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Behold the Godless Right

Friday, June 03, 2011 2:00 AM Comments (67)

Catholics used to the general identification of political conservatism with respect for their Faith should take a look at this little thread from a site dedicated to debunking Global Warming.

What’s striking is how all the same old mindless anti-catholic tropes found among fundamentalists just keep turning up like a bad penny among the new Paladins of Godless Conservativism under the sway of people like Ayn Rand and others just as they have long turned up among the Godless Left. These are basically conservatives of a libertarian stripe who like the whole “Let the government leave me alone and let me be selfish” message of the Randroids, but who have nothing but contempt for the notion that human dignity comes from being made in the image and likeness of God. For these guys, human dignity comes from being the winner of a Darwinian struggle, and Christians are purveyors of a slave morality that needs to be crushed. They hate the Faith every bit as much as some abortion-besotted bigot from Planned Parenthood.

So there is a natural hostility to “the Vatican” since it is the capital of the religion that threatens Objectivists the most with all that talk about the Common Good, care for creation, humility before God and a Divine Judge for the pride of men. Lickety split, every hiss of contempt and every irrelevancy that can be brought to bear against Rome’s little expression of civic mindedness is trotted out, not merely to register disagreement about the science of global warming, but to smear Rome with everything from the persecution of Galileo to the molestations of John Geoghan. We get psychological histories of comboxers who hate nuns, strange rants about sex, and 50 other tangents from people who suddenly don’t seem interested in talking about science, but in spewing exactly that sort of bile one finds at, well, the most virulently anti-Catholic left-wing site.

Ye Olde Statistician, who has forgotten more Church (and science) history than most of these people will ever learn, provides useful instruction in the comboxes to the bigots as they reel off their litany of Horribles against the Church without bothering to check their facts (since all civilized people are agreed that the Church is owed no justice or accuracy):

It is astonishing how quickly a band of self-proclaimed skeptics can turn into credulous true believers when the topic switches to history and their own preconceptions. Any old legend or tendentious fundy propaganda—will be swallowed wholesale, with no effort made to ascertain the historical facts. 

We find once more the hoary old chestnut about Constantine founding the Church. Or the Church spreading by [somehow or other] taking over native customs in Ireland, Russia, Kerala, et al. loc. A bit of ahistorical silliness about the origin of “feudal” serfdom (as if feudalism and manorialism were the same thing). The Inquisition was “an autonomous organization that did whatever it wanted”? Really? Which inquisition? Someone mentions the idiocy of how many angels could dance on the head of a pin? Who ever pondered this? Where is it recorded, or is it just something “everyone knows”? You could be burned at the stake for “calculating”? Really? Who was so burned? Bruno, the Hermetic mystic, is somehow dubbed a “scientist.” 

As always, Galileo is trotted out for his lonely turn across the stage. He is credited with “inventing” the scientific method, as if Grosseteste or his Arabic and Greek predecessors had never lived—let alone Paul Vallius, whose class notes Galileo copied. Or for that matter, as if Fabricius, Harriot, Scheiner, Kepler, and a host of contemporaries had vanished down the memory hole. 

There was a reason why Huxley once declared that the Church had the better case. Bellarmine had told Galileo that heliocentrism could be taught as a mathematical theory—back then astronomy was a branch of mathematics, not of physics—but not as physical fact unless he had empirical proof. He had none. In 20 years of further thought, he came up only with the tides as “sloshing” caused by the spinning earth, which was wrong. He answered the Objection of the Parallax by simply hypothesizing that the stars were much farther off than currently thought; but you can’t save one unproven hypothesis by tossing in a second unproven hypothesis. Parallax among the fixed stars was described in 1803 (and later, more definitely, by Bessel) and the second unresolved problem—the predicted eastward deflection of falling bodies—was finally measured by Gugliemini in the 1790s. Consequently, when Settele prepared his new astronomy text in 1820, he included these two results, showed them to the Holy Office, and said here’s the empirical proof Bellarmine wanted. The committee mulled it over and said, Yup, that’s it. And lifted the ban on presenting heliocentrism as physical fact. 

IOW, Galileo demanded he be taken on faith and the Church had asked for empirical proof. 

History requires every bit as much attention to facts as does global cooling/global warming/climate change/——.  Instead, too many here have relied on “models” of history.
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PS.  Galileo did not use Kepler’s work (correct) elliptical model. He never even read Kepler’s book (which, admittedly, is not easy reading). Nor did he make predictions from it or from Copernicus’ (incorrect) circular model. Nothing in Copernicus predicted sunspots or Jovian moons. The phases of Venus definitely drove a stake through the heart of Ptolemy; but Aristotelian physicists had always doubted Ptolemaic astronomy and the Tychonic and Ursine models also accounted for the phases of Venus. 

Kepler’s elliptical model gets no mention in the Dialogues because Galileo was committed to circular motion and still had 20 epicycles in his Copernican model. (Nor does he mention Tychonic/Ursine model, which by then had replaced the defunct Ptolemaic model.) When Kepler wrote to Galileo asking for a telescope—(because Galileo had a rep as a lens-grinder)—Galileo simply never answered him. One suspects professional jealousy. Kepler was by far the better scientist. 

The telescopic history is nicely summarized in Toby Huff’s book Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution.
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As regards the topic of the original post, the Pontifical Academy is tasked with providing scientific background advice to the Vatican. (I know one member, an astronomer.) It is not controlled by the Vatican, and its membership includes all sorts. Its reports are just that, and are not Church policy, let alone doctrine. Whether the top scientists in the field of glaciers are grinding their own agenda is another matter entirely, and you mustn’t suppose that the Curia is entirely naive about such matters. They got burned once before when they asked a panel of top physicists about the validity of the Copernican system and the “settled science” and “consensus of scientists” was that it was “absurd in philosophy.” Perhaps the lesson ought to have been that the Church should be less accepting of secular science. 

