Religion May Defeat Science in Hawaii

This is a topic we wrote about only once before, when we quoted a news story that said:

Scientists hoping to see 13 billion light years away, giving them a look into the early years of the universe, are facing opposition from Native Hawaiian groups who say the construction site of a new telescope is on sacred land.


The dispute has pitted Native Hawaiians, who believe the telescope site is sacred because it is where their creation story begins, against scientists, who believe it’s an ideal location for one of the world’s largest telescopes because of its remote and sheltered position, nestled in the crater of a dormant volcano.

The proposed project is described in a Wikipedia article about the Thirty Meter Telescope (the TMT), which says:

While construction of the telescope was set to resume on April 2 and later on June 24, 2015, it was blocked by further protests each time. While it was approved by the Board of Land and Natural Resources, the State Supreme Court of Hawaii invalidated the TMT’s building permits in December 2015, ruling that due process was not followed when the board approved the permits.

The project’s current status is the subject of a story at the BBC website: Biggest telescope may switch location. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

One of the world’s biggest telescope projects might be forced to move its location. The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) was due to be built in Hawaii, but ran into opposition with indigenous groups which consider its proposed site sacred.

We once wrote about the religious significance of the site of the telescope — a mountain known as Mauna Kea. In Other Names for Noah?, ol’ Hambo mentioned Nu’u, of whom Wikipedia says:

In Hawaiian mythology, Nu’u was a man who built an ark with which he escaped a Great Flood. He landed his vessel on top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Nu’u mistakenly attributed his safety to the moon, and made sacrifices to it. Kane, the creator god, descended to earth on a rainbow and explained Nu’u’s mistake.

Hambo seems to think Mauna Kea is the Hawaiian version of Mt. Ararat, and the Hawaiian legend is evidence for the Flood. We assume he’s pleased that the native Hawaiians may succeed in driving away the blasphemous science project. Okay, back to the BBC story. They say:

Now the TMT’s board says a site in the Canary Islands, Spain, could act as a potential alternative. The $1.4bn project will enable experts to study the early Universe and peer into the atmospheres of exoplanets. It is one of a raft of big observatories – along with the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and space-based James Webb telescope – intended to serve astronomy into the 2020s and beyond.

Wicked stuff! How dare those scientists defile a holy mountain with their Satanic instruments? They’re trying to learn things that man was not meant to know! Everything we need to know is in the bible. [*Sigh*] Anyway, BBC tells us:

Cloud-free Pacific skies, low atmospheric water vapour and other attributes make conditions at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, among the best in the world for astronomy. The site intended for the TMT was just below the the 4,207m summit of the dormant volcano.

So what? Oogity Boogity is far more important. We’re told:

Opposition to the construction of observatories atop Mauna Kea has existed for decades. To many Native Hawaiians, Mauna Kea is considered the most sacred of all mountains on the island, with a special connection to their religion’s deities. So continued development is considered a desecration. But others who are against the project cite environmental and conservation concerns.

Gasp! The telescope not only means desecration of the holy mountain, but there are also environmental and conservation concerns. The project is doomed! What’s going to happen? BBC tells us:

Last week, the board of governors met to discuss progress on the TMT project in Hawaii and to consider potential alternative locations. In a statement, Henry Yang, chair of the TMT international observatory board, commented: “The TMT International Observatory (TIO) Board of Governors has explored a number of alternative sites for TMT. Every site we considered would enable TMT’s core science programmes. After careful deliberation, the board of governors has identified Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (ORM) on La Palma in the Canary Islands, Spain, as the primary alternative to Hawaii.

We’ll skip to the end, which sums it up fairly well:

The TMT board said it would continue its efforts to gain approval for construction on Hawaii. But if those efforts continue to meet resistance, it’s conceivable that astronomers will have to invoke their Plan B.

So there you are. The righteous forces of Oogity Boogity may drive the godless scientists from Hawaii. If that happens, the infernal telescope will probably end up in the Canary Islands — but who cares? Let those foreigners worry about the scientists. Hawaii will be saved!

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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15 responses to “Religion May Defeat Science in Hawaii

  1. I, for one, welcome this new treasure of high-science in Europe. Researching the very large, it is a perfect counterpart to the LHC, researching the very small.

