Rick Perry vs Galileo


In last night’s (Sept 7, 2011) debate among Republican presidential wanna-bees, Rick Perry tried to defend the head-in-the-sand position of global warming deniers by invoking the ghost of Galileo.  In the context of stating, erroneously, that the science of climate change was open to question and that the debate among scientists about the details called into question the theory, Perry said, “Galileo got outvoted for a spell.”  Clearly he was attempting to lump global warming deniers in the same category as Galileo, whose observations had confirmed the heliocentric theory of the universe over against the geocentric theory.  Perry was attempting to imply that if Galileo was a lone voice crying in the wilderness of superstition, then so too were climate change deniers lone voices against the bad and ideologically driven supporters of the environmentalist superstitions of our day.

But as anyone familiar with the story of Galileo (and not merely with the stripped down myth) knows, Galileo was not vilified by the scientific community of his day.  He was not the originator of the heliocentric theory, but his observations (data) confirmed it, and he was not called to task or shouted down by other scientists.  It was the establishment of his day, the Catholic Church, which, through its Inquisition, sought to silence him, and further it did so not because the Church leaders sincerely believed him to be wrong.  Urban VIII and Cardinal Bellarmine were well educated and sophisticated men who knew full well that Galileo was correct but urged him to treat the heliocentric view publicly as a “debate” rather than as settled fact.  They did so because they viewed the heliocentric theory as potentially undermining the authority of the Church, which was at that time a powerful secular as well as religious institution yet seriously threatened by the Protestant Reformation.  And if the Church was threatened, then so too were their power, wealth, and privilege.  So the underlying reasons for Galileo’s persecution were not his science or the facts, but the political situation of his time.

And here is the valid analogy between Galileo and our own time.  Today it is science that is confirming the facts of global warming (just as also it continues to confirm evolution), and it is self-interested parties that are denying those facts, not for scientific reasons (no matter how much and how awkwardly they try to invoke science for their side) but for reasons of political power and money.  And it is these self-interested parties who try to invoke the idea of “debate” as a way of undermining the science not only of global warming but of evolution.  Knowing the truth as they do, just as much as Urban VIII and Cardinal Bellarmine did, they nevertheless hope that this so-called “debate” will raise enough doubt in the minds of voters and consumers (one and the same thing, by the way) about global warming to prevent them from voting for Democrats and reducing their consumption of carbon-based energy resources.  It is not about the science and never has been; it is about the usual suspects, power and money.

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