The Common Good

Who Are Our Galileos?

During this past year, Jupiter and Venus reached their peak brightness in the night sky.

Galileo sculpture, Michael Avory /
Galileo sculpture, Michael Avory /

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If you looked at Venus, which was the brighter of the two, through a telescope, you would have seen that it went through phases week by week until it became a thin crescent.

When Galileo saw this in the 16th century, it cemented the idea that Venus goes around the sun and not the Earth. It was the beginning of the end for an Earth-centered universe.

Galileo was a mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and physicist. He became known as the father of science.

He was a wonderer, and his wondering encouraged him to think differently from his fellow Pisans. When he was a child, people said, "He has stars in his eyes."

Copernicus was a wonderer, too. "What if the world doesn't act the way people think it acts?" he asked. He wrote down his wonderings but didn't publish them because he couldn't prove them and because he was afraid.

Galileo heard about an instrument that could make small things big and faraway things near. "A report reached my ears that a certain Fleming had constructed a spyglass ..." he said.

This instrument helped him use his senses, reason and, intellect to show people that Copernicus was correct: The Earth moves around the sun.

Galileo looked up into the night sky and wrote down all he observed. He published his observations in a book called The Starry Messenger.

He sent telescopes and copies of his book to all the kings and princes of Europe. "Galileo is our star!" they shouted. His brilliance made him chief philosopher and mathematician to the Medici court.

"I do not feel obliged to believe the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use. If the ancient philosophers had seen what we see, they would have judged as we judge," he said.

The Church judged differently and brought him before the Inquisition.

He was tried and found guilty of heresy: "Namely for having held and believed a doctrine which is false and contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture."

Locked in his house under guard, the stars in his eyes went out. He went blind.

Galileo's ideas lived on, as truthful ideas do. The Church pardoned him 350 years after it sentenced him. His blind eyes opened the eyes of others. The wonder of his genius is a star that guides us still.

I wonder: What ideas today are at the beginning of their ends?

What ideas are, according to the church, contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture but are really truths that could help us see?

What if the world doesn't act the way people think it acts? Who thinks differently? Who are our Galileos?

Trevor Scott Barton is an elementary school teacher in Greenville, SC. He is a blogger for the Teaching Toleranceproject of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Galileo sculpture, Michael Avory /

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