Thank you to all who entered the “Professor Pompous” contest. There were a number of really good entries and choosing the best was not easy. But that award goes to V. J. Torley for his entry. Dr. Torley, please contact me via email to arrange for shipment of your prize.
This is not the end of the story. I have used ideas from several of the entries and I plan to send the letter set forth below today.
First, to re-set the background:
A few months ago a young university student contacted my law office seeking help in a dispute she was having with a university here in Colorado. [To protect my client’s privacy, I am using neither her name nor the name of her university. ] The week before she had voiced opposition to Darwinism to her biology professor, who proceeded to scream at her, denigrate her religious views, and generally demean and humiliate her in front of the rest of the class. After hearing her story I sent a demand letter to the university seeking redress. Good news. We resolved the matter on very favorable terms.
One of the terms we insisted on was a letter of apology from the professor. This is the full text of that letter:
With regard to our conversation about your belief that evolution is not true, I apologize to you for appearing to denigrate your obviously strongly held beliefs. I had not intended to offend you in any way regarding your faith or your world view. That this was so perceived by you, I again offer my sincerest apology.
In making this apology to you, I am reminded of what happened to Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) – considered by many to be the father of modern science. In 1610 Galileo determined through his telescope and various mathematical calculations, that the Earth moved around the sun, rather than the other way around which was, according to the Catholic Church ‘false and contrary to Scripture.’
In 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found ‘vehemently suspect of heresy’, forced to recant heliocentrism, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. As he was led away to begin his confinement, he said (to no one in particular) ‘and yet it still moves’.
HERE IS MY RESPONSE TO PROFESSOR POMPOUS:
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Dear Dr. ________________:
I am writing in response to your June 1, 2011 letter to my client _________________, in which you apologized to her for “appearing” to denigrate her strongly held beliefs. Sir, we both know you did not merely “appear” to denigrate Ms. _________________beliefs. You specifically intended to use your position of authority as a platform from which to denigrate Ms. __________________ beliefs and humiliate her in front of her peers, and you accomplished your purpose. It saddens me that in your letter you decided to add mendacity to your boorish and abusive attack on your student.
You say you did not intend to offend Ms. _____________. Rubbish. I assume you are not an idiot, and only an idiot would not know that your words would demean and humiliate her, intimidate her into silence, and curb her natural desire for self expression in the face of the orthodoxy you represent. Do you really expect anyone to believe that it was an unfortunate and unintended side effect of your actions that she would feel hurt by the experience or perceive it as an assault on her personal dignity? Please do not insult our intelligence.
Finally, I cannot let your smug reference to Galileo go unchallenged. Firstly, as a matter of simple fact, your history is all wrong. Galileo never uttered the words you mistakenly placed in his mouth. I provide for your edification a primer on the matter under my signature.
More importantly, however, your letter illustrates an utter failure to grasp the significance of this figure from history. I will not spell it out for you. Instead, I urge you to go back and think about this one a little more. To assist you in that endeavor, please ask yourself and answer the following questions: As between Ms. ___________ and you: (1) who is the pope (i.e., the authority figure with all of the power in the relationship)? (2) Who speaks for an unyielding established orthodoxy? (3) Who holds the minority dissenting view? (4) Who was willing to challenge the entrenched orthodoxy at significant personal risk to herself?
But Galileo was right and his opponents were wrong!” you might respond. And that response would completely miss the point. The adherents of every entrenched orthodoxy believe not only that they are right, but also that everyone who challenges the orthodoxy is at least wrong if not wicked. Yet history is full of failed orthodoxies, collapsed paradigms, and discredited dogmas.
You are a high priest of the Church of Darwin. How easily you slipped into the role of inquisitor. You sniffed a hint of heresy from Ms. __________________, and you did not hesitate to put her on the verbal rack. In your letter you point to Galileo as a hero of free thought and expression against an entrenched orthodoxy. I hope you appreciate by now how richly ironic your appeal to Galileo is.
Barry K. Arrington
Primer on the Galileo Affair
In your letter you mentioned Galileo. Evidently you consider him to be your friend. You are sadly mistaken – both in your account of Galileo’s life and in your interpretation of his views.
Let’s begin with the trial of Galileo. It is a complete myth that as Galileo was led away to begin his confinement after being found suspect of heresy, he said, “And yet it still moves” (E pur si muove!), as you falsely claim. There is no evidence that Galileo actually said this or anything similar at his trial. The earliest biography of Galileo, written by his disciple Vincenzio Viviani, does not mention the phrase. The first account of the E pur si muove! legend dates to more than a century after Galileo’s death. The first record of the legend can be found in the Italian Library, a literary work composed by the Italian-born English literary critic Giuseppe Baretti, 124 years after Galileo’s trial.
You write that “In 1610 Galileo determined through his telescope and various mathematical calculations, that the Earth moved around the sun.” Nonsense. Galileo’s observations of the phases of Venus in 1610 merely proved that Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the cosmos, according to which all celestial bodies revolved around the Earth, was wrong. However, those observations did not prove that Galileo’s heliocentric model was correct. There were several alternative models to Galileo’s at the time, including various geo-heliocentric planetary models, in which some or all of the planets went around the Sun, which in turn went around a stationary Earth. Now, one of the predictions of Galileo’s heliocentric model was that the stars should vary in size as the Earth moved around the Sun, but, unfortunately, Galileo was unable to observe this “stellar parallax” effect through his telescopes. Because of Galileo’s failure to observe stellar parallax, the great majority of astronomers in Galileo’s time supported one of the various geo-heliocentric planetary models. The best observations of the day were thus on their side, not Galileo’s. The first successful measurement of stellar parallax did not take place until 1838, nearly 200 years after Galileo’s death, when Friedrich Bessel verified it for the star 61 Cygni, using a Fraunhofer heliometer at Konigsberg Observatory.
