Edward Pentin writing for the National Catholic Register:
VATICAN CITY — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has followed Pope Francis in writing a letter to a prominent Italian atheist in an attempt to engage non-believers in a dialogue about the faith.
The 11-page letter, extracts of which were published in Monday’s edition of the Italian daily newspaper, La Repubblica, is addressed to Professor Piergiorgio Odifreddi, an Italian mathematician, popular science writer and a member of the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
The Pope Emeritus was responding to a book Odifreddi wrote in 2011 titled Dear Pope, I’m Writing to You. The book was a critique of certain arguments and lines of thought found in the Benedict’s theological writings, beginning with his 1967 volume, Introduction to Christianity, and including his book Jesus of Nazareth that he wrote as Pope.
Now that news was cool enough, but the content of what he wrote is quite stunning.
But that hasn’t stopped Benedict XVI, who doesn’t hold back in revealing what he thinks of Odifreddi’s work. “My opinion about your book is, as a whole, rather mixed,” he says. “I profited from some parts which I read with enjoyment, but in other parts I was astonished at a certain aggressiveness and thoughtless argumentation.”
He notes that several times, Odifreddi refers to theology as science fiction, and says that in this respect, he is “surprised that you feel my book is worthy of discussion.” He responds by making the case for theology with four points.
First, Benedict asks: “Is it fair to say that ‘science’ in the strictest sense of the word is just math? I learned from you that even here, the distinction should be made between arithmetic and geometry. In all specific scientific subjects, each has its own form, according to the particularity of its object. What is essential is that a verifiable method is applied, excluding arbitrariness and ensuring rationality in their different ways.”
Second, he says that Odifreddi should “at least recognize that, in history and in philosophical thought, theology has produced lasting results.”
Third, he explains that an important function of theology is “to keep religion tied to reason and reason to religion.” Both functions, he adds, “are of paramount importance for humanity.” He then refers to his famous dialogue with the atheist and sociologist Jurgen Habermas, in which he showed that there are “pathologies of religion and, no less dangerous, pathologies of reason.”
“They both need each other and keeping them constantly connected is an important task of theology,” he adds.
Fourth, Benedict says that science fiction exists in the context of many sciences. He explains that he sees science fiction in a good sense when it shows vision and anticipates “true knowledge.” This is “only imagination,” he says, “with which we search to get closer to reality,” and he adds that a “science fiction [exists] in a big way just even within the theory of evolution.”
I just love this so much. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI takes a pejorative and dismissive swipe at theology and then engages the idea of science fiction in the limited scope that applies. I find it interesting he called theology “science fiction” and simply not just fiction. So much of SF takes scientific concepts in a speculative fashion. Plus really theology is rightly the queen of the sciences. Besides SF fans often comment on how SF gets some things right in the speculation of the future. The same goes for speculative theology which can get something right leading to the development of doctrine or lead to speculations that turns out to be simply incorrect.
Benedict then refers to the work of the prominent atheist Richard Dawkins. “The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins is a classic example of science fiction,” he says, and recalls how the French Nobel Prize winner and molecular biologist Jacques Monod inserted sentences into his work that, in Benedict’s view, could only have been science fiction.
We’ve seen so many “Richard Dawkins Slams Pope” headlines I say turnabout is fairplay here.
Read the whole thing: which also discusses priestly sex abuse and the Pope’s efforts regarding this “scorge of suffering.”
So what is up with the Pope and the Pope Emeritus dialoguing with Italian atheists quite publicly? Prominent atheists from other countries will soon be clamoring to be lightly rebuked in a papal fashion.
Strangely my odd imagination conjures these two popes singing “Anything you can do” as a duet.
Anything you can be
I can be greater.
Sooner or later,
I’m greater than you.
No, you can’t.
Yes, I can. No, you can’t.
Yes, I can. No, you can’t.
Yes, I can,
Yes, I can!
Anything you can preach
I can preach deeper
I can dialogue anyone
better than you.