Rick Perry and Galileo

That video takes only 30 seconds to watch. It’s from last night’s Republican debate among the candidates for that party’s presidential nomination. Perry was asked about global warming.

According to ABC News, in Rick Perry, Galileo and Global Warming, he said:

The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet to me is just nonsense. Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said here is the fact. Galileo got outvoted for a spell.

Most of that isn’t in the video linked above. It only shows him saying:

Galileo got outvoted for a spell.

We’ll return to that in a moment, but first we have to say that we’re not terribly interested in debating the global warming topic here — although it’s virtually certain to dominate the comments. We’ve stated our position before — more than once. Although your Curmudgeon doesn’t know the science of climatology, and is unlikely to take the time to study it, he assumes the specialists know what they’re talking about — when they talk about their science. But when it comes to economics and politics, we’re quite certain that we know far more than they do, and we regret the support many of them give to politicians who shamelessly appropriate the authority of science as a pretext for seeking control of the world’s economic activity.

Our reaction would be the same if, instead of climatology, the science being commandeered were quantum mechanics. Suppose Al Gore ran around claiming that he and his power-crazed comrades should rule the world because of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Our reaction would be the same — we don’t want Al Gore and the UN to rule the world. That doesn’t mean we’re denying quantum mechanics or any other science. Rather, we’re defending property rights, free markets, and the free enterprise system. Okay?

Now let’s get back to Perry’s remark last night — “Galileo got outvoted for a spell.” What in the world was he trying to say? In his own ignorant way he was referring to the Galileo affair of almost 400 years ago.

You know all about it. Galileo was compelled by the Inquisition to confess heresy and to renounce the solar system. See: Indictment and Abjuration of 1633. His book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was banned and placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, and he was kept under house arrest for the remaining seven years of his life. According to Wikipedia’s list of authors and works listed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, more than a century after it was banned, a censored version of Galileo’s book was permitted in 1741, and almost another century passed until the entire book was finally removed from the Index — in 1835.

So yes, one might say that Galileo was “outvoted for a spell.” Two hundred years is quite a spell! But what was Perry’s point? Does he see himself as Galileo? Does he think Galileo was a politician who was “outvoted”? Can anyone make any sense of it?

We’ll stick with our often-mentioned opinion: Whether he’s insane or just a flaming ignoramus, Perry is unfit to be President.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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23 responses to “Rick Perry and Galileo

  1. I can explain. The current meme is that the scientists of Galileo’s time were the ones against him, and The Church was only minimally involved in the controversy. IOW, scientists are bad, Christians are good. Perry’s not the first to dredge up Galileo. There have been others.

  2. comradebillyboy

    On Tuesday, in the checkout line at Costco, I saw the only Republican presidential candidate who accepts evolution, has never invoked the deity and wants to end the wasteful war on drugs. He is the former 2 term (very libertarian and very popular) governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson. Despite winning two terms as governor in a somewhat democratic state, he is frozen out of the debates in favor of the likes of Herman Cain and Rick “man on dog” Santorum. Here is a guy who was a very popular, and very conservative governor, but one whose libertarian views extend to private personal actions. He simply did not care about social issues or abortion or gay anything, dooming him with the Republican base. Besides who can imagine a wealthy former governor and presidential hopeful shopping at the Albuquerque Costco, with no security or entourage of any kind.

  3. So, Perry agrees with Galileo? Rather than the Bible? Just because the majority of today’s scientists say so? Or does he have a good reason for believing that the Earth goes around the Sun?

  4. Ellie has an interesting perspective which I had not heard before. My reaction during the debate was (1) he didn’t know how to pronounce Galileo, and (2) he thought it was okay to “outvote” science if the scientific answer didn’t fit with the political needs of the moment. Just because something is scientifically true doesn’t mean it has to be accepted by society. For Perry, it is basically irrelevant whether or not climate science is true – if it means regulating greenhouse emissions or putting other restrictions on business then he’s agin it.

    Saving the planet is not on Perry’s agenda – the second coming will take care of everything.

  5. Ellie – thanks for the explanation. That must be some creationist meme that did not hit mainstream society. Like SC and TomS, without your context I read his quote as saying GW deniers like him expect to hold back global warming research the same way the church held back heliocentrism.

  6. As a Canuck I really can’t wade into the morass that is the GOP election, but I can plead with the American libertarians and conservatives they not elect a creationist to any position above dog catcher.

