My point is ...
Classic Texts: Galileo - Considerations on the Copernican Opinion (1615)
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Galileo's Considerations on the Copernican Opinion (1615)
Source: Galileo's Considerations on the Copernican System, 1615, from The Galileo Affair, edited by Maurice Finocchiaro. Complete letter.
In order to remove (as much as the blessed God allows me) the occasion to deviate from the most correct judgment about the resolution of the pending controversy, I shall try to do away with two ideas. These are notions which I believe some are attempting to impress on the minds of those persons who are charged with the deliberations, and, if I am not mistaken, they are concepts far from the truth.
The first is that no one has any reason to fear that the outcome might be scandalous; for the earth's stability and sun's motion are so well demonstrated in philosophy that we can be sure and indubitably certain about them; on the other hand, the contrary position is such an immense paradox and obvious foolishness so that no one can doubt in any way that it cannot be demonstrated now or ever, or indeed that it can never find a place in the mind of sensible persons. The other idea which they try to spread is the following: although that contrary assumption has been used by Copernicus and other astronomers, they did this in a suppositional manner, and insofar as it can account more conveniently for the appearances of celestial motions and facilitate astronomical calculations and computations, and it is not the case that the same persons who assumed it believed it to be true de facto and in nature; so the conclusion is that one can safely proceed to condemn it. However, if I am not mistaken, these ideas are fallacious and far from the truth, as I can show with the following considerations. These will only be general and suitable to be understood without much effort and labor even by someone who is not well versed in the natural and astronomical sciences. For, if there were the opportunity to treat these points with those who are very experienced in these studies, or at least who have the time to do the work required by the difficulty of the subject, then I should propose nothing but the reading of Copernicus's own book; from it and from the strength of his demonstrations one could clearly sec how true or false are the two ideas we are discussing.
That it is not to be disparaged as ridiculous is, therefore, clearly shown by the quality of the men, both ancient and modern, who have held and do hold it. No one can regard it as ridiculous unless he considers ridiculous and foolish Pythagoras with all his school, Philolaus (teacher of Plato), Plato himself (as Aristotle testifies in his book On the Heavens), Heraclides of Pontus, Ecphantus, Aristarchus of Samos, Hicetas and Seleucus the mathematician. Seneca himself not only does not ridicule it, hut he makes fun of those who do, writing in his book On Comets: "It is also important to study these questions in order to learn whether the universe goes around the motionless earth, or the earth rotates but the universe does not. For some have said that we are naturally unaware of motion, that sunrise and sunset are not due to the motion of the heavens, but that it is we ourselves who rise and set. The matter deserves consideration, so that we may know the conditions of our existence, whether we stand still or move very fast, whether God drives everything around us or drives us." Regarding the moderns, Nicolaus Copernicus first accepted it and amply confirmed it in his whole book. Then there were others: William Gilbert, a distinguished physician and philosopher, who treats it at length and confirms it in his book On the Loadstone; Johannes Kepler, a living illustrious philosopher and mathematician in the service of the former and the current Emperor, follows the same opinion; Origanus (David Tost) at the beginning of his Ephemerides supports the earth's motion with a very long discussion; and there is no lack of other authors who have published their reasons on the matter. Furthermore, though they have not published anything, I could name very many followers of this doctrine living in Rome, Florence, Venice, Padua, Naples, Pisa, Parma, and other places. This doctrine is not, therefore, ridiculous, having been accepted by great men; and, though their number is small compared to the followers of the common position, this is an indication of its being difficult to understand, rather than of its absurdity. Moreover, that it is grounded on very powerful and effective reasons may be shown from the fact that all its followers were previously of the contrary opinion, and indeed that for a long time they laughed at it and considered it foolish. Copernicus and I, and all others who are alive, are witnesses to this. Now, who will not believe that an opinion which is considered silly and indeed foolish, which has hardly one out of a thousand philosophers following it, and which is disapproved by the Prince of the prevailing philosophy, can become acceptable through anything but very firm demonstrations, very clear experiences, and very subtle observations? Certainly no one will be dissuaded of an opinion imbibed with mother's milk from his earliest training, accepted by almost the whole world and supported by the authority of very serious writers, unless the contrary reasons are more than effective. If we reflect carefully, we find that there is more value in the authority of a single person who follows the Copernican opinion than in that of one hundred others who hold the contrary, since those who are persuaded of the truth of the Copernican system were in the beginning all very opposed. So I argue as follows.
