by iampunha | 6/22/2008 08:00:00 AM
And in order that this your grave and pernicious error and transgression may not remain altogether unpunished and that you may be more cautious in the future and an example to others that they may abstain from similar delinquencies, we ordain that the book of the “Dialogues of Galileo Galilei” be prohibited by public edict.

We condemn you to the formal prison of this Holy office during our pleasure, and by way of salutary penance we enjoin that for three years to come you repeat once a week at the seven penitential Psalms. Reserving to ourselves liberty to moderate, commute or take off, in whole or in paort, the aforesaid penalties and penance.

And so we say, pronounce, sentence, declare, ordain, and reserve in this [and in] any other better way and form which we can and may rightfully employ.

-Papal condemnation of Galileo Galilei.

On June 22, 1633, Galileo was forced to recant.

For Erich Maria Remarque, born on June 22, 1898, whose life should be taught with his most famous book.

Gotta love any society in which science is seen as a dangerous thing. As I have argued elsewhere, and as I will continue to argue where relevant and necessary, the danger is not in the science but in the people who will abuse it.

Another argument I have used elsewhere, by way of comparing detainment and torture practices, is that the Bush administration is worse than the Church was.

In this instance, however, the Church was obviously worse in its censorship of Galilei than the Bush administration has been in its censorship of scientists pushing global warming (and the Big Bang, and evolution, and the third law of thermodynamics, and the use of functional levees when hurricanes are about to strike, and the medical use of marijuana, and the effectiveness of abstinence-only education, and ...).

I have always been fascinated by the view that people need to be controlled very tightly, very strictly, or they will abandon all form of civilization and live alone, stewing in their filth and heresy. (Actually, in most of the Christian world, they lived together in their filth for over a thousand years, but that's neither here nor there.) People with power are, understandably, loathe to give it up. But what constitutes giving it up is just fascinating.

In this case, promoting a view in which the Bible could not be relied upon as the world's most valuable science book (a science book has footnotes and references and a listed author. Also, pictures) was very dangerous, just as the Bush administration has needed (they owe some people for some ... things ... in some states) to pay back people who fought hard to get the president appointed and then elected.

So James Hansen has been censored (registration required) by this administration:

He fell out of favor with the White House in 2004 after giving a speech at the University of Iowa before the presidential election, in which he complained that government climate scientists were being muzzled and said he planned to vote for Senator John Kerry.

But Dr. Hansen said that nothing in 30 years equaled the push made since early December to keep him from publicly discussing what he says are clear-cut dangers from further delay in curbing carbon dioxide.

In several interviews with The New York Times in recent days, Dr. Hansen said it would be irresponsible not to speak out, particularly because NASA's mission statement includes the phrase "to understand and protect our home planet."

He said he was particularly incensed that the directives had come through telephone conversations and not through formal channels, leaving no significant trails of documents.

Dr. Hansen's supervisor, Franco Einaudi, said there had been no official "order or pressure to say shut Jim up." But Dr. Einaudi added, "That doesn't mean I like this kind of pressure being applied."

Galileo, on the other hand, for advocating a 1900-year-old position that the Church only in 1992 officially supported (though by that point, it was kind of a given), was censored completely. He wasn't allowed to talk about heliocentrism.

Wait, you didn't know heliocentrism was older than the Church?

Aristarchus of Samos, born 310 B.C., a whole eighteen hundred years before Copernicus[, was the first to claim that the Earth goes around the sun].

Not only did Aristarchus suggest the [E]arth and planets traveled around the sun, he also calculated the relative sizes and distances of the [E]arth, moon, and sun and worked out that the heavens were not a celestial sphere, but a universe of almost infinite size.

-The Book of General Ignorance

(I am not in love with the book — it, as the Bible, lacks footnotes — but its author's assertions are backed elsewhere.)

Galileo was not the first Renaissance scientist to challenge the Church's doctrine (as opposed to scholarship) that the Earth was the center of all that was:

In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs, a treatise that put forth his revolutionary idea that the [s]un was at the center of the universe and that the Earth--rotating on an axis--orbited around the sun once a year. Copernicus' theory was a challenge to the accepted notion contained in the natural philosophy of Aristotle, the astronomy of Ptolemy and the teachings of the Church that the sun and all the stars revolved around a stationary Earth.

Beyond all the calculations, beyond the gravitational reasons (which also explain the tides), beyond all the super sciency stuff that is understandably beyond the reach of your average nonscientist, there's a really easy way to show that Earth can't be the center of it all:

If it is, Mars moves forward ever more slowly, then stops and goes backward, then becomes harder to see, then gets easier to see, then ... etc.:

In the geocentric frame, however, the trajectory of Mars looks a lot like a cardioïd (cf third simulation). Mars goes in one direction, goes backwards (thus the word "retrogradation "), then moves in its initial direction again.

