Smithsonian.com, (August 12, 2008) – … Historians of science have long debated the exact nature of and motivations for Galileo’s trial. War, politics and strange bedfellows obscure science’s premier martyrdom story. Many of the documents historians use to try and untangle the mystery are mired in their own prejudices or were written long after the fact, or both.

Now the very first written biography of Galileo has been rediscovered. It offers a rare glimpse into what people thought about the trial only 20 years after Galileo’s death and even suggests a tantalizing new explanation for why he was put on trial in the first place

… If people know anything about Galileo’s trial, it’s usually that the church disapproved of his advocacy of the idea that the earth orbits the sun. In many people’s minds, Galileo is a kind of martyr figure for science and a cautionary tale against allowing religious authority to trump scientific inquiry.

“There’s been a very long discussion about the trial—what happened, who won—and to some extent that’s still going on today,” Wilding says. “The usual interpretation is that this was the great rift between science and religion. You’ve got this arrogant scientist up against a dogmatic church, and in that head-ramming, the pope’s going to win.”

Not that modern scholars give much credence to the traditional science-vs.-religion interpretation of the trial. Most Galilean researchers today agree that politics played a much bigger role than religious closed-mindedness, but there is spirited disagreement about the specifics. Some think the pope was angry at being parodied by Galileo’s character Simplicius in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems­. Other scholars have suggested that church leaders felt Galileo had tricked them into granting him a license to write the book by not revealing its Copernican leanings. But “Salusbury’s explanation is kind of refreshingly new,” Wilding says…

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