Thursday, October 15, 2009


It is fully realized that this post might easily be misinterpreted. What will be stated here is so contradictory to “common knowledge” as to label me anti-science. Yet I am quite the opposite. I have a great appreciation, gratitude, and respect for science. But like the Church, the scientific world is run by humans and so had its foibles and limitations both in leadership and in its following. And when taken to the extreme it is in every way like a religion.

It is interesting to look at what was taken as historical scientific fact in the past which has in more recent times been declared bunk. Yet those who held the position were militant and those who did not follow the absolute rule of science were considered kooks at best. We will find that today too. Some of our practices will seem to future generations barbaric and our beliefs in some scientific principles silly. In the current blind spot of the moment we will find it difficult to see what those positions are. Perhaps it will be embryonic stem cell experimentation. Yet are not the lines drawn between true believers and non-believers? That is part of the fun of being human. That is why should be careful not to take ourselves too seriously.

Science also has its collection of stories many of which are simply not true but are so firmly a part of our folklore as to seem obviously true to everyone. Finally some fairness in the Galileo case is surfacing in that it had less to do with science and religion butting heads than it did politics and wounded prides. Alfred Whitehead said of him, “He suffered an honorable detention and mild reproof, before dying peacefully in his bed.” Not to mention the Church paid him a pension all the while.

According to David Lindberg, former professor of the history of science writes, “One obvious myth is that before Columbus, Europeans believed nearly unanimously in a flat Earth – a belief . . . enforced by a medieval Church. . . The truth is that it’s almost impossible to find an educated person after Aristotle who doubts that the Earth is a sphere. In the Middle Ages, you couldn’t emerge from any kind of education, cathedral school or university, without being perfectly clear about the Earth’s sphericity and even its approximate circumference.”

Let us not forget to mention that it was the Church that began universities and that would have been the institution teaching these very things they are accused of suppressing.

So, in reading the book, “The Case for a Creator” by Lee Strobel I had to laugh when I came to the part saying how it was a myth that the Church suppressed all knowledge that the earth was not the center of the universe. Ptolemy, Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Dante, it was a very common thought that the earth was not the center of the universe. Why did I laugh? Because I already knew this. Well, I didn’t know it, I had all of the information and never put it together myself. The ancient writings – even opening my Bible to see early man’s image of what the universe was – none of these showed a universe circling around an all important earth. It was an insistence of the Enlightenment that the Church taught this scientific heresy.


But what have I to go on this? Other people’s writings and word. What do people have to go on science? Other people’s writings and word. We will never be able to reproduce a stem cell experiment in our kitchens nor prove the Resurrection though I am more willing to put my unqualified belief in the Church’s hat.

I trust science and scientists to do science – to make life better and help us understand more – not to design morals and ethics, not to give meaning and purpose to life, not to save my soul or give me everlasting hope.


Pat said...

When my son was young, I pointed out to him that new technology brought discoveries that contradicted "settled thought" but that "science" rarely said, "We used to think this [e.g. Saturn has 9 moons] and now we know that we were wrong. Saturn has 18 moons." They just put forth the new information and swept under the rug the fact that they were teaching us the wrong thing all along! Thanks also, Father, for giving the Galileo case a dose of truth.

Adoro said...

Great post Fr. V. Science is a merely intellectual virtue. It can be used for good, but can't reach the ultimate good. It can be used for evil...and it is. It's only a tool. And you're right...all we have to go on is other people's observations and discoveries, which, 100 years from now will have a different context.

We tend to live in this culture as if everything is known and discovered, but in looking over history as you have, we see that all we get is the snapshot in front of us.

What will we choose to do with it? In whose service do we place it?

That's the real question, isn't it?

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Great post...Loving it as a scientist. Science is a means to an end, not the end. Science should answer science questions. Science has no need to answer moral questions.

Mike said...

Well spoke! Those interested in more of the relationship between science and the Catholic church might enjoy The Catholic Laboratory.

Katy said...

An interesting article titled 'Evolution of a Theory' is included in the most recent Dayton Magazine - I thought you may find it interesting.