The Catholic Church – Builder of Civilization, Episode 3: Priests as Scientific Pioneers

The Catholic Church – Builder of Civilization, Episode 3: Priests as Scientific Pioneers

Thomas: Last week we started to overturn that firmly established myth that the Church has been an enemy of science. Today we’r e going to bury that myth once and for all. So join me for The Catholic Church: Builder of Civilization. (music) Thomas: Welcome to The Catholic Church: Builder of Civilization. I’m Dr. Thomas Woods. Last time, we engaged in some myth-busting. We looked at things everybody knows. The Church is an enemy of science, right? Everybody knows that. We’r e all taught that in school. What we started to see was that modern professors who actually do this for a living ar e starting to say something like the opposite. They’re starting to say, “We need to be fair to the Catholic Church and give Her Her due in the development of science in the Western world.” And some have gone so far as to ask the truly forbidden question, “Is the development of science in Western Civilization something that may have occurred because of the Catholic Church, rather than in spite of it, as we’re so often told?” Last time we placed particular emphasis on a central teaching that modern science takes for granted… namely, that the world we live in makes sense. You can understand it. You can expect to find patterns in it if you investigate it. You can expect to find mathematical relationships, if you investigate it. In fact, you can hope to reduce the phenomena of nature to some kind of mathematical formula so as to understand it better and predict it better. Well, where did this crazy idea come from? It came right out of the Bible, with Wisdom 11:21, that tells us that “God has ordered things according to measur e, number and weight.” And we saw that the Early Church Fathers, the Cathedral School at Chartres and others besides took this to mean the universe makes sense, so let’s go find out about it, let’s go study it, let’s go use the scientific method… gather data, formulate hypotheses and then test those hypotheses. You can’t do any of these things unless you already believe the universe makes sense and is orderly and follows consistent laws. And that idea, that idea comes from the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church insists that God is a God of order and He’s a God Who has built patterns into our universe that we can discover using our minds. Science is impossible without this fundamental insight. And I gave examples last time of civilizations who, lacking that insight, also lacked science. This time we’re going to talk a little bit mor e about specifics. We’r e going to name names today. We’r e going to look at specific people who were Catholics who pioneered in the sciences. And specifically, we’re even going to look at people who invented things and who made discoveries that we take for granted today but that are typically forgotten or left out of standard textbook treatment. So, for instance, I don’t think it’s particularly well known that 35 craters on the moon are named after Jesuit scientists and mathematicians. I also don’t think it’s particularly well known that when you look at the history of mathematics, a great many of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived were Jesuits. People don’t r ealize that. Is that taught in school? Not usually. But it’s very inter esting that in the early 19th century when an early historian of mathematics set about chronicling the 300 or so greatest mathematicians of the previous 27 centuries – so, going back to 900 B.C. And then going to his day, about 1800 A. D… those 27 centuries, he found that of the 300, about 5% were Jesuits. Now, consider how significant that is. The Jesuits were ar ound for only two, a little over two of those 27 centuries because the Jesuits, r emember, were founded in 1540 and then they wer e suppressed briefly in the 1770s. So a little over two centuries, and yet, still in an impartial compilation of the greatest mathematicians of all time, it turns out that one out of every 20 belongs to this single order of Catholic priests. Well, again, rather significant, is it not. But we’ll leave even the Jesuit accomplishments to the side now. Let’s mention Roger Bacon, a gr eat 13th century figure. Roger Bacon was a Franciscan who taught at Oxford and who’s been considered a forerunner of the scientific revolution. Roger Bacon emphasized the importance of experimentation and observation. These are the key aspects of modern science… that we don’t simply rely on what other people have said. “Well, Aristotle was really smart, so we’ll just sort of more or less go with him.” We have to verify scientific conclusions on the basis of either our own observations or on the basis of experiments by people who are carrying them out according to the sound principles of scientific method. Now, Roger Bacon consistently emphasized this. And he said, “Without experiment, nothing can be adequately known. “An argument pr oves theoretically but does not give the certitude necessary to remove all doubt, nor will the mind repose in the clear view of truth unless it finds it by way of experiment.” Well, ther e is a scientific turn of mind right ther e with Roger Bacon in the 13th century at Oxford. Among other things, Roger Bacon identified the following as obstacles to the transmission of truth… uninstructed popular opinion and longstanding but erroneous custom. Well, all of these, both of these things, I think, the Church is usually accused of, of encouraging. “Well, you’re just going along with what people say or you’re trying to form what they think. “You’r e trying to get them to believe crazy superstition.” But in fact, to the contrary, Roger Bacon is saying these are the things we have to try to avoid. We have to use experimentation and our own observation, because maybe what people believe is untrue. We need to verify things using experiment. Or St. Albert the Great who taught at the University of Paris… one of his students was St. Thomas Aquinas… St. Albert, according to the Dictionary of Scientific Biography was pr oficient in all branches of science. He was one of