Either those who are to be persuaded are capable of understanding the reasons of Copernicus and others who follow him, or they are not; moreover, either these reasons are true and demonstrative, or they are fallacious. If those who are to be persuaded are incapable, then they will never be persuaded by the true or by the false reasons; those who are capable of understanding the strength of the demonstrations will likewise never be persuaded if these demonstrations are fallacious; so neither those who do nor those who do not understand will be persuaded by fallacious reasons. Therefore, given that absolutely no one can be dissuaded from the first idea by fallacious reasons, it follows as a necessary consequence that, if anyone is persuaded of the contrary of what he previously believed, the reasons arc persuasive and true. But as a matter of fact there are many who are already persuaded by Copernican reasons. Therefore, it is true both that these reasons are effective and that the opinion does not deserve the label of ridiculous but the label of worthy of being very carefully considered and pondered.
Furthermore, how futile it is to argue for the plausibility of this or that opinion simply from the large number of followers may be easily inferred from this: no one follows this opinion who did not previously believe the contrary; but instead you will not find even a single person who, after holding this opinion, will pass to the other one, regardless of any discussion he hears; consequently, one may judge, even if he does not understand the reasons for one side or for the other, that probably the demonstrations for the earth's motion are stronger than those for the other side. But I shall say more, namely that if the probability of the two positions were something to be won by ballot, I would be willing to concede defeat when the opposite side had one more vote than I out of one hundred; not only that, but I would be willing to agree that every individual vote of the opponents was worth ten of mine, as long as the decision was made by persons who had perfectly heard, intimately penetrated, and subtly examined all the reasons and evidence of the two sides; indeed it is reasonable to expect that such would be those who cast the votes. Hence this opinion is not ridiculous and contemptible, but somewhat shaky is the position of whoever wanted to capitalise on the common opinion of the many who have not accurately studied these authors. What then should we say of the noises and the idle chatter of someone who has not understood even the first and simplest principles of these doctrines, and who is not qualified to understand them ever? What importance should we give him?
Consider now those who persist in wanting to say that as an astronomer Copernicus considered the earth's motion and the sun's stability only a hypothesis which is more adequate to save celestial appearances and to calculate the motions of planets, but that he did not believe it to be true in reality and in nature. With all due respect, these people show that they have been too prone to believe the word of someone who speaks more out of whim than out of experience with Copernicus's book or understanding the nature of this business. For this reason they talk about it in a way that is not altogether right.
First, limiting ourselves to general considerations, let us see his preface to Pope Paul III, to whom he dedicates the work. We shall find, to begin with, as if to comply with what they call the astronomer's task, that he had done and completed the work in accordance with the hypothesis of the prevailing philosophy and of Ptolemy himself, so that there was in it nothing lacking. But then, taking off the clothes of a pure astronomer and putting on those of a contemplator of nature, he undertook to examine whether this astronomical assumption already introduced, which was completely satisfactory regarding the calculations and the appearances of the motions of all planets, could also truly happen in the world and in nature. He found that in no way could such an arrangement of parts exist: although each by itself was well proportioned, when they were put together the result was a very monstrous chimera.
And so he began to investigate what the system of the world could really be in nature, no longer for the sole convenience of the pure astronomer, whose calculations he had complied with, but in order to come to an understanding of such a noble physical problem; he was confident that, if one had been able to account for mere appearances by means of hypotheses which are not true, this could be done much better by means of the true and physical constitution of the world. Having at his disposal a very large number of physically true and real observations of the motions of the stars (and without this knowledge it is wholly impossible to solve the problem), he worked tirelessly in search of such a constitution. Encouraged by the authority of so many great men, he examined the motion of the earth and the stability of the sun. Without their encouragement and authority, by himself either he would not have conceived the idea, or he would have considered it a very great absurdity and paradox, as he confesses to have considered it at first. But then, through long sense observations, favourable results, and very firm demonstrations, he found it so consonant with the harmony of the world that he became completely certain of its truth. Hence this position is not introduced to satisfy the pure astronomer, but to satisfy the necessity of nature.
