Galileo Did Not Get Sent to Jail

Article excerpt

"The idea that Galileo [Galilei] was tortured by the Catholic Church for his views on astronomy encapsulates for many people the history of science and religion," muses Ronald Numbers, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and editor of Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion. Numbers explains that Galileo, in fact, never was subjected to the Inquisition's harsh punishments and, during his trial, was treated like an "honored guest, not some low-down heretic," he told the Templeton Report

The book includes essays by 25 historians and philosophers of science, each of whom tries to set the record straight on some widely believed "myth" in the complicated relationship between science and religion.

Michael Shank, a colleague of Numbers in the History of Science Department, challenges the idea that the medieval church suppressed the growth of science. By 1500, he notes, there were 60 universities throughout Europe and "30% of the curriculums covered subjects and texts concerned with the natural world"

Of course, this is not to say that Christianity somehow solely was responsible for the development of modern science. As Noah Efron-who chairs the program in Science, Technology, and Society at Bar Ilan University in Israel--observes in his essay, scientists such as Johannes Kepler and Nicolaus Copernicus "owe a great deal to their Greek forbears" and also "benefited from Muslim and, to a lesser degree, Jewish philosophers of nature,"

Meanwhile, James Moore, a historian at the Open University in England and coauthor of a biography of naturalist Charles Darwin, takes on the myth that evolution destroyed Darwin's faith--until he reconverted on his deathbed. …