Global warming and Galileo
I'm writing in reference to James Lewis' piece on global warming epicycles.First, I will say that it's very well done; it's well-written and I could not agree with its thesis more. However, I must take exception to his use of the Galileo myth, as the Galileo affair has been misunderstood, mischaracterized and used to impugn the Church and Christianity in general.
As I'm sure you realize, the heliocentric belief did not originate with Galileo but the ancient Greeks. It was lent further credibility by the Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus in his treatise, "The Revolutions of Heavenly Orbs." And it’s instructive here to note that, as writer George Sims Johnston wrote in "The Galileo Affair," "Copernicus, a good Catholic, published his book at the urging of two eminent prelates and dedicated it to Pope Paul III, who received it cordially." Moreover, the Church protected Copernicus from Calvinists and others who would have persecuted him.
It's also important to understand that the Church did not view such theories as the threat modern critics would suppose they would have taken them to be. In point of fact, churchmen were largely uninterested in such things. As Cardinal Baronius once said, the Bible "is intended to teach us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go."
So why did Galileo encounter such problems? While it seems there certainly was enough blame to go around, it should be obvious that he was not punished for propounding a theory that had been around for thousands of years and entertained by the Church (the Church regarded it to be a hypothesis); there was more to it. For one thing, Galileo was an irascible man who insisted that the Church accept his theory wholesale, without adequate proof; he could not even refute Aristotle's objection pertaining to stellar parallaxes. Moreover, the Church was correct in its circumspection, as some of Galileo's theories were later disproven; for instance, he was wrong in saying that the tides were caused by the rotation of the Earth and on the nature of comets.
A parallel can be seen today with respect to evolution, in that Pope John Paul II called it "one of a number of possibilities." Now, should man endure for a few hundred more years and should the theory in toto be proven correct, it wouldn't be surprising if critics of the Church found ways to cast her as having been adamantly opposed to it. This is possible when an entity doesn't jump on bandwagons heading in the right direction; however, what is often overlooked is when it doesn't jump on those going in the wrong one.
And that is the point. The Church thinks not in terms of years, but centuries. She doesn't jump on any bandwagon; rather, she considers positions in a sober fashion, searches for Truth and waits till the facts are in. Wouldn't it be great if the global warming crowd were so disposed? Moreover, the Church is especially reluctant to jump on scientific bandwagons because she isn't a scientific body. And, although it seems strange to say it today, 400 years ago heliocentrism was a bandwagon.
And we should all be thankful that the Church exercises such wisdom. Note that the current Pope has not jumped on the global warming bandwagon; instead, he recently made a pronouncement wherein he emphasized that one should not do such things and that the current global-warming alarmism was not a reflection of a sincere search for Truth but, rather, was motivated by a desire to advance an agenda.
Thus, in some measure, Galileo was actually more like the global warming alarmists than the Church was. He was a man who insisted on trying to ram an unproven theory down people's throats, a theory containing elements that were, in fact, incorrect. This isn't to say that there is a direct equivalence between Galileo's theories and today's anthropogenic global warming thesis (AGWT). While the former were basically sound with a few flawed elements, I believe the latter to be basically flawed with, at best, a few sound elements. Regardless, just as the AGWT is a bandwagon today, so was heliocentrism at the time of Galileo.
Accepting unproven scientific theories as fact isn't the practice of good scientists any more than that of good theologians. And just because certain rash and brash individuals embrace that practice and have been right in a few instances doesn't change that fact.
Again, all in all I love Lewis' piece, and I would encourage others to read it. But we mustn't fall into the same trap as the global warming dogmatists. That is, accepting something as fact simply because it's fashionable to say it is so.