The New York Times
The Globe and Mail
David Pitt, Bookloons
"Galileo's Mistake has the lazy ease of a multi-course Italian dinner, at once relaxing and enriching".
Robert Wiersema, Quill & Quire
B. J. Hodgson, PhD, Trent University Faculty of Philosophy
of Wade Rowland
by CKNW Radio (Vancouver), CBC's Tapestry with Don Hill, CBC's The Arts Today with Eleanor Wachtel
about Galileo's Mistake
in Real Audio and MP3 format
Purchase Galileo's Mistake (US edition) online at: Amazon.com
Galileo's Mistake: A New Look at the Epic Confrontation between Galileo and the Churchby Wade Rowland
Chapter One (cont'd)
How had we come to justify treating government as a purely economic entity, subject to the crude accounting practices of business?
While some philosophers have found answers to these puzzling questions in the rationalism that swept the West in the eighteenth century and others blamed the romanticism and anti-rationalism that followed in reaction, neither of these views seem adequate to me.
I came to share a conviction that the roots of what is most disturbing in the modern world find their nourishment deeper in history, in what is often called the scientific revolution.
This revolution began in seventeenth century Europe, and Galileo was among its earliest instigators. Dramatic advances were made in several fields of inquiry - notably mathematics, physics and astronomy. Pascal invented the calculating machine, Leibniz and Newton jointly invented calculus, Robert Boyle laid the foundations of modern chemistry and William Harvey mapped the body's circulatory system. John Napier eased the enormous burden of astronomical calculations with his invention of logarithms. Descartes introduced his Cartesian co-ordinates and gave geometry a new dimension. The microscope, like the telescope, accurate pendulum clocks and balance-wheel watches, came into general use. Galileo made his epochal discoveries in mechanics and astronomy.
At the same time radical new ideas were abroad about the nature of knowledge and how best to go about acquiring it and once again Galileo was in the forefront. The one endeavour reinforced the other, so that these revolutionary insights into the workings of the world and how to explore it had an enormous impact on philosophy, and the names of the great scientists are linked with those of philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke and Francis Bacon.
Prodigies like Galileo and Descartes and Leibniz excelled in both science and philosophy - indeed, the fields were for much of the century thought of as related aspects of the same discipline. Theology, too, felt the scientific revolution's impact - in fact, was staggered by it.
Beginning in the late seventeenth and throughout the eighteenth century the Church of Rome, for more than fifteen hundred years a leading political force in Europe, was stripped of most of its secular power and then of much of its once-universal moral authority as well. The effect on an institution already suffering from the hammer blows of the Protestant Reformation and the chaos of the Thirty Years War was ultimately devastating.
We are still, with increasing unease, living with the results of that historic shift in outlook and values. On the one hand the scientific revolution endowed Western civilization with the ability to manipulate nature to an almost magical degree.
On the other, it prompted a shift in the prevailing view of the acquisition of knowledge and of moral thought that deprived civilization of any effective means to manage the career of science and to ameliorate its unwanted impacts. It bequeathed unprecedented power and wealth while at the same time undermining the foundations of the wisdom necessary to their judicious and benevolent use. It expanded the creative horizons of humanity while reducing the mass of individual humans to the status of commodities and consumers. It improved health and longevity while promoting unprecedented spiritual and existential dis-ease.
Amid all the political turmoil and intellectual ferment of this watershed period, it seemed to me that the Church of Rome's epic confrontation with Galileo was a supremely significant event, one that presents in microcosm the issues that define this most portentous turning point of the second millennium, the transition from the Age of Faith to the Age of Reason - from an era of religion and spirituality to an epoch of science and materialism.
Understanding that seminal episode in the history of the modern world can, I believe, provide valuable insights into many of the most vexatious problems afflicting contemporary life, and, more important, clues to finding solutions.
Unfortunately, it is clear from the most cursory examination of school texts, popular literature, science journalism and even academic treatises that although the historical significance of Galileo's trial is widely conceded, the nature of that significance is almost universally misunderstood.
|For details on the Canadian edition of Galileo's Mistake, published by Thomas Allen Publishers, click here.|