08/06/2013 03:48 pm ET Updated Oct 06, 2013

Galileo and Inconvenient Truth

The Ptolemaic geocentric model of the universe, placing the Earth at the center of the solar system (with the Sun revolving around it), prevailed in Europe from about 150 AD to the early 18th century, this despite observable evidence that the geocentric model was incorrect.

In the early 17th century, Galileo defended the heliocentric (Earth revolving around the Sun) model advanced by Copernicus in the previous century. This was a gutsy choice, given the political incorrectness of heliocentricity at the time (1 Chronicles 16:30 "...the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.") Though Pope Urban VIII asked Galileo to present both views to the debate of geocentricity vs. heliocentricity in his 1632 book "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems," Galileo instead offered an unbalanced argument favoring a solar-centric universe. Worse still, the dim-witted character in the book, "Simplicio", who championed the church's party line sounded more than a little like Pope Urban to some. The insult landed Galileo at the business end of an inquisition. Galileo was convicted of heresy and barely escaped with his own heavenly body intact. The church required Galileo to "abjure, curse and detest" his theory of heliocentricity, and he spent the rest of his days under house arrest. According to legend, as he rose from kneeling to his inquisitors after his recantation, Galileo muttered the words "Eppur si muove" ("and yet it moves").

The really odd thing about this story is that, despite the Bible's bedrock certitude of the Earth's immovability, affirmed by the church, the Earth really did move. To this very day, the Earth continues to revolve around the Sun, and is likely to do so for a very long time. The church finally acknowledged as much nearly 360 years after Galileo's conviction by acquitting him after a 12-year review of the case ordered up by Pope John Paul II in 1980. While most grade school kids in the 1980's probably could have determined that the Earth revolves around the Sun with a bit more alacrity than the 12 years it took the church to arrive at the same conclusion, it is possible that the church was simply being thorough.

The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said, "science is true, regardless of what you believe in." Today, most would consider the notion of a debate about whether the sun or the Earth lay at the center of our solar system to be absurd, and yet, today, people are debating something much simpler -- we're debating whether or not the Earth's temperature is going up. Temperatures are matters of fact, not opinion. Opinions don't change the temperature any more than they change the placement of the Sun and the Earth. How do we know the Earth's temperature is going up? - Because we measure it. Why is the Earth's temperature going up? - Because there are more greenhouse gases (namely, CO2) in the atmosphere. How do we know there is more CO2 in the atmosphere? - Because we measure it. How do we know CO2 is a greenhouse gas? Lab results demonstrating CO2's properties to absorb heat rays (longwave radiation) were first published over 150 years ago. Subsequent studies have consistently confirmed that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. We learn this in grade school. Debating it is like debating the wet properties of water.

Nearly 400 years ago, a debate of a scientific reality was grounded in issues that had little to do with evidence. Today, as was the case in the 17th century, the truth of our world is grounded in science and facts. Though modern day Simplicios ridicule the Galileos of the present, their arguments have no more influence on reality than they did centuries ago. The Earth still revolves around the Sun, and it's hotter now than it used to be.