What we all “know”

Occasionally, I will post comments about topics other than travel and hiking. Today, I post about believing in “what we all know.” As I have aged, I have learned to not express opinions until I go examine the facts myself: “what we all ‘know’ is often wrong or inaccurate. What ticked me of was a quick succession of people citing Galileo as an illustration of the folly of believing in faith over fact, when Galileo was convicted for being unscientific, that is, for failing to prove the theory of heliocentrism.

When in college, a professor cited Galileo to caution that one should not accept what is “known.” I wondered, what was “known” about Galileo? Most commonly, people believe that Galileo proved that the earth revolved around the sun (heliocentrism) rather than the sun revolving around the Earth (geocentricism), when, in fact, a critical observation failed to support heliocentrism and thereby discredit geocentricism for the next two hundred years.

Unlike geocentricism, heliocentrism predicts parallax of the stars, that is, the position of the stars should change when observed from the earth at opposite sides of its circuit around the sun. Failure to observe parallax was more than inconvenient: its absence was fatal to the theory of heliocentrism. Thus, at the time, the evidence held against heliocentrism and Galileo. Parallax was observed about two centuries later when instruments and technology had improved. Galileo and others were scientific visionaries, ahead of their time.

Galileo could teach the heliocentric model as a more accurate method of predicting the movement of the planets, critical for guiding the extensive navigation going on by then. However, when Galileo continued teaching his model as truth, moreover insulting his critics, church and university authorities, a trial ensued. Absent proof, he was found guilty and placed under house arrest. Galileo was not convicted of violating church doctrine, because geocentricism had never been declared an article of faith, which is required of believers. Thus he was not executed (he would have been handed over to public authorities for this). Nor was he tortured. The Church kept very good records of punishment and torture, when it was used.

Ironically, citing Galileo as an example of science over faith is to get the case backwards, because Galileo was convicted for ignoring the facts that, as of his time, failed to support heliocentrism. Galileo was convicted for his faith in a mathematical model over the observable facts.

 

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