Galileo was forced to recant

On June 22nd, 1633, Galileo was shown the instruments of torture by the Inquisition and threatened with their use unless he recanted his expressed view that the Earth revolved around the Sun, instead of the other way round.

Galileo had seen the moons of Jupiter and the phases of Venus through his telescope. When he published “The Starry Messenger” in 1610, he endorsed the heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus. He proposed a theory of tides in 1616, attributing the motion of the Earth as a cause of them. In 1632 he published his “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,” again implying heliocentrism, which the Inquisition had formally declared to be heretical in 1616, banning books that supported it.

At his trial he was found "vehemently suspect of heresy", banned from holding or teaching heliocentric views, and was sentenced to life in prison. He was a frail 69-year-old, and the sentence was commuted on the following day to house arrest. He spent the remaining years of his life under house arrest at his villa near Florence, until he died aged 77.

The Catholic Church and its Inquisition claimed the right to insist that it alone knew what was God’s will, and persecuted those who resisted their dogma and who sought to investigate themselves what the universe might be like. It is doubtful if the Bible decreed that God’s universe was geocentric. There are passages which declare the Earth to be fixed. 1 Chronicles and Psalm 96.10 both declare, “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.“ Psalm 93:1 tells us, “The world is established, firm and secure.” And Psalm 104:5 says, “He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.”

All of these can be taken as expressions of how things look to us, rather than how they might be literally true. We speak of sunrise and sundown, without supposing it is the sun that goes up and down. The Church in Galileo’s day chose to insist upon a literal interpretation. It was not because scripture demanded it; it was a question of authority, and they had the power to torture old men into submission, or to burn at the take those who questioned that authority.

The Church apologized in 1992, pardoned Galileo somewhat tardily, and took his works off the Index of banned books. It reminds us of a time when we had to believe, under pain of death and suffering, what those in authority demanded we believe, or at least pretended to believe. Similar requirements have been made by totalitarian dictatorships, Nazi and Communist, and even today social media lynch mobs will howl in pursuit of those who dare to say how they think things are, rather than utter the anodyne platitudes of political correctness.

Galileo had the last laugh, albeit posthumously. A few months after he died, over in England Mr and Mrs Newton decided to christen their newborn son Isaac…