Skip to main content

Letter to Danielian

I just received a letter, forwarded by The Guardian, from a Dr Danielian, who takes me to task for maintaining in letter (go here and scroll down) to The Guardian that, contrary to what another letter had suggested, Galileo and Bruno were hauled before the Inquisition for their scientific views.

Here's my response. I'll add to it in the next post, as exactly how some Catholics try to justify the view that the Church was not concerned with Bruno's and Galileo's scientific views is worth unpacking...

Dear Dr Danielan

I just received your letter to The Guardian.

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my letter.

I can’t say I agree with you, though. The issue I addressed, remember, was whether Galileo and Bruno were hauled before the Inquisition for their scientific views, or merely their theological views. I rejected the claim that it was only their theological views that were of concern to the religious authorities.

I pointed out that, as even Koestler says, Galileo was indeed condemned for his scientific views, in particular, for repeating the claim that Copernicus’ system was not just a useful hypothesis but literally true (a claim he had already been warned by the Church not to repeat).

You agree, I see. But then you agree that his scientific views were indeed of concern to the Church, do you not? True, you add that Galileo had no proof. Perhaps. But that’s irrelevant to the point being discussed.

Second, you maintain Bruno’s scientific opinions were of no concern to the Church, and quote Koestler in your support.

Perhaps you are unaware, but Vatican documents now confirm the opposite. Go to:, where you will find this:

In one of the last interrogations before the execution of the sentence (maybe in April 1599), the Dominican friar was questioned by the judges of the Holy Office on his cosmogony conception, supported above all in the “La cena delle Ceneri”(Ash-Wednesday Dinner) and in the “De l’infinito universo et mundi”. Even then, he defended his theories as scientifically founded and by no means against the Holy Scriptures (left side, from the first line: Circa motum terrae, f. 287, sic dicit: Prima generalmente dico ch’il moo et la cosa del moto della terra e della immobilità del firmamento o cielo sono da me prodotte con le sue raggioni et autorità le quali sono certe, e non pregiudicano all’autorità della divina scrittura [...]. Quanto al sole dico che niente manco nasce e tramonta, né lo vedemo nascere e tramontare, perché la terra se gira circa il proprio centro, che s’intenda nascere e tramontare [... ]). (Circa motum terrae, f. 287, sic dicit: Firstly, I say that the theories on the movement of the earth and on the immobility of the firmament or sky are by me produced on a reasoned and sure basis, which doesn’t undermine the authority of the Holy Sciptures […]. With regard to the sun, I say that it doesn’t rise or set, nor do we see it rise or set, because, if the earth rotates on his axis, what do we mean by rising and setting[…]).

Note Bruno was questioned on his “cosmogony conception”. And he defended his theory as “scientifically founded”.

Koestler was no doubt unaware of these documents. I also ask, where is the evidence to support your claim that Bruno was not hauled before the Inquisition for, among other things, his scientific views?

So, I stand by my claim that Bruno and Galileo were hauled before the Inquisition for their scientific views (which is not say that their theological views were not of concern too).

All best wishes

Stephen Law

PS. I guess you may agree with Ratzinger, who thinks “The process against Galileo was reasonable and just”. Is it your view that the Church did little wrong in the Galileo affair?


Anonymous said…
The RC church would still like to control the thoughts of their believers, but it is getting more difficult. Elaine Supakis, has many observations on the present pope.
Stephen Law said…
Thanks for that. But who is Elaine Supakis?
Anonymous said…
Not being well acquainted with the name Stephen Law I was astounded and greatly flattered recently to come across his angry and intemperate rejoinders to my July letter to The Guardian. In common with the other responses published by The Guardian he effectvely confirms the essential point of my letter which was to complain that Professor McFadden, in an article ostensibly about the existence of other "Earths", could not forbear, like many other modern scientists and astronomers, to turn it into a gratuitous attack on the attitude of the Catholic Church to science by citing the case of Galileo. If Stephen will publish my letter his readers may see the point. I particularly made reference to the Jewish writer Arthur Koestler (the Guardian excised the word Jewish) who shows in his scholarly work "The Sleepwalkers" that prominent churchmen (notably Canon Copernicus and Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa) were at the forefront of scientific speculation decades and centuries before Galileo's time, and that Galileo himself was feted in Rome by the Cardinals for his discovery of Jupiter's moons, orbiting Jupiter, not the Earth.
Flattery notwithstanding, I'm a little hurt by his accusations of "pretending" and being a "revisionist" and making "denials", to say nothing of his difficulties with the spelling of my name (what would he do to MacGiollaRiabhaigh?)
As to his own attitudes, it's instructive to read that he can "have a rethink".
Finally he assumes without proof that I am a Catholic.
Stephen Law said…
"If Stephen will publish my letter his readers may see the point."

Link to his letter is provided in the above text.

Incidentally, the final lines of my lettere were not used by The Guardian - they wer:

"This was a shameful episode in the Catholic Church’s history and it does revisionists like McAreavey no credit to pretend otherwise. Especially when they get their facts wrong."

For the whole debate on Galileo, hit the "Galileo" link on the sidebar. Be interested in Gerald's response to my little essay it the Galileo affair.

Popular posts from this blog


(Published in Faith and Philosophy 2011. Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2011. Stephen Law. Pages 129-151) EVIDENCE, MIRACLES AND THE EXISTENCE OF JESUS Stephen Law Abstract The vast majority of Biblical historians believe there is evidence sufficient to place Jesus’ existence beyond reasonable doubt. Many believe the New Testament documents alone suffice firmly to establish Jesus as an actual, historical figure. I question these views. In particular, I argue (i) that the three most popular criteria by which various non-miraculous New Testament claims made about Jesus are supposedly corroborated are not sufficient, either singly or jointly, to place his existence beyond reasonable doubt, and (ii) that a prima facie plausible principle concerning how evidence should be assessed – a principle I call the contamination principle – entails that, given the large proportion of uncorroborated miracle claims made about Jesus in the New Testament documents, we should, in the absence of indepen

What is Humanism?

What is Humanism? “Humanism” is a word that has had and continues to have a number of meanings. The focus here is on kind of atheistic world-view espoused by those who organize and campaign under that banner in the UK and abroad. We should acknowledge that there remain other uses of term. In one of the loosest senses of the expression, a “Humanist” is someone whose world-view gives special importance to human concerns, values and dignity. If that is what a Humanist is, then of course most of us qualify as Humanists, including many religious theists. But the fact remains that, around the world, those who organize under the label “Humanism” tend to sign up to a narrower, atheistic view. What does Humanism, understood in this narrower way, involve? The boundaries of the concept remain somewhat vague and ambiguous. However, most of those who organize under the banner of Humanism would accept the following minimal seven-point characterization of their world-view.

Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism refuted

Here's my central criticism of Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). It's novel and was published in Analysis last year. Here's the gist. Plantinga argues that if naturalism and evolution are true, then semantic epiphenomenalism is very probably true - that's to say, the content of our beliefs does not causally impinge on our behaviour. And if semantic properties such as having such-and-such content or being true cannot causally impinge on behaviour, then they cannot be selected for by unguided evolution. Plantinga's argument requires, crucially, that there be no conceptual links between belief content and behaviour of a sort that it's actually very plausible to suppose exist (note that to suppose there are such conceptual links is not necessarily to suppose that content can be exhaustively captured in terms of behaviour or functional role, etc. in the way logical behaviourists or functionalists suppose). It turns o