A Galilean Approach to the Galileo Affair, 1609–2009
Galileo’s telescopic discoveries of 1609–1612 provided a crucial, although not conclusive, confirmation of the Copernican hypothesis of the earth’s motion. In Galileo’s approach, the Copernican Revolution required that the geokinetic hypothesis be supported not only with new theoretical arguments but also with new observational evidence; that it be not only supported constructively but also critically defended from objections; and that such objections be not only refuted but also appreciated in all their strength. However, Galileo’s defense of Copernicanism triggered a sequence of events that climaxed in 1633, when the Inquisition tried and condemned him as a suspected heretic. In turn, the repercussions of Galileo’s condemnation have been a defining theme of modern Western culture for the last four centuries. In particular, the 20th century witnessed a curious spectacle: rehabilitation efforts by the Catholic Church and anti-Galilean critiques by secular-minded left-leaning social critics. The controversy shows no signs of abating to date, as may be seen from the episode of Pope Benedict XVI’s attitude toward Paul Feyerabend’s critique of Galileo. Nevertheless, I have devised a framework which should pave the way for eventually resolving this controversy, and which is modeled on Galileo’s own approach to the Copernican Revolution.