Friday, January 18, 2008

The Pope's Anti-Science Hit Piece

From the 1990 speech that got Pope Benny in trouble with the staff and students at La Sapienza university, interspersed with my Ordinary Language translation:

If both the spheres of conscience are once again clearly distinguished among themselves under their respective methodological profiles, recognizing both their limits and their respective rights, then the synthetic judgment of the agnostic-skeptic philosopher P. Feyerabend appears much more drastic. He writes: “The church at the time of Galileo was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Gaileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for motives of political opportunism.”

When Galileo was observing the rings of Saturn through his telescope, he was acting like a very scoundrel. Those inquisitors spanking him with switches? They were the real defenders of reason.

According to [Ernst] Bloch, the heliocentric system – just like the geocentric – is based upon presuppositions that can’t be empirically demonstrated. Among these, an important role is played by the affirmation of the existence of an absolute space; that’s an opinion that, in any event, has been cancelled by the Theory of Relativity. Bloch writes, in his own words:


Curiously, it was precisely Bloch, with his Romantic Marxism, who was among the first to openly oppose the [Galileo] myth, offering a new interpretation of what happened: The advantage of the heliocentric system over the geocentric, he suggested, does not consist in a greater correspondence to objective truth, but solely in the fact that it offers us greater ease of calculation. To this point, Bloch follows solely a modern conception of natural science. What is surprising, however, is the conclusion he draws: “Once the relativity of movement is taken for granted, an ancient human and Christian system of reference has no right to interference in astronomic calculations and their heliocentric simplification; however, it has the right to remain faithful to its method of preserving the earth in relation to human dignity, and to order the world with regard to what will happen and what has happened in the world.”

The difference between a heliocentric and earth-centered view of the world is merely instrumental. You can do more elegant calculations assuming that the Sun lies at the Center of the Universe. Whether the earth really orbits the sun, or vice's all relative. If that prick Galileo had recognized that simple point, those red hot irons would never have got shoved up his ass.

And it isn't just yer old Pope saying it; some German commie even agrees with me.

From the point of view of the concrete consequences of the turning point Galileo represents, however, C.F. Von Weizsacker takes another step forward, when he identifies a “very direct path” that leads from Galileo to the atomic bomb.

To my great surprise, in a recent interview on the Galileo case, I was not asked a question like, ‘Why did the Church try to get in the way of the development of modern science?’, but rather exactly the opposite, that is: ‘Why didn’t the church take a more clear position against the disasters that would inevitably follow, once Galileo had opened Pandora’s box?’

No Galileo, no nukes. Think about it. A lot of people these days say that the church should have deuced the little nerdlinger, not just stuck him in the pokey.

It would be absurd, on the basis of these affirmations, to construct a hurried apologetics. The faith does not grow from resentment and the rejection of rationality, but from its fundamental affirmation and from being inscribed in a still greater form of reason …

Not that I necessarily think that. But I'm just gonna let it hang there: no Galileo, no nukes.

Yer Pope, over and out.


Ti-Guy said...

I'm sure it all made much more sense in the original German.

Jay said...

I expect this pope to start opening Lebensborn throughout the catholic world to ensure those muzies don't outbreed them. I bet Suzanne at BIG Blue Wave will be the executive director of the first one in Canada.

SUZANNE said...

Jay I'm already working on it. I have a bun in the oven.

You are too kind. :D

MJ: You're not even addressing the points the pope is trying to make through the secular historians.

Working secular historians who study Catholic history tend to be kinder than the general public on the Catholic Church, precisely because they have access to the facts of the case, and no, Galileo was not tortured during his hearings. Most people have a mythologized view of Catholic history-- lots of dark motifs, many of which originated in the 18th century Enlightenment. History has progressed since then, but the general public often doesn't follow.

He's basically saying there's more to the Galileo case that people see, and that the inquisition had a point regarding the way Galileo went about making theological points.

bigcitylib said...

Suzanne, Ratzinger also insinuates that Galileo (or at least the turning point he represents) gave us The Bomb. Booga Booga! Bad scientists! Bad!

He doesn't understand Feyerabend either, who saw Galileo as his uber scientist/trickster figure. The quote he uses is meant to be ironic.

SUZANNE said...

The pope is not speaking against science. He is simply saying that Galileo introduce the idea of relativity that led to the develop of the theory of relativity and ergo, the atomic bomb.

In other words, there's more to a scientific development that meets the eye.

Ti-Guy said...

Well, it's agreed then. No one has the slightest clue what the Pope was talking about.

Steve Bloom said...

Interesting. I had thought that the math Galileo used had much of its origin in the development of artillery, which one might also think would be in a slightly more direct line with the A-bomb. Did the church of the time have a position on artillery? If memory serves, the holy army (oh how I love irony) was fully-equipped in that regard. Also, the elliptical references to the math being a little difficult seems to be trying too hard to portray the epicycle effort as something other than a *complete failure*. So is this speech also a papalicious attack on the entirety of modern mathematics?

SUZANNE said...

I think the main idea is that Galileo introduced the notion of relativity to the culture. In the medieval worldview, the universe was closed and fixed, and the earth was at the centre of the universe. The heliocentric theory introduced the idea that movement was relative-- the sun *seemed* to be moving around the earth, but really it's relative to the earth's positioning. In the context of the day, that was somewhat controversial. The Church was leary of this kind of relativism as it was believed that the moving away from philosophical absolutism was the origin of the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent relativisation of philosphy (relatively speaking, of course). That's why you had a resurgence of Thomism and Aristotleianism in the Counter-Reformation (1550-1650), and the Dominicans who ran the inquisition were operating in this line of thinking-- a closed, philosophically airtight universe, so to speak. Galileo's challenge wasn't perceived simply as a challenge towards to the Bible, but also towards Aristotleian philosophy,which is at the root of much of Church teaching. I can see how Galileo's introduction of relativity in motion could be linked to Einstein's theory that everything in the universe is relative to the speed of light.

The Church had no problem with artillery or even Galileo's heliocentric theory as a mathematical theory. What was at the centre of controversy was whether Galileo could assert it in the face of literal biblical interpretation. The Church never had a doctrine on geocentricism, but literal biblical interpretation pointed towards a geocentric worldview, and before Galileo could be acquitted, he would have to show that scientific foundations of his view-- which failed to convince the inquisition.They weren't going to be convinced because they were hardcore Aristotleians. Throw into the mix a heavily-politicized relationship between Pope Urban and Galileo that went sour.

So is this speech also a papalicious attack on the entirety of modern mathematics?

Not in the least. I understood his speech as an attack on the idea that science and technology are at the root of all our knowledge and understanding. There's more to knowledge that the empirical.

bigcitylib said...

Suzanne wrote:

"I think the main idea is that Galileo introduced the notion of relativity to the culture. In the medieval worldview, the universe was closed and fixed, and the earth was at the centre of the universe."

Except, that despite what Bloch writes, I don't think you can pin this on Galileo. Heliocentrism simply and merely switches the places of Sun and Earth. As far as I can recall, the Universe is still closed (finite), in that it still consists of the Solar System and nothing beyond.

SUZANNE said...

But the centrality of the earth becomes relative. That's represents a shift in mentality. No longer is the earth at the centre of things. It's not the fixed point by which everything else is judged.

bigcitylib said...

Okay, but without trying to quibble, there is (I think) still a fixed point. Its now the Sun, which is the Centre of the Universe, until someone discovers that the stars are other Suns.

And in any case, what Bloch seems to be arguing is that heliocentric system actually gives rise to the notion of absolute space, and THIS has been superseded by relativistic space, and the theory of relativity is what allows you to argue that Galileo had one perspective and the inquisition another, just as valid.

I am beginning to lean towards Ti-Guy's "Gibbering Pope" theory.

bigcitylib said...

And, Suzanne, congratulations.

SUZANNE said...

Let me refer to the convenient plain English paraphrase in the comments section of the lecture:

"According to Feyerabend it was really about the social and ethical effects of ceasing to regard human beings as the central value in the world. Feyerabend said that those who have rewritten history to ignore this point have done so for their own political motives rather than from any truly objective view.

Then we have Carl Friedrich von Weizs├Ącker - who was part of the German Nuclear Energy Project during World War II that tried to develop the first nuclear bomb – who was even more speciifc in his judgment. He said that the Atomic Bomb was an inevitable eventual consequence of rejecting the absolute value of human diginty implied by uncritically accepting Galileo’s inverted world view."

I sometimes wish the popes (Benedict and JPII) could just say things in plain English (or Latin?). In B16's defense, the "speech" was part of an academic book, and this is how academics communicate.

SUZANNE said...

Thank you. :D

Ti-Guy said...

I am beginning to lean towards Ti-Guy's "Gibbering Pope" theory.

Its not so much gibbering as suitably obscurantist to permit Catholics to project whatever they want on to it. Those who revere the Pope will see it as profound, while those who don't (ie. me) see it as the contrivance one expects from the doctrinal Pez-Dispenser of this very limited man.

Anonymous said...

While the Imams preach worldwide domination under sharia law,

while fatwa's are issued for the death of "infidels"

while women are flogged for improprieties and gays are stoned for being who they are

BCL goes after.....that's right....the Catholic church, for their backwardness on scientific doctrine.

With the rapid rise of christianity in continental Africa, do folks here not yet realize that your identity politics are coming full circle.

Going after the religion of third world Africans.

Tsk tsk.

Ti-Guy said...

Oh, fuck...shut up.

Anonymous said...

Great comments suzanne.

- Paul S

Anonymous said...

The fascist ti-guy attempting to stifle debate.

How very "progressive" of him.

Maxum said...

Very interesting interpretation, but given the extent of historical error in your paraphrase, plus an obsession with 'religion-vs-science' instead of 'did Galileo have good evidence for his claims' I guess you don't have the rational mindset or scientific background to understand the pope's statement.

It would take a very sloppy scientist to maintain that Galileo's position could be proved by the observational data that Galileo had available to him. The key piece of evidence for heliocentricism wasn't obtained until late in the 18th century!

Blogs like this undermine the authority that science should enjoy. If the word 'religion' makes you abandon reason for rabid emotion, you ain't no scientist. You're just another zealot of the sort who, you claim, sticks red hot irons up scientists' asses.