A revisionist argument that the Catholic Church was right to try the father of astronomy on charges of heresy in 1633.
Galileo’s key error, Canadian historian Rowland finds, was not his advocacy of the Copernican scheme of the solar system, in which the planets rotate about the sun, but his contention that the scientific method is the sole means to determine truth. In support of this thesis, Rowland undertakes a detailed examination of the history behind Galileo’s trial. While much of the material is undoubtedly familiar to students of scientific history, he presents with considerably more sympathy than usual nowadays the Church’s position on scientific matters, hammered out over more than 1,500 years, with considerable effort devoted to accommodating the philosophies of first Plato, then Aristotle, within the orthodox worldview. Galileo’s support of the Copernican system was a threat, Rowland contends, because of its unstated assumption that the nature of the universe can be learned from observation and reason rather than faith. Granted this premise, it is hard to argue with his conclusion that Galileo’s prosecution was justified both by law and custom. Where many readers will part company with the author, however, is when he sets up Galileo as an embodiment of the failure of modern civilization to provide spiritual and human values. Much of this argument is presented in dialogues among Rowland, a secular friend, and an Italian nun in the context of the author's travels in Italy for research. These bring in considerable local Italian color as background and give the somewhat abstract points a more human face; on the other hand, they sometimes distort basic science in order to score debating points.
Well-presented scientific history with an interesting philosophical twist: take with a grain of salt.