Talk:Galileo Galilei/Archive 7

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Father of Modern Observational Astronomy[edit]

The introduction requests a citation for "father of modern astronomy". One might fuss somewhat about singling out a father of anything; but hey. I think Galileo stands out for his use of the telescope and empirical data to constrain models. Hence a better phrase might be father of modern observational astronomy. I believer Singer has a high level of credibility. This accolade was applied in Singer, Charles (1941), A Short History of Science to the Nineteenth Century, Clarendon Press  (page 217). I cannot edit the article due to protection. The context reads:

With such instruments in his hand Galileo was in a position to observe with an accuracy and a detail that had previously been quite unknown. He is the effective inventor of the telescope and the father of modern observational astronomy. ...

-- Duae Quartunciae 16:42, 13 July 2007 (UTC)

Woo hoo. I'm an "established editor". I have added the reference, and added the word "observational". -- Duae Quartunciae 00:55, 17 July 2007 (UTC)

First name use?[edit]

Someone should explain in the intro why is first name, rather than his last name (Galilei) is famous (used commonly)? --Sadi Carnot 02:14, 25 July 2007 (UTC)

Did Galileo ever say, "Does Saturn swallow his children?"[edit]

upon first observing the rings disappear? Or is that a myth? Serendipodous 06:13, 28 July 2007 (UTC)

No, it's not a myth, although the question quoted is a not quite accurate translation of Galileo's original, which appears in his Letters on Sunspots. In Favaro's National Edition of his works, it is on page 237 of volume 5:
"forse Saturno si ha divorato i proprii figli?" ("Perhaps Saturn has devoured his own children?")
David Wilson 02:33, 2 August 2007 (UTC)
Really? Since Saturn in mythology did devour his children, was Galileo that poetic? Mallerd 17:15, 4 August 2007 (UTC)
I'm not sure how poetic one needed to be in Galileo's time to be reasonably familiar with Greek and Roman mythology. My impression is that this was an almost universal attribute of the educated classes of that era. At any rate, the reference to Saturn devouring his children is only one of many allusions to classical mythology that occur in Galileo's writings.
Galileo also delivered two lectures to the Florentine academy on the dimensions of hell in Dante's Inferno, wrote commentaries on Torquato Tasso and on his epic poem Jerusalem Liberated, a series of postils on Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, a moderately lengthy satirical poem, Contro il Portar la Toga, in terza rima, and several sonnets. His writings on poetry and his own poetry itself were together sufficently voluminous to fill an entire volume (Volume 9) of his collected works.
David Wilson 13:27, 5 August 2007 (UTC)
Oh no doubt about it, Greek/Roman mythology was known to people like Galileo, but I wondered if he would really say it, like Caesar would really be poetic when he is dying. :) Mallerd 17:33, 5 August 2007 (UTC)

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Galileo's views on Comets[edit]

The article states:

"Galileo made at least one major scientific error, in addition to opposing Kepler's hypothesis that the gravity of the moon is the origin of the tides. This was his view on the origin of the comets of 1618. He argued vehemently in The Assayer that they were an optical illusion, in opposition to the interpretation of the Jesuit Orazio Grassi that they were real, and quite distant from the Moon."

This is erroneous. Not only did Galileo not argue in The Assayer that comets were an optical illusion, but stated quite explicitly that he had never positively affirmed this to be the case (see Stillman Drake's translation of the relevant passage on page 254 of Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, for example). This passage needs to be rewritten to correct its inaccuracies David Wilson 14:35, 15 August 2007 (UTC)

Can you be more explicit? What would you propose to replace it? Note that the wikipedia article on The Assayer says of this work:
"Galileo incorrectly treated the comets as a play of light rather than as real objects."
Is this a better way of putting it? How about if we replace "optical illusion" with "play of light"? Or is the other wikipedia article also in error? Duae Quartunciae (talk · cont) 15:03, 15 August 2007 (UTC)

