Remember the story of Galileo Galilei? The Italian astronomer in 1633 was convicted by the Roman Catholic Church of heresy for proving that the earth moves around the sun.
His finding contradicted biblical scripture, which says that our planet is the center of the universe. So Galileo spent the rest of his life under house arrest.
Most of us learned this history in grade school, where Galileo’s experience is presented as a cautionary tale, reminding us not to confuse faith with science. Of course, we now know that Galileo was absolutely right. Even the Catholic Church finally admitted that in 1998.
More importantly, we also discovered that the common belief in God, Christian or otherwise, did not suffer after Galileo’s discovery was broadly accepted. There are more Christians around the world now than in the 17th century.
Science and faith are not mutually exclusive, and if faith is strong, it can withstand the occasional repudiation of a literal biblical pronouncement.
That is why faith should not be threatened by science or be allowed to triumph over it. Without Galileo’s courage, modern life as we know it would not be possible. From the navigation systems that enable global trade to the satellite systems that enable global communication, we are indebted to a man who stood up to religious leaders who didn’t know as much or work as hard as he did.
I am raising this issue not only because of the current debate about teaching the theory of evolution in public schools, although that is certainly relevant. The conflict between ideological faith (not just religion) and rationality is infecting our society as pervasively now as at any previous moment in our nation’s history.
On energy policy, geologists tell us that there are finite reserves of oil at our disposal. Engineers say that there are limits to how much oil can be extracted from the ground at one time. And based on that information, economists predict that the price of oil will continue to rise because global demand will outpace the supply.
Our political leaders, however, tell us to have faith. They passed an energy bill that did not include preparations for the coming difficulties. They mock and condemn their critics as extremist fear-mongers. Meanwhile they accept financial contributions from the very interests that have the most to gain from maintaining the status quo.
With regard to the environment, evidence continues to mount suggesting the depletion of the ozone layer and the phenomenon known as global warming. Clean drinking water is predicted to become a scarcer and more valuable commodity as the world’s population increases. Unrestrained development and chemical pollution are affecting air quality and creating health problems in some communities.
Our political leaders, however, tell us to have faith. They actually have relaxed protections of land, water and animal species, and their functionaries alter scientific reports that don’t support their optimistic outlook. They mock and condemn their critics as extremist fear-mongers. Meanwhile they accept financial contributions from the very interests that have the most to gain from maintaining the status quo.
Even in the realm of foreign policy there are inescapable facts. The U.S. does not have enough troops to maintain order in Iraq, and our military certainly is not large enough to prosecute several conflicts at once. One of our nation’s most obvious vulnerabilities is nuclear terrorism, because some nuclear stockpiles are not well secured and our border security remains lax. The rise of China as an economic and military superpower, along with the growth of global Islamic extremism are two major geo-political threats.
Our political leaders, however, tell us to have faith. They refuse to acknowledge their poor planning in Iraq and the realities on the ground there (and President Bush actually threatened to strike Iran if that country tries to develop nuclear weapons). They have committed insufficient resources to nuclear security efforts and border control activities. They are content to allow our economic growth to be sustained by China’s purchase of U.S. treasury notes, giving a rival power significant control over our destiny. And they still do not have a plan to confront the spread of Islamic extremism.
On all of these issues, they mock and condemn their critics as extremist fear-mongers. Meanwhile, they accept financial contributions from the very interests that have the most to gain from maintaining the status quo. Same goes with Social Security reform, etc.
I love my country, and I want to see these problems solved so that our future is progressive and secure. It is frustrating to watch ideology replace reason in our government, especially when the ideology corresponds so closely with the interests of those who profit from it — at the expense of our nation.
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