My Dear Galileo Galilei, "It gives me great pleasure to inform you that we have reconsidered your case. A small mistake was made by our Vatican astronomers in the determination of the relationship between the earth and the sun. It was an easy mistake to make. I'm sure you will agree, since it was obvious to all that the sun moves from East to West in our skies whilst we remain in place. We regret that you were put in prison and that you were forced to recant under the threat of torture. As a result of the discovery of our mistake, it is our determination that you should no longer be confined to your home."
That wasn't the only mistake the Vatican made in the case of Galileo. They didn't much like his atomistic view of the universe. In recent decades the Vatican has tried to undo their mistake. Pope John Paul II blamed the Church's error on "tragic mutual incomprehension." This concession was beneath contempt since Galileo certainly understood the position of the Church. I suspect the church understood what Galileo was saying as well. Otherwise, why jail him, threaten him with torture in order to force him to recant, and then confine him to his house?
Thanks to protests of the faculty at Rome's La Sapienza University concerning the appropriateness of allowing Pope Benedict to talk there, the Pope canceled a lecture. It was argued that his hostility to science made him an inappropriate speaker at a public university. This seems to have put the Vatican in full retreat. At a Vatican conference on science, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the right hand man of the Pope, said Galileo was an astronomer, but one who "lovingly cultivated his faith and his profound religious conviction." Say what? How did they miss this fact about him 1633? I suspect he wasn't the only victim of the Inquisition who had profound religious convictions. By the way, what does "lovingly cultivated his faith" actually mean? Don't reply to this question. I can figure out some things it might mean, such as "he went to mass" and the like. The Vatican's sugar coating their grotesque acts during the time of the Inquisition with language like this is insulting to thoughtful person.
Good old Bertone also said, "Galileo Galilei was a man of faith who saw nature as a book authored by God." We dealt with this "language of God" nonsense in my last blog. The more religious folks talk about science and religion the stupider they seem to get. If nature were any kind of book then why in hell have we not come to understand all of nature? Does it have too many pages? Or is it that some of the chapters are written undecipherable languages? I need help here.
Charles Darwin is lucky he didn't live at the time of the Inquisition. He would have been burned at the stake for the idea that apes and men have a common ancestry (which isn't to say of course that we are evolved from apes). And the Catholic Church is lucky as well. Pope Paul, who tried to get ahead of criticism of the Church's treatment of Galileo, made peace (on his terms) with the theory of evolution by noting that it is more than just a hypothesis and is consistent with Church teachings. That has not been the last word on catholic views of evolution but the Catholic Church has the advantage of not being literalist in the way that fundamentalist Christians are.