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On Vatican and science – the myth of Catholic irrationality

Posted by picard578 on December 21, 2016

Vatican is often seen in a popular belief as being anti-science, in a typical dichotomy of faith and science. Yet faith is not necessarily against science, and science itself requires faith (in people, scientists, scientific process, etc.). While some Christians are indeed against science, and there are religions that are extremely hostile to science, neither Christianity as such nor Vatican were inherently against science. Vatican in particular always had an attitude of “God can do anything, so anything is possible”. And this, as crazy as it sounds, includes alien life. In fact, the idea that God had created an orderly world gave rise to science (even in polytheistic religions, so that is not exclusive to monotheistic religions). If God had created the world, He made laws, and humans are duty-bound to understand those laws so they could fully live as the God commands. If the world is not intelligible and orderly, there is no point in trying to understand the laws because there are no laws. Romans and Greeks did not develop modern science because the world was at whims of a bunch of rabid gods, so studying natural laws made no sense; Islam today presents the same problem, except with one god instead of many. Church infallibility only ever applied to official teachings of faith and morals; it never applied to “wordly” matters such as science.

Even in the Middle Ages, monks and other Church members were responsible for the scientific studies (mostly because the Church was the only institution rich enough to afford education for some of its members after the supply of papyrus was cut off by the Muslim invasions). Some study was done for purely religious reasons. Study of the stars, Moon and Sun as well as the development of mathematics happened as an answer to need to determine the date of Easter. Isidor of Seville wrote a comprehensive encyclopedia of natural knowledge, Alcuin of York advised Charlemagne on scientific matters. Abbo of Fleury wrote astronomical discussions of timekeeping and of the celestial spheres for his students. In the Later Middle Ages, it was Catholic Cathedral Schools which developed into centres of education, eventually becoming first universities. To medieval people, geometry, mathematics and architecture were a divine activity (and a question may be asked whether continuing disregard for social sciences draws its root from this belief). Georgius Agricola is the founder of geology and mineralogy. Catholic Church was the major sponsor of astronomy due to aforementioned concerns, beginning with the 16th century when the pope Gregory XIII initiated correction of the Julian calendar, which had fallen out of the sync with the sky; the resulting calendar is known as the Gregorian calendar and is used in the West even today. In fact, the Church was the largest single patron of science in history. Christian practice of caring for others gave rise to systematic nursing and hospitals, and in Renaissance Italy, the Popes were often patrons of study of anatomy. In 16th and 17th centurues, the same time as the Galileo affair, the Jesuits had a greatly respected group of astronomers and scientists in Rome. In the 1930s the Vatican observatory opened a laboratory to measure the spectral lines of metals, and the data it produced are used to interpret stellar spectra to this day. The observatory also has one of the largest collections of meteorites.

