Galileo versus the Environmental Protection Agency

Why the Environmental Protection Agency is not the proper stage for a debate about science.


The year was 1616. The year prior, Galileo Galilei’s works on heliocentrism and his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, arguing that heliocentrism was not contrary to biblical texts, were submitted to the Roman Inquisition. But in 1616 the Inquisition enjoined Galileo “… to abandon completely… the opinion that the sun stands still at the center of the world and the earth moves, and henceforth not to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatever, either orally or in writing.” For the next decade, Galileo avoided the controversy, but returned to arguing in favor of heliocentrism until his trial and judgment of heresy in 1633. Science and faith, it seems, have always had a healthy tension.

The drama between science and faith has for the most part and for most of history been carried out on the stage of the church. But now there is a new stage for the battle between science and faith. The church has for the most part been vanquished from this arena through section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The new stage for the battle over science and faith is the EPA and the federal court system. On the one side, you have the historical understanding of western civilization that the cycles of seed time and harvest will not end until God brings his creation to an end. Genesis 8. On the other side, you have humanist theory that mankind is more powerful than the vast ecosystem that is the earth climate.

But this new stage is not well suited for mankind. Science and the scientific method, of which Galileo is the so called father, is a free endeavor of observation, hypothesis, and experimentation. Science supplements, supports, and even challenges faith. But science and scientists must be free to explore and challenge. Galileo’s observations and experimentations challenged, corrected and improved the church despite the church’s opposition.

The thing about government is it is driven by the judgments of men. In a monarchy, decisions are made based on the opinion of one man. In a democracy, laws are based on the opinions of the majority. The inconvenient truth about science is it is not based, or should not be based, on opinion, but on fact. Science is not democratic. It is not based on majority vote. In truth, it is not even based on consensus. The scientific method is based on the underlying principle that if an experiment contradicts the hypothesis, the hypothesis must be changed.

Unfortunately, most of us are not educated adequately to discern the ins and outs of the climate science. So we must take the word of experts in the field. Still, if we apply the scientific method to our judgment of scientific experts—something akin to a one step removed scientific method to the actual experimentation and analysis—we can simulate a justification for judgment on the science. With that as an approach, it should suffice if a significant minority of experts can express a rationale disproving the government mandated science to move it from the realm of science to the realm of legislated faith or governmentally imposed edict.

This is what we have with the “climate change faith.” The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change has done an outstanding job of refuting most of the claims of the EPA on climate change science. S. Fred Singer has popularized and made this work accessible in his little book Hot Talk: Cold Science. What is most clear from these works is that an increase in CO2 concentration is actually beneficial to life. Therefore, it is not something to run away from but something to run to. In any event, it is clear from both of these efforts that there is no consensus on climate change. In an ordinary culture where science and faith could battle it out, this issue would quickly resolve itself into a faith commitment. But that is not the case in a society driven by government.

Government by its very nature is an entity that exists to make law and exercise force. That is what government exists to accomplish, maintain order. Properly, this order is intended to protect the life, liberty and property of free individuals. But when government usurps other areas of life, it brings its predilection to law and force with it. In the arena of the environment, it is doing so with ever increasing devastation.

This trend is nothing new. We have all heard the old aphorism: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” John Adams warned in his Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States, “We may appeal to every page of history we have hitherto turned over, for proofs irrefragable, that the people, when they have been unchecked, have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous, and cruel, as any king or senate possessed of uncontrollable power. The majority has eternally, and without one exception, usurped over the rights of the minority.”  You can almost hear the inevitability of governmental tyranny in the words of the Declaration of Independence, “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another . . . .” It is necessary to recognize the tyranny brought on by the corruption of man in government. That corruption is showing its head today in the comments of John Gruber that American voters are stupid.

This is why government is not the correct stage to host this drama between science and faith. Combine corruption, power and law and you have a trinity that will destroy science. On a stage where people are free to work through their views without fear of retribution of law, a society is free to express its views and come to reasoned decisions.

Galileo did suffer for his convictions. He was excommunicated from the church for his views on heliocentrism. But he was ultimately successful with others of faith to convince the faith of the truth of the claim. We have seen what happens when governments make faith claims and it is not pretty—for example in the form of the expression of the superiority of one race over another or selecting the Roman versus the Protestant view of faith. We should take faith commitments away from the EPA and return them to the church where they belong.

David Linton writes at the Blackstone Initiative.