Say the name Galileo, and most people picture the astronomer standing before scowling Inquisition judges, forced to recant his claim that the earth revolves about the sun.

To secular scholars, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was a martyr to religious bigotry, demonstrating how pious superstition can shackle human knowledge. To Protestant historians, Galileo's fate is a sharp contrast to the freedom other Enlightenment luminaries, like Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, and Johannes Kepler, enjoyed in Reformation regions.

But there's more to Galileo's story. Born in 1564 into a Europe passionate—and passionately divided—about its faith, the astronomer experimented, observed, and published his findings without ecclesiastical restraint for almost seventy years before his run-in with the papal authorities. He lived and died just as faithful to the Roman Church as Boyle was to the Anglican or Kepler to his Lutheran roots.

This stands in contrast to the network of thinkers and tinkerers, self-styled "the New Philosophers," who would help bring the scientific revolution to full flower. Many of those men paid little attention to the commitments of nationality or religion that divided their contemporaries. They considered themselves citizens of a borderless and nonsectarian commonwealth of science. Indeed, for some, their allegiance to the pursuit of verifiable truths about the natural world superseded all other commitments. The Dutch mathematician and physicist Christiaan Huygens, for example, declared, "The World is my Fatherland, Science is my Religion."

Despite Galileo's faithfulness to his church, he is most often portrayed today as a secular scientific hero who stood firm against religious bigotry. His loyalty to his faith is largely ignored. ...

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