07/11/2005: "Gallileo Figaro Stupido"
I was thinking of Queen the other day. Not Elizabeth II, but the rock group. It was while I was reading the 7/7/05 opinion piece in the New York Times by Cardinal Schonborn, catholic archbishop of Vienna, the one where he expressed his opinion that Pope John Paul II’s comments in support of evolution (that I recently posted) were “vague and unimportant.” How does this involve Queen? Specifically, a verse from Bohemian Rhapsody: “Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening me Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo Figaro Magnifico.” Gallileo is clearly the issue. Consider this additional quote from John Paul II’s speech on evolution: “I had the opportunity with regard to Galileo to draw attention to the need of a rigorous hermeneutic for the correct interpretation of the inspired word.” Translation from Churchspeak: “I’ve been working to undo the damage done to the Church by its persecution of Gallileo.” Here’s a quick historical recap: Gallileo Gallelei of Pisa was one of the great scientists of all time, with important discoveries in physics, optics, and astronomy. In 1616 Galileo was summoned to Rome and ordered not to teach that the earth revolved around the sun. Later, in 1632, he published a work on the subject that “marked a turning point in scientific and philosophical thought.” He was tried by the Inquisition and forced to recant. It is said that as he arose from his knees he muttered “Nevertheless it does move.” He spent his remaining days under house arrest and seclusion. In 1979 Pope John Paul II sought to annul the conviction, which he was finally able to accomplish in 1992 (because the Church bureaucracy required “a rigorous hermeneutic”). The irony of the situation is clear. After 500 years, a pope with a unique respect for science finally reverses an embarrassing prosecution of a great scientist where, in the meantime, science showed that scientist to have been completely right and the Church of that time completely (and laughably) wrong. And now his successors seek to repeat the identical mistake! The only difference is that this time the field is biology rather than astronomy. The root of the conflict with science, though, is identical: naked vanity. It’s just so much easier to get puffed up over the significance of mankind when we’re 1) living on the planet at the very center of the universe and 2) totally unique in comparison to all other living things in the universe. What are the chances that at some point in the future they’ll be similarly marveling at the stupidity of those who today reject a century of exhaustive effort by not one but thousands of earth’s brightest minds?