Furthermore, Copernicus knew and wrote in the same place that publishing this opinion would have made him look insane to the numberless followers of current philosophy, and especially to each and every layman. Nevertheless, urged by the requests of the Cardinal of Capua and the Bishop of Kulm, he published it. Now, would he not have been truly mad if, considering this opinion physically false, he had published that he believed it to be true, with the certain consequence that he would be regarded as a fool by the whole world? And why would he not have declared that he was using it only as an astronomer, but that he denied it as a philosopher, thus escaping the universal label of foolishness, to the advantage of his common sense?
Moreover, Copernicus states in great detail the grounds and reasons why the ancients believed the earth to be motionless, and then, examining the value of each in turn, he shows them to be ineffective. Now, who ever saw a sensible author engaged in confuting the demonstrations that confirm a proposition he considers true and real? And what kind of judgment would it be to criticise and to condemn a conclusion while in reality he wanted the reader to believe that he accepted it? This sort of incoherence cannot be attributed to such a man. Furthermore, note carefully that, since we are dealing with the motion or stability of the earth or of the sun, we are in a dilemma of contradictory propositions (one of which has to be true), and we cannot in any way resort to saying that perhaps it is neither this way nor that way. Now, if the earth's stability and sun's motion are de facto physically true and the contrary position is absurd, how can one reasonably say that the false view agrees better than the true one with the phenomena clearly visible and sensed in the movements and arrangement of the stars? Who does not know that there is a most agreeable harmony among all truths of nature, and a most sharp dissonance between false positions and true effects? Will it happen, then, that the earth's motion and sun's stability agree in every way with the arrangement of all other bodies in the universe and with all the phenomena, a thousand of them, which we and our predecessors have observed in great detail, and that this position is false? And can the earth's stability and sun's motion be considered true and not agree in any way with the other truths? If one could say that neither this nor that position is true, it might happen that one would be more convenient than the other in accounting for the appearances. But, given two positions, one of which must be true and the other false, to say that the false one agrees better with the effects of nature is really something that surprises my imagination. I add: if Copernicus confesses to having fully satisfied astronomers by means of the hypothesis commonly accepted as true, how can one say that by means of the false and foolish one he could or would want to satisfy again the same astronomers?
However, I now go on to consider the nature of the business from an internal viewpoint, and to show with how much care one must discuss it.
Astronomers have so far made two sorts of suppositions: some are primary and pertain to the absolute truth of nature; others are secondary and are imagined in order to account for the appearances of stellar motions, which appearances seem not to agree with the primary and true assumptions. For example, before trying to account for the appearances, acting not as a pure astronomer but as a pure philosopher, Ptolemy supposes, indeed he takes from philosophers, that celestial movements are all circular and regular, namely uniform; that heaven has a spherical shape; that the earth is at the center of the celestial sphere, is spherical, motionless, etc. Turning then to the inequalities we see in planetary movements and distances, which seem to clash with the primary physical suppositions already established, he goes on to another sort of supposition; these aim to identify the reasons why, without changing the primary ones, there is such a clear and sensible inequality in the movements of planets and in their approaching and their moving away from the earth. To do this he introduces some motions that are still circular, but around centers other than the earth's, tracing eccentric and epicyclic circles. This secondary supposition is the one of which it could be said that the astronomer supposes it to facilitate his computations, without committing himself to maintaining that it is true in reality and in nature.
