April 27, 2008

Galileo on Science & the Bible

[The following letter by Galileo Galilei to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany outlines his views on the relations between science and the Bible. The letter is lengthy but certainly well worth reading in its entirety. You may want to print it out for easier reading. This translation was taken from the Modern Internet History Sourcebook.]


Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615


To the Most Serene Grand Duchess Mother:
Some years ago, as Your Serene Highness well knows, I discovered in the heavens many things that had not been seen before our own age. The novelty of these things, as well as some consequences which followed from them in contradiction to the physical notions commonly held among academic philosophers, stirred up against me no small number of professors-as if I had placed these things in the sky with my own hands in order to upset nature and overturn the sciences. They seemed to forget that the increase of known truths stimulates the investigation, establishment, and growth of the arts; not their diminution or destruction.


Showing a greater fondness for their own opinions than for truth they sought to deny and disprove the new things which, if they had cared to look for themselves, their own senses would have demonstrated to them. To this end they hurled various charges and published numerous writings filled with vain arguments, and they made the grave mistake of sprinkling these with passages taken from places in the Bible which they had failed to understand properly, and which were ill-suited to their purposes.


These men would perhaps not have fallen into such error had they but paid attention to a most useful doctrine of St. Augustine's, relative to our making positive statements about things which are obscure and hard to understand by means of reason alone. Speaking of a certain physical conclusion about the heavenly bodies, he wrote: "Now keeping always our respect for moderation in grave piety, we ought not to believe anything inadvisedly on a dubious point, lest in favor to our error we conceive a prejudice against something that truth hereafter may reveal to be not contrary in any way to the sacred books of either the Old or the New Testament."


Well, the passage of time has revealed to everyone the truths that I previously set forth; and, together with the truth of the facts, there has come to light the great difference in attitude between those who simply and dispassionately refused to admit the discoveries to be true, and those who combined with their incredulity some reckless passion of their own. Men who were well grounded in astronomical and physical science were persuaded as soon as they received my first message. There were others who denied them or remained in doubt only because of their novel and unexpected character, and because they had not yet had the opportunity to see for themselves. These men have by degrees come to be satisfied. But some, besides allegiance to their original error, possess I know not what fanciful interest in remaining hostile not so much toward the things in question as toward their discoverer. No longer being able to deny them, these men now take refuge in obstinate silence, but being more than ever exasperated by that which has pacified and quieted other men, they divert their thoughts to other fancies and seek new ways to damage me.


I should pay no more attention to them than to those who previously contradicted me-at whom I always laugh, being assured of the eventual outcome-were it not that in their new calumnies and persecutions I perceive that they do not stop at proving themselves more learned than I am (a claim which I scarcely contest), but go so far as to cast against me the imputations of crimes which must be, and are, more abhorrent to me than death itself. I cannot remain satisfied merely to know that the injustice of this is recognized by those who are acquainted with these men and with me, as perhaps it is not known to others.


Persisting in their original resolve to destroy me and everything mine by any means they can think of, these men are aware of my views in astronomy and philosophy. They know that as to the arrangement of the parts of the universe, I hold the sun to be situated motionless in the center of the revolution of the celestial orbs while the earth revolves about the sun. They know also that I support this position not only by refuting the arguments of Ptolemy and Aristotle, but by producing many counter-arguments; in particular, some which relate to physical effects whose causes can perhaps be assigned in no other way. In addition there are astronomical arguments derived from many things in my new celestial discoveries that plainly confute the Ptolemaic system while admirably agreeing with and confirming the contrary hypothesis. Possibly because they are disturbed by the known truth of other propositions of mine which differ from those commonly held, and therefore mistrusting their defense so long as they confine themselves to the field of philosophy, these men have resolved to fabricate a shield for their fallacies out of the mantle of pretended religion and the authority of the Bible. These they apply with little judgement to the refutation of arguments that they do not understand and have not even listened to.


First, they have endeavored to spread the opinion that such propositions in general are contrary to the Bible and are consequently damnable and heretical. They know that it is human nature to take up causes whereby a man may oppress his neighbor, no matter how unjustly, rather than those from which a man may receive some just encouragement. Hence they have had no trouble in finding men who would preach the damnability and heresy of the new doctrine from their very pulpits with unwonted confidence, thus doing impious and inconsiderate injury not only to that doctrine and its followers but to all mathematics and mathematicians in general. Next, becoming bolder, and hoping (though vainly) that this seed which first took root in their hypocritical minds would send out branches and ascend to heaven, they began scattering rumors among the people that before long this doctrine would be condemned by the supreme authority. They know, too, that official condemnation would not only sup press the two propositions which I have mentioned, but would render damnable all other astronomical and physical statements and observations that have any necessary relation or connection with these.


In order to facilitate their designs, they seek so far as possible (at least among the common people) to make this opinion seem new and to belong to me alone. They pretend not to know that its author, or rather its restorer and confirmer, was Nicholas Copernicus; and that he was not only a Catholic, but a priest and a canon. He was in fact so esteemed by the church that when the Lateran Council under Leo X took up the correction of the church calendar, Copernicus was called to Rome from the most remote parts of Germany to undertake its reform. At that time the calendar was defective because the true measures of the year and the lunar month were not exactly known. The Bishop of Culm, then superintendent of this matter, assigned Copernicus to seek more light and greater certainty concerning the celestial motions by means of constant study and labor. With Herculean toil he set his admirable mind to this task, and he made such great progress in this science and brought our knowledge of the heavenly motions to such precision that he became celebrated as an astronomer. Since that time not only has the calendar been regulated by his teachings, but tables of all the motions of the planets have been calculated as well.


Having reduced his system into six books, he published these at the instance of the Cardinal of Capua and the Bishop of Culm. And since he had assumed his laborious enterprise by order of the supreme pontiff, he dedicated this book On the celestial revolutions to Pope Paul III. When printed, the book was accepted by the holy Church, and it has been read and studied by everyone without the faintest hint of any objection ever being conceived against its doctrines. Yet now that manifest experiences and necessary proofs have shown them to be well grounded, persons exist who would strip the author of his reward without so much as looking at his book, and add the shame of having him pronounced a heretic. All this they would do merely to satisfy their personal displeasure conceived without any cause against another man, who has no interest in Copernicus beyond approving his teachings.


Now as to the false aspersions which they so unjustly seek to cast upon me, I have thought it necessary to justify myself in the eyes of all men, whose judgment in matters of` religion and of reputation I must hold in great esteem. I shall therefore discourse of the particulars, which these men produce to make this opinion detested and to have it condemned not merely as false but as heretical. To this end, they make a shield of their hypocritical zeal for religion. They go about invoking the Bible, which they would have minister to their deceitful purposes. Contrary to the sense of the Bible and the intention of the holy Fathers, if I am not mistaken, they would extend such authorities until even m purely physical matters - where faith is not involved - they would have us altogether abandon reason and the evidence of our senses in favor of some biblical passage, though under the surface meaning of its words this passage may contain a different sense.


hope to show that I proceed with much greater piety than they do, when I argue not against condemning this book, but against condemning it in the way they suggest-that is, without under standing it, weighing it, or so much as reading it. For Copernicus never discusses matters of religion or faith, nor does he use argument that depend in any way upon the authority of sacred writings which he might have interpreted erroneously. He stands always upon physical conclusions pertaining to the celestial motions, and deals with them by astronomical and geometrical demonstrations, founded primarily upon sense experiences and very exact observations. He did not ignore the Bible, but he knew very well that if` his doctrine were proved, then it could not contradict the Scriptures when they were rightly understood and thus at the end of his letter of` dedication. addressing the pope, he said:


"If there should chance to be any exegetes ignorant of` mathematics who pretend to skill in that discipline, and dare to condemn and censure this hypothesis of mine upon the authority of some scriptural passage twisted to their purpose, I value them not, but disdain their unconsidered judgment. For it is known that Lactantius - a poor mathematician though in other respects a worthy author - writes very childishly about the shape of the earth when he scoffs at those who affirm it to be a globe. Hence it should not seem strange to the ingenious if people of that sort should in turn deride me. But mathematics is written for mathematicians, by whom, if I am not deceived, these labors of mine will be recognized as contributing something to their domain, as also to that of the Church over which Your Holiness now reigns."
Such are the people who labor to persuade us that an author like Copernicus may be condemned without being read, and who produce various authorities from the Bible, from theologians, and from Church Councils to make us believe that this is not only lawful but commendable. Since I hold these to be of supreme authority I consider it rank temerity for anyone to contradict them-when employed according to the usage of the holy Church. Yet I do not believe it is wrong to speak out when there is reason to suspect that other men wish, for some personal motive, to produce and employ such authorities for purposes quite different from the sacred intention of the holy Church.


