Saturday, September 16, 2006

On the Professor Pope's latest lecture.

Pope Joseph Ratzinger now known as Benedict XVI is an excellent professor. One of the main responsibilities of a professor is to disturb minds so that minds may be opened or shut. A professor cannot ensure that minds will be opened or shut. The responsibility for such belongs to the owner of the mind. Benedict has thrown a heresy on modern society. Our modern society seems to accept the relativeness of moral positions and the supremacy of Science in understanding the world. For many a contrary view is not politically correct. A heresy by another post-modern Western term.

Papa Ratzi's latest lecture in the Great Room (aula magna in Latin) to the science faculties and students of Regensburg is certainly a mind opener. I saw on BBC World the ruckus made by one statement which does not really represent the opinion of the Pope Prof (Prof Pope must sounnd better!) but the opinion of one of the last Byzantine emperors. The Prof Pope's exposition of the subject is historical. He does not criticize Islam at all but he criticizes the West!

Manuel Paleologus the emperor was a Greek and in the Greek tradition reason is extolled. But Paleologus was also an Orthodox Christian. His argument is that to act beyond reason is contrary to God's will. Consequently, one cannpt know God's will without using reason. And in the orbit of using reason is Science.

The Prof Pope poses the question whether it has served Western civilization well that Greek ethos and the subsequent development of science was for the worse or better. He calls it "dehellenization". Starting from the Reformation, Western civilization's sundering of its Greek roots speeded up the process. The Reformers collectively rejected the Scholastic philosophy the Church held in the search for a faith without accretions. Immanuel Kant carried the programme to its logical end, reason must give space to faith thereby separating it.

Benedict also states what is for me the meat of his thesis. According to him, our concept of reason is a synthesis of Cartesianism and empiricism. Science and its offshoot, technology has confirmed the success of this world view. Thus there is a tendency to consider something scientific if its conforms to this synthesis. Anything unquantifiable becomes subjective and relegated to experience. The Pope then argues that the person tends to use experience alone as an ethical arbiter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, says Benedict.

Perhaps the most pointed critique is aimed at the Evolutionary psychologists when the Pope says that 'attempts to build an ethic from rules of evolution" is inadequate.

Benedict's conclusion requires critical thought. "In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. "

And he opines about the limits of Western science

"Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding. "

Benedict's thesis on this account takes off from that of John Paul II and differs from that taken by scientists like Stephen Jay Gould. Benedict theology is closer to Galileo's theology.

Surely this lecture is a mind opener and even in the secular university and its science faculty it should be read.

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