Today, science is something that is cherished, promoted, and celebrated. We live in the most exciting point in history, where new inventions in exponential technology fields (e.g. nanotechnology and genetic engineering) are no longer a novelty. Every day, humanity is surmounting milestones that were once thought to be impossible, and accessibility to cutting edge information that was not even available to kings of the 12th century, is accessible to people of all walks of life, and all across the world.
However, the advancement of both cognition and tools were not always celebrated throughout history. What follows is a review of how those in power once sought to dampen the capability of rising technology and new forms of thinking.
Over the course of history, scientific advancements have proven to be perceived as a threat by those in power. The precipice of such a viewpoint was during the mid-16th century when the scientific revolution first began. The movement was largely fueled by the death that religious conflicts, such as the Crusades (1095-1492), had wrought. In an effort to steer the mind away from the effects of religious leadership, civilians – especially residents of European countries – began supporting studies in the fields of philosophy, metaphysics, cosmology, and astrophysics, all of which were scientific disciplines heavily geared towards understanding the universe outside of the belief in God that had previously dominated people’s understanding of the world.
At the heart of the revolution was an Italian astronomer, Galileo Galilei, and a Polish mathematician, Nicolaus Copernicus, who each contributed their breakthroughs to the Scientific Revolution. Interestingly, scientific advancements and emerging knowledge that are used currently were refuted by the Catholic Church during the 16th and 17th centuries. However, in numerous instances, the science did not agree with traditional doctrine, which led to authority being challenged, and the attempt to silence the voices of the movement. The rapid development of scientific knowledge that was not in alignment with the Catholic Church caused conflict that led the Church to exercise their power and silence the voices of the scientific revolution.
To preface, the inverse relationship between science and religion in the Catholic Church did not necessarily exist before the scientific revolution. Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), who was viewed as the “father of science” was in good relationship with the church, due to his theories and beliefs staying outside the domain of challenging dominant beliefs. It was because Aristotelian views of planetary motion and writings in Physics directly agreed with the church, speaking on the principles of relativity and geocentrism, which was believed by the Catholics. In addition, his publishings in Metaphysics directly agreed with Catholics’ views of happiness and the principles of life. Due to the Catholic Church being in agreement, Aristotle’s scientific findings were believed until they were refuted by the scientific revolution in the late 1500s. Though it can be said that Aristotle was cautious of the Catholic church, and carefully aligned his publishings and beliefs to their views, his indulgence in aligning both science and religion, depicts how the Catholic Church was able to use science for their strengthening, but rebelled against it when it was not in their favour.
Around 1530, Nicolaus Copernicus published his manuscript titled On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, in which he presented his theory of heliocentrism, an astronomical model that placed the sun in the centre of the universe, as opposed to the current geocentric model, affirmed by the Catholic Church due to their doctrinal belief that God placed Earth in the centre of the universe as a testament to the humans he created in his image. Due to what the Catholic Church perceived to be an aggression towards their standardised beliefs, they began to address Copernicus’ theory, which was later affirmed by Galileo in the early 1600s. Cardinal Bellarmine of the Inquisition, an institution based out of the Catholic Church, wrote a letter in the early 1600s to Paolo Anotonio Foscarini, who was the leader of the Carmelites, a group of powerful friars, in a document titled Attack on the Copernican Theory. Bellarmine, after addressing Foscarini with great respect, argued that Copernicus’, and now Galileo’s school of thinking insinuated that, “the sun is in heaven and turns around the earth with great speed, and that the earth is very far from heaven and sics motionless at the center of the world.” He then continued to plead for a ban, saying to Foscarini, “consider now, with your sense of prudence, whether the Church can tolerate giving Scripture a meaning contrary to the Holy Fathers and to all the Greek and Latin commentators.” Shortly after this essay, Copernicus’ book was banned, depicting how Copernicus posthumously affected and challenged the Catholic church with his theory.
As Galileo became more heavily recognised by the European community, he caught the attention of the Catholic church by supporting and furthering Copernicus’ theories on the movement of the planets in the solar system, which – as previously mentioned – led to the ban of Copernicus’ works in the Catholic church, which was extended throughout Europe. However, Galileo, still being alive, continually challenged the church with his affirmations on the Copernican theory, despite it being banned. It was because of this unwavering commitment to astronomical truth that Galileo was forced to turn himself into the Holy Office by the Roman Catholic Church in 1633. His experience in trial was documented in Galileo’s 4 Depositions, where Galileo’s answers to all of the questions asked in the presence of Reverend Maculano of Firenzuola in Rome were transcripted. Throughout the trial, Galileo appears calm and remains truthful about his works. He then proceeds to defend himself, admitting that he does not believe in heliocentrism, and that he published Dialogue on the Two World Systems to regard Copernicus’ beliefs.
In his dialogue, Galileo breaks down the workings of heliocentrism and geocentrism without disclosing his own personal belief in geocentrism. Though Galileo was furthering Copernicus’ works, he claims that he was doing so to discover whether or not it was true in his third deposition during trial. However, at the conclusion of his trial, Galileo was found guilty of heresy, and due to his old age, was placed under house arrest until his death in 1642. Galileo’s ultimate imprisonment was proof of the Catholic church’s unwillingness to compromise, even under circumstances where their views were agreed upon. It reflects the Catholic Church’s lack of tolerance, and the conflict that was caused by mere scientific dialogue as well.
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