Tales of Science vs. Superstition
Prometheus Books Copyright © 2005 Gardner Dozois
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-1-59102-315-9
Preface "It Still Moves!"
I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect intended us to forgo their use. -Galileo Galilei
"Eppur si muove!" ("It still moves!" or "But it does move!" or "And yet it does move!"-depending on the translator) is what Italian scientist and pioneering astronomer Galileo Galilei is supposed to have muttered defiantly to the Court of the Inquisition in 1633 after having been forced to abjure his belief in heliocentricity, the idea that the Earth rotated around the sun rather than itself being the center of the solar system, as held by the geocentric Tychonian model officially upheld by the Church.
This famous story is almost certainly apocryphal. Galileo would have to have been sucicidally rash to make such a remark to the Inquisition after having narrowly missed being sentenced to torture and death (as it was, he would remain under house arrest until his death in 1642), and records suggest instead that he was a careful, even cautious man. In fact, some modern commentators have criticized Galileo for caving in to the Inquisition and agreeing to "abjure, curse, and detest" his work-but then, they weren't in the power of the Inquisition, who did send thousands of people to face mutilation and horrible deaths, especially in Spain, and who were then in the full flush of their power. The danger of torture and death that Galileo faced was very real. Giordano Bruno had been burned to death at the stake in 1600 for holding similar heretical beliefs, including a belief in the large, possibly infinite, size of the universe, and theologians such as the Dominican father Caccini were preaching that "geometry is of the devil" and that "mathematicians should be banished as the authors of all heresies." Another theologian declared, of the Copernican model of the solar system that Galileo would be tried for heresy for teaching: "It upsets the whole basis of theology. If the Earth is a planet, and only one among several planets, it cannot be that any such great things have been done specially for it as the Christian doctrine teaches. If there are other planets, since God makes nothing in vain, they must be inhabited; but how can their inhabitants be descended from Adam? How can they trace back their origin to Noah's Ark? How can they have been redeemed by the Saviour?"
And yet, the Earth was a planet, and a planet that rotated around the sun, whether those inconvenient facts conflicted with Scripture or not. "Eppur si muove," indeed. And although Galileo probably never said that, he no doubt would have sympathized with the sentiment, since it's clear that his recantation was insincere and that he continued to believe that indeed it did move, whatever the Inquisition said, throughout the rest of his life, toward the end of which he wrote the epigram that opens this preface.
It's easy enough to make Galileo's story an exercise in Catholic-bashing-especially since the Church did not admit that "errors had been made" in the case of Galileo until 1992-but the reality is more multifaceted and contradictory than that. During the Middle Ages, the same Church that later prosecuted Galileo and Giordano Bruno had gathered and collected the secular knowledge of the ancient Romans and Greeks that might otherwise have disappeared, and many theologians then and later, especially the Jesuits, were also noted investigators into scientific mysteries. The Benedictine abbot Benedetto Castelli, a former student of Galileo's and a professor of mathematics, had come to Galileo's defense, an extremely risky thing to do, and part of Galileo's house arrest was spent in the home of the sympathetic archbishop Ascanio of Silva, also a learned man; even the pope, Pope Urban VII, was an old friend of Galileo's-which perhaps explains why it was possible for Galileo to plea-bargain his way out of the rack and the stake. Clearly, many churchmen were sympathetic to Galileo, and perhaps privately believed that he was right-but that didn't matter as long as the power was in the hands of those who were determined to make science conform to Scripture and who refused to look at any facts that didn't agree with the opinions they already held, just as many refused to even look through Galileo's telescopes, for fear of seeing "sinful things."
To enforce willful ignorance through terror-that strikes me as superstition, not religion. And it's a kind of superstition that has persisted down through the years, even to the present day, in many different cultures-there's more than one kind of Scripture to which fearful men have tried to make science conform, with persecution and prosecution and proscription, with imprisonment and exile and bloody murder.
The Inquisition has cast the longest and coldest shadow over the imaginations of Western writers, as this anthology will make clear, but it's far from the only time that proscriptions have been set up as to what people were allowed to think, and enforced with law and iron.
