Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Joe Cullen of Alliance wrote a letter to the editor of the Akron Beacon Journal about guns and the NRA and PUCO, which might be good, but he so incredible annoyed me with his first sentence that I could not read on any further.  It was an unwarranted and ignorant attack on the Church.
Here is the sentence in part:  “. . .[it] makes me wonder if we are revisiting the times of Galileo and Pope Urban VIII.  That subject is a fear or hatred of science.”
This fallacy is kicked around so often it is thought of in the collective memory as true.  It is like Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” the story of the hunch-backed diabolical king of England that is such a good story that if it isn’t true, it should be.  Yet it is not.  In fact, Richard might have been one of the finest kings ever to sit on the thrown.  But who really cares in the light of such a good and well believed story?


So it is with Galileo and the Church.  To begin with, is it not odd that this is practically the only story that pops into anybody’s mind demonstrating a rocky relationship between the Church and science?  How many other monumental stories can you sight from history?  This is not an example of a war between science and faith, this is an example of the exception to the rule. 
Further, Galileo did not invent the idea that the sun was the center of our solar system.  It had been well known as a theory for centuries.  Further, a tiny bit of research would have revealed to Mr. Cullum that Galileo did not prove anything.  It was a theory that he put forth as fact that could not be proven by the scientific method.  Yet, despite warnings from his fellow scientists he put the theory forth as fact.  Further, he was wrong in stating that it was fact that the sun was the center of the universe. 
Yet still he might have been fine had he remained in the area of science.  Yet he pushed into areas of theology making bold statements using his (only partially correct, un-provable theory) as a means to dictate to Scripture scholars how they must interpret Scripture.  Then after many cautions and (perhaps inadvertently) publically humiliating the pope and alienating the scientific community, he was placed under house arrest under the most generous of circumstances. 
Could the whole thing been handled better?  Yes on both sides.  Was it the hatred of science that it is always carted out as demonstrating?  Not even remotely.
Far from being hostile to the science, the Church embraces science, has produced great scientists, has supported great science.  From the microscope to the telescope to the Big Band theory (as “invented” by a Jesuit priest) the Church helped invent, fund, support, and teach great science.  It is all there in history, methodically ignored by “historians” and misinformed writers of letters to the editor who try to make a point using false “truths”.


One thing that I don’t blame Mr. Cullun for is the title of his letter which was undoubtedly chosen by an equally misinformed editor.  “Medieval Thinking”  Not to say that the Medieval period was all a piece of cake, it had some serious problems.  But it was not all the vacuous black hole of human intellegence that light weight historians like to believe (and teach) that it was.  From this period we have the birth of universities, hospitals, modern forms of government, unparalleled opportunities for women to be educated and placed in positions of power (through the Church).  Architecture flourished.  Mathematics and philosophy and the intellectual life in general made great strides.  Countries were brought under leadership making crime and violence in a unified Christendom less of a threat.  Art takes on new importance. 
It is easy to look back on an age and point out all the bad aspects of it.  One can only guess how we will be viewed: the bloodiest centuries ever, wars, mass shootings, abortion, pollution, the highest ever incarceration rate, the suppression of religion, one third of the world starving and one third of the world eating itself to death, the baseness of modern entertainment . . . the list could go on and on.  So to use the term “Medieval” as a derogatory word is both pointless and misleading.  One could come up with a very plausible argument that the editor disagrees with the writer of the article sighting that he believes the Galilean controversy was enlightened.
(Can you tell I’ve been brooding about this for two days?)
The irony here is that Mr. Cullun and the paper did exactly what Galileo did (and I fulfilled the role of the pope.)  They state things as fact, based on faulty information, when they could have done so much good.  And I felt I had to set the record straight.  I would not, however place them under house arrest, I would take their pens away until they attended a middle school history course.

 Maybe they could start here.


Anonymous said...

I think the entire way we communicate has changed. Communication must be strongly punctuated with shock value and quality entertainment or else no one will pay attention. Who cares if it's true as long as it's entertaining? It seems like that was his approach. Facts are out of fashion.

Pat said...

Nicholas Copernicus, a university-trained Catholic priest dedicated to astronomy, was acquainted with the sun-centered cosmos of the ancient Greek Aristarchus. In 1543 he published his theory, which predated Galileo. The truth of Galileo's situation cannot be adequately explained in a 30-second sound bite.

MaryofSharon said...

Sigh...we moderns are are so arrogant and so foolish as be convinced that we are the most brilliant generation of all time.

Reminds me of an essay by Peter Kreeft on "Progressivism" where he uses C.S. Lewis's vocabulary to describe this phenomenon as "chronological snobbery".

Kreeft writes, "A clever debater once accused William F. Buckley of having 'one of the finest minds of the thirteenth century.' Buckley replied, 'I don't deserve that compliment.' Buckley was not a progressivist; his debate partner was."

Bring on the "Medieval Thinking"! I'll take Thomas Aquinas over Peter Singer anyday.

Grant Winney said...

Good post Father. And nice reference @MaryofSharon. I've heard the term 'chronological snobbery' before, probably reading something about Kreeft. There's definitely a strong tendency in our current culture to assume we are wiser than any generation past, simply because now is later than before. Technologically, we're incredibly advanced... in other ways we're no further along (or actually further behind) than those that preceeded us by thousands of years (think St Augustine).

W.C. Hoag said...

It sounds as though Mr. Cullen needs to take a good graduate-level course on medieval Church history. Does anyone know someone who teaches this? ;-)