In papal Rome in the early 16th century the “Good Book” was the reference book for all scientists. If a theory was supported in its holy pages, or at the very least not contradicted, then the idea had a chance of find acceptance outside the laboratory. Likewise, no theory no matter how well documented could be viewed with anything but disdain if it contradicted with the written word of, or the Church’s official interpretation of scripture. For these reasons the Church suppressed helio-centric thinking to the point of making it a hiss and a byword. However, this did not keep brave men from exploring scientific reason outside the canonical doctrine of the papal throne, sometimes at the risk of losing their own lives.
While the Vatican was able to control the universities and even most of the professors, it could not control the mind of one man known to the modern world as Galileo Galilei. Despite a wide array of enemies, Galileo embarked on a quest, it seems almost from the beginning of his academic career, to defend the Copernican idea of a helio-centric universe by challenging the authority of the church in matters of science. Galileos willingness to stand up for what he held to be right in the face of opposition from Bible-driven science advocates set him apart as one of the key players in the movement to separate Church authority from scientific discovery, and consequently paved the way for future scientific achievement.
Galileo even as a boy seemed destined to challenge the scientific thought of the day. He has often been characterized as a pioneer of rebellion against authority. If that was true then he was only following in his father’s footsteps.
His Father, a revolutionary man in the world of music who spoke out against the music theories of his day, was quoted as saying, ;It appears to me that those who try to prove an assertion by relying simply on the weight of authority act very absurdly; (White, 196). Galileo continued in his father’s rebellion against contemporary views with his support of a helio-centric-universe, a view previously argued by Copernicus, but for the most part ignored by scientists for its contradiction with the established, church-endorsed system of Ptolemy.
Despite his reputation for being an enemy of the church, Galileo was actually a devout Catholic who committed both of his daughters to convents. He was good friends with a number of high-up Catholic authorities, including Pope Barberini, the Pope who was in power for the latter part of Galileo’s life. Earlier in life Galileo even tried, against the advice of his friends, to get an audience with the pope to convince him of the truth of the Copernican system. Unfortunately his request for an audience was met with a papal decree that helio-centric views, those espoused by Galileo and also by Copernicus, were heretical.
Galileo persisted with his views but obeyed the papal ban on teaching helio-centrism as anything more than a theory. However, Galileo continued his fight for acceptance when he argued against viewing religious officials as authorities in science in his infamous letter to the Grand Duchess.
Galileo’s arguments for scientific independence from Biblical oppression found a voice in his letter to the Grand Duchess. Galileo received a letter from a former student informing him of a conversation that took place at the home of the Duchess widow of Ferdinando de Medici I. The conversation consisted of a visiting philosopher/priest telling the Duchess the earth was not in motion, turning to biblical passages for proof. Galileo used this as a spring board for explaining his stance on the proper relationship between the Bible, the Church, and scientific thought.
Galileo both insulted his critics as well as implying that the authority of neither the Bible nor the Church should have been an authority in observable science when he argued that “his opponents have resolved to fabricate a shield for their fallacies out of the mantle of pretended religion and the authority of the Bible” (Bragg 222). In his arguments there was a fleeting feeling of wanting to protect the church from its own ignorance, as well as wanting to purge its false scientific views.