How prevalent is the Myth of Galileo's torture?

One Christian friend of mine and one Atheist friend keep insisting that the Church tortured Galileo. Now, how much is this “fictional” belief is still prevalent today and whether official Historians have actually cleared the air?

Im not sure whether any Science books still include the “Galileo torture”.

Just a question for my discussion with the two above friends.


Threatening with torture and forcing people to deny brilliant discoveries they have made is itself a form of torture.

The burden is on them to produce specific sources for their claims, and preferably dates of the incidents as well. Ask them to produce such. Then you can compare against other sources and continue the discussion.

He was placed under house arrest…not for his ideas, but they wanted his obedience on that matter for then. The secular news does not see the whole picture and intent. He was not tortured. Others, who want to think the worst of Catholicism, keep spreading that myth and twisting and misrepresenting what actually happened.

This can help:

Most of mates are atheists and i was shocked one time a couple of years ago when one of my mates passed a comment on the fact that the catholic church tortured and executed Galileo. They also thought that because of this, he was in fact atheist. What they had really misunderstood was the word “excommunication”. They didn’t realize what this word meant and i had to explain it to them, that it in fact meant that he was no longer aloud to receive the Eucharist, and this means worst than death to a catholic, since you are no longer aloud to receive the Body of Christ, but it doesn’t mean that he was no longer a catholic.

From what i remember though (cause ive read alot of history books, but i cant remember everything), he was put under house arrest, and that was although a punishment, was also for his own protection. But no torture except for the fact that till the end of his days, he could no longer receive the sacraments, which would have been worse than physical torture.

Most people would consider this suppression, not torture. It would be dishonest to go around saying that Galileo was tortured based on this interpretation on the word “torture” because it would lead people to believe that Galileo was physically tortured and he was not. No one is saying that he was treated fairly, but to say that he was tortured is a lie.

The burden of proof is on the one making the assertion to prove its truth, not the skeptic to prove otherwise, since it is generally impossible to prove a negative. Tell them to produce their proof. [BTW, “Oh, c’mon” is not proof of anything.] In all probability, they are victims of anti-Catholic propaganda.

A little long, but see this article:

The Myth of Galileo

… “There was only one trial of Galileo, although legends – even experts and encyclopedias – often speak of two, erroneously counting Galileo’s 1616 encounter with Cardinal Bellarmine as a preliminary trial, leading up to the second, more sustained interrogation of 1633 that left Galileo kneeling before his inquisitors, or in a dungeon by some accounts, or even in chains…There was only one trial of Galileo, and yet it seems there were a thousand – the suppression of science by religion, the defense of individualism against authority, the clash between revolutionary and establishment, the challenge of radical new discoveries to ancient beliefs, the struggle against intolerance for freedom of thought and freedom of speech. No other process in the annals of canon or common law has ricocheted through history with more meanings, more consequences, more conjecture, more regrets.” …

You will note that “Galileo was tortured” fits on a bumper sticker, but that article will not.

It was standard legal practice of the time to display instruments of torture to the accused, regardless of whether they were even allowed to be used in a case like his.


One of the worst examples of abuses perpetrated by anti-theism: Stalin slaughtering 20 million. The worst example that atheists can think of for the Catholic Church: Galileo … a man who had disagreements with the Church hierarchy (for disciplinary, not scientific reasons) but was still nonetheless deeply Catholic… a man who died a peaceful/natural death and whose daughter became a nun!

Atheists always seem to trumpet the ‘Scientific Revolution’ as a moment in which scientific rationality supposedly began to turn the tide against “religious superstition.” What they fail to realize is that all of the major thinkers of the ‘Scientific Revolution’ were theists. Yes, a few of them (such as Newton), had deistic tendencies … but the vast majority of them were orthodox Catholics (e.g. Copernicus and Pascal) or at least Protestants (e.g. Kepler described himself as “a priest of the most High God”).

The fact of the matter is that modern Western science has its most fundamental roots in the Catholic Church. I love it when atheists ask: “How can you reconcile your Catholic beliefs with the Big Bang Theory?” only to learn that the Big Bang Theory was in fact developed by a Catholic Priest! (Fr Lemaitre) The father of modern genetics - Gregor Mendel - was a Silesian monk. Modern optics has its roots in a work called the Opus Maius, written in 1297 by a Franciscan. The list goes on and on…

And for the record, Galileo was never tortured. Did individuals within the church make serious mistakes with regard to how Galileo was treated? Yes - but the Church was and is full of both saints and sinners. And Galileo was not put under house arrest because the Catholic Church was “against science” … it was due to disciplinary disagreements concerning the ways in which Galileo presented his arguments and to unfortunate intra-Church rivalries. The Jesuits (and Pope Urban VIII himself!), for example, strongly supported Galileo’s ideas before these unfortunate disciplinary issues came up.

Oh, and no serious academic historian today believes that the Galileo affair somehow indicates that the Catholic Church is inherently incompatible with science. If a historian was to make such an argument, he or she would become the laughing stock of the academic community.

Sorry for the long post!

I suppose you’re right in a way–but I don’t think that is what those who say Galileo was tortured have in mind.

Galileo was neither tortured nor excommunicated; he remained a faithful Catholic all his life. His daughter was a nun.

Science and observation were not on the side of Galileo at the time; their were objections to his ideas he couldn’t answer. And he wasn’t always right–he was wrong about the cause of the tides. Galileo pissed off the pope, who had been his friend. If Galileo had better people skills the affair probably would have been avoided.

Thank you for your insightful post! Welcome to CAF!

Just for the record, Galileo was not excommunicated. Other responses to the OP fills in with more details about the entire scenario. Was their injustice, impatience, anger? …It seems so, on both sides.

Obviously, the myths surrounding Galileo still survive! But, fair-minded people are listening to and reading about more of the details.

If I recall correctly, the main disagreement came when he wanted the Church to change its interpretation of scripture based on his then un-proven theory.

The popularity of the Galileo “torture” story, however, is due not only to anti-Catholicism, but also the idea of one lone, noble, courageous individual who stood up to a massive “corrupt” establishment, and was proven “right” in the end. Such stories rightfully belong in the Robin Hood category.

…and with Chick tracts! :slight_smile:

That was a great read Sedonaman. Thanks. Yep I will ask for proof of the “Torture” . I shall also start off with forwarding that link to them.


Welcome to CAF!

Thank you! I’ve been lurking on these forums for a while now, but I’ve finally managed to create an account. :slight_smile:

If I recall correctly, the main disagreement came when he wanted the Church to change its interpretation of scripture based on his then un-proven theory.

Yes - that’s how I understand it as well. And thank you for the very helpful article!

Since it is a Catholic source, they will just call it biased to throw the ball back in your court. The problem with accusations of “bias” is that everyone is biased to some extent. I believe Pope John Paul II commissioned an investigation into the matter and instructed the researchers to use only non-Catholic sources. I have not looked for the final report, but I believe it concludes there were mistakes on both sides. Perhaps it is in the Catholic League website also. If you could find it, that would help your case. Good luck, and let me know if you find it. :slight_smile:

I think that is a dishonest abuse of language. Can we also say that Galileo tortured Pope Urban VIII by publishing a book in which Urban’s arguments were mouthed by a Fool?

Yeah, sorta like a student being called a “fascist bastard” by his prof.

As a student in a Speech 101 class, Lopez delivered remarks referencing his religious views as part of a class assignment, including expressing his view of Biblical morality and his conception of the proper definition of marriage. Following the speech, Lopez was called a “fascist bastard” by his professor [an atheist]. When Lopez asked for a grade, the professor recommended that Lopez “Ask God what your grade is.” Additionally, Lopez was told by his professor that he had likely violated LACCD’s policies as a result of his speech.

See Lopez v. Candaele.

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