7/25/2007

Catholicism, Progress and Science

Just a few weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI issued a motu proprio making it easier for Catholic parishioners and priests who prefer the Latin Mass to request that this style of Mass be celebrated more regularly in their parishes. Many have held this up as "yet another example" that the Church is stalling progress and in fact, stepping back to the Medieval Ages.

As a writer of science fiction and a Catholic, I find the assertion that the Catholic Church is moving backward amusing. It's always been my impression that, while conservative and at times, slow to change, the Catholic Church is nonetheless forward-thinking. My research for the introductions to Infinite Space, Infinite God affirmed that impression with fact.

Infinite Space, Infinite God contains 15 thought-provoking stories about Catholics and the Catholic Church meeting the challenges of the future: determining the soul-status of genetically engineered humans and human hybrids, developing orders of nuns and monks to serve the needs of those in space as well as on Earth, and exploring how technology will create new situations that both challenge faith and can be resolved by faith.

Catholicism has always affirmed man's great imagination and creativity as a result of the divine nature God has graced us with. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Church held onto what wisdom it could, preserving it for centuries until society was ready to build upon it again in the Renaissance. Many of the great early scientists--Mendel, the father of genetics, and Copernicus, who proposed heliocentric theory--were Catholic monks. Even today, the Church supports scientific study with its Vatican Observatory, the Pontifical Academy and symposiums involving scientists of all religious beliefs. Catholicism has always affirmed man's great imagination and creativity as a result of the divine nature God has graced us with.

However, the Church also advocates caution and conservatism with new discoveries. For example, it wasn't heliocentric theory itself that the Church objected to with Galileo, but Galileo's assertion that his then-unproven theory was fact and that anyone disagreeing (like the Pope) should be disregarded.

Many of the stories in Infinite Space, Infinite God deal with the tension between rushing to the new and moving slowly into the unknown. My husband Rob and I compiled these stories with the goal of doing something unique in the sci fi world--examining the future of faith. However, this book is not just for Catholics alone. The questions raised are questions we should all be asking: how far do we go in our science? How fast? Is exploration for exploration's sake justified? How do we preserve the past without moving back to it?

Just as the Catholic Church endeavors to steer a careful course, preserving the best of the past while moving into the future, so should humankind in matters outside of religion.

After all, a step forward is not progress unless you've pointed in the right direction.

Infinite Space, Infinite God by Karina and Robert Fabian, will be available August 15 in bookstores, Amazon.com or online at www.twilighttimesbooks.com.

2 comments:

Porlock Junior said...

Do you really think that Galileo was insisting that the Church make heliocentrism a part of the dogma, or something like that? If so, why?

When he was arguing with other philosophers (scientists, more or less, in modern terms), he was sometimes (not always) scornful of their arguments; and they (not always) deserved it.

But all he asked the Church was not to ban the theory. Instead of relying completely on secondary and tertiary sources, try reading some of the documents from the time; e.g., those at Fordham University.

How much they didn't disapprove of heliocentrism itself:

"We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo . . . have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world..."
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1630galileo.html

There's more to it, but I find nothing unclear in "false and contrary to the holy and divine scriptures".

A much stronger argument would be to point out that the disastrous Galileo case was pretty well isolated, almost unique in the past thousand years, as an actual suppression of scientific work by the highest levels of the Church. That case isn't quite airtight, but it can be made pretty strongly.

Carole said...

The idea that the sun revolved around the sun or even that the earth was flat were Greek ideas, culled from the Greek philosopher/scientists. Aristotle was one who believed that. If one reads the Bible, and if the Catholic church hadn't gotten influenced by the Greek Philosophers instead of its Jewish forebearers, it might have been able to think clearly. But the Catholic church has always gotten worldly ideas mixed up with its theology.

As for latin, so far the only folks I know who like the idea of yet another way of removing people from the immediacy of God the father are professors, doctors (who study latin) and school teachers.

Back in the day I remember William Buckley bewailing the loss of the latin mass. From what I see among my Roman Catholic friends, there's a heavy does of snootiness involved here...and tons of disdain for normal folks who might end up in parishes with the latin mass. Once again, the prospect of moving people away from God, His word, His immediacy.

I remember a friend of mine once telling me that all those stories about the inquisition and persecution of Jews were untrue. I rolled my eyes. This comment about Galileo only made me roll my eyes again.

Honestly, I think the best thing any denomination should do when faced with some horrible embarrassing truth is to admit it. Christianity is about truth. And the ability to admit that one's past is littered with wrong actions goes a long way to dialogue. But when a denomination insists on always being right-- because it is the true church and can never be wrong-- it only turns people off. Especially Roman Catholics who know the truth, and who think for themselves. -C