‘Heretic’ is a label worn by those who express disagreement with doctrines current to their time. History overflows with names of those who wore that label and endured chastisement, condemnation, imprisonment, or death for heresy. A scientist is often someone who can demonstrate why his or her heresy is true, whether or not permission is granted to make that demonstration.
What if the setup could be reversed? What if those accused of heresy were those who condemned the demonstrations without showing why they were false? It could be called ‘heresy against reality’, and would be closer to the truth than the way we do things now. How would we deal with heresy in that setup?
It likely would depend on who we put in charge. Going by historical methodology, the churches would choose to torture a confession out of the accused, and then set his/her body afire to provoke an early taste of Hell. If torture failed to elicit a confession, further testing would, of course, never fail to demonstrate guilt. We’d dare not to complain. We did, after all, by a democratic election, put the churches in charge of science.
As hard as it is to think the vote may have gone the other way, what if scientists were put in charge of science? Would that change the process?
The courtroom might be much the same, but for the plainer garments. Tables, chairs, rows of pews, a podium facing the entrance, two short rows of pews facing the judge from his left, could provide seating for a jury or a choir, lawyers or deacons, inmates and witnesses, audience or congregation. The organ has been removed and stenograph sits near its place.
A debate begins. One by one, the eminent authorities in attendance step forward to state their hypotheses (known as ‘theories’ among the common folk sitting with me in the back row), voice opinions, make predictions, and answer questions. Once in a while, an argument breaks out, the moderator (sitting behind the podium) hammers her gavel and restores order. She looks angry from already having to call a guard twice to remove kibitzers from among the onlookers. She hates doing that. She said the first time that it makes it look like there’s something to hide. The entire trial is getting digitized, however, so she’s not all that concerned.
The jury will eventually make a decision. In this case, another hypothesis will be tested along with the one on trial. Will one win validation? Will the status quo be upheld? Nobody will know until all the data has been processed, although the church has already predicted that both heretics would drown if they were weighted with rocks, their hands tied, and tossed into the river.