Intelligent Design

Historian of science assails denial of Gonzalez’s tenure at ISU

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Ted Davis, a historian of science who has often spoken against the ID guys, has weighed in heavily on the side of Guillermo Gonzalez in the recent tenure denial scandal:

From where I sit, the impact of Dr. Avalos’[*] deeds is not hard to see: he poisoned the environment for Dr. Gonzalez, by undermining his academic reputation and isolating him at Iowa State*and all based on a book that is actually one of the best popular books about science in recent years. I am an expert on the history of religion and science in the United States (my current project on modern America has received significant support from the National Science Foundation), and in my opinion Dr. Gonzalez’ treatment of historical topics in The Privileged Planet is far superior to the treatment of comparable topics in Sagan’s famous series. His debunking of the so-called “Copernican principle,” associated with the late Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley, is an excellent corrective to the false view of Shapley, Sagan, and many other scientists that Copernicus somehow “demoted” humanity by moving us out of the center of the universe. As Dennis Danielson has shown decisively (in an ! article in American Journal of Physics and in The Book of the Cosmos), Copernicus and his followers believed no such thing, and Gonzalez’ clear explanation of the details helps the record straight for many in the general public. A leading historian of astronomy, Owen Gingerich of Harvard (a former student of Shapley), justly praises Dr. Gonzalez for this in his recent book, God’s Universe (Harvard University Press, 2006), itself yet one more example of a scientist offering a religious interpretation of his work to the general public.

Read more here.

I’m not completely surprised by this because Davis – whom I have accused in the past of being a mugwump* – has expressed distinct discomfort in the past with the right of people like religion prof Hector Avalos to poison the atmosphere with persecutions against working scientists like Gonzalez.

[*]Yes, Avalos is indeed the bowdlerizing little crank who wants to cut out the violent parts out of the Bible. Honest. Sigh.

And THAT guy got dozens and dozens of faculty to sign his petition against Gonzalez? Yes, it is long past time someone opened a window on American academic life ….

*A mugwump has his head on one side of the fence and his wump on the other. I withdraw the accusation. – d.

9 Replies to “Historian of science assails denial of Gonzalez’s tenure at ISU

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    From a historical perspective it would seem Galileo’s verification of Copernicus’s heliocentric theory, and the conviction of Galileo for heresy by the church, was the beginning of a great divide between the Church and science that has lasted for several centuries. Yet, as we all know, that perception of a great divide has been crumbling for the past century since the discovery of the Big Bang. Gonzalez may have especially infuriated atheists because the one piece of evidence he is working on is threatening to restore the earth to the “center of the universe” as it had been in Galileo’s time.
    Galileo’s persecution by the church and now Gonzalez’s persecution by the scientific establishment. It truly is some sort of ironic twist in the great sceme of things isn’t it?

  2. 2
    jerry says:

    Galileo wasn’t persecuted by the Church. In fact he was a favorite of a couple popes and well placed cardinals like Bellarmine. This is nonsense that he was persecuted.

    Galileo never verified that the earth moved round the sun. This wasn’t proved till the 1830’s. Galileo had several hypotheses and many of them were wrong. Kepler had better ideas and he preceded Galileo. Tycho Brahe’s ideas explained the data better than Galileo’s hypothesis and was the generally accepted theory of the time even though it was wrong too. Galileo’s hypothesis on orbits was wrong too since he postulated circular orbits and even motion of the planets which did not fit the data.

    Galileo wanted to reinterpret scripture based on his hypothesis but without proof and this is main reason for his eventual confinement to a comfortable mansion. He also deliberately wrote something that tried to make a fool of the pope who was in the midst of the 30’s year war and internecine fighting of France and the Hapsburgs for power in Europe. And that is why he was sentenced to house arrest. He was arrogant and wrong on a lot of what he proposed.

    So forget Galileo as a symbol of religion/science wars. It is nonsense. Like most things in life it had to do with politics and power struggles as is the current case of Gonzalez.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    So Galileo didn’t verify the heliocentric theory?
    And he wasn’t convicted of heresy by the church and sentenced to house arrest for propagating the heliocentric theory?
    I’m shocked
    And from what I’ve seen, You may very well be right, in fact after being taught such trash as the evolutionary origin of man for so long in school, I beginning to wonder how much of what they teach students in school is actually true.

  4. 4
    Janice says:

    bornagain77,

    jerry is correct.

