Opinion by Dr. James Daly
The late Carl Sagan, in his 1995 book "The Demon-Haunted World, Science as a Candle In the Dark" warns of exactly what is happening today and how reliance on science, reason, thought and collaboration is the antidote to a society that has, quite literally, gone mad. Are we citizens of a modern, progressive society, educated in science, allowing our actions to be governed by science and reason or are we to remain slaves to ancient mythical demons?
Ever since the decision was made in 2009 to build a next generation telescope largely supported by this nation and the State Of Hawaii, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop Mauna Kea, there has been fierce opposition to the project. An alternative site is located at Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory on the Spanish island of La Palma in the Canary Islands. I don't wish to restate the merits of the Hawaii location here, except to say that the confluence of all the right conditions at the summit of Mauna Kea have made this the ideal location. Those details can be found here.
Sacrificing science on the altar of religion has never ended well
This isn't about some colonial power imposing their imperial will on an indigenous population as the protesters and telescope opponents claim, it's about science, reason and authentic progress and honoring the rule of law. The protestors and opponents had their day in court and the expectation, presumably, is that they would abide by the court's decision- and they haven't. They pled their case all the way up to the State Supreme Court -and lost. The government, the University of Hawaii, the architects, the TMT organization, the worldwide consortium of astronomers waited -for 10 years- while the plaintiffs due-process rights were respected -and exercised. Ten years waiting! And even when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of the telescope, they continue impeding progress -and the world, literally, continues to wait. And now it emerges that the entire Astronomical complex and suite of observatories on the summit have been shut down in response to the protests.
The observatories on Mauna Kea’s summit—which include some of the world’s largest, such as the twin 10-metre Keck telescopes and the 8.2-metre Subaru Telescope—stopped collecting data and ordered employees and researchers to evacuate on July 16.
At another time and under different circumstances, I would support a challenge to any usurpation of privacy, assault on personal liberty or abuse of power. But that's not what this is; it's about a small group of vocal protestors being allowed to foist their religion on the rest of the world, claiming that the mountain is sacred and thus, is off limits. This is a religious myth and the rest of the world, -yes, the world as this is an international collaboration- has been subordinated to their religious myth. Belief in authentic democracy is the basis of a true progressive world view and a true progressive will always subordinate their interests to the greater interests of the many and that isn't what's happening here.
In another development, almost 1,000 Astronomy Graduate students, Astronomers and other interested parties have signed an open letter calling on the governor and the Hawaiian government to withdraw law enforcement from the situation and to cease marking any futher arrests. I categorically reject this attempt at appeasement as being childish and naive in the extreme and lacking any broader historical context. The opponents and protesters have made the world wait ten years and now, like petulant children who didn't get their way, they're having a temper tantrum and what do these grad students do? They give them a lollypop because they didn't get their way. Full stop! They lost the case and are now breaking the law by blocking access to the summit; they're impeding progress and should be arrested with all due respect and consideration -and be treated as adults who understand actions have consequences.
This opposition is not progressive in nature; in fact it's the opposite, it's regressive. IT IS NOT THE SAME as the clear violation of national sovereignty and egregious Human Rights violations as is the case of Venezuela. In that case, the indigenous of the country and the region, mostly the Chavistas, are being singled out and viciously attacked because they are a mixed-race people. The violent insurgents, known euphemistically in the western press as "The Opposition", with the help of the current US administration, are attempting to reestablish their white-minority apartheid government they had prior to Hugo Chavez. That case is clear; the case of the TMT is about authentic progress, reason, and respecting the rule of law and the decisions of all the courts, including the Hawaii State Supreme court.
A number of prominent politicians have made misinformed public comments in support of the telescope's opponents; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) -of Hawaii and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have come out in one form or another in support of more waiting -or construction at the alternative site on La Palma. Three out of four of theses representatives are contending for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President, ostensibly as progressives, and this cause is seen as easy, low-hanging fruit to bolster their low poll numbers. Rather than go after real abuses of power such as in the case of Venezuela, they figure they'll go after a group of Astronomers and the telescope they're trying to build on a dormant volcano. Having said that, where is their commitment to education they're always pushing? The University if Hawaii stands to lose big time if the alternative site at La Palma is selected, a decision that would result from the endless waiting and legal delays.
The Europeans are building the Extremely Large Telescope ELT, a 40-meter class telescope, and if the TMT project gets transferred to La Palma so a few religious Hawaiians can pray on the mountain, the University of Hawaii will lose direct access to a major research asset -and access to cutting edge technology with the corresponding loss of many high-value jobs on the island, something the afore mentioned Presidential candidates are running on. I find it interesting and quite telling how they wax indignant and quite vocal about something they know very little about but are silent on other issues they ought to be vocal about, such as Venezuela.
