Galileo Revisited — On Climate Change

Galileo Galilei was born in February of 1564 and died in is home in January of 1642. He was 77 years old, which is quite a long life for that time period. Life expectancy in Europe during that time period was between 30 to 40 years. Galileo lived to nearly double the maximum life expectancy, so that indicates he was somewhat wealthy and well-nourished throughout the duration of his entire life. If we extrapolated Galileo’s life to modern life expectancy for males in 21st-century America (about 75 years), Galileo would live to be about 140. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I’m just trying to illustrate how good the man had it. He was doing fairly well for himself. I bring this up to counter the pop-culture narrative that Galileo was persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and even killed for the scientific assertion that the earth obits the sun (heliocentrism). Nothing could be further from the truth. While he was excommunicated (unjustly) and placed under house arrest in his own villa (for his protection against angry mobs), he was anything but abused or mistreated. That man had it well, and I mention this in the Catholic Church’s defense, even though what the hierarchy of the Church did to him was stupid and unjust.

Astronomer Copernicus (1473 – 1543), painted in 1873, by Matejko

So let’s recount the events for review. In about 1514, a good 50 years before Galileo was even born, a Polish mathematician and astronomer, named Nicolaus Copernicus, came up with the scientific theory that the earth, and other planets, orbit the sun, and that the earth is not the center of the universe, as was previously thought. His theory was received well by Pope Clement VII, and most within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church at the time, in 1533. It took Copernicus a while to actually write a formal treatise on it, but when he finally did, he dedicated it to Pope Paul III in 1543 and died immediately thereafter at the age of 70. In subsequent years, the heliocentric theory (as it came to be called) was widely taught in many Catholic universities throughout Europe, alongside the antiquated geocentric theory (everything orbits the stationary earth) of Claudius Ptolemy (an Egyptian astronomer who lived in AD 100 – 170). Catholic university students would hear both theories and could decide for themselves what seemed most plausible.

Where Galileo comes into the picture was a bit later. Galileo Galilei was an Italian astronomer, born about 11 years after Copernicus’ death. As an adult, he became the inventor of the telescope. He was also a physicist and engineer. He believed his telescopic observations, combined with his mathematical calculations, proved (beyond the shadow of a doubt) that the heliocentric theory of Copernicus was correct. He was right, on the surface of things, but his methods were what got him in trouble.

You see, at that time in history, there was a strict separation between science and religion within Catholic countries. This prevented scientists in Catholic countries from being persecuted, which was a constant problem in Protestant countries. In Catholic countries, so long as a scientist observed a strict separation between scientific theory and religious dogma, he could expect some protection from the Catholic Church for his studies, research and publications. This wasn’t usually the case in Protestant countries, were scientists often found themselves at the mercy of angry townspeople provoked by their religious leaders. The heliocentric theory of Copernicus was not well liked by commoners in both Catholic and Protestant countries. The difference was that in Catholic countries, it was allowed to be taught in universities alongside the geocentric theory. Whereas in Protestant countries, it was considered heresy and forbidden to be taught at all. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin are on record as having opposed heliocentrism as heresy.

Galileo (1564 – 1642) Before the Roman Inquisition painted in 1857 by Cristiano Banti

In Catholic countries, Galileo found himself free to live, move, seek benefactors, and publish theories, just so long as he kept to the strict rule of separation between science and religion. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough for Galileo. He insisted that the heliocentric theory was more than scientific “fact” but actual dogmatic “truth,” and by insisting upon this, Galileo crossed the line between science and religion. In fact, he even took the liberty of reinterpreting Scripture in light of the heliocentric theory, a blatant violation of the science-religion separation at that time. This landed him in a lot of hot water with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. In the end, a friend of Galileo was elected to the papacy — Pope Urban VIII. Now Urban was a friend and supported Galileo’s work, even through he himself was a geocentrist, and disagreed with it. He encouraged Galileo to write a treatise in defense of the heliocentric view, which Galileo was happy to do. Unfortunately, Galileo’s writing style is what landed him in hot water yet again. His treatise attacked the geocentric view so mercilessly that it made the pope, and every geocentrist in the world, look like an idiot. That was the last straw for many of the pope’s defenders, who also happened to be Galileo’s enemies. It’s important to note that the only man ever condemned for the “heresy of heliocentrism” was Galileo Galilei. The theory continued to be taught in Catholic universities throughout Catholic Europe. This indicates the judgement against Galileo was more political and personal than anything else. Galileo was excommunicated for “heresy” (unjustly) and sentenced to house arrest (for protection from the mobs) in his luxurious villa where he was told everything would be lifted if he recanted heliocentrism and never taught it again. Galileo refused. So he spend the rest of his days in his home. So ends probably the most pitiful and ridiculous scandal in Catholic history — a tale of some very stubborn old men.

