Friday, February 03, 2006


Quick, Activate the Cloaking Device

There is an excellent article in Slate about attempts by Intelligent Design advocates to wrap themselves in the mantle of Galileo, casting him as an outsider ahead of his time who had to suffer the disapproval of the establishment, if not the actual instruments of torture, before being justified by later generations. Of course, the IDers can only claim half the comparison at best. As Steven Jay Gould once said, "A man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must also be right." Still, it may be a particularly valuable strategy now that the Vatican is distancing itself from ID, as demonstrated by Fiorenzo Facchini’s article in its official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, scolding ID advocates for "pretending to do science."

The fly in the ointment, as Peter Dizikes shows in the article, "Galileo Groupies," is the one that always bedevils the ID crowd: the truth. He first notes a prime example of the ID ploy:

"Galileo was not considered reputable when he came out with his theory," said Kathy Cox, Georgia's schools superintendent, while backing creationism in 2004.

Then Dizikes gives this compelling summation:

In reality, Galileo was a prominent university professor in the 1590s, before he turned 30. It was precisely because of his scientific eminence that the church made an example of him. A full two decades before his trial, Galileo had discovered Jupiter's moons, observed mountains on our own moon, helped prove the heliocentric thesis with his observations of Venus, formulated what we now call the first law of motion, and defined uniform acceleration. He wasn't a rogue scientist to his many admiring colleagues -- only to the inquisition.

But those are mere facts. For creationists, it's the Galileo legend that matters. Now that Rome has also rejected ID, albeit for wholly different reasons, expect more tailored-to-fit comparisons. What would Galileo say about all this? Perhaps what he wrote in the Dialogue: "The deeper I go in considering the vanities of popular reasoning, the lighter and more foolish I find them."
There is another bit of wisdom from Galileo that also applies:

There is no greater hatred in the world than the hatred of ignorance for knowledge.


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