Nearly 400 years after his first trial, Galileo Galilei was on trial all over again—this time, in the Weyerhaeuser Chapel, thanks to an assignment from history professor Karin Velez. Students in HIST 294—Science, Magic, and Belief—assumed roles of witnesses (including Galileo himself) and recently reenacted the 1632 trial to decide whether Galileo’s science was a crime against the Catholic Church. The trial included debate over whether Galileo’s Dialogues on the Two Chief Systems of the World advocated heliocentric theory, which would directly contradict the church’s belief that the earth was the center of the universe.

Students had two minutes to state their position, then three minutes after everyone had presented his or her case to craft a rebuttal and another minute to present it. Some students presented their positions on scroll paper; others dressed in character as they testified against or on behalf of Galileo, debating his character, intentions, piety and health. At the end of the hour-long trial, the students took two votes: one as their 17th century character and one as themselves. Like the actual trial, the students in character ruled that Galileo’s science was a crime—but they reversed the verdict with their present-day votes.

December 13 2012

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