So let’s analyze what really happened in the Galileo scandal. Let’s put Galileo’s actions (and stubbornness) aside, because in the whole grand scheme of things, none of that matters. The greater guilt lies at the feet of the Catholic hierarchy in this case, because what they did was persecute one man for promoting a minority scientific theory as “truth.” You see, at the time, the majority opinion on the motion of planets was Ptolemy’s geocentric theory that the earth is the center of the universe and everything else (sun, moon, planets and stars) orbit this stationary earth. That is, after all, the common man’s daily and nightly observations, you see. Just look up into the sky, and that’s exactly what it looks like from our perspective here on earth. That’s what most people thought, and they had thought that for a very long time. If you walked down the streets of any major city in the 1600s, and you did a survey, you would find that the majority of commoners on the street agreed with Ptolemy’s geocentrism, while only a small minority subscribed to the (new and controversial) heliocentric theory of Copernicus. Galileo’s scandal was not so much that he was pompous and arrogant (even though he was), but rather that the Church took sides in the scientific debate. They could have just censured Galileo for sacrilege, for his rudeness toward the pope, but instead they chose to excommunicate him for heresy, citing the “heresy as heliocentrism.”

There is no such thing as a “heleiocentric heresy.” It doesn’t exist. The whole thing was a trumped-up charge to stick the screws toward Galileo because he was rude toward the pope, and the pope’s defenders were geocentrists. They used Galileo to declare heliocentrism a “heresy,” but they had no right to do so, because the Church does not have competency to make judgments in the area of science. Furthermore, the Church has never officially ruled on the issue of heliocentrism itself. Was Galileo guilty of sacrilege for demeaning the pope? That’s debatable. Was he guilty of “heresy” for heliocentrism? No. Absolutely not! There is no “heliocentric heresy.” It doesn’t exist, because it’s just a scientific theory on matter and motion, having no bearing on religion or morality. You can’t be guilty of a heresy that doesn’t exist. So what the Vatican did to Galileo was stupid and unjust, but at least it was only done to one man, and only one man “suffered” because of it. That is, if you can call a house arrest in a luxurious villa “suffering.” Probably the only thing more ridiculous than the Galileo scandal itself is the fact that so many people today use it as some kind of justification for attacking the Catholic Church as “anti-science.” Galileo was a brilliant man, but he was also a pompous ass. What happened to him was totally unjust, but it really wasn’t all that important in Church history. The Catholic Church has a long history of supporting the sciences when no other church would. Galileo’s legacy, we hope, is that Church leaders might learn a lesson to avoid getting involved in all scientific theories, especially those that are politically charged. The Church has no competency in these areas unless they cross over into religion and/or morality, but only insofar as they cross over into these areas. The Church does not have the competency to declare a scientific theory “true” or “false,” anymore than scientists have the competency to declare religious beliefs “true” or “false.” In that sense, the separation between science and religion remains today, albeit on much more civilized terms, where both scientist and theologian are expected to humbly honor the scope and limitations of their own fields.

Instead, leave the mixing of science and religion to foolish bloggers (like me) to anger men in both fields. Which is something I’m very good it. (It is, after all, nice to be good at something!) Even foolish bloggers serve a purpose, you know; stirring the pot, challenging the status quo, and all that sort of thing.

Speaking of challenging the status quo, I think it’s time for this foolish blogger to do a little of that right now. Because you see, the Vatican seems to have forgotten the lesson of the Galileo scandal by taking sides in a scientific debate again. In this case, that scientific debate is man-made, global warming, or as they like to call it today “man-made, climate change.”

