Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Galileo and Socrates

The other day I met two people who wanted to claim that Christianity has a thing against science, trying to make a general case out of Galileo. I think that's historically ludicrous, given that all the modern sciences and the most advanced mathematics were first developed in Christian lands. That started me thinking how to get them to see past their prejudices and look at the bigger picture. Next time the topic comes up, I think I might see what they make of this; it should be a decent conversation-starter.

Would you say, in the death of Socrates, that Greece had shown its true colors as being against philosophy?

I'd expect not; Greece is the birthplace of many branches of philosophy. The death of Socrates can be understood various ways, but the record as a whole shows there is not a general Greek reaction against or opposition to philosophy; in fairness, few cultures have supported philosophy more.

But that is exactly the same variety of argument that anti-Christians make about Christianity's supposed opposition to science based on the imprisonment of Galileo. It does not matter to them that Christendom is the birthplace of many branches of science. The record as a whole shows there is not a general Christian reaction against or opposition to science, and in fairness few cultures have supported science more than Christian cultures. The modern sciences grew up in Christian cultures.

I'd contend that the Greeks made real but isolated mistakes, and taken as a whole few cultures have ever done more to develop philosophy. On the same ground I'd also contend that the Christians made real but isolated mistakes, and no culture has ever done more to develop the sciences.


japhy said...

The Catholic Church has a lot of apologies to make (although Pope John Paul II made some). Apart from burning people at the stake and having some truly wicked men attain the papacy, there was also that whole "Church vs. Galileo" incident. Only a few hundred years ago, the Church was still clutching to the geocentric view held by the human authors of Scripture, without paying attention the other book, the universe, which displays God's scientific truths.

"Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe." - Galileo (d. 1642)

"Man learns from two books: the universe for the human study of things created by God; and the Bible, for the study of God’s superior will and truth. One belongs to reason and the other to faith. Between them there is no clash." - Pope Pius XII (d. 1958)

Weekend Fisher said...

From what I've read on the Galileo thing, the pope originally invited him to write the book that eventually got him in trouble. The pope had apparently invited him to write a book that was a two-sided presentation with his view and the old prevailing view with the evidence laid out impartially. The serious trouble started later ...

I think what happened with Galileo was a shame, and wrong, but it's not quite the story it's usually painted to be of unthinking and closed-minded religious bigots suppressing science.

Myself, I dislike the Pius XII quote on the grounds that it gives away too much, it tends to put faith and reason in different corners. I think that's a misstep.

I'm curious though. When you say that there have been "some truly wicked men attain the papacy", did you have anybody in mind?

Take care & God bless

japhy said...

A few popes (I don't know them by name) did things like buy (and sell!) the papacy, or had illegitimate children, or had adversaries killed, or dug up and desecrated the bones of long-dead adversaries.

They failed to put Christ first. They failed to put themselves last.

I won't say I'm ashamed to be Catholic because of the sometimes sordid history of our human leadership, just like I won't say I'm ashamed to be human because of our sometimes sordid history of human leadership. But I'm certainly not a supporter of their faults and sins. Christ isn't a minister of sin, and so neither is the Church.