Opponents of astronomy on Mauna Kea often denigrate astronomy in a way that they would find totally objectionable if the same tactics were reversed and directed towards their cause. They repeatedly use words like meaningless, industrial, and claim the observatories exist only for profit. Those who make such claims fail to understand astronomy in much the same way they accuse telescope supporters of failing to understand their beliefs about Mauna Kea.
They neglect to think that destroying the telescopes atop Mauna Kea would be seen as an act of desecration of enormous magnitude. To millions of people across the world the great telescopes represent something far more than simple buildings and telescopes. They are a concrete symbol for hope, an indication that not all is dismal and lost in this world, that one can still dream.
Each day we watch news of war that leaves cities laid waste, brutal sectarian violence, of economic strife, the wholesale destruction of the environment. When seeing news of people killing each other for no reason beyond minor differences in beliefs, it is so easy to despair that humanity is doomed to a dismal future.
Can we do better?
In Facebook posts and newspaper website comments there has been far too much hatred. I see horrible racist and bigoted slurs directed at telescope opponents. I also see the same directed at telescope supporters, with every bit as much racism and hatred. There is a valid conflict here, but in this conflict a little of the darkness that lives in all of us can so easily appear.
To value astronomy and its work on Mauna Kea, you have to value the importance of “Ike,” knowledge, and its quest for a greater understanding of the universe we live in. – Chad Kalepa Baybayan
I grew up reading Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov, watching shows like Star Trek and Firefly. Often the underlying theme of these bits of science fiction was the potential for good in humanity. Good science fiction asks hard questions about the future, about where do we go from here. It can also give hope that we can build a better world. Like so many, my view of the world was in part shaped by those stories. I still hold that hope.
Across the globe there are thousand upon millions of people who look to the stars, who follow the triumphs of NASA or the ESA in probing the planets, who cheer the confirmation of a basic subatomic particle. To these people the telescopes, the spacecraft, the great particle accelerators are just as sacred as any church or temple. They represent all that is good in humanity, they represent hope of a better future, of an effort to learn and understand the universe we live in.
Working in astronomy you see amazing things. Not just images of distant stars and galaxies, but of people at their best. Any gathering of astronomers, or the engineers who build the great telescopes, will see people of many nationalities, races, and religions working together. Teams working on a single problem may include people who’s countries are at war. In the face of a vast universe our petty differences pale into insignificance, no one sees this more clearly than astronomers. There is hope.
To so many these telescopes are sacred.
Some might object to my using the word sacred in quite these terms to refer to science and astronomy, as it does not contain the traditional religious meaning. I would respond that my usage is accurate, in using this term I am referring to how one regards the world, what things and places they see as important, where one places their hopes and dreams.
Mauna Kea holds a special place on Earth, as it stands as a place of peace and Aloha, not just for Hawaiʻi but for the world. Many sacred places of the world hold ancient wisdom bound in ritual and ceremony for this time in our history, to help us all heal ourselves and the world. Mauna Kea is one of those places. – Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea is sacred to some, who believe that this place is pivotal, the piko of creation. Others believe that the telescopes are sacred, a testament to the finest aspirations of mankind, to learn and explore, to answer the great questions. It is a mistake, made by many in this controversy, to deny either of these views.