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Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Sandra Miesel

First of all, I wish to disabuse Prof. Grayling of the idea that I'm a professor. No, I'm a veteran professional writer with years of graduate study in medieval history and experience identifying medieval manuscripts for art dealers.

On this matter of the Church's relationship with science, Professor Grayling omits Bellarimine's admission that if Galileo could present some proofs, theologians would have to reconsider their interpretations. He couldn't. That was left to Foucault and his pendulum.

Nevertheless, Italian churches were used as solar observatories, Jesuits served as Vatican astronomers, Bl. Nicholas Steno recognized the significance of rock strata, Gregor Mendel established the laws of classical genetics, Fr. Nieuland developed synthetic rubber at Notre Dame--just the cases that spring to mind without consulting reference books.

I repeat that the Middle Ages were a time of pragmatic technological achievement. The only technologies the papacy (unsuccessfully)sought to repress were the crossbow and gunpowder.

Christianity in no way caused the Fall of the Western Roman Empire. Correlation is not causation. And for all that Rome at the end of the 1st C had more population and bigger monuments than 13th C Paris or London, there are still striking social differences to the credit of the medieval cities. No slaves in Paris or London, no slave plantations feeding them, either. (And serfdom was mostly gone in the kingdom of France by that point.)No gladiators. No teeming proletariat dependent on the government for bread and circuses. No legal toleration for the exposure of infants. No power of life and death vested in fathers of families. Self-government of city and guild offices. A single standard of sexual morality and a single binding form of marriage. Etc. etc.

Finally, Prof. Grayling makes much of the long gap between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance of the 12th C. So what about the Greek "Dark Ages" between the fall of the Myceneans and the stirring of Archaic Greece? Devastated, depopulated societies don't have the means to support art and learning. I could recommend the writings of Peter Brown, RW Southern, Lynn White, David Herlihy, and Jean Gimpel, in addition to those Carl cites but Prof. Grayling might most profitably consult a non-religious historian of impeccably Leftist views: David Levine AT THE DAWN OF MODERNITY.

Teresa Polk

In response to the request to name one small contribution to science made by Christianity:
In the tenth century (the time frame that Professor Grayling identifies as the "Dark Ages"), Gerbert of Aurillac (who was a Benedictine monk, archbishop, and eventually became pope) made the following contributions to science: (1) invented and personally built an abacus which, according to his early biographer Richer, made it possible for people to mentally perform multiplication and division of numbers "in less time than it took to formulate them"; (2) wrote a treatise on the abacus for one of his students; (3) built wooden spheres to study the earth's zones and revolutions of planets and stars; (4) built an ocular tube to observe planets and stars, which is thought to have been used as a nocternal to tell the time at night. One of his students is thought, more likely than Gerbert himself, to have written a text on the use of the astrolabe which is often attributed to Gerbert; however, the fragments of Constance on the astrolabe, written in Richenau in 1008 based upon a model from around 995 confirm the use of a treatise on astronomy by monks educated by the Church in the tenth century. Sorry I'm on my lunch hour, so that will have to do on short notice.


1) Nicolus Oresme (French Bishop about 1377) - discovers and elicidates the principle of inertial frames showing that Ptolemy's argument against the motion of the Earth is erroneous. Copernicus also uses Oresme's argument but his development is not as precise. Oresme also discovers that white light is made up of unified colored light.

2) Nicolus of Cusa-German Cardinal fifteenth century -first to use lenses to correct myopia
-posited that the Earth was spherical and rotated around the Sun.

1) Copernicus - a canon in Frombork (Frauenburg). Published "De Revolutionibus..'Several Catholic Churchmen before him had discussed the idea that the Earth was in motion. Galileo was also a Catholic. His problems seemed to be more of a political nature as his 'Dial. Concerning the Two Chief World Systems' employed well known Churchmen (i.e. the Pope -a friend of Galileo) defending Aristotle using ridiculus arguments.

BTW The Foucault Pendulum 'implies' that the earth rotates on an axis
but does not 'prove' that the Earth rotates about the sun (unless you can keep the pendulum going for a year or more - no pushing allowed). The theory of tides give a 'proof' of the motion of the Earth about the sun. I believe this was Galileo's intent.
Weather patterns give a common sense 'proof' of the motion of the Earth on its axis.

1) Leonard Euler -a devout Swiss Protestant- Perhaps the greatest mathematician/scientist of the 18th century.

2) Augustin Louis Cauchy was the founder of modern analysis which made possible the work of
J.C. Maxwell (equations of E&M), Poincare and Einstien (relativity), Schoedinger (Quantum Mechanics) Cauchy was perhaps the greatest engineer/mathematician of the 19th century. He lost his Professorship in France because he was not willing to sign a loyality oath required by the French Government (about 1830). His case is often cited in regard to academic freedom. Cauchy was a member of the Saint Vincent De Paul Society and a devout Catholic.

3) Louis Pastuer (needs no introduction) a devout Catholic.

Actually the number of devout Catholic scientists is probably to large to list.


Oh. And I forgot - The Gregorian Calendar - pretty impressive.


I believe the science of seismology is still known to practicing seismologists as "the Jesuit science" because of the role Jesuits played in advancing the field after the Lisbon earthquake.

Kevin Jones

The Galileo case is still being cited against the church, four centuries afterward! Do we allow any other grudge-holders the luxury of reaching back so far in time for their self-justifications?

The case has become a shibboleth for the superficial. Galileo deserves better.

Cristina A. Montes

"The Catholic Church has always been late in accepting scientific facts. Why, it wasn't until the 1960s that a pope admitted that the Big Bang theory was probably true."

This remark reveals, to my mind, not only a bias against the Catholic Church but an ignorance of how science operates. Even scientists themselves don't jump to accept new scientific theories as facts.

"The Galileo case is still being cited against the church, four centuries afterward!"

Ya, this baffles me considering that it is documented that it was Galileo himself who dragged the Bible into the debate.

It's also unfortunate that what really happened in the Galileo case isn't taught at all. I few months back, I forwarded an article about the Galileo case to the e-group of one of our local astronomy clubs (of which I am a member). Someone -- a friend of mine, who's a physics graduate -- replied, "Wow! This is the first time I got to read the side of the Church on this issue. It got me to think."

One of the founding members of that club, by the way, is a Filipino Jesuit who is (or was?) the director of the Manila Observatory, which has been active in monitoring sunspots activity. He has an asteroid named after him (Badillo, in case anyone wants to look it up.)

"Actually the number of devout Catholic scientists is probably to large to list."

It also makes me wonder how many of those who claim that science and religion are incompatible are actually scientists (or at least, science graduates).

Carl Olson

The Galileo case is still being cited against the church, four centuries afterward! Do we allow any other grudge-holders the luxury of reaching back so far in time for their self-justifications?

What I've experienced is secularists getting angry—very angry—when a Christian apologist dares mention Communism and the death of 60-100 million people at the murderous hands an ideology devoted to the absence of religion and the supposed primacy of reason. And then, without hesitation, calling upon the "persecution" (or even mythical execution) of Galileo, as a cut-and-dried example of how horrible and inhuman Catholicism is. This "argument" was used by the president of the local "Freethinker's Society," which caused me to conclude that a free thinker is someone who believes they are free to think whatever they want about Christianity, regardless of facts.

Cristina A. Montes

Check out the latest issue of Discover magazine. There's an interview of a geneticist (Francis Wilson, or is it Gilson?) who happens to be a devout Christian.

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