Therefore I declare (and my sincerity will make itself manifest) not only that I mean to submit myself freely and renounce any errors into which I may fall in this discourse through ignorance of` matters pertaining to religion, but that I do not desire in these matters to engage in disputes with anyone, even on points that are disputable. My goal is this alone; that if, among errors that may abound in these considerations of a subject remote from my profession, there is anything that may be serviceable to the holy Church in making a decision concerning the Copernican system, it may be taken and utilized as seems best to the superiors. And if not, let my book be torn and burnt, as I neither intend nor pretend to gain from it any fruit that is not pious and Catholic. And though many of the things I shall reprove have been heard by my own ears, I shall freely grant to those who have spoken them that they never said them, if that is what they wish, and I shall confess myself to have been mistaken. Hence let whatever I reply be addressed not to them, but to whoever may have held such opinions.


The reason produced for condemning the opinion that the earth moves and the sun stands still in many places in the Bible one may read that the sun moves and the earth stands still. Since the Bible cannot err; it follows as a necessary consequence that anyone takes a erroneous and heretical position who maintains that the sun is inherently motionless and the earth movable.


With regard to this argument, I think in the first place that it is very pious to say and prudent to affirm that the holy Bible can never speak untruth-whenever its true meaning is understood. But I believe nobody will deny that it is often very abstruse, and may say things which are quite different from what its bare words signify. Hence in expounding the Bible if one were always to confine oneself to the unadorned grammatical meaning, one might; fall into error. Not only contradictions and propositions far from true might thus be made to appear in the Bible, but even grave heresies and follies. Thus it would be necessary to assign to God feet, hands and eyes, as well as corporeal and human affections, such as anger, repentance, hatred, and sometimes even the forgetting of` things past and ignorance of those to come. These propositions uttered by the Holy Ghost were set down in that manner by the sacred scribes in order to accommodate them to the capacities, Of the common people, who are rude and unlearned. For the sake of those who deserve to be separated from the herd, it is necessary that wise expositors should produce the true senses of such passages, together with the special reasons for which they were set down in these words. This doctrine is so widespread and so definite with all theologians that it would be superfluous to adduce evidence for it.


Hence, I think that I may reasonably conclude that whenever the Bible has occasion to speak of any physical conclusion (especially those which are very abstruse and hard to understand), the rule has been observed of avoiding confusion in the minds of the common people which would render them contumacious toward the higher mysteries. Now the Bible, merely to condescend to popular capacity, has not hesitated to obscure some very important pronouncements, attributing to God himself some qualities extremely remote from (and even contrary to) His essence. Who, then, would positively declare that this principle has been set aside, and the Bible has confined itself rigorously to the bare and restricted sense of its words, when speaking but casually of the earth, of water, of the sun, or of any other created thing? Especially in view of the fact that these things in no way concern the primary purpose of the sacred writings, which is the service of God and the salvation of souls - matters infinitely beyond the comprehension of the common people.


This being granted, I think that in discussions of physical problems we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages but from sense ­experiences and necessary demonstrations; for the holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God's commands. It is necessary for the Bible, in order to be accommodated to the understanding of every man, to speak many things which appear to differ from the absolute truth so far as the bare meaning of the words is concerned. But Nature, on the other hand, is inexorable and immutable; she never transgresses the laws imposed upon her, or cares a whit whether her abstruse reasons and methods of operation are understandable to men. For that reason it appears that nothing physical which sense­experience sets before our eyes, or which necessary demonstrations prove to us, ought to be called in question (much less condemned) upon the testimony of biblical passages which may have some different meaning beneath their words. For the Bible is not chained in every expression to conditions as strict as those which govern all physical effects; nor is God any less excellently revealed in Nature's actions than in the sacred statements of the Bible. Perhaps this is what Tertullian meant by these words:


"We conclude that God is known first through Nature, and then again, more particularly, by doctrine, by Nature in His works, and by doctrine in His revealed word."
From this I do not mean to infer that we need not have an extraordinary esteem for the passages of holy Scripture. On the contrary, having arrived at any certainties in physics, we ought to utilize these as the most appropriate aids in the true exposition of the Bible and in the investigation of those meanings, which are necessarily contained therein, for these must be concordant with demonstrated truths. I should judge that the authority of the Bible was designed to persuade men of those articles and propositions, which, surpassing all human reasoning could not be made credible by science, or by any other means than through the very mouth of the Holy Spirit.


Yet even in those propositions which are not matters of faith, this authority ought to be preferred over that of all human writings, which are supported only by bare assertions or probable arguments, and not set forth in a demonstrative way. This I hold to be necessary and proper to the same extent that divine wisdom surpasses all human judgment and conjecture.


But I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters, which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations. This must be especially true in those sciences of which but the faintest trace (and that consisting of conclusions) is to be found in the Bible. Of astronomy; for instance, so little is found that none of the planets except Venus are so much as mentioned, and this only once or twice under the name of "Lucifer." If the sacred scribes had had any intention of teaching people certain arrangements and motions of the heavenly bodies, or had they wished us to derive such knowledge from the Bible, then in my opinion they would not have spoken of these matters so sparingly in comparison with the infinite number of admirable conclusions which are demonstrated in that science. Far from pretending to teach us the constitution and motions of the heavens and other stars, with their shapes, magnitudes, and distances, the authors of the Bible intentionally forbore to speak of these things, though all were quite well known to them. Such is the opinion of the holiest and most learned Fathers, and in St. Augustine we find the following words :


"It is likewise commonly asked what we may believe about the form and shape of the heavens according to the Scriptures, for many contend much about these matters. But with superior prudence our authors have forborne to speak of this, as in no way furthering the student with respect to a blessed life-and, more important still, as taking up much of that time which should be spent in holy exercises. What is it to me whether heaven, like a sphere surrounds the earth on all sides as a mass balanced in the center of the universe, or whether like a dish it merely covers and overcasts the earth? Belief in Scripture is urged rather for the reason we have often mentioned; that is, in order that no one, through ignorance of divine passages, finding anything in our Bibles or hearing anything cited from them of such a nature as may seem to oppose manifest conclusions, should be induced to suspect their truth when they teach, relate, and deliver more profitable matters. Hence let it be said briefly, touching the form of heaven, that our authors knew the truth but the Holy Spirit did not desire that men should learn things that are useful to no one for salvation."The same disregard of these sacred authors toward beliefs about the phenomena of the celestial bodies is repeated to us by St. Augustine in his next chapter. On the question whether we are to believe that the heaven moves or stands still, he writes thus:


"Some of the brethren raise a question concerning the motion of heaven, whether it is fixed or moved. If it is moved, they say, how is it a firmament? If it stands still, how do these stars which are held fixed in it go round from east to west, the more northerly performing shorter circuits near the pole, so that the heaven (if there is another pole unknown to us) may seem to revolve upon some axis, or (if there is no other pole) may be thought to move as a discus? To these men I reply that it would require many subtle and profound reasonings to find out which of these things is actually so; but to undertake this and discuss it is consistent neither with my leisure nor with the duty of those whom I desire to instruct in essential matters more directly conducing to their salvation and to the benefit of the holy Church."From these things it follows as a necessary consequence that, since the Holy Ghost did not intend to teach us whether heaven moves or stands still, whether its shape is spherical or like a discus or extended in a plane, nor whether the earth is located at its center or off to one side, then so much the less was it intended to settle for us any other conclusion of the same kind. And the motion or rest of the earth and the sun is so closely linked with the things just named, that without a determination of the one, neither side can be taken in the other matters. Now if the Holy Spirit has purposely neglected to teach us propositions of this sort as irrelevant to the highest goal (that is, to our salvation), how can anyone affirm that it is obligatory to take sides on them, that one belief is required by faith, while the other side is erroneous? Can an opinion be heretical and yet have no concern with the salvation of souls? Can the Holy Ghost be asserted not to have intended teaching us something that does concern our salvation? I would say here something that was heard from an ecclesiastic of the most eminent degree: "That the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven. Not how heaven goes."


But let us again consider the degree to which necessary demonstrations and sense experiences ought to be respected in physical conclusions, and the authority they have enjoyed at the hands of holy and learned theologians. From among a hundred attestations, I have selected the following:


"We must also take heed, in handling the doctrine of Moses. That we altogether avoid saying positively and confidently anything which contradicts manifest experiences and the reasoning of philosophy or the other sciences. For since every truth is in agreement with all other truth, the truth of Holy Writ cannot be contrary to the solid reasons and experiences of human knowledge."And in St. Augustine we read:

"If' anyone shall set the authority of Holy Writ against clear and manifest reason, he who does this knows not what he has undertaken; for he opposes to the truth not the meaning of the Bible, which is beyond his comprehension, but rather his own interpretation, not what is in the Bible, but what he has found in himself and imagines to be there."
This granted, and it being true that two truths cannot contradict one another, it is the function of expositors to seek out the true senses of scriptural texts. These will unquestionably accord with the physical conclusions, which manifest sense and necessary demonstrations have previously made certain to us. Now the Bible, as has been remarked, admits in many places expositions that are remote from the signification of the words for reasons we have already given. Moreover, we are unable to affirm that all interpreters of the Bible speak by Divine inspiration for if that were so there would exist no differences among them about the sense of a given passage. Hence, I should think it would be the part of prudence not to permit anyone to usurp scriptural texts and force them in some way to maintain any physical conclusion to be true, when at some future time the senses and demonstrative or necessary reasons may show the contrary. Who indeed will set bounds to human ingenuity? Who will assert that everything in the universe capable of being perceived is already discovered and known? Let us rather confess quite truly that "Those truths which we know are very few in comparison with those which we do not know."