Let us now see in what kind of hypothesis Copernicus places the earth's motion and sun's stability. There is no doubt whatever, if we reflect carefully, that he places them among the primary and necessary suppositions about nature. For, as I have already stated, it seems that he had already given satisfaction to astronomers by the other road, and that he takes this one only to try to solve the greatest problem of nature. In fact, to say that he makes this supposition to facilitate astronomical calculations is so false that instead we can see him, when he comes to these calculations, leaving this supposition and returning to the old one, the latter being more readily and easily understood and still very quick even in computations. This may be seen as follows. Intrinsically, particular calculations can be made by taking one position as well as the other, that is, by making the earth or the heavens rotate; nevertheless, many geometers and astronomers in many books have already demonstrated the properties of orthogonal and oblique displacements of parts of the zodiac in relation to the equator, the declinations of the parts of the ecliptic, the variety of angles between it and both meridians and oblique horizons, and a thousand other specific details necessary to complete astronomical science. This ensures that, when he comes to examining these details of the primary motions, Copernicus himself examines them in the old manner, namely as occurring along circles traced in the heavens and around the motionless earth, even though stillness and stability should belong to the highest heaven, called the Prime Mobile, and motion to the earth. Thus in the introduction to Book Two he concludes: "People should not be surprised if we still use the ordinary terms for the rising and setting of the Sun and stars and similar occurrences, but should recognise that we are speaking in customary language, which is acceptable to everyone, yet always bearing in mind that 'For us who ride the Earth, the Sun and Moon are passing; patterns of stars return, and then again recede'." We should therefore understand clearly that Copernicus takes the earth's motion and sun's stability for no other reason and in no other way than to establish it, in the manner of the natural philosopher, as a hypothesis of the primary sort; on the contrary, when he comes to astronomical computations, he goes back to the old hypothesis, which takes the circles of the basic motions with their details to be located in the highest heaven around the motionless earth, being easier for everyone to understand on account of ingrained habit. But what am I saving? Such is the strength of truth and the weakness of falsehood, that those who speak this way reveal themselves not completely capable of understanding these subjects and not well versed in them; this happens when they let themselves be persuaded that the secondary kind of hypothesis is considered chimerical and fictional by Ptolemy and by other serious astronomers, and that they really regard them as physically false and introduced only for the sake of astronomical computations. The only support they give for this very fanciful opinion is a passage in Ptolemy where, unable to observe more than one simple anomaly in the sun, he wrote that to account for it one could take the hypothesis of a simple eccentric as well as that of an epicycle on a concentric, and he added he preferred the first for being simpler than the second; from these words some very superficially argue that Ptolemy did not consider necessary, but rather wholly fictional, both this and that supposition, since he said they are both equally convenient, while one and only one can be attributed to the sun's behaviour. But what kind of superficiality is this? Who can do both of the following? First, to suppose as true the primary suppositions that planetary motions are circular and regular, and to admit (as the senses themselves necessarily force us) that in running through the zodiac all planets are now slow and now fast, indeed that most of them can be not only slow but also stationary and retrograde, and that we see them now very large and very near the earth and now very small and very far; and then, having understood these former points, to deny that eccentrics and epicycles can really exist in nature? This is wholly excusable for men who are not specialists in these sciences, but for others who would claim to be experts in them it would be an indication that they do not even understand the meaning of the terms eccentric and epicycle. One might just as well first admit that there are three letters, the first of which is G, the second O, and the third D, and then at the end deny that their combination yields GOD and claim that the result is SHADOW. But if rational arguments were not sufficient to make one understand the necessity of having to place eccentrics and epicycles really in nature, at least the senses themselves would have to persuade him: for we see the four Medicean planets' trace four small circles around Jupiter which are very far from enclosing the earth, in short, four epicycles; Venus, which is seen now full of light and now very thinly crescent, provides conclusive evidence that its revolution is around the sun and not around the earth, and consequently that its orbit is an epicycle; and the same may be argued for the case of Mercury. Moreover, the three outer planets are very near the earth when they are in opposition to the sun, and very far when in conjunction; for example, Mars at its closest appears to the senses more than fifty times larger than at its farthest, so that some have occasionally feared that it had gotten lost or had vanished, being really invisible because of its great distance; now, what else can one conclude but that their revolution is made in eccentric circles, or in epicycles, or in a combination of the two, if we take the second anomaly into consideration? So, to deny eccentrics and epicycles in the motions of planets is like denying the light of the sun, or else it is to contradict oneself. Let us apply what I am saying more directly to our purpose: some say that modern astronomers introduce the earth's motion and sun's stability suppositionally in order to account for the phenomena and to facilitate calculations, just as epicycles and eccentrics are assumed in the same manner, though the same astronomers consider them physically chimerical and repugnant; I answer that I shall gladly agree with all this talk, as long as they limit themselves to staying within their own conceptions, namely that the earth's motion and sun's stability are as false or true in nature as epicycles and eccentrics. Let them, then, make every effort to do away with the true and real existence of these circles, for if they succeed in demonstrating their non-existence in nature, I shall immediately surrender and admit the earth's motion to be a great absurdity. But if, on the contrary, they are forced to accept them, let them also accept the earth's motion, and let them admit to have been convinced by their own contradictions.