"Can you be more explicit?"
Galileo did not have any theory of comets. As far as we can tell from what he actually wrote (as opposed to what Chinese whispers have misattributed to him) he considered the observational evidence insufficient to establish their true nature. In his first work on the subject, Grassi had simply assumed that they were fiery bodies whose distance could be established by parallax. Galileo pointed out that there were many visible phenomena, such as rainbows, auroras, haloes and reflections, for which this procedure would be inappropriate. Consequently, he argued, Grassi's conclusions about the location of the comet he was discussing would remain unjustified unless he could show definitively that it wasn't an optical effect similar to those he had enumerated. He also presented a conjecture to illustrate his point, but he made it quite clear that he regarded it merely as a possibility worthy of consideration, and not as a description of the "true" nature of comets.
"What would you propose to replace it?"
Anything that's concise and accurate. When I get the time I'll have a go at putting something together if noone else beats me to it.
"Is this a better way of putting it? ... Or is the other wikipedia article also in error? "
No and yes, respectively. The article on The Assayer is very poor, in my opinion, and needs to be completely rewritten.
David Wilson 09:34, 16 August 2007 (UTC)
Found an extract from Stillman's translation online, and I think you are correct.
Next Sarsi patches together an argument out of various fragments of propositions designed to prove that the comet was situated between the moon and the sun. Guiducci and I may concede the whole thing to him without prejudice, as we have never said anything about the location of the comet, nor have we denied that it might have been beyond the moon. We merely said that the proofs thus far set forth by other authors are not free from objections. Sarsi would fail to remove these objections no matter bow many new proofs of his own he added, even if they were themselves conclusive. . . . Still, since I like to see mysterious things brought to light, and since I wish to discover the truth, I shall consider his argument; and for a clearer understanding let me first reduce it to as few words as possible.
— Galileo, in The Assayer, translated by Stillman Drake
This was news to me; thanks! I encourage you to go ahead and make some changes. It would be good to get it right. Duae Quartunciae (talk · cont) 12:13, 16 August 2007 (UTC)
And here is the passage I had in mind from p.254:
That the comet was a mere image and appearance was never positively affirmed by us; it was merely raised as a question and offered for the consideration of philosophers, along with various arguments and conjectures that appeared suitable to show them this possibility. Here are Guiducci's words: "I do not say positively that a comet is formed in this way, but I do say that just as doubts exist concerning this, so doubts exist concerning the origins suggested by other authors; and if they claim to have established their ideas beyond doubt, they are under an obligation to show that this (and any other theory) is vain and foolish."
David Wilson 13:33, 16 August 2007 (UTC)

Geocentrism as an article of faith[edit]

I have altered the following statement,

The geocentric view had been dominant since the time of Aristotle and was an article of faith within the Catholic Church.

in the preceding version of the article as inaccurate. Geocentrism did not become an "article of faith" until heliocentrism was condemned in 1616. Before Copernicus revived it the Church had no reason to even consider the matter as a doctrinal question. There was very little sign of official opposition to Copernicus's theory by the Church until after De Revolutionibus was published. On the contrary, Copernicus was encouraged to publish by his friend, Bishop Tiedeman Giese, as well as by Nicholas Schönberg, the Archbishop of Capua. After Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter had delivered lectures on Copernicus's theory to Pope Clement VII and an assembly of Cardinals the Pope was sufficiently pleased to reward him with the gift of a book.

It was only after the publication of De Revolutionibus that theological opposition to heliocentrism started to build up. Even so, there were at least two professional theologians who defended it, and the Church made no official pronouncement on the matter until the decree of the Congregation of the Index in 1616. David Wilson 08:25, 18 August 2007 (UTC)

Good catch. Duae Quartunciae (talk · cont) 08:31, 18 August 2007 (UTC)

the word "revolutionary" is not in this article, so I had to add it[edit]

He's un-doubtfully revolutionary, anybody whow would dispute this is blatantly obviously biased, ignorantly biased I might add. So i'll add it in the opening sentance. Duff man2007 04:04, 5 September 2007 (UTC)

