Last week the New York Times carried one of those slow news, feel good, summertime stories. The recently renovated museum of the history of science in Florence was christened the Galileo Museum, honoring one of the most famous scientists of the early modern era.
Simple story, it would seem. But no, the writers for the Times (in this case Rachel Donadio) are drinking some sort of potent drug that has the effect of inducing them to put the Catholic Church in a bad light.
After cataloguing the lovely artifacts on display in the Galileo Museum, Donadio suddenly swerves: “Even today, centuries after Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, the pope¹s theological watchdog, had Galileo arrested for preaching Copernicanism, the church has never quite managed to acknowledge that his heliocentric theory is correct.”
Huh? Do the folks at the Times imagine that the Catholic Church continues to hold to a geocentric theory?
No, what Donadio is doing is either grotestquely uninformed about the basic history of science—or perversely deceptive.
These days no educated person “acknowledges” Galileo’s heliocentric theory as “correct.” Galileo adopted Copernicus’s theory, which presumed lovely circular orbits, but that turns out to be wrong. Tycho Brahe painstakingly collected data about the positions of the planets in the sky, which was theorized by Johannes Kepler as eliptical rather than circular motion.
Interestingly, Kepler and Galileo corresponded, but Galileo insisted on defending Copernicus’ views. On this point, Galileo was mistaken, and not just because he did not have access to the scientific data and good arguments. He was, like many brilliant individuals, a vain and willful man.
But that’s an inconvenient truth, at least for the folks at the New York Times.