“that leads from Galileo to the atomic bomb..”

An otherwise interesting article by John Waters in the Irish Times today [subs req] is somewhat spoiled by his initial assertion [Adds, a familiar one] that the topic – the ongoing controversy around Pope Benedict XVI, the Galileo affair, and the aborted visit to Rome’s largest and oldest university, La Sapienza [formerly the papal university] –

“.. is emblematic of our latter-day blogosphere culture in embracing both ideological spite and indifference to truth, manifesting the classic symptoms of a whirlwind created on the internet by neurotics exchanging bites of information by way of stoking each other’s narcissistic obsession with expressing their democratic right to make fools of themselves.”

Later in the article the blame is re-laid at the door of “the media” and “journalists with similar agendas” to the protestors. But, as I said to begin with, the article is interesting – and echoes, with the noted exception, some of the arguments made in the Italian Professor of Mathematics Giorgio Israel blog [I’m relying on the translation provided here] . John Waters is right to identify that there appears to have been little attempt by those who did report the story to look at what Benedict had said, as Cardinal Ratzinger, in 1990. But, whilst he takes one view of the 1990 speech, others have had a more detailed discussion.. Adds There’s another interesting discussion on this at the Cedar Lounge.To begin with there are the quotes used in the article by John Waters, after referencing Ernst Bloch.

It was here, somewhat agape, that Ratzinger cited Feyerabend, an agnostic and sceptical Austrian/American philosopher (1924-94).

Ratzinger said: “If both the spheres of conscience are once again clearly distinguished among themselves under their respective methodological profiles, recognising both their limits and their respective rights, then the synthetic judgment of the agnostic-skeptic philosopher P Feyerabend appears much more drastic. He writes: ‘The church at the time of Galileo was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Galileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimised solely for motives of political opportunism.'”

From here, Ratzinger moved to the failure of the church to deal correctly with the ethical implications of the Galilean perspective, which, in its wider interpretation, he noted, CF Von Weizsacker had identified as creating a “very direct path” to the atomic bomb. Ratzinger concluded: “It would be absurd, on the basis of these affirmations, to construct a hurried apologetics. The faith does not grow from resentment and the rejection of rationality, but from its fundamental affirmation and from being inscribed in a still greater form of reason.”

But we have this translation of Ratzinger’s speech to compare

If both the spheres of conscience are once again clearly distinguished among themselves under their respective methodological profiles, recognizing both their limits and their respective rights, then the synthetic judgment of the agnostic-skeptic philosopher P. Feyerabend appears much more drastic. He writes: “The church at the time of Galileo was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Gaileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for motives of political opportunism.”

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

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

It would be absurd, on the basis of these affirmations, to construct a hurried apologetics. The faith does not grow from resentment and the rejection of rationality, but from its fundamental affirmation and from being inscribed in a still greater form of reason …

The point to note is that in his speech Ratzinger used the philosophers quoted to justify a refusal to apologise for, or revisit, the Church’s trial and verdict on Galileo – “It would be absurd, on the basis of these affirmations, to construct a hurried apologetics.” [added emphasis].

That he then goes on to appeal to “a still greater form of reason” is not unexpected in a believer in the supernatural. But it is another point to note.

Especially in light of the speech Benedict was intending to give at La Sapienza – which John Waters introduces by its theme only

The theme of the pope’s planned address at La Sapienza, incidentally, was: “There is a danger in modern times that man may stop seeking the truth”.

The actual speech, though, also discusses the nature of that truth and reason.

Today we see very clearly how the situation of the religions and the situation of the Church—its crises and renewals—act upon the whole of humanity. Thus the pope, precisely as the shepherd of his community, has increasingly become a voice of the ethical reasoning of humanity.

But here there immediately comes the objection according to which the pope does not in fact truly speak on the basis of ethical reasoning, but instead draws his judgments from the faith, and therefore he cannot claim that these have validity for those who do not share this faith. We must return to this argument later, because it poses the absolutely fundamental question: What is reason? How can an assertion—and above all a moral norm—demonstrate that it is “reasonable”. At this point, I would like to note briefly that John Rawls, while he denies that religious doctrines overall have the character of “public” reasoning, he nonetheless sees in their “non-public” reasoning at least a reasoning that cannot simply be dismissed by those who support a hard-line secularist rationality. He sees a criterion of this reasonableness in, among other things, the fact that that such doctrines are derived from a responsible and well grounded tradition, in which over a long span of time sufficiently strong arguments have been developed in support of the respective doctrines. It seems important to me that this statement recognises that experience and demonstration over the course of generations, the historical backdrop of human wisdom, are also a sign of their reasonableness and their lasting significance. In the face of an a-historical form of reason that seeks to construct itself in an exclusively a-historical rationality, the wisdom of humanity as such—the wisdom of the great religious traditions—should be viewed as a reality that cannot be cast with impunity into the trash bin of the history of ideas.

In doing so he is revisiting what has become a persistent theme of Benedict’s – the enwtining of faith and science.

And further into the proposed speech

In modern times knowledge has become more multi-faceted, especially in the two broad fields that now prevail in universities. First of all, there are the natural sciences which have developed on the basis of experimentation and subject matters’ supposed rationality. Secondly, there are the social sciences and the humanities in which man has tried to understand himself by looking at his own history and uncovering his own nature. From this development humanity not only acquired a great deal of knowledge and power but also an understanding and recognition of the rights and dignity of mankind. And for this we can be grateful. But man’s journey can never be said to be over and the danger of falling into inhumanity is never just warded off as we can see in today’s history. The danger faced by the Western world, just to mention the latter, is that mankind, given its great knowledge and power, might give up on the question of the truth. At the same time this means that reason in the end may bow to the pressures of partisan interests and instrumental value, forced to acknowledge the latter as the ultimate standard. From the point of view of the academic world this means that there is a danger that philosophy, feeling incapable of fulfilling its task, might degenerate into positivism, a danger that theology and the message it has for reason might be confined to the private sphere of a group more or less big. If however reason, concerned about its supposed purity, fails to hear the great message that comes from the Christian faith and the understanding it brings, it will dry up like a tree with roots cut off from the water that gives it life. It will lose the courage needed to find the truth and thus become small rather than great. Applied to our European culture this means that if it wants to constitute itself on the basis of its arguments and whatever appears to it to be convincing, with concerns about its own secular nature, it will cut itself off from its life-sustaining roots, and in doing so will not become more reasonable and pure but will instead become undone and fragmented. [added emphasis]

I’ve added the emphasis to highlight a point that Benedict tried to make before in his criticism of Francis Bacon. A criticism which was somewhat blunted when he subsequently used one of Bacon’s argument for his own purposes.

The problem for Benedict remains the same as the one I highlighted in the two linked posts above. Bacon forsaw the criticism of his ‘New Instrument for Rational Thinking’ – Novum Organum, published in 1620. And he highlighted himself the difficulty for philosophers, like Benedict and, to a lesser degree, Waters, who hold to idols [or assumptions] of their own above any reasoning.

Finally, Benedict may have claimed in his proposed speech that “He [the Pope] certainly should not try to impose in an authoritarian manner his faith on others, which can only be freely offered.” but the intended audience extends beyond those physically in the room – particularly in “our latter-day blogosphere culture”.

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