We have it from the very mouth of the Holy Ghost that God delivered up the world to disputations, so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end. In my opinion no one, m contradiction to that dictum, should close the road to free philosophizing about mundane and physical things, as if everything had already been discovered and revealed with certainty. Nor should it be considered rash not to be satisfied with those opinions, which have become common. No one should be scorned in physical disputes for not holding to the opinions, which happen to please other people best, especially concerning problems which have been debated among the greatest philosophers for thousands of years. One of these is the stability of the sun mobility of the earth, a doctrine believed by Pythagoras and all his followers, by Heracleides of Pontus (who was one of them), by Philolaus, the teacher of Plato, and by Plato himself according to Aristotle. Plutarch writes in his Life of Numa that Plato, when he had grown old, said it was absurd to believe otherwise. The same doctrine was held by Aristarchus of Samos, as Archimedes tells us; by Seleucus the mathematician, by Nicetas the philosopher (on the testimony of Cicero), and by many others. Finally, this opinion has been amplified and confirmed with many observations and demonstrations by Nicholas Copernicus. And Seneca, a most eminent philosopher, advises us in his book on comets that we should more diligently seek to ascertain whether it is in the sky or in the earth that the diurnal rotation resides.


Hence it would probably be wise and useful counsel if, beyond articles which concern salvation and the establishment of our Faith, against the stability of which there is no danger whatever that any valid and effective doctrine can ever arise, men would not aggregate further articles unnecessarily. And it would certainly be preposterous to introduce them at the request of persons, who, besides not being known to speak by inspiration of divine grace, are clearly seen to lack that understanding which is necessary in order to comprehend, let alone discuss, the demonstrations by which such conclusions are supported in the subtler sciences. If I may speak my opinion freely, I should say further that it would perhaps fit in better with the decorum and majesty of the sacred writings to take measures for preventing every shallow and vulgar writer from giving to his compositions (often grounded upon foolish fancies) an air of authority by inserting in them passages from the Bible, interpreted (or rather distorted) into senses as far from the right meaning of Scripture as those authors are near to absurdity who thus ostentatiously adorn their writings. Of such abuses many examples might be produced, but for the present I shall confine myself to two which are germane to these astronomical matters. The first concerns those writings which were published against the existence of the Medicean planets recently discovered by me, in which many passages of holy Scripture were cited. Now that everyone has seen these planets, I should like to know what new interpretations those same antagonists employ in expounding the Scripture and excusing their own simplicity. My other example is that of a man who has lately published, in defiance of astronomers and philosophers, the opinion that the moon does not receive its light from the sun but is brilliant by its own nature. He supports this fancy (or rather thinks he does) by sundry texts of Scripture which he believes cannot be explained unless his theory is true; yet that the moon is inherently dark is surely as plain as daylight.


It is obvious that such authors, not having penetrated the true senses of Scripture, would impose upon others an obligation to subscribe to conclusions that are repugnant to manifest reason and sense, if they had any authority to do so. God forbid that this sort of abuse should gain countenance and authority, for then in a short time it would be necessary to proscribe all the contemplative sciences. People who are unable to understand perfectly both the Bible and the science far outnumber those who do understand them. The former, glancing superficially through the Bible, would arrogate to themselves the authority to decree upon every question of physics on the strength of some word which they have misunderstood, and which was employed by the sacred authors for some different purpose. And the smaller number of understanding men could not dam up the furious torrent of such people, who would gain the majority of followers simply because it is much more pleasant to gain a reputation for wisdom without effort or study than to consume oneself tirelessly in the most laborious disciplines. Let us therefore render thanks to Almighty God, who in His beneficence protects us from this danger by depriving such persons of all authority, reposing the power of consultation, decision, and decree on such important matters in the high wisdom and benevolence of most prudent Fathers, and in the supreme authority of those who cannot fail to order matters properly under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Hence we need not concern ourselves with the shallowness of those men whom grave and holy authors rightly reproach, and of whom in particular St. Jerome said, in reference to the Bible:


"This is ventured upon, lacerated, and taught by the garrulous old woman, the doting old man, and the prattling sophist before they have learned it. Others, led on by pride, weigh heavy words and philosophize amongst women concerning holy Scripture. Others- oh shame!-learn from women what they teach to men, and (as if that were not enough) glibly expound to others that which they themselves do not understand. I forebear to speak of those of my own profession who, attaining a knowledge of the holy Scriptures after mundane learning, tickle the ears of the people with affected and studied expressions, and declare that everything they say is to be taken as the law of God. Not bothering to learn what the prophets and the apostles have maintained, they wrest incongruous testimonies into their own senses-as if distorting passages and twisting the Bible to their individual and contradictory whims were the genuine way of teaching, and not a corrupt one."I do not wish to place in the number of such lay writers some theologians whom I consider men of profound learning and devout behavior, and who are therefore held by me in great esteem and veneration Yet I cannot deny that I feel some discomfort which I should like to have removed, when I hear them pretend to the power of constraining others by scriptural authority to follow in a physical dispute that opinion which they think best agrees with the Bible, and then believe themselves not bound to answer the opposing reasons and experiences. In explanation and support of this opinion they say that since theology is queen of all the sciences, she need not bend in any way to accommodate herself to the teachings of less worthy sciences which are subordinate to her; these others must rather be referred to her as their supreme empress, changing and altering their conclusions according to her statutes and decrees. They add further that if in the inferior sciences any conclusion should be taken as certain in virtue of demonstrations or experiences, while in the Bible another conclusion is found repugnant to this, then the professors of that science should themselves undertake to undo their proofs and discover the fallacies in their own experiences, without bothering the theologians and exegetes. For, they say, it does not become the dignity of theology to stoop to the investigation of fallacies in the subordinate sciences; it is sufficient for her merely to determine the truth of a given conclusion with absolute authority, secure in her inability to err.


Now the physical conclusions in which they say we ought to be satisfied by Scripture, without glossing or expounding it in senses different from the literal, are those concerning which the Bible always speaks in the same manner and which the holy Fathers all receive and expound in the same way. But with regard to these judgments I have had occasion to consider several things, and I shall set them forth in order that I may be corrected by those who understand more than I do in these matters-for to their decisions I submit at all times.


First, I question whether there is not some equivocation in failing to specify the virtues which entitle sacred theology to the title of "queen." It might deserve that name by reason of including everything that is included from all the other sciences and establishing everything by better methods and with profounder learning. It is thus, for example, that the rules for measuring fields and keeping accounts are much more excellently contained in arithmetic and in the geometry of Euclid than in the practices of surveyors and accountants. Or theology might be queen because of being occupied with a subject which excels in dignity all the subjects which compose the other sciences, and because her teachings are divulged in more sublime ways.


That the title and authority of queen belongs to theology in the first sense, I think, will not be affirmed by theologians who have any skill in the other sciences. None of these, I think, will say that geometry, astronomy, music, and medicine are much more excellently contained in the Bible than they are in the books of Archimedes, Ptolemy, Boethius, and Galen. Hence it seems likely that regal preeminence is given to theology in the second sense; that is, by reason of its subject and the miraculous communication of divine revelation of conclusions which could not be conceived by men in any other way, concerning chiefly the attainment of eternal blessedness.


Let us grant then that theology is conversant with the loftiest divine contemplation, and occupies the regal throne among sciences by dignity But acquiring the highest authority in this way, lf she does not descend to the lower and humbler speculations of the subordinate sciences and has no regard for them because they are not concerned with blessedness, then her professors should not arrogate to them-selves the authority to decide on controversies in professions which they have neither studied nor practiced. Why, this would be as if an absolute despot, being neither a physician nor an architect but knowing himself free to command, should undertake to administer medicines and erect buildings according to his whim-at grave peril of his poor patients' lives, and the speedy collapse of his edifices.


Again, to command that the very professors of astronomy themselves see to the refutation of their own observations and proofs as mere fallacies and sophisms is to enjoin something that lies beyond any possibility of accomplishment. For this would amount to commanding that they must not see what they see and must not understand what they know, and that in searching they must find the opposite of what they actually encounter. Before this could be done they would have to be taught how to make one mental faculty command another, and the inferior powers the superior, so that the imagination and the will might be forced to believe the opposite of what the intellect understands. I am referring at all times to merely physical propositions, and not to supernatural things, which are matters of faith.


