I knew Galileo. Rick Perry, you are no Galileo.
September 9, 2011
In last night’s debate, Rick Perry was confronted with the fact (yes, the fact) that something like 98% of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, and that human activity is involved. Here’s Perry’s devastating riposte:
“The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet to me is just nonsense,” Perry said. “Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said here is the fact. Galileo got outvoted for a spell,” he said.
Perry’s invocation of Galileo is precious irony indeed. Because Galileo’s problem wasn’t that he was “outvoted” by other scientists. His problem was that his ideas conflicted with those of the Catholic Church. His problem, in other words, was that a group of powerful religious men refused to accept what scientific data showed because it was at odds with their interpretation of the Bible. Sound familiar?
“If Perry means to say that at some point some body of scientists said Galileo was wrong, that didn’t happen,” said the historian, Thomas F. Mayer, who teaches at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.
Galileo and Copernicus were long ago proved right, but even in Galileo’s day there were scientists who supported him, Dr. Mayer said. “His notions about science were not that far out there,” he said. “There were a lot of other scientists, especially in Rome, who more or less agreed with his scientific observations.”
Perhaps, then, Mr. Perry was referring to the church’s trial of Galileo on charges of heresy, in 1633, in which the astronomer was convicted and sentenced to house arrest. In that case he was “outvoted” not by other scientists but by church leaders.
There are many interesting accounts available of Galileo’s struggles with church authorities, and some details remain unclear. But the bottom line is that, because he insisted on advocating heliocentrism over geocentrism (i.e., he insisted that the earth rotates around the sun rather than vice versa), he was convicted on suspicion of heresy.
Galileo was found guilty, and the sentence of the Inquisition, issued on 22 June 1633, was in three essential parts:
- Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. He was required to ”abjure, curse, and detest” those opinions.
- He was sentenced to formal imprisonment at the pleasure of the Inquisition. On the following day this was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life.
- His offending Dialogue was banned; and in an action not announced at the trial, publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any he might write in the future.
I was also struck by this passage from one of wikipedia’s articles:
Galileo defended heliocentrism, and claimed it was not contrary to those Scripture passages [that arguably suggest geocentrism]. He took Augustine’s position on Scripture: not to take every passage literally, particularly when the scripture in question is a book of poetry and songs, not a book of instructions or history. He believed that the writers of the Scripture merely wrote from the perspective of the terrestrial world, from that vantage point that the sun does rise and set.
I wonder what Rick Perry would say about that.