17 Feb 2009

In the footsteps of Galileo science must value faith and reason

In the recent edition of the Osservatore Romano (16-17 Feb 2009) there is a very short piece entitled "In the footsteps of Galileo science must value faith and reason." The message is spelled out in the first sentence, stating that scientists are called upon by the Vatican to not renounce "neither reason nor faith". To suggest that scientists do not value reason is an insult of the highest order. But the abuse of language which is one of the hallmarks of Vatican propaganda needs not only to be exposed for what it is, but also needs some explaining so as to highlight how truly misguided and false is the whole Catholic edifice.


What do we mean by reason? More importantly, what do Catholics mean when they use the word? A look at the Catholic Encyclopedia is necessary to discover what these people are really talking about. However deluded their view of the universe, they are sadly a part of it and their effects need to be mitigated. We perhaps have no argument with calling reason a cognitive faculty, but the Encyclopedia goes on to say that "Kant employed the word in a transcendental sense as the function of subsuming under the unity of the ideas the concepts and rules of the understanding. Subsequent German philosophers, as Schopenhauer complained, "tried, with shameless audacity, to smuggle in under this name an entirely spurious faculty of immediate, metaphysical so-called super-sensuous knowledge"." Now we're getting closer - and good on Schopenhauer!


"In its general sense, therefore, reason may be attributed to God, and an angel may be called rational. But in its narrower meaning reason is man's differentia, at once his necessity and his privilege; that by which he is "a little less than the angels", and that by which he excels the brutes." How we have suddenly jumped to God is left mysterious, but the previous views of Kant are not far off this. It is, however, one of the peculiarities of Catholic theology that it has a certain distaste for mystical states, hence, even though for non-believers Kant's epistemological mysticism seems very close to Christianity the scholastics noticed a vital flaw in the argument in that it undermines authority - the Church's authority. I will write about this further but just to note here that if personal mystical experiences gave true knowledge about God then everybody's experiences would be as valid as anybody else's. This could lead to a kind of heretical anarchy, which as we know from history is precisely what the Church wants to avoid at all costs.


As is often the case, the real Catholic point of view is expressed near the end of the Encyclopedia's article. And thus we find that "without certain experiences of feeling and willing we should not be able to draw certain ethical conclusions. This may be admitted as a psychological fact, viz. that there are many exercises of reason which we shall not correctly perform without an ethical habituation." There we go! Reason is thus the forming of correct judgements based on a correct ethics - not based on logic or on facts.


With this eccentric definition of reason we can go back to the original quote and see that what looked to anybody in possession of a dictionary like an insult turns out to be a double castigation. Not only do scientists have no faith - no Catholic faith - but they also lack the Catholic faculty of reason, as based on their ethics. I have to repeat this as few seem to believe me, but this abuse is a symptom of a new determination to create a Catholic science. It has to look like natural science to avoid looking as stupid as creationists but it will be guided, not only in spirit but also in the direction of research, by a Catholic ethic and the ultimate truth that there is an omniscient deity.


As the neurosciences look deeper into the operations of the brain and mind the Church is very much aware that at some point their faith will look like a mere biological process. This can be avoided by having 'reasonable' scientists who will 'faithfully' adhere to and promote the values of the Church and the legitimacy of their supernatural doctrines.


The excuse for this short article in the Osservatore was a mass in remembrance of Galileo, who is nauseatingly being recast as the scientist with a soul. The mass was the high point of the conference of the World Federation of Scientists and celebrated 445 years since the birth of Galileo. There is "in Christianity a peculiar cosmological conception, which found the highest expressions in medieval philosophy and theology." The aim is to make scientists understand this and value the opportunity to explore the fertile soil where faith and reason can be explored to their very depths. I suspect that the Vatican's actual fear is that scientists will indeed explore the depths of faith. That is why an investigation into faith through the prism of Catholic reason is necessary to achieve a reasonable interpretation of the results.

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