Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Catholic Church and Science

How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods Jr. PhD has some very helpful commentary and quotations on the historical relationship of the Catholic Church with science. Here is a sampling of quotations from major saints during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance taken from Woods' book:

Saint Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621):

If there were a real proof that the sun is in the center of the universe, that the earth is in the third heaven, and that the sun does not go round the earth but the earth round the sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true. But as for myself, I shall not believe that there are such proofs until they are shown to me.

St. Albert the Great (1206-1280) :

It very often happens that there is some question as to the earth or the sky or the other elements of this world, respecting which one who is not a Christian has knowledge derived from most certain reasoning or observation, and it is very disgraceful and mischievous, and of all things to be carefully avoided, that a Christian speaking of such matters as being according to the Christian Scriptures, should be heard by an unbeliever talking such nonsense that the unbeliever, perceiving him to be as wide from the mark as east from west, can hardly restrain himself from laughing.

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) :

First, the truth of Scripture must be held inviolable. Secondly, when there are different ways of explaining a Scriptural text, no particular explanation should be held so rigidly that if convincing arguments show it to be false, anyone dare insist that it still is the definitive sense of the text. Otherwise unbelievers will scorn Sacred Scripture and the way to faith will be closed to them.


Dr. Thursday said...

I was quite surprised when I read this excellent posting, for I thought I recognized the quote by St. Albert the Great - but I recalled it had been by St. Augustine!

So I had to get out my copy of Woods' HTCCBWC and to look it up. It's on page 72; note 10 tells us that Woods is quoting from Walsh's The Popes and Science, which I do not have.

So I looked to see where I had seen something similar, and found it in Jaki's Science and Creation (which Woods references elsewhere.) There (on page 182), a very similar statement is attributed to St. Augustine:

[Augustine] put the matter bluntly: "It is often the case that a non-Christian happens to know something with absolute certainty and through experimental evidence about the earth, sky, and other elements of this world, about the motion, rotation, and even about the size and distances of stars, about certain defects [eclipses] of the sun and moon, about the cycles of years and epochs, about the nature of animals, fruits, stones, and the like. It is, therefore, very deplorable and harmful, and to be avoided at any cost that he should hear a Christian to give, so to speak, a 'Christian account' of these topics in such a way that he could hardly hold his laughter on seeing, as the saying goes, the error rise sky-high." Such a performance, Augustine remarked, would undercut the credibility of the Christian message by creating in the minds of infidels the impression that the Bible was wrong on points "which can be verified experimentally, or to be established by unquestionable proofs."[102]

[102] Sancti Aureli Augustini De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim, edited by J. Zycha, in ]Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, vol. XXVIII, Sec. III, Pars 1 (Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1894), pp. 28-29 (Book 1, chap. 19).

I do not have any of these texts available for comparison (not even in English!) but it would appear likely that St. Albert was commenting on St. Augustine - or simply paraphrasing a well-known idea, leaving it to his students to recognize its source. One ought to recall that these scholars were not being "graded" on their meticulous use of footnotes - they were far too busy doing scholarly work!

ScienceMom said...

When I read Woods' book, I too thought the quote was from St Augustine. A friend who agreed told me that his "On the Literal Meaning of Genesis" is available online here.

If you look at Chp 19, para 39, you can see it there. Yes, of course it is possible that St Albert was quoting him, but I have seen it in several publications, always attributed to St Augustine.

BTW, I did send the above info to Woods.