I entreat those wise and prudent Fathers to consider with great care the difference that exists between doctrines subject to proof and those subject to opinion. Considering the force exerted by logical deductions, they may ascertain that it is not in the power of` the professors of demonstrative sciences to change their opinions at will and apply themselves first to one side and then to the other. There is a great difference between commanding a mathematician or a philosopher and influencing a lawyer or a merchant, for demonstrated conclusions about things in nature or in the heavens cannot be changed with the same facility as opinions about what is or is not lawful in a contract, bargain, or bill of exchange. This difference was well understood by the learned and holy Fathers, as proven by their having taken great pains in refuting philosophical fallacies. This may be found expressly in some of them; in particular, we find the following words of St. Augustine:


"It is to be held as an unquestionable truth that whatever the sages of this world have demonstrated concerning physical matters is in no way contrary to our Bibles, hence whatever the sages teach in their books that is contrary to the holy Scriptures may be concluded without any hesitation to be quite false. And according to our ability let us make this evident, and let us keep the faith of our Lord, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom so that we neither become seduced by the verbiage of false philosophy nor frightened by the superstition of counterfeit religion."From the above words I conceive that I may deduce this doctrine That in the books of the sages of this world there are contained some physical truths which are soundly demonstrated, and others that are merely stated; as to the former, it is the office of wise divines to show that they do not contradict the holy Scriptures And as to the propositions which are stated but not rigorously demonstrated, anything contrary to the Bible involved by them must be held undoubtedly false and should be proved so by every possible means.


Now if truly demonstrated physical conclusions need not be subordinated to biblical passages, but the latter must rather be shown not to interfere with the former, then before a physical proposition is condemned it must be shown to be not rigorously demonstrated-and this is to be done not by those who hold the proposition to be true, but by those who judge it to be false. This seems very reasonable and natural, for those who believe an argument to be false may much more easily find the fallacies in it than men who consider it to be true and conclusive. Indeed, in the latter case it will happen that the more the adherents of an opinion turn over their pages, examine the arguments, repeat the observations, and compare the experiences, the more they will be confirmed in that belief. And Your Highness knows what happened to the late mathematician of the University of Pisa who undertook in his old age to look into the Copernican doctrine in the hope of shaking its foundations and refuting it, since he considered it false only because he had never studied it. As it fell out, no sooner had he understood its grounds, procedures, and demonstrations than he found himself persuaded, and from an opponent he became a very staunch defender of it. I might also name other mathematicians who, moved by my latest discoveries, have confessed it necessary to alter the previously accepted system of the world, as this is simply unable to subsist any longer.


If in order to banish the opinion in question from the world it were sufficient to stop the mouth of a single man-as perhaps those men persuade themselves who, measuring the minds of others by their own, think it impossible that this doctrine should be able to continue to find adherents-then that would be very easily done. But things stand otherwise. To carry out such a decision it would be necessary not only to prohibit the book of Copernicus and the writings of other authors who follow the same opinion, but to ban the whole science of astronomy. Furthermore, it would be necessary to forbid men to look at the heavens, in order that they might not see Mars and Venus sometimes quite near the earth and sometimes very distant, the variation being so great that Venus is forty times and Mars sixty times as large at one time as at another. And it would be necessary to prevent Venus being seen round at one time and forked at another, with very thin horns; as well as many other sensory observations which can never be reconciled with the Ptolemaic system in any way, but are very strong arguments for the Copernican. And to ban Copernicus now that his doctrine is daily reinforced by many new observations and by the learned applying themselves to the reading of his book, after this opinion has been allowed and tolerated for these many years during which it was less followed and less confirmed, would seem in my judgment to be a contravention of truth, and an attempt to hide and suppress her the more as she revealed herself the more clearly and plainly. Not to abolish and censure his whole book, but only to condemn as erroneous this particular proposition, would (if I am not mistaken) be a still greater detriment to the minds of men, since it would afford them occasion to see a proposition proved that it was heresy to believe. And to prohibit the whole science would be to censure a hundred passages of holy Scripture which teach us that the glory and greatness of Almighty God are marvelously discerned in all his works and divinely read in the open book of heaven. For let no one believe that reading the lofty concepts written in that book leads to nothing further than the mere seeing of the splendor of the sun and the stars and their rising and setting, which is as far as the eyes of brutes and of the vulgar can penetrate. Within its pages are couched mysteries so profound and concepts so sublime that the vigils, labors, and studies of hundreds upon hundreds of the most acute minds have still not pierced them, even after the continual investigations for thousands of years. The eyes of an idiot perceive little by beholding the external appearance of a human body, as compared with the wonderful contrivances which a careful and practiced anatomist or philosopher discovers in that same body when he seeks out the use of all those muscles, tendons, nerves, and bones; or when examining the functions of the heart and the other principal organs, he seeks the seat of the vital faculties, notes and observes the admirable structure of the sense organs, and (without ever ceasing in his amazement and delight) contemplates the receptacles of the imagination, the memory, and the understanding. Likewise, that which presents itself to mere sight is as nothing in comparison with the high marvels that the ingenuity of learned men discovers in the heavens by long and accurate observation....


Your Highness may thus see how irregularly those persons proceed who in physical disputes arrange scriptural passages (and often those ill understood by them) in the front rank of their arguments. If these men really believe themselves to have the true sense of a given passage, it necessarily follows that they believe they have in hand the absolute truth of the conclusion they intend to debate. Hence they must know that they enjoy a great advantage over their opponents, whose lot it is to defend the false position; and he who maintains the truth will have many sense ­experiences and rigorous proofs on his side, whereas his antagonist cannot make use of anything but illusory appearances, quibbles, and fallacies. Now if these men know they have such advantages over the enemy even when they stay within proper bounds and produce no weapons other than those proper to philosophy, why do they, in the thick of the battle, betake themselves to a dreadful weapon which cannot be turned aside, and seek to vanquish the opponent by merely exhibiting it? If I may speak frankly, I believe they have themselves been vanquished, and, feeling unable to stand up against the assaults of the adversary, they seek ways of holding him off. To that end they would forbid him the use of reason, divine gift of Providence, and would abuse the just authority of holy Scripture- which, in the general opinion of theologians, can never oppose manifest experiences and necessary demonstrations when rightly understood and applied. If I am correct, it will stand them in no stead to go running to the Bible to cover up their inability to understand (let alone resolve) their opponents' arguments, for the opinion which they fight has never been condemned by the holy Church. If they wish to proceed in sincerity, they should by silence confess themselves unable to deal with such matters. Let them freely admit that although they may argue that a position is false, it is not in their power to censure a position as erroneous - or in the power of any­one except the Supreme Pontiff, or the Church Councils. Reflecting upon this, and knowing that a proposition cannot be both true and heretical, let them employ themselves in the business, which is proper to them; namely, demonstrating its falsity. And when that is revealed, either there will no longer be any necessity to prohibit it (since it will have no followers), or else it may safely be prohibited without the risk of any scandal.


Therefore, let these men begin to apply themselves to an examination of the arguments of Copernicus and others, leaving condemnation of the doctrine as erroneous and heretical ' to the proper authorities. Among the circumspect and most wise Fathers, and in the absolute wisdom of one who cannot err, they may never hope to find the rash decisions into which they allow them selves to be hurried by some particular passion or personal interest. With regard to this opinion, and others, which are not directly matters of faith, certainly no one doubts that the Supreme Pontiff has always an absolute power to approve or condemn; but it is not in the power: of any created being to make things true or false, for this belongs to their own nature and to the fact. Therefore, in my judgment one should first be assured of the necessary and immutable truth of the fact, over which no man has power. This is wiser counsel than to condemn either side in the absence of such certainty, thus depriving oneself of continued authority and ability to choose by determining things, which are now undetermined and open and still lodged in the will of supreme authority. And in brief, if it is impossible for a conclusion to be declared heretical while we remain in doubt as to its truth, then these men are wasting their time clamoring for condemnation of the motion of the earth and stability of the sun, which they have not yet demonstrated to be impossible or false ….

Darwinism vs. the Hierarchy of Being

One can easily find any number of books on Darwinism in which the authors argue that modern science does not support the ancient and medieval conceptions of the universe as hierarchical. Oftentimes, scientific writers cite Arthur O. Lovejoy’s The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea as a resource for the hisotry of the hierarchy of being. All of this gets endlessly repeated without variation or insight. And it does get wearisome. Some science authors write as if they are only vaguely familiar with the work by Lovejoy they are citing. And I see no reason to believe, except in a very few instances, that modern science writers are familiar with and understand the classic writings of Plato and Aristotle on the subject of being. Now that I have voiced this particular complaint, I will move on to briefly discuss my concerns regarding Darwinist arguments against the hierarchy of being.

First, I will tersely describe the hierarchy of being. At the lowest level is prime matter, which is pure potentiality. Next is informed matter, the elements or inanimate matter, that which we commonly think of as matter. Above non-living matter, are the plants, which in addition to being composed of elements from the earth, possess life, with the powers of nutrition, growth, and reproduction. Above vegetative life are the animals, which possess everything listed above regarding plant life, but in addition possess the powers of appetite, locomotion, sense knowledge, and emotions. Finally, at the top of the food chain, so to speak, is man, who possesses everything an animal possesses. In addition, man has the unique power of reason or rational thought and free will. Man's nature is also composite: he is a spiritual soul intimately united to a physical body. Man is an integral part of natural world, yet he also transcends the natural world. Above man are the pure spirits with no admixture of matter in their being; and next is God, the Creator of all things, who is pure actuality.

