THE “SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS”

OK, first things first. Maryland was founded as a Catholic colony. If you’re a Baptist in Maryland, like me, you have a choice of either having only a few friends or having a lot of Catholic friends. This made it all the more confusing when I started to hear about the conflicts in Ireland commonly known as the “Troubles.” I just didn’t get it. Certainly Baptist doctrine has some differences with Catholic doctrine. All this said I think you can see that I shouldn’t be the first choice as a defender of Catholicism. However, it has irritated me for years that liberals today love to criticize the Catholic Church for its censure of Galileo Galilei in 1615 for his proclamation that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa.

Looking back at the history of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance it is important to recognize that the closest thing to an international power was the Catholic Church. The Church was, for all practical purposes, the “establishment” of the Renaissance period of history. And, the Church accepted the “scientific consensus” of the day. And what was the “scientific consensus?” It’s today called the geocentric model of the universe. That means that the earth is at the center of the universe and the sun and the stars revolve around it.

The origin of the geocentric model can be found in Pre-Socratic philosophy. Proponents of this cosmology included influential Greeks like Anaximander, Plato and Aristotle. There were several well thought out arguments supporting their endorsement of this cosmological model.

Of course, even then there were dissenters. The earliest were called Pythagoreans. They suggested the geocentric model had weaknesses. A few other dissenters appeared occasionally and were quickly discounted. There are no written records revealing whether or not they were denounced as “hack front men for big business.”

Then in the 2nd century AD the astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy) announced the development of a computer model that resolved all of the questions raised by the dissenters. Obviously, electronic computers did not exist in the 2nd century. Ptolemy’s computer model was a paper one not unlike Alan Turing’s “Turing Machine,” but was based on spheres and circles. It was able to accurately account for all of the then observed astronomical data. So accurate, in fact, that its principles still today influence the design of planetariums.

The Church judged the “scientific consensus” to most closely coincide with the Biblical narrative and it thus became Church doctrine. Unfortunately, it was wrong. But any heresy had to be addressed and Galileo’s heresy was taking the position that the earth revolved around the sun. This is known as heliocentricity. Galileo was lucky. The Roman Inquisition sentenced him to house arrest for the last 9 years of his life. It could have been much, much worse. How terrible you may be thinking; to punish him for dissenting. Especially, when you consider that he was right.

What about today? Do we have an “establishment?” Today that description could apply to the United States or the U.N. Is there a “scientific consensus?” There is on a number of issues. The most prominent right now is “Global Climate Warming Change.” Are there dissenters? Yes, but today they’re called deniers. Are they punished? You bet. Their careers in government and academia are threatened and that is well documented. And who is responsible for this? It’s those same liberals who criticize the Church for its treatment of Galileo.

So I consider myself honored to be counted in the company of one of the early deniers – Galileo.

Interestingly, recent news has brought additional irony to this story. It seems the current Pope has decided to once again dip the Church’s toe into the waters of scientific consensus by proclaiming that human caused global warming is a problem and must be addressed. If that were not enough, the Pope has taken actions to exclude “deniers” from the discussion. And who is applauding the Pope’s actions? Those same liberals who love to beat the Church about the head and shoulders for its treatment of the denier Galileo.

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