Teaching Science through History II

Deating Galileo's Dialogue, 1633

by Douglas Allchin

frontespiecePopularly, Galileo's trial is a classic case of science versus religion. But as this role-play activity demonstrates, the episode was far more complex. First, the central claim of the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was that the tides form physical proof of the Earth's combined daily and annual motions. Here, Galileo was wrong. Further, all the astronomical observations could be accommodated in the Earth-centered Tychonic system (cleverly omitted from Galileo's discussion) -- and there was no evidence of stellar parallax. At one level, it was a case of science versus science. In addition, Galileo's first troubles with the Church began (in 1616) when he wrote about how to interpret scripture, the province of the Church fathers. The case was also religion versus religion. Far more important, there were personal politics of patronage, war across Europe, and judicial technicalities, which all contributed to the unfolding of events. This activity helps revive the historical context and make all these often hidden facts vivid. Major NOS features include:

  • alternative theories and completeness of evidence
  • interpretation of observations
  • cultural context of science
  • science and religion
  • funding science (patronage)
  • science and politics
  • public understanding of science and science communication

Proceed to opening webpage.