Don’t Let Ted Cruz Teach History

This actually hurt my brain:

In an interview on Tuesday with the Texas Tribune, the newly-minted presidential candidate [Senator Ted Cruz] compared himself to the Galileo when discussing, of all things, whether climate change was actually occurring.

“Today the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers,” Cruz said. “You know it used to be it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.”

I had to read that a few times, but then I realized that reading it was actually killing my brain cells and I had to stop.

I know that I enjoy the unique advantage of having a degree in philosophy, but I really don’t expect presidential candidates to engage in the The Myth of the Flat Earth. I’m discouraged that I need to introduce you to this concept:

The myth of the Flat Earth is the modern misconception that the prevailing cosmological view during the Middle Ages saw the Earth as flat, instead of spherical.

During the early Middle Ages, virtually all scholars maintained the spherical viewpoint first expressed by the Ancient Greeks. From at least the 14th century, belief in a flat Earth among the educated was almost nonexistent…

geocentric-universe

The dispute between the papacy and Galileo was about whether the Sun orbited the Earth or the Earth orbited the Sun. It had absolutely nothing to do with the shape of the Earth.

So, that’s error number one in Cruz’s retelling of history. Error number two is that he can talk about “accepted scientific wisdom” in the context of the 16th and early 17th-Century. When we talk about “science,” we are talking about a method of inquiry that wasn’t really understood until the 19th Century. Galileo wasn’t arguing with “scientists” or any kind of scientific consensus. He was arguing with theologians and priests. A fairer way of looking at it is that most people assumed that the Sun and stars orbited the Earth, and that view was supported by respected authorities like Aristotle and Ptolemy.

The third error is to consider Galileo to be the equivalent of a modern-day climate science denier. What distinguished Galileo from his Catholic (and Protestant) detractors was his willingness to go where the empirical evidence led him, even if it contradicted common wisdom and a few passages of scripture. He was using the scientific method at a time when the scientific method wasn’t yet a “thing.” The modern-day equivalent to Galileo is a scientist, not an unscrupulous senator from a carbon-rich state.

What Cruz was attempting to say is that common wisdom can be wrong, and most people used to believe that the Earth was the center of the Solar System and the Universe. If most people could be wrong in the past, then most scientists can be wrong today.

That’s true.

Why he couldn’t just say that instead of torturing the shit out of history and damaging my head?

It should be remembered, however, that Galileo, the one using the scientific method, turned out to be correct. The theologians, the ones relying on scripture and common sense, turned out to be wrong. So, while it’s certainly true that there can be a consensus among learned people that is incorrect, you’ll do better putting your money on the scientists than on people going with their gut.

And if one side is simply denying that the scientists know better how to interpret the evidence? And if that side has a financial stake in people not believing the science?

This isn’t really that hard to figure out.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.