible Christians should be working hard to challenges such anti-science thinking in their midst.

    But I see no active promotion of the Galileo was tortured myth – just the promotion of the apologist myth that atheists are promoting the tortured myth! It is this later myth I am trying to challenge.

  • Okay Ken, look again at my claims:

    Firstly, you are wrong to reject a debate (actually more of a speech) as a credible source, because the question in contention is one about the extent of promotion in popular culture. We aren’t talking about some matter of scientific contention where we might limit ourselves to evidence presented in the peer reviewed literature. If you go to: 02:49 you can see for yourself the claim.

    This is a debate that went viral on the internet, and whether it was said in the heat of the moment or not (seems pretty calm), it is still active promotion of the idea that Galileo was tortured by one of the more famous atheist personalities of our time. I think this alone is enough to justify apologists thinking (and rightly so) that the idea Galileo was tortured is still common place in the mind of many people.

    If you can’t see active promotion of the torture myth then maybe you aren’t trying to look! At the very least before you publicly ridicule those apologists you could have tried to see whether there was any good reason for them to think that people were popularising the torture idea, which cf Stephen Fry, there is.

    re Sam Harris, if you have still have that book open on that page (might be the next one, I don’t know what edition you have) it says: that the church was “torturing scholars to the point of madness for merely speculating about the nature of the stars”. It isn’t in the same sentence as the word Galileo but surely it isn’t completely unreasonable to think it is referring to him?

  • Found you reference, Chris – about 10 pages before reference to Galileo – obviously not meant to be connected.

    Harris says:
    “When we consider that so few generations had passed since the church left off disemboweling innocent men before the eyes of their families, burning old women alive in public squares, and torturing scholars to the point of madness for merely speculating about the nature of the stars, it is perhaps little wonder that it failed to think anything had gone terribly amiss in Germany during the war years.
    Indeed, it is also well known that certain Vatican officials (the most notorious of whom was Bishop Alois Hudal) helped members of the SS like Adolf Eichmann, Martin Bormann, Heinrich Mueller, Franz Stangl, and hundreds of others escape to South America and the Middle East in the aftermath of the war.”

    Sure, he’s ripping into the Church and one can debate these claims but they aren’t relevant to Galielo.

    (As an aside – maybe some people get the Bruno case mixed up with Galileo. he was brutally murdered).

    You have only the debate (with all its limitations), or 1 or 2 seconds of it, to fall back on to claim:

    “I think this alone is enough to justify apologists thinking (and rightly so) that the idea Galileo was tortured is still common place in the mind of many people. “

    Bloody hell – from memory it was an excellent debate and many people were really impressed with Fry, but it “alone” (and only 1 or 2 seconds of it), certainly doesn’t justify such a myth.

    (This reminds me of the old lady complaining to the police about pornographic activity by a neighbour. When asked for evidence she described how she stood on a chair, looked out her high window with a pair of binoculars, caught a small glimpst of a neighbour undressing in prepartion for bed – and called it pornogrpahy.)

    You say “If you can’t see active promotion of the torture myth then maybe you aren’t trying to look! ” – Clearly I have looked – drawn a provisional conclusion – mistakenly challenged by you and others – asked for evidence. And look at the skimpy result.

    Yet I have several times been accused of promoting the torture myth (you yourelf made that accusation), and also the myth that the Catholic Church taught that the earth was flat. This by a vocal, local theologian. Clearly there is some myth making going on but it is not by me. I am familiar with my own thoughrts and writings.

  • Ken, I can see that we are just going to get fustrated over this. I wrongly accused you of promoting the torture myth because of some pretty unclear use of language in your orignial post.

    If you can’t see that Stephen Fry clearly says that Galileo was tortured in what many people regard as “an excellent debate” then we really aren’t going anywhere. If you can’t explain the comment away by claiming some other part of the debate means Stephen didn’t say what he said, then the point stands.

    The Stephen Fry quote is enough of a counter example to sink your claim that apologists are unduly spreading a “Galileo torture myth” myth. Do you think that a large number of people didn’t nod their head in agreement at the assertion that Galileo was tortured? If it wasn’t a widespread myth, wouldn’t you have been struck by surprise when you heard him say it? Regretably, the requirement for an idea to be popularised and widespread is not that informed historians privately hold the view, but rather the influence that people have in public airing of their ideas.

