More Catholic Than the Pope

As usual, after I wrote my most recent article trying to advocate a moderate view of the relationship between religion and science, rather than the more popular, contemporary view of science as an angel of light having fought a long battle against the dark forces of religious superstition, I received letters from people who felt I was, e.g., letting Galileo off too easilly. A sample:

"And you should know that Galileo got just what he deserved because he harassed the Church into changing their interpretation of the bible based on his theories, which were impossible to prove at that time. They got tired of being shoved around, so they told him to get off their backs and be quiet."

("Telling him" this means, in this instance, threatening him with torture and imprisoning him.)

This letter was from a Catholic. The odd thing is that this isn't the authoratative Catholic position on this matter:

"Pope John Paul II issued a declaration in 1992 saying that the church's denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from 'tragic mutual incomprehension.' This is considered a close to the Galileo issue by the Church."

The phenomena of people like my correspondent above strikes me as very odd. (Other examples include those who declare Vatican II a mistake, Mass should be in Latin, etc.) They are trying to be more Catholic than anyone else, but, in the process, wind up dismissing the decrees of the Pope, and so, in fact, have become Protestants! Weird.


  1. Anonymous11:06 AM

    Your link just goes to this blog, Gene.

  2. Anonymous11:50 AM

    "They are trying to be more Catholic than anyone else, but, in the process, wind up dismissing the decrees of the Pope, and so, in fact, have become Protestants! Weird."

    Mr. Callahan,
    I appreciate the humorous point which the above sentence tries to cash out, but the seeming paradox resolves itself (more or less) the moment one draws the appropriate distinction between Catholic orthodoxy on the one hand and Papal-positivism on the other. Proper respect for the (in some ways unique) teaching authority of the Petrine Office does not consist of blind submission of the intellect to whatever the current pope happens to "decree" on a given topic.


  3. Thanks, Andy, fixed the link.


  4. Well, Araglin, you walk a fine line there -- if the Pope says Mass should be said in the vernacular, the Church implements this, and 40 years later you still are resisting this, I'd say you're a Protestant.

  5. Anonymous3:21 PM

    Gene - Pick up a copy of Scientific American and witness the rank speculation and wild outlandish theories. It certainly has left the realm of verifiable science.

    On a philosophical note: what is really the difference between what is beyond our comprehension and the supernatural? It seems that science, by "excluding the supernatural" is excluding anything that "can't be understood by the methods of science". Then of course it claims to be an authority of truth superior to that of religious revelation. What?

    Seems like science is making a knowledge claim that it cannot support: science (natural causes or "what we can comprehend of nature") is the best apriori path to knowledge. However that claim is not subject to empirical verification. The claims of science fail even it's own standard.

    It also seems to me what we hold as true or false is profoundly affected by our own moral living (witness the "science" of eugenics). "Science" is as arbitrary and capricious as any other field of knowledge, selecting evidence to believe and evidence to ignore. Man is the weak link, unfortunately. I think we need a lot more humility and perhaps (imagine that!) more religion.


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