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back to article Pope praises Galileo, celebrates the Solstice

The Pope tipped his hat to long-time Vatican bugbear Galileo this weekend as he helped kick off the 2009 International Year of Astronomy. Pope Benedict also gave some comfort to pagans by acknowledging the connection between the date of Christmas and the Winter Solstice. Pope Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, formally …

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The outline for Dan Brown's next novel?

The outline for Dan Brown's next novel? No! For the good of humanity, this information must remain hidden at all costs!

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"not everyone knows that St Peter's Square is also a meridian"

That's about as exciting as the discovery that you can choose any two points anywhere and, amazingly, there will be a straight line joining them. /Everywhere/ is on some bleedin' meridian or other (aka 'line of longitude").

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If Galileo is now OK

When is he going to canonise Saint Giordano Bruno the Martyr?

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Anonymous Coward

25th was a popular birthday for saviours

Attis, Dionysus, Osiris, and Mithra all had official birthdays on the 25th of December (the date when days can be shown to be getting longer using ancient technology). Almost all religions have a celebration on the winter solstice.

Before Christianity switched to the international standard saviour birthday, they had Jesus born on the 6th of January, the 21st of April and the 1st of May. Although the 25th was officially selected in the year 375, the UK did not start to accept the standard until the 8th century.

Centuries from now, the official birthdays of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs will conform to the 12/25 standard. Happy Hog's watch.

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About time...

About time... considering that in times past, most research was carried out by the church - mostly because they were the only buggers who were educated and had any spare time. Doubtless much of the subsequent upset when this changed was the result of the church losing control of the research and its application and the inevitable questioning of dogma, superstition and contradictory "facts" that follow soon after.

As for Christmas happening when it does, that's because the date was set by the church (in the 15th century, IIRC), not through some divine miracle or happening. Even a cursory read of the relevant parts of the bible point to Christ's birth not happening in the middle of winter. But we wouldn't want to actually read something AND apply our brains to it would we?

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Pirate

"Christmas uncannily coincides with the Winter solstice"

I'm sure I won't be the only one to point this out - but December 25th was a celebration of Winter Solstice, the Roman Sun God Mithras, and various other pagan rituals long before Christianity came around. There's no coincidence at all since the Catholic church simply nicked the date to oust the pagans and slapped the name "Mass for Christ" on it. This was finally ratified by Pope Sixtus III in 435 AD.

The best evidence for the date of Jesus' birth is September 29, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, either 4 or 5 BCE - that's when Christmas *should* be.

Of course this all nonsense anyway. Just pass me the plate of spaghetti (may you be touched by His noodly appendages).

Ramen.

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Anonymous Coward

Surely this is just trolling:

"This would normally be the point at which we kick off an unholy row by asking whether the pope is then saying the laws of nature were laid down by God, and are not independent of him, whether he exists or not."

Obviously if one believes in God* then the laws of nature have unarguably been laid down by God* and if one does not believe in any god then the laws of nature are obviously independent of any such being.

Or it might just be that the author has a poor grasp of thinking.

*or whatever

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Pope to appear on sky at night?

"not everyone knows that St Peter's Square is also a meridian..."

In much the same way that not everyone knows that religion is simply an excuse to prevent having to say "I don't know"

and as for the Popes Astronomy lecture...

A meridian is an imaginary great circle on the earth's surface passing through the North and South geographic poles. All points on the same meridian have the same longitude. Therefore everywhere lies on a meridian.

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Galileo Galileo

No, the obelisk is a bit more than that. It's actually a disguised rocket to take the Pope off to the real galactic centre when the time comes. Then he can sit on God's right hand, but not in a rude way.

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Why bother?

"...This would normally be the point at which we kick off an unholy row by asking whether the pope is then saying the laws of nature were laid down by God, and are not independent of him, whether he exists or not...."

It's his job to believe that the laws of nature were laid down by god; to be perfectly honest it is the point of god in the first place.

Do you think that this is how it'd happen?:

1) Universe is created.

2) God turns up and says "bl**dy hell, theres a universe here that doesn't have a god, I'd best stand around and take all the glory!"

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@Spider

" A meridian is an imaginary great circle on the earth's surface passing through the North and South geographic poles. All points on the same meridian have the same longitude. Therefore everywhere lies on a meridian. "

Yes, but his point is that the square has been conciously aligned on a meridian -- using astronomical techniques -- in order to function as a great big sundial, and the bigger the sundial, the more accurate it is.

Astronomy has always been a key component of religious and mystic thinking and such giant sundials are major features the world over. You need only look to sites like Calanais and Stonehenge as evidence.

Every major world movement (religious and secular) has fallen in and out of love with mainstream science at some point, but for most of its history the Vatican has been particularly keen on telescopes....

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Why apologise to Galileo?

Galileo picked a fight with several cardinals and the pope on various grounds and notably by insisting that the burden of proof lay with those that maintained the established view that the Earth didn't move rather than those that supposed with Copernicus that it moves.

The Roman Catholic church took the very reasonable view that the established view fitted scripture and this was accepted as correct in the absence of proof of the movement of the Earth. Galileo had no such proof, and experiments of the time - such as attempts to measure stellar parallax - indicated he was wrong.

When proof was forthcoming, the church reinterpreted scripture to fit.

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Pre-emptive defence of the big bang dogma

Although it's not yet terribly fashionable to question the big bang hypothesis, there may be concerns in this quarter. For example, Roger Penrose recently expressed well-founded doubts.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-12/pift-rpa121908.php

A papal alliance with the Kuhnian dogmatists in the science camp would serve to bolster defences against those who query the orthodox creation story.

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Actually he did not say Meridian...

The word he used is 'Meridiana', which is italian for Sundial. What the pope says in his speech is that the obelisk at the centre of the square, together with the shape of the square itself act as a giant sundial.

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@Dec 25th historians

Chill, y'all, FFS... It's clear the author already knows what you're saying. He's just applying a little of that underappreciated linguistic spice called "sarcasm", y'know... That goes for pretty much the whole article, methinks. Fun stuff.

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@David Pollard

If you actually listen to his lecture, Sir Penrose is not at all questioning the big bang theory. The evidence supporting it includes some of the best observations in science. Ever. What he is talking about is what happened before the big bang, and what happens after the current universe dies. Quite interesting, really, as both ends are similar in many ways. He's presently working on the question of if we can detect anything about the previous universe.

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Coat

Pope to appear on sky at night?

Yes, apparently he's visible with the naked eye or binoculars, telescopes are a bit too powerful.

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@AlanGriffiths

"The Roman Catholic church took the very reasonable view..."

Absolutely, even Galileo agreed they had a reasonable view, when they showed him the instruments of torture...

You have a rather 1984 slant on scientific debate.

To be fair, it was a time before the scientific method was well-developed or popular, do you want to return to a time when "proof" meant having the hottest branding iron?

Icon? Just preparing my arguments...

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Jon
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Good news for homosexuals

It seems that the Catholic church will forgive them too in about 500 years time :)

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