June 24, 2007

Galileo's luxurious house arrest

Conservapedia, as you may know, is the religious-right's answer to wikipedia. Most of us didn't know that wikipedia was a question, but these people seem to think it was. Evidently, just like everything else on the planet they live on, even wikipedia possesses a liberal bias. The humor inherent in making a Republican version of a well-liked and ubiquitous web encyclopedia is fairly evident, and others have picked most of the low-hanging fruit already. Their technique seems to consist mostly of unsourced little jabs about stuff running counter to what has been well established, thrust in nonchalantly. For example, "FDR is also famous for his New Deal, a set of economic planning reforms that were meant to bring about the end of the Great Depression, but instead may have prolonged it and caused American citizens to be burdened with unnecessary government programs for decades to come."

(Well the New Deal gave the South electricity, and I am feeling sort of burdened by looking through conservapedia...) So they still harbor long-lingering resentment towards political opponents of the 1930's, no matter how they were judged by history. Can the same be said of centuries-old scientists, whose discoveries and subsequent oppression made conservative religious forces of the time look bad? You know that it can. You would think that by now, we can all get together on a few things, like that figuring out the sun to be the center of the solar system was an decent accomplishment, and that being burned at the stake or imprisoned for trying to learn about nature is unfair, to say the very least. But no one is above the harsh, grossly misinformed scrutiny of conservapedia.


In fact the Copernican theory was no more accurate than the Ptolemaic model. It had no compelling physical arguments for its superiority, and it proposed no experiments for testing its novel features. In some respects, it was actually less accurate, as more epicycles had to be added (in place of Ptolemy's equant). Copernicus' main argument in favor of his theory was that it was aesthetically more pleasing as it allowed the planets to move in uniform circular motion, an idea later proven false by Kepler. Many of the ancient Greek arguments for and against heliocentrism remained unresolved for some time.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a Protestant in Germany, built on Copernicus's work and discovered that planets orbited the sun in elliptical rather than perfectly circular orbits. Kepler was a brilliant mathematician, astronomer and devout Christian who cited God many times in all of his writings. He felt it was his Christian duty to understand the creation of God, the universe. He also felt that man, being in the image of God, was fully capable of understanding the universe. Like Plato and Pythagoras, Kepler felt that God must have created the universe according to a mathematical plan.

Galileo got approval from Rome to write his book Dialogue on the Tides, which discussed both the Ptolemaic and Copernican hypotheses, as long as it discussed both systems and did not draw a conclusion that would make the heliocentric world view be viewed as fact instead of theory [note bogus creationist-style fact vs. theory terminology]...Unfortunately for Galileo, the work was not made to be evenhanded. Indeed, the Ptolemaic character, called 'Simplicius' often stumbled over his own errors and seemed quite foolish. Galileo had moved out of bounds. The Church felt they had made themselves clear. At a different time, the reaction might have been different, but it was in the middle of the 30 Years War, the most deadly war in Europe ever fought between Catholics and Protestants. The Catholic Church had to show it had authority and strength.

The Church officials, who felt Galileo had embarrassed them, found that Galileo had erred by advocating heliocentrism as scientifically proven, which was not compatible with the Inquisition’s 1616 ruling or what Galileo had recently been told. In 1633 Galileo voluntarily submitted to Church authority and renounced his thesis of his book. At first he was sentenced to life imprisonment, but this was immediately commuted to luxurious house arrest. His book was burned, and the sentence against him was read aloud in public in every university. Galileo went back to studying motion and mechanics in his private villa.

His theory of tides turned out to be mistaken.

Government Support for Relativistic research:
The Theory of Relativity enjoys a disproportionate share of federal funding of physics research today, much of it unsuccessful. The $365 million dollar LIGO project, for example, has failed to detect the gravity waves predicted by relativity....

There is a correlation between enthusiasm for the theory of relativity and political views, and there is an unmistakable effort to censor or ostracize criticism of relativity. Physicist Robert Dicke of Princeton University was a prominent critic of the theory of relativity and that may have hurt him professionally, even though his theory "has enjoyed a renaissance in connection with theories of higher dimensional space-time."

Other articles are rewarding in their own ways. Maxwell's focuses entirely on his possible opposition to the theory of evolution. Oppenheimer's repeatedly claims that he associated with communists and spied for the USSR. And this is just scratching the surface. What a goldmine.