Monday, August 31, 2009

Musing about bookstores and Galileo: Antichrist

I have to thank Nanay's (Soccoro Ramos) National Bookstore (NBS) for making available decent books at affordable prices. I'm not advertising NBS but the truth is my bibliophilic generation is truly "Laking National". When we were much younger, only NBS had carried good books in many of its branches. True there were other more specialist bookstores with fine books like Erehwon, Bookmark, Solidaridad and Popular, these bookstores were located in faraway Makati and Ermita (I lived in QC) or in the case of Popular just off Avenida Rizal near the Rathaus beerhouse. The first two bookshops are defunct, Sionil-Jose's Solidaridad is still around and Popular has moved to a trendier location on Quezon City's Tomas Morato near the Boy Scout roundabout. When I was an undergrad, a lefty friend of mine and I would take public transpo to get to Popular since this was the only place where we can read "commie" books. This is where I got my whole edition of Marx's Das Kapital. Recall that this was in the waning years of the Marcos dictatorship.

Popular was also the only bookstore to carry erotic classics like Boccacio's "Decameron" and the Olympia Readers. But NBS wasn't left out. NBS carried these titles too but were not prominently displayed. NBS had a wider clientele than Popular.

The lefty friend and I trooped to the new Popular in Quezon City a year ago and while the "commie" books are still there. In these more democratic times, reading communist books is a ho hum but one thing is missing, the proletariat feel of reading "forbidden books" in a dingy bookshop is gone. In the old Popular, I could fantasize as a would be Lenin. In the new Popular, I could fantasize as a would be Bill Gates!

Now back to NBS. The store has recognized the maturing readership of its customers and now carries a wide range of books. Its spinoff, Powerbooks and Bestsellers carry many of the good titles but the old NBS even has better titles if you know where to look. It is only in NBS that a copy of "Hitler and Aesthetics" can be had. For the arki types, the book should be a good read since Imeldific and Ferdie understood that Architecture is Power and Imeldific like it or not is immortal since she undoubtly understood the Theory of Ruin Value.

The nice thing about NBS is that it has a twice a year "cut price" booksale. In these recessionary times, they cut the prices of books up to 80% off. I found the latest Galileo biography by Michael White "Galileo: Antichrist" in a pile of books at NBS Quezon Avenue. It was on 50% discount.

I have an interest in Galileo and have a few of Stillman Drake's autobiographies of the man. (BTW I got these books for a dollar each at a Louisiana flea market). I also got the Cambridge reader on Galileo which I bought for 60% off the shelf price at a cut price sale three years ago. My interest here is how science can clash with religion. The thesis is that science will always clash with religion. While in Galileo's time it was with the Roman Church, today it is with the various Christian fundamentalist sects, Islam, anti GMO environmentalists, animal rights advocates and even Marxists.

The Roman Church is unlikely to meet science head on since it is still shell shocked by the Galileo affair. This even if Pope John Paul II had issued an "apology". The Church was able to survive the Reformation but it isn't likely to survive a clash with Science with its reputation intact.

To his credit John Paul II had come to terms with Galileo since he had an interest in science and as a Pole, had interest in the Copernican theory. However John Paul II's Galileo commission reduced the Galileo affair into three points

1) Galileo did not understand that the Copernican theory was a hypothesis
2) The theologians then did not correcty understand Scripture
3) When Copernicanism was verified, the Church accepted this and admitted implicitly that it was wrong in condemning the hypothesis.

Roman Catholic apologists today lay the blame on Galileo for not understanding what a scientific hypothesis really was. Galileo may have been a garrulous man but he did have some empirical evidence for the Heliocentric theory (in fact by demonstrating that Venus had phases and moons orbited Jupiter, he falsified the Ptolemaic theory).

This apologists' stance represents a scandalous twisting of facts. The Church wasn't really interested in the scientific merits of Copernicanism but was in threats to its power as represented in its worldview. Neither Bellarmine or Barberini in Galileo's committee were interested in the science and were trained scientists. Joseph Ratzinger then a cardinal said that the Church was more faithful to reason than Galileo himself was.

White's thesis is this and refers to motive: Science is motivated by a desire to know and understand while Religion is motivated by fear. Fear that its hierarchs will lose their power over the faithful.

White says that the Church had Galileo gagged since one of his works "the Assayer" had a passage that denied Transubstantiation. I reproduce the passage in Stillman Drake's translation from the original Italian

"Now I say that whenever I conceive any material or corporeal substance, I immediately feel the need to think of it as bounded, and as having this or that shape; as being large or small in relation to other things, and in some specific place at any given time; as being in motion or at rest; as touching or not touching some other body; and as being one in number, or few, or many. From these conditions I cannot separate such a substance by any stretch of my imagination. But that it must be white or red, bitter or sweet, noisy or silent, and of sweet or foul odor, my mind does not feel compelled to bring in as necessary accompaniments. Without the senses as our guides, reason or imagination unaided would probably never arrive at qualities like these. Hence I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on are no more than mere names so far as the object in which we place them is concerned, and that they reside only in he consciousness. Hence if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be wiped away and annihilated. But since we have imposed upon them special names, distinct from those of the other and real qualities mentioned previously, we wish to believe that they really exist as actually different from those.

Here Galileo has anticipated the empiricism of John Locke. In fact this empiricism remains the philosophical foundation of modern science.

This "denial of Transubstantiation" argument should thrill DJB! The question that is still valid today is how far can fundamentalism deal with science and its goal of objective truth? And this is not with the Roman Church alone, but also with the secular social constructivists and relativists and all sorts of ideologies.

While White's thesis needs more documentary evidence (the denial of Transubstantiation is old Protestant argument and there is no evidence to show that Galileo was indeed a Proteastant), I believe White's title is misleading. Galileo wasn't antichrist but more antichurch.

White and I agree. Science wins!

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