Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

by Alison Abbott

It had been hiding in plain sight. The original letter — long thought lost — in which Galileo Galilei first set down his arguments against the church’s doctrine that the Sun orbits the Earth has been discovered in a misdated library catalogue in London. Its unearthing and analysis expose critical new details about the saga that led to the astronomer’s condemnation for heresy in 1633.

The seven-page letter, written to a friend on 21 December 1613 and signed “G.G.”, provides the strongest evidence yet that, at the start of his battle with the religious authorities, Galileo actively engaged in damage control and tried to spread a toned-down version of his claims.

Many copies of the letter were made, and two differing versions exist — one that was sent to the Inquisition in Rome and another with less inflammatory language. But because the original letter was assumed to be lost, it wasn’t clear whether incensed clergymen had doctored the letter to strengthen their case for heresy — something Galileo complained about to friends — or whether Galileo wrote the strong version, then decided to soften his own words.

Galileo did the editing, it seems. The newly unearthed letter is dotted with scorings-out and amendments — and handwriting analysis suggests that Galileo wrote it. He shared a copy of this softened version with a friend, claiming it was his original, and urged him to send it to the Vatican.

The letter has been in the Royal Society’s possession for at least 250 years, but escaped the notice of historians. It was rediscovered in the library there by Salvatore Ricciardo, a postdoctoral science historian at the University of Bergamo in Italy, who visited on 2 August for a different purpose, and then browsed the online catalogue.

“I thought, ‘I can’t believe that I have discovered the letter that virtually all Galileo scholars thought to be hopelessly lost,’” says Ricciardo. “It seemed even more incredible because the letter was not in an obscure library, but in the Royal Society library.”

Ricciardo, together with his supervisor Franco Giudice at the University of Bergamo and science historian Michele Camerota of the University of Cagliari, describe the letter’s details and implications in an article in press at the Royal Society journal Notes and Records. Some science historians declined to comment on the finding before they had scrutinized the article. But Allan Chapman, a science historian at the University of Oxford, UK, and president of the Society for the History of Astronomy, says “it’s so valuable — it will allow new insights into this critical period”.

Mixed messages
Galileo wrote the 1613 letter to Benedetto Castelli, a mathematician at the University of Pisa in Italy. In it, Galileo set out for the first time his arguments that scientific research should be free from theological doctrine (see ‘The Galileo affair’).

He argued that the scant references in the Bible to astronomical events should not be taken literally, because scribes had simplified these descriptions so that they could be understood by common people. Religious authorities who argued otherwise, he wrote, didn’t have the competence to judge. Most crucially, he reasoned that the heliocentric model of Earth orbiting the Sun, proposed by Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus 70 years earlier, is not actually incompatible with the Bible.

Galileo, who by then was living in Florence, wrote thousands of letters, many of which are scientific treatises. Copies of the most significant were immediately made by different readers and widely circulated.

His letter to Castelli caused a storm.

Of the two versions known to survive, one is now held in the Vatican Secret Archives. This version was sent to the Inquisition in Rome on 7 February 1615, by a Dominican friar named Niccolò Lorini. Historians know that Castelli then returned Galileo’s 1613 letter to him, and that on 16 February 1615 Galileo wrote to his friend Piero Dini, a cleric in Rome, suggesting that the version Lorini had sent to the Inquisition might have been doctored. Galileo enclosed with that letter a less inflammatory version of the document, which he said was the correct one, and asked Dini to pass it on to Vatican theologians.

His letter to Dini complains of the “wickedness and ignorance” of his enemies, and lays out his concern that the Inquisition “may be in part deceived by this fraud which is going around under the cloak of zeal and charity”.

At least a dozen copies of the version Galileo sent to Dini are now held in different collections.

The existence of the two versions created confusion among scholars over which corresponded to Galileo’s original.

Beneath its scratchings-out and amendments, the signed copy discovered by Ricciardo shows Galileo’s original wording — and it is the same as in the Lorini copy. The changes are telling. In one case, Galileo referred to certain propositions in the Bible as “false if one goes by the literal meaning of the words”. He crossed through the word “false”, and replaced it with “look different from the truth”. In another section, he changed his reference to the Scriptures “concealing” its most basic dogmas, to the weaker “veiling”.

