Monday, August 04, 2008

Catholic Church, Science & Universities

The most recent issue of "Discover" magazine contained the article "The Vatican's Secret Science Club", which "secret" appears to be more a matter of neglect or outright bias by the more general and less fair media. This article described the official and centuries old foundations of science within the Church. It does appear than no article, including this one, as to science and the Church, can proceed without noting the rare errors (Detected by today's 20/20 hindsight) made by the Western Christian Church in dealing with such philosophical or scientific dissenters as Galileo or, probably for his non-scientific endeavors, Giordano Bruno.

Even the author, the excellent Michael Mason, skipped over one of the great truths and accomplishments of the Catholic Church as to science and knowledge: That is its attention to logic and reason in Theology is at the basis of our scientific world as its schools of Theology, Philosophy and Cannon Law are the true base upon which our entire university system is built. No other tradition can claim such an effect on human life, thinking and civilization. The Islamic schools remained locked into the limits set by the Koran and the Hadith (The traditional sayings of Mohammed). The Eastern Christian Churches never developed the like of the University of Paris, Oxford, Krakow and other like schools, perhaps because of suppression by Islamic rulers or the East's suspicion of anything from the West.

Newton, Copernicus, Bohr, Stephen Hawkins (A member of the Pontifical Academy Of Sciences) and too many others to note here were all products of universities set in the traditional framework built upon the foundations set by and often funded by the Latin Rite Catholic Church or rulers committed to that Faith. After all, the only such university well sources of knowledge and thought outside of the Western World are copies of those founded in Catholic Europe.

Departing from the hard sciences, the worth that the Church places on each "Soul" (Person) and its application of that value to the study of law is the source of "Natural Law" reflected in our Declaration Of Independence and Constitution.

It may be that the described attention of the Church to science is only an adjunct to its declared purpose of the saving-of-souls. However, it does appear that reliance on science and logic is superior, for that purpose, that a commitment to Islam's sword or the goal of nullity of some Eastern philosophies.

5 comments:

Hermione said...

Western Christianity as a cradle of logic and science - perhaps in some parallel universe. Not this one. Many points could be made, not just a rare few hind sights. Herewith a couple for your amusement.
1 - The suppression of Bacon by the Franciscans. He had invented but was not allowed to promulgate a number of inventions. Among which was a non logarithmic equivalent of a slide rule to be inscribed on the reverse side of the astrolabe. Had he been allowed to promulgate it there is no doubt that a generalized mechanical computer would have existed by the 1500s. Opportunity lost.
2 - Nascent science in England was called the Invisible College for several reasons. One of which was that, until it became the Royal Society, it stood in danger of interdiction at least. Newton invented a number of things, not just the Calculus and the System of the World. One of the things he invented was Science. Seldom pointed out, but up until his success with his world system, science consisted of asking "why". He single handedly changed that. Now since the 1950s science is once again asking "why", primarily because "how" has finally run out of gas. The theoretical failure of Mathematics to be self consistent is part of that. Newtonian science is at the foundation of Secular Humanism and never has been awfully popular with Holy Mother Church.
3 - It is supposed that the Church copied and so caused to survive Classical Science. Typically only that which agreed with the doctrines of the church. For example Cicero's "Nature of Divinity" was cut in half. The three sections that were found agreeable to church doctrine survived. The three sections that were not are now only found in fragments in book covers.
And as far as the nullity of the East - State sponsored science flourished in China from about 100ad to the destruction of hard science in China by the Mongols 1100 some years later. The Chinese had a comprehensive science based upon the theory of field effects with the interaction of particulates taken as a view point appearance. Present western science is exactly the opposite. The philosophy of Chinese science remains known to the Chinese but is not available in translation. The literature of China is vast and less than five percent is known in the West. Present day Chinese are attempting to put a Marxist spin on it. So far none too successfully. Should they succeed we can expect some amazing developments.
If you wish any other indications that Holy Mother Church has been a boil on the rump of progress, I will be glad to oblige.

James Pawlak said...

