Sunday, May 25, 2008

Galileo's Bulldog

Galileo is the first modern experimental scientist. There is no one alive that can probably match him. One of the stylists for the modern Italian essay, he is one of the first writers in Italy to write in Italian not in Latin as was the practice among the learned. His decision to write science in the vernacular attracted condesension from the philosophers and the theologians. (Much earlier two famous Italians, Dante and Saint Francis of Assisi, wrote the founding works of Italian literature, the Divina Commedia and the Canticle of the Sun thereby establishing that Italian was capable of expressing the highest human ideals ). Galileo intellectualized Italian and spread scientific ideas wider by writing in that language. Galileo established that a vernacular can reasonably express Science.

Galileo was no atheist. Unlike what the atheist Richard Dawkins had to endure, Galileo had to face the worst kind of peer review then available (The Holy Office with threats of rack and torture). In a world where the Church of Rome was the arbiter of all truth, (recall that the whole concept of Universitas was invented by her ) it is not surprising that Galileo had to submit himself to the Church who appointed academic posts in the Universities. (Today we scientists have to submit ourselves to the Church of ISI, which today decides what Good Science is or not. Nothing has changed since Galileo's day. ISI endorsement is a requisite for academic promotions!)

The autonomy of Religion from Science really began when Galileo not when he was reported to have said "E pur si muove!" but when he wrote the famous Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina . Here he defends the philosophical basis why Science and Religion must remain completely autonomous in its search for facts and the consequent truth. The only shared basis between them in the search for fact and truth is reason. Once reason is cast out then there will be conflict.
Some pertinent passages here. Galileo critcizes the Reformation dictum of self-interpretation of the Bible that leads to misinterpretation.

"Hence I think that I may reasonably conclude that whenever the Bible has occasion to speak of any physical conclusion (especially those which are very abstruse and hard to understand), the rule has been observed of avoiding confusion in the minds of the common people which would render them contumacious toward the higher mysteries. Now the Bible, merely to condescend to popular capacity, has not hesitated to obscure some very important pronouncements, attributing to God himself some qualities extremely remote from (and even contrary to) His essence. Who, then, would positively declare that this principle has been set aside, and the Bible has confined itself rigorously to the bare and restricted sense of its words, when speaking but casually of the earth, of water, of the sun, or of any other created thing? Especially in view of the fact that these things in no way concern the primary purpose of the sacred writings, which is the service of God and the salvation of souls - matters infinitely beyond the comprehension of the common people. "

And the gist of Galileo's essay

"From this I do not mean to infer that we need not have an extraordinary esteem for the passages of holy Scripture. On the contrary, having arrived at any certainties in physics, we ought to utilize these as the most appropriate aids in the true exposition of the Bible and in the investigation of those meanings which are necessarily contained therein, for these must be concordant with demonstrated truths. I should judge that the authority of the Bible was designed to persuade men of those articles and propositions which, surpassing all human reasoning could not be made credible by science, or by any other means than through the very mouth of the Holy Spirit. "

And the memorable

"But I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations. This must be especially true in those sciences of which but the faintest trace (and that consisting of conclusions) is to be found in the Bible."

Galileo is just saying that Science and Religion must remain autonomous since they are based on the proper exercise of reason. To do otherwise is to debase reason. Science does not deal with Faith while Theology does. Theology does not deal with Science. But both deal with reason.

It can be reasonably proved that God exists. This is the most staple of topics in an undergraduate Philosophy class. Atheism on the other hand is a negative position and has to answer the question "How do you prove that in all places and all times, there is no God?" This is a hard position to make a proof on unless one limits the sphere of argument and knowledge as Richard Dawkins has done. Dawkins' scientism limits the sphere of human knowledge to science, whilst disclaiming theology, faith, and by extension all of the humanities, art and horrors! Literature! as modes to know truth. John Cornwell has made mincemeat of Dawkins' scientism in a humuorous and oftentimes paradoxically sorrowful way in "Darwin's Angel".

I have always argued purely on logical grounds that Atheism is nothing but a belief system that says there is no God/gods. Atheism's premise can't be reasonably proven and this is why this is never asked as an exam question in your undergrad Philo class! In discussions about how Religion affects society, Atheism should be considered as a belief system that is inherently not superior let's say to Roman Catholicism, Islam, Mahayana Buddhism or the Seventh Day Adventists. This is where the discussion should start. What does all sorts of religion (including Atheism) have to offer in improving the human condition on the planet? (forget heaven or hell for once)

Richard Dawkins and friends refuse to accept that their Atheism is a religious system in itself. As some Theistic wags have put it, "Dawkins has substituted himself as God! At least Stalin considered himself as God!"

Anyway that really means reason has been thrown into the rubbish bin.

