Monday, July 27, 2009




No one can prove that Galileo said this after his forced recantation, but everyone knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was damned well thinking it.

Essay finished July 27th, 2009


In this article the Egregious Dave Rockwell makes so bold as to cast himself as an intellectual Serpent in the Garden of Dogma and, from that dubious platform, make grievous fun of various persons and institutions considered sacred by millions. Luckily for him they will certainly ignore his inconsequential pinpricks, knowing that no amount of intellectual brilliance and wit can make a hippopotamus climb out of his mudhole if he doesn't want to.

Pope Recommunicates Darwin, Galileo

Somehow I missed this hilarious and irreverent article in the Post of Feb. 28th, 2009. But how was I to know that something so wacky would show up in the stodgy, antiquated On Faith section, which I barely knew existed at all? After all, the ancient superstitions and and the plight of those still trapped inside them, like ants stuck in dried pine sap, is not a very interesting topic any more, though it can be quite funny, if one is flint-hearted about it, to read of their consternation when the modern world once again confounds their quaint illusions without freeing them from the sap. But this caught my eye as I was about to cast it into the stove to light the fire:

RECONCILING SCIENCE, RELIGION: Vatican Sponsoring Conferences on Works of Darwin, Galileo

(by Francis X. Rocca – Religious News Service) [with commentary by me, the Serpent]

Over the next several months the Vatican will sponsor academic conferences dedicated to the work of biologist Charles Darwin and astronomer Galileo Galilei, two thinkers whose ideas have posed revolutionary challenges to religious belief.

Featuring distinguished international panels of scientists and theologians [gee- do you think they'll invite Richard Dawkins?] these events are the latest efforts by the Catholic Church under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to affirm that Christian faith and modern science are not at odds, but entirely compatible. [The Serpent asks: why? Why try to reconcile these unrelated mental phenomena? Perhaps to preempt criticism, and lure unsuspecting youth, not yet of the age of reason nor conversant with the scientific method, into the churches?]

Yet some critics inside and outside the Church insist that such gestures do not satisfy the Vatican's duty to admit its historical role as an obstacle to scientific progress. [The Serpent wishes to point out the amazing unconsciously disingenuous quality of this ridiculous sentence. First and foremost, the Vatican is not a person and has no duties; its only purpose is, like any other meme, to perpetuate itself by whatever means possible; it cannot partake of human qualities such as duty and morality. Hence if burning witches and coercing scientists helps it to survive, it will do that, and if hosting dog-and-pony shows pretending to admit that reason is a valid human possession helps it to survive, it will do that. But I think the writer honestly sees the sentence as entirely reasonable.]

Unlike some conservative Protestant churches, which have rejected Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection as contradicting the biblical account of Creation, the Catholic Church has a record of guarded tolerance of Darwin's ideas. [Great! Let's go to the videotape!]

Pope Pius XII permitted “research and discussions... with regard to the doctrine of evolution” in 1950, nearly a century after Darwin's theory was published; and John Paul II recognized evolution as “more than a hypothesis” nearly a half-century later. [Sound a little slow, kind of foot-dragging? Well, these big ships can't turn on a dime, you know. Q: Does research and discussion that can only proceed after getting permission from the Pope have any possible validity to begin with? What if the research reveals something that gives the Pope indigestion? Also telling is the reference to evolution as a doctrine, which of course it is not. Scientific theory is by definition not doctrine, except to the mind that grasps at it for security, without critical thought, in the same way that others grasp at the supernatural for comfort. I also have a vision of John Paul II saying in wonder to his bishops, “Gee, fellas, it's more than a hypothesis, it's like, you know, an... idea.”.]

The church has won praise from scientists and religious believers in various traditions. [Really? For real? Okay, let's hear some!]

“The ongoing and vigorous engagement of the Catholic Church with evolutionary theory reflects, in my opinion, a fluid and dynamic pathway that combines a profound sense of continuity with its historical past and a living and open, experiential response to... the discoveries of science,” said Robert J. Russell, founder of the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences in Berkeley, Calif. [Wowee! Fluid! Dynamic! Profound! Experiential! Blather Supreme! Where did they dig this guy up?]

