Memo to Rick Perry: Galileo Was a Liberal

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Ever since the Republican presidential debate last week, science watchers have been shaking their heads over Rick Perry’s ridiculous invocation of Galileo Galilei to defend his denialist position on climate change.

Galileo got outvoted for a spell,” Perry said–presumably meaning to suggest that climate “skeptics,” too, will have their day in the sun (the sun that, thanks to Galileo, we know lies at the center of the solar system).

Not only is this junk history on Perry’s part. A more accurate analogy would liken today’s climate researchers to Galileo—delivering an inconvenient truth that some right wing ideologues (then and now) just can’t handle—and Perry to the Inquisition.

Let’s face it: In the context of his times, Galileo was a liberal. He was a fearless explorer of new knowledge, as well as a puckish challenger of assumed wisdom. He famously argued that science and religion don’t have to be in conflict—so long as religionists don’t insist on reading Scripture literally (as so many of Perry’s anti-evolutionist supporters today do).

So to find a conservative Texas governor, backed by the religious right, invoking this canonical questioner of authority is really precious.

But forget historical accuracy for a moment. Climate “skeptics” have long been invoking Galileo as their mascot, and the interesting question is why.

At least as popularly remembered (what actually happened is far more complex), the Galileo story is about the ideological suppression of a lone scientist who has discovered a deep truth.

So if you find yourself in a scientific controversy, on either side–and you have enough hubris–Galileo may be an appealing reference point for you. After all, you feel that you have the truth, and the other side is ignoring or quashing your point of view.

And suddenly—tah dah—you’re Galileo.

The misuse and abuse of Galileo’s story, in other words, is a case study in how people reason about history—just as they do with science–in a biased, motivated way, seeking to cast themselves as the good guys, the victors, and their foes as the opposite.

And once you see things in this way, you realize there’s a very close analogy in our politics to the Perry-Galileo flap. Climate “skeptics” invoking Galileo is really quite a lot like right wingers calling themselves the “Tea Party.”

The great architects of the United States—Jefferson, Franklin, Madison—were men of reason and the Enlightenment, just as Galileo was a man of the Scientific Revolution. They were freethinkers and, in Jefferson’s and Franklin’s case, scientists and inventors. And they didn’t want religion shoved down anybody’s throat.

And yet we now find a movement in America that wants more religion in politics, and that rejects science on climate change and evolution alike, trying to claim the mantle of the country’s founding.

Rick Perry’s invocation of Galileo, then, is much more than merely ridiculous. It gives us quite the window on the right wing mind, and demonstrates just how much it has managed to turn reality upside-down.

Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength…and Galileo and Rick Perry ride off together into the Texas sunset.

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Galileo was a Liberal - well that explains the beard

Interesting that Perry can take the positions he does and seems to be running a successful campaign at the same time. I don’t think he could have gotten away with that 2 years ago.

If you look at Palins position on global warming back then, it was much more circumspect than Perrys today.

Palin basically was saying yes there was global warming, yes she was concerned - just not convinced man was the culprit. - and she got ridiculed for it. Times have changed.

“Galileo was a Liberal - well that explains the beard”

Oh no! He must be a muslim…get im!!

Why is it that the bible belt are nearly entirely Republican states? It’s a curious symbiosis.



I agree with your thesis that it is ludicrous for Rick Perry or other arch-conservatives to invoke Galileo as their guiding star.

It is worth noting Galileo didn’t originate the theory that the earth circled the sun. That observation came earlier by Copernicus. Galileo demonstrated what Copernicus predicted was true.

I don’t know that Galileo was a liberal or a freethinker. He was a prototype of a scientist who seeks evidence that something is true. In that, he reprised what DaVinci began at the start of the Renaissance. DaVinci, like Galileo, eventually ran afoul of official church doctrine, or what in modern politics is now dogma.

If the situation wasn’t so serious, it might be funny that Perry and his ilk bask in the light of Galileo. Unfortunately, they probably would have among those in history who wanted to light him up on the stake.


Im no defender of the church but it was my understanding that the church supported Galilieo on heliocentricity until after “scientific consensus” pressed them to take a stand.

That’s the way I remember it presented on TV documentary anyway.

From Wikipedia. “Galileo’s championing of heliocentrism was controversial within his lifetime, when most subscribed to either geocentrism or the Tychonic system.[10] He met with opposition from astronomers, who doubted heliocentrism due to the absence of an observed stellar parallax.[11] The matter was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, and they concluded that it could only be supported as a possibility, not as an established fact.[12][13”

- so there you have it- consensus science was the genesis of his problems.

What a nonsense article.  Galileo had no more in common with modern “liberals”, than Adam Smith had influence on Pol Pot.

“In the context of his times, Galileo was a liberal.”

In the context of our times self-styled “liberals” are anything but liberal, anymore than people who laughably refer to themselves as “progressives” are in the least bit progressive.

“He was a fearless explorer of new knowledge, as well as a puckish challenger of assumed wisdom.”

And that’s pretty much the OPPOSITE of what “liberals” are nowadays!

Pardon me, but who was it that demanded “deniers” be frog-marched in front of an authoritarian tribunal to face charges of “crimes against humanity?  Oh, that would be your hero, Dr. James Hansen.

Contemporary “progressives”, or “liberals”, who advocate big central government and authoritarianism, forced collectivism, doing away with individual liberties, and endless demands for entitlements paid for by others, are in no way related to classical liberalism.

You might take not that the term “liberal” stems from the word, liberty – a concept to which modern “liberals” have demonstrated at every possible turn, to be vehemently opposed to.

No, the proper term here is leftist.

Any sane person, with even a cursory reading of history, would find it hilarious to portray Galileo as having anything, whatsoever, in common with contemporary leftists.

If Galileo shares any common traits with well-known historical figures, it would be among people like Abraham Lincoln, or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who, by the way, happened to belong to the Republican Party.

Whether Galileo was a radical or not is subjective. But what is not up for debate, is that he was a scientist who followed scientific method & was able to use evidence to prove his method, instead of belief or confirmation bias. Denier scientists are not open to evidence. They are defending their confirmation bias.

Just like the majority of the scientists today who agree with AGW. They look at the evidence & the evidence is overwhelming. We could say there is a new theory just around the corner with virtually every facet of science. We don’t just put everything on hold until that scientific prophet arrives on the scene. Science develops a consensus & when someone comes up with a provable change to that consensus, then the consensus changes to the new paradigm.

Deniers to date have not produced any peer reviewed scientific evidence to refute the consensus. That is just fact. You can say the science is not settled with what causes cancer, but it doesn’t stop us accepting that it exists & that there are likely causes. The same is true with AGW.

The Galileo movement is a who’s who of right wing think tanks, right wing journalists, right wing crowd fluffers, mining & fossil fuel interests. Well established deniers & liars for hire. There is no bipartisanship here. This is a right wing political movement.