Saturday, September 09, 2006

Up-to Date Cosmology

(The New Geocentrism, Part II)

St. Augustine
stated in his commentary “On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis” that it was "a disgraceful thing" for infidels to hear Christians talking nonsense about cosmology. He then tried to bring the cosmology of Christians up to date.

Well, his updating is now long past its time, and thus, while the latter part of this essay is often quoted as evidence of Augustine’s support for outdated cosmology, the first part of the very same essay (!) is quoted in support of getting ourselves up to date.

St. Albert the Great, while too recent (13th century) to qualify as a father of the Church, also said some very trenchant things about the purpose and vocation of the natural sciences:

“The aim of natural science

is not simply to accept the statements of others,

but to investigate the causes

that are at work in nature.”

And he further wrote:

“In studying nature

we have not to inquire how God the Creator may,

as He freely wills,

use His creatures to work miracles

and thereby show forth His power:

we have rather to inquire

what Nature with its immanent causes

can naturally bring to pass.”

In view of such a tradition of peace with science throughout history, it was only right that several Popes should have been at work to restore the reputation of Galileo, which was so deeply wounded by his one-time friend and supporter, the irascible and misled Pope Urban VIII.

1. In 1741, Benedict XIV granted an imprimatur for the first edition of the complete works of Galileo and had Copernicus taken off the Index, in 1757, implicitly clearing Galileo.

2. In 1822 Galileo’s work was specifically taken off the Index under Pope Pius VII.

3. Later in the same century, Pope Leo XIII arranged that the Vatican itself should publish all twenty volumes of Galileo’s work.

4. A hundred years later, Pope John Paul II specifically recommended that Galileo’s Letter to the Grand Duchess, the very letter at the bottom of all his troubles, ought to be read by everyone as a model of hermeneutics.

This Unity of Truth blog is meant to encourage a spirit of peace in the relationship between science and faith, even a sense of the long history of that peace in Catholic circles, in spite of individual errors. It is to be hoped that this will be a place where Catholics will unite their apologetic efforts to overcome such misfortunes as the identification of the name of Galileo with the very disharmony which, according to Stillman Drake, he risked his life to prevent. He was a sincere, wise, devout, long-suffering, and delight-minded Catholic.

To that end, let me address a recently raised question about the Vatican never having specifically embraced heliocentrism.

Indeed.

We can be glad of this for two reasons.

First off, the Sun is only the center of the Solar system, not of the universe, so the 17th century embrace of Copernicanism would only have created a new mess for the next generation. In fact, the Ptolemaic understanding of the universe is not Biblical either, and there had already been (long since) a to-do about openness to that.

All this points to the second reason for silence, which is that the Church has wisely ceased to consider stellar and planetary positions a religious issue, so it does not make sense for a modern Pope to endorse heliocentrism, even for the local system. Were he to do so, he would only give the “disgraceful” impression that this idea is new to the Vatican.

It is not.


On to Part III

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