- Education and Science
Life of Galileo
LIFE OF GALILEO
Galileo Galilei was deemed the "Father of Science" by Albert Einstein. Others call him the "Father of Astronomy" or the "Father of Physics."
The life of Galileo Galilei began in Pisa, Italy. He was born on the very day Michelangelo died in 1564; the same year that saw the birth of William Shakespeare. As a boy, Galileo constructed mechanical toys. When he was eight years old, his family moved to Florence. His father was a famous musician, composer, and music theorist. Galileo became a skilled musician and painter.
Galileo Galilei studied Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle in college and at first wanted to be a monk. He later decided that mathematics was his field of interest.
Galileo became the professor of mathematics at Padua University in 1595. At that time, this was one of the greatest universities in the world. Galileo was very happy teaching at Padua. The university perfectly fit his style of questioning everything. Eventually, his lectures became so popular that he had to deliver them in a 2,000 seat hall. Galileo tutored for wealthy families to supplement his income.
Galileo first became famous when he proved that all objects fall at the same rate regardless of their weight, which he demonstrated by dropping various objects off the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He also invented the geometric compass and a thermometer.
Hans Lippershey (1570-1619), an obscure Dutch spectacle maker, invented the spyglass in 1608, which made distant objects appear thrice the size. Two children played with his spectacle lenses; put two of them together; and noticed the church weathervane nearby was wonderfully magnified when they looked through them. Hans Lippershey took a look, and soon produced the first spyglass.
The spyglass had an obvious military application, and was immediately snapped up by Prince Maurice of Nassau, a brilliant military commander for the Netherlands. By 1635, the spyglass was being used to direct artillery in battle.
A friend of Hans Lippershey, also a spectacle maker (and counterfeiter), named Zacharias Jansen, invented the compound microscope in 1609. Giovanni Faber coined the term "microscope," which means "it permits a view of minute things."
In 1609 Galileo heard about a new invention, the telescope (the word means "to see far"). He proceeded to build telescopes himself that were far more powerful, reaching 30 times magnification, by combining the technologies of German steel and Venetian glass.
Galileo wrote: "We are certain the first inventor of the telescope was a simple spectacle-maker who, handling by chance different forms of glasses, looked, also by chance, through two of them, one convex and the other concave, held at different distances from the eye; saw and noted the unexpected result; and thus found the instrument."
Regular folks were reluctant to believe what one sees through a telescope; they thought it must be some kind of trick. Galileo astonished the leading men of Venice when he demonstrated that through his telescope they could see from Venice to Padua 35 miles away. Galileo soon turned his telescope toward the heavens.
Galileo used his telescope to see sunspots; craters and mountains on the moon; and moons orbiting Saturn and Jupiter. Galileo was most astonished to see that, through his telescope, there were an infinite number of stars in God's heavens.
Galileo also used his telescope as a microscope. He reported in 1614 "With this tube I have seen flies which look as big as lambs, and have learned that they are covered over with hair and have very pointed nails by means of which they keep themselves up and walk on glass, although hanging feet upwards, by inserting the point of their nails in the pores of glass."
GALILEO AND THE CHURCH
Galileo was a devout Catholic. He stated that "Both the Holy Scriptures and nature proceed from the Divine Word." Pope Urban VIII was pleased with him, admired him, and welcomed his discoveries. Urban publicly praised Galileo and gave him many fine gifts.
Galileo also made many enemies among the influential Jesuits because of his naturally belligerent temperament. He alienated Jesuit professors by publicly ridiculing them. Galileo was confrontational, rude, offensive, and disrespectful—he lacked tact.
The trouble between Galileo and the Church began when Galileo pronounced that the earth moves—when to people standing on earth it was obvious that it does not. Galileo confirmed the theories of Copernicus that the planets orbit the sun. This idea was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.
The Inquisition instructed Galileo not to teach his ideas about the heliocentric nature of the solar system in 1615. The Church was essentially defending Aristotle and his belief that the earth is the center of the universe. While the Church was wrong that the earth stood still, it was correct that the earth is the center of the universe—the center of life in the universe and the centerpiece of God's creation. A look into the void that surrounds earth plainly shows us that truth. Sure, the Bible says the sun rises and sets. It plainly does every day.
The Roman Catholic Church was split about the concepts of Galileo; there were just as many in the Church on Galileo's side as were against him. And those against him were so in large part because the public was decidedly against his ideas. There were politicians in the church watching the polls, one could say.
Galileo was a victim of bad timing. The Roman Catholic Church was at war with Protestants, who severely damaged the authority of the Church during the Reformation. The Church was in no mood for further public challenges to its teachings. It wanted Galileo to confine his pronouncements to the scientific community. Instead, he published his discoveries in vernacular Italian so every literate person could read them.
Things came to a boil when Galileo published a book with a character named Simplico (stupid man) who appeared to be based on Pope Urban, hitherto his friend. The enemies he had made among the powerful Jesuits demanded action. The Jesuits held a long grudge against Galileo, and wanted an example made of him to dissuade others from daring to challenge Church authority.
In 1632, under threat of torture, Galileo agreed with the Church that the earth stood motionless and the sun revolved around it—though he knew better. In 1633, one of his books was condemned and he was placed under house arrest in his own villa for the rest of his days. Galileo was sad and depressed.
During his house arrest, Galileo's home was not guarded. In fact he received a flood of visitors, including Thomas Hobbes and John Milton. Galileo's books were banned in Italy for 100 years, and not published there for 200 years. The hours he spent peering through his telescope caused the blindness which blighted the last four years of his life. Galileo died in 1642.
In 1635, the Jesuits made a telescope as a gift to the Emperor of China. A scholar in his court immediately saw the military application and said: ". . . one can look at, from a distance, the place of the enemy, the encampments, the men, the horses, whether armed more or less . . . Nothing is more useful than this instrument." By 1638, the telescope had found its way to Japan.
OF CLOCKS AND NAVIGATION
Galileo's groundbreaking work with pendulums set in motion the radical improvement of clocks. Within thirty years of his death, the average error of the best timepieces was reduced from fifteen minutes to ten seconds per day. This made it possible for the first time to truly synchronize watches. And that made time a measure that transcended space.
The peculiarities of the earth made this magic possible. Because our planet turns on its axis, every place on earth experiences a 24-hour day within a 360-degree turn. Therefore, in one hour it turns 15 degrees.
On land people get their bearings by landmarks, such as mountains, rivers, roads, towns, and buildings. Even today the Global Positioning System (GPS) uses your proximity to signs on streets (as landmarks) to pinpoint your location.
But the sea is a vast emptiness and sameness on the surface. This drove sailors to get their bearings from skymarks—the sun, moon, stars, and constellations. Astronomy was the handmaiden of the sailor. It is no wonder that the Age of Columbus ushered in the Age of Copernicus. To explore the oceans, a sailor had to know the heavens. The New World lay undiscovered for so long primarily because it was far more difficult to determine your east-west location (longitude) than north-south location (latitude). The problem of longitude was not solved until 1773 (by the clockmaker from England, John Harrison).
My sources for this article include The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin; Galileo by Paul Hightower; Europe by Norman Davies; From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun; and The One Year Book of Christian History by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten.