LONG BEACH (gorewon2000.net) February 15, 2001 -- In ignorance and an excess of pandering, political leaders criticize the traditions of the Enlightenment and Renaissance while eating of its fruits, in an attempt to move American civilization backwards.
Today, on what would have been the 437th birthday of one of the greatest scientists of the Millennium (if not the greatest), I have been reflecting on America, her politicians, and their attitudes and attacks on science, expression, and the value of a secular government.
I am not so na´ve that I do not recognize the political payoff to be gained by such attacks, but I am disappointed that political leaders, who have a unique opportunity to better the lives, education and understanding of those they govern, choose instead to pander to ignorance and reactionary sentiments.
In June, 1633, Galileo Galilei was imprisoned by the Inquisition after having been forced under penalty of death to recant his scientific findings, as published in "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems." For having told the truth about the earth's motion around the sun, and its not being at the center of the universe or "creation" (as was then believed, based on both scripture and religious tradition), Galileo was placed under house arrest -- where he was denied medical care for a painful hernia and eventually became completely blind -- and died on January 8, 1642. A victim of the Inquisition, Galileo's only "crime" was speaking truth to power.
In time, Galileo's radical findings came to be widely accepted and formed the foundation for much of the scientific progress that followed his death; yet the Roman Catholic Church refused to admit their error, or apologize for their acts against this man, until 1992 -- some 359 years after his death while in their care. Though the Catholic Church and the Vatican, like most people and institutions, ceased their public attacks on Galileo and took the liberty of enjoying the fruits of his research and theories hundreds of years ago, they did not admit their error until quite recently. It is this arrogance which we now see running rampant among our political leaders.
Science and reason -- humanistic values that have done more to better the lives of humanity than any religious movement ever has -- have become the whipping-boy of American politicians who find it so much less taxing to play on the ignorance of their constituents, than to challenge entrenched beliefs, where the reasoned support for those beliefs has evaporated in the clean, bright light of science, progress and truth.
While most, if not all, of the life sciences (including medicine) now rely on the foundation of the Theory of Evolution to make advances in the quality longevity of human lives; and while most, if not all, Americans avail themselves of the gifts of these sciences, politicians continue to attack the very bearers of these gifts. Whether by blocking the teaching of evolutionary theory in public schools, by forbidding the teaching of cosmology in the same, or by deriding scientists for their personal beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs) -- politicians refuse to give credit where it is due, and gratitude to those who have earned it.
While reaching out with one hand to grasp the fruits of science and reason for their own personal use, politicians use the other hand to slap the individuals and institutions who provide them. This is immoral, hypocritical, reprehensible behavior -- and yet it is behavior for which they are held accountable neither by the media, nor by the wider society.
So on this, the anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest scientists to ever toil in the fields of truth and progress, I have a wish: That America's people, and her politicians, will someday endeavor to deserve Galileo, his intellectual descendents, and the gifts they have provided humanity.