470 Stephens Hall
Distinguished Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus), Department of Philosophy, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
The “Galileo affair” can mean either or both of two things: (1) the sequence of events that climaxed in 1633, when the Inquisition tried and condemned Galileo for defending the Copernican doctrine of the earth’s motion and denying the astronomical authority of Scripture; and (2) the controversy about Galileo’s trial that began then and continues to our own day, the key issues being whether Galileo’s condemnation was right and whether it proves the incompatibility between science and religion. Recently this cause célèbre has been studied by a number of Berkeley-associated scholars, whom I label the “Berkeley para-clericals.” Their approach is a distinctive one, and sufficiently important to deserve some explicit characterization. A working hypothesis is that the “Berkeley para-clerical” approach is a secular-minded approach to the study of controversial topics involving the relationship between science and religion, conducted in the belief that such religious topics are too important to leave to religious believers. This para-clerical approach may be found in the work of such Berkeley luminaries of the past half a century as philosopher Paul Feyerabend, and historians John Heilbron and Ron Numbers. I would claim to follow such an approach myself, in part because I learned it directly from some of these practitioners. However, I also try to model myself on Galileo (as I understand him), for he may well have been the first to follow such an approach.
Additional sponsorship comes from: Office for the History of Science and Technology