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Ridiculous History: 3 Times Society Refused to Accept Books on New Science


It's not just fictional books that get burned or yanked from school libraries. Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" and other scientific texts have seen and continue to see pushback from the public. David Madison/DrPAS/Wikimedia Commons/Getty
It's not just fictional books that get burned or yanked from school libraries. Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" and other scientific texts have seen and continue to see pushback from the public. David Madison/DrPAS/Wikimedia Commons/Getty

Banning books has been happening for longer than the world might care to admit.

These bans aren't limited to fiction, though. The world of science has had its fair share of work shunned by the society it hoped to enlighten.

These three cases prove that no good idea goes unchallenged.

1. "The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican" by Galileo

This book, famous for laying out the Copernican theory that Earth revolved around the sun, was so controversial when it was published in the early 1600s that the author, Galileo Galilei, was charged and convicted of heresy. The Inquisition interrogated the almost 70-year-old man for 18 days until he offered to correct some of his theories in his next book. The pope was unmoved by this outcome and ordered the astronomer put under house arrest for the rest of his life.

2. "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" by Charles Darwin 

This might be the most infamous book on our list. Critics soon equated this biological theory with atheism during a time when that was anathema. It was difficult for some in religious communities to reconcile a belief in heavenly creation with the notion that man (and all other organisms) descended from another creature. The book and Darwin's teachings have only gotten more controversial in society in the intervening years, despite the scientific communities eventual embrace of natural selection. It's been banned in numerous cities, states, and countries. In fact, Tennessee had a law on the books from 1925 to 1967 forbidding any of Darwin's teaching to be used in classrooms. It's still a hot topic today, more than 150 years later.

3. "A homogeneous Universe of constant mass and growing radius accounting for the radial velocity of extragalactic nebulae" by Georges Lemaître

Although not a book, this 1927 article penned by Lemaître gave the world what would become known as the Big Bang theory. It encountered problems similar to those of Darwin's "Origin of Species" as it dealt with the creation of the universe. Ironically, Lemaître was a Belgian priest as well as an astronomer. The idea of the Big Bang has been controversial ever since. Even Albert Einstein was skeptical of the theory of an expanding universe. Lemaître died in 1966, shortly after learning of the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, a key point of evidence to prove his theory about the beginnings of the universe.

Harry Keller, a scientist and educator for Smart Science, told us by email that, for the most part, there's a very good reason for the way society traditionally challenges new science. Namely, that's how science works.

"You can find old geology books that suggest that the Earth's crust is unmoving. At one time, prions were considered to be a fantasy by almost every biologist. The 'Big Bang' was challenged all over the place," Keller says. All of these things were settled science that had been challenged repeatedly, and the scientific community was able to come up with better explanations and proof. But sometimes, the reasons for the banning are far less than scientific.

Want to read some banned books? You might like this list of frequently challenged children's books compiled by the American Library Association. 



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