According to legend, after being forced to recant his support for heliocentrism before the Inquisition, Galileo muttered, “And yet it moves.” The implication is that no matter what the powerful men and institutions of the time had to say about natural reality, the earth still revolves around the sun. In the larger context, it means reality is that thing that does not go away when you stop believing in it.
The story of Galileo being forced to recant by the Church is taught to every schoolboy in America, mostly as a way to attack Christians. For the more sober-minded, the apocryphal version of events is an inflection point. Up to that time, the West was ruled more by custom, belief, and tradition. The scientific revolution, of which Galileo was a major part, was a significant change in Western history.
The lesson to be drawn from the story is that the enlightened society strives for open debate while the unenlightened one closes down debate. We advance as a species when we are free to examine the world and challenge old ideas. The great leaps in technology and culture starting with the scientific revolution are due to the willingness to challenge convention in order to better understand our world.
This brings us to a modern version of Galileo’s trial. This is happening on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Amy Wax has been credibly accused of heresy by the dean of the law school, Theodore Ruger. In a twelve-page letter to the chair of the faculty senate, he outlines the heresies of Professor Wax and demands that she be stripped of tenure and excommunicated from the academy.
The crimes of Professor Wax range from deviationism, where she lectures outside the approved gospel, to cavorting with Old Scratch himself. The devil in this case is Jared Taylor, the head of American Renaissance, an organization similar to the ACLU, but with a focus on people of European decent. According to Theodore Ruger, the Vincenzo Maculani in this story, these are crimes against the very nature of the academy.
Comparing Theodore Ruger to Vincenzo Maculani is unfair, as the latter was a brilliant and accomplished man. He was a skilled architect who was charged with building the defenses of Rome. He was well-read, given the task of reading every book published in Rome at the time. Maculani is credited with navigating Galileo through the process to avoid torture and a harsher punishment than he eventually received.
Mr. Ruger is just another oleaginous rumpswab, the sort that grow like weeds on the modern academy. Reading his letter, what comes to mind is the image of the mob howling for the head of the condemned, not the image of a thoughtful defender of the most important institution of the day. Mr. Ruger lacks Vincenzo Maculani’s humanity as it is clear he wants to torture Professor Wax for her heresy.
Of course, it must be said whenever this story comes up that the real story is much different from the one found in popular culture. Galileo got in trouble with the Pope by appearing to insult him and the Church in his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. The defender in the book of the Aristotelian geocentric view was named Simplicio, which was interpreted as “simpleton” by his audience.
This offended the Pope, who had asked Galileo to objectively present the two arguments without bias. Instead, it appeared to not only advocate for heliocentrism, but call the opponents stupid. The Pope was under pressure from unscrupulous schemers within the Church for his leniency toward the new men of science, so he was forced to punish Galileo for political reasons.
Here we find another parallel between the persecution of Professor Wax and the persecution of Galileo. The real motivation behind the charges against Galileo had little to do with his alleged heresy. It was about intrigues within the Church and the unscrupulous behavior of the science deniers behind these schemes. The Pope arrested Galileo as a defensive tactic against his real enemies.
We see the same forces at work in the modern academy. The persecution of Professor Wax is about internal politics. In his letter, Mr. Ruger goes to great lengths to show that he is a faithful science denier. The letter is clearly not written to sway those who value academic freedom or biological reality, but to promote himself to the community of science deniers on campus.
There is another parallel that must be noted. Galileo’s mistake was in appearing to reject the authority of the Church. He was on safe ground when he was merely presenting alternatives to current doctrine. Professor Wax has similarly challenged the authority of the fanatics on campus. Post-Marx culturalism may lack an anthropomorphic god, but the believers defend the faith as if commanded by God.
Of course, if Galileo had been more prudent, we would not have this important story to motivate the forces of reason in the battle against the forces of dullness. Much in the same way heliocentrism challenged dogma with regards to man’s relationship to nature and nature’s God, biological reality is challenging the post-liberal order and the many shibboleths required to maintain it.
That is what makes the persecution of Professor Wax important. She is planning to fight the inquisition and will no doubt refuse to recant. Like Galileo, she will face a stacked system with little hope of prevailing. Unlike Galileo, she will not benefit from having a learned and humane examiner like Vincenzo Maculani. Instead, she will face off against a hysterical dullard who will be forgotten after the inquiry.
What matters is not the final disposition of this particular case, but the larger meaning for the future of our society. Will the people in charge of the academy, allegedly the source of future leaders of society, side with the forces of darkness against the illuminating power of open inquiry and debate? Or will they further plunge the academy and, by extension, civil society into the darkness of irrational superstition?
The value of storytelling is that the storyteller teases out the important moral lessons from the mundane events of man. Galileo probably did not say, “E pur si muove,” at the end of his trial, but it makes the point. Perhaps one day after this inquisition has been concluded, a storyteller will claim that at the end of her trial, where professor Wax was condemned for heresy, she held up The Bell Curve and said, “But here we are.”
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