Russell, a physicist and minister in the United Church of Christ, will be one of the speakers next month at a Vatican-sponsored conference marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin's book, “The Origin of Species.” [A brief perusal of his CTNS website was like a glimpse into some deep level of the Inferno, where a million academics chained to a million granite desks all strain agonizingly at gnats for all eternity, their mental processes trapped in a terrible locked ring of corrupted logic. I had to quickly look away, lest the evil swamp my tiny intellect! Then I had some hot chocolate.]

In recent years, however, with the growing prominence of “creationism” and “intelligent design” as alternative explanations for the existence of humanity and the universe, Catholics have increasingly voiced doubts about Darwin's acceptability. [“Acceptability”, not “validity” you will notice. We shall reserve the right to call unacceptable any science we disagree with, and thus avoid having to argue its validity with a world full of scientists who do nothing else all day. And these Catholics that “voice doubts”? How many are left after the defections over organized pedophilia, the slavery and domination of women, the repressive sexuality, the guilt-and-martyrdom control psychology, and the inflexible rigidity of Vatican doctrine? The meme loses a little ground every day in a world of open access to information.]

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a friend and former student of Pope Benedict's, provoked controversy with a 2005 article arguing that “neo-Darwinian dogma” is not “compatible with Christian faith” and insisting that the “human intellect can readily discern purpose and design in the natural world.” [One man's dogma is another man's faith; both of them are cut off from discovery of the truth by their inadequate understanding of reason itself. Human intellect can readily discern all kinds of things, many of them flat-out wrong, unless the discernment rigorously follows the scientific method, which demands intellectual courage, honesty and great tenacity, not to mention the humility to abandon a logically flawed line of reasoning. Such qualities are deliberately amputated by orthodoxy.]

That the cardinal published his article with the encouragement and assistance of proponents of intelligent design gave the impression that a high church official was endorsing ideas that most scholars reject as unscientific. [“Gave the impression”?! What the hell do you mean, “gave the impression”?]

Schoenborn has since attempted to clarify his position, insisting that he rejects not the theory of evolution, but arguments that use Darwin's ideas to disprove the existence of a creator-God. [More ridiculous bullshit. Rational people never try to disprove the existence of a creator-God; the onus is not on them, but on the proponents of such a god, or indeed of anything supernatural, to prove its existence. We resent not these superstitions themselves, but the use of them to try to control and dominate otherwise rational minds. The primacy of the individual is explicitly denied by the hypothesis of a creator-God.]

The Rev. Marc Leclerc made the same distinction recently in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's newspaper. “Evolution and creation do not present the least opposition between them,” he wrote, “on the contrary, they reveal themselves as entirely complementary.”

Leclerc, lead organizer of the upcoming Darwin conference, said last year that no proponents of creationism or intelligent design had been invited to the event.

Yet the Vatican's embrace of Darwin remains a qualified one. The conference is “not, even minimally, a 'celebration' in honor of the English scientist,” Leclerc said. “It is simply a matter of taking stock of the event that has forever marked the history of science and has influenced how we understand our own humanity.”

By contrast, an official Vatican statement recently declared that the “Church desires to honor the figure of Galileo, innovator of genius and son of the church.”

Those words introduced a series of Vatican-sponsored or -supported events to take place this year, which the United Nations has designated as the International Year of Astronomy, marking the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo.

One of the most prominent of these events will be a May conference in Florence, Italy, devoted to the astronomer's conflicts with the Vatican, which silenced and imprisoned him for teaching that the Earth revolves around the sun.

The Church has been trying for centuries to put this embarrassing episode behind it. In 1981, John Paul II established a commission to reevaluate the case, and in 1992 he concluded that Galileo had fallen victim to a “tragic mutual incomprehension.” That misunderstanding, the pope said, had given rise to a “myth” that the Church opposed free scientific inquiry.

John Paul's statement failed to satisfy prominent critics, including the Rev. George V. Coyne, former head of the Vatican Observatory, who has called for a fuller recognition that church authorities unfairly prevented Galileo from pursuing his research.

In January 2008, Pope Benedict canceled an appearance at a Rome university after faculty members and students protested his presence as an offense to the “secularity of science and of culture,” citing words from a 1990 lecture in which he seemed to justify Galileo's condemnation. [These remarks are so interesting in their construction that I am going to analyze them below, after I have finished kicking this pigskin around the field some more.]