But this was of no concern to the Church. See, when you have already decided on the facts, you do not then need to bother explaining them. (I'm not even being farcical here. Geocentrism, as practiced back in the day, was fundamentally part of a belief system, the base of which was that the Bible contained all knowledge and was inerrant. Geocentrism was pragmatically doctrine.) You just say that the Earth is at center, and everything else is orbiting it (neglecting, for example, the nasty question of how the sun hasn't eaten Mars yet). And you draw your geocentric map, and you have done with it, because nobody much is actually going to chart Mars' movement and ask why it's going backward, how you explain that scientifically ("God works in mysterious ways. Now eat your bread."), etc.

The bigger question, really, is why the Church would censor a scientist. The answer? Power (bolding mine):

Aware of the move against him, Galileo wrote to a friend, Monsignor Dini, asking that his letters be forwarded to the influential Cardinal Bellarmine, the Church's chief theologian, and--if it could be arranged--Pope Paul V. Unfortunately for Galileo, the seventy-four-year old Cardinal Bellarmine "was no friend of novelties" (although, unlike some of Galileo's other detractors, he had at least looked through a telescope and given--in 1611--an audience to Galileo). In his innate conservatism he saw the Copernican universe as threatening to the social order. To Bellarmine and much of the Church's upper echelon, the science of the matter was beyond their understanding--and in many cases their interest. They cared about administration and preserving the power of the papal superstate more than they did getting astronomical facts right.

Or, spinning things, we can't just have elite scientists publishing books that advocate sun-based models for the solar system, after all. That goes against what we've been teaching is true based on this "only book you'll ever need" manuscript, that Bible thing.

And we've already put together a Bible-as-encyclopedia package deal. It separates out the passages that deal with history (begettings, wars, etc.), science (bats as birds, how to bury your waste so your enemy doesn't know you've been there), cooking (how to turn your wife into a year's supply of salt) and tourism (what to do if your house guests are offended).

We've already printed copies. What are we going to do, tell little Johann "Hans" Gutenberg Jr. that his father's hard work has all been for naught?

And the amazing thing is that Galileo, after his first attempt at educating The Powers That Be failed, just went on with his work, resigned to the fact that the Church's oligarchy was more interested in doctrine than discussion. He still had work to do, and he did it.

And then he got some hope. He was invited to write a book that explored arguments for the Bible-based model and the science-based model, but he was required to present the science only as a possibility, not as a practicality or reality, and to also say that basically, all of this was the work of God, and nobody could know for sure.

Despite Galileo's best efforts, a special interest group was going to get him no matter what he did (bolding mine):

By late summer, Galileo's hopes turned to fears when he learned that orders had come from Rome to suspend publication of his book. On September 5, the full scope of Galileo's problems became clearer when Pope Urban told Francesco Niccolini, who had come to the Vatican to protest the suspension decision, "Your Galileo has ventured to meddle in things that he ought not and with the most grave and dangerous subjects that can be stirred up these days." Jesuit enemies of Galileo had convinced the Pope that the Dialogue was nothing but a thinly-veiled brief for the Copernican model. The Pope complained that Galileo and Ciampoli deceived him, assuring him that the book would comply with papal instructions and then circumventing them. The Pope seemed especially embittered by Galileo's decision to put the Pope's own argument concerning the tides into the mouth of the simple-minded Simplico--an attempt, as he saw it, to ridicule him.
Galileo, too, became angry. His noble goal of spreading scientific awareness to the public was being frustrated by a narrow-minded bureaucracy intent on preserving its own power.

Remind you of anyone?

Belief systems built as a house of cards fall like houses of cards. If one gets touched by anything stronger than a faint whisper, the house comes tumbling down.

Belief systems, note. Not religious belief systems. The systems themselves, irrespective of their subject matter. This applies to any belief or other system of thought that isn't really securely taught. Those who are well-schooled in their religion, science, cooking, whatever, can withstand a hell of a lot more than a faint whisper. My sister has her master's in theology, and she helped me write the entry on torture of heretics.

Too many people's faith is rather shallowly built. Challenge one aspect of their faith and suddenly OMG EVERYTHING IS WRONG! (Yes, and? The ever-popular Octet Rule is wrong 90 percent of the time and right 90 percent of the time. But its ground rule — full or empty orbital levels if at all possible — is true.)

But as stories adapt with time and facts (my penicillin story is incomplete, but I've left the dutiful reader more than enough help to get a more accurate picture), and what is faith if not another story?

You do not have to believe the Bible is an inerrant science book to arrive at a comforting, useful belief system. In fact, recognizing the limitations and purposes of the Bible is about the best way to arrive at the kind of faith that is based not on facts but on feeling. (Or so says the atheist.)

Take, for example, the Christmas story. The "facts" of that story are that Jesus was the guy's name, that he was born in December and that three kings later went to see him.

His name was Y'shua, which is Hebrew for Jesus. (Fascinating look there at the evolution of our letters.)

He wasn't born in December.

They weren't kings, and there probably weren't three of them.

(Yes, I am planning to write "Everything you know about Christmas is a lie" in December. How did you know?)

Anyway. Keep yourself interested in facts and you'll keep finding them. Keep yourself interested in the overall picture and you won't forever be looking for what isn't there. And keep yourself content to never know everything and your house of cards won't be predicated on a lie.