Friday, November 19, 2010

Crisis of Faith in Science

The Crisis of the Faith in Science

The resistance of creation to its manipulation by men has become a new factor in the intellectual situation in the last decade. It is impossible to evade the question of the limits of science and of the criteria it must follow. The change in the way in which the case of Galileo is evaluated seems to me characteristic of the change of climate. This event, to which little attention was paid in the seventeenth century, was elevated in the following century to nothing less than the my of the Enlightenment: Galileo appears as the victim of the medieval obscurantism in which the Church persists. Good and evil stand in a distinct confrontation: on the one side, we find the Inquisition as the power of superstition, as the opponent of freedom and knowledge; on the other side stand the natural sciences, represented by Galileo, as the power of progress and of the liberation of man from the fetters of ignorance that kept him powerless vis-à-vis nature. The star of the modern period arises over the darkness of the Middle Ages.

Strangely enough, Ernst Bloch with his romantic Marxism was one of the first to oppose this myth openly and to offer a new interpretation of the events. For him, the heliocentric world-system, just like the geocentric system, rests on unprovable presuppositions, including above all the supposition of motionless space, which has since been shattered by the theory of relativity. He states:

Consequently, since an empty motionless space no longer exists, no movement toward it occurs, but merely a relative movement of bodies toward one another, the determination of which depends on the choice made of the body that is to be taken to be at rest. Thus, if it were not for the fact that the complexity of the calculations involved makes this appear infeasible, the earth could continue to be taken as stable and the sun as moving. [E. Bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung (frankfurt am Main, 1959), 920]
According to this view, the advantage of the heliocentric system over the geocentric does not consist in a greater degree of objective truth but merely in an easier calculability for us. Up to this point Bloch is doing no more than expressing the insight of the modern natural sciences; but the conclusion he derives from this now is astonishing:
Since the relativity of the motion is beyond doubt, an older man-centered Christian reference system does not indeed have the right to involve itself in the astronomical calculations and their heliocentric simplification; but it does have its own methodological right to hold fast to the earth as far as the question of the importance of mass is concerned and to impart an ordered structure to the world around what happens and has happened on the earth. [Bloch, 920f.]

The two methodological spheres are clearly distinguished from one another here, and the rights, as well as the limitations, of each are acknowledged. But the summary of the skeptical agnostic philosopher P. Feyerabend sounds much more aggressive when he writes:

The Church at the time of Galileo kept much more closely to reason than did Galileo himself, and she took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo's teaching too. Her verdict against Galileo was rational and just, and the revision of his verdict can be justified only on grounds of what is politically opportune. [P. Feyerabend, Wider den Methodenzwang (Against Method) (Frankfurt am Main, 1976, 1983), 206.]

C. F. von Weizäcker (to take one example) goes even one step farther in considering the prictical effects when he sees a "perfectly straight path" leading from Galileo to the the atomic bomb. To my surprise, when I was interviewed recently about the case of Galileo, I was not asked (for instance) why the church had presumed to hinder the knowledge of the natural sciences but, quite to the contrary, why the Church had not taken up a clearer position against the disasters that were bound to result when Galileo opened Pandora's box. It would be foolish to construct an impulsive apologetic on the basis of such views; faith does not grow out of resentment and skepticism with respect to rationality, but only out of a fundamental affirmation and a spacious reasonableness; we shall come back to this point. I mention all this only as a symptomatic case that permits us to see how deep the self-doubt of the modern age, of science and of technology goes today.

—Then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, A Turning Point for Europe, pg. 95-98 (Cf. "Ratzinger's 1990 remarks on Galileo")

Monday, November 15, 2010

Albertus Magnus' Feast Day

Deus, qui beatum Albertum Pontificem tuum atque Doctorem in humana sapientia divinae fidei subicienda magnum effecisti: da nobis, quaesumus; ita eius magisterii inhaerere vestigiis ut luce perfecta fruamur in caelis.

O God, who didst make blessed Albert, thy bishop and doctor, great in subjecting human wisdom to divine faith, grant we pray, that we may so adhere to the footprints of his authorative teaching that in heaven we may enjoy perfect life.

—today's collect for St. Albertus Magnus

Vide also James A. Weisheipl, O.P., "Albert the Great and Medieval Culture," The Thomist 44 (1980) 500, cited here.