I could present many other things for this same purpose. However, since I think that whoever is not persuaded by what I have said would not be persuaded by many more reasons either, I want these to suffice. I shall only add something about what could have been the motive why some have concluded with any plausibility that Copernicus himself did not really believe his own hypothesis.
There is on the reverse side of the title page of Copernicus's book a certain preface to the reader, which is not by the author since it mentions him in the third person and is without signature. It clearly states that no one should believe in the least that Copernicus regarded his position as true, but only that he feigned and introduced it for the calculation of celestial motions; it ends its discussion by concluding that to hold it as true and real would be foolish. This conclusion is so explicit that whoever reads no further, and believes it to have been placed at least with the author's consent, deserves to be somewhat excused for his error. But what weight to give to the opinion of those who would judge a book without reading anything but a brief preface by the printer or publisher, I let each one decide for himself. I say that this preface can only have originated from the publisher to facilitate the sale of a book which common people would have regarded as a fanciful chimera if a similar preface had not been added; for most of the time buyers are in the habit of reading such prefaces before buying the work. Not only was this preface not written by the author, but it was included without his consent, and also without his knowledge; this is shown by the errors it contains, which the author would never have committed.
This preface says no one can consider it verisimilar, unless he is completely ignorant of geometry and optics, that Venus has such a large epicycle enabling it now to precede and now to follow the sun by 40 degrees or more; for it would have to happen that when it is highest its diameter should appear only one-fourth of what it appears when it is lowest, and that in the latter location its body should be seen as sixteen times bigger than in the former; but these things, he says, are repugnant to the observations made throughout the centuries. In these assertions we see, first, that the writer does not know that Venus departs on one side and on the other of the sun by about 48 degrees, and not 40 as he says. Moreover, he asserts that its diameter should appear four times, and its body sixteen times, larger in one position than in the other. Here, first, due to a geometrical oversight he does not understand that when one globe has a diameter four times larger than another, its body is sixty-four times bigger, and not sixteen, as he stated. Hence, if he considered such an epicycle absurd and wanted to declare it to be physically impossible, if he had understood this subject, he could have made the absurdity much greater; for, according to the position he wants to refute (well known to astronomers), Venus digresses from the sun almost 48 degrees, and when farthest from the earth its distance must be six times greater than when closest, and consequently its apparent diameter in the latter position is more than six times larger than in the former (not four times), and its body more than two hundred and sixteen times greater (and not just sixteen). These errors are so gross that it is impossible to believe they were committed by Copernicus, or by anyone else but the most unqualified persons. Moreover, why label such a large epicycle most absurd, so that because of such an absurdity we would conclude that Copernicus did not regard his assumptions as true, and that neither should others so regard them? He should have remembered that in chapter 10 of the first hook Copernicus is speaking ad hominem and is attacking other astronomers who allege that it is a great absurdity to give Venus such an epicycle, which is so large as to exceed the whole lunar orbit by more than two hundred times, and which does not contain anything inside; he then removes the absurdity when he shows that inside Venus's orbit is contained the orbit of Mercury and, placed at the centre, the body of the sun itself. What frivolity is this, then, to want to show a position mistaken and false on account of a difficulty which that position not only does not introduce in nature, but completely removes? Similarly it removes the immense epicycles which out of necessity other astronomers assumed in the other system. This only touches the writer of Copernicus's preface; so we may argue that, if he had included something else professionally relevant, he would have committed other errors.
