We must have the right to be wrong

In the Carafa Chapel in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva​ in Rome, there is a statue of the revered Catholic figure St Thomas Aquinas with the Latin inscription, Sapientiam sapientum perdam.

The inscription translates as “I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise”.

Who were the wise?

The wise were scientists and philosophers who thought that knowledge could be acquired through observation of phenomena, engaging in inductive reasoning to make general statements about the phenomena, and then moving through to increasing higher levels of generality to form what we now call theories.

From theories testable hypotheses could be derived which the “wise” would seek to falsify or disprove in experiments.

Hypotheses not falsified (disproven) added to the credibility of the theory (or modified it in certain ways).

This became “the scientific method” and its application has helped all branches of science to progress.

Aquinas knew this was wrong; the church said so and taught so.

Knowledge did not come from reasoning; it came from God. And God said that the sun went around the Earth whatever the observations of “scientists” might say to the contrary. They were blasphemers and heretics, people whose views had to be expunged from society lest they corrupt more people.

Fortunately, we don’t accept Aquinas’s theory of knowledge anymore (nor his cosmology).

However, since at least the 1930s we have seen much pseudo-science; findings that seem to have the trappings of genuine inquiry but on close examination are not fully in accordance with the principles of the scientific method.

The late Professor Sir Karl Popper assailed the propagators of such work as perverting science and thought their aims were ideological, not scientific.

He reserved particular contempt for Marxists and their fellow travellers who wanted to use science for propaganda, not for education or learning, or to promote freedom (see The Open Society and its Enemies).

Today, if left unchallenged, cancel culture, de-platforming speakers, or decrying anyone who strays from the “correct” ideological line will lead inevitably to a denial of free speech rights.


People will become afraid to exercise those rights.


How can that ever be good?

Misuse of science and intellectual falsehoods in the name of “truth” and “for the greater good” undermined democratic values and open debate, he argued.

These days there is a lot of “this is the official line, which shall not be questioned, and is indeed unquestionable because the science is settled”. For ‘‘science’’ equally read ‘’history” or ‘’truth’’.

I don’t think that nutters and people who are plainly wrong should be allowed free rein to peddle complete nonsense which could alarm the public, but I am not sure I want to be overly vigorous about stamping out their views. Continue reading


  • John Bishop is an experienced journalist across all media, business, economics, politics features, and profiles. He also has an interest in travel and writes at www.eatdrinktravel.co.nz
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