April 4th 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The world has changed: Now for the new order

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Move to curtail underage online porn epidemic

CANBERRA OBSERVED ScoMo's delicate balancing act in extraordinary times

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Time and timing are crucial to Cardinal Pell's appeal by Peter Westmore

NEW ZEALAND Political divisions polarise across the Ditch

NEW ZEALAND Victorian Road Map smooths way of NZ anti-life clique to abortion 'reform'

FREE SPEECH Intolerance brigade at UQ attacks professor of Law

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Victoria lifts moratorium of gas exploration

CHINESE HISTORY The Soong Dynasty: Three sisters who rules China

LAW AND SOCIETY Guilt by accusation: The kangaroos are roaming freely through Australia's legal system

GENDER POLITICS Dr Quentin Van Meter's Australian talk is opening eyes in the U.S.

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Australia is not safe in the borderless globalised world

SHOPPING AND SOCIETY The Ubermensch in the aisles

MUSIC We seem to have lost the point of counterpoint

CINEMA The Current War: Industrial miracle workers

BOOK REVIEW A dark trade that continues unabated worldwide

EBOOK READ THIS Both sides to this old story



NATIONAL AFFAIRS Use detention centres to help deal with covid19 epidemic

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Justice at last: Cardinal Pell set free

Books promotion page

Both sides to this old story

News Weekly, April 4, 2020


GALILEO: And His Condemnation

by Ernest R. Hull SJ
Catholic Truth Society, London, 1913

This is an older book but about as good as it gets as a balanced popular account of the events that have become the affaire Galileo, which still has traction in our time. (A more recent (1964) popular treatment is by another Jesuit, James Brodrick. It too can be read online.)

Hull opens his volume with a paradoxical assertion: “The condemnation of Galileo by the Roman Inquisition in 1633 is a subject from which any writer who aims at exciting interest would be most likely to abstain.”

He can’t be serious! Today, nearly 400 years after the event – and even at the time of the writing of this book, 300 years had passed – the reverberations of the affaire Galileo are still almost as keenly felt as when they occurred. Galileo is a household name – only Einstein and Elvis can compare – and his standing up for truth against obscurantism, and his condemnation and imprisonment are, well, legendary.

The author immediately clarifies: “The idea is that everybody is supposed to know all about it; and this may be one of the reasons why so many are privileged to talk nonsense and to display serious ignorance about it.” New Atheists, are you listening?

At the time, Ptolemy’s geocentric model had several competitors, not just the Copernican model, which it took scientists another 100 years or so actually to prove true (More or less: for it turns out that, not only is the Earth orbiting the Sun, with all the other planets in the Solar System, but the Sun is moving along its own curved path around the centre of the Milky Way galaxy, which is moving through space at its own whacking great speed, in some sort of orbit around the galaxy cluster to which it belongs, which itself is moving … So, to assert today that the Sun is fixed, as the Copernican theory posited, would put you into what is technically known as “the wrong”.).

The book prints a translation of the full text of the 1633 Sentence against Galileo, which makes for eye-popping reading today. Then follows the translated text of the Abjuration that Galileo was forced to make (on his knees) of his scientific position that “the Sun is the centre [of the universe] and immovable”.

This modern reader wondered how the author would proceed to temper the Sentence and the Abjuration so that they did not read as shockingly as they felt at first.

Of course, that is a matter of putting ourselves in the frame of mind in which we read the past as the past and not as a weird version of ourselves. So, Hull writes: “In order to remove this dismal impression, it is necessary to put on what we may call our ‘retrospective binoculars’ – or, in other words, to tear ourselves out of our present environment and transfer ourselves back to those days, so as to enter into the minds of those who took part in the Galilean tragedy; in short, to put ourselves in their place and to permeate ourselves with their ideas, and to begin to think as they thought. As soon as we have done this, we shall come to the conclusion that, had we lived when they lived, we probably should have acted just as they did.”

We have a bad habit these days, a hangover of the dark face of the 18th-century Enlightenment, combined with a rather aggressive scientism (the position that science can and will with time answer all questions that really need answers and that, if science cannot answer the question, it is not a question worth answering (which, need I point out, is not a position that is possible to defend scientifically as it is a philosophic question)), of holding that our ancestors were inferior to us because they did not enjoy the benefits of scientific discoveries such as those that led to the smartphone and Twitter. This book offers an accessible and balanced antidote to that position.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm