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Is it a weapon or butter? Is it peace or a nuclear bomb?

Italian philosopher Galileo Galilei is known as the father of science, modern physics, and astronomy. He was prosecuted 413 years ago for advocating that the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun.

The ‘Galileo affair,’ which has a place in history, began in 1610 and ended with Galileo Galilei being convicted by the Roman Catholic Inquisition in 1633.

Galileo’s discoveries led to great controversies within the Catholic Church. In 1616, he proposed the theory of tides, and in 1619, he put forth the theory of comets, asserting that they were “evidence of the Earth’s motion.” However, the Church declared the idea of heliocentrism as ‘heresy’ in 1616.

Amid increasing debates on theology, astronomy, and philosophy, the Roman Inquisition tried Galileo in 1633. He was found “suspected of heresy” and sentenced to house arrest until his death at the age of 77 in 1642. His books advocating heliocentrism were also banned.

At the end of his trial, Galileo was forced to retract his scientific findings as “rejected, cursed, and abhorred.” This step caused him great personal anguish but saved him from being tied to a stake and burned.

350 years after the Catholic Church condemned Galileo, Pope John Paul II acknowledged that the Church’s persecution of the Italian astronomer and physicist was one of its worst decisions, given that Galileo had proven the Earth orbits the Sun. The world learned of Galileo’s forgiveness through a program called ‘Letter from America’ broadcast by the BBC in 1992.

About 50 years before Galileo got into trouble with the papal authority, Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus had already attempted to prove that the Earth was not the center of the universe but that the Sun revolved around it.

Nicolaus Copernicus, who served as a Catholic bishop’s advisor in the Ermland Principality under the Prussian Kingdom, was a scientist who lived from 1473 to 1543. In his masterpiece titled “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres,” he described the Solar System, defending the idea that planets move in fixed orbits around the Sun.

Polish painter Jan Matejko depicted Nicolaus Copernicus observing the sky from a balcony in his oil painting titled “Astronomer Copernicus or Conversations with God.”

When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the Moon in 1969, people around the world were listening to their radios in awe of this “great step for humanity.” However, even at that time, religious scholars from every faith declared the event as fake due to their conflicting beliefs.

From those dark days to the present, most recently, India’s satellite named ‘Chandrayaan 3’ landed near the Moon’s South Pole. Now it falls upon the Sadhus, the oldest religious group in the region, following Brahmanism, to declare its falseness and sinfulness.

Three men showing the mudrā gesture in Sadhu attire at the Vishnu temple.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appearing happily on television screens, seemed reluctant to acknowledge that the lunar journey, so joyfully announced, traced back to a fierce battle between science and religious orthodoxy that had started centuries ago in Europe.

Indeed, India’s landing on the Moon is a commendable scientific achievement. However, the whole world knows that beyond the scientific aspects of these space explorations, there is also a military purpose.

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Now, India, China, and Russia, three nuclear-armed countries, are members of BRICS, along with South Africa and Brazil. One dismantled its bombs and refrained from making more; the other shelved its advanced nuclear bomb project for the sake of democracy. However, both countries have never taken a step back from their democratic and peaceful research, following in the footsteps of Galileo and the dedicated scientists who came before them.

Copernicus shared his scientific findings, obtained by observing the illuminated Venus planet with the naked eye, and shortly after, he passed away, avoiding condemnation from the religious leaders of his time. However, Galileo was not as fortunate. He remained a devout Catholic, sentenced to house arrest, enduring unjust attacks, and died with a broken heart.

During World War I, peace activists used the slogan “Guns and Butter” to highlight the arms race and inequality of needs. The Nazis later twisted this slogan, stating, “Guns will make us strong; butter will only make us fat.”

47 years have passed since former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s statement in 1976: “The Soviets put their weapons on top of butter, but we put almost everything on top of weapons.” And now the world is once again asking, “Is it peace or a nuclear bomb?”

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YÜKSEL DURGUT is a journalist with a primary focus on global politics and foreign affairs.

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