Refusing to look.

One of the standard stories that gets wheeled out every time that some ahistorical fan of Galileo wishes to prove that the rejection of the heliocentric hypothesis at the beginning of the seventeenth century was purely based on dogmatic religious ignorance and had no objective basis in fact is the case of the professor of philosophy who refused to even look through Galileo’s telescope, rejecting his astronomical findings out of hand. Even if this story was true, as it stands in the simplistic version sketched above, it use in this context is questionable to say the least. Supporters of science contra pseudo-science, and they are the ones most likely to quote the story, have a mantra that in one version reads, “The plural of anecdote is not data”. They, quite rightly, reject the presentation of anecdotes as scientific evidence but are quite prepared to base their interpretation of the history of science on an anecdote; not exactly what one would call consistency. Even if twenty North Italian professors of philosophy had refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, rather than one, it would still tell us nothing about the epistemological status of the heliocentric hypothesis in 1610 or the grounds for its rejection by the majority of those qualified to judge. However the story has an even more interesting status as historical evidence because although true, it is, as usually related, a myth. [to read more go here]


About thonyc

Aging freak who fell in love with the history of science and now resides mostly in the 16th century.
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