A long overdue pardon

The presidential pardon granted last week to Charles Winters may seem a bit late, seeing as how Winters died in 1984. But that’s just a blink of an eye compared to how long it took the Vatican to reconsider its case against Galileo Galilei.

The famous astronomer who built the first complete astronomical telescope and was an adherent of the then-controversial notion that the Earth revolved around the sun, was tried as a heretic in 1633.

He was forced to recant his belief in favor of the Catholic Church’s view that the Earth was the center of the universe. He was first imprisoned, then kept under house arrest for the remainder of his life. He died in 1642.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI honored Galileo, saying he and other scientists helped people of faith better understand and “contemplate with gratitude” the works of God.

In May, Vatican officials will participate in a conference re-examining Galileo’s scientific importance and his heresy trial. And top Vatican authorities are suggesting he should be named the “patron” of the continuing dialogue between faith and science.

Well, better 365 years late than never. Science and most lay people have long recognized that what Galileo and earlier scientists such as Nicolaus Copernicus suggested regarding the relationship between Earth and sun was the correct view.

The Vatican’s multi-century refusal to reverse itself on Galileo is further evidence that religious dogma usually makes bad science.


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