    You may build it in my backyard if it fits.

  2. Unfortunately, there are already reports of protests on the Canary Islands

  3. Richard Bond

    In these days, “environmental and conservation concerns” is the knee-jerk response to almost anything that smacks of technological progress. It is rarely substantiated by evidence. Its worst effect is to devalue genuine environmental and conservation concerns.

  4. I lived in Hawaii for three years so I got to see some of these protests first hand.

    The protesters seem unable or unwilling to grasp that this is an endeavor that necessarily values nature by seeking to understand it better.

    There is also a fact that makes the “controversy” absurd: there are already 12 – that’s right a dozen – telescopes on Mauna Kea. But one more–oh that’s just sacrilege!

    In fact, I think there was an offer during the negotiations to tear down one or more of the older telescopes in order to take that space for the TMT so that no new space on the mountaintop would be used.

    Apparently that wasn’t good enough. The gods or whatever didn’t want construction equipment up there. It might wake them from their slumber party or something.

  5. robnorman2015

    I was at Roque de los Muchachos a couple of years ago. You can’t visit the observatory though:( Very cool to walk around and see all the domes on the top of the volcano. Locating TMT here would suit me.

  6. I actually just visited the mountain site on the Big island last month and I have to say that the native Hawaiians haven’t been treated very well by Western Civilization.Yes they tear down the old telescopes before building new ones, in fact you can buy one for a dollar if you are willing to tear it down in a number of years. The problem is their culture gets tossed aside with every new construction project so you are basically reaping what you sow which is hundred of years of distrust.

  7. There are thousands of creation myths.

  8. Supreme Court Roundup; Justices Rule Religious Rights Can’t Block Road

    WASHINGTON, April 19 [1988]— The Supreme Court today upheld the Government’s plan to develop part of a national forest in California that is sacred to three Indian tribes, even though it acknowledged the project ”could have devastating effects on traditional Indian religious practices.” The vote was 5 to 3. More…

    Of course, times have changed since then.

  9. Perhaps the telescope is a tool to communicate with their god. Have they thought of that?

    I remember talking to a number of folks on Maui a few years ago who were convinced the lasers emanating form the scopes on Haleakala were some kind of alien weapon or death ray. Nothing I could say would shake that conviction. These were not native Hawaiians and had no religious connection to the mountain, but were convinced they were evil government experiments of some sort anyway and should be taken away.

  10. Watch the USA xtians go positively ape-[!!!!] if they said we are putting a parking lot in place of St Peters in NY! But a road thru indian land is OK! There is a word for that but xtians are called (& demonstrate) that so often they don’t care anymore.

  11. This is tough because although I can understand concerns about environmental impact, I personally have zero interest in my own Heinz-57 heritage and would welcome pretty much any scientific endeavor in my “ancestral” lands of Ireland, Germany, Sweden, and France. The fact that demolishing an existing structure & replacing it isn’t acceptable is just stupid.

    Religion ruins EVERYTHING.

  12. I don’t think the native Hawaiians have a good case at all. They/their ancestors never lived there, we know this because the altitude makes breathing difficult. Their legend will be completely unaffected by having a telescope there. When they go and point the legend to their grandchildren the telescopes aren’t even visible from below the mountain. There are a lot of scopes there already, what’s one more? Utterly absurd.

  13. Although I may have sided with the indians above, actually all those religions are bat-….well just crazy! They should all be shut down and ignored!

  14. They/their ancestors never lived there, we know this because the altitude makes breathing difficult.
    The locals would travel and make regular pilgrimages up the mountain slope to pray and give offerings to their gods. And yes the telescopes are very visible from the ground level. The Western civilization attitude has always been we took what we wanted because of our superior technology and its now ours to do what we please with now.The least we can do is to give the islanders a fair hearing hear to their grievances. I am sure if somebody said I want to build a radio telescope in your back yard you would want to vent your grievances as well.

  15. Let us assume that this land really belongs to the Hawaiian creator gods. Would it not be reasonable for the gods to welcome advanced scientific equipment which, when deployed, would reveal more of the wonders of the said gods’ creation? Can believers really fear that the new observations would indicate that the gods are irrelevant to the functioning and origin of the universe?