Sunday, July 28, 2002

I found this Galileo story:

When Galileo invented the barometer he used water rather than mercury in the tube so his barometer went up through the roof of his house. To help him tell height of the water on a given day and hence whether the pressure was going up or down, Galileo floated a wooden figure of a red devil on the water. Galileo's neighbors noted that the red devil came out of the house on sunny days and went back inside on rainy days. They attributed this correlation to sinister goings-on with the devil and broke into Galileo's house and destroyed the barometer. [summarized from Thomas Sowell column, 1996]

I don't believe this story. My sources say that Torricelli invented the barometer in 1643, but Galileo died in 1642. Sowell probably honestly found it somewhere, but it seems carefully constructed to match the myth of Galileo as a scientific genius who was persecuted by backwards religious know-nothings.

George writes, "That story might be wrong, but the Inquisition stopped Galileo from doing science because the Bible says the Earth is flat and Galileo proved that the Earth went around the Sun."

No, that's not right. Maybe someday I'll write an essay on it. The Roman Catholic Church always promoted scientific research, and never stifled it.

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