The Trial of Galileo
Background || Teams || Resources || Evaluation  

Project Profile

In 1632 Galileo presented evidence for Copernicanism in his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. The following year he appeared before the Inquisition for violating a 1616 Vatican edict forbidding such teachings. We will situate ourselves in 1633, consider the evidence for ourselves and decide whether to condemn Galileo. See background. Each person will work with a team to present to the class the case supporting either the Church or Galileo on one particular issue. Afterwards we will act as members of the Inquisition and decide Galileo's fate.
Research and Trial Presentations
Galileo is under "vehement suspicion of heresy" for:
(1) advocating Copernican doctrine
(2) holding and defending as probable a thesis contrary to the Bible
Teams will specialize and focus on the following issues:
  • Astronomical Observations -- What evidence does Galileo present for the Copernican view? How do others (notably, Tycho Brahe) interpret the same evidence?
  • Problems of Motion -- What other observational problems do Copernican views create? Has does Galileo try to solve these, and does he do so adequately?
  • Interpreting Observations -- When the same observations fit two alternative hypotheses, how should we decide between them?
  • Interpreting Scripture -- What posture should the Church adopt when observations seem to conflict with the scripture?
  • Politics -- Is Galileo a victim of court politics, or has he failed to respect them?
  • Procedural Details -- What exactly was Galileo told in 1616 and since? Has he obeyed Church guidelines?

Simulation assembled by Douglas Allchin, adapted from Frederic Gregory, 1995, "Science and Religion in Western History," Topical Essays for Teachers, Seattle, WA: History of Science Society. || last revised Jan. 3, 2008