University of Pittsburgh
March 30, 1999


Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH, March 31 -- When the Vatican forced Galileo Galilee to disavow the Copernican model of the galaxy, in which earth revolves around the sun, it stirred up a 300 year long debate over the meaning of the event: was it proof of irreconcilable differences between the church and science, or just an aberration in church politics?

In "Galileo, the Myth and Attempts by the Church to Dispel Them," The Rev. George Coyne, SJ, will argue that the 1992 report by Pope John Paul II's Galileo Commission did not, as it claimed, settle the dispute. The lecture, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh's Center for the Philosophy of Science, will take place Friday, April 16, at 3:30 p.m. in Room 1P56, Forbes Quadrangle. It is free and open to the public.

"The real circumstances behind the Galileo affair have not been understood by the church, at least as far as can be interpreted by the discourses of the official report of the commission," said Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory and a professor at the University of Arizona. Coyne served as

co-director of one of the four working groups of the Galileo Commission.

"In those discourses, the apparent conflict between the church and science is said to be a tragic mutual incomprehension," said Coyne. "Historical circumstances do not support any of the four conclusions reached by the commission."

Those four conclusions, according to Coyne, were:

• that Galileo did not understand that Copernicanism was only a theory, and that he had no scientific proofs;

• that theologians at the time were unable to correctly interpret scripture;

• that Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who had issued an initial warning to Galileo, is said to have realized what was "really at stake;" and

• when scientific proofs for Copernicanism became known, the church hastened to accept it and implicitly admitted its initial error.

"There will cease to be a myth only when there is respect for historical accuracy and when the basic differences between the authority of the church and authority in science are realized," said Coyne.

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