Daily Archives: 31 October 2014

October 31, 2011 (a Monday)

Train station in Mumbai.

Train station in Mumbai.

As calculated by the United Nations, the seven-billionth human being arrived on Earth on this date. The specter of too many people and not enough food has haunted scientists and philosophers since at least the time of Aristotle. The most famous is Thomas Robert Malthus, who in 1798 grimly predicted that population growth would outpace food production, resulting in human death and misery.

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October 31, 1992 (a Saturday)

Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition.

On this date, the Vatican finally admitted erring for over 359 years in formally condemning Galileo Galilei for entertaining the scientific truth that the Earth revolves around the sun, which the Roman Catholic Church had long denounced as anti-scriptural heresy. After 13 years (!) of inquiry, the Pope’s commission of historic, scientific and theological scholars brought the pope a “not guilty” finding for Galileo. Pope John Paul II himself met with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to help set the record straight.

On the morning of June 22, 1633, at age 69, Galileo had been ordered by the Roman Inquisition to repent and spend the last eight years of his life under house arrest. His formal sentencing had concluded:

And, so that you will be more cautious in future, and an example for others to abstain from delinquencies of this sort, we order that the book Dialogue of Galileo Galilei be prohibited by public edict. We condemn you to formal imprisonment in this Holy Office at our pleasure.

As a salutary penance we impose on you to recite the seven penitential psalms once a week for the next three years. And we reserve to ourselves the power of moderating, commuting, or taking off, the whole or part of the said penalties and penances.

This we say, pronounce, sentence, declare, order and reserve by this or any other better manner or form that we reasonably can or shall think of. So we the undersigned Cardinals pronounce.

Galileo was a seventeenth-century Italian mathematician, astronomer and physicist remembered as one of history’s greatest scientists. However, Pope John Paul II did not specify a penalty or penance for the Church.