When Galileo burst on the scene in 1610, he came equipped not only with telescopic observations that could be used to support the heliocentric theory, but also with liberal arguments about how to interpret biblical passages that seemed to teach the fixity of the earth. Galileo argued that God spoke through both scripture and the "book of nature," that the two could not truly conflict, and that in physical matters authority should rest with reason and sense. Faced with demon- strative scientific proof, any scriptural passage to the contrary would have to be reinterpreted. Galileo was flirting with danger, not only by entering the domain of the theologians, but also by defending hermeneutic principles clearly at odds with the spirit of the Council of Trent. Moreover, Galileo lacked the convincing physical proof of the mobility of the earth that his own position demanded.
Every one of his telescopic obser- vations was compatible with the modified geocentric system of Tycho Brabe, and Galileo's argument from the tides (that they represent a sloshing about of the oceans on a moving earth) convinced few. The trouble in which Galileo eventually found himself, and which led ultimately to his condemnation, then, resulted not from clear scientific evidence running afoul of biblical claims to the contrary (as White tells the story), but from ambiguous scientific evidence provoking an intra- mural dispute within Catholicism over the proper principles of scriptural interpretations dispute won by the conservatives at Galileo's expense.24 Galileo never questioned the authority of scripture, merely the principles by which it was to be interpreted.
The details of Galileo's condemnation need not detain us long.25 Galileo's campaign on behalf of Copernicanism was halted abruptly in 1616, when the Holy Office declared the heliocentric doctrine heretical- though at the time Galileo faced no physical threat. Eight years later Galileo received permission from the new pope, the scholarly Urban VIII, to write about the Copernican system as long as he treated it as merely hypothesis. After many delays, Galileo's Dialogue Con- cerning the Two Chief World Systems appeared in 1632. In it, Galileo not only unambiguously defended the heliocentric system as physically true, but also made the tactical mistake of placing the pope's admonition about its hypothetical character in the mouth of the slow-witted Aristotelian, Simplicio. Although the official imprimatur of the church had been secured, Galileo's enemies, including the now angry Urban VIII, determined to bring him to trial. The inquisition ulti- mately condemned Galileo and forced him to recant. Although sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life, he lived comfortably in a villa outside Florence. He was neither tortured nor imprisoned-simply silenced. The Galileo affair was a multi-faceted event. Certainly it raised serious questions about the relationship between reason and revelation and the proper means of reconciling the teachings of nature with those of scripture. Nonetheless, it was not a matter of Christianity waging war on science. All of the participants called themselves Christians, and all acknowledged biblical authority. This was a struggle between opposing theories of biblical interpretation: a conservative theory issuing from the Council of Trent versus Galileo's more liberal alternative, both well precedented in the history of the church. Personal and political factors also played a role, as Galileo demonstrated his flair for cultivating enemies in high places.26
--"Beyond War and Peace: A Reappraisal of the Encounter between Christianity and Science"