by ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco
The stereotype of the arrogant, leftist professor in the ivory tower occasionally shows up in real life in a manner that shows that the truth is stranger than fiction.
Recent case in point: a biology professor at a Colorado college (let’s call him Dr. Jones) hotly ridiculed a student (let’s call her Ms. Smith) in front of her entire class for her lack of belief in the theory of evolution. In order to avoid legal trouble for his immense misstep, he agreed to settle the case in advance of litigation. Part of the settlement required a written apology to the student. Here is the letter of “apology” from the professor, followed by a response from Alliance Defense Fund allied attorney Barry Arrington that can only be said to…um…set the record completely straight:
June 1, 2011
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”.
Response from ADF-allied attorney Barry Arrington:
July 27, 2011
Dear Dr. Jones:
I am writing in response to your June 1, 2011 letter to my client Ms. Smith, 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. Jones’s beliefs. You specifically intended to use your position of authority as a platform from which to denigrate Ms. Smith’s 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. Smith. 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. Smith 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. Smith, 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
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