Some beings in nature do not fit neatly into one category or another. Aristotle, for instance, recognized creatures that possess characteristics distinctive of both plants and animals. Intermediate forms such as these do not invalidate or contradict the hierarchical classification of being. This is important to realize when considering how the evolution of species relates to the hierarchial classification.

One can find in history various descriptions of the chain of being that attempt to include almost everything in existence and even grade beings according to their usefulness to man. Such representations are more fanciful than philosophical and are of no relevance to the present discussion. However, such hierarchies do provide useful and interesting insights into a particular culture’s way of thinking about the world.

The Darwinian adamantly objects to any hierarchy of being because it is teleological. The Darwinist believes that evolution does not have an ultimate goal or purpose. Consequently, Darwinism is essentially materialistic, as the emiment evolutionist George Gaylord Simpson correctly noted in 1949. This extreme, materialistic Darwinian view is what I will be addressing. There are non-Darwinian interpretations of evolution, but I will be discussing Darwinism only in this post.

Here is clear explanation of the typical Darwinian view regarding purpose in nature:

“The image of a Ladder of Nature or Great Chain of Being suggests that evolution has a goal or an overall direction, often thought to be humans. But we know this isn’t the case. There is no intent, or ultimate aim, in replication, variation, selection, nor any other mechanism of evolution. Although there have been progressive improvements in various evolutionary lines, and we do not recognize the evolution of complexity over time, perhaps the image of a bush works better as an analogy for the big picture of evolution. Unlike a ladder or a chain, a bush can branch off in many directions—up, down, left, right and anywhere in between—and new branches can sprout off of older branches without implying that those farther from the trunk are more perfect or better adapted to their environments than those to the trunk.”

This is what Smith and Sullivan call “The Big Picture”, in The Top 10 Myths of Evolution. Even though the bush analogy may be quite suitable for the purposes of science, I will submit that it is far from being the “The Big Picture”. Smith and Sullivan, like all extreme Darwinists, deny the existence of teleology in nature: “But scientists, for all of their searching haven’t discovered any evidence of teleology in evolution. There appears to be no inherent drive that propels the evolution of species “upward” toward the ultimate goal of humans or any other species.” (p. 45)

The problem here is a fundamental epistemological error and the failure to recognize the proper role and limits of the natural sciences. Teleology is a metaphysical concept. Purpose or teleology is not within the competence of the particular sciences to investigate or address. Science can neither prove nor disprove teleology in nature. When science denies purpose in nature it is encroaching on first philosophy, metaphysics. A scientist who claims that science disproves teleology should be summarily discounted as making assertions that are non-scientific.

It makes about as much sense for a scientist to deny teleology as it does for a Soviet cosmonaut to deny the existence of God. It was reported that Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut who was the first man in space, said he "flew into space, but I did not see God there." (The story is probably apocryphal. Nikita Khrushchev seems to have fabricated it as propaganda against religion. Yet it will suffice here as an illustration of my point.) It should be obvious that metaphysical questions about the existence of God are not within the scope and competence of Soviet cosmonaut training. The evolutionists can no more disprove purpose in nature than the Soviet cosmonaut can disprove the existence of God.

Is Evolution Progressive?
If we gauge the success of evolutionary processes by the criterion of adaptability, then complexity is not necessarily progressive. Still, who will deny that there has been a general trend toward complexity? If a certain simple species “A” is better adapted to its environment than a more complex one “B”, then by the criterion of adaptability and survival, evolution has been more successful in the line of species “A”. However, does this mean that we should be judge evolution by the standard of adaptation and survival alone? If cockroaches can better adapt to their environment than Homo sapiens, does this mean we would have a better existence as cockroaches instead?

Natural Selection
Natural selection is both determined and random. That there is randomness in nature is a poor argument against teleology because randomness and purpose are not always mutually exclusive. Darwin's theory of natural selection was treated by scientists with considerable objection ever since the publication of the Origin of Species, since it seemed to deny purpose and design in nature. However, I do not see natural selection and teleology as mutally exclusive concepts. At this point, I believe natural selection is an excellent theory.

Also, Darwinists like to cite the fact that 99.99 percent of all evolutionary lines that have ever existed are now extinct as support for the idea that evolution is purposeless. Is that just a scientist's cold, calculating, and jaded outlook on life? To such a scientist I must have a very illogical interpretation of natural history. I can only marvel at the fact that in spite of astronomical odds against the possibility of beings evolving who can ask whether there is purpose in evolution, we have in fact arrived. We are here, but the Darwinist would say it was by only chance, because there were so many "what if" situations that might have prevented our appearance. But "what if" man was destined to appear despite all of the possible negative "what if" situations in nature? Perhaps the very fact that Homo sapiens appeared despite the innumerable potential obstacles in nature means something significant, something that is beyond the realm of scientific understanding?

A creature that can reason about evolution undoubtably enjoys a much higher order of existence than the cockroach. Man possess something of being that is much greater than the mere ability to survive and adapt. This is the common sense and ancient wisdom, which recognizes the hierarchy of being. The issues of “higher” and “lower” and the “hierarchy of being” will not go away just because extreme Darwinists wish it so.

The Middles Ages correctly recognized the hierarchy of being. Modern science correctly recognizes many things about the evolution of life. The vision of nature possessed by the genius of the Middle Ages ought not to be discounted by the extreme Darwinists. The Darwinists may be the first to claim that evolution is not necessarily progressive, yet he reveals his own prejudice and internal contradiction by assuming the present time is neccessarily more advanced than past ages. The typical Darwinist is a narrow, illiberally educated person sporting an illiberal view of life. C.S. Lewis once said "Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period." The Darwinist would do well to heed C.S. Lewis, and learn the truths from the old books as a corrective to his false metaphysical views about nature.

April 26, 2008

Hawking's Universe

The Inevitable Collapse of Hawking’s Boundless Universe!

Did the universe have a beginning? Not according to Stephen Hawking. His latest speculation about the universe involves the possibility that space-time is finite, but has no boundary. For our beloved universe, this means it had no moment of Creation, no beginning, and no big bang singularity. Now what?

In The Illustrated Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Edition, Hawking states,

“The idea that space and time may form a closed surface without a boundary also has profound implications for the role of God in the affairs of the universe. With the success of scientific theories in describing events, most people have come to believe that God allows the universe to evolve according to a set of laws and does not intervene in the universe to break these laws. However, the laws do not tell us what the universe should have looked like when it started – it would still be up to God to wind up the clockwork and choose how to start it off. So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place then, for a creator?” (p. 181)

The paragraph above reveals an over-extension of scientific explanation. Hawking wants to move beyond the point at which known scientific laws break down (big bang singularity) and no further scientific explanation is possible. In doing so, he creates a model of the universe dependent on a questionable underlying metaphysical view.

Hawking’s metaphysical assumption is that matter and energy, or, the totality of things in existence, carries within itself the reason or sufficient cause for its own existence. However, since we cannot reasonably assert this of any particular known thing in the universe, what possible scientific or philosophical justification can there be for making that claim in regard to the totality of things, i.e. the universe? A non-answer says the universe is just that way.

Whether one thinks of the universe as finite, infinite or boundless, there remains for everything in that universe, a metaphysical dependence on transcendent being. Yet, Hawking’s universe has no need for a creator. St. Thomas Aquinas’ five ways of proving the existence of God disprove Hawking’s self-contained universe. In essence, since Hawking’s model of the universe lacks ontological support, i.e. it has no reason or cause for its existence, its collapse into non-being is just a matter of time.

It should be clear the idea of a completely self-contained universe is not a scientific idea. The model encroaches on first philosophy, metaphysics, when it does not allow for the existence of a Supreme Being. And in matters of philosophy, the scientist is not necessarily any wiser than anyone else is.


In addition, those who accept the Revelation of a creation ex nihilo of the heavens and the earth can easily see Hawking's fundamental theoretical error.

Also, lacking Revelation, it is eminently reasonable to believe the universe did not have a beginning, i.e. that it always existed. However, it is not demonstrable that an eternally existing universe is ontologically self-sufficient. A universe without a beginning must necessarily be an eternally created universe. (An "eternal creation" is too complex for explanation in this post.)

Later, I may discuss whether a model of the universe in which space-time is finite, yet boundless, is intelligible. I have specific concerns about Hawking’s application of imaginary time and certain other ideas. Nonetheless, if you have not read his book, do so. The Illustrated Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Edition is superlative. Hawking is sure to bring you up to speed (relatively so), on stuff you need to know.

April 25, 2008

Cosmic Concerns!