But finally, to remove any shadow of a doubt, if the failure to observe such great variations in the apparent sizes of the body of Venus should cast doubt on its circular revolution around the sun (from the viewpoint of the Copernican system), then let us make careful observations with a suitable instrument, namely with a good telescope, and we shall find all effects and experiences exactly agreeing; that is, we shall see Venus crescent when it is nearest to the earth, and with a diameter six times larger than when it is at its maximum distance, namely above the sun, where it is seen round and very small. I have discussed elsewhere the reasons for not detecting these variations with our simple eyesight, but just as from this failure we could reasonably deny that supposition, so now, from seeing the very exact correspondence in this and every other detail, we should abandon any doubt and consider the supposition true and real. As for the rest of this admirable system, whoever desires to ascertain the opinion of Copernicus himself should not read the fanciful preface of the printer, but the whole work of the author himself; without a doubt he will grasp first-hand that Copernicus held as very true the stability of the sun and the motion of the earth.
The motion of the earth and stability of the sun could never be against Faith or Holy Scripture, if this proposition were correctly proved to be physically true by philosophers, astronomers, and mathematicians, with the help of sense experiences, accurate observations, and necessary demonstrations. However, in this case, if some passages of Scripture were to sound contrary, we would have to say that this is due to the weakness of our mind, which is unable to grasp the true meaning of Scripture in this particular case. This is the common doctrine, and it is entirely right, since one truth cannot contradict another truth. On the other hand, whoever wants to condemn it judicially must first demonstrate it to be physically false by collecting the reasons against it.
Now, one wants to know where to begin in order to ascertain its falsity, that is, whether from the authority of Scripture or from the refutation of the demonstrations and observations of philosophers and astronomers. I answer that one must start from the place which is safest and least likely to bring about a scandal; this means beginning with physical and mathematical arguments. For if the reasons proving the earth's motion arc found fallacious, and the contrary ones conclusive, then we have already become certain of the falsity of this proposition and the truth of the opposite, which we now say corresponds to the meaning of Scripture; so one would be free to condemn the false proposition and there would be no danger. But if those reasons arc found true and necessary, this will not bring any harm to the authority of Scripture; instead we shall have been cautioned that due to our ignorance we had not grasped the true sense of Scripture, and that we can learn this meaning with the help of the newly acquired physical truth. Therefore, beginning with the arguments is safe in any case. On the other hand, if we were to fix only on what seemed to us the true and certain meaning of Scripture, and we were to go on to condemn such a proposition without examining the strength of the arguments, what a scandal would follow if sense experiences and reasons were to show the opposite? And who would have brought confusion to the Holy Church ? Those who had suggested the greatest consideration of the arguments, or those who had disparaged them? One can see, then, which road is safer.
Moreover, we admit that a physical proposition which has been proved true by physical and mathematical demonstrations can never contradict Scripture, but that in such a case it is the weakness of our mind which prevents us from grasping its true meaning. On the other hand, whoever wants to use the authority of the same passages of Scripture to confute and prove false the same proposition would commit the error called "begging the question." For, the true meaning of Scripture being in doubt in the light of the arguments, one cannot take it as clear and certain in order to refute the same proposition; instead one must cripple the arguments and find the fallacies with the help of other reasons and experiences and morc certain observations. When thc factual and physical truth has been found in this manner, then, and not before, can one be assured of the true meaning of Scripture and safely use it. Thus the safe road is to begin with the arguments, confirming the true and refuting the fallacious ones.
If the earth de facto moves, we cannot change nature and arrange for it not to move. But we can rather easily remove the opposition of Scripture with the mere admission that we do not grasp its true meaning. Therefore, the way to be sure not to err is to begin with astronomical and physical investigations, and not with scriptural ones.
I am always told that, in interpreting the passages of Scripture relevant to this point, all Fathers agree to the meaning which is simplest and corresponds to the literal meaning; hence, presumably, it is improper to give them another meaning or to change the common interpretation, because this would amount to accusing the Fathers of carelessness or negligence. I answer by admitting that the Fathers indeed deserve reasonable and proper respect, hut I add that we have an excuse for them very readily: it is that on this subject they never interpreted Scripture differently from the literal meaning, because at their time the opinion of the earth's motion was totally buried and no one even talked about it, let alone wrote about it or maintained it. But there is no trace of negligence by the Fathers for not thinking about what was completely hidden. That they did not think about it is clear from the fact that in their writings one cannot find even a word about this opinion. And if anyone were to say that they considered it, this would make its condemnation more dangerous; for after considering it, not only did they not condemn it, but they did not express any doubt about it.
