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Religion vs. Science: The Catholic Church as Fall Guy

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Stephen M. Barr - published on 06/24/15

Geocentrism, he thinks, was “as much a part of [Catholic] dogma as the gospels.” 

Galileo’s discovery of moons orbiting Jupiter refuted the Catholic Church’s “belief that every celestial body orbits the earth.” (Every? No such teaching ever existed.)  

The Catholic Church’s view of scripture was one of “uncompromising and unimaginative literalism” until the twentieth century, in contrast to Maimonides, who, “already in the twelfth century,” explained that such literalism was wrong. That was explained long before the twelfth century. Aczel evidently knows nothing of St. Augustine’s commentary on the first three chapters of Genesis (De Genesi ad Litteram), nothing of the Alexandrine Fathers, and nothing indeed of any of the whole history of Catholic scriptural interpretation. 

Aczel declares that Galileo was “far from the only scientist” persecuted by the Inquisition; there were “many others”. (Even if one were to accept, as Aczel does, the myth that Giordano Bruno was persecuted for his “science,” that would be only one other case.) 

And his statement that the Catholic Church only accepted the rotation of the earth in 1913 is preposterous. 

Aczel isn’t hostile to Catholics. He holds up Descartes, Teilhard, Lemaitre and others as examples of believing Catholic scientists. But the Catholic Church as an institution plays a villainous role throughout his book. Of the dozens of blunders and absurdities that fill its pages, almost half are casual libels against the Church.

That a major publisher would issue such a book says something very sad about the state of intellectual life in this country.

Stephen M. Barr is a theoretical particle physicist at the University of Delaware and author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, A Students Guide to Natural Science, and most recently, Science and Religion: The Myth of Conflict. This is his first contribution to Aleteia.

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