The earliest explanations of man and his universe appear to have arisen from religion. Philosophy, in western society at any rate, came later on the scene, and last of all, science. It is accordingly natural that philosophy should at first have been guided by religion and have guided science. Certainly that was the pattern in European culture from the revival of learning in the twelfth century to the time of Galileo.
Galileo’s significance for the formation of modern science lies partly in his discoveries and opinions in physics and astronomy, but much more in his refusal to allow science to be guided any longer by philosophy. By stages, his rejection of the long-established authority of philosophers induced them to appeal to the Bible for support, and there ensued a battle for freedom of scientific enquiry which profoundly affected the development of modern society.
Galileo’s role in that battle is widely supposed to have been that of hurling a defiant challenge to religious faith in the name of science. That was by no means his intention, though it is true that theologians proceeded to nip Galileo’s science in the bud, which may not have been their intention at the outset. Galileo’s science entered only indirectly into the celebrated event on which it is my hope in this book to shed new light; that is, the trial and condemnation of Galileo by the Roman Inquisition in 1633.