Allen Jr. reports on Benedict XVIs appearance at Romes La
Sapienza this coming Thursday and a letter from 63 professors and
students, including the entire physics faculty, demanding that the
invitation be withdrawn.
…Their charge? That
Benedict XVI is an enemy of science and
Specifically, the letter points to a speech given on March 15, 1990, by
then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in Parma, Italy, in which he addressed
the notorious Galileo case. On that occasion, Ratzinger quoted Austrian
philosopher Paul Feyerabend that the churchs verdict against Gaileo
was rational and just.
The physics professors described themselves as indignant as scientists
faithful to reason, and as teachers who dedicate our lives to the
advancement and diffusion of knowledge. These words offend and
humiliate us. In the name of the secularity of science, we hope that
this incongruous event can still be cancelled.
In media interviews, the professors have also cited Benedicts recent
encyclical, Spe Salvi, as hostile to modern science.
…The 18-year-old speech cited by the popes critics, for example,
offered a reflection by Ratzinger on what he saw as a change in the
secular intellectual climate, re-evaluating Galileo as part of a
growing awareness of the ambivalence of scientific progress —
especially under the shadow of the bomb. In that context, Benedict
quoted the judgment of Feyerabend, an agnostic and skeptic, on Galileo,
along with similar statements from Ernst Bloch and C.F. Von Weizsacker.
Here’s what Feyerabend wrote, as quoted by Ratzinger: “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 Galileos doctrine. Its verdict against Gaileo was
rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for
motives of political opportunism.
Ratzinger actually called the statement drastic” — upon reflection, a
fairly striking term from a figure who, at the time, headed the
historical successor to the Inquisition.
Ratzinger concluded the speech by saying, 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 rooted in a still
greater form of reason.
In a nutshell, therefore, Benedict is being faulted by the physics
professors for quoting somebody elses words, which his full text
suggests he does not completely share. (Readers who remember Regensburg
can be forgiven a sense of dj-vu.)
Mr. Allen nailed that one since once again
the Pope is taken to task
for quoting someone else with much less than full agreement.
The part in Spe Salvi that they object to is:
Francis Bacon and those who
followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were
wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science. Such an
expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive.
Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more
human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is
steered by forces that lie outside it.
The objection to this is hard to fathom
unless they really do see science as replacing redemption.
The reason modern scientists chaff is the
same reason that Galileo did and both display the same arrogance.
Galileo got in trouble for leaving the sphere of science and
entering the sphere of theology with his interpretation of scripture.
He also left the sphere of science by teaching as fact what
would not be proven to way over a hundred years after his death.
Many modern scientists so much of the same by entering the
sphere of theology and trying to define what is ethical and what is
not. To demand the ability to experiment without moral
restraint is not science, but scientism. The truth is that it
is the scientist who would define theological truths and not the Church wanting to define scientific truths.