    Ken, you must have an older edition of Sam Harris’s book? The first edition printed in 2005 by Norton &Company Inc. N.Y. has that quote on the same page after talking about Galileo. I agree that he could mean Bruno, but it is a widespread misconception that Galileo was tortured and being immediately after it would have lead some readers to think Galileo had been tortured. Perhaps Sam Harris decided to revise his book because of the potential for misleading people? Kudos to him if he has.

    Sure but it also reminds me of the old lady who thought some Christian apologists were unduly attacking a myth because noone voices the myth even though a particularly famous atheist did so in a speech which she herself had seen and been impressed by said atheist.

  • Sure Chris, we are not going to convice each other. The main protagonists in an Internet discussion are rarely moved. However, I think this has been a useful discussion for others who will have had the chance to see how poorly this particular myth is based. I myself am surprised that nothing stronger than a 1 second debate comment could be found.

    My reference to Bruno – who was murdered by burning at the stake – was not a claim of Harris’s misunderstanding. Just that an uniformed member of the public may well confuse the cases. (Apologists are also attempting to excuse that murder). I think Harris was just making a small general aside in his discussion of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Nazis.

    My summary is that we have seen apologists advance s number of Galileo myths recently. Reference to imprisonment and torture has been only one, and not the most prominent. The tide issue, claiming Galileo doesn’t deserve the scientific standing he gas, and opportunist use if details like parallax effects and unwillingness of some contemporaries to use telescope or accept such evidence are others that are promoted.

    As I said I have been accused if blaming that Galileo was imprisoned and tortured, that Galileo used tides to prove the heliocentric dolar system,that the church taught the earth was flat, etc, 

    Finally, I do not accept you blaming of me for your understanding. Rereading my article I think it was clear enough.  My language was clear enough.

    The problem was with your perception. And that arose from your preconceived notion that atheists are promoting this myth and therefore I must have been. This is a common problem – people don’t actually see what is un front of them – rather what they think should be. I am as guilty as anyone with this and find that it always pays to check before responding.

    But I think this example and the other cases where apologists have made similar unwarranted accusations (see the discussion of the article on my original blog) illustrate my claim that apologists are promoting this myth.

  • Ken,
    I’m happy for people to read the exchange, I’m quite confident that people will see that your generalisation there isn’t currently a misconception that Galileo was tortured is easily proved false. If you missed a clear counterexample to Ken’s claim (that is, that “Galileo was tortured” is not culturally pervasive enough to warrant anyone responding to), it is found at 02:49 in .

    Ken dismisses it by saying something like “oh, its only 1-2 seconds”, and “it’s only one example”. Perhaps if it was said in a slow Southern drawl he would be convinced? And yes it is one proven example, but does he really credibly think we are going to believe that this is some isolated occurance that just happened to occur from the mouth of one of the most famous atheists in what just happens to be one of the most well known and viewed debate on the internet?

    Or is it more likely that this idea didn’t just pop into Stephen Fry’s mind, but rather pervades culture more deeply and that apologists are in their rights to fight such a blatant lie. When it comes to the generalisation Ken has made, the onus has been put squarely on him to prove this isn’t actually the obvious counter-example that it is.

    When you are listing the things that apologists have got wrong in your original post you say:

    “Or that genuine historians are persecuting the church because they are perpetuating a myth that the church had tortured Galileo and imprisoned him.”

    There are three parts of this idea that you could be interpreted as saying are mistaken. 1) that it is persecution of the church to say Galileo was tortured. 2) that it is a false that Galileo was tortured and 3) that genuine historians are saying Galileo was tortured. If I had read it carefully I might have picked up on the ambiguity (amtriguity?), but the least likely option was 3). It just doesn’t seem to be a good reason to target apologists for going after what cultural icons say wrong rather than what historians don’t say wrong.

    But Ken thinks the problem is solely my perception, that I read his article in the world where he has proved no influential people propagate the idea that Galileo was tortured.

  • Tut, tut, Chris – “But Ken thinks the problem is solely”. That’s the way to create myths. I can speak for myself, thanks. I don’t need biased interpretations. Please don’t put words, or innuendoes, in my mouth. Stick with the facts.

    Perhaps you should read the book chapter I referred to. That well informed historian explains how the old myth arose. The sentence did include imprisonment and the pope had soecifically ordered at least the threat of torture. This was documented at the time.

