Retrying Galileo

In 1632 Galileo argued for a Copernican view in his Dialogues of the Two Chief Systems of the World. The following year he was tried by the Catholic Inquisition for violating a 1616 Vatican edict forbidding such teachings. We will situate ourselves in 1633, consider the evidence for ourselves and decide (in a historical context) whether Galileo should be forced to abjure his beliefs. For our retrial, each person in class will represent someone supporting the Church or Galileo. After hearing the arguments, we will all act as the Inquisition and decide Galileo's fate.


For Reflection

The teacher will serve as the Grand Inquisitor, calling upon each team to present their case, posing additional questions, and allowing cross-examination by other teams. The whole class will serve as the Inquisition in deciding Galileo's fate.

Galileo Team #1 Prepare a case for the reasonableness of Galileo's arguments.

Galileo Team #2 Prepare an argument about how Galileo addressed common-sense objections to his claims.

Galileo Team #3 Prepare an argument that this trial is based primarily on inter-personal politics, not Church doctrine-- and that therefore Galileo should not now be held accountable to the 1616 edict.

Galileo Team #4 Prepare to question Cardinal Bellarmine.

Church Team #1 Prepare a case that Galileo's arguments against Ptolemaic views do not necessarily mean embracing Copernican views.

Church Team #2 Prepare an argument that Galileo's claims contradict common sense and good ("scientific") observation. Summarize the role of "science" and of "regulating reason" in considering Galileo's conclusions.

Church Team #3 Prepare an argument why Galileo's views--even if based on some apparent truths and fragments of evidence--are both misguided and dangerous for most Catholics.

Church Team #4 Prepare to question Cardinal Bellarmine.

Cardinal Bellarmine Prepare to answer questions from both Galileo's team and the Church.


  1. to understand the complexity surrounding Galileo's trial in its historical context
  2. to research particular historical perspectives
  3. to write clearly
  4. to reflect on the relationship between science and religion

1/4 -- prepared written position statement based on your team's research
1/4 -- oral presentation at the retrial (clarity, completeness) (3-4 mins./person)
1/4 -- participation -- how effectively you pose questions, and also answer questions, making your position seem reasonable in the light of potential criticism
1/4 -- in-class essay justifying your position at the end of the retrial