Thursday, January 17, 2008

Galileo and the Pope once more

EWTN news reports that Pope Benedict XVI has cancelled a visit to Rome's La Sapienza University. La Sapienza is Rome's oldest public university having been founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII.

Students and professors at the university are protesting at the speech delivered by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in that he said "in Galileo's time the Church remained much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The trial against Galileo was reasonable and just".

It seems that Ratzinger's earlier pronouncements are hounding him now that he is Pope. This is too bad. There is a difference between a Professor-Cardinal and a Professor-Pope. The Regensburg Don may propose a disputation to students and the students if unprepared would look and sound foolish. But as Pope, Ratzinger can no longer propose disputations with students or the academe without generating controversy. Papa Ratzi may just propose these to the theologians.

His predecessor Pope John Paul II generated a lot of controversy with his papal pronouncements and encyclicals. But John Paul II never generated a controversy in a university. In fact in visits to university he was so beloved.

Now what seems to reignite the Galileo Church vs Science debate is Ratzinger himself. While John Paul apologized for the Church's handling of the Galileo Affair, Ratzinger thinks otherwise.

This controversy set back meaningful dialogue between science and Catholicism which John Paul put so much effort on.

While Galileo did make significant errors in his scientific theory, he was limited by the data he had. That Ratzinger said that the Church was more faithful to reason than Galileo is smacks of condescension. The fact is both Galileo and the theologians were out of bounds in their reasoning. The theologians as John Paul said misinterpreted Scripture. Galileo had not enough data hence some his conclusions may be off tangent. But Galileo deserves better treatment from the conservatives of the 21st century Roman Church. After all advancement of knowledge requires standing by and validating daring hypotheses and not 400 year old theological apologies.

The truth is the Roman Church may not have fully appreciated or comprehended the scientific revolution that Galileo started.

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