Vision through the telescope
Call this a vision of Galileo gazing into the heavens with his telescope, first to find out for sure how Copernicus was right about the Sun holding the planets together. He must have wondered why the Catholic Church should deny this fact. The Sun after all had been venerated for the previous thousand years by most ancient religions. And yet, there Galileo stood or sat, as the case may have been, behind his telescope and saw for himself how his church was wrong. If God was the church. It could not be wrong, could it?
He stood or sat on a bottleneck of change. After Galileo, the world would be different. Everyone knew it. But his church would not accept that without a fight. It was an establishmentarian church whose leadership was well entrenched in the structures of the political and economic life of the times. It was a world power competing and oftentimes warring with other European city-states.
Much has changed since then. And were it said that Galileo was doing battle against the might of the Catholic church under Pope Urban VIII. In the end, it was he who won. Who remembers Pope Urban VIII? What is he “the father of”?
The irony is that Galileo did not win using the force of arms. He won with his writings and with a little toy, looking much like a tube with glass lenses at either end. They magnified 3X everything he pointed them to. With it, he would challenge the very foundation of astronomical “truths” such as the world stood by at that time: that the Earth was the very center of the heavens and that the heavens never changed.
But imagine Galileo looking now at Johannes Kepler’s supernova (first observed in 1604) and finding out with absolute certainty how Kepler was right: They were watching what might be construed as either the death or the birth of a new star. One would be correct either way; notwithstanding the church’s claim of heaven’s immutability, the heavens were in ferment. They were changing all the time. Change was the rule, not the exception.
Imagine Galileo looking at the rings of Saturn and then looking at Jupiter only to discover its four moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. The fact they disappeared from sight at regular intervals told him they were satellites orbiting a bigger planet. They disappeared at those times their orbits took them behind the planet itself. Again, this was something hard for many to believe. Surely, it was heresy or black magic. Perhaps even, the work of the devil.
But such is the orbit of history. One might as well conclude: If a truth must be defended too vehemently as if it were a fortress then it is likely it might not be the truth at all. Better by far to think that the truth reveals itself slowly over time, like something revealed or needing to be discovered. Oddly enough, oftentimes, with the most unlikely tools. But all this is not an argument against faith. It was not faith which argued against Galileo. It was only faith wrongly placed, a wrong understanding of it, and of God, our reckoning of Whom must have to change with time, as we grow in faith, if there is any truth to it.
And one might find out as time goes by that even while the tools of scientific inquiry develop as since the time of Galileo, the reckoning of faith grows likewise. And from time to time we must have to ask: How do we believe correctly in our day and age?
But perhaps the answer to that is less important than our changed appreciation of change itself, the doing away of our deepest fears of it. Galileo did not destroy a people’s faith with his science. Though it did seem so at first. In the end, he only made faith lighter for people to bear. As it should always be.
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