Tag Archives: Catholic Church

Galileo’s revolutionary contribution

A good primary source

In An interesting question Thony C at The Renaissance Mathematicus responded to a comment at my post, Early history of science, with his own blog article. While it  mainly discusses the nature of censorship I would like to respond to some comments he made about the Galileo affair.

I will leave aside his/her tactic of blaming the victim – which seems quite fashionable among religious apologists writing on this issue today. For example Thony C claims:

“Nobody had been really bothered by the potential conflict until Galileo and Foscarini had made it into a real conflict by suggesting a theological solution thus creating a real problem for the Church;” “In his unconsidered and over hasty actions Galileo had forced the Church to ban the heliocentric theory.”

There is something unpleasant about excusing all the actions of a huge institution like the Catholic Church and its Inquisition and putting all the blame on an individual. Moreover an individual who is threatened with torture and sentenced to imprisonment! Soviet apologists no doubt blamed Andrei Sakharov for his confinement to the city of Gorky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for his expulsion from the country. That’s the trouble with apologists – their loyalties.

However, I would like to deal here with the so-called “theological solution” which Thony C presents as the real problem. Unfortunately this “crime” is usually not discussed in detail, yet apologists often wish to use it to divert attention away from the scientific issues. Was the theological problem simply non-acceptance of a geocentric model which was supposedly made factual by its presentation in the Christian bible? Was it just a matter of semantics, the hubris of including scientific questions within the domain of theology?

Thony C gives a clearer idea in his comment:

“The crime the these two men committed in the Church’s eyes was not that they propagated heliocentrism, which they did, but that they told the Church how to interpret the Bible and that was definitely a no, no.”

So was it a matter of interpretation, or more correctly who should do the interpreting and how?

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The Galileo myths

Dr Marc Crislip

For a while there I had wondered if I was the only one who noticed the current attempts of theistically motivated historians and philosophers to rewrite the history of the Galileo affair. But no, greater minds have come to a similar conclusions. I picked up this quote from Marc Crislip on the most recent podcast of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe:

“Galileo was a man of science oppressed by the irrational and superstitious. Today, he is used by the irrational and the superstitious who say they are being oppressed by science. So 1984.”

So true.

Last year was the International Year of Astronomy, celebrating in part Galileo’s original use of a telescope to observe heavenly bodies. An important celebration for science.

But it was also taken up by Christian apologists, historians and philosophers. A number of books were published rewriting the history in a way more sympathetic to the church. Opinion pieces were written and the apologist blogs eagerly leaped on the bandwagon. An all too common atmosphere of martyrdom was spread. George Sim Johnston, wrote recently on the Catholic Education Resource Centre blog that “the Galileo case is one of the historical bludgeons that are used to beat on the Church.”

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Move over – old fellow!

As a kid I used to enjoy running. Even competed a bit. But this morning I was reminded of an incident from one of my competitions where I was in a 1 mile race – and doing quite well. Suddenly, as I passed one of the other competitors, who obviously fancied himself a bit, he grabbed me and tried to prevent me from passing.

Well, sometimes I think the relationship between science and religion is a bit like this. Almost always religion will take a conservative stance and will work hard to criticise or prevent scientific advances. This is particularly cruel when these advances enhance our quality of life. One calls to mind things like contraception, anesthetics for childbirth, etc. And fertility assistance.

So here’s how the Catholic church reacts to news of the Nobel Prize to British in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) pioneer Robert Edwards (see Vatican official criticises Nobel win for IVF pioneer):

Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said the award ignored the ethical questions raised by the fertility treatment. Mr Carrasco, the Vatican’s spokesman on bio-ethics, did admit IVF had been “a new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction”.

But he said the Nobel prize committee’s choice of Prof Edwards had been “completely out of order” as without his treatment, there would be no market for human eggs “and there would not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world”, he told Italy’s Ansa news agency.

“In the best of cases they are transferred into a uterus but most probably they will end up abandoned or dead, which is a problem for which the new Nobel prize winner is responsible.”

