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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 21, No. 1, 2022
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Robert J. Lewis
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faith, emotion, superstition versus



Nick Catalano is a TV writer/producer and Professor of Literature and Music at Pace University. He reviews books and music for several journals and is the author of Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter, New York Nights: Performing, Producing and Writing in Gotham , A New Yorker at Sea,, Tales of a Hamptons Sailor and his most recent book, Scribble from the Apple. For Nick's reviews, visit his website: www.nickcatalano.n


Men are apt to mistake the strength of their feeling
for the strength of their argument.
William Gladstone


The controversy in Trump’s Washington, Bolsonaro’s Brazil and Orban’s Hungary involving facts and ‘alternate’ facts, truth and lies, objective reporting, ‘fake news’ and other polarities invites inquiry into historical analogues. In the past few issues of Arts & Opinion I have examined the history of political rhetoric, the process of chronicle evolving into myth, and the sorry curricula in schools, as players in the present drama of the search for truth.

But in order to view the convoluted process of the evolution of truth and incontrovertible establishment of fact, I though it might be helpful to trace the movement of one universally accepted truth/fact/ law in its movement along the path of pitfalls on its way to universal acceptance. I chose a story from Astronomy.

In the brilliant scientific and philosophical minds of giants like Aristotle and Ptolemy, the search for order led to their theory of a solar system where the sun revolved around the earth. Actually, their generalizations in astronomy, geography, math and science were to become barometers of acute knowledge even up to the present time. But their geocentric solar system explanation was incorrect . . . Despite their other achievements of genius, the work of these giants stumbled here. Incidentally, this is often happens; scientific experimentation and theorizing is conducted by imperfect human beings no matter their IQs.

This geocentric or sun revolving around the earth view of the solar system and the allied Aristotelian and Ptolemaic insistence that the stars were ‘unmovable’ objects was totally supported and promoted by medieval Christendom. The church was always anxious to ally its articles of faith with the most prestigious minds i.e. Aristotle, Plato (via St. Augustine), and, later, philosopher/theologians Aquinas, Scotus and William of Ockham. The church’s association with these intellectual icons gave it a unique measure of appeal among the world’s religions.

But in order to maintain its thousand year dark ages dominance over the political, social, economic as well as spiritual elements in society Christendom (I include both the Vatican and Lutheran Protestantism) ran the risk of clashing with scientists who might challenge its unshakable insistence on any ‘laws’ that the church had approved. Thus the geocentric law of the solar system was destined to remain unchallenged even in the Renaissance, because of the power of religion.

Except that’s not what happened.

In 1514, Polish astronomer, mathematician, theologian and polymath, Nicolaus Copernicus sent out a pamphlet that stated the sun was the center of the solar system -- not the earth. He also maintained that the earth’s rotation accounted for the rising and setting of the sun, and the movement of the stars and that the cycle of the seasons was caused by the revolution of the earth around it. The church did not immediately condemn the book perhaps because it believed Copernicus’s theory were so outlandish that it wouldn’t be taken seriously. But soon a scientific fad took hold with the inexpensive costs of telescopes and then, when Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), who had methodically observed the skies with sophisticated instruments, utilized the latest model to observe a moving star supernova (SN 1572), church authorities began to squirm. How could a star be moving when the most respected ancient astronomers together with the pronouncements of the church had long held that stars were fixed objects?

The supernova (SN 1572) challenged the fixity of the heavens. In addition, Brahe showed that unassisted sensory perception, relied upon since Aristotle’s time for the building of knowledge, could be misleading: the discovery of truth required evidence, and evidence was to be obtained through new well-calibrated instruments.

Then two months before he died in 1543, Copernicus published his full book, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, which caused further uneasy stirring in the Vatican.

Next, in 1610, Galileo published his Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger), describing the surprising observations that he had made with his new telescope, among them, the Galilean moons of Jupiter. With these observations and additional observations that followed, such as the phases of Venus, he promoted the heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus. And by the first decades of the 17th century Galileo had become widely known as the champion of the heliocentric revolution.

At this point, the Vatican had had enough of Galileo's discoveries, and in 1616 the Inquisition declared heliocentrism to be "formally heretical." Galileo went on to propose a theory of tides in 1616, and of comets in 1619; he argued that the tides were further evidence for the motion of the Earth.

The iconic astronomer, physicist, mathematician and polymath continued his proposals, accepted widely by fellow scientists, so that by1633 the Inquisition was forced into a corner. But it came out swinging. That year it put Galileo on trial, found him “vehemently suspect of heresy,” and sentenced him to house arrest where he remained until his death in 1642. His immensely popular publication Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published a few years before and strongly defending heliocentrism, was the final straw. Further, the Inquisition banned all heliocentric books and forbade any promotion of it anywhere.

But because of the enormous popularity of cheap telescopes, the widespread publication of discoveries by hordes of astronomers, and cascades of sightings of asteroids, and meteors, the church condemnation of heliocentrism fell on the deaf ears everywhere. It certainly developed into an embarrassment for the church fathers whose hubris militated against any kind of redaction.

And so it wasn’t until 1758, more than 100 years later, that the church quietly withdrew its foolish stridency. By this time observation of planets, stars, constellations and navigation based on celestial movement were easily the order of the day.

This narrative serves as a good example of how verifiable fact can become buried under a sea of distortion, lies, fake news, or whatever you want to call it when a situation arises that contravenes the policies of authorities in power . . . whether they be religious clerics, economic dictators, or political strongmen who broadcast that honest elections were rigged or who insist that scientifically tested vaccines don’t work.

It took over 100 years for the geocentric ‘lie’ to be finally debunked (actually, I’m wrong because I’m sure if you wander about you will find individuals who still vehemently deny that the earth revolves around the sun) . . . how long will it take for the present day politicians’ lies to be uncovered and rejected?


By Nick Catalano:
Thinking: A Lost Art
Alternative Approaches to Learning
Aesthetic History and Chronicled Fact
Terror in China: Cultural Erasure and Computer Genocide
The Roller Coaster of Democracy
And Justice for All
Costly Failures in American Higher Education
Trump and the Dumbing Down of the American Presidency
Language as the Enemy of Truth
Opportunity in Quarantine
French Music: Impressionism & Beyond
D-Day at Normandy: A Recollection Pt. II
D-Day at Normandy: A Recollection Pt. I
Kenneth Branagh & Shakespeare
Remembering Maynard Ferguson
Reviewers & Reviewing
The Vagaries of Democracy
Racism Debunked
The Truth Writer
#Me Too Cognizance in Ancient Greece
Above the Drowning Sea
A New York Singing Salon
Rockers Retreading
Polish Jewry-Importance of Historical Museums
Sexual Relativity and Gender Revolution
Inquiry into Constitutional Originalism
Aristotle: Film Critic
The Maw of Deregulated Capitalism
Demagogues: The Rhetoric of Barbarism
The Guns of August
Miles Ahead and Born to Be Blue
Manon Lescaut @The Met
An American in Paris
What We Don't Know about Eastern Culture
Black Earth (book review)
Cuban Jazz
HD Opera - Game Changer
Film Treatment of Stolen Art
Stains and Blemishes in Democracy
Intersteller (film review)
Shakespeare, Shelley & Woody Allen
Mystery and Human Sacrifice at the Parthenon
Carol Fredette (Jazz)
Amsterdam (book review)
Vermeer Nation
The Case for Da Vinci's Demons


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