  7. Ellie says:

    I can explain. The current meme is that the scientists of Galileo’s time were the ones against him, and The Church was only minimally involved in the controversy.

    I didn’t think of that explanation. I ran into something similar once before. I think it was in some crazy creationist letter-to-the-editor. The claim was that scientists are often wrong, and the example given was that scientists used to teach that the earth was flat.

  8. I think it’s very clear what he was saying.

    Those in authority said Galileo was wrong, the “scientific consensus” said he was wrong, and he turned out to be right.

    Likewise, Perry would argue, the people who doubt global warming now may turn out to be right.

    Every crackpot compares themselves to Galileo. They laughed at Galileo, yes, and Galileo turned out to be right, but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

  9. b_sharp says: “As a Canuck I really can’t wade into the morass that is the GOP election”

    Beware, Tundra Boy! When global warming takes over, one day you’ll look out your window and see something you’ve never seen before. We call it “green.”

  10. Gabriel Hanna says: “I think it’s very clear what he was saying.”

    That may be it. But it’s such a wild stretch to think of Perry as a modern Galileo that it just didn’t occur to me.

  11. He’s not saying he personally is Galileo–he sees himself as taking “Galileo’s” side.

  12. Overall I think Ellie has it right.

    Perry was, awkwardly, trying to say that “scientific” consensus is sometimes wrong. He is assuming the “scientific” consensus of Galileo’s time supported geocentrism.

    However, he is placing his ignorance of the history of science on display. In the modern sense of the term science essentially began with Galileo and his contemporary Kepler.

    Prior to them “science” was little more than a mish-mash of philosophy and untested speculative explanations for casual everyday observations and phenomena. I’m not even sure the word “science” was in common usage. The scientific method was undiscovered and supernatural explanations were acceptable.

    Galileo pioneered modern science whereby speculative explanations (hypothesis) were put to empirical test.

    Perry has no idea what he is talking about.

  13. SC: “What in the world was he trying to say?”

    Because (1) there are several very different things that it could mean, and (2) politicians often choose their words poorly and say things they later regret (e.g. “you lie!”), I can’t imagine anything other than many people simply asking him. Unfortunately I expect no one to ask, and 1000s to ass-u-me what he meant.

  14. Gabriel Hanna says:

    He’s not saying he personally is Galileo–he sees himself as taking “Galileo’s” side.

    If he were alive at the time, he’d be pandering to the geocentric mob.

  15. Here’s what gets me: Perry and his ilk claim to be “conservatives.” On a scale of ‘cautious to reckless’ I associate conservatism with the cautious end of this scale. If you are more worried about wrecking the only planet we have, and less concerned about the profits of the fossil fuel companies, you would be cautious about global warming. Cautious EVEN IF you were not 100 percent convinced that CO2 from fossil fuels was causing global warming. It is simply too risky to keep burning huge amounts of fossil fuel if there is a strong possibility that the CO2 build-up will wreck the planet.
    IMHO Perry is a phony conservative. He is more worried about protecting oil and coal industries than about possibly ruining the environment in large parts of the land and the oceans. This is short-sighted at best.

  16. Tomato Addict

    SC: “That doesn’t mean we’re denying quantum mechanics or any other science. Rather, we’re defending property rights, free markets, and the free enterprise system. Okay?”

    I am Okay with that, it’s the other part where the science gets derailed because it is inconvenient for their own politics, economics, or religion. That’s not Okay, and it’s the very same behavior we see in Creationisms and ID.

    That came out more critical than I intended, so I’ll try again. There is an aspect of climate change denial that is just like the bad-science criticism of evolution that we all decry. I’m not saying all the science is in – but we should apply the same caution to criticism of climate science as we do for evolution, because some of that is certainly motivated by those who simply don’t like what the science is telling them.

  17. Perry brings to mind a famous quote from Will Rogers:
    “It’s not what he doesn’t know that bothers me … it’s what he knows for sure that just ain’t so.”

  18. I spent a few minutes Googling “galileo outvoted” and the consensus in the blogosphere – being generous, very generous – is that nobody has a clue what Rick Perry was trying to say.

    Not surprising, though. Neither does Rick Perry who is quite ignorant in general and just a bit stupid to boot.

    Perry is anti-intellectualism at its finest, in the George Bush tradition. Perry may have read a comic book about Galileo and roughly knows he was “put upon,” later to be vindicated. However, this comment and others he has made really puts his feeble intellectual powers on display. He’s gotten away saying stupid things for so long that he doesn’t even realize what stupid is.