  5. 5
    jerry says:

    Yes, Galileo did not verify the heliocentric theory. He was not the first to hold it as an hypothesis and his version of it was wrong. And many of his other ideas turned out to be wrong too. So caution on his ideas was not unwarranted.

    Yes, Galileo was convicted of something by the Church and sentenced to house arrest in a luxurious mansion. To use a Monty Python analogy, he was sentenced to the “comfy chair”. It was not however a war against science that was at the essence of the conviction. Catholic France was supporting the Protestants against the Catholic Hapsburgs in the 30 Year War and the pope, Urban 8th was caught in between this and Galileo chose to publish a book at this time that indicated Pope Urban was a fool. In England such an act against the ruler would have been sentencing to the tower or worse. Galileo was an unneeded annoyance and dealt with in a relatively gentle manner.

    One of the issues between Protestants and Catholics was how each literally interpreted the Bible and Galileo decided he knew better than the Church on some biblical interpretations. He was interpreting scripture based on his unproven hypotheses. So he was politely put aside in a luxurious house arrest so as not to cause any more trouble.

    You have to ask why nearly everyone has been taught the wrong thing about Galileo and the Church and the Church’s attitude toward science in school or wherever and what was the origin of this distortion and why. There was never much of a conflict between religion and science within the Church and this so called conflict between religion and science was made up just as it is now, for political reasons.

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    H’mm:

    Interesting issues.

    1] Copernicus promoted us from the Aristotelian “sump” of the universe to the heavens.

    2] I am not sure as to the relative popularity of Brahe and the Copernican hypothesis, but Kepler’s work showing that the planets orbit the sun in ellipses with the sun at one focus was essentially complete by the 1620’s; based on Brahe’s observations and especially the loop-backs in the orbits of Mars. (Think about working out how an ellipse looks form another body moving in a faster ellipse and you will see a bit of just how much of a challenge it was . . . he actually showed the ellipse twice, not recognising the shape the first time around.)

    3] Galileo did make a major contribution tot he legitimacy of the Copernican view by discovering the Galilean satellites of Jupiter. Of course there were those who objected to the imperfections of the telescopes in that day to doubt the observations. [Remember, decades later, Newton, despairing of curing aberrations, invented the reflecting telescope.]

    3] The online Catholic Encyclopedia article on Galileo has some interesting expansions on the remarks above.

    4] THe above remarks point out hat GG has been doing good work at technical and semi-popular level, in summary. Indeed, he is correcting widespread popular misconceptions — adn maybe tha tis part of the problem.

    5] Atmosphere poisoning is a classic, and destructive tactic. The ISU’s contrasitng treatment of GGT and Avalos is telling. [BTW, there seems to be another faculty petition out there against a chaplain for a sports team, if memory serves. Evidence on the atmosphere . . . smell the smoke?]

    GEM of TKI

  7. 7
    bornagain77 says:

    Thanks for the heads up Jerry. Do you think there ever truly was a defining moment when the perception in society switched to Religion and science being separate and antagonistic?…perhaps Newtons defining of Gravity could be viewed as such?

  8. 8
    jerry says:

    Bornagain77,

    I think LaPlace was more of an influence than anyone and it is with him that “The God of the Gaps” argument started. Newton hypothesized that God directly intervened into the orbits of the planets and LaPlace proved him wrong. He essentially made a fool of Newton.

    LaPlace told Napoleon that God was not necessary to do science. Here is the description from Wikipedia

    “Laplace went in state to beg Napoleon to accept a copy of his work, who had heard that the book contained no mention of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, “M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.” Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.” (I did not need to make such an assumption). Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, “Ah! c’est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses” (Ah! that is a beautiful assumption; it explains many things). Laplace then declared: “Cette hypothèse, Sire, explique en effet tout, mais ne permet de prédire rien. En tant que savant, je me dois de vous fournir des travaux permettant des prédictions” (“This hypothesis, Sire, does explain everything, but does not permit to predict anything. As a scholar, I must provide you with works permitting predictions.’ ”

    Thus, began the divorcing of science from religion and God. About this time the best minds started to go into science and not philosophy and theology.

    I believe the war, if such is the right phrase, started within science and not within religion/theology. The antagonism comes from science and culminates in what we see today with people like Dawkins who want to rid the world of religion. But this attitude is championed by most scientists who only want a naturalistic materialistic approach to science. There is no need for God in science they say and many have extended this to a no need in every day life.

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    Thanks again Jerry. I will keep this for future reference.

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