The discovery of a letter, long thought lost, which was written by Galileo in 1613 has shown how the astronomer softened his language to avoid the church's ire.
Galileo Galilei was an Italian scientist, astronomer, and mathematician who lived in the 16th and 17th centuries. He ran afoul of the church and the Inquisition for his support of a Copernican heliocentric model of the solar system.
The discovery of an original copy of a seven-page letter that Galileo wrote to a friend in December of 1613 illustrates the lengths he went to in order to placate the church.
Salvatore Ricciardo, a postdoctoral science historian, discovered the letter while browsing the Royal Society's library. The letter has been in the library's possession for at least 250 years. Over that period historians have assumed that the letter was lost.
Galileo wrote the letter to his friend, Benedetto Castelli, a mathematician at the University of Pisa. Many copies of the letter exist, as do copies of many other letters that Galileo wrote. The language in the various copies differs and historians have previously been unable to determine if Galileo used harsher language himself, or if members of the church altered the text to include harsher language in order to strengthen their case against him, or if other individuals had altered the text.
The key was that the letter contained scratchings-out and amendments. The signature also corresponded with Galileo's personal signature. The changes are deliberate and illuminating. In one instance, Galileo referred to specific statements in the Bible as “false if one goes by the literal meaning of the words." He scratched out the word “false”, and replaced it with “look different from the truth”. Elsewhere, he changed his reference to the scriptures “concealing” its most basic dogmas, to the less intentional word “veiling”.
This offers insights into how Galileo attempted to protect himself from the church. Unfortunately for him, it was not enough. Despite his attempts to soften his language, the church still put him through an Inquisition. He spent the last nine years of his life under house arrest because of his endorsement of a Copernican model of the solar system.
Just as absurd, if not more, the Roman Catholic Church took more than 350 years to absolve Galileo heresy. In 1992, the church FINALLY recanted their position on Galileo.
If God is speaking to his representatives in the church's clergy, he sure is doing a lousy job if it takes them more than 350 years to catch up to what mere humans are able to accomplish through the determined application of the scientific method.