Thursday, January 23, 2014

Just Like Galileo, Except Totally Different

The controversy over teaching creationism in schools continues to heat up. In two weeks science educator Bill Nye will take part in a live debate on the issue with Ken Ham, CEO of the creationist organization Answers in Genesis. The upcoming event has prompted various reactions across the political spectrum, but the weirdest of them comes from conservative commentator Glenn Beck. Beck compared Nye's opposition to creationism with the Catholic Church's persecution of Galileo.

On Tuesday night, Glenn Beck compared Bill Nye the Science Guy to the people who silenced and oppressed Galileo, one of history’s most celebrated thinkers. Beck’s attack on Nye came in the context of a larger argument about how “you can’t force things on the people.” Despite ample evidence in human history showing that governments indeed can — and generally do — “force things” on “the people,” Beck claimed history will show that anyone who tries to “force things on the people” will be judged negatively by future generations.

The Catholic Church silenced Galileo for claiming that the earth revolves around the sun, a scientific fact that stood in opposition to a silly literalist interpretation of several statements in the Bible. Likewise, the theory of evolution is an established scientific fact that stands in opposition to a silly literalist interpretation of Genesis. But obviously Beck has the sides precisely backwards, with Nye on the side of science and Answers in Genesis on the side of Biblical literalism.

Also, the dispute between Galileo and the Catholic Church had nothing to do with anyone, government or otherwise, forcing anything on "the people." Galileo published a defense of heliocentrism, which in modern America would be called exercising his right to free speech. The church took offense at his statements and put him on trial, eventually forcing him to recant. Again, the takeaway is the exact opposite of Beck's - large organizations like the Catholic Church can try to force scientific knowledge underground, but it always comes out eventually.

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