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Science Historians Critique New ‘Cosmos’ Series

NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Catholic News Agency - published on 03/19/14

However, the show misrepresented the historical facts surrounding Bruno’s work, trial, and execution. Goulding said that during his time at Oxford, Bruno was not unveiling to hostile authorities a vision of the universe where the Earth revolved around the Sun.

During late 16th and early 17th centuries, he said, England and Northern Europe were already very informed and supportive of the heliocentric model of the solar system proposed by Copernicus. It seems from the historical records, Goulding said, that "Bruno knew nothing about Copernicanism before coming to England."

Instead, history suggests that Bruno left Oxford not because of a battle with academic and religious authorities, but because he "seemed to have made a bit of a fool of himself."

During his time at Oxford, "Bruno started giving these lectures about Copernicanism, but also about magic." He was also caught  plagiarizing the work of other scientists in public lectures, and Bruno "started writing these very angry essays" after he was privately confronted by other Oxford scholars.

“Bruno was called out doing something a little bit dishonest.”

Goulding also said it was Bruno’s theological beliefs, rather than his beliefs about the universe, that were troubling to the inquisitors in Rome. Bruno "doesn’t seem to believe in the divinity of Jesus in quite the way that the Church talked about," he explained, noting that Church officials were concerned about his time in England and if he received Communion from Protestants while there.

"They didn’t do it to him because of his beliefs in astronomy."

He also questioned the first episode’s framing of Bruno’s trial as a case of the Church versus free thought.

"It seems indisputable," Goulding said, "that a spirit of reaction does take place within the Church" in the 17th century because of the Protestant reformation that led to harsh treatment, torture, and execution of religious dissidents.

However, "the Church was not a single monolithic entity," Goulding said, pointing out that there was intellectual questioning during that period, and that intellectual thought was supported from within the Church. "Galileo’s closest collaborators were monks and priests," he stated.

"The writers seem to drawing upon a very 19th century bed of thought," Goulding said of the show’s framing, in which "there’s science on one side, religion on the other. And that’s not true either."

Courtesy of Catholic News Agency

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