Some people have told me, that the medieval people knew, that the earth we are standing on is a sphere. This can be traced down, for example, from some medieval illustrations in which the planet is depicted as round. The interresting question is, who in the medieval times was aware of this? Was it common knowledge among the vast masses of people, or was it only privy knowledge of the University professors who knew about the Ptolemic model of the Universe? What was their understanding of it?

I have also been told, that Galileo Galilei was NOT martyred for science, because the medieval church was NOT opposed to science. Yes I know, put like this, it sounds a bit weird and it is a bit of a simplification of the idea, but essentially what I have been told to think. Well, he was not burned on the stake, because he recanted his statements, so I guess it must be so. Is it? The interresting question here is, who in modern times even knows why poor Galileo was accused of herecy? Most people have heard his name…

Galileo Galilei was accused of herecy because of his heliocentric views in 1633. He recanted, and was not sentenced.ย  Eventually heliocentricity was lifted from the cencorship list of the Catholic church in 1758 (only some hundred years after the trial, but who is counting) and allready in 1992 (less than 400 years after the trial) the pope John Paul II apologized the treatment of Galileo!!! Besides, today we know, that Galileo was indeed wrong – The sun is not the center of the universe.

According to a couple of recent studies 66% of people in Europe and 74% in the US are aware that the earth revolves around the sun. In these studies it was also revealed that only 66% of Europeans and some 48% of US population were aware, that human beings have evolved from other animal species. Or to be more precise, these are the persentages of people who got it right when asked. This essentially means that a good part of them only managed to guess right. While all the people who got it wrong obviously did not know these elementary scientific facts, there is a group of people who also have little, or no clue, but managed to make the right guess. Even accepting that these studies do not tell the entire story, I find this alarming. Do you?

Have you ever wondered about sci-fi movies where the film makers obviously could not understand the difference between a galaxy and a solar system? Or why on earth do the alien species from other planets look like humans with rubber masks on? Well, call me a geek, but I have. No longer do I have to wonder such blatant idiocies. If almost half of the audiences even here in the western world have no clue wether the earth revolves around the sun, or that human beings are animals evolved under specific conditions from other species on this particular planet, then none of such stupid and illogical things should disturb them a bit. And after all it is all just entertainment.

The really frightening thing is, that these are more or less democratic countries where we, the adult population are all voters. When we are voting for candidates do we understand what sort of leaders we are choosing? If the basic understanding of science is this poor, the choises made can be really bad. It is paradoxical how far our science has taken the limits of human information and how little of it the common man understands.

Our position in the universe, or our origins as a species may seem like trivial things in modern politics, but when people are choosing representatives to make decisions about things like nuclear power, military funding, climate change, euthanasia, abortion, or any other decision involving ethics and science, then what kind of choises will be made and on what grounds? Their personal beliefs in their preferred superstition (read religion)? Can we expect the politicians to make informed choises based on known facts, if they are chosen by and representing people who have no clue of the most basic facts?

How important is this lack of information and understanding of it? As whith any choises we have to make,ย  whith better information better choises are made. Correct?

*The research about European knowledge was an Eurobarometer from 2005 and the research about US science knowledge was a study by the National Science Foundation on Public Attitudes and Understanding 2012.