As I was driving him to school today, my 7th grade son wanted to talk about science and what he was learning about the thinker and scientist, Gallileo. My son was amazed how this man and his new discoveries and his promotion of the Copernican doctrine had been met with hostility and mistrust from the tiny, threatened minds of the church and its subsequent Inquisition which, at the time, dictated what could and could not be called historical or scientific “fact”. His then-radical theory which proposed that while two dissimilarly-weighted objects, if dropped, might fall at different rates on Earth, the same objects, in an airless atmosphere, would both hit the ground at the same time.
The Church, incensed that Galileo would dare to challenge the “wisdom” of the day concerning gravity as well as his theory that the Sun– not the Earth–was the center of the universe, felt Galileo was nothing less than a heretic. After 18 days of formal interrorgation (and using threats of torture), Galileo confessed under duress that he may have worded his support for the Copernican case a little too strongly. Despite this, he was placed under house arrest in 1633 where he remained until his death in 1642.
At the end of the last Apollo 15 moon walk (1971), a live demonstration was performed before the television cameras by Commander David Scott using a feather and a geologic hammer. Because the atmosphere on the moon did not provide the same air resistance that one finds on our planet, both objects–released at the same time– fell at the same rate and landed at the same time. Despite this very public demonstration which is preserved on tape, the Church did not see fit to formally reverse its stance on Galileo’s theories until 1983. You read it right, people…1983!!
My son was aghast that anyone would be treated in such a manner for merely encouraging the broadening of intellectual thought and for daring to promote new scientific theories. I told him that this was why his father and I are such strong advocates of the Separation of Church and State. “No church, regardless of denomination, should have the power to decide what is or is not accepted or studied as scientific or historical fact or to censure those who promote such knowledge,” I said. “It would be tremendously naive to believe that what happened to Galileo could not still happen, in some form or other, in our country now.”
You think I’m being an alarmist? Then consider the following two things:
1) The steady encroachment of fundamentalism in this country. Make no mistake, fundamentalism means the death of intellectual growth, regardless of which religion it attaches itself to. There are people being elected to the highest of public offices who maintain that Abraham lived to be several hundred years old and that the world, according to their religious views, is only 6,000 years old. Especially worrisome are the words of Evangelical guru and former head
hypocrite of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard. Haggard, who “was asked to leave” his post after it was revealed that, despite his attacks on homosexuality, he had engaged in a three year sexual relationship with a male prostitute who also sold him methanphetamines. (Yes….THAT Ted Haggard!) The evangelist, in a taped interview, warned esteemed British ethologist/evolutionist, Richard Dawkins, that it wouldn’t be long before the majority of people understood the 6,000 year theory to be TRUTH. If that doesn’t frighten you, then I have a “science textbook” to show you that is used by fundamentalist homeschooling parents here in Texas. I hope I’m dead when the day comes that public school teachers are required to teach your child that there were pairs of dinosaurs on the ark and that Noah used bags of fireflies to light the dark lower chambers of his watercraft.
2) The present administration just made it legal for the government to torture people. The same government that is presently led by men who–if one believes the public boasts of Haggard–lend their ear to Pastor Ted (who claimed he spoke to George Bush on a weekly basis) and others like him.
NOW are you scared? You ought to be.
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