Thus the defence of the Fathers is readily available and very easy. On the contrary, it would be very difficult or impossible to excuse or exonerate from a similar charge of carelessness the Popes, Councils, and Congregations of the Index of the last eighty years, if this doctrine were erroneous and deserving of condemnation; for they have let this opinion circulate in a book which was first written on orders from a Pope, and then printed on orders from a cardinal and a bishop, dedicated to another Pope, and, most important, received by the Holy Church, so that one cannot say that it had remained unknown. If, then, the inappropriateness of charging our highest authorities with negligence is to be taken into account, as it should, Let us make sure that in trying to escape one absurdity we do not fall into a greater one.
But assume now that someone regards it as inappropriate to abandon the unanimous interpretation of the Fathers, even in the case of physical propositions not discussed by them and whose opposite they did not even consider; I then ask what one should do if necessary demonstrations showed the facts of nature to be the opposite. Which of the two decrees should be changed? The one which stipulates that no proposition can be both true and erroneous, or the other one which obliges us to regard as articles of faith physical propositions supported by the unanimous interpretation of the Fathers? It seems to me, if I am not mistaken, that it would be safer to modify this second decree than to be forced to hold as an article of faith a physical proposition which had been demonstrated with conclusive reasons to be factually false in nature. It also seems to me that one could say that the unanimous interpretation of the Fathers should have absolute authority in the case of propositions which they aired, and for which no contrary demonstrations exist and it is certain that none could ever exist. I do not bring in the fact that it is very clear that the Council requires only that one agree with the unanimous interpretation of the Fathers "in matters of faith and morals, etc."
Copernicus uses eccentrics and epicycles, but these were not the reason for rejecting the Ptolemaic system, since they undoubtedly exist in the heavens; it was other difficulties.
In regard to philosophers, if they were true philosophers, namely lovers of truth, they should not get irritated, but, learning that they were wrong, they should thank whoever shows them the truth; and if their opinion were to stand up, they would have reason to take pride in it, rather than being irritated. Theologians should not get irritated because, if this opinion were found false then they could freely prohibit it, and if it were discovered true then they should rejoice that others have found the way to understand the true meaning of Scripture and have restrained them from perpetrating a serious scandal by condemning a true proposition.
In regard to falsifying Scripture, this is not and will never be the intention of Catholic astronomers such as ourselves; rather our view is that Scripture corresponds very well to truths demonstrated about nature. Moreover, certain theologians who are not astronomers should be careful about falsifying Scripture by wanting to interpret it as opposed to propositions which may be true and demonstrable.
It might happen that we could have difficulties in interpreting Scripture, but this would occur because of our ignorance and not be cause there really are or can be insuperable difficulties in reconciling Scripture with demonstrated truths.
The Council speaks "about matters of faith and morals, etc." So there is an answer to the claim that such a proposition is "an article of faith by reason of the speaker," though not "by reason of the topic," and that therefore it is among those covered by the Council. The answer is that everything in Scripture is "an article of faith by reason of the speaker," so that in this regard it should be included in the rule of the Council; but this clearly has not been done because in that case it would have said that "the interpretation of the Fathers is to be followed for every word of Scripture, etc.," and not "for matters of faith and morals"; having thus said "for matters of faith," we see that its intention was to mean "for matters of faith by reason of the topic."
Then consider that it is much more a matter of faith to hold that Abraham had some children and that Tobias had a dog, because Scripture says it, than it would be to hold that the earth moves, even if this were found in the same Scripture, and further that to deny the former is a heresy, but not to deny the latter. It seems to me that this depends on the following reason. There have always been in the world men who had two, four, six children, etc., or none, and similarly people who have dogs and who do not, so that it is equally credible that some have children or dogs and others do not; hence there appears to be no reason why in such propositions the Holy Spirit should speak differently from the truth, the negative and the affirmative sides being equally credible to all men. But it is not so with the motion of the earth and the stability of the sun; these propositions are very far removed from the understanding of the masses, for on these matters not relevant to their eternal life the Holy Spirit chose to conform its pronouncements with their abilities, even when facts are otherwise from the point of view of the thing in itself.