When Copernicus’ friend Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter lectured about the early findings implying a heliocentric solar system, Pope Clement VII and several cardinals all attended, and were fascinated. One of the cardinals – Nicholas von Schonberg, archbishop of Capua – even wrote a letter to Copernicus encouraging him to publish his findings. Copernicus did delay publication in fear of criticism, but it is unclear whether he was concerned with scientific criticism, religious criticism, or even both. The only serious religious opposition came from Protestant theologians – Martin Luther seemed to have condemned the new theory – and it was only on the insistence of Clement VII that Copernicus expanded his Commentariolus (where he first proposed heliocentric system) into De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestum, published in 1543. It was only in 1616. with the Galileo affair underway, that a handful of clerics managed to place the book on Index Librorum Prohibitorum, due to fewer than ten sentences characterizing heliocentric model as a fact rather than hypothesis; in 1758. book was removed from the Index. It should be noted that the heliocentric model was indeed not a scientific fact at the time, as it could not be proven, and the Index never contained a general prohibition of works teaching heliocentric theory. In fact, Galileo himself failed to prove the greatest argument against the heliocentric system, the lack of observable parallax shift of the stars. Today we know that the parallax shift exists, and it has been measured, but such measurement was impossible with astronomic instruments of the time. Galileo himself got into trouble not for the heliocentric solar system theory, but for accidentally insulting his friend, the Pope, who himself leaned towards heliocentrism (geocentric system of the time also was not flatteringly anthropocentric: the medievals saw Earth as the lowest and least glorious location in the universe, farthest from Heaven, and with the Hell at its very centre). Another and maybe even larger problem was Galileo’s insistence on moving the scientific debate onto theological grounds. Still, in 1608., Galileo rose to prominence after publishing Sidereus Nuncius. His work Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was widely considered to mock the Pope, a onetime friend and sponsor. Before the book was written, Pope advised Galileo to simply present the arguments for and against the heliocentric system (which was then typically done in form of a dialogue, in imitation of Greek philosophers such as Aristotle). Galileo used the arguments Pope had offered, but placed them in the mouth of a character Simplicio, thus making fun of, and insulting, the Pope. Court politics later did the rest, but even so he never faced anything worse than a house arrest (he even had a servant appointed to him). Even had there been an intention to torture him, it could not have happened due to regulations laid out in The Directory for Inquisitors in 1595. The fact remains that, in 1633., the heliocentric system was not yet scientifically demonstrated, so even if the common mythology about the affair is taken as a fact, Church’s position hardly constitutes rejection of science. Even Galileo’s call for reinterpretation of the Scripture was merely politely denied on the ground that his heliocentric theory was a theory, and not yet a proven and established scientific fact. Still, mythology was built up around Galileo and is often used to “prove” the Church’s “anti-scientific nature” – nevermind that the basic facts used to construct that story are wrong (for example, the Pope never even tried to make infallible ruling regarding Galileo’s views as such rulings are only made in the matters of religious doctrine, yet the case is often used as an argument against Papal infaillibility; Church tribunals such as the one that judged Galileo were never considered infallible). In fact, the main opposition to Galileo came not from the Church but from the secular scientific establishment of the day, which followed the Ptolemaic geocentric model. Giordano Bruno, the only scientifically minded historic figure that I can recall was actually executed by the Catholic authorities, is also incorrectly believed to have been sent to Inquisition for his heliocentric beliefs – which included theory about Sun being a star as well as existence of exoplanets and alien life. In reality he ended up persecuted and killed for denying several core Catholic doctrines such as eternal damnation, the Trinity, divinity of Christ, the virginity of Mary and transubstantiation; his pantheism (a belief incidentally also followed by the writer of this article) may or may not have played into the decision. Giordano Bruno taught that there was an infinity of co-existing worlds, that God is his creation and that diseases were demons which could be ousted by the king’s touch or by the spittle of the seventh son; again, he presented his beliefs as facts. Bruno was tried by the Inquisition for his attempt to build a new, bizzare theology, and not for his heliocentric worldview. Overall, while indeed inhumane and wrong, his execution was not an expression of Church stance on science yet is often held as such. Blaise Pascal likewise never faced excommunication despite his possibly heretical leanings. Other scientists that were tried by the Inquisition were never tried for their scientific work, but rather for their dabbling into occult or for “heretical” religious beliefs (which often did grow out of their scientific work). Michael Servetus wrote against the Trinity and stated that Christ would soon return to Earth to lead the final battle, and that Servetus himself will be a general in that battle, serving under Archangel Michael.

In fact, with the exception of some bureaucrats vying for power and using scripture to push an agenda, the Catholic hierarchy has been either silent or supportive about just about every scientific theory. The Vatican even has a planned amendment to its doctrine if intelligent alien life is discovered. During the time of Galileo, as well as for the long time before and after that, the Catholic Church was an immensely important patron of science, outweighing financial contribution of any other single patron by a significant margin. As such, the scientific revolution is indebted to the Church. The Catholic theology itself had a crucial role in development of basic scientific principles. Its theological framework provided by a belief in a rational Creator also meant that the universe is a rational system governed by laws comprehensible to the reason of men created in His image. Thus it is not surprising that many if not most early scientists were priests and religious. Church also provided direct monetary and social support to science, particularly astronomy.


Neither did personal beliefs prevent Christians from undertaking scientific research. Many Catholics are responsible for significant scientific advancements. Rene Descartes discovered analytic geometry and laws of refraction. Blaise Pascal invented the adding machine, hydraulic press and the mathematical theory of probabilities. Augustinian priest Gregor Mendel founded modern genetics. Louis Pasteur founded microbiology and created the first vaccine for rabies and anthrax. Nicolas Copernicus, a cleric, first scientifically developed the heliocentric theory. Jesuit priests in particular have a long history of scientific achievement. They contributed to the development of pendulum clocks, pantographs, barometers, reflecting telescopes and microscopes, and to scientific fields as various as magnetism, astronomy, optics and electricity. They also observed the coloured bands on Jupiter’s surface, Saturn’s rings, and theorized about the circulation of blood, possibility of flight, Moon’s effect on tides and the nature of light. Symbolic logic, star maps of the southern hemisphere and the flood-control measures on the Po and Adige rivers were also Jesuit achievements.

The historical science in the meaning of fact-checking and studying old texts started out as an effort to discover and get rid of mistakes in the Bible. Christians were long aware that the Bible is imperfect, and that many mistakes might have crept into it, New Testament in particular, during the time when it was transferred by a word of mouth. Thus a conscious effort was made to prune it, remove any mistakes and get as close as humanly possible to the original text. In fact, scientific methods used today by historiography originate precisely from the effort of Christian theologists to remove these mistakes from the Bible; before then, there were no methods for fact-checking historical documents.

The Bible itself is merely a compilation of mythology, propaganda and actual history, and is highly symbolic. Careful study also reveals that many things are significantly different from how they are generally understood today. For example, the myth of creation in seven days is entirely symbolic. The Hebrew word for “seven” is the same as the word used for “making a covenant”. Thus a claim that word was created in seven days may well mean that the world was created in the covenantal relation with divine (unless, of course, the relationship is inverted; but generally language gives symbolism to the myths instead of drawing from them). The fact remains that the order of creation is completely wrong, but that falls into the realm of science, and ancient people who had created the myth could hardly have been expected to know how the universe was created. Same goes for the myth of Adam and Eve (and it should be noted that Adam was told he would die on the same “day” he ate apple from the tree, yet lived to be 930 years old; this fits with the statement “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”). In fact, the Catholic Church never insisted on literal interpretation of the Scripture (at least as a doctrine, individual officials sometimes did). As a result, even theologians differed in their opinions: Saint Ambrose believed that the world was indeed created in seven days, as described by the Scripture; Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Blessed John Henry Newman and others did not, with Saint Augustine pointing to the statement cited above which shows that God’s day is not the same as the day of the Earth. Witch hunts were caused by the mixing of religion and politics and religious tensions between Catholics and Protestants; religiously homogeneous areas experienced little witch hunts (as usual, multiculturalism caused problems, especially when combined with particularly dogmatic and hateful nature of ideologically as opposed to nationalistically justified war as well as literalist nature of Protestantism; more here).

Today, the theory of evolution is only disputed by few rabid Christians; Church as such has done its best to fit the theory of evolution within the framework of Christianity. In fact, the Church has changed its teachings to conform to scientific facts and theories. Even recently, important scientific advances were made within the framework of the Catholic Church; Georges Lemaitre, who proposed the Big Bang theory and hung out with Einstein, was a Catholic priest, and he was the first person to bring together Einstein’s theory of relativity and Hubble’s cosmological observations. Cardinal Ratzinger – later Pope Benedict XVI – has stated that the Scripture teaches about “who” man is, not “how” he came to be; John Paul II has likewise accepted the theory of evolution as being “more than hypothesis”. But while evolution is a recent theory, the myth of Biblical creation in seven days was rejected by Christian thinkers as early as 4th century, with St. Augustine arguing that everything was created in the same instant (probably because seven-day creation would mean that God is not omnipotent). Other times, Christians are said to oppose science when they actually oppose what they see (and what often truly are) immoral scientific practices. Richard Dawkins wrote that the Pope Benedict “is an enemy of science, obstructing vital stem cell research, on grounds not of morality but of pre-scientific superstition”. His argument ignores that the stem cell research often involves flat-out murder of human embryos, in its basis no different than Dr. Josef Mengele’s research on human patients which also brought significant scientific results. In fact, it is modern science which brought the Church to oppose embryonic research, as it demonstrated that human life starts with conception. In ancient Greece, Aristotle taught that the human person arose only 40 to 90 days after the union of the man and the woman in sexual intercourse. Aristotle thought, and this view was a common one until the nineteenth century, that the menses of the woman was “worked on” by the fluid ejaculated by the man to form a human being, some 40 days after the sexual union in the case of a male and 90 days in the case of a female. But the modern biology shows that the sperm and egg are the gametes of sexual reproduction. When egg and sperm unite, they immediately create a new living being with a DNA unlike that of either father or the mother; and no matter how undeveloped, ending the life of another human being is murder. Embryo is not part of mother’s body, so the argument that “women have the right to do with their body what they like” is both intellectually dishonest and factually incorrect. But the stem cell research which does not involve murder of another human being is not only permitted, but even funded by the Catholic Church. This research which uses adult stem cells or stem cells from umbilical cords has already been developed into treatment which saved lives. On the contrary, embryonic stem cell research has not led to any cure or useful scientific advancement despite all the money and murders which went into it.

Pope Benedict XVI visits the new home of the Vatican Observatory in Castelgandolfo

One particular extant friction point is the Christian belief in miracles. Miracles are found in the Bible and claimed by Christians, but are generally held to be incompatible with science. But science and the scientific method, which are ways of objectively (as much as possible) understanding the physical world, have to be distinguished from the philosophical naturalism, which is a philosophic theory which holds that there are only natural causes. While many scientists believe in the philosophic naturalism, it is not a requirement for a scientist as long as they follow the scientific method. Philosophic naturalism itself cannot be proven or disproven any more than God can, as God is held to be a spiritual being, and science is limited to (what is) empirically verifiable. But problem appears with scientism, which is the belief that human life can be defined through science. Scientism rejects philosophy, religion and ethics, believing that scientific truths are the only truths there are, and that science alone can create a perfect society. But in reality, science is a tool, and just like any tool it can be used for both good and evil – and the latter is extremely likely in the absence of guidelines such as provided by ethics, humanism etc.

And in the end, fact remains that atheists, agnostics etc. can be just as irrational as religious people, and science does not preclude irrationality. An example of that was displayed a science professor in Minnesota desecrated what he claimed to be a consecrated host. This avowed atheist stuck a nail through the host, threw it in a wastepaper basket, then dumped a banana peel and coffee grounds on it. Afterwards, he posted a picture on his blog and proceeded to lecture the world that the Eucharist is a “horrible little cracker” and that we should believe only that which is scientifically verifiable. Overall, the case clearly shows that atheists can be as fundamentalist and irrational as members of any religion. After all, stupidity is something inherent to all humans, no exception; religious, politico-social and economic ideologies merely help it to manifest. In that regard at least, there is no difference between liberalism / scientism, Christianity, Nazism and Islam. In fact, it was the scientism of the 19th century which ushered in the virulent racism, Communism and Nazism, with Darwinist “survival of the fittest” theory in particular justifying Nazi expansionism and genocide. Today, natural, medical and historical sciences rapidly advance while philosophical sciences fall behind. But this is a problem, since science without guidance can be extremely dangerous. Despite its proclamations, when faced with the choice between freedom and truth, science often chooses freedom at the expense of truth. Science can never provide ethical guidelines for life, and always has inbuilt pressupositions – with scientific fields oftentimes taking them from other fields, both within and without science itself. Because of this, science can be dangerous if not restrained by ethical guidelines; and if one has to choose between ethics and science, ethics should always win out. As Cicero has said: “Man judges much more frequently influenced by hatred or love or cupidity…or some mental agitation, than by the truth, or a command, or the law”.


A joke connected to the note about God’s days:

“A man came to God and asked him: “How long is one minute for you?” God: “A billion minutes.”. Man: “How much is one Kuna for you?”, God: “A billion Kunas.”. Man: “Can you please give me one Kuna?”. God: “Sure, wait – one minute.”.

Further reading

A History of Catholicism & Evolution in 30 Quotes

Click to access dan_horn.pdf

The Catholic Church… On the Cutting Edge of Scientific Discovery for Over 1,000 Years

20 Responses to “On Vatican and science – the myth of Catholic irrationality”

  1. Catholicism and Science?
    Immense subject.
    Here is my version in the most abstract form:

    The intellectual Caesar is assassinated, just before embarking in the Roman Republic most ambitious military campaign ever, the most definitive defense strategy ever (which should inspire us to this day; another subject).

    Caesar’s much less gifted grand nephew establishes a political fascist system.
    With the next rulers, the fascism spreads from politics to all forms of intellectual inquiry.
    Roman science collapses, followed by its technological military advantage, invasions.

    Diocletian solves the crisis momentarily with a command economy and increasing the fascism, from the “Principate” to the “Dominate” (the emperor is basically made into god).

    Constantine, twelve years later, tweaks the system by proclaiming himself the “13th Apostle”, and creating “Catholic Orthodoxy” at the Nicaea Council, in 323 CE.
    Catholicism is given tax advantage, other religions, tax disadvantage.

    The philosopher and emperor Julian sees the danger of Catholicism as monothinking, the pensee unique. However he dies at Ctesiphon, in Mesopotamia, after losing a battle with the Sassanids. Under his successor, the general Jovian, libraries are burned.
    In 381 CE, general Theodosius, who had become Roman emperor, makes Catholicism the State Religion. Heresy is punishable by death. Various European states would use this capability, in a capricious way, over the next 15 centuries.

    Before the end of the Fourth Century, Theodosius is on his knees to beg forgiveness, bishops de facto govern the empire. The four Founding Fathers of the church decide the Bible is allegorical and metaphorical, in a successful attempt to seduce Neoplatonists.
    The Franks, who helped Constantine conquer the empire, stay Pagan and unimpressed. After trying to put their own secular emperors on the throne, they receive the mandate of military control of north-west Rome in 400.

    In 406 CE, legions are ordered out of Britain, for cost saving. At Christmas, the Rhine freezes, hordes of several German nations gallop across, overwhelming Frankish defenses. The Vandals go all the way to North Africa, establish a maritime empire, and cut-off Rome from much of its wheat supply.
    The Huns invade, become allied to the Roman State. Finally Gauls and Franks fight back, and in the end, the Huns are nearly annihilated by a Frankish-Roman-Gothic army. Aetius, the chief of the Roman army is assassinated.

    The Franks defeat all their enemies in Gaul and Germania, finishing with the Goths at Vouille’ (507 CE).
    The Franks re-invent Catholicism as a very tolerant faith. They create their own saints and bishops (in a standard three week course from analphabetic Frankish officer to prelate). The Vatican is red hot furious.

    Gallic bishops start to teach secularly. The Pope threatens to burn them alive. The Frankish authorities laugh their heads off (Pope has neither army nor territory, and Italy is occupied by the Lombards).

    The Frankish Merovingian empire outlaws slavery (655 CE), its leaders and plutocrats fund wealthy monasteries as temples of wisdom.

    The Franks destroy all Syrian and Berber armies invading Francia (715 CE to 748 CE). They do this by nationalizing the Catholic church, melting all the gold to finance the largest army since the Roman Republic. Papal authorities toy with the idea of excommunicating Charles Martel, before realizing they don’t want to lose their privileges.

    The Franks defeat the Lombards, control Italy.

    The Franks pass a law saying that all and any religious establishment has to teach secularly, all and any children in their diocese, or said establishment will see its licence withdrawn. As the Franks control most of Europe, civilization is reborn.

    Charlemagne, strangely analphabetic, after centuries of highly educated Frankish leaders, is crowned Roman emperor, Constantinople reluctantly agrees. Charlemagne gives the Pope vast territories in Italy. Judaism and Paganism are welcome. Charlemagne takes himself for the Jewish King David, and close friends, including his Prime Minster Alcuin, call him “David”.

    In the Tenth Century, a Muslim army sieges Rome, captures and burns the Vatican. It is thrown back into the sea by a Frankish army.
    Around 1000 CE, a highly educated young Frenchman becomes Pope. However, by the end of the century, the craze of the Crusade leads to religious fanaticism: Jews are killed en masse as the Crusaders march, and said Crusaders, starving in the Middle East, end up eating native children, among other horrors reminiscent of the goriest parts of the Bible.

    The Catholic Church imposes celibacy. This leads to a crisis in the secular schools as they are technically part of the Catholic Church (because of three centuries old law about religious establishment having to teach secularly). Cathedral schools, the richest and most powerful schools, detach themselves, and call themselves “Universities” (“catholic” means “universal”).

    Battle to death between the religious fanatic Saint Bernard (de facto Pope) and the top philosopher, singer and celebrity Abelard (from the Notre Dame school). Abelard gets excommunicated, before being reinstated, yet can’t stop the Second Crusade.

    Catholic fanaticism keeps on climbing. In protest millions become Cathars in southern Europe. Cathars believe the Catholic Church is a creation of the Devil. The Pope wants to kill them all. Fortunately, Philippe Augustus, first self-proclaimed king of France, thinks that’s a good idea, because he will be able to seize the super-giant County of Toulouse, larger than modern Switzerland, and a republic, in all but name.

    Philippe-Augustus army and the Papists kill a million in the south of present day France. They kill the Cathars to the last and destroy all their works.
    In the next five centuries, Protestantism surges here and there, and so do religious wars.
    Before 1350 the hyper famous philosopher, mathematician, and physicist Buridan discovers much of what is now known as the Copernicus system and newtonian mechanics. He and his student invent graphs, and demonstrate non-trivial theorem in what would become differential calculus three centuries later. Buridan, head of the University of Paris, is also adviser to no less than four French kings.

    In an act of ultimate treachery, the highest catholic hierarchy burns alive Jan Hus. Shortly afterwards, the catholic church puts to the index all the works of Buridan and his students, 120 years after his death. Eastern Europe, enraged by Hus’ martyrdom, keeps Buridan a mandatory part of the university programs. Copernic learns Buridan, and resurrects the theory when close to death. The newly printed book is brought to the dying Abbot Copernicus.

    Giordano Bruno teaches around Europe that stars are suns, with planets around them, and other men live there. The Pope, unamused, has him finally seized in Venice, tortured for seven years in the Vatican. Then Bruno’s palate is pierced, so that he cannot teach the people, and he is burned alive and very slowly.
    In the next few decades, many other top European intellectuals are threatened by roasting, and try to stay away from Catholic authorities.
    In the age of the Enlightenment, civilized people learn not to take the Catholic church too seriously. Louis XIV himself removes heresy as a criminal charge around 1680 CE (although he compensates by harassing, abusing, chasing Protestants).

    Washington and Adams, the first two US presidents, sign a declaration certifying that “the US is not founded in any sense on the Christian faith”.
    Around 1800 CE, Lamarck in France explains the theory of evolution and its proof (from evolution of mollusks). Lamarck is taught to Lyell and Darwin in Scotland around 1820. However Lamarck’s evolution is outlawed in England, where the universities are controlled by the church, and Lamarck is humiliated by Napoleon and the Catholic church.

    President Roosevelt establishes a devilish alliance with Abdulaziz Ibn Saud’s Wahhabism, Wall Street, and oil, at the Great Bitter Lake, in 1945.
    When McCarthyism is at its peak, the motto of the USA is changed from “E Pluribus Unum” to “In God We Trust”.

    Science is knowledge. It is the exact opposite from knowing all from one unidentified source…


    • So and so. Some parts are historically incorrect (the parts that have nothing to do with the article).

      The Roman Empire was in decline long before Constantine the Great; people have just started to stop believing in the ”law and order” ideology that was the core of the Empire. The worship of the Sun-Deity tried to solve that issue but to no avail. People needed something to which they could sacrifice their lives in order for the empire to survive- something more than wild orgies and panem et circences. Emperor Constantine realised that soon enough; by giving Christianity an official status, he brought back an ideology core around which the empire could be held together. Christians at that time were multiplying at enormous speed and were also the majority in the richer provinces, namely Minor Asia and Italy.

      Julian the Apostate tried to reverse the wave of history; he did not just want to bring Christianity to the same status of the other religions but remake the 12 gods (and the Sun -Deity) the core ideology of the empire. He regularly sacrificed to the 12 gods and even tried to restore the Oracle of Delphi. His efforts were destined to fail, as all efforts that try to hold back history. Julian was not a fair player, an equidistant emperor (which in fact he was not) but a person who was trying to break the new unifying ideology of the empire, a person who had not understood that history had overpassed his ideas and his beliefs. Theodosius on his knees he does not just ask permission from the Church to govern; he is an emperor who broke the Roman law (by ordering the slaughter of innocents in Thessalonica*) and asks for a fair punishment from the supreme judge.

      That being said for reasons of historical accuracy, I have to say that the debate on Roman Catholicism and its relation to science does not touch me a lot. As an Orthodox, I know we have a long time ago solved these issues; Evolution is just a history that describes how God might have made humans (the Bible word about earth is symbolic) and not why. In that sense, the Church does not care (and cannot answer) on the how God made the Universe, it answers why God made the Universe. The previous tool has been successful enough for Orthodoxy to overcome all these stories; a meteorite falling on Sodom and Gomorrah is how God burnt the sinners, Religion cares why God burnt the sinners. I believe that the reasons which forced Orthodoxy to stay detached from such issues lie on two historical facts. The first is the failure of Patriarch of Constantinople to overcome the Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine the IX. In that battle, religion lost to the cosmic power hence it remained for the rest of the Roman Empire bound to the Emperor. In addition, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the new Muslim Sultan affected the collective unconscious of the orthodox, assuring that the Religion and the Cosmic Power can be two separate issues.

      Otherwise, feel free to continue your debate on the role of Catholic Religion and logic- Orthodoxy as far as I am concerned has seen both sides of the coin; Saints who protected and left orders to monks to copy the ancient greco-roman wisdom and Bishops who were condemning Gutenberg’s invention. This is the reason I have long time ago stopped to consider Chuch as a whole body. Unless is something really really bad or very theological, it is impossible to have archbishops and cardinals agree one with another. They did not agree in previous centuries, they will not agree now too. A couple of months ago, we had the Pan-orthodox Council in Crete. The churches could not even agree if they were to attend or not between themselves; imagine that in a bigger scale and for more trivial issues.

      *Just to say that the riots started when the local Goth jailed the best chariot driver of the most popular team. Who said hooliganism is a modern phenomenon?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Πάτε Καλά;
        To properly and correctly debate, unsupported hostile statements are best avoided. “Parts historically incorrect” should be at the very least explicitly mentioned so I can defend myself against this reproach.

        I suspect that you decided that non-conventional facts of history are automatically incorrect. I reassure you: they are not. “Little known” does not mean incorrect. They also fit, by establishing the context in which “Orthodox Catholicism” was made the state religion of Rome (an extension of the “cosmic power” of triumphant imperial fascism). Sorry to have to reveal to you that “Orthodoxy” started as a “Catholicism” (so Picard is right to speak of Catholicism; Catholicism was most the Christianism there was, for centuries… Except for Nestorians, Copts, and Arians….

        The history of Christianism is actually a subset of secular history, and that makes the history of Christianism immensely complicated, indeed (whereas Islamism is a lwa onto itself). There are good saints (St Francis, St Bathilde), there are Hitler like Saints: St Bernard, St Louis, etc.), and then secular warriors who were like saints (Charlemagne, Henri IV…)


        • Cher Patrice,

          I am sorry if my reply was considered hostile; that was certainly not my intention. My sincere apologies for that. In fact, I enjoyed your comment, without disagreeing on the core of your ideas (as I do not disagree also with Picard views also), I just try to enlighten a different view of the facts (that religion should be considered as a “solid block”).

          On the other hand, I believe I am very clear on what I believe is historical inaccurate- the depiction of Julian the apostat as an equidistant emperor who just wanted to apply the same rules for all religions is just not correct. Religion at that time was not just a mumbo jumbo belief of the masses, religion was becoming the core ideology of the state, the ”raison d’etre’ of the empire. Having an emperor wanting to revoke the newly adopted ideology was the equivalent of a coup d’etat, that was certainly not going to be accepted. This is also why I do not see any problems with the Christians forcing their religion to the empire- they were not forcing a religion, they were forcing a new ideology, a new set of moral rules under which the Empire could be still held together without collapsing to separate and different nation states. People who were unwilling to accept Christianity were people who disagreed with the raison d’etre of the empire, people who had no reason to respect not only Theodosius or the new Religion but the whole Empire, its institutions and all of its laws. It was the equivalent of being a supporter of the Ancien Regime in Paris exactly after the French Revolution or an opponent of communism in USSR. Christianity was the bonding material between different populations, from Minor Asia to the Caucasus and from Sicily to Dunabe. When this common core started to shatter with various heresies, the Empire shrinked; see the fall of Egypt, Syria to Islam after the monophysitic dogma became their main core. They stopped having connecting bonds with the other parts of the Empire and consequently, they were easier to loose their ideology.

          Under this light, the slaughter of Albigensian Crusade or even worse atrocities during the Religion Wars in Europe had nothing to do with religion by itself; they were all ideological and in some cases, nationalistic wars under an ideological chiton. Crusades, the Reformation, the 30 years war, the 7 years war or the Arabic-Byzantine conflicts were all another way to persuade the masses to go to a foreign land and die or keep their alliance to their original lord, resisting possible temptations for the other side (e.g. no taxes).

          I believe that your comment is loosing the above point and instead of seeing religion as a political manifesto, a necessary tool to keep a structure of cosmic power in its place without collapsing to constituent parts; you see it only as a set of moral rules that is designed to keep the powerful in their place. This in my view is not correct- religion includes morality (which often conveniently demands the approval of the existing social structure) but its more than that. Followers of a religion who do not follow its morals, non-practitioners who follow religion only because it suits their personal beliefs is the same phenomenon as having voters of a political party to have different ideas with their party but still voting for it. Therefore, we should just not account them seriously to the purposes of the religion itself. But religion is not for them- it is for all the others who need a group in which they need to believe they belong. Hence, this group needs to keep its members united by any means necessary otherwise it will collapse an with it, a structure of power will also collapse.

          I believe now that I have clarified what I believe is historically incorrect, which is the presentation of Christianity as simple fascist scheme instead of an ideological revolution under which part of the Roman Empire managed to find a new raison d’etre and maintain its position.

          ps. I did not make a single comment about Catholic Orthodoxy and consequently, I cannot understand the comment on that. I just pointed out how the Orthodox dogma managed to overcome (but not tackle) the problem of the growing rationalistic interpretation of the world.


    • picard578 said

      Religion is politicial ideology with addition of supernatural. Islam especially, but old Christianity was not much different. Political fascism in the Roman Republic started (unintentionally) with Caius Mario and his introduction of a professional military. What was at the time a military necessity turned into a political disaster. Hence my emphasis on Clausewitz’s “war is politics by other means”.

      Christianity spread within the Roman Empire for multiple reasons. Main reason was the same reason which brought down the Empire in the end: plutocracy. Unlike what some historians (Gibbons e.g.) believed, Christianity was not the cause of the Empire’s decline. It was a symptom. Cause of the decline was strenghtening plutocracy and widening gap between the rich and the poor. Rich got richer, poor got poorer… and also more numerous. The middle class which provided the core of the Republic’s military and the core of the economy was destroyed – it is no accident that Roman resurgence under the Macedonian dynasty in 10th century happened at the same time when most of the economy was provided by the small landowners who also provided the core of the army of the time. It was destruction of the middle class which created conditions for collapse of the Western Empire, and it was destruction of the middle class which created conditions for the success of Christianity. You should never confuse correlation for causation.

