Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Academic Freedom

Many still believe today, due to a nineteenth century myth that the Church is at war with science, "that the uncritical acceptance of religious doctrine not only inhibits, but even destroys the life of intelligence," yet
inasmuch as this conception of intellectual and academic freedom is based on the principle of free inquiry—i.e. the position that every doctrine is subject to critical examination and possible rejection—it is suitable (and hardly unfair) to examine critically the general principle itself. If it claims to be a dogma, the only dogma immune to criticism, by what right does it claim its exemption from the general principle? Or, on the other hand, if it too is open to question, by what principle are we to justify our examination of it? Not by the principle of free inquiry, for it is presently under judgment and therefore in suspense.


A further difficulty is that the principle of free inquiry would be nullified by the achievement of its stated purpose. As long as a man is ignorant, it is consistent with his condition to remain open to both the affirmative and negative answers to the issue in question. But when and if he comes to know (which is the purpose of his investigation) the matter ceases to be doubtful to him, and his mind closes to the possibility that the opposite might be true. He is no longer free to doubt, except willfully. Thus by the assumed definition ignorance makes free, while knowledge enslaves. A reply to this objection might assume that knowledge is simply unattainable, inasmuch as all things are in all respects always changing, or inasmuch as our minds, not being omniscient, cannot reach the certain truth about anything. But this, as before, would base the principle of free inquiry on particular and controversial philosophical theories, which as a consequence would be immune to criticism under the principle.

St. Thomas Aquinas College Founding Document: III. Academic Freedom

This mirrors the argument against the relativism of truth, and indeed many universities no longer consider science the pursuit of an absolute truth nor do they submit themselves to any absolute authority, except maybe the self-contradicting dogma of free inquiry and endless argument-forming. According to the notable historians of science David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers,
The notion that any serious Christian thinker would even have attempted to formulate a world view from the Bible alone is ludicrous. For example, contrary to popular belief (which White's [A History of the] Warfare [of Science with Theology in Christendom] has helped to shape), the church did not insist on a flat earth; there was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge its sphericity and even know its approximate circumference. [...] Galileo argued that God spoke through both scripture and the "book of nature," that the two could not truly conflict, and that in physical matters authority should rest with reason and sense. [...] Galileo never questioned the authority of scripture, merely the principles by which it was to be interpreted. [...] It was not a matter of Christianity waging war on science. All of the participants called themselves Christians, and all acknowledged biblical authority.

Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 39.3:140-149 (9/1987)

Why did scientists submit themselves to an authority? They recognized that academic freedom is not the aimless and chaotic but directed and ordered pursuit of truth. This direction and order originates from the wisdom, laws, doctrines, and dogma of the Church, ultimately from the authoritative founder of the Church, Christ Himself, Who said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. [...] And you shall know the truth: and the truth shall make you free." (John 14:6, 8:32).
These words contain both a fundamental requirement and a warning: the requirement of an honest relationship with regard to truth as a condition for authentic freedom, and the warning to avoid every kind of illusory freedom, every superficial unilateral freedom, every freedom that fails to enter into the whole truth about man and the world. Today also, even after two thousand years, we see Christ as the one who brings man freedom based on truth, frees man from what curtails, diminishes and as it were breaks off this freedom at its root, in man's soul, his heart and his conscience.

—Pope John Paul II Redemptor Hominis 12.

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