You, a professor of biology, scorn the invocation of the supernatural, and you look to Galileo, whom you revere as “the father of modern science,” in support of your naturalistic approach to science. Galileo is not your friend, professor. Galileo rises from his grave to condemn you, and to vindicate the young student whom you belittled in class.
First, it might interest you to know that Galileo remained a devout Catholic all his life. His famous aphorism, “The Bible was written to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go,” was not intended as a criticism of the Church, but was actually a citation from the writings of a cardinal of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Baronius, who made this statement in 1598, long before Galileo ever looked through a telescope (Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957, p. 136). Indeed, Pope Urban VIII sent his special blessing to Galileo as he was dying. After his death, Galileo was interred not only in consecrated ground, but within the church of Santa Croce at Florence.
“Even if Galileo was Catholic, those were his personal views,” you may object. “They have absolutely no relevance to his work as a scientist.” But wait, there’s more! Galileo believed in miracles, too. Take a look at his Letter to Madame Christina of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany: Concerning the Use of Biblical Quotations in Matters of Science (1615). In his letter, Galileo discusses the Biblical miracle in which Joshua commanded the Sun to stand still. What is interesting is that Galileo, the father of modern science, expressly affirms the reality of this miracle. The only point on which he differs from his Christian contemporaries is in his explanation of the mechanics of the miracle:
The sun, then, being the font of light and the source of motion, when God willed that at Joshua’s command the whole system of the world should rest and should remain for many hours in the same state, it sufficed to make the sun stand still. Upon its stopping all the other revolutions ceased; the earth, the moon, and the sun remained in the same arrangement as before, as did all the planets; nor in all that time did day decline towards night, for day was miraculously prolonged. And in this manner, by the stopping of the sun, without altering or in the least disturbing the other aspects and mutual positions of the stars, the day could be lengthened on earth — which agrees exquisitely with the literal sense of the sacred text
So the father of modern science believed in miracles – and not just private little miracles, but big, public spectacles that everyone could see, and whose occurrence was a matter of public record (Joshua 10:12-14). So much for Galileo’s alleged methodological naturalism.
It gets worse for you. It turns out that Galileo was something of an Intelligent Design theorist. I am deeply indebted to Michael Caputo for the following quotes, and I would like to express my sincere thanks to him, for his valuable research.
Galileo’s observations and meditations on God’s wonders led him to conclude: “To me the works of nature and of God are miraculous.” (Brunetti, F. Opere di Galileo Galilei. Torino: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 1964, p. 506.)
Poetic license, you say? I haven’t finished yet; there’s more. Galileo often mused on what he saw as the stunning manifestations of God’s creative wisdom. He was particularly impressed with birds and their ideal design for flight, and with fish and their perfect design for swimming in water:
God could have made birds with bones of massive gold, with veins full of molten silver, with flesh heavier than lead and with tiny wings… He could have made fish heavier than lead, and thus twelve times heavier than water, but He has wished to make the former of bone, flesh, and feathers that are light enough, and the latter as heavier than water, to teach us that He rejoices in simplicity and facility. (Sobel, Dava, Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love. Toronto: Viking Press, 1999, p. 99.)
So according to Galileo, God not only personally designed fish, but He also designed the bones, veins, flesh and feathers of birds, in exquisite detail.
To add insult to injury, it appears that Galileo,”the father of modern science,” was what the Darwinian philosopher Daniel Dennett disparagingly describes as a “mind-creationist”: he believed that the human mind was not the product of Nature, but must have been specially created by God. The human mind was, according to Galileo, one the greatest of God’s achievements: “When I consider what marvelous things men have understood, what he has inquired into and contrived, I know only too clearly that the human mind is a work of God, and one of the most excellent.” Yet the potential of the human mind “… is separated from the Divine knowledge by an infinite interval.” (Poupard, Cardinal Paul. Galileo Galilei. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1983, p. 101.)
Galileo saw himself as a man privileged by God. He believed that God, in His mercy, occasionally deigns to reveal a new insight to some chosen individual, thus augmenting the stock of knowledge revealed to humanity: “One must not doubt the possibility that the Divine Goodness at times may choose to inspire a ray of His immense knowledge in low and high intellects, when they are adorned with sincere and holy zeal.” (Chiari, A. Galileo Galilei, Scritti Letterari. Florence: Felice Le Monnier, 1970, p. 545.) Galileo saw himself as the recipient of great truths that were previously known only to God, and he expressed his gratitude to God for being the first to experience these revelations: “I render infinite thanks to God, for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries.” (Sobel, Dava, Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love. Toronto: Viking Press, 1999, p. 6.)
Seer. Supernaturalist. Miracle believer. Intelligent Design theorist. Mind creationist. This is your hero, Galileo Galilei. And he was a great scientist, too. In the future I hope you will be gracious enough to allow your students freely to hold and publicly defend the same views as those held by the father of modern science.