Today, the popular theory (accepted by the masses) is that man-made, carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions, from burning fossil fuels, is causing global temperatures to rise, and this in turn will soon cause catastrophic (apocalyptic) changes to the earth’s climate, resulting in mass extinctions, starvation and possibly the end of the human race. These apocalyptic predictions are often accompanied by time-tables, which have always proved to be wrong in the past, and will likely prove to be wrong in the future. That doesn’t stop the climate doomsayers from date-setting though, and they do with gusto.

Within the scope of this current debate there are three basic parties. The first are government-funded scientists who are climate-change advocates. The second are independent scientists who are climate-change skeptics. And the third are the media, environmentalists and politicians who use the first group’s theories as fuel to incite public panic for the purpose of political change…

In the interest of full-disclosure here, I fall on the side of climate-change skepticism, which is the minority opinion in today’s world. I could give you a long dissertation as to why, but I think the above videos do a better job of that. Instead, I’ll cite three facts that lead me to skepticism of the global-warming, climate-change, hysteria…

The composition of the atmosphere on Mars is 95.32% CO2. Mars is a frozen tundra.

The composition of the atmosphere on Venus is 96.5% CO2. Venus is a boiling hell.

The composition of the atmosphere on Earth is 0.04% CO2. Earth is habitable.

You can find these scientific facts on NASA’s website, or in any 9th-grade science textbook. Based on these three facts alone, I think it’s safe to say that CO2 in the atmosphere plays less of a role on global temperatures than the climate-change advocates would have us believe. Obviously, other factors have much more influence on planetary temperatures. I’ll leave the remainder of the scientific debate to real scientists now, and rest my case here.

Yet the Vatican, perhaps even the pope himself, appears to be in the process of repeating the exact same mistake their predecessors made in the Galileo scandal, except this time the stakes are much higher. In the 17th century, only the freedom and reputation of the brilliant but pompous Galileo was at stake. Here in the 21st century, the well-being of the poor and developing nations (hundreds of millions of people) is at stake. The proposed “solutions” to stop global CO2 emissions will economically cripple these nations, and destroy any chance they have at developing their way out of their highly-polluting transitional stage. It is a “stage” mind you, and we know that, because we went through it ourselves in the developed world.

The United States, and much of Europe, went through a similar stage between 120 to 50 years ago, during the transition from the 19th to 20th centuries. But in the latter half of the 20th century, and into the 21st century, Americans and Europeans have been working hard to clean up the environment, limit pollution, and work toward new ways of living that are more “green friendly.” Why is this? Because in this modern world, only fully developed nations have the resources and technology to both care for the environment and feed their own people at the same time! The goal of fully developed nations should be to assist developing nations toward attaining the same level of development, so we can all work together toward cleaning up the environment. I admit I’m saying this as a climate-change skeptic, but I really do believe my view on this is more Christian than the environmentalist solution, which is to stop CO2 emissions “cold turkey” and address hunger problems in developing nations with abortion and artificial contraception. In other words, kill and prevent babies to reduce population, thus making the world less poverty-stricken as we return to 17th-century technology with shorter life expediencies and lower standards of living. I don’t think this is a good “Christian” solution to the world’s problems.

Being a climate-change skeptic doesn’t mean I oppose cleaning up the environment. On the contrary, I want to see a lot more electric cars on the road, and I would love to see every rooftop adorned with solar panels and solar shingles. I would love to see some more windmill farms too, and I don’t necessarily oppose nuclear energy, so long as some more safety precautions are built in. (We can’t have another Fukashima, Chernoble or Three Mile Island.) As a society, I think we do need to move away from the burning of fossil fuels, if for no other reason than improving air quality on the ground level. As an asthmatic, I personally suffered because of this growing up in Los Angeles. So I get it. Yes, we do need to do more, and yes, Americans want to, because we can, and Americans enjoy making clean air, water and land. Why? Because we like it. We like being able to enjoy the great outdoors. But we can afford to do this because we have food in our bellies, and an economy that allows us to spend the time and resources on such endeavors. Developing nations don’t yet have that luxury. We should be helping them get there too.

In the end, however, it doesn’t really matter what I think. I’m just a foolish blogger. The only opinion that matters in this discussion is that of the Vatican. Right now, it would seem the Vatican is about to make the same mistake it did in the Galileo scandal but on a much more grandiose scale, picking sides on a scientific debate it has no competency in.

