Ted Cruz
Republican presidential candidate U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) answers a question from reporter following a campaign stop at the V.F.W. Hall in Merrimack, New Hampshire March 27, 2015. Reuters

"Today the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers," Republican Presidential primary candidate Ted Cruz told the Texas Tribune. "You know it used to be it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier."

As a journalist, I’ll be the first to admit that truth is tricky. Scientific consensus has been wrong before, even in the post enlightenment era and dogma, both political and religious, have stifled scientific knowledge in the past. Yet as a college graduate with a degree in geography, I couldn’t help but thinking that Senator Cruz had made a very, very poor analogy about the Flat Earthers.

Galileo was persecuted by the Catholic Church in the 1600s for his heliocentric astronomical model, for contradicting a Biblical error, the idea that heavenly bodies rotated around the Earth. Galileo was not involved in the largely mythological debate over the flatness of the earth, another easily contradicted biblical claim. The spherical earth was accepted science well before Galileo’s time. Cruz’s analogy, comparing himself as a persecuted Galileo, was therefore historically inaccurate.

Arguably, it was a mashup of two other politician’s talking points. The first is Texas Governor Rick Perry, who countered climate denial charges in 2011 “Galileo got outvoted for a spell.” The second is Secretary of State John Kerry, who called out climate deniers in Jakarta in 2014 saying “we don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.” Cruz crushes them together, and all of the sudden Galileo rushes back hundreds of years to a debate that never happened in the first place.

Dissecting Ted Cruz’s Flat-Earth-Galileo comment reveals much about the “global warming” debate, in which arguments against climate change action have shifted from flat-out denials to pseudo scientific dissent.

Cruz’s argument is that a small set of facts -- satellite data haven’t shown global warming for the past 17 years -- contradicts a larger set of facts that have resulted in a near-consensus in the scientific community that climate change is man-made and a threat to human existence. Other’s have untangled Cruz’s satellite science, so I won’t do that here. That shred of fact weaved into a larger narrative -- what some would call pseudoscience -- is what emboldens Cruz to argue against taking action on climate change.

“On the global warming alarmists, anyone who actually points to the evidence that disproves their [apocalyptic] claims, they don't engage in reasoned debate,” Cruz said.

Yet flat-earthers resemble Ted Cruz camp more than climate “alarmists” do, at least in the conext of analogy and metaphor. That’s because flat earthers also look at a small piece of data (the ground right in front of them) to counter more abstract measurements. The Flat Earth Society is a real organization. Here is their mission statement (emphasis mine).

The mission of the Flat Earth Society is to promote and initiate discussion of Flat Earth theory as well as archive Flat Earth literature. Our forums act as a venue to encourage free thinking and debate.

There are actually around 600 million human beings on the planet that believe that the earth is flat. Most of them are under four-years-old. The reason why they don’t know that the world is round is a combination of ignorance (it hasn’t been explained to them) and the fact that the concept of a flat earth requires “as little deviation from the world as phenomenally experienced as possible,” according to studies cognitive psychology researchers.

“[Children] conceptualized the earth as flat and stationary and thought it was located in the middle of the solar system. They also thought that things fall down, not toward the center of the spherical earth, and that the day/night cycle is caused by the movement of the sun and the moon.”

These are the misconceptions of the men who wrote the bible, the people that that Galileo’s predecessors contended with. These are the instincts that humankind took millennia to overcome as they developed more advanced observational tools. Like most of the Flat Earth literature, Ted Cruz’s satellite data are a can of rhetorical red herrings, but he’s not the most unreasonable climate skeptic.

A disconnect between science and phenomenal experience -- what we see right in front of us -- explains a lot about why climate-deniers persist (and why Sen. Inhofe, R-Okla., brought a snowball onto the Senate floor last February as evidence that climate change was a hoax.

If this note seems like invective, let me be clear. Ted Cruz is an intelligent man and a keen debater. Even as he was engineering the 2013 government shutdown, he eloquently defended compromises on veterans benefits and other spending, even when it was difficult for him to do so (he engineered the shutdown).

Religion And Science

Four hundred years after the Catholic Church accepted Galileo’s heliocentric model of the universe, and about 20 years after it endorsed the theory of evolution, there’s still a large religious stifling science. At the head of the charge is the Baptist church and Ted Cruz. Notably, the Texas Senator made his presidential campaign announcement at Liberty University, founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell, himself a climate denier. Here’s what Falwell had to say about gas-guzzling cars.

“It is God’s planet…and he’s taking care of it. And I don’t believe that anything we do will raise or lower the temperature one point,” Falwell said, in an interview with Think Progress.

Denying the severity of climate change has very much to do with appealing to religious conservative base, and a very specific one at that. Falwell and his followers probably wouldn’t agree with the Vatican’s view on global warming, for example.

“The Holy Father and the U.S. Catholic Bishops recognize climate change as a moral issue which threatens Creation, places added burdens on poor people, and compromises the common good of all,” according to the Catholic Covenant.

Ted Cruz is not like Galileo. If anything, he’s more like Bill Clinton. Remember when Clinton said that that he “tried it but didn’t inhale” when he was a student in England? Clinton knew that being pro-marijuana was not an acceptable stance, and that being a pothead would make him look like a hypocrite. So he hedged, with a wink to the pro-legalization left. Cruz knows that he can’t be a flat-out global warming denier, so he’s just taking a little hit. Perhaps Cruz is sincere in his beliefs, or perhaps like Clinton, there’s another explanation.

"[Clinton] preferred, like many another marijuana enthusiast, to take his dope in the form of large handfuls of cookies and brownies," wrote the late Christopher Hitchens, who described his time with Clinton at Oxford.

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