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Today's science and the medieval Church

Pope's visit to a prestigious university is canceled after protests against his anti-intellectual stance on medieval physics.

The Vatican canceled a planned speech by uber-conservative Pope Benedict XVI to La Sapienza University in Rome, after students and faculty voiced a protest against his stance on Galileo's trial back in A.D. 1633.

Remember Galileo? He's the one who claimed, against all contemporary science and theology, that the Earth did not stand still at the center of the universe but did in fact orbit the sun. Back then, the Vatican determined this information to be heretical, dangerous, and unprovable, so its prelates made Galileo renounce his findings, threatened to excommunicate him, and placed him under house arrest until his death.

Why is this relevant in 2008? Because the leader of the largest organized religion in the Western world supports the decision, calling Galileo's trial "rational and just." This may have been true according to the precepts of religion and astronomy back in the day, but scientists and academics of our era don't take kindly to a stance they see as possibly squelching scientific research.

As an aside, props to the previous Pope, John Paul II, who stuck his neck out for science just 15 years ago when he officially conceded that indeed, Earth really did orbit the sun, and the Church was okay with that.

Read the whole story at BBC News: "Papal visit scuppered by scholars"