Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Hank Campbell’s entry on Girodano Bruno in the Five Things Tyson got Wrong definitely describes a kinder, gentler inquisition than I’ve read about in my history books. They just wanted him to say he was wrong, possibly with his fingers crossed behind his back and he could have gone on his way.
The Wickipedia article on Bruno does not specify which charges he was finally found guilty of, but the charges included:
  • Holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith and speaking against it and its ministers. 
  • Holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith about the Trinity, divinity of Christ and the incarnation.
  • Holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith pertaining to Jesus as Christ
  • Holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith regarding the virginity of Mary. 
  • Holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith about both Transubstantiation and the Mass. 
  • Claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity. 
  • Believing in the transmigration of the soul and that human souls might be reborn into lower animals. 
  • Dealing in magics and divination
The sequence in Cosmos describes, in my opinion, a mystical experience. Bruno experienced a vision of multiple suns, many with their own worlds. He had the vision. He didn’t have the science to back it up. Neither did Copernicus, actually. And to be painfully honest it wasn’t until man stepped off this planet into space and could stand on the moon, or turn Voyager’s camera back towards the sun that we could really prove that we live in a heliocentric system. And there are still those who claim that we don’t.

It’s obvious that the author is a believer, that he took the time to identify one of Bruno’s heresies as Arianism and defended the inquisition however faintly makes me suspect he’s Catholic. Can't say one way or the other. There's precious little biographical information available about Mr. Campbell. That’s really neither here nor there. The Vatican has an official astronomer. He’s Jesuit with degrees up the pipe.

What really bothered me was the comments section. It’s four hundred years later and there are still individuals who believe that the church, any church, has the right to dictate belief and kill those who don’t bend the knee. To burn or ban their books because they don’t fall in line with scriptures written in the Bronze Age and cherry picked to fit an agenda. When I was twenty and handling my first copies of hominid skulls in Anthropology lab I never dreamed I’d be writing an entry like this. And I find no joy in it.

Incidentally, neither Copernicus nor Bruno fared very well at the hands of the Lutherans or the Calvinists. Tyson is quite specific. Giordano Bruno was not a scientist. He took information from several sources ranging from an ancient Roman and Copernicus and made some lucky guesses.

He was not a martyr for scientific beliefs. The condemnation scene makes it very clear that believing in multiple worlds was just one of the charges against him. But, he was a martyr for the right to do those things that make science possible. And that includes

Seeking independent confirmation of alleged facts.
Encouraging open debate about the issue and the evidence
Questioning authority and that includes Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson
Questioning everything, especially your own ideas.
Making sure every step in the argument is sound. If there’s a question, then go back and start over.
If the results are inconclusive the simplest explanation that fits the facts you have is probably the truth. Or as close as you can get at the time. Remember theories change as more date becomes available.

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