Galileo was born in the city of Pisa, on the day Michelangelo died. His parents determined the first, significant, event in his life. At the age of seventeen he was sent to the University of Pisa to study medicine. It is reported that Galileo’s interest in science and mathematics was roused by this problem and then further stimulated by the chance attendance at a lecture on geometry at the university. The result was that he asked for and secured, parental permission to abandon medicine and to devote himself to science and mathematics instead, fields in which he possessed strong natural talent.
When Galileo was 25, he was appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Pisa, and while holding this appointment is said to have performed public experiments with falling bodies. According to the story, before a crowd of students, faculty, and priests he dropped two pieces of metal, one ten times the weight of the other from the top of the leaning tower of Pisa.
The two pieces of metal struck the ground at practically the same moment, thus contradicting Aristotle, who said that a heavier body falls faster than a lighter one. Galileo arrived at the law that the distance a body a falls is proportional to the square of the time of falling, in accordance with the familiar formula s = gt2/2. Even the visual evidence of Galileo’s experiments however did not shake the faith of the other professors at the university in the teaching of Aristotle. The authorities at the university were so shocked at Galileo’s sacrilegious insolence in contradicting Aristotle that they made life unpleasant for him there with the result that he resigned his professorship in 1591.
The following year he accepted a professorship at the University of Padua, where there was an atmosphere friendlier to scientific pursuits. Here, for nearly eighteen years, Galileo continued his experiments and his teaching and won widespread fame.
All his life Galileo was a religious man and a devout Catholic. Accordingly, it distressed him to find the views to which he was irresistibly led by his observations and reasoningis as a scientist condemned as contradicting the scriptures of the Church, of which he considered himself a loyal member. He therefore felt compelled to reason for himself the relation between science and scripture. Many scientists have, from time to time, found themselves in this position. It occurred, for example, in the middle of the nineteenth century, when difficulties were felt in reconciling Darwin’s theory of evolution with the Biblical account of the creation of living things.