In the recent letter to the editor “No monopoly on freedom,” the writer states that “Christianity (basically the Catholic Church) did everything they could to eliminate any form of scientific research and knowledge.”
The letter contains many generalizations, and none of the evidence the writer claims to be “very, known facts.”
When cardinal Newman was confronted by such generalizations, and the church’s treatment of Galileo was mentioned, he asked, “Yes, and who else?”
Even the Galileo affair was not a simple matter of the church repudiating science. Copernicus, a Catholic priest, had already put forward the theory that the earth revolved around the sun, and he had no problem with the church. In fact he was encouraged by churchmen to publish his book.
Galileo came into conflict mainly because he strayed into theology and biblical interpretation, which is not the scientist’s domain; also depicting the Pope as a simpleton in a play didn’t help. There is also the lesser known fact that many scientists of Galileo’s day did not accept his theories.
A short but thoughtful account of the Galileo affair can be found on the Vatican Observatory website. So far removed from being against science, the Vatican built its own observatory, and it is one of the oldest in the world.
Today there is also the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, an international body of scientists, which keeps the church informed about the latest scientific research. Both the Vatican Observatory and the Pontifical Academy of Science have extensive websites for more information. On a personal note, I have been going to church (the Catholic Church) for 68 years and the main message, as far as personal behavior is concerned, has been to love God, and my neighbor as myself, and to keep the 10 Commandments as the minimum way to do that. That I fail is not the fault of the message and religion, but my own. I invite anyone with suspicions about what is taught in Church on Sundays to attend and respectfully observe; you could be pleasantly surprised.
To get back to my personal experience of the church and science: In the mid-nineteenth century, an American woman, Cornelia Connelly was asked by Pope Gregory XVI to found an order of nuns which would teach the daughters of the working class in England. I spent 10 years in one of their schools, and physics, chemistry, math and biology were part of the curriculum.
Religion like anything else — like science — can be misunderstood and used for bad and even evil purposes. Dreadful experiments were carried out in Nazi Germany by university-educated doctors. Soviet Russia, which tried to abolish all religion, was responsible for 60 million deaths. Things are never so black and white as your writer claims. Both religion and science are meant to be used for the good of mankind, because both are gifts from the Creator.
In the words of Pope John Paul the second in his encyclical “Faith and Reason”: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart the desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that by knowing and loving God, men and women can come to the fullness of the truth about themselves.”
If there is a conflict between science and religion, then the two need to open a dialogue, and that is true in most of our human endeavours. As someone said recently, “In our generation we have lost the art of debate”.