As far as the protestors and their leaders are concerned, many claim to be "native Hawaiians", such as Walter Ritte of Molokai. He is no mare a "native Hawaiian" (understood to be indigenous to the island and a descendent of the ancient Polynesians who settled there) than I am. Indigenous peoples -everywhere- are fiercely committed to democracy, respect the rule of law and the outcome of such. This is a key aspect of their culture, so why are the "Indigenous" of Hawaii disrespecting the will of the people represented by the court, -all the court challenges over the proceeding decade, where all parties to the issue have bent over backwards to accommodate the opposition? That's because this isn't about Hawaii's indigenous, its about something else.
Take a good look at this image; how many Indigenous do you see? Where are they? I see a lot of white people and the few Indigenous visible, the police, are actually arresting the protestors, acting in accordance with their ethos, always respecting the will of the people. The people have spoken and construction of the telescope should proceed.
The case has been through the courts, the protesters don't have a legal leg to stand on. They are free to practice their religion, they just can't impose it on anyone else any more than Catholics can outlaw abortion.
— James Olson (@Olsonjam808) July 23, 2019
I've debated Flat-Earth adherents extensively and occasionally I would would break through the religious and intellectual blockade but those times were infrequent at best. Reasoning with the TMT protesters would be met with similar success as theirs is a cause-celeb and many of them lack the education to understand what they're impeding and the insight to see the damage they're causing and how foolish they look. Why would they give up their celebrity status; heck "The Rock" has joined the protest party and now, I suspect, successful dialogue with them would be met with a similar success to what I achieved debating Flat Earthers. The Flat Earthers have the rapper B.o.B (@bobAtl) and now, the TMT protesters have Dwayne Johnson, "The Rock".
And, you know what, I wouldn't be surprised if some of them are Flat Earthers.
Over four hundred years ago, Galileo asked churchmen to look through his telescope - to just see what they were opposed to; they didn't and he was eventually placed under house arrest. The irony depicted here is stark -and my description of it deliberate and the imagery it conjures up speaks volumes about the centuries-old attempt to reconcile science and religion and it seems we're about to do it again, to sacrifice science on the altar of religion; although the metaphor depicted here is obvious and the irony couldn't be more stark, this is literally what we're witnessing.
So why don't we all go back in time to 1609 and play the role of the church, representing a religion vs Galileo or 900 years when Al Ghazali, a zealous Muslim cleric, forbad Science, especially Astronomy and Mathematics? The city in that case? Baghdad and they never recovered; in that case, that city was the center for learning and education, specifically for science, astronomy and mathematics in the developing world at the time.
This isn't progress and is actually the opposite, it's regressive, so those "Progressives" who support the opposition should rethink their position after first reading these articles
Many Hawaiian Indigenous and natives to the island support the project, so why has the opposition garnered all the press? It sells newspapers and makes for good theatre.
— TMTHawaii (@TMTHawaii) July 26, 2019
It's courageous for Native Hawaiians to stand up publicly, due to years of intimidation and threats from the protesters! #ImuaTMT @AOC @SenSanders Hawaii needs the #ThirtyMeterTelescope https://t.co/92lBSooHjK
— Carol Porter (@carport) July 26, 2019
#NEW: Supporters of #TMT rallying at State Capitol at 4:30 - Robin Kaai is a Native Hawaiian scientist who supports the telescope, he says he’s been getting a lot of backlash from friends and family for his opinion, but feels the TMT will benefit the community #MaunaKea @KITV4 pic.twitter.com/mN4dNOmra7
— Tom George (@TheTomGeorge) July 25, 2019
And here we have Queen Liliuokalani reminding us that the ancient Hawaiians (the Polynesians who settled Hawaii) were Astronomers:
Hawaii needs to maintain its sacred connection to the universe. Kilo hoku (star watchers) were among the most esteemed members of “pre-contact” Hawaiian society.
Build the #ThirtyMeterTelescope now!
“Ancient Hawaiians were astronomers,”
— Queen Liliuokalani pic.twitter.com/Y0hx9FfeiX
— Carol Porter (@carport) July 25, 2019
— Bryan Smith (@smittydat) July 28, 2019
Astronomers collaborated with renowned UH-Hilo Hawaiian Language professor Larry Kimura to name the M87* Blackhole Pōwehi, a Hawaiian name for "embellished dark source of unending creation":
Blackhole M87* will be called #Pōwehi.https://t.co/RccIWsMDgk
The black hole will bear a Hawaiian name “pōwehi” meaning this embellished dark source of unending creation. Astronomers collaborated with renowned UH-Hilo Hawaiian Language professor Larry Kimura for this name.
— Tom Ruen (@Tom_Ruen) April 11, 2019
And John Bredall with a great step by step synopsis and timeline of the TMT project and why it should procede without further delay:
(1/25) With the news of #TMT going national, I feel it's important to provide everyone with a bit of the history of astronomy on #MaunaKea, where @TMTHawaii fits within this story, and the impact going forward. My goal here is simply to provide information for those interested.
— John Bredall (@jbredall) July 20, 2019
Sacrificing science on the altar of religion has never ended well. And the imagery suggested by this choice of words speaks volumes -as it should.
Imagination is more important than knowledge
An index of all articles in this blog can be found here.