But this is milder than some of the Vatican’s previous criticisms (see Vatican Aide Says Medicine Nobel Winner Opened `Important’ Human Chapter at the Bloomberg News):

The Roman Catholic Church had condemned embryonic stem cell research and artificial fertilization, most definitively in a 2008 bioethics document released a month after Barack Obama was elected the U.S. president.

IVF violates “the sacred and inviolable character of every human life from its conception until its natural death,” according to the document, entitled “Dignitas Personae” or Latin for “The Dignity of a Person.”

*Declaration of interest: A very early photo of one of my grandchildren

No mention of the nearly four million babies which have been born using IVF fertility treatment since 1978. Or the happiness this has brought to parents (and grandparents*) – and as Grant from Code for Life points out “the wider family.”

And ignoring completely the huge loss of embryos which occur naturally all the time.

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You have to laugh!

In the old days I used to think that only the adherents of the more established ideologies could laugh at themselves.  Communists and Catholics seemed to have skins thick enough to handle this whereas the evangelical, fundamentalists,  radical feminists, Maoists and Trotskyists couldn’t see the joke.

Nowadays I don’t know. Communists have all but disappeared. In my experience atheists will laugh along at their own expense, but I am not sure about Catholics. Things seem beyond laughing matters in their organisation.

Anyway, here’s something at laugh at for the religious, the atheist and the Catholic (?).

1: The Rev. Barbie: A creation Rev. Julie Blake Fisher, an Episcopal priest in Kent, Ohio. She comes with a complete wardrobe, etc. I am sure many relgious people will be offended just by the idea of a women being ordained – let alone the doll. See Under God: The Rev. Barbie , The Genius of the Rev. Julie Blake Fisher and Barbie gets ordained, and has the smells-and-bells wardrobe to match.

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Are science and religion compatible?

“Science and Religion” seems to be a popular topic for debate on the internet these days. Even in New Zealand Richard Dawkins‘ recent visit encouraged 14 religious scientists, historians and theologians to produce their own statement on the subject (see ‘Public Statement Concerning Science and Christian Faith’ by New Zealand Religious Scientists).

That particular statement seems to be a “sour grapes” response to the public interest in Dawkins’ visit. It has little substance and resorts to straw mannery in its attacks on “Professor Dawkins’ scientism.”(That word “scientism” is a dead give away, isn’t it?) So far, I don’t think it has elicited any response or interest (except from comments on the RichardDawkins.net site which seems to be the only place reporting it).

Of far more substance were two presentations made at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne last Saturday. Given by AC Grayling and PZ Myers these covered the science – religion issue in very different but complimentary ways – both in substance and style. They are both extremely informative and entertaining speakers – each in their own way.

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Remove support for child abuse

This doesn’t affect me directly, being a horrible heathen, but some readers might be interested. Some might even want to take action.

The article  Absolve This: Put The Catholic Church Out Of Its Misery appeared recently. It’s written by a “lapsed” Catholic disgusted by recent revelations of child abuse by the church in Ireland. It makes the point that one still gets counted by the church as a member – thus inflating the statistics. That to actually stop this it’s no good just being “lapsed” – one has to make it official. One has to actually defect.

The writer is encouraging this course for other Catholics who are “lapsed” or otherwise disgusted with the church. Here’s his advice:

“The genius’s at Count Me Out have compiled all the information you’ll need to complete this easy process on one website. Not Irish but still want to defect? No problem, the form is universal, so just fill this out and send it to the parochial house or bishop’s office of the diocese in which you were baptised. If you haven’t defected yet, then the church is using your membership to show that they have support. . .

Any other organisation would have been torn down after the first evidence of child abuse came to light. How many more horror stories do we need before the Church is put out of its evil misery?”

So – for all you “lapsed” Catholics out there. Here’s a practical step you can take to end this abuse.

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Hand of God


Paul Cultrera

I watched the documentary Hand of God the other night. It left me deeply angry.

The film was made by Joe Cultrera and documents the sexual abuse suffered by his brother Paul as a child. The abuser was the Catholic priest  Joseph Birmingham. Paul was abused as an alter boy in the 1960s and told no one, including his family, for 30 years. Meanwhile the priest, despite other allegation of sexual abuse, was promoted by the diocesan (seems to be a common way for the church to ignore the problems it creates).

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