In a column late last month in the Catholic Church’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Italian biologist Fiorenzo Facchini scolded intelligent design advocates for “pretending to do science.” It was the Vatican’s signal that the church had jumped ship on ID. That will no doubt rankle creationists who hoped for a potential ally in Rome. But there’s a bright side for them: The church’s rejection could help the ID-ers identify with their favorite scientist, Galileo Galilei.
Yes, that Galileo. In opinion pieces, speeches, and interviews, ID advocates commonly cite the 17th-century Italian astronomer and physicist as a forebear. It’s not his views on biology they want a piece of, but rather his plight as a man before his time. “In my opinion, we must train students in the 21st century to do exactly as Galileo did … think outside the box,” says William Harris, one of the key players in Kansas’ rebellion against evolution last year. In his 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box, leading ID-er Michael Behe calls the idea of a heliocentric universe, proposed by Copernicus and backed by Galileo, a prescient “assault on the senses.” So, too, Behe says, will his own work be vindicated. Last fall, an interviewer for the British newspaper the Guardian asked Behe if the criticism of ID he faces brings Galileo to mind. The self-appointed science rebel had a simple answer: “Yeah. In a way it’s flattery.”