In regard to placing the sun in heaven and the earth outside it, as Scripture seems to affirm, etc., this truly seems to me to be a simple perception of ours and a manner of speaking only for our convenience. For, in reality all that is surrounded by heaven is in heaven, just as all that is surrounded by the city walls is in the city; indeed, if one were to express a preference, what is in the middle is more in heaven and in the city, being, as it were, at the heart of the city and of heaven. That difference exists because one takes the elemental region surrounding the earth as being very different from the celestial region. But such a difference will always exist regardless of where these elements are placed; and it will always be true that from the viewpoint of our convenience the earth is below us and heaven above, since all the inhabitants of the earth have heaven above our heads, which is our upwards, and the center of the earth under our feet, which is our downwards; so, in relation to us the center of the earth and the surface of heaven are the farthest places, that is, the endpoints of our up and down, which are diametrically opposite points.
Not to believe that there is a demonstration of the earth's mobility until it is shown is very prudent, nor do we ask that anyone believe such a thing without a demonstration. On the contrary, we only seek that, for the advantage of the Holy Church, one examine with the utmost severity what the followers of this doctrine know and can advance, and that nothing be granted them unless the strength of their arguments greatly exceeds that of the reasons for the opposite side. Now, if they are not more than ninety percent right, they may be dismissed; but if all that is produced by philosophers and astronomers on the opposite side is shown to be mostly false and wholly inconsequential, then the other side should not he disparaged, nor deemed paradoxical, so as to think that it could never he clearly proved. It is proper to make such a generous offer since it is clear that those who hold the false side cannot have in their favour any valid reason or experiment, whereas it is necessary that all things agree and correspond with the true side.
It is true that it is not the same to show that one can save the appearances with the earth's motion and the sun's stability, and to demonstrate that these hypotheses are really true in nature.' But it is equally true, or even more so, that one cannot account for such appearances with the other commonly accepted system. The latter is undoubtedly false, while it is clear that the former, which can account for them, may be true. Nor can one or should one seek any greater truth in a position than that it corresponds with all particular appearances.
One is not asking that in case of doubt the interpretation of the Fathers should be abandoned, but only that an attempt be made to gain certainty regarding what is in doubt, and that therefore no one disparage what attracts and has attracted very great philosophers and astronomers. Then, after all necessary care has been taken, the decision may be made.
We believe that Solomon,'- Moses, and all other sacred writers knew perfectly the constitution of the world, as they also knew that God has no hands, no feet, and no experience of anger, forgetfulness, or regret; nor will we ever doubt this. But we say what the Holy Fathers and in particular St. Augustine say about these matters, namely that the Holy Spirit inspired them to write what they wrote for various reasons, etc.
The error of the apparent movement of the shore and stability of the ship is known by us after having many times observed the motion of boats from the shore, and many other times observed the shore from a boat; and so, if we could now stay on earth and now go to the sun or other star, perhaps we would acquire sensible and certain knowledge of which one of them moves. To be sure, if we looked only at these two bodies, it would always seem to us that the one we were on was standing still, just as looking only at the water and the boat always gives the appearance that the water is flowing and the boat is standing still. Moreover, the two situations are very different: there is great disparity between a small boat, separable from its environment, and the immense shore, known by us through thousands of experiences to be motionless, that is, motionless in relation to the water and the boat; but the other comparison is between two bodies both of which are substantial and equally inclined toward motion and toward rest. Thus it would be more relevant to compare between themselves two boats, in which case it is absolutely certain that the one we were on would always appear to us as motionless, as long as we could not consider any other relationship but that which holds between these two ships.
There is, therefore, a very great need to correct the error about observing whether the earth or else the sun moves, for it is clear that to someone on the moon or any other planet it would always appear that it was standing still and the other stars were moving. But these and many other more plausible reasons of the followers of the common opinion are the ones that must be untied very openly, before one can pretend even to be heard, let alone approved; unfortunately we have not done a very detailed examination of what is produced against us. Moreover, neither Copernicus nor his followers will ever use this phenomenon of the shore and the boat to prove that the earth is in motion and the sun at rest. They only adduce it as an example that serves to show, not the truth of their position, but the absence of contradiction between the appearance of a stable earth and moving sun to our simple sense experience, and the reality of the contrary. For if this were one of Copernicus's demonstrations, or if his others did not argue more effectively, I really think that no one would agree with him.