Vatican officials are clearly hoping that this year's observances will clarify once and for all that the church now regards Galileo as not only a great scientist but an exemplary Catholic. Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, has even spoken in terms that evoke sainthood, suggesting that Galileo “could become for some the ideal patron for a dialogue between science and faith.” [This “exemplary Catholic” dared to question the church's interpretation of planetary astronomy through the Bible, saying that in fact physical truth was otherwise and that this truth was compatible with the vague and poetic biblical verses on the subject. For this explicit heresy he was placed on house arrest for the remainder of his life, and all his books were proscribed, including any he might write after the trial. In the end, of course, the Church could not make this stick, and I think it has stuck in their craw ever since.]

Yet there is at least one honor for which Galileo will have to wait a little longer. Plans to put up a statue of the astronomer in the Vatican gardens this year have been “suspended,” Ravasi said, voicing hopes that the money would be spent instead for educational projects on the “relationship between science and religion.”

Ratzinger's 1990 remarks on Galileo

Jan. 14, 2008

By John L Allen Jr Daily

Note: Recently a group of professors and students from Rome's La Sapienza University, including the entire physics faculty, wrote a letter protesting Pope Benedict XVI's scheduled Jan. 17 lecture to open the academic year. They cited comments from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1990 on the Galileo case. Those comments are presented here.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
“The Crisis of Faith in Science”
March 15, 1990, Parma
Extracts taken from A Turning Point for Europe? The Church and Modernity in the Europe of Upheavals, Paoline Editions, 1992, pp. 76-79. English translation by NCR.

* * *
In the last decade, creation’s resistance to allowing itself to be manipulated by humanity has emerged as a new element in the overall cultural situation. The question of the limits of science, and the criteria which it must observe, has become unavoidable.

Particularly emblematic of this change of intellectual climate, it seems to me, is the different way in which the Galileo case is seen.

This episode, which was little considered in the 18th century, was elevated to a myth of the Enlightenment in the century that followed. Galileo appeared as a victim of that medieval obscurantism that endures in the Church. Good and evil were sharply distinguished. On the one hand, we find the Inquisition: a power that incarnates superstition, the adversary of freedom and conscience. On the other, there’s natural science represented by Galileo: the force of progress and liberation of humanity from the chains of ignorance that kept it impotent in the face of nature. The star of modernity shines in the dark night of medieval obscurity.

Today, things have changed.

According to [Ernst] Bloch, the heliocentric system – just like the geocentric – is based upon presuppositions that can’t be empirically demonstrated. Among these, an important role is played by the affirmation of the existence of an absolute space; that’s an opinion that, in any event, has been cancelled by the Theory of Relativity. Bloch writes, in his own words: ‘From the moment that, with the abolition of the presupposition of an empty and immobile space, movement is no longer produced towards something, but there’s only a relative movement of bodies among themselves, and therefore the measurement of that [movement] depends to a great extent on the choice of a body to serve as a point of reference, in this case is it not merely the complexity of calculations that renders the [geocentric] hypothesis impractical? Then as now, one can suppose the earth to be fixed and the sun as mobile.”

Curiously, it was precisely Bloch, with his Romantic Marxism, who was among the first to openly oppose the [Galileo] myth, offering a new interpretation of what happened: The advantage of the heliocentric system over the geocentric, he suggested, does not consist in a greater correspondence to objective truth, but solely in the fact that it offers us greater ease of calculation. To this point, Bloch follows solely a modern conception of natural science. What is surprising, however, is the conclusion he draws: “Once the relativity of movement is taken for granted, an ancient human and Christian system of reference has no right to interference in astronomic calculations and their heliocentric simplification; however, it has the right to remain faithful to its method of preserving the earth in relation to human dignity, and to order the world with regard to what will happen and what has happened in the world.”

If both the spheres of conscience are once again clearly distinguished among themselves under their respective methodological profiles, recognizing both their limits and their respective rights, then the synthetic judgment of the agnostic-skeptic philosopher P. Feyerabend appears much more drastic. He writes: “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 Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Galileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for motives of political opportunism.”

