The Power of False Doctrines


The earth does not revolve around the sun, proclaimed the Catholic Church leaders in the 1633 trial of Galileo Galilei.  Galileo was on trial for heresy, accused of reinterpreting the Bible which was forbidden. If convicted he would be executed.

Galileo had scientific proof that the earth revolved around the sun. The Church leaders had their own experts who cited the Bible and Church doctrine to support their earth-centric theory.  Why did the Church leaders cling to their false doctrine long after it was proven to be false?

The Catholic Church faced an existential threat in the 17th century on two fronts. On the scientific front, experiments conducted by European scholars were exposing fallacies in Church doctrines.  Meanwhile, the Protestant Reformation challenged the religious authority of the Catholic Church by exposing the Church’s corruption.

If the Catholic Church admitted that Protestants were right about corruption and Galileo was right about the earth’s orbit, what else was it getting wrong?

The Catholic Church leaders reacted as anyone would who faces a loss of prestige and therefore power.  They ordered Galileo to stop experimenting and to not talk about his discoveries on pain of death. Protestants were tortured and murdered in a forlorn effort to stop the spread of their teachings. The Church clung to its discredited doctrines in hopes of preserving its power, only to find its power and authority permanently diminished.

Now let’s fast forward to today’s debate about climate change.

The climate change deniers have staked their personal and professional reputations on the idea that climate change is a hoax. Over the years, several administrations and Congress have ordered government agencies to stop collecting and publishing data that might undermine their arguments denying climate change. They intimidate their opponents by withholding government research dollars.

Climate deniers face the same existential threat that the Catholic Church faced less than 400 years ago. If they are wrong about climate change, what else are they getting wrong?  Since the climate change debate is now inextricably entwined into our political debates, climate deniers fear an irreversible decline in power and authority.

The fear of lost prestige and power keeps doctrines alive long after they are proven to be false.


About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see HR Compliance Jungle ( which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my new history blog, History By Norma, (available at To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (

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