About the same time that Galileo was clashing with the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church under Queen Elizabeth I was hunting down Catholics and having them hanged, drawn, and quartered, a fate as gruesome as the bloody tricks the Inquisition was getting up to (and the great Protestant reformer Philipp Melanchthon was being just as fierce in his attacks on the Copernican theory as was the Roman Church, so Galileo might not have fared any better if it had been the Protestants who were running the show). In China, under the Ming dynasty, Grand Eunuch Chêng Ho commanded the mightiest navy the world had ever seen, far in advance in numbers and sophistication of technology than anything Europe would see for a hundred years or more-until the Confusionist factor at court, fearful that new ideas and contact with foreigners with very different customs would shake up the rigidly stratified class structure of Chinese society, convinced the emperor to institute the Great Withdrawal of 1433, disbanding and scuttling the mighty fleets and forbidding his subjects to travel abroad on pain of death. Later, according to Daniel J. Boorstin in The Discoverers, the ban was "eventually extended to include coastal shipping, and later even the construction of sea-going junks"-which, to quote Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, caused the country to step back "from the verge of an industrial revolution in the 14th Century" that might have made China the master of the world, and instead to fall into centuries of cultural and technological stagnation that ultimately left them at the dubious mercy of the European nations who forced them to break their self-imposed isolation. In Tokugawa Japan in the 1600s, a few decades later, another kind of Great Withdrawal was taking place, and another country would also step back from the brink of an industrial revolution, with dismal results. Firearms had been introduced into Japan in 1543, in the form of two arquebuses, matchlock muskets, that had been sold to a warlord by Portuguese traders hitching a ride on a Chinese junk, and soon, to again quote from Guns, Germs, and Steel, the Japanese had "commenced indigenous gun production, greatly improved gun technology, and by AD 1600 owned more and better guns than any other country in the world." The desire to preserve a rigidly stratified class system, superstition, fear of foreigners, and the distaste of Confusionists for change soon led to the de facto suppression of gun manufacture and the banning of foreign trade-and indeed any foreign contact. This succeeded in keeping Japan frozen at the same cultural and technological level for more than another two hundred years-until the gunboats of Adm. Matthew Perry forced them to open themselves to the world again, in an inferior and disadvantaged position. The very Arabic nations whose extremist factions now rail against "Western science" were largely responsible for passing the basic mathematical and scientific knowledge out of which that science was later developed along to the West in the first place. And so on.
Even today, the pope interdicts cloning, the president of the United States pushes to make stem cell research illegal, mention of the theory of evolution is banned from textbooks and explanations of "creation science" are inserted instead, and politicians of both political parties vote against money for space exploration or any other kind of research where the instant up-front financial benefit to the bottom line is not immediately evident.
The battle of science against superstition is still going on, as is the battle to not have to think only what somebody else thinks is okay for you to think. In fact, in a society where more people believe in angels than believe in evolution, that battle may be more critical than ever.
One of the major battlefields is science fiction, one of the few forms of literature where rationality, skepticism, the knowledge of the inevitability of change, and the idea that wide-ranging freedom of thought and unfettered imagination and curiosity are good things are the default positions, taken for granted by most of its authors.
Oh, it's not quite that clear-cut, of course-transcendentalism has always been a major force in the genre, with even hardheaded rationalists like Arthur C. Clarke flirting with the mystic in novels such as Childhood's End, just as many of today's theological physicists sound more like mystics or theologians than sober scientists, with their talk of the invisible worlds that surround us and the hidden forces that shape the workings and the structure of the universe.
Still, for the moment at least, until some new Inquisition, motivated by ignorance, intolerance, and fear, forces its writers to go underground and mutter "It still moves!" to each other in hiding, science fiction provides one of the few places in modern letters where the battle between science and superstition is openly discussed and debated, and that makes those who write it, as well as those brave characters they write about, embroiled in the age-old struggle to prevent the control of the human mind and the suppression of the human spirit, "Galileo's Children" in a very real way indeed.
The anthology that follows takes us to many different arenas in that struggle-from the past to the present to the future, from worlds that never were and never will be to worlds deep in space that someday may come to pass-and introduces us to many different warriors, male and female, rich and poor, young and old, who, in their different ways-some quietly, some defiantly, some reluctantly-fight the kind of battles that we ourselves might someday have to fight if we want our children and our grandchildren to be allowed to read these words.
Excerpted from Galileo's Children Copyright © 2005 by Gardner Dozois. Excerpted by permission.
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