On this day in 1616, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei was forbidden from defending heliocentrism, or the theory that the earth rotates around the sun. After designing a relatively sophisticated telescope in 1613, Galileo had observed that the earth was not, in fact, the centre of the universe (a view known as geocentrism). He enthusiastically published his arguments in Letters on Sunspots, and talked frequently of his groundbreaking research. In 1615, however, the Catholic Church assembled a committee to refute heliocentrism and suppress Galileo’s “heretical” theory.
Galileo made every effort to justify his findings with evidence, and even went so far as to cite passages from the Bible. But the papal committee found that his defence of heliocentrism was “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.” Galileo was banned from espousing his beliefs by the Church and, in 1633, he was placed under house arrest. Although history has absolved Galileo, his treatment in the early 17th century was common amongst those who challenged standard religious beliefs regarding science.