From the point of view of the concrete consequences of the turning point Galileo represents, however, C.F. Von Weizsacker takes another step forward, when he identifies a “very direct path” that leads from Galileo to the atomic bomb.

To my great surprise, in a recent interview on the Galileo case, I was not asked a question like, ‘Why did the Church try to get in the way of the development of modern science?’, but rather exactly the opposite, that is: ‘Why didn’t the church take a more clear position against the disasters that would inevitably follow, once Galileo had opened Pandora’s box?’

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 inscribed in a still greater form of reason …

Here, I wished to recall a symptomatic case that illustrates the extent to which modernity’s doubts about itself have grown today in science and technology.

Here end the Cardinal's comments... let us all now heave a deep and doleful sigh.

How shall we approach and comment on this phosphorescent, steaming pile of brilliance? It is not easy, let us admit at the outset. Those who take in his comments as something formed of reason, something to be considered and debated, are already beyond help. The context they have access to, in order to evaluate these 'ideas', is already fatally constricted. But I cannot restrain myself from simply laying out a set of questions that, if only I were the Grand Inquisitor, I would put to the Cardinal very sharply – not with any sort of coercion, but simply to hear the beauty of his tortuous logic further elaborated.

Cardinal! I have questions!

You have invoked the Theory of Relativity to justify making morally equivalent, or indeed, to make possible the moral ascendancy, of one mathematical description of the motion of the solar system over another. Are you not the least bit worried that the concept of relativity might be used against the natural absolutism required at the heart of faith? Cannot I, or any other ignorant, hairy layman, attack and undermine the very foundation of the Holy Church, using this tool on a hundred different fronts, if you yourself use it? Or are you simply grasping at the name of Einstein to lend a specious and feckless sheen of modernity to your essay, like a college sophomore pasting in a few more tired clichés?

You have asserted, though in soft and subtle tones, that the so-called Enlightenment, beginning with the end of geocentrism, has led to the atomic bomb, and by implication, the imminent fall of civilization due to man's rejection of the Holy Church. If only the Inquisition could have somehow convinced Galileo to recant sincerely, and to convince all scholars worldwide to stop thinking in ways not approved by the Church, then the peaceful hegemony prevailing in medieval times would still hold sway now, and all would be well. Honestly, now – Cardinal – do you really think that the Church could have closed up the “Pandora's Box” of reason no matter what it did? Endless murder, a continent buried under meticulously cultivated guilt and martyrdom and superstition, chronic war, vicious political intrigue: all of it failed in the end to prevent light from dawning. But you still hope, sitting in the intellectual ruins, to bring back the comforting darkness of “a still greater form of reason”.

Do you, Cardinal, really believe that it was important which mathematical system was used to describe the same phenomenon, or, is the real problem in fact that people might be willing to accept a hypothesis that contradicted a tenet of faith, simply on the basis that a man, not God, had shown it to be objectively true, just as once long ago the pagan, Pythagoras, had shown certain things to be true, apparently without the least assistance from “a still greater form of reason”? In short, that the struggle was for political power, nothing more, waged on a far more primitive level than modern politics – the level of the subconscious, of primal fear and greed and hatred inoculated into children as early as possible in their lives.

Somebody stop me! I grow bored with punching this tar baby – I must end it lest I fall into an endless pit of recursive bullshit. Is it really important that the 'spiritual leader' of a major chunk of the world's population has no intellectual substance? Clearly not: the Catholic meme itself draws no strength from intellectual honesty, in fact, the reverse is true. I might put forth a pious hope that the meme of scientific method will be stronger in the long run that the meme of faith, because science is flexible, protean, creative, and responsive to change, whereas faith is rigid, repressive, addictive, and dogmatically stupid. Unfortunately, science is often corrupted and weakened by the mental vices of faith, and faith is strengthened by dishonestly appropriating the methods and tools of science. In the near term, outside circumstances will probably destroy the playing field and render the contest moot. We love to carry on this battle – it is a natural part of our imperfect consciousness, after all – but the human race as an entity cannot be said to have the ability to learn.

“The players tried to take the field,

The marching band refused to yield -

Do you recall, what was the field,

The day the music died?...


And the three men I admire most,

The Father, Son and Holy Ghost,

They took the last train for the Coast,

The day the music died.”

- Don McLean

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