    I’ve seen this poor, pitiful me/underdog theme expressed by “intelligent design” creationists (Kitzmiller) in which they tried to portray ID as being merely misunderstood and unpopular, just like plate tectonics and the Big Bang theory which were later proved correct. Of course, those analogies don’t hold up to analysis any more than Perry’s “Galileo got outvoted for a spell” gaffe.

  19. Anti-intellectual? Perhaps. But we’ve seen the results of “intellectual.”

    I also sorely wish that Gary Johnson weren’t frozen out of the “approved” Republican candidates.

  20. I just stumbled upon your site today. I’ve really enjoyed reading recent threads. I can’t decide whether Perry doesn’t realize what he said, or whether he knows exactly what he said. This guy is a savvy politicians. He has had these anti-evolution/anti-science/pro-marriage groups in his ear, and he knows the message they want to hear. I don’t know if you recall, but a couple (?) of months before he threw his name in the hat, he made the same comment Giulliani made about gay marriage – we need to leave it alone. Almost immediately, the pro-family groups (don’t know what else to call them) said that he was going to have to “re-think” his stance on this issue if he wanted their support. Next thing you know, Rick Perry signs one of the “family” pledges and has hosts a massive prayer rally in Texas. From what I have read, many of the attendees were most certainly people who think the country needs to return from this sea of “moral relativism” upon which we have been adrift. Perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t notice many people “getting it” when he said evolution is “just a theory” either. To the contrary, I have had people tell me that evolution, climate change, anything they don’t have the ability to comprehend, is “just a theory.” For better or worse, I made an effort to read some of the anti-science stance on climate and creation, and I was shocked the deception. After hearing, Philip Johnson discuss his Wedge Strategy on Nova’s Dover special….Wow! I am left wondering if the majority of Americans have the ability to think independently, and respect forward progress. I grew up in south Louisiana, so I am in touch with a lot of people who really don’t seem to see what I see. At the risk of sounding like a nut job, I am concerned that we are on the verge of going backwards in terms of progress (social, political, scientific).

  21. Forgive me if I mentioned it before but Gov Perry has had to recant on other issues–for example, his executive order mandating that young girls be immunized for HPV, which had an opt-out provision for parents.

    Protecting young girls from cervical cancer is not something that I think Gov Perry should have to apologize for, but a large segment of his potential constituents think he should, and he has.

  22. I wouldn’t underestimate his understanding of what he said. Maybe he doesn’t know the specifics of the history, but what he does know is that the majority of American don’t know (or care) either. At first I thought he meant the global warmers were Galileo. Then I read the actual Q & A. His message appears to be akin to the bad government message, only he pushes the envelope even farther. Now his message is we can’t risk the American economy when the science is not settled. The worst part is that he previously said that scientists are coming forward and questioning the research on this issue weekly, and even daily. The same line the creators give before they proudly post a link with a list of “scientists” that includes plastic surgeons and food scientists. I was caught off guard earlier this week when my brother told me there was a recent NASA study that showed “they” were way over estimating the issue. The research was done by the creationists of climate change, but I can’t imagine how many people heard about this global warming debunker and took the time to look at the credentials of the person who wrote it. They heard it from Rush and/or Fox. That’s good enough. It’s fact, not just a theory.

    Here is the Q & A: HARRIS: . . . Just recently in New Hampshire, you said that weekly and even daily scientists are coming forward to question the idea that human activity is behind climate change. Which scientists have you found most credible on this subject?

    PERRY: Well, I do agree that there is — the science is — is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at — at — at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet, to me, is just — is nonsense. I mean, it — I mean — and I tell somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell.

    But the fact is, to put America’s economic future in jeopardy, asking us to cut back in areas that would have monstrous economic impact on this country is not good economics and I will suggest to you is not necessarily good science. Find out what the science truly is before you start putting the American economy in jeopardy.

    PERRY: Let me tell you what I find compelling, is what we’ve done in the state of Texas, using our ability to regulate our clean air. We cleaned up our air in the state of Texas, more than any other state in the nation during the decade. Nitrous oxide levels, down by 57 percent. Ozone levels down by 27 percent.

    That’s the way you need to do it, not by some scientist somewhere saying, “Here is what we think is happening out there.” The fact of the matter is, the science is not settled on whether or not the climate change is being impacted by man to the point where we’re going to put America’s economics in jeopardy.