This suggests that Galileo moderated his own text, says Giudice. To be certain that the letter really was written in Galileo’s hand, the three researchers compared individual words in it with similar words in other works written by Galileo around the same time.

Chance discovery
Ricciardo uncovered the document when he was spending a month this summer touring British libraries to study any handwritten comments that readers might have left on Galileo’s printed works. When his one day at the Royal Society was finished, he idly flicked through the online catalogue looking for anything to do with Castelli, whose writings he had recently finished editing.

One entry jumped out at him — a letter that Galileo wrote to Castelli. According to the catalogue, it was dated 21 October 1613. When Ricciardo examined it, his heart leapt. It appeared to include Galileo’s own signature, “G.G.”; was actually dated 21 December 1613; and contained many crossings out. He immediately realized the letter’s potential importance and asked for permission to photograph all seven pages.

“Strange as it might seem, it has gone unnoticed for centuries, as if it were transparent,” says Giudice. The misdating might be one reason that the letter has been overlooked by Galileo scholars, says Giudice. The letter was included in an 1840 Royal Society catalogue — but was also misdated there, as 21 December 1618.Another reason might be that the Royal Society is not the go-to place in the United Kingdom for this type of historical document, whose more natural home would have been the British Library.

The historians are now trying to trace how long the letter has been in the Royal Society library, and how it arrived there. They know that it has been there since at least the mid-eighteenth century, and they have found hints in old catalogues that it might even have been there a century or more earlier. The researchers speculate that it might have arrived at the society thanks to close connections between the Royal Society and the Academy of Experiments in Florence, which was founded in 1657 by Galileo’s students but fizzled out within a decade or so.

For now, the researchers are stunned by their find. “Galileo’s letter to Castelli is one of the first secular manifestos about the freedom of science — it’s the first time in my life I have been involved in such a thrilling discovery,” says Giudice.

1543 Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus publishes his book On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, which proposes that the planets orbit the Sun.

1600 The Inquisition in Rome convicts Dominican friar and mathematician Giordano Bruno of heresy on multiple counts, including supporting and extending the Copernican model. Bruno is burnt at the stake.

1610 Galileo publishes his book The Starry Messenger (Sidereus nuncius), describing discoveries made with his newly built telescope that provide evidence for the Copernican model.

1613 Galileo writes a letter to his friend Benedetto Castelli, arguing against the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church in matters of astronomy. Copies of this letter are circulated.

1615 Dominican friar Niccolò Lorini forwards a copy of the letter to the inquisition in Rome. Galileo asks a friend to forward what he claims to be a copy of his original letter to Rome; this version is less inflammatory than Lorini’s.

1616 Galileo is warned to abandon his support of the Copernican model. Books supporting the Copernican model are banned. On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres is withdrawn from circulation pending correction to clarify that it is only a theory.

1632 Galileo publishes Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, in which he lays out the various evidence for and against the Church’s Ptolemaic model of the Solar System, and the Copernican model. The Inquisition summons Galileo to Rome to stand trial.

1633 Galileo is convicted on “vehement suspicion of heresy” and the book is banned. He is issued with a prison sentence, later commuted to house arrest, under which lived the last nine years of his life.

Nature 561, 441-442 (2018)


By Laura Geggel

Previously hidden text on fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls is now readable, revealing a possible undiscovered scroll and solving a debate about the sacred Temple Scroll. The discoveries came from a new infrared analysis of the artifacts, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced yesterday (May 1).

The newfound writing came from the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, which are in the Hebrew Bible (also known as the Old Testament of the Christian Bible), and the Book of Jubilees, a text written at the same time as the Hebrew Bible that was never incorporated into the biblical books, the archaeologists said.

Researchers presented the newly revealed words at an international conference, called “The Dead Sea Scrolls at Seventy: Clear a Path in the Wilderness,” in Israel.

Local Bedouins and archaeologists discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s in caves near Qumran in the West Bank, located near the northern edge of the Dead Sea. Excavations in the following decades turned up tens of thousands of parchment and papyrus fragments that were dated to 2,000 years ago, the IAA said.

There were so many small and fragile fragments that archaeologists placed them in boxes to be studied at a later date. Now, that time has come: IAA researchers are digitizing the scrolls so that they can be studied and shared with the public without damaging the originals.

During one of these digital scans, Oren Ableman, a scroll researcher at the IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls Unit and a doctoral student in the Department of Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, noticed something peculiar on a few dozen fragments that had been discovered in Cave 11 near Qumran.

These fragments looked blank to the naked eye. But, by using infrared imaging, Ableman discovered that they held Hebrew letters and words, he said in a statement. Ableman then deciphered the script and even connected the fragments to the manuscripts that they had likely been attached to before crumbling away.

Some of the more interesting fragments include the following:

1) A fragment from the Temple Scroll, a text that gives instructions for how to conduct services in the ideal temple. Scholars have debated whether there are two or three copies of the Temple Scroll from Cave 11. The discovery of the text on this fragment suggests that there are, indeed, three copies.

2) A fragment from the Great Psalms Scroll. This fragment contains part of the beginning of Psalm 147:1, and the end of the verse is preserved in a larger fragment from the same cave. The newfound fragment shows that the ancient Psalm is slightly shorter than the Hebrew text used nowadays.

3) Another fragment has letters written in paleo-Hebrew, an ancient Hebrew script. This fragment could not be attributed to any known manuscripts and could belong to an unknown manuscript.

by Ed Mazza

The new Ark Encounter tourist attraction in Kentucky wants you to think that dinosaurs were practically pets just a few thousand years ago.

While scientists agree that dinosaurs died out some 65 million years ago during the K-T mass extinction, Ark Encounter creator Ken Ham believes the planet is only around 6,000 years old. Thus, man and dinosaurs lived together… maybe like in the Flintstones.

The Noah’s Ark he built in Williamstown features exhibits showing dinosaurs peacefully living in cages aboard the ship.

Ham, a “young Earth” creationist, explained in a 2000 blog post exactly how massive dinosaurs could fit on the ship:

“Although there are about 668 names of dinosaurs, there are perhaps only 55 different ‘kinds’ of dinosaurs. Furthermore, not all dinosaurs were huge like the brachiosaurus, and even those dinosaurs on the Ark were probably ‘teenagers’ or young adults.”

Ham said the ark had 8,000 “animal genera” or about 16,000 in total, including some that are now extinct, like those dinosaurs.

“Without getting into all the math, the 16,000-plus animals would have occupied much less than half the space in the Ark (even allowing them some moving-around space),” he wrote.

Along with dinosaurs, NPR reported that there were other eyebrow-raising “animals” on display, including unicorns.

The fact that the displays were completely at odds with science hasn’t kept guests from enjoying them.

Rachael Cross, who visited with her five children, told CBS News that the Ark shows actual history.

“The truth. The absolute truth,” Cross told the network. “God’s word is the Bible and it’s the absolute truth. I totally believe that.”

Critics said the Ark was a threat to kids.

“Basically, this boat is a church raising scientifically illiterate children and lying to them about science,” local resident Jim Helton told The Associated Press.

The massive attraction has been the subject of controversy, not only because it stands as a giant monument to creationism, but also for its hiring practices and tax breaks.

Ark Encounter employees are required to sign a statement saying they are Christians and that Jesus Christ is their savior, the Christian Post reported. In addition, the site has been given $18 million in state tax incentives, something critics said shouldn’t have been allowed, given its religious nature.

Ark Encounter formally opens today.

Members of a satanic group will give the opening prayer at an upcoming Phoenix City Council meeting.

Some council members have objected, but city attorney Brad Holm says the government cannot exclude a religion from praying under such circumstances.

Satanic Temple member Stu de Haan says the group doesn’t intend to do anything offensive. He says the Satanic Temple doesn’t believe in a literal Satan but see the biblical Satan as a metaphor for rebellion against tyranny.

The Arizona Republic reports ( ) that the temple will perform the invocation on Feb. 17.

The city’s invocation has been delivered by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and people of other faiths. The temple submitted a request in December to give the prayer.


Information from: The Arizona Republic,