So Texas Governor Rick Perry decided to throw Galileo into the discussion at last night's Republican presidential debate. All it did was showcase his flat earth credentials, and that he's ready to pander to a mob of Luddites. Either way, it's an embarrassment. Here's why.
As a thought exercise imagine what would happen 500 years ago if an individual hit the floor in a sudden frenzy of uncontrolled spasms. Depending on where you were in the world, an accepted response might be, “They’re possessed by an evil spirit, or the devil.” Accusations would be made. A good ol' witch burning might follow.
Because somebody began to question this mentality, today we know about seizures, epilepsy, and much more about how the body works. How did we get to this point? Because someone decided to doubt what we were told, and challenged what we knew. This is the essence of the scientific method.
Unlike accepting what we are told, or believing what we want because it comforts us - as was the case during the medieval period - the scientific method forces us to pursue new answers to questions we have about the world.
This is what happened when Galileo looked through a telescope and found that the earth moved. As I point out in my classes, this has had a significant impact on our world, and is an important aspect of our modern world that should be respected.
Apparently Rick Perry disagrees. Before I discuss this, let's take a look at the real Galileo moment that makes Rick Perry Galileo's Fool.
By looking through a telescope, and playing with some figures, Galileo was the first to scientifically suggest that the earth moved (heliocentrism). The discovery was so revolutionary it brought the authority of the Catholic Church down on Galileo. The high priests of the Catholic Church disagreed with Galileo and were, one would assume, the "influential" people that Rick Perry was referring to last night.
According to Church teachings at the time, the earth was flat and the center of the universe. The danger in Galileo’s discovery for the Church was that if the Church could be wrong about something as important as the position of the earth perhaps they could be wrong about other things, like the Divine Right to Rule and other aspects of life. Galileo’s findings so unnerved his colleagues at the university in Padua that many refused the opportunity to look through Galileo’s telescope. Galileo was forced to recant.
Perry's comments at last nights GOP debate should remind us all that the people who disagreed with Galileo were eventually proven wrong. The earth moves (though over 20% of Americans continue to believe the earth is the center of the universe). The earth isn't flat. And you won't fall off if you sail far into the ocean blue.
Perry's flat earth moment was an embarrassment. His huckleberry mind-set might fly in Texas, but it has no place on the larger American stage of presidential politics. Not when we're falling behind other nations in areas like math and science (among other areas).
At least I hope it doesn't have a place ...