Cambrian: Opinion

John Brannon: Who do you trust?

Galileo Galilei was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher who played a major role in the scientific revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent support for Copernicanism. Stephen Hawking has said, “Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.”

He had a reputation as a brilliant scientist, but his career took a dramatic turn in 1609 when he heard that an instrument had been invented in the Netherlands that showed distant things as though they were nearby. He quickly improved on the invention and made his own three-powered spyglass. In the fall of 1609, Galileo began observing the heavens with instruments that magnified up to 20 times.

Although a genuinely pious Roman Catholic, when he discovered four moons revolving around Jupiter, he was troubled that this fact confirmed that the Earth was not the center of the universe, that there had to be more than one center of motion in the universe. This observation conflicted with the official doctrine of the Catholic Church. Copernicus had argued that the Sun was the center and that the Earth was a planet.

Galileo’s attraction to Copernicanism began to cause him trouble. This belief was in direct opposition to Biblical passages.

The Inquisition was a permanent institution in the Catholic Church charged with the eradication of heresies. A committee of consultants declared to the Inquisition that the Copernican proposition that the Sun is the center of the universe (as the Milky Way was then known) was a heresy. Because Galileo supported the Copernican system, he was warned by Pope Paul V that he should not discuss or defend such theories.

But Galileo was called to Rome, found guilty of heresy and was excommunicated. He faced being burned at the stake (as was the fate of other scientists), but instead was placed under house arrest for the last nine years of his life.

In 1992, Pope John Paul II agreed to a review of Galileo’s case, found him not guilty and readmitted him into the Catholic Church. That only seems fair, considering all the astronomical knowledge discovered in the past 350 years … and the fact that the Vatican has its own observatory now.

Well, at least modern heretics who promote the threat of global warming don’t face being burned at the stake — I hope. But they face the wrath of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. Referring to the “modern environmental movement” as “the latest refuge for communists and socialists who are opposed to capitalism,” he insists that to install severe limitations and tax penalties to industries would cripple big business in America. “I’m telling you, folks, this whole CO2 thing is nothing more than a bunch of liberal b.s. They are out to destroy America.”

Obviously, weather patterns and geological cycles have alternated on Earth over billions of years from natural changes. But when we consider that the level of CO2 in our atmosphere has increased 40 percent since the industrial revolution (1800s), this forecasts an entirely different pattern awaiting us in the not-too-distant future.

I quote from a previous column: Slightly smaller than Earth, Venus is often called our “sister planet.” A younger Venus is believed to have possessed Earth-like oceans, but these boiled away as the planet’s temperature rose. Recent research has suggested a “greenhouse effect” was created when extensive volcanism obscured the atmosphere with massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), causing the infrared radiation to rebound. This heating has created a surface temperature of nearly 900 degrees F. That’s hot enough to melt lead! The weight of the planet’s atmospheric pressure is 92 times that of the Earth.

Scientists tell us that if the increase reaches a “runaway” situation, it could mean the end of the human race in time.

Galileo is perhaps the first to clearly state that the laws of nature are mathematical. I tend to trust him more than a bloviated radio personality who is paid $41 million a year to castigate those who do not share his perspectives.

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