To Herione: Our universities survived Tartar, Islamic, Calvinistic and, worst yet, free thinker invasions and still survive.
Chinese scientific knowledge is available in English; What destroyed science in China was both bureaucrats who were opposed to new knowledge and Manchus (Not mongols).
ETC. I suspect you live in an alternative universe of creative history and political correctness.

Hermione said...

Chinese scientific knowledge of the years from 100ad to 1200ad is not available in English. You may be thinking of the massive work by Needham, Science and Civilization in China. In it there is only one mention of one of the series of experiments carried out in the Han dynasty to determine the nature of causality. And he scouted it. He apparently had no idea of the parameters of the experiment in question. His massive work otherwise mentions none of the scientific mathematical and physical investigations carried on during that period. His entire knowledge of Chinese science is Ming dynasty and subsequent - where your caveat does apply - and certain survivals from eras earlier than the Ming, some of which is accurate and some of which is remarkably fabulous. All the mathematical texts that he quotes are popularizations at best. He comes close to but misses the work on formal logic and the formal logic matrix approach to mathematics. And as far as western writers on the subject go, he is the most comprehensive and the best. He was not a fluent reader of Chinese and had to have the material scanned by assistants. Not a good approach. His chemical and architectural material is pretty good but he has no material on the chemical experiments and the strength of material experiments carried on during that 1100 year period. His knowledge of Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist philosophy is also faulty, founded as it is on the writings of Christian missionaries during the late 1800s. On the other hand there is nothing better in English, including the works of Lin Yutang. Just being well read Chinese is not good enough.
I certainly do live in an alternate universe to the one you inhabit - but politically correct? What polity would that be? My educational background is as a White Crane Taoist with the usual memorization (at least acquaintance) with appropriate Confucian and Buddhist material. Lots of Chinese history and later Western history and science. Tons of theorectical mathematics.
I'm none to sure who I would be politically correct to if I wanted.

Hermione said...

Oh yes, I forgot to mention, the attention of the Church to logic and reason is not the basis of our scientific world. Their logic was classical Aristotelian and their reason was Apologia. Newton replaced those with Mathematics. The Church was outraged. Philosophy and Canon Law were what the western universities used to teach as they were originally seminaries. That's why the Invisible College was founded, because they couldn't do the research they wanted at University. It wasn't until the 1800s that Cambridge and Oxford ceased being seminaries and became schools of science founded upon Newtonian principles. Similar events took place on the continent, except of course, in Spain and Portugal. The modern scholastic system is not an evolution but rather a revolution. They threw out the teachings of Holy Mother Church except as a historic study.
And it is not Thomistic Natural Law that is reflected in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution but rather the Natural Law of Secular Humanism which was then known as Deism and was in sharp contrast to and contrary to the Natural Law as defined by the Church.
Previous to the Scientific Revolution instituted by Newton and Leibnitz, the western universities were on a par with the Muslim universities of today. You know, you add Hydrogen to Oxygen with a spark and, God willing, you get water. The "God willing" part of it pretty much founds things on the arbitrary will of God rather than on a more or less invariant nature of nature.
And if I didn't make it clear, that goal of nullity of some Eastern philosophies is a complete mistranslation. If you wish I will clarify what "nullity" means in Buddhism and Taoism. I have yet to read anything in English that is even close.

Tom said...

@Hermione:
"The philosophy of Chinese science remains known to the Chinese but is not available in translation. The literature of China is vast and less than five percent is known in the West." ... "My educational background is as a White Crane Taoist with the usual memorization (at least acquaintance) with appropriate Confucian and Buddhist material. Lots of Chinese history and later Western history and science."
- I'd say the door is wide open to you to be the one to make this literature available to those of us in the English-speaking world, since you are apparently competent in both.

"That's why the Invisible College was founded, because they couldn't do the research they wanted at University. It wasn't until the 1800s that Cambridge and Oxford ceased being seminaries and became schools of science founded upon Newtonian principles."
-- Point of history: Holy Mother Church was personna non grata after about 1600 in the establishment part of the English-speaking world. Someone else must be to blame...