On the second day of the Amazon synod, the synod fathers favorably mentioned Swedish climate change alarmist Greta Thunberg and the climate strike initiative.

Discussing the Instrumentum Laboris (working document) for the synod and considering the 2018 Synod on Youth, the synod fathers talked about the importance of young proponents for an “integral ecology,” according to the Vatican synod website.


Like it did with Galileo, it would seem that the hierarchy in Rome is about to side with the majority opinion (of climate-change advocacy), over the more controversial, minority opinion (climate-change skepticism). But this time, instead of putting one pompous scientist under house arrest, the Vatican risks putting hundreds of millions of people back into abject poverty. The lesson of the Galileo scandal was for Church leaders to keep their noses out of scientific debates. When Church leaders start taking sides, the best possible outcome is scandal (as it was in the case of Galileo), but the worst possible outcome has yet to be seen.


  1. An excellent and thought provoking article. Thank you. Just to quibble over a point or two: Galileo was never excommunicated but did stand condemned. Had he refused to adjure the alleged heresy against him he may have been excommunicated but as it was that step was never taken. Also, electric cars probably are not a net reducer in pollution since the process needed to manufacture them is anything but “clean”. Again however thanks for a fine article with which I agree.


  2. P.S. Here is a graph showing sea level rise for the past 100+ years. It also shows that rise has been virtually constant, regardless of the fairly significant increase of atmospheric CO2, demonstrating lack of any significant connection between the two.

    Since sea level rise is primarily caused by ocean thermal expansion, due to temperature, and glacier melt water, it is also a indication that global surface temperature is not significantly influenced by CO2.


  3. enjoyed you artcle very much and agree with the gist. I add that the earth has been warming since the last ice age while the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is relatively very recent. also, it seems reasonable that as the ice and snow on the earth’s surface declines the atmosphere would warm.

    further, a milder climate is a more hospitable climate for human beings, an atmosphere richer in CO2 is beneficial to plant growth which is desirable as the earth’s population increases.

    in addition, the use of energy always releases heat, so as our population grows it needs and uses more energy thus releasing more heat on the earth’s surface which in and of itself could be by the Divine design of nature wherein the demands of a growing population are better met by the natural consequences of that expanding population.

    finally, I too am wary of the Vatican backing the CO2 is the primary factor in global warming hypothesis and hope that the Vatican emphasizes the reduction of pollution and preparation for possible new effects from the expansion of the earth’s tropical and temperate zones rather than the CO2 hypothesis of global warming.


  4. A better article to read about Galileo and the Church is written by George Sim Johnston entitled The Galileo Affair, which you can look up online. Also, Galileo was condemned as suspected of heresy by the Hoy Office at a trial, but never condemned as a heretic. And if you read the article, his condemnation of suspected heresy comes about because of his callous nature to Pope Urban VIII.


  5. This article would carry more weight if it didn’t start out with a paragraph completely misunderstanding what life expectancy measures. It isn’t the age at which people are expected to drop dead of old age, it’s an overall average. Large numbers of people dying as infants or in childbirth, and younger people falling victim to infectious disease, famine, war, all greatly dropped the average in Galileo’s day compared to now. If you could manage to avoid those causes of death, there was no reason you couldn’t live roughly as long then as most people do now. Maybe in 2019 Galileo gets heart surgery that gives him another few years, but extrapolating those number to say he would live to 140 today is a statistical farce.

    And while I’m at it, it’s pretty disingenuous to compare the climates of Venus and Mars to Earth and not mention that Earth is 39% farther from the sun than Venus, and Mars is 53% farther than Earth

    I enjoy reading most of your stuff, but you are going to turn off anyone who doesn’t already agree with you with this kind of faulty reasoning


    1. As for the age extrapolation, I said it was ridiculous to begin with, but I was trying to make a point. Galileo lived to a ripe old age even by any standard of history, except today.

      As for the distance of Mars and Venus from the sun, I think you just proved my point in the essay. There are other things affecting global temperatures that have more of an impact than atmospheric CO2.


      1. And my point in bringing it up is I think your attempt at a point is counterproductive. It makes you look ignorant of statistics.

        Unless the point of the article is that the Earth’s orbit around the sun is changing, I didn’t prove any points with that second part.


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