Friday, August 22, 2008

Cardinal Bellarmine and Galileo's telescope

Or they suppose that science speaks with one voice, and the only dissenters must be Luddites such as the notorious Cardinal Bellarmine, who allegedly refused to look through Galileo's telescope, whereas the truth is that many of Galileo's assertions, including those about the pendulum, were contested by careful observers, including Descartes and Mersenne, probably the leading physicists of the time. And if peoples' miseducation in science has simply taught them to be dogmatists, they can hardly complain if those on the outside can see only dogmatism. But the reality is that science is a human activity, not an abstract calculus, and this properly makes its great achievements a subject of pride and awe, not suspicion and skepticism. It should also make us aware of its desperate fragility, and the hostile cultural forces that it constantly has to overcome. by Alan Sokal