Criticism of Dawkins can be best summed by this reviewer Mr Olly Buxton from the UK

"Richard Dawkins is prepared to resort to unfalsifiable, non-causal explanations when it suits him, along with the best of the theists he decries. I still think there is room for a book taking an expressly non-religious (and therefore non-defensive) line - that the scientific realism that Dawkins insists on is indefensible; that there is room on the planet for religious, literary, scientific and moral stories to sit alongside each other - that they need not (and given their different applications, cannot) get in each others way: the late Stephen Jay Gould got closest to that with his appeal for religious-scientific detente in "Rocks of Ages", and the late Richard Rorty, especially in "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature" and "Philosophy and Social Hope" had a thing or two to say about it, too"

In summary, the only reason why Science and Theology must remain autonomous is because of our proper exercise of reason. Of course there will be areas where religion and science will have to tryst (e.g. ethics) but like any couple, dialogue is the key to understanding.

Pope John Paul II started and his successor Benedict XVI have continued the dialogue and have been joined by other religious leaders like the Dalai Lama. Unfortunately, people who discarded reason (e.g.Fundamentalists) have been stealing the limelight. Even in the Roman Church some have interpreted Benedict XVI's move towards old liturgical practices as a go signal to move to the anti-Science camp. The Professor Pope I believe does not intend this to be Richard Dawkins concerns are not off-tangent.

In the Philippines, a engaged dialogue between religious leaders and scientists and science educators is sorely needed. The dialogue will have to focus on the peculiar state of our society, technologically engaged, class stratified with multigeographical families, environmentally stressed and with increasing levels of poverty. This isn't the situation that Dawkins faces in the Halls of Oxford as John Cornwell writes.

But Dawkins needs more Rottweillers, Galileo doesn't need a bulldog. Why should he?


DJB Rizalist said...

Haha! I get the title: Galileo's Bulldog

Now I concede Galileo Galilei was no atheist, but he certainly was a heretic--or wasn't that why he was shown the instruments of Inquisitorial Torture?

Pope John Paul II's 1992 statement rehabilitates G.G. and accepts of the Galilean picture of the Solar System, then in 2000, he apologizes for all the Church's historical errors, including the trial of G.G.
Thanks to his intuition as a brilliant physicist and by relying on different arguments, Galileo, who practically invented the experimental method, understood why only the sun could function as the centre of the world, as it was then known, that is to say, as a planetary system. The error of the theologians of the time, when they maintained the centrality of the Earth, was to think that our understanding of the physical world's structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of Sacred Scripture....
– Pope John Paul II, L'Osservatore Romano N. 44 (1264) - 4th November,1992

DJB Rizalist said...

I do not see the sense of this:

Galileo is just saying that Science and Religion must remain autonomous since they are based on the proper exercise of reason."

It is a given that both scientists and theologians should adhere to reason, otherwise there could be no uhmm, reason for minds to meet.

But I think there is only a very subtle though important difference between a pure atheist and a pure theist. For one thing most atheists would agree with the opinions of most theists about most religions other than their own of course.

blackshama said...

A heretic is an upholder of a doctrine contrary to revealed truth. In science there isn't any revealed truth. So Galileo cannot be a heretic.

In fact I have always proposed to my fellow Catholics (especially on EWTN! and the Opus Dei!) that he be declared the Patron Saint of Modern Science. My Opus Dei and Catholic apologist friends get "all shook up"! LOL!

The ever faithfuland obedient Galileo adhered to Catholic doctrine all his life except that

1) He had bastard children
2) Had a common law wife.

Now with zillions of Catholics (past and present) having 1 and 2, how could that be a serious heresy?If Christ forgave the adulterous woman,certainly he can forgive a lusty man!

The Catholic Church has a major shortcoming. It hasn't canonized a real scientist who was not in holy orders.

The Church foists on us Catholic scientists 1) Albertus Magnus (Aquinas' master) and Neils Stensen (a bishop and founder of geology). These men were canonized not for doing excellent science (which they did), but because they witnessed for the faith as clerics.

Now scientists are mostly male and lusty. Galileo would be the perfect saint-model. Faithful to Science, faithful to conscience and faithful to the Church!

BTW, many postmodern hagiographies written for the 21st Century Catholic has Galileo in the calendar together with Gandhi. Now who wrote the hagiographies, Jesuits of course.

Now as for science and religion shouldn't meet, they have to. When science deals with Humans( a natural phenomenon) and theology deals with Man (a divine phenomenon), they really would meet. The reasonable approach is to know the limits of how to explain the phenomenon.

We scientists can't just limit ourselves to non-humans.

blackshama said...

Blessed Galileo Galilei, patron saint (yet unformal) of Jesuit scientists in Ateneo on Katipunan or whatever, and for whom the Jovian moons are named, pray that we learn how to think scientifically, confute the fundamentalists (atheist or dogmatic theists) and have earthy reputation that places us on the ground, that we may learn to do think by doing and not speculating about heaven too much.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. AMEN.