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Dan wrote:

Hi, guys —

As you the know, the Church's enemies cite its condemnation of Galileo as definitive proof that Her teachings are not infallible.

  • Is this argument legitimate?
  • Was Galileo's belief in heliocentrism considered a heresy, therefore placing it in the realm of faith and morals?


  { Is the condemnation of Galileo by the Church proof that Her teachings are not infallible? }

Steve Kellmeyer replied:

Hi, Dan —

Answer to the first question:

  • Is this argument legitimate?

Look at:

Answer to the second question:

It wasn't considered a heresy as such, but it was condemned as bordering on heresy. The problem wasn't the heliocentrism — a lot of Catholics agreed with Galileo.

The problem was that Galileo tried to use his conclusions in order to question the inerrancy of Scripture. He had every right to propose the theory, but he had no right to use that theory in an attempt to destroy the authority of Scripture. The heresy for which Galileo was condemned revolved around his forays into theology, not his science as such.

As an aside, any Sola Scriptura adherent who wants to hold up Galileo as an example of Church failure to address a problem correctly, has to explain why they accept Galileo's position in contradiction to what Scripture says about geocentrism.

The Church says Scripture is not meant to be a science text, and any attempt to treat it as one, like Galileo, is heresy, but Sola Scriptura advocates are creationists.

  • They think Scripture is a science text, so, why do they think the sun is the center of the universe?

A further aside: Galileo taught a radical form of heliocentrism — the entire created universe revolved around the sun, in his cosmology. This is incorrect, of course. Further, even the limited heliocentrism, which was eventually demonstrated by astrophysicists, was not something which could be proved conclusively by science until the early 1800's.

In Him,

Steve Kellmeyer

Alexander R. Pruss replied:

Dan —

It was taken that heliocentrism contradicted Scripture. However, St. Robert Bellarmine, who was in charge of the Galileo case, explicitly said that Galileo's theories were not proved — but were they proved, then the relevant passages of Scripture would have to be interpreted in a non-literal way. Hence, St. Robert did not consider the possibility of a change of interpretation impossible. The only doctrinal issue in question was the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. St. Robert knew, however, that a non-literal interpretation saving this inerrancy was possible.

Without Galileo having proved his theory, (and Galileo had not proved his theory, for instance, take his erroneous explanation for the tides in terms of the rotation of the earth sloshing the oceans around!), the literal interpretation was to be preferred. Certainly, geocentrism was not definitively taught. If it were, St. Robert wouldn't have made his remark.

Note, too, that if general relativity is correct, then the question is moot.

According to general relativity, there is no absolute reference frame. It is literally just as true to say that the earth goes around the sun, as to say that the sun goes around the earth. It just depends on whether you use the reference frame of the sun or of the earth. For many (though not all) purposes, calculations and theories are simpler if you use the reference frame of the sun, and thus suppose that the earth goes around the sun, but this is only for convenience in calculation.

The Church had absolutely no problem with someone saying that it is more convenient for calculation to suppose that the earth goes around the sun. Indeed, the Church wanted Galileo to say precisely this, that this was a mere supposition for convenience of calculation (a hypothesis in the parlance of the time). Galileo refused to say this — he thought it was a literal and absolute truth. General relativity says Galileo was wrong, (but it likewise says that it is wrong to say that the sun, literally and absolutely, goes around the earth.)

Alexander R. Pruss

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