‘The War of Ignorance versus Faith’

Yet another ignoramus announces his belief, founded upon nothing but prejudice and public education (but I repeat myself), that the Catholic Church is the mortal enemy of science; and John C. Wright boils over with justified dudgeon. In his response, he lists well over 200 Catholic scientists, and not merely Catholics, but Catholic clergymen every one, new and old, living and dead, who have made important (dare I say cardinal?) contributions to the sciences, from José de Acosta to Giovanni Battista Zupi. (I confess my own ignorance: I myself had never heard of quite half of these persons.)

Hmph. I just came across another antieducated sophophobe who declared there to be a war between science and faith, especially the Roman Catholic Church.

I asked him to name the Papal Bull or Encyclical, or any other official document of the Church prohibiting or condemning the practice of scientific inquiry. He did not know what a ‘bull’ was.

I asked him if he knew anything about science and the history of science, and he said yes. I asked him for the evidence of any Catholic interference, or even lack of enthusiastic support, for any scientific inquiry of any kind, in any time or place?

He mentioned Galileo. I asked him if he knew the circumstances of Galileo’s trial, or what Galileo was accused of? He said no. I asked him if he knew who Cardinal Bellarmine was. He said no.

I asked him if he had read Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences? He did not even know what the book was, much less who the characters in it were, or what positions in the contemporary debates they represented.…

Calibrating my questions to the level of someone without a Saint John’s College level of education,  I asked him if he knew who Albertus Magnus, William of Ockham, Roger Bacon, Nicholas Steno were. He said no.

I asked him who invented the mechanical escapement used in clockwork. Or when. He did not know what mechanical escapement was. (Villard de Honnecourt circa 1237, in case you are wondering.)

Recalibrating my question to the high school level, I asked him if he knew who Pascal was, Copernicus, Descartes. He said no. Mendel. No. Still no.

He then told me that all the European inventions in mathematics and medicine came from the Muslim world. I asked him if he knew where Andalusia was, or when the Reconquista happened. Did not recognize those terms. I asked him what religion the people were in the lands conquered by the Muslims in the Seven, Eighth, and Ninth Centuries, et cetera? He guessed that they were some sort of pagans.

I did not bother to ask him if he knew who Abu Hamid al-Ghazali was.

He did not even know enough to raise and throw into my face the old, tired, and oft-refuted slander about Hypatia the neoplatonic philosopher (always described as a female scientist) being flayed to death by a Christian mob wielding sharpened clamshells.

In other words, I could have argued in favor of the War between Science and the Church better than he. He had not even memorized his side’s own talking points.

He was a disgrace to the forces of evil.

Go and read the whole thing; or better yet, bookmark it for permanent reference. Links are included to information about nearly every scientist in the list. (At the moment, there is no link for Fr. Benito Viñes, who does not have his own page on Wikipedia, though he is mentioned in other articles there. Fr. Viñes was a Jesuit priest who invented the first system for forecasting hurricanes.)


  1. No, thanks – you’ve done a fine job of pillorying the fellow.

    As a practicing Catholic with Ph. D. in Nuclear Engineering and a B. S. in Physics, I’ve never had any problem.

    When the scientists or scientist/priest types get a bit too fancy with their theology (this is part of The Shoes of the Fisherman and I think Teilhard de Chardin ran into a bit of this), the Church listens – and judges whether their theology has been pushed a bit too far for orthodoxy – but it doesn’t judge the science, just their conclusions. (I’m doing this from memory, and my brain is no longer fully functional, so please excuse lapses.)

    It is much easier to be Catholic and a scientist than a lot of other combinations. I can’t believe the contortions of the creationists – boggles my mind.

    I think God created an almost unbelievable universe – ice and snow and steam and running water out of the same molecule, anyone?

    • Alas, those are not the kind of atheists that have the ear of the media.

      • That’s certainly true, but it’s still worth mentioning that media atheists aren’t the only kind.

        And I can’t feel entirely good about Galileo being imprisoned (even under good conditions) because he hurt the Pope’s feelings.

        • Galileo wasn’t imprisoned on a charge of hurting the Pope’s feelings. He was imprisoned for going against express written orders by publishing a book that treated the heliocentric hypothesis as proven fact (which it wasn’t), and then told people that the Church was reading the Bible wrong because of that. Since he was not only a Catholic himself, but had actually taken minor orders (something I did not know myself till the other day), the Church had every right to give such orders. And since he lived under a secular authority that (for good or ill) made Catholicism the state religion, the state was bound to punish him for it.

          • Actually, this does raise an interesting question. As I understand it, Galileo published a book portraying the Pope as a fool. I wonder whether other people were insulting the Pope in public like that, and not getting punished for it.

            • Plenty of people around that time were not only insulting the Pope in public, but actually calling him names up to and including ‘the Antichrist’, and getting away with it. It was called Protestantism. This was illegal in places ruled by the Spanish crown (which then included Portugal, about half of Italy, and all of South America), and frowned upon in places such as Austria and the rest of Italy, but quite legal in France and actually official policy in England and Scandinavia. (Germany, at that time, was going through the Thirty Years’ War to settle the legal question.)

              For that matter, many Catholics, both at that time, and before, and after, have called Popes fools and much worse, without incurring any punishment. There is a long history of Catholics being, as the Spanish call it, mas católico que el Papa. At present, for instance, we have the Society of St. Pius X, which refuses to recognize post-Vatican II popes at all, and is not punished except by being (correctly) labelled as schismatic; and we have many Catholics who, while remaining loyal to the Pope, consider him foolish in various ways and are not afraid to call him out on the matter.

              This sort of thing has always gone on. In the past, Popes have been removed from office because good Catholics proved to the general satisfaction that they were unfit for it.

              However, if you are going to publish a book that in itself advocates a heretical reading of the Bible, you are more likely to get away with it if the Pope is a personal friend of yours, and much less likely if the Pope is a personal ex-friend whom you have betrayed by ridiculing him in that book. That is approximately what happened to Galileo. He had friends in high places, right up to the moment when he publicly double-crossed them.

  2. Andrew Brew says

    You did better than I, then, who consider myself moderately well-informed in such matters. I recognognised 33/233 names (unless I mislaid a finger or three in keeping count).

    As you say, it is a post to keep, and to link to.

    • Actually, I recognized about the same number of names you did; though there were some others that I had a vague idea I had heard of before, without remembering why. ‘Quite half’ was an understatement on my part. And then some of the names I did recognize, such as Martin Waldseemüller, I did not know were clergymen.

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