Sarah Palin, James Inhofe, and the Rest: Meet Christopher Clavius, Copernicus Denier:
You cannot imagine the shitstorm Nicholas Copernicus started when he stated that the sun was the center of the universe with planets revolving around it. All of a sudden, holy fuck, not only was the Earth no longer the big astronomical cheese, but the fuckin' terra firma was moving. Copernicus, using heathen scientific observation, transformed everything. It meant that theology, physics, and, well, astronomy, as well as the general psychology of people who actually gave a shit one way or the other had to be reconfigured. Or you had to say that Copernicus was a fucking asshat and cling desperately to your flaccid Ptolemy.
Now you may be familiar with metal-nosed Tycho Brahe, a bad motherfucker who kicked mucho celestial ass and taught Johannes Kepler, but who could not make the leap to total heliocentrism, although he tried to reconcile Copernicus and geocentrism in a clusterfuck of intersecting orbits. But you may not know Christopher Clavius, the mathematician and astronomer who worked on the Gregorian calendar and who spent much of his later life denying Copernicus and those bastard heliocentrists.
Clavius clung to the fixed Earth-centered universe, coming up with seemingly logical ways to tell Copernicans they could go fuck themselves with their observations and explanations. One of Clavius's goes like this: the earth couldn't be rotating because buildings would collapse and water would swirl and tip in vessels. "For the same reason, a stone or arrow projected straight upward with great force would not fall back to the same place, just as we see happen on a swiftly moving ship," Clavius wrote in the 16th century. Physics would catch up to heliocentrism. But you can bet that people who found it more convenient to their maintenance of power (the Catholic Church, for instance) paraded out Clavius as gospel.
Actually, Clavius used scripture to back up his beliefs, along with such choice nuggets as saying that the Earth stays the center of the universe because "of its heaviness. It rests always in the lowest place, farthest from the heavens, namely the center of the cosmos, and once there, it cannot be displaced naturally." Absurd, no? But Aristotle and others said it was so; therefore, it was so.
The point here is not to mock poor Christopher Clavius for being a Jesuit tool for his German religious overlords. But one imagines that if at the time, with the wealth of the church behind him, had there been an internet and Fox "news" and a compliant media who believe that facts are mutable, Clavius would have been cited repeatedly in order to smack down that asshole Copernicus for daring to fuck with our sense of our place in the universe. And the uneducated masses, not knowing anything more than what the church told them, would have mostly agreed, "Fuck that Copernicus. What does he know?" We would still be arguing over it now, calling out Copernicus-deniers.
The Rude Pundit thought of Clavius when he read Sarah Palin's idiotic editorial in the Washington Post and then saw that she was daring to take on Al Gore over climate change. Truly, while he is not threatened possible sanction by a powerful church, it is sad to see Gore have to answer constant questions on whether or not climate change is real, to have to address every conspiracy theory that comes up, to have to talk to people as if an observed, confirmed fact is not such.
Clavius never completely gave up on geocentrism. But Galileo visited him in 1611, just before his death, and allowed him to use the telescope. Observing for himself such things as the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter, Clavius realized that what he believed about the order of the universe could not stand up to such scrutiny, and one of the last things he wrote was, "Since things are thus, astronomers ought to consider how the celestial orbs may be arranged in order to save these phenomena."
Clavius died the next year. Imagine Clavius in that moment, knowing his time was passed; knowing that everything he defended, all those centuries, all those theories, was now up for grabs; knowing - he had to - that he was wrong. The Rude Pundit would like to believe that we live among people who have the capacity for such enlightenment, but he fears that we are in an age where unbelief is, to rephrase, too convenient for truth.