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In June 1633, the Inquisition delivered its sentence on Galileo Galilei. The Italian astronomer and physicist was guilty of heresy for having advocated the theory of heliocentrism, i.e. that Earth and other planets revolve around the Sun. The heresy was due to heliocentrism conflicting with the scriptures and the geocentric proposition - that the Sun, the Moon, stars and planets orbit Earth.

Galileo had been influenced by the doctrine of Nicolaus Copernicus, who had challenged the orthodoxy of geocentricism that Ptolemy had expounded in the second century. For well over a thousand years, therefore, the accepted wisdom was wrong, and it was to be proven to be wrong.

It has been suggested that the Galileo affair was instrumental in bringing about the Age of Enlightenment. By itself, it wasn’t, but it was a contributory factor. Four years after the Inquisition’s sentence, “Discourse on the Method” was published. René Descartes’ proposition - “Cogito, ergo sum” (”I think, therefore I am”) - was to be fundamental to Western philosophy, and it has been argued that it was Descartes who signalled the arrival of the Age of Enlightenment.

Scientific method and reason were cornerstones of the Age of Enlightenment. For Descartes, reason and knowledge were the basis of challenging doubt, but rational thought didn’t somehow suddenly start with Descartes, and it would be wrong to argue that those who had lined up against Galileo and brought about the subsequent sentence of the Inquisition were completely irrational. Just thirty years ago, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) stated that at the time of the Galileo affair, the church had “kept more closely to reason than Galileo”. The sentence was rational and it was just.

Ratzinger was widely criticised for this, but he stated a truism in terms of what had been accepted knowledge, despite Copernicus having planted more than just a seed of doubt. However, it was this very existence of doubt that Descartes was concerned with and which led him to found a philosophical method of eliminating statements and types of knowledge, for which there was doubt, in arriving at certainties that could not be doubted.

To this systematic approach to thought and the establishment of truths was added the Scientific Revolution, which embraced Copernicus and Isaac Newton’s “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” in 1687. Newton’s principles of rational mechanics were allied with Cartesian rationality in providing scientific and philosophical bases for the Age of Enlightenment and for, among other things, establishing certainties that could not be doubted regarding planetary motion. Galileo was to be vindicated, even if the church was reluctant to admit this.

Also referred to as the Age of Reason, a further aspect of this movement from the seventeenth century was to challenge superstition. To an extent, it was successful. For example, it came to be accepted that so-called witches did not have supernatural powers and were not capable of communing with Satan. But superstition certainly wasn’t about to be eliminated, and nor has it ever been, superstition having remained a firm basis upon which conspiracy is built.

Ironically, the Age of Enlightenment spawned an organisation which was opposed to superstition, religious influence and the abuse of state powers, and yet - because it was a secret society - aroused a great deal of superstition and fear of conspiracy. This secret society was the Illuminati, who over time have been perceived as a model for an elite which is intent on controlling the world; hence, the notion of the New World Order (NWO), a secretive totalitarian world government.

NWO conspiracy theorists are among those who are convinced that Covid-19 is not what it is made out to be. Accordingly, the virus is a hoax. It is a plandemic, a scamdemic. But if it does actually exist, then it is the product of 5G networks, a mass population-control scheme, or a biological weapon; there is a seemingly limitless supply of explanations and an equally limitless number of individuals and groups determined to prove that what we are told about Covid isn’t true.

When Descartes was searching for a means of arriving at certainties that could not be doubted, he didn’t have the internet to worry about. Eliminating statements and types of knowledge, for which there was doubt? Where would he have started? Newton’s rationality? How would this have fared with rational science that, even if it is without doubt, would be classified as fake and with fake science taken as being without doubt by conspiracy entrepreneurs and theorists? There again, there is some scientific doubt, or certainly has been; just take Covid management and masks, another matter subject to a control conspiracy.

Covid is only one example, but it is an extreme example of the existence of a form of pre-Enlightenment, or Disenlightenment, for which conspiracy is the new superstition but isn’t without its own distorted rationality. After all, and as Joseph Ratzinger suggested, Earth at the centre of the universe was perfectly rational.