    But I repeat no one is seriously promoting that old myth in books and articles that I can find. And you can’t either. There may well be some poorly informed members of the public with that mistaken understanding. And hopefully Fry was corrected by someone for his 1 second mistake.

    But there are books and articles by apologists currently promoting the myth that atheists are saying something they don’t appear to be. That needs to be corrected.

    Hopefully in the process any poorly informed person who holds the original torture myth will also be corrected in the process.

    I am certainly not going to stop pointing out the distortions some apologists are promoting about science and it’s history just because dome readers have a mistaken and incorrect knee jerk reaction.

  • Just a few points. I have myself seen in the Herald the claim that Galileo was tortured twice in the last few years. I have not seen the claim that Galileo was tortured by modern scholars but they do seem to think that the church persecuted him. (Sagan1995, Russel 1947,Brecht 1980).
    some questions.
    Did he and Canon Corpernicus have Papal backing? Is it true that Pope Urban VIII encouraged Gailleo to publish his work? Did he also fear the secular reaction within the scientific community he he clearly relates to Johannes Kepler 4 August 1597?
    In his work ‘Dialogue concerning the Cheif World Systems’ was his opponent Simplico the Aristotelian based scientist of his day?
    Did he use the popes own ideas and mock him usinf them in this paper?
    What typew of imprisonment did he recieve was it as Draper 1890 claims treated with remorseless severity 172?
    Whitehead claims (1946,2) that “he suffered an honourable detention and a mild reproof, before dying peacefully in his bed”?
    Is his own omission that his mocking the Pope one of the reasons for his problem (Langford 1971:134)
    I wonder if there are some other previously thought about issues involved I would be interested in your responses.

  • John, pity you can’t quote the Herald comments. You can see from this experience where Chris had me down as promoting a myth why I ask for evidence. People easily jump to their own preconceived conclusions.

    I find it hard to believe that anyone today does not agree that Galileo was persecuted by the Church. He was found guilty of a heresy type crime, sentenced to imprisonment and then finally this was clanged to house arrest forcing rest of his life. He was not pardoned by the Church until 1992. His crime was ringing a belief after the Church had ruled he was not allowed to. One has to have a strange understanding of human dignity not to see this as persecution.

    The pope’s relationship with Galileo was complex, varied with time, and he no doubt behaved emotionally at times. There was an attempted equivalent of a plea bargain which the pope appeared, in his anger, to torpedo.

    Galileo’s dialogues were both written in the same style with Simplico as one of the characters. Apologists claim he was a mocking characterization of the pope – other historians disagree. It is only natural he include someone promoting the Aristotelean ideas he was arguing against, after all.

    Galileo admitted a lot of things at his trial. He was obviously under duress (and threat of torture). He denied his acceptance of heliocentricism for example. Obviously he lied.

  • Ken, by all means, continue to point out the problems to people who think Galileo was wrong because of relativity etc… But they are still right to correct people who voice the claim that Galileo was tortured e.g. Fry. Just because you know he wasn’t tortured doesn’t mean less well informed people do. Why do apologists need to be corrected for correcting Fry?

    Ken, if my perception is not the sole problem with my reading of your orignial article…is that an admission that it was ambiguous?

    You repeat that no one is repeating the myth in books. True, maybe then they aren’t replying to those books.

    You say you hope someone corrected Fry when he said it. But you think that the apologists who are correcting him are “dome”?

    It doesn’t require a historical scholar to seriously publish an article for it to merit a reply to an incorrect historical claim. You would still argue with a popular notion of creationism even if no peer reviewed scientific journal articles.

    John I think there is a definitely a sense in which Galileo was persecuted by the Church, I don’t think that is disputed. As for claims about his relationship with the Pope, whether he defamed the Pope etc… they aren’t things that are easily proven one way or another, I haven’t read the historical arguments for and against the calims and don’t think they would lessen all of the injustice. Am I right in saying those are the kind of claims which probably prompted Ken’s in the first place?

  • Chris, perhaps one of the other speakers corrected Fry. If not I hope someone took him aside afterwards and did so. People do make mistakes. I certainly would not have criticised an apologist for correcting Fry – i would have supported her. (The “dome” you refer to was meant to be “some” – bloody iPod keeps screwing up my spelling. Don’t want to fuel a new myth by mistake!)

