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Reading Nature’s Book

Galileo and the Birth of Modern Philosophy


Fred Ablondi

Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) is widely recognized as one of the greatest scientific thinkers in history. Intriguingly, when offered a place in the Medici court in 1610, he requested the title of «Philosopher and Chief Mathematician.» Reading Nature’s Book: Galileo and the Birth of Modern Philosophy is the first book-length study written with undergraduates in mind that examines the philosophical implications (both theoretical and historical) of Galileo’s scientific discoveries, including many matters that were later taken up by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophers. This close analysis of Galileo’s philosophical insights demonstrates the prominent place his thought should have in the history of early modern philosophy.
Reading Nature’s Book provides contextual material for college and university students enrolled in modern philosophy courses, introducing them to ideas and concepts that dominated philosophical discussion during the era. Furthermore, students and scholars interested in the history of philosophy of science will also benefit from a decidedly philosophical approach to such a leading scientific figure. Many of the topics explored by Galileo continue to be of philosophical interest today, including scientific methodology and the relation between science and religion.
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Chapter Four: Science and Religion


← 36 | 37 →CHAPTER FOUR

In Padua, the motion of the Earth had been a mere scientific conjecture; in Florence, it could at any moment become an affair of State. In Padua, questions were raised by colleagues and students in the tolerant atmosphere of Academe; in Florence, Galileo had to answer the queries of the mother of the Grand Duke, the Grand Duchess Christina, who was curious about science and greatly concerned about religion…To defend his scientific position, Galileo had to enter the minefield of exegesis, where theologians believed they were the only qualified experts. If Galileo had heavy scientific artillery, his opponents had the armor plate of tradition. They also had the ear of important people in Rome for whom novelty was not a good word.


As Galileo continued to make discoveries that supported the Copernican theory, the attacks on him increased, and it was not just the Aristotelians who were at odds with him. The Discourse on Bodies in Water had rankled a few philosophers, but with the publication of the Letters on the Sunspots and its endorsement of the heliocentric conception of the solar system, theologians now joined in the fight against Galileo. These critics charged that the cosmology of Copernicus, and thus of Galileo, contradicted Holy Scripture. One of the passages at the center of this debate was Joshua 10:12–14, which describes the siege of Gibeon. It reads as...

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