Please explain precisely what makes Galileo any more revolutionary than any other scientist who is notable enough to have a long encyclopedia article. Roger 16:58, 6 September 2007 (UTC)

lol if u don't know why he's revolutionary then you have no place to be here, seriously a "long article" has nothing to do with the person's importance you noob. the word "revolutionary" is going to be left in there. Duff man2007 04:37, 7 September 2007 (UTC)

Please see WP:NPA. I'm wondering too. Another way to phrase the question: why specifically is the use of the term "revolutionary" appropriate in this particular encyclopedia article (or any article)? Paul Koning 11:03, 7 September 2007 (UTC)
If the term applies, then there should be some way to explain what it means in this context. Roger 12:50, 7 September 2007 (UTC)
One way it could be applied is if verifyable sources (WP:V) uses that term to describe Galileo, and the article says something like "xxx and yyy describe his work as revolutionary". Paul Koning 16:12, 7 September 2007 (UTC)
No, no, that is just meaningless. There are too many thousands of people for which a source can be found that uses silly superlatives. The word revolution is already in the first sentence once. It shouldn't be in a second time. It doesn't add anything, except to make the sentence sound silly. Roger 18:27, 7 September 2007 (UTC)

Roger your logic is flawed, the term "scientific revolution" is controversial, Galileo on the other hand is un-doubtfully revolutionary, and anybody to dispute this is highly un-informed; the word "revolutionary" is being left in. Duff man2007 23:36, 7 September 2007 (UTC)

There are indeed thousands of people for whom superlatives are applied; it does not follow that they are never appropriate. Galileo is one for which the term is entirely appropriate. But it's ugly in this sentence. The word "revolutionary" and "revolution" both appear, where it would be stylistically better to have just one. I prefer the original wording, before the second "revolutionary" was added a couple of days ago. Duae Quartunciae (talk · cont) 23:48, 7 September 2007 (UTC)
I agree. Advertising and journalism is also turning the word "revolutionary" into something of a cliché, so it tends to add to the air of hagiography which currently pervades the whole article (as ragesoss has already pointed out on the featured article review page). Nevertheless, saying merely that Galileo was "closely associated" with the scientific revolution, as the previous version of the article did, does seem to me to be a little vague and wishy-washy. In his excellent biography of Galileo Michael Sharratt (Galileo — Decisive Innovator, p. 9) writes:
... 'the scientific revolution' can provide a framework in which to set the antecedents, discoveries, disputes, dead-ends and cross-purposes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; in such a framework Galileo could hardly be denied an important role, perhaps even a central one.
So, using Sharratt as a guide, we could perhaps replace the current text with something like:
Galileo Galilei (15 February 15648 January 1642)[1][2] was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the scientific revolution.
Would Duff man2007 consider this an acceptable compromise?
David Wilson (talk · cont) 15:49, 8 September 2007 (UTC)
Usage of the term "scientific revolution" is controversial, as you can see in the article on the subject. I think that it would be better to describe Galileo in more neutral terms. Roger 16:33, 8 September 2007 (UTC)
I've gone ahead with the change. Sure, there is some dispute over the scientific revolution, but the term is very well established, and gives a reasonable basis for locating Galileo in the history of science. Controversies over its precise definition are unaffected by the text, and even the minority view that there was no revolution at all does not actually make any difference to the recognition of the term as an identifier. It's perfectly neutral to use a term with such broad recognition across secondary sources. Duae Quartunciae (talk · cont) 20:25, 8 September 2007 (UTC)

Protestant opposition to heliocentrism[edit]

A recent edit has queried a citation to a secondary source recording some of the remarks widely quoted from protestant reformers with respect to heliocentrism. I have removed the query, and reworded the foot note a little. I don't see any problem with it. Duae Quartunciae (talk · cont) 01:58, 9 September 2007 (UTC)

My apologies—I should have done my edits in the reverse order. While I did have the discussion below already prepared, it had a lot of typos in it and needed lots of previews, so it took me a while to get it right.
The discussion below indicates why I consider the cited source (and all similar sources) to be of dubious reliability. But in any case, isolated brief quotations like these from primary sources, even if accurate, cannot be used to establish anything other than the fact that the quotees made the quoted statements in the sources cited. Drawing any stronger conclusions than that constitutes original research. What you need is a good secondary source, by an expert who has evaluated much more of these men's writings and behaviour over the whole period of their lives and who can therefore evaluate the quotations in their proper context. Crowe's book (which I cite below) would be a fairly reasonable such source for Melanchthon's opinions. On my reading of Crowe it would be fair to say that Melanchthon was "strongly opposed" to heliocentrism, at least initially, but not that he "condemned it". Here is an extract:
Melancthon's own view of the Copernican system was initially harsh and critical, but eventually his typical capacity for flexibility and compromise brought him to see the pragmatic advantages in the theory, even if it were false because in conflict with Scripture
I will replace the query on the cited source. In my opinion it should remain there until a good secondary source is provided for the claim, or the claim is removed. I would prefer the latter anyway, since I can't see why Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin's opinions on heliocentrism have any relevance to Galileo's conflict with the Catholic Church.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 03:22, 9 September 2007 (UTC)

Calvin, Luther and Melanchthon[edit]

As it stood, the statement

Galileo Galilei was opposed greatly by the Protestant reformers including Martin Luther, John Calvin and Philip Melanchthon, all of whom at one point condemned heliocentrism.[33]

in the previous version of the article was a nonsensical anachronism. Luther and Melanchthon both died before Galileo was born, and Calvin died when he was less than 6 months old. I have amended the statement so that it at least makes sense. However there are still plenty of problems with it:

  • Relevance. Why are the opinions of Protestants who all died before Galileo was 6 months old of any relevance to his dispute with the Catholic Church?
  • Evidence. The source cited as support for the statement does not in fact support it.

The alleged quotation from Calvin is not in the source (Commentary on Genesis) given on the web page cited in support of it. A searchable on-line copy of volume 1 of this work is available here and one of volume 2 here. The only mention of Copernicus in the whole work is in a footnote by the translator, and nowhere in the work does Calvin refer at all to Psalm 93:1, the Biblical text on which the quotation is supposed to be a commentary.

The distinguished historian of science, Edward Rosen, who tried to track down the source of this quotation, was unable to find any earlier instance of it than the one in Chapter VI of Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy (in the 2nd edition it's on p.515, the 4th of the Chapter)[see here] Frederic William Farrar's History of Interpretation. Neither Rosen nor any of the experts he consulted were able to find the quotation in any of Calvin's works. The most logical place to look for it is the Commentary on the Psalms, but it's not there either. All Calvin says about cosmography in his commentary on Psalm 93:1-2 is:

A simple survey of the world should of itself suffice to attest a Divine Providence. The heavens revolve daily, and, immense as is their fabric, and inconceivable the rapidity of their revolutions, we experience no concussion -- no disturbance in the harmony of their motion. The sun, though varying its course every diurnal revolution, returns annually to the same point. The planets, in all their wanderings, maintain their respective positions. How could the earth hang suspended in the air were it not upheld by God's hand? By what means could it maintain itself unmoved, while the heavens above are in constant rapid motion, did not its Divine Maker fix and establish it? Accordingly the particle, aph, denoting emphasis, is introduced -- Yea, he hath established it.

and this shows nothing more than that Calvin shared the common view of his contemporaries that the universe revolved daily about a stationary earth.

Since the source of the Calvin quotation was misstated, it has obviously not been quoted from, or checked against, the original source, and it's therefore quite likely that none of the other quotations have been so checked either. Unfortunately, when quotations like these get copied from one place to another without being checked against the originals they tend to get transmogrified by Chinese whispers (as illustrated by the misstatement of the Calvin quotation's source), so I do not believe that the cited web site can be considered a reliable source for these quotations, and I would be very wary of any other source which makes similar uses of such quotations.

