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May 6, 2020
Claudia Cragg @claudiacragg speaks with astrophysicist @Mario_Livio about his new book, Galileo and the Science Deniers. This work aims for distinction in trying to place the original Renaissance man, Galileo, and his discoveries in modern scientific and social contexts.
In particular, Livio argues, the charges of heresy that Galileo faced for his scientific claims in the seventeenth century have their counterparts in science deniers’ condemnations today.
Born in 1564 in Pisa, Italy, into an intellectual family of declining fortune, Galileo pursued medicine at the University of Pisa. But he soon abandoned his course to study mathematics, his enduring passion. The Universe, he famously wrote, “is written in the language of mathematics”. It was an argot that allowed him to break reliance on the Aristotelian cosmology prized by the Catholic Church, and to forge a new, quantitative study of nature.
Many consider Galileo to have been the Stephen Hawking of his day – both famous and respected. Nonetheless, he was ordered by the Pope to stand trial before the Italian Inquisition, the most feared and notorious court in all of Europe. His crime – Galileo’s Science, daring to state the sun, not the earth, was at the center of the universe – was pure heresy!
The Inquisition had been rooting out what it considered sacrilege and witchcraft since the Dark Ages. Throw into this irrational mess Galileo’s evidence disproving long held Church teachings and you had the recipe for a life-threatening stand.
Mario Livio (born 1945) is an Israeli-American astrophysicist and an author of works that popularize science and mathematics. For 24 years (1991-2015) he was an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Hubble Space Telescope. He has published more than 400 scientific articles on topics including cosmology, supernova explosions, black holes, extrasolar planets, and the emergence of life in the universe. His book on the irrational number phi, The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number (2002), won the Peano Prize and the International Pythagoras Prize for popular books on mathematics.