      Theodosius had good reasons to make heresy punishable by death. Religion back then was a political system – as it still is in islamic areas. Division in religion meant division in society, and as Jesus put it so bluntly, house divided cannot stand. Various hereses weakened not only the religion, but the state as well. And anything which goes against the state must be destroyed, as the only alternative is anarchy.

      Crusades were a response to Muslim fanaticist Jihad, sometimes the only way to survive against a crazy invader is to be crazier than him. They are not necessarily an inherent fault of Christianity, albeit monotheistic religions are kinda liable to go crazy.

      But you know, I would REALLY prefer people to read my article when replying to it. This post feels as if you have merely read the title and decided “I’m gonna go on a rant”. In particular, you are wrong – as I have explained – about Giordano Bruno. He was not burned for his heliocentric beliefs. He was burned for his adherence to Pantheism. People back then were not secular – you must not assume they were similar to us today, that leads to mistakes. Religion and day-to-day life were inseparable, and so Bruno abandoned Christianity. Church, naturally, could not tolerate that.

      Rest of it has even less to do with my article than this, so I’m not going to reply. I would really prefer an on-topic response next time.


  2. Joe said

    I just did a blog post on this issue as well. My post also offers some materials who want to research this issue further.


  3. Dear Πάτε καλά;
    Nice comment. Sorry that, in turn, I took umbrage. Recent fierce fighting around the Trump election in the USA, with lots of insults directed my way (because of my factual exposition of the failure of the Clinton/Obama governance) have made over-sensitive… Anyway, your ideas are very interesting. I think you misunderstand, and underestimate Julian, who was a philosopher, not just a general.

    (I don’t understand what you mean by “equidistant”. Fair?)

    In any case, it’s a bit moot; the Franks did implement something like what Julian had in mind… But more than a century after the collapse of the Roman empire.
    I will answer more in a separate comment, and I am preparing a more extent version of my comment above, as an essay on my site..


    • Πάτε καλά; said

      Cher Patrice,

      Julian most certainly was not a general but he was more than a philosopher; he was a politician. The fact he was a well-educated man (the comparison with our modern politicians creates sorrow), does not mean he was only a philosopher- he had a clear political program under which he wanted to bring back the old but not oldest religion of the Roman empire: The Sun Deity in particular. This made him incredibly unpopular in the East, where the majority of his subordinates were Christians. It was the same as having a radical left politician elected as a President in the USA, who tries to make the country a social-democratic paradise. This is just not going to work since most of its citizens disagree with the idea.

      The above note also shows the benefits of democracy (IMHO): imagine having an emperor/king/high lord/tribal leader/dictator trying to implement reformations with which the majority of the population (and not just the elite) disagrees. At best, he will get overthrown. At worse, a civil war will follow. Democracy is an excellent system because it offers stability. You get angry with your stupid neighbor/brother in law/colleague who voted something you do not like, not with the state per se.


  4. Julian was first a philosopher. But he was also a famous general. Consider wikipedia. His victories were mostly on the Rhine.

    Why do you say the East was overwhelmingly Christian? I read that, under Constantine, no more than 10% of the population was Christian (I am not familiar with the sources).

    After another general, emperor Theodosius, made Christianism mandatory in 381 CE, the number of Christians of course exploded, and the Christian monks went on rampages (consider what they did in Egypt, including the assassination of Hypatia through torture directed by Saint Cyril).

    The Late Roman empire was in no way a democracy. People are more or less rebellious. After 5 centuries of Panem et Circenses, the Roman People had lost all interest for its rights. Thus top down dictatorships worked well.

    This is how a few dozens of thousands of Franks were able to control twenty million Gallo-Germano-Romans in the north-west part of the empire. Of course, the Franks did not use just their famous double axes, but also a much more advanced form of governance, with the re-establishment of religious tolerance, and of domineering military force. They had obviously learned from their own misdaventure, and that of Julian…


  5. daryus001 said

    Are you catholic, Piccard?


  6. daryus001 said

    Grateful for your answer!


  7. David Robertson said

    Fantastic, one of the most longstanding myths of history. Although the relationship with science has been complex, calling catholicism anti-religion is definitely a common misperception that needs to be dis


    • Picard578 said

      Yes, Catholic church was oftentimes a sponsor of scientists and had major influence in development of academia and universities. Something those universities tend to forget.


      • Universities started as “Cathedral Schools” and the most prominent was the Cathedral School of the largest European city, Paris. Then stuff happened (like the prohibition of marriage, the Crusades, the hysteria of Saint Bernard, his war with the Cathedral School top professor, Abelard, and the reapparition of the Fourth Century Roman Empire Catholic “Inquisition”…)

        Liked by 1 person

  8. David Robertson said

    -mantled. Great work! (misclicked send on the first comment)


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