PPS.  “Social justice” is a term coined by Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio, SJ, back in the early 1800s. Justice is a virtue and as such applies to individuals respecting that which is due unto others. The “social” part refers to the societies which men are wont to form, some of which are more natural and intimate than others: We come together not only in cities and states, “but first and most importantly in families, neighborhoods, religious bodies, clubs (guilds) and a variety of informal organizations.” Taparelli believed that “people have the right to form different levels of association and to interact through them to fulfill needs and accomplish necessary tasks. Each of these social spheres, institutions, or consortia has its own proper identity and purpose.” Each of these societies maintains its own unity so as not to lose its identity to the larger whole, nor lose the unity of the larger whole. That means the state, for example, should not usurp the prerogatives of the family. The term has been co-opted by the novelty of insisting that collectives rather than individuals practice virtue, and so is applied to vague abstractions like “high unemployment” or “world hunger.”  Consequently, the term has been used by secular forces to mean “implementing the social programs I favor and which I declare must benefit people.” This absolves the individual of the obligation to practice justice himself and ironically opens to the door both to socialist collectivization and Nietzschean/Randian egoism. 

Indeed, he understood that a just society depends on these different forms of association each being able to do what they do best. He not only insisted on freedom for these various spheres, but especially for those closest to the ground: the associations that because people are most directly involved in them, encourage personal relationships and local responsibility.

His vision of social justice, then, emphasized freedom and respect for human beings and the small institutions through which they pursue basic needs.

Meanwhile, the Ecumenical Patriarch has been far more into the Green agenda; but no one seems to remember that the Orthodox Church even exists.

One luckless zealot tries to defend this farrago of half-baked pseudo-history promulgated by his fellow anti-Catholic bigots and Ye Olde Statistician quickly and efficiently has his guts for garters:

The Catholic church sponsors a ‘scientific’ study that embraces CAGW mantra. Why should that be above criticism?

Oh, that explains all the hoo-hah about Galileo, inquisitions, Constantine, indulgences and sundry other irrelevant and (since they are based on models of history, not historical facts) inaccurate asides.

The Church did not “sponsor” the study. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences did. The Curia is always asking for secular advice on secular matters, such as science. The problem is that a great many scientists, experts in their field, believe in the models of climate, not climatic facts.

I find the history of religion and the history of science to be the key in highlighting the two major protagonists in Western Civilization. The struggle continues.

Oh, no! Not that hoary old chestnut of model-based history! A hundred years after professional historians shook loose from Draper’s bit of tendentious propaganda. Oh, well. The model says this must be happening; therefore, it must be happening.

Paradoxes abound. The critics of Climate Change latch on to their own reality-defying models of history in just the way they complain of many climate change zealots preferring models to reality when it comes to climate science. They even, hilariously enough, seek to indict Ye Olde Statistician as a stooge of their number one enemy: Climate Change zealots when, in fact, YOS is himself quite skeptical of the hype (because he is a trained statistician who recognizes when numbers are being jiggered). However, when you want to shut down a voice of reason when it is pointing out that you are a bigot, it’s what you do.

Ye Olde Statistician’s real point is not to make a case for global warming, but to make the perfectly sensible case that what Rome generally does is try to pay attention to what the consensus of experts in a given field say and then act accordingly. This is called prudence. It’s why we hire electricians instead of just praying and sticking a fork in the fusebox to try to repair a power outage. It’s why we call an expert to repair our computer or tell us if it’s going to rain tomorrow. Bishops ain’t climate experts. So they defer to those who are and make a judgment call about the prudent thing to do in light of what appears to be the current consensus.

For some reason, both climate change believers *and* skeptics treat all this as though it is dogma. But as Ye Olde Statistician points out to a terminally thick interlocutor, that’s rubbish:

If the Catholic Church (which claims to be a religious organisation in the service of God), were to promote the theory of AGW (which has nothing to do with their religion) as part of church policy, then their status is no longer purely religious.

That’s what some folks were saying when the Church preached against segregation in the US south back in the 50s.

No mention of AGW in the Bible.

Fundies are always upset that the Church derives so much of her message through reason. It ain’t in the book! they cry. But the traditional churches (Orthodox, Roman, Coptic, Assyrian) use revelation as a starting point for reasoning about the world, not as a collection of proof-texts, geasa, and tabus.

Further, the Church does not draw scientific conclusions, but simply accepts the scientific consensus. If that consensus is wrong, as it was in Galileo’s case and possibly in the AGW case, you cannot fault the Church for deferring to the scientists over matters of science. What matters is the moral actions informed by the science. It might be wise to wait until the Church does speak on the matter before getting your shorts in a knot because your model-based history already “proves” what “should” be happening.

Ok guys, fine, you win. Anthropogenic Global Warming is part of the Christian faith and the teachings of the churches, I believe you.

No, it isn’t and no one has said it is. Don’t you get straw on your knuckles flailing away like that?

The Church has always navigated according to the best science of the time, while recognizing that the nature of science is provisional, not certain and complete, knowledge. Four centuries ago, a responsible priest would have been advised by the best medical authorities to bleed a sick man and would have been reproached for his neglect of Science had he failed to do so. If he believed that science to be sound, he would have violated his conscience not to find a physician and do so. It turned out that the Best Minds in Science were wrong about that. But that doesn’t make the priest a fool for listening to them. In the same way, the Vatican is quite at liberty to choose to be carbon-neutral if they want. It doesn’t make Anthropogenic Climate Change a dogma. Nor does it mean that these nasty bigots of the Godless Right are somehow confirmed in their bogus anti-Catholic models of Church history or theology.

Filed under anti-catholic bigots

About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.