Sunday, June 07, 2009

Galileo and Global Warming

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. --Wm. Shakespeare

In 1632, Galileo Galilei wrote his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, an act that eventually drew the condemnation of the Catholic Inquisitors; he was convicted of heresy for thinking the Earth rotated around the Sun and not vice versa, and lived the rest of his life under house arrest.

Galileo was a staunch believer in God and felt that his observations and discoveries increased God's glory rather than diminishing it-- he thought, rightly, that what we observe with our eyes proves rather than disproves the existence and might of God, and if our careful observations go against our ideas of God and His creation, we need to examine both our observations of the natural world and our ideas on what the Bible says. If all truth is God's truth, why be afraid of it? But the Catholic hierarchy of the time was bloated and drunk with power, and could only think of maintaining the status quo (and its lawless position of authority over the thoughts and beliefs of others). This clouded the vision of the inquisitors, making it impossible for them to view the evidence objectively.

I thought of this last night after reading an article on how NASA has established that the sun heats the earth. (Yes, this is a concept already present in every first grade science book.) The scientists at NASA have conceded that the sun has had an influence over the temperature changes of the Earth at least as far back as the Industrial Revolution.

I am proud of them for this.

Despite the fact that common sense tells us the sun heats the earth, NASA has established, using the scientific process (which takes nothing for granted), that even after machines and engines came into broad use during the Industrial Revolution, and people migrated increasingly to cities (causing more 'heat islands'), the sun still had a role in heating the earth.

Do you see where this is going? Perhaps man is not at the center of the universe after all. Perhaps we are little, and there are forces at work the likes of which we can barely begin to understand. Perhaps there is something the global warming theorists haven't considered. The scientists are being very Galilean and using their eyes and their reasoning ability, rather than accepting what they have been told by the powers that be.

Then I read this paragraph:

"While the NASA study acknowledged the sun's influence on warming and cooling patterns, it then went badly off the tracks. Ignoring its own evidence, it returned to an argument that man had replaced the sun as the cause current warming patterns. Like many studies, this conclusion was based less on hard data and more on questionable correlations and inaccurate modeling techniques."


They didn't quite have the courage to stand up and present the facts of the study objectively.

But I am still encouraged. The fact that they are even considering that something other than man might have an effect on global warming and cooling shows that we aren't completely out of the realm of common sense yet.

Credits: The book, "Galileo's Daughter" by Dava Sobel, warmed my thoughts on this subject. Also, I thank the DHM at The Common Room blog for pointing out the news article on NASA's findings. And I thank my children for their ideas on the significance of studying the heating of the earth since the Industrial Revolution.


Willa said...

No doubt, religious politics of the time did complicate Galileo's publication of his discoveries, but the monk Copernicus had already proposed a heliocentric model of the solar system 70 years previously and was commended by the Pope for his work. It was not Galileo's theories per se that brought him into the center of controversy. It had more to do with some other things going on at the same time; the Church was particularly concerned to defend the Bible (particularly the account of the sun standing still in answer to Joshua's prayer), because there were some anti-religious elements during that time who wanted to discredit the authority of Scripture.

I don't have any doubt that some members of the Church hierarchy of the time were "drunk with power" as you say, but there were some real and important issues going on as well -- some of them still reverberating up to the present time. One of the crucial issues where Galileo was concerned was that he wanted to propose his theories as fact rather than theory, which at the time was premature. In that way it's a bit parallel to some of the evolutionary debates going on in this time.

More information here from a Catholic perspective here.

Also, you probably already know about it, but I love the way Galileo wrote about the compatibility of faith and reason in this letter to the Grand Duchess. I loved the Dava Sobel book, too.

LOL about the sun heating the earth. My husband was just telling me about that news report the other day.

Katie said...

Thanks for your perspective, Willa. I think you bring some immportant points to the forefront. I did make a sweeping generalization about the leaders of the Catholic church in my post. But I didn't mean to cast aspersions on Catholicism-- rather, I was trying to point out how power corrupts.

Katie said...

It was a clumsy attempt, I admit!

Willa said...

I think I'm the one who was a bit clumsy. I enjoyed the post and thought your points were well made. it's impossible to fully bring out every point when one posts, as I know from experience. Science and its relation with religion is a special interest of mine. So I was just mentioning the part of the Galileo story that I am most familiar with, since secular books often use the story to put religion in its place (ie as a completely private, subjective part of one's personal life)

From what I understand, Luther also was quite concerned about the heliocentric theory because it seemed to contradict the Joshua account to him, too.

Katie said...

No worries, Willa. :O)

I saw that about Luther in the link you sent. I hadn't known it before.

When I read the Dava Sobel book (especially the letters), I was struck with Galileo's attitude about science glorifying God. All the books I had ever read about him seemed to indicate he was placing science at odds with the Bible.