Another guest post by Thony Christie
John recently provided a link to a review of Steve Fuller’s newest book by Anthony Grayling. On the whole I find Professor Grayling’s comments excellent and applaud his put-down of Fuller but then in the last section of his review he goes and spoils it all, at least for me, by seriously abusing the history of science. As I recently took Rodney Stark to task for his misuse of the history of science in the cause of Christianity I feel obliged in the interest of fairness to do the same to Grayling. Just because I think he is on the right side does not give him the right to misuse and abuse another academic discipline. Grayling himself is a philosopher.
This time I won’t deal with all of Grayling’s false or twisted claims but just concentrate on one that blatantly turns the historical facts on their head. In the course of his review Grayling makes the following statements:
witness the church’s denial of Copernican heliocentrism and the trial of Galileo for two related instances. And the religious are still at it today – the ID theorists are the inheritors of Cardinal Bellarmine in refusing to accept what science discovers, as is the Vatican in its opposition to stem cell research.
(Psalm 102, beloved of Bellarmine in his efforts to shut up the astronomers and philosophers of the era of Descartes). It removed the necessity of having to distort observations, facts, experimental results and observations to fit an antecedent doctrine as far from what observation and experiment revealed as one could possibly get. (Think about seeing the moons of Jupiter through a telescope in an age when the earth was – by order! – at the centre of the universe and man and his man-made religion was the most important thing in it, with the Pope and the Office of the Inquisition daring you to think otherwise.) [My emphasis]
Now as it happens next year is the Unesco Year of Astronomy and one of the reasons why next year was chosen was because it is the 400th anniversary of the first telescopic astronomical discoveries, and because this is one of my special areas of interest I am at the moment engaged in researching and preparing several public lectures on the invention of the telescope (1608) and the its early users in astronomy. So I would like just to sketch the story of the discovery of the satellites of Jupiter and the reaction and involvement of Bellarmino and the Jesuits in this discovery.
Galileo observed the moons of Jupiter for the first time on the 7th January 1609. Interestingly, Simon Marius, the court astronomer of the Margrave of Ansbach, also observed them for the first time exactly one day later on 10th January. Marius did not publish his observation until four years later and so has disappeared into the sump of history, Galileo, however, realised at once that he was onto a winner and as soon as he had enough evidence together to confirm his first observations he rushed into print with his discovery of the “Medicean Stars” as he had christened them; a smart move that brought him the appointment of court philosopher to the Medicis. Interestingly, the names they now have Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede were given to them by Marius at the suggestion of Kepler. Galileo’s publication, his Sidereus Nuncius, went off like a bomb, transforming its author from an obscure Paduan professor of mathematics into the most famous scientist in Europe virtually overnight.
Enter Bellarmine: at this time Bellarmine was head of the Collegio Romano, the Jesuit University in Rome, and he asked the professor of mathematics at the Collegio, Christoph Clavius, if there was any truth in Galileo’s claims. Clavius ran Europe’s first institute for advanced mathematics at the Collegio and two of its members – Odo van Maelcote and Giovanni Paolo Lembo – had already been making telescopic observation of their own before Galileo had published his pamphlet. Lembo knew that his telescope was not powerful enough to confirm or refute Galileo’s claims and tried to construct a more powerful one but failed in his attempt to grind and polish the necessary lenses; a problem that was to plague many of the telescopic pioneers. Meanwhile, Christoph Grienberger, the senior mathematician at the Collegio after Clavius and his soon to be successor, who had been absent at the time of Galileo’s publication, returned to Rome and he and Lembo succeeded in constructing a suitable instrument and in confirming all of Galileo’s claims. These things did not, of course, take place overnight. In 1611, Galileo visited Rome where he was invited to a banquet in his honour at the Collegio at which Odo van Maelcote held an Oration celebrating his discoveries. Clavius, a friend of Galileo’s for many decades, published these discoveries and his institute’s confirmations of them in the last edition of his Sphaera , the most important textbook for astronomy in Europe, in 1611 shortly before his death in 1612.
Contrary to Grayling’s claims Bellarmino did not deny or attempt to block Galileo’s discovery of the moons of Jupiter but rather the Jesuit mathematical astronomers under his authority at the Collegio Romano investigated his claims in a totally correct scientific manner and having confirmed them honoured him publicly for them.