Have you ever wondered why God created such a vast universe, one with billions of galaxies? Would a much smaller universe with just one galaxy, or even a cluster of galaxies have sufficed? Was God being wasteful by creating all of that matter, space and energy, which will remain unused and unexploited by Homo sapiens? Now, you might think it a trifle odd for anyone to be concerned about such matters as the possible reasons for the existence of an inconceivably large universe.

Nonetheless, I am directing my Present Concerns to Cosmic Concerns; specifically to that which appears to be, according to Hubble photographs, the biggest issue of modern times: the sheer vastness of the universe. Addressing the magnitude of the cosmos may seem an impractical use of one's time, but is it any more impractical than addressing the vast moral and political corruption of the Union? There does not seem to be much I can do about either situation.

The known universe contains some million million galaxies, each of which is comprised of millions or even billions of stars. Why are there so many galaxies spread over so much space? Would not Homo sapiens americanus be just as content to drink his ice-cold beer in a universe consisting of a single galaxy? Perhaps. The one difference that might present itself if the Milky Way were the only galaxy in creation, are the type of questions posed: Homo sapiens americanus would then be asking why God did not create billions of galaxies instead of just one. In that universe, I would have written a very different article than the present one.

Questions about the universe often assume that God created the universe for man’s sake. There is truth to this position, but it may be only part of the truth. First, the universe exists for rational, intelligent life, which may include human beings on planet earth as a subset of existing intelligent life. That is, God’s plan may have included the creation of intelligent life in other regions of the universe. Second, we correctly think of creation as intended for intelligent life, but we ought to look upon creation, also, or perhaps primarily so, “for the glory of God”. The point here is that a vast universe comprised of innumerable and widely various beings, processes, and events reveals more (in the manner that an effect reveals something of its cause) about the Creator than would a much smaller universe. The immensity of the universe, when considered in itself, can lead the mind to an even clearer realization of the Creator as a being who is much greater than anything conceivable by the human mind.

Another idea that occurs to me involves the initial singularity. God finely tuned the big bang singularity to enable (1) the universe to continue expanding without collapsing (God did not need his Intelligent Project collapsing mid-stream), and (2) the creation of galaxies with the kind of elements needed for the generation and support of living beings. Now, one can assume that God intervened, post-singularity, into the evolutionary processes of the cosmos to ensure the conditions necessary for the emergence of life actually came together in one or more locations within the universe.

Alternatively, one may think about the appearance of life in the universe resulting from God ensuring the necessary and sufficient conditions by fine-tuning the initial singularity to produce a universe vast enough to achieve a specific end: the eventual appearance of living beings. That is, the vastness itself of the universe allowed for the existence of the potentially infinite number of possibilities required for the inevitable generation of life on at least one planet. Accordingly, God’s subsequent intervention into the laws of nature would not have been required for the generation of living beings. Chemical selection performed its divinely pre-ordained work within the laws of nature. This view of the universe in which God does not miraculously intervene to bring about the initial origin of primitive life forms does not imply a God who is remote from his creation, such as the Darwinian absentee landlord God. Rather, God is "in" the universe just as the universe is "in" God. It is as the Apostle Paul says, "For in him we live, and move and have our being...(Acts 17:28)"

I have no idea what other people have thought about this cosmic topic, but I am basing the scenario above on the firm belief that God intended life to arise necessarily, and by means of natural processes. Would a universe consisting of a small number of galaxies have sufficed to achieve this goal, but just take much more time? I am inclined to have my doubts. Instead, I am guessing that one of the reasons for the creation of a vast universe is that the sheer immensity presented sufficient possibilities for the emergence of life. More specifically, the universe must have contained more than a high probability that life would emerge. The universe must be such that it necessarily resulted in the emergence of life by means of natural processes. Again, this requirement appears to necessitate the creation of a vast universe with infinite possibilities. I can balance a checkbook, on a good day, but I do not have the mathematical skills to know whether this is a good argument, so my initial speculation merely presents a picture I find aesthetically satisfying.

Questions about the immensity of the universe assume the nature of the universe is whatever it is because of its evolutionary history, which of course, accounts for the present state of things in existence. However, this is an incomplete view since it does not take into account the fulfillment of the purpose for the universe. The understanding that God created the universe for intelligent life must take into account the future life, also, and not just the fact that intelligent life presently exists in the cosmos.

Such concerns are the subject matter of theology and remain above the province of the natural sciences. That is, at the end of time (in the eschatological sense), God will transform the cosmos. The Apostle John said, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” The substance of the cosmos will remain, but there will be definite qualitative changes. Nobody seems to know just what role the universe will play in the next life. Still, ultimate questions (theological) about the vastness of the universe need to consider the divine purpose for the universe, which God will be bring to its completion at the end of time.

In summary, we will understand the full reason for the vastness of the universe at the end of time, when the cosmos achieves its goal through a transforming conflagration. Meanwhile, the universe is unfolding as God intended. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the state of the Union.

April 17, 2008

Ian G. Barbour

Ian G. Barbour, winner of the Templeton Prize (1999), is professor emeritus of physics and religion at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. His book When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners? provides a well-organized guide to contemporary literature on the relationship of science and religion. Author and professor, Arthur Peacocke (Oxford University) says, “No surer and fairer guide to the proliferating literature on the relation of science and religion can be found than Ian Barbour.”

That was the good news. Now, here comes the not so good news. Despite Barbour’s interesting and useful presentations of various theories, I was deeply disappointed with his own philosophical views. Many of Barbour’s opinions, plus interpretations of certain writers, will not stand critical analysis. I will discuss herein a number of Barbour's problematic statements, without making extensive comments at this time. An extended analysis would require studying fuller explanations of Barbour’s opinions from his other writings. So, I will limit my brief comments to his faulty interpretations of St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought and various biblical concepts.

Thomistic metaphysics:
Concerning the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas Barbour states (p. 34), “But I would argue that Aquinas’s thought expressed dualisms of matter/spirit, body/soul, temporality/eternity, and nature/humanity that have been only partially overcome in more recent Thomistic thought (see Chapter 5).” To say that Aquinas’ dualism has “been only partially overcome in more recent Thomistic thought” is to talk nonsense. If a Thomist attempted to “overcome” recognition of immaterial reality, his Thomistic credentials would be highly suspect. That is to say, he would not be a Thomist. Furthermore, Barbour says to “see Chapter 5”. However, I did not find any reference to this so-called “recent Thomistic thought” in Chapter 5, or in any other chapter. Whatever the case may be, the nature of Barbour’s comment on Aquinas reflects his predilection for a reductionist understanding of reality.

Creation:
Under the subtitle, “The Religious Meaning of Creation”, Barbour says (p. 48), “The idea of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) is not stated in Genesis.” One can make a fair argument in favor of Barbour’s assertion, and some reputable Old Testament scholars have previously taken the same position. However, I am not sure the interpretation of Genesis 1:1 is settled in such a way that one is justified in stating without qualification, as Barbour does, that Genesis 1 does not teach creation ex nihilo. That is, the author of Genesis 1 may be reaching to express in language that is inadequate for that which is inconceivable--creatio ex nihilo--by using negative images such as “void”, “empty”, “darkness”, and “face of the deep”. Furthermore, by “speaking” God brought some things into existence: “And God said: Be light made. And light was made.” There is no suggestion here of God creating or fashioning light from anything that pre-existed. Does verse 1: 3, for example, indicate that God created, to use much later terminology, ex nihilo?

Comological argument:
When discussing Thomas Aquinas’ ideas regarding creation ex nihilo and the eternity of the universe (p. 49), Barbour says, “To be sure, one of the versions of his cosmological argument did assume a beginning in time: every effect has a cause, which in turn is the effect of a previous cause, back to a First Cause that initiated the causal chain.” Barbour’s terse presentation of the cosmological argument reveals a misinterpretation of Aquinas’ writings. The argument to the existence of a First or Uncaused Cause is a philosophical argument. If the argument assumed a beginning in time, as Barbour thinks, then it would not be a philosophical argument. Aquinas makes clear that creation ex nihilo is known only because God has revealed it to man. Since philosophy or human reason alone cannot prove the world had a beginning in time, a world with a beginning in time cannot be assumed in what is strictly a philosophical demonstration.

Furthermore, Barbour incorrectly interprets the cosmological argument to assert a chain of causes going “back” in time to a First Cause. The causality of the argument is, rather, a metaphysical relationship at any particular point in time. To clarify this critical difference, it helps to think of the chain of causal relationships as “vertical”, and not as a “horizontal” sequence of events stretching back in time. The argument assumes Aristotle’s eternally existing world.

God and the Design arguments:
Concerning God and the Design arguments, Barbour says (p.84) “Design is what one would expect with an intelligent and purposeful God—though I will suggest that the presence of chance, evil, and human freedom should lead us to modify classical ideas of omnipotence.” Barbour’s suggestion of re-conceiving God as less than omnipotent has the dubious benefit of reducing problems and issues (the presence of chance, evil, and human freedom) to within the scope and limitations of the finite human mind to better comprehend. Genesis says, “Let us make man in our image and likeness.” Barbour responds by suggesting that we make God according to how we like. There is one major problem with Barbour’s suggestion: a God that is not omnipotent is not God.