I can verify from a reliable source (Michael J. Crowe's Theories of the World from Antiquity to the Copernican Revolution, p.175) that the Martin Luther quotation is roughly accurate, as far as it goes. However, Crowe also notes (p.79) that there are "doubts about the authenticity of some of the remarks attributed to Martin Luther in his Table Talk", that these remarks were made in 1539 before the full details of Copernicus's theory became available, and that Luther does not seem to have responded in any way to the publication of these details two years before he died. But in any case, this isolated quotation can hardly justify the claim that Luther "strongly opposed" heliocentrism, or that he "condemned" it.

David Wilson (talk · cont) 02:19, 9 September 2007 (UTC)

A possible origin of that passage, mangled through several paraphrasings, is that heliocentrism, for part of Galileo's career, was opposed (on partly theological grounds) by Protestant astronomers, and Melanchthon (at least, if not Luther) had opposed it (though there wasn't much of an astronomical case for it at the time). For obvious reasons, this was far more significant for, e.g., Kepler (a Lutheran) and Copernicus (who's book was published with Lutheran patronage, hence the preface by Osiander) than for Galileo, who spent most of his career with Catholic institutions and patrons. It was a matter of debate among Lutherans, but it was opposed in some instances. I think other Protestant sects had their own complex reactions. (This is off the top of my head, and some of it may not be exactly right, but I think that's the gist.) I don't recall any specific interactions between Protestant authorities and Galileo's work (obviously Kepler approved, but he was an outcast among Lutherans) and can't find any mentions of it in the few Galileo sources I have on hand, but there may be something relevant somewhere. But to the immediate question of the excised statement, I agree that it's rubbish, in terms of relevance if not fact.--ragesoss 02:45, 9 September 2007 (UTC)
I think the crucial point here is the relevance of the material to Galileo himself. On that basis, I would support removing the sentence, as a poor conclusion for the article.
I'm aware of the controversy surrounding the remarks from protestant reformers; but am not well up to date on it. The Luther quote from Table talks can be disputed as to whether Luther said it himself or not; but it is not out of character, and it is in the record supplied by his students. You are right about the Calvin quote. The quote given in the cited reference most likely came through Andrew Dickson White's Warfare, which is a highly unreliable source. Melchathon may be a better example, but rather than chase it up and sort out his attitude to Copernicanism, the crucial point is that he died well before Galileo's work, and so is a most unfitting conclusion to the article.
On this basis, I'm going to go ahead and remove the sentence entirely, with an edit comment directing to this discussion. Duae Quartunciae (talk · cont) 02:53, 9 September 2007 (UTC)
(edit conflicted) Echoing your info from Crowe, I have an essay by Owen Gingerich that has this to say: "Because of the vehemence of the later Catholic response, some nineteenth-century commentators, such as Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), hoped to give the Protestants equal time, and various anti-Copernican sentiments were attributed to John Calvin (1509-64), but careful research has been unable to substantiate any of them." In other words, its the product of conflict thesis historiography. Gingerich also discusses Luther and Melanchthon; their dismissive statements are characterized as offhand remarks, and in Melanchthon's later publications he tempered even the earlier dismissive reference he had published.--ragesoss 02:58, 9 September 2007 (UTC)
Duae Quartunciae wrote:
The quote given in the cited reference most likely came through Andrew Dickson White's Warfare, ...
Bingo! And well spotted. With the exception of one sentence missing from the Luther quotation (and duly marked by an ellipsis) the three quotations are word for word identical with those given by White. White gives citations (including page numbers) to specific editions of Luther and Melanchthon's works for his quotations of them. But for the bogus Calvin quotation he merely says incorrectly that it's in the Commentary on Genesis, without giving any particular edition, or even a chapter or volume. There is a vague suggestion in a footnote that the specific location of the text might be found in one Canon Farrar's History of Interpretation, or a Rev. Dr Shields's The Final Philosophy.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 13:41, 9 September 2007 (UTC)


Above, I mistakenly wrote:

... Edward Rosen ... was unable to find any earlier instance of it than the one in Chapter VI of Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy...

See my talk page for details about the correction.

David Wilson (talk · cont) 14:25, 10 September 2007 (UTC)