Owen Gingerich & the Age of Deniability

Last night we hosted Owen Gingerich on campus for a seminar, dinner, and talk.  Gingerich is the author of The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus (among others).  The seminar was about his research that led to the publication of the aforementioned book.  That was a fascinating discussion that included photographs of a number of interesting sites.  Gingerich was in fact the catalyst for several first or second edition copies of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus being reappropriated by their former owners after having been stolen (in a variety of ways).  I look forward to reading the book eventually.

As it turns out, Gingerich and I both authored entries in the recently released Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers which is a terrific two-volume set that is outrageously overpriced (particularly considering it printed in greyscale and not color).  Nonetheless, if money is no object, it is worth obtaining.  I was lucky enough to get a gratis copy since I contributed 23 of the biographies.  Otherwise I couldn’t afford it.

In any case, after a dinner with faculty and students from Physics, Philosophy, Politics, Theology, and the Humanities program (at the President’s private dining room – we actually have excellent food even outside of this private dining room) he gave a well-attended public lecture on another book of his called God’s Universe.  In this lecture he discussed the evolution/intelligent design debate.  Ostensibly it was supposed to give insight into how one can be a scientist and a Christian (which Gingerich is).  In all honesty, I was slightly disappointed by this talk simply because I’m not sure I learned anything new and I doubt his arguments would sway a creationist or intelligent design proponent.  In fact, it prompted a colleague of mine and I to wonder if there was anything that would change people’s minds if they were deeply entrenched in a certain belief (and this includes scientists).  We seem to be living in an age of deniability.  It reminds me of an Opus comic that I can’t find now (but that my parents still have on their refrigerator) in which Dick Cheney denies the fact that there’s an animal on his head (which there is) claiming it is only Opus’ opinion that there is an animal on his head (and similarly denies that he’s not wearing pants).  Beyond the absurdity, it’s scary that we seem to live in an age when we can simply deny the existence of anything if we want to, evidence be damned.

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