Barbour next states, “My main objection to such design arguments is that they leave us with the distant and inactive God of deism, a far cry from the active God of the Bible who continues to be intimately involved with the world and human life.” I must say that it appears a strange and contradictory argument, which in one sentence suggests demoting God from the state of omnipotence, while the next sentence expresses preference for the concept of the God of the Bible. My sources tell me that “I Am Who Am” who spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and who will create a new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1), and who will overcome all death, suffering and evil (Rev. 21:4), was not impressed with Barbour’s suggestion that He is less than omnipotent.

Body/soul dualism:
In the chapter titled “Genetics, Neuroscience, and Human Nature”, Barbour says (p. 148) “Both reductive materialism and the dualism of mind and matter (or body and soul) are avoided by two-aspect theories and by the dipolar pluralism of process thought.” Barbour previously explains what all of this means, but his path leading up to the articulation of his own position is largely composed of statements biased against the immateriality of the soul. I prefer that Barbour would have provided philosophical arguments for his position. As it stands, Barbour proffers a reductionist view of reality without any supporting argument.

Barbour’s various discussions of philosophical dualism of body and soul generally consist of references to Plato and Descartes, who identified the person with the soul. Clearly, the extreme dualism of Plato and Descartes makes for an easy target. The moderate dualism of Thomism is another matter. Even though Barbour himself advocates what he believes to be an integral conception of human nature, he fails to discuss Thomistic hylomorphism. With Barbour, the moderate dualism of Aristotle and Aquinas gets only minimal airtime. Yet, what theory could be more explanatory, integral and holistic than Aquinas’ teachings about the nature of the human body and soul?

In addition, Barbour’s claim that the biblical concept of man does not include the notion of an immortal soul is inaccurate. Barbour does cite biblical scholars who claim there is not any notion in the Bible of the human soul as an immortal entity. One of the Protestant biblical scholars cited, Oscar Cullman, is an excellent scholar. And it is true that the majority of Old Testament references to the soul (nepês), indicate the entire person, and lack any notion of man composed of a subsisting immaterial component. However, the Greek concept of the soul (psychē) does appear in Wisdom. The author reveals a limited familiarity with the Greek idea of the soul when he says, “But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die, and their departure was taken for misery; and their going away from us, for utter destruction; but they are in peace (3:1-3).” Wisdom also speaks of the soul as pre-existing: “And I was a witty child and received a good soul. And whereas I was more good, I came to a body undefiled (8:19-20).”

Also, to understand what Jews and Christians believed about human nature and life after death cannot be thorougly understood by looking only at what was intended by the word for "soul" in the the Old and New Testaments. But Barbour has limited his analysis to nothing more than what can be learned by looking up the word "soul" in any Protestant reference to the Bible. One needs to expand their resources, study the entire Bible (Catholic list of books), and reflect on later Jewish practices for what they may suggest concerning existing beliefs about the state of man after death. For instance, in II Machabees, Jews offered prayers and sacrifices for God’s forgiveness of their fellow Jews slain in battle because they died wearing amulets of an idol. Was it believed that something of the fallen soldiers’ being survived the death of the body and could receive God’s forgiveness, and the guilt of their sins expiated soon after death of the body, all as a result of prayers and sacrifices offered?

In the New Testament, the concept of the soul, psychē, contains nothing significant over the Old Testament nepês. Yet, if it is the entire person that dies and remains stone cold dead until the Resurrection, as Barbour asserts, then what are we to make of Christ’s words to one of the thieves crucified with Him?: “And Jesus said to him, ‘Amen I say to you thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise.’” How is it that the thief went to paradise that same day with Jesus while their bodies were prepared for burial?

One can find any number of passages in the New Testament, which throw doubt on Barbour’s unqualified assertion that the Bible teaches the entire person dies and remains so until the Resurrection. For instance, St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “We even have the courage to be exiled from the body and to be at home with the Lord. And therefore we strive, whether in the body or out of it, to be pleasing to him (II Cor. 5:8-9).”

Revelations given to Israel, and Israel's understanding of the great mysteries of life, show historical progression. The primitive Jews knew nothing of an afterlife. Their mentality and concern was with living a long life and prosperity. Death meant going down to Sheol, where one was not completely bereft of life, but existed as a shadowy replica of his former self. Kings still sat on thrones, and so on, among the Shades.

Centuries later, the Prophets revealed the future Resurrection of the dead. Also, the concept of Sheol progressed and later called the Bosom of Abraham, where one is gathered to his fathers. The concept of Sheol also evolved to be thought of a place that had a separate domain of punishment for the wicked. By New Testament times, the Jews referred to the Bosom of Abraham also as Paradise. Paradise is that part of Sheol where the just awaited redemption and salvation. This is where Jesus descended to after His crucifixion. The Paradise of the just is sometimes referred to as Hell in the Catholic Creeds where it states that Christ descended to Hell. It may sound confusing at first, but in the Creeds, Hell does not mean the Hell of the damned. It is the same as the Paradise of the just. Clearly, the use of alternative term to Hell would avoid any initial confusion in modern times about the intended meaning.

My main point here is that by merely looking at the meaning of the word psychē in the New Testament one will not acquire a full picture of what Jews and Christians during New Testament times believed about death of the body and the afterlife. Barbour’s shows that his biblical knowledge is severely lacking. I suspect this is due to his process ideology and philosophically untenable conception of human nature, through which he filters his reading of the Bible. Barbour would like the Bible to appear supportive of his ideology. For instance, he says (p.134) “I do not myself accept either the classical body/soul dualism or the proposal that body and soul are terms in complementary language. I will defend an integral view of the person as a psychosomatic unity, which I believe is closer to both the biblical view and the evidence from contemporary science.” As I have tried to show, Barbour’s materialistic view of man cannot be supported with the Bible. And contemporary science does not truly support Barbour’s view of man. It is a matter of how various scientists interpret the data. I will discuss this particualr problem in a future post.

Barbour Borks the Bible:
Wherever the Bible is in clear contradiction to Barbour’s ideology, he has no qualms about emasculating biblical doctrine by means of “reinterpretation”. Barbour denies the Fall of Adam, the biblical doctrine of Original Sin, and much more. For example, he says (p.135), “I will suggest that even the biblical concepts of sin and redemption, which seem far removed from any scientific data, should be reinterpreted today in the context of evolutionary history and the social and behavioral science.”

Aspects of a few biblical concepts and various biblical passages may be understood more accurately in light of new scientific evidence, but when Barbour’s “reinterpretation” means denying fundamental biblical doctrines, then such reinterpretation is tantamount to heresy. Barbour's approach to the relationship of science to the Bible is unacceptable. Theology is a science higher than the natural sciences and provides an external and negative guide to the natural sciences. There are various, changing and conflicting scientific views about man and nature. It is one thing to modify one's interpretation of Genesis 1 when science shows that the earth is billions of years old. The view that supports a direct creation in six days has never been Church doctrine. Here, the biblical interpreter learns something from genuine science.

Also, modern biblical scholarship has show that story of Noah and the Ark to be a theological polemic against Middle Eastern flood stories such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. The biblical Deluge account was worked into the historical narrative of Genesis. There is no longer any reason to insist the story was historical. The meaning and message of the story is not lost or diminshed in any way by recognizing its non-historical character.

Furthermore, scientific evidence confirms there was no universal flood, or even a disasterous regional flood of the magnitude portrayed by the Deluge account, during the period it was said to have taken place, a very, very long time before the written account.

The upshot here is that scientific evidence merely confirms the non-historical character of the Deluge, but the scientific evidence does not and cannot suggest that the meaning and the message of the story of Noah and the Ark needs to be re-interpreted.

In addition, when it is a matter of biblically based doctrines in which there is a tradition of agreed upon interpretations, and are supported by the teaching authority of the Church, such doctrines are unchangeable. For example, the Church's interpretation of Christ's words, "This is my body" and "This is my blood", to indicates the Real Presence of Christ, and that the substance of what was bread and wine no longer exists. Merely because transubstantiation cannot be proven by the limited methods of the natural sciencs is no reason for Catholics to question and re-interpret the biblical passages and Church teaching. But this is what Barbour's type of reasoning leads to--a total denial of the truths of Christianity.

It is the height of absurdity for anyone to think that certain and traditional interpretations of biblical doctrines ought to be changed every time a new scientific hypothesis or psuedo-scientific theory of man and nature becomes popular. But such is the arrogance of man wanting to alter God's message of salvation to his own liking. There is a timeless message in the primitive story of the Tower of Babel.

I have no sympathy whatsoever for Barbour’s ideological driven attacks on Sacred Scripture.

rev. 04/20/08

April 15, 2008

Charles Darwin biography

Charles Darwin can appear to be somewhat of a paradox. Some people idolize Darwin as humanity’s liberator, while others denounce him as destroyer of civilization. I have my own views about Darwin’s theories, but I wanted to know more about Darwin himself, his friends and family, the various religious influences in his life such as Unitarianism, the times in which he lived, how he worked and conducted research, the development of his ideas, and much more. I came across the biographical work Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist by Adrian Desmond and James Moore. I was not disappointed. This outstanding biography filled in for me many pieces of the Darwin puzzle. If only the book had continued for another 700 pages.

