Perseids, Galileo, Religion, and Torture


Tacoma Atheists recently twittered about the upcoming Perseid meteor shower which in turn got me thinking more about Galileo, science, and atheism.

It was Galileo's curiosity about the heavens that inspired him to refine the telescope and start studying the stars and planets of the night sky. It was in 1610 that he first saw Jupiter and noticed four moons which were orbiting around the planet, which was proof that the Catholic church was wrong about the universe revolving around the Earth.

Galileo wasn't trying to prove anyone wrong, he was simply curious and his curiosity at that time in history was a dangerous thing. Previous to this discovery there had already been several church killings as a response to scientific discovery, including some of Galileo's closest friends. These killings often included barbaric tortures such as driving nails through victim's tongues and burning people alive.

One of the things that saved Galileo's bacon was the fact that he was friends with the pope at that time and was even given permission to write a book with the stipulation that his ideas and the church's ideas be given equal weight. Once the book was published it was decided he failed to maintain equality and in 1632 he was called to Rome by the Catholic Inquisition.

At age 70 he recanted his scientific research and discoveries - undoubtedly out of fear of being horribly tortured - and was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.

It was only in 1992 - that's 23 years after the moon landing - that the Catholic church admitted that Galileo was right about his (and by extension Copernicus') heliocentric universe. How did they address the torture and anguish their institution was responsible for during the time when Galileo lived? They didn't. In fact there are plenty of other scientists from that era who are still considered wicked and whose writings are still condemned. Did they praise Galileo for being the brilliant scientist that he was, as one of the first men to incorporate empirical research into his work and someone who helped define and understand the universe as it is? No. They attributed his successes to their god, of course.

It would be nice if this negative reaction to scientific discovery were a thing of the past but it's not. Now we don't have people ignorantly rallying against heliocentric ideas, now we have people foaming at the mouth over evolution. Back then it was an affront to the Catholic religion to admit that the earth was not the center of everything. Now, it seems the fact that everything changes on this world - plants, people, the planet itself - and that nothing that you see today is the same as it was and always will be is an affront to religious people across the board. You can cite animal husbandry, aviary speciation, co-evolution of flowers and the unique animals which pollinate them, but it's a waste of breath.

Just recently there was a study where the change of a single gene within two closely related populations of birds has evidently started the process of speciation. This is stuff we can see, we can witness in our lifetime - proof that evolution is the process by which life as we know it came to be yet there are still people who reject it without even trying to understand what it is. Why? A guy in a robe, a lady behind a podium, a smiling soothsayer on TV told them to reject it. That is the power of religion right there.

I often wonder, if given the opportunity, how many of these evolution naysayers would drive nails through our tongues and burn us at the stake if given the oppertunity. It seems like that really is the only way to keep logic from reaching people - make logic punishable by torture and death.