Galileo's Mistake: A New Look at the Epic Confrontation between Galileo and the Church
by Wade Rowland
REVIEWS OF GALILEO'S MISTAKE
Book Review by the Philadelphia Inquirer of Galileo's Mistake
Review by R. Kevin Dietrich
Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper
August 20, 2003
Galileo versus the church: The complex truth
Popular history recounts Galileo's 17th-century battle with Catholic leaders in stark terms.
Galileo, good. Church, bad.
Legend has it that the trial of the noted astronomer in 1633 was based on whether the Earth moved around the sun, as Galileo asserted, or was orbited by the sun, the church's view. But the image of an enlightened Galileo fighting for truth against the intolerant Catholic Church over astronomical concepts is far too simplistic, Wade Rowland writes in Galileo's Mistake.
"The dispute was over two conflicting views of the nature of truth and reality and about the roles religion and science ought to play in defining the world we live in," he writes. "Of far more concern to the church than the details of the Copernican hypothesis was Galileo's belief in the reality of numbers, his conviction that the universe was essentially a mathematical entity, in some literal way composed of numbers."
The church, bolstered by Plato, Aristotle and more than a millennium of theological thought, denied this, on the grounds that it excluded the possibility of an ultimate goal and purpose to existence.
Galileo believed in but a single and unique explanation for natural phenomena, which made all other explanations wrong. The church held there could be more than one explanation, that God's role in the world couldn't be ignored.
Galileo's Mistake is a fascinating read on several levels. Rowland takes an in-depth look not only at the life of Galileo, who apparently was a bit of a blowhard, but that of Pope Urban VIII, the Counter-Reformation Church, and the evolution of astronomy and philosophical thought, tying them together nicely.
Galileo's trial was a watershed moment in Western history, Rowland writes, for it marked the transition from the Age of Faith to the Age of Reason. Today, it's easy to heap scorn on those who believed the sun revolved around the Earth, but 370 years ago it was a very different issue. Newfangled technology such as the telescope created as many questions as answers.
"It was one thing to accept the magnifying power of the telescope when it is trained on objects on Earth - objects that are known to exist. It is quite another to believe in what the telescope shows when it is pointed to the sky," Rowland writes. "For to do so means to believe in something that cannot be seen with the naked eye."
Previously unseen celestial objects identified by telescope could not be verified, except with another similar instrument.
That gave rise to the philosophical question of whether knowledge gained "instrumentally" could have the same status as knowledge based on unmediated sensory experience. Could the former ever have the same certainty as the latter?
Ultimately, it was scientism - the principle that scientific methods can and should be applied in all fields of investigation - that won out. But at what cost?
Galileo's Mistake argues that we've paid for the freedom science offered through theoretical knowledge and material wealth with the loss of spiritual context for existence and enslavement by day-to-day technology.
We are commodities, shaped and molded to meet the needs of an economy based increasingly on scientistic, materialist principles, Rowland writes. "Are we happier in our day-to-day lives than our ancestors, or merely more comfortable?" he asks. "Are the lives we lead more worthy of respect, or less? Is our world, taken all in all, a better place than theirs?"
Book review by the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper
Other Book Reviews of Galileo's Mistake:
- The Myth of Galileo
by Donald DeMarco, St. Jerome's University
"Rowland has given us a personal and entertaining trip to Italy and into the world of a most controversial seventeenth-century thinker who, in his confrontation with the Church, forces us to think more deeply and more carefully about the boundaries between faith and reason. In deconstructing a myth, he has re-established a moral, namely, that science without an accompanying ethical vision, is dehumanizing."
Read the complete review.
- Kirkus Reviews - book review of Galileo's Mistake
- "Rowland provocatively challenges the prevailing view"
- "Rowland is correct in gauging the role of the Church in Galileo's trial, but this work is likely to be controversial"
- "With easy erudition...Competently laying out the science and the overarching philosophical issues"
- "Rowland recreates Galileo's trial...makes a case for the Church's role in the pursuit of truth today."
- "Rowland's is an audacious position"
Title: Galileo's Mistake
Subtitle: A New Look at the Epic Confrontation between Galileo and the Church
Author: Wade Rowland
Publication Date: July 2003
Hardcover: 320 pages
List Price: $25.95 US
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
For details on the Canadian edition of Galileo's Mistake, published by Thomas Allen Publishers, click here.