It is said that more is known about the life of Charles Darwin than is known about the life of any other great scientist. Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist is rich in details, includes 90 photographs, and can provide some correction to misinterpretations about Darwin made by previous writers. For anyone interested in the life of this Englishman who posessed an incredible passion for science, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist is a must read!

Evolution & Religion

In The Top 10 Myths of Evolution, the authors, Smith and Sullivan, do a reasonably good job in explaining why Intelligent Design is not science (Chap. 9: "Myth Nine: Intelligent Design is Science”). The bottom line is that scientists use natural methods and explanations in the study of nature. Contemporary writers sometimes refer to this as “methodological naturalism”. Science has nothing to say about things that are above nature and therefore do not admit of being studied by the methods appropriate to the natural sciences. Science, as science, can neither affirm nor deny anything about spiritual realities such as the human soul, angelic beings, or God. These are matters for metaphysics and theology.

Proponents of Intelligent Design, such as Philip Johnson, wrongly believe that methodological naturalism leads to atheism. Johnson’s mission is to replace the natural sciences and methodological naturalism with “theistic science”. Johnson’s theistic science involves divine explanations as part of the scientific method. This ill-conceived melting pot of religion, philosophy, and science most assuredly does not belong in the science classroom.

Advocates of Intelligent Design are attempting to make science fit their pre-conceived religious ideas. This is the modus operandi of Creationism (biblical literalism), and Creation Science. Unfortunately, Young Earth Creationists, for example, no less than the earlier Flat-Earthists, discredit Christianity with their superstitious-like beliefs about the earth and the universe.

It makes more sense to have an approach to Scripture reconciled with what science can really demonstrate as true since science and theology themselves cannot conflict. When there is a genuine conflict, not just an apparent conflict, then the scientist may be in error, or the theologian may be in error (note the theologians who denounced Copernicus' hypothetical heliocentrism because it conflicted with Scripture). When scientists are certain of their conclusion, such as the earth being billions of years old, then the Genesis historical framework for delivering God’s message and recounting His faithfulness to His promise cannot be interpreted according to our understanding of literal, scientific history.

St. Augustine warned against using Scripture to contradict what is scientifically known about nature: “It is then offensive and ruinous, something to be avoided at all cost, for a nonbeliever to hear a Christian talking about these things [the natural world] as though with Christian writings as his source, and yet so nonsensically and with such obvious error that the nonbeliever can hardly keep from laughing.”

Smith and Sullivan state, “If your scientific hypothesis first has to pass through the filter of your religious faith, you risk losing any semblance of impartiality and objectivity…Among some religious believers, though, it’s a virtue to hold onto an article of faith even in the face of overwhelming evidence against it. A historical example of an extreme faith commitment comes from Saint Ignatius of Loyola…when he wrote, “To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it…”

Smith and Sullivan have a valid point, but they over-extend their position. Consequently, I must disagree with them and take sides with the great St. Ignatius of Loyola. That is, in the Roman Catholic tradition there are teachings that are certain and are matters of faith, “de fide”. If we take St. Ignatius’ statement to mean those matters defined as de fide, then regardless of how else something may appear to an individual, or to a group, even if they are scientists, the Church cannot be wrong. For instance, the doctrine of Original Sin is true regardless of what scientists have to say about the origin and nature of Homo sapiens. A Catholic only needs to recall Pierre Teilhard de Chardin evolutionary vision, which led to his denial of Original Sin. A plethora of absurdities followed from his denial of the Sin of Adam.

In addition, many scientists today believe, as did Charles Darwin, that the mind of man differs only in degree from anthropoid apes and higher animals. I was deeply disappointed to hear certain Catholic scientists vehemently claim that scientific evidence proves Darwin’s position about the human mind. It is inexplicably strange for Catholics who say they believe man has a spiritual soul, to be making this kind of assertion. I will have to deal with this madness in a separate post. For now, this will serve as a good example of how the scientific evidence appears to support a certain conclusion, when in fact the very same evidence can better provide for a very different conclusion.

A Catholic scientist with training in just the fundamentals of sound philosophy is capable of realizing the absurdity of the Darwinian view of the human mind. If the Catholic scientist cannot see his way to the truth regarding the human mind, he can save himself from grievous error by following the advice of St. Ignatius of Loyola: “The white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it…”

Certain things are a matter of faith such as God created heaven and earth ex nihilo. But a direct creation in six days is not an “article of faith”. It is merely a superficial way of understanding Genesis 1. The literalists’ interpretation of Genesis 1 is a mindless sectarian position treated with all the conviction and force of belief normally reserved for articles of faith.

Apparently, Smith and Sullivan are unaware of what Roman Catholics understand by “articles of faith”. If the conclusions of a scientist on some matter truly contradict an article of faith, then the scientist needs to skedaddle back to his drawing board. The truths of faith are known with far more certainty than are the most certain conclusions of the natural sciences in even the simplest of matters.

One can see how different the situation is regarding articles of faith when compared to particular interpretations of various biblical passages. The books of the Bible contain numerous literary forms and a pre-scientific cosmology. This is why it is “offensive and ruinous” for fundamentalists to use these writings to argue against science.

April 5, 2008

Pius XII, the Jews, and Hitler

Do you know what irks me more than an anti-Catholic believing Pope Pius XII did not do much to aid the Jews during WWII, or that he was Hitler’s Pope, or some other such nonsense? The answer: a Catholic believing such anti-Catholic, unhistorical nonsense.

The left leaning anti-Catholic media has done its evil deeds over the last several years reviving the old lies, ones that originated with Rolf Hochhuth and his popular play, “The Deputy”. According to philosophy professor, Ralph McInerny, Hochhuth, a Protestant and guilt-ridden former Nazi Youth member, was disturbed and envious of the praise the Jewish community lavished on Pius XII after the war for all that he did for them. Hochhuth would have his revenge by displacing his own guilt onto Pius XII.

Ever since Hochhuth's slanderous play, "The Deputy", there always seems to be some disgruntled writer emerging from his small world to take up the Hochhuth mantle and continue the defamation of Pius XII, despite the overwhelming, documented facts of history.

Over the past several years, the popular print media and television foisted mythological histories of Pius XII on Americans. Those who rely on these sources for most of their information about the world are generally not critical thinkers, and too readily believe whatever they read or see on television. The situation reminds me of a line in Willy Nelson's song, "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?":

“They wouldn’t lie to me, not on my own damn T.V.”

Contrary to the many mythological histories of Pius XII, no individual or group did more for the Jews than Pius XII working through his nuncios. Pius XII was the best friend the Jews had during the WWII. Jewish organizations repeatedly requested assistance from Pius XII, knowing that he would respond.

But Pius XII really needs no defense. The historical records speak for themselves. A good place to begin learning the truth is by reading the book, The Defamation of Pius the XII, by Ralph McInerny. McInerny states this thesis as follows:

“Since the historic efforts of Pius XII during World War II are a matter of history and the attacks on him are risibly easy to dismiss, the question becomes: Why is this good man being defamed? Who are those attacking the man who behaved most nobly during the darkest period of the twentieth century? Anti-Catholicism has been called the anti-Semitism of the liberal. It has now become the trademark of the Culture of Death.”

McInerny presents an insightful background of Eugenio Pacelli, who was elected pope in 1939. He then covers each of the war years, the Zionist and anti-Zionist movements, and the defamers of Pius XII such as James Carroll, John Cornwell, Garry Wills, and so on. McInerny also cites many excellent sources for further study. The Defamation of Pius the XII is an excellent presentation of the truth about the heroic and saintly Pope Pius XII.

I began by saying there are two things I found irksome, the second more than the first: the anti-Catholic believing the lies about Pius XII, and when a Catholic believes the same lies. Well, there is actually a third category, which is much more irksome to me than the two above: the anti-Catholic who falsely claims to be Catholic while disseminating falsehoods about Pius XII and attacking the Church in general. In this category belongs the historian Garry Wills. In his book, Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit, Wills has no qualms about attacking Pius XII with falsehoods. But as McInerny points out, Pius XII is just a target of opportunity for some whose agenda involves undermining papal authority.

By attacking Pius XII, Garry Wills discredits himself as a Catholic and an historian.

Garry Wills, in various writings, also attacks Catholic saints, Catholic devotions, and denies many important Catholic doctrines. Wills rejects fundamental moral doctrines that are part of what it means to be Catholic. Yet Wills claims to be a Catholic. He is deceiving himself and others. In my opinion, Garry Wills has cut himself off from Christ. Wills' attacks on Pius XII and the Church are groundless and loathsome. I hope Catholics say a prayer for Wills' conversion, and then read The Defamation of Pius the XII by Ralph McInerny.

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