    Only the other day I heard someone quote Magellan in a way that implied the Church at the time taught the earth was flat. That person was quietly corrected later on and the conclusion was that the Magelan quote may have been wrong.

    Such mistakes and corrections are no big deal – not worth manufacturing a new myth over.

    No I don’t think my article is ambiguous. I think the misinterpretatiosn I have had say more about the reader and the myth they have accepted. As I said misinterpretation because of preconceived beliefs is something we all suffer from.

    I agree “It doesn’t require a historical scholar to seriously publish an article for it to merit a reply to an incorrect historical claim.” Perhaps you should have emailed Fry about his mistake. I understand he is quite accessible and surely he could only welcome being corrected . I certainly would. That’s the way we learn.

    In the end it was only 1 second of a fascinating contribution by someone who has been inhumanely treated by the Catholic Church. Let’s not be diverted from the real subject which was their crimes.

  • So why haven’t you taken these apologists aside quietly in private and corrected them?

    • So, Chris, are you unhappy about my responding to these apologist myths by writing on my blog? Do you just want me to STFU?

  • No Ken, you are welcome to voice your theories publicly. I’m just saying it is hypocritical to say people that people discretely correct Fry, rather than openly like these apologists have, and then to openly and publicly chastise these apologists to correcting Fry openly.

    Here are some more examples of the Galileo was tortured myth remaining in the popular mindset.

    “Pope John Paul II skipped over some important social issues”
    East Oregonian – Apr 22, 2005 – Oct 21, 2009

    A simple Google search could have prevented you suggesting that there was some kind of conspiracy on the part of apologists to argue against something no one was saying. Even if the authors of these apologist articles have had anecdotal encounters with the Galileo torture myth then they would be justified in countering it. They don’t need to justify it to you, but the recent repetition of the torture myth justifies them anyway.

  • Chris – jumping to conclusions again. This is getting tiresome: “’it is hypocritical to say people that people discretely correct Fry, rather than openly “ Where have I argued that one should not make such a correction publicly? Nowhere.

    The most appropriate place would have been one of the other participants, one either side of the debate, to make the correction. Any others watching who were simialrly mistaken would also have learned something.

    Really you should check before shooting off like that.

    I find it pathetic that even after your own google search you are unable to find much of substance to support the myth that atheists are promoting the torture and imprisonment myth. Really: “East Oregonian – Apr 22, 2005” and “ – Oct 21, 2009”. These are “the recent repetition of the torture myth ” by atheists? This is why apoloigists are promoting there myth?

    Come off it. It reall;y is pathetic.

    Now, Chris, I have not talked about a “conspiracy” as you suggest. I don’t think a conspiracy is required. Chrsitian apologists, theologians and philosophers of religion manage to coordiate such responses naturally. I think its somnehting to do with their kneee muscles.

    Just look at how they responded to a book like “The God Delusion.” No conspiracy required.

    But Chris, why are you so obsessed by this? You made a mistake in your interpretation and apologised for it. I would have thought that would have been sufficient.

    Do youi count yourself as a Chrsitan apologist and take my criticism personally?

    What is your motive?

  • No Ken, I’m not a Christian apologist, you must really be getting desperate to think that you are going to need me to be one in order for you to be right.

    Yes Ken, maybe the most appropriate place would have been on the stage, perhaps Hitchens could have told him. But in the absence of knowing whether he did, apologists would be justified in correcting the error publicly, something you take issue with (and add the charge of spreading a myth to the people who are doing the correction of the people spreading the myth).

    Ken, you have said “…supports my point – that there is a myth out there that “atheists” and “scientists” are claiming Galileo was jailed and tortured.” -Sounds like you do think it is a conspiracy, and that you think I am evidence of it!

    You think that because of this “myth myth”, Christian apologists are wrong to be trying to correct what you assert is a non-existent myth. It’s quite probable that these people do have interactions with atheists and scientist where the Galileo torture claim is made, and both myself and John claim to have read such claims in local newspapers (granted we cannot provide access to an internet copy for you to read, as not all of the articles go online, and I don’t think anyone thought that there would be people who jumped to the conclusion that there isn’t any mention of Galileo being tortured today).

    But there also has been at least three pieces of evidence, accessible to you, provided that in the last few years that prove that there is definitely some propogation of the idea that Galileo was in fact, tortured. These are sufficient to debunks your myth that Christian apologists are spreading a myth that people are spreading a myth that Galileo was tortured. And it debunks your myth that people aren’t using the torture myth to bludgeon the church.

    Despite being shown to the contrary, you refuse to admit that there is a torture myth to be respond to. Instead you hold to an unsubstantiated claim that no such myth is propogated to be responded to. I think you would benefit from dropping the denialism, admitting that there is something to respond to and getting on with what should be the real issues.

  • Chris, your comment is just so full of misrepresentation. You should have learned from your original mistake not to emotively attribute things to people like this:

    1: What denialism is there? Read my article. I quoted from Maurice A. Finocchiaro’s article which explains how the original myth came about. I am not surprised to see it in older books but recent scholarship has surely cleared it up. If someone makes that mistake now it is easy to refer them to authorities like Finocchiaro.

    2: you claim 3 bits of evidence of “propogation of the idea that Galileo was in fact, tortured.” I don’t see them. Sam’s book certainly is not doing that. Fry’s one second comment was hardly propagation – it was a mistake on his part. Hopefully it was corrected.

    There may well be people like Fry who mistakenly repeat such a myth – out of ignorance. We are all ignorant about many things but that is hardly “propagation.”

    3: Nowhere have I said it is “wrong to be trying to correct” a myth. Go for it. Get stuck into everyone who articulates this or any other myth. As I said get stuck into Fry. 

    Then what will you do? Have a go at innocent bloggers like me who you have misinterpreted because of your obsession?

    Come on – tell me who should be criticized? You have had plenty of time to do do since I asked for evidence that the old myth was widespread evidence and have only found Fry!

    Perhaps you concentrate on me because I am the only one you could find – and then you turned out to be mistaken’

    4: Despite your misrepresentation I am actually pleased you raised these issues. I had a look at Google as you suggested. Superficial so far but I am encouraged to do a quantitative investigation.

    I have found plenty of references to a torture myth and quite a few to alleging atheists are promoting such a myth (Christian  and catholic web sites and blogs). But nothing from an atheist source promoting that myth! Nothing! Actually surprising.

    But it does reinforce to me that my claim that Christian apologists and militants are promoting a myth that atheists promote the torture myth is absolutely correct. Quantitatively my claim seems to be extremely well supported.

    I feel another blog article coming up.

    Finally, as I said I don’t understand your motive for misrepresenting me. Perhaps you are a contrarian by nature. But it has been interesting to actually check out the evidence in a quantitative way.

  • Sorry for the inital outburst, I wouldn’t have said anything if I didn’t think it was the worst article “Galileo was tortured” article that could be written (but that is not surprising, given you were actually writing that Galileo wasn’t tortured). I insist that there was ambiguity in that paragraph just before “Claytons Myth”, which coupled with my lax perception of your article put me in the wrong direction. I don’t go stalking the internet for blogs to troll, it was just I genuinely mistook it for world’s worst justification that Galileo was tortured. I apologise for any misinterpretation of you since. I will be more careful in future to avoid such misinterpretations, as I have been very careful in the past.

    I still maintain that the personal conversations that I have had where people have told me (and I for years accepted) that Galileo was tortured, the articles I have seen in NZ print media (John gives me hope that I am not completely mental in this) and the Stephen Fry debate (at least a 1/5 of a million Youtube views, 1/2 million views on DailyMotion, and on air it was presented on the BBC World News, which claims they have an estimated audience of 70 million, but I would like to see how they got that number!), as well as the two news articles (PinkPress and East Oregonian) mentioned earlier, do not constitute “nothing”.

    I’m not picking this up after this. I do feel humiliated and pathetic by some of the misinterpretations I have wrongly had in reading you. I’d prefer that you avoid trying to humiliate me if you do decide to do a blog post on this, because I am feeling suicidal and am going to get help for that now.

  • Chris,

    I’m not picking this up after this. I do feel humiliated and pathetic by some of the misinterpretations I have wrongly had in reading you.

    Small tip: never take anything on-line too seriously! (Including your own words. Well, sometimes.)

    The on-line world absolutely full to the gunnels of misinterpretation, not to mention repeated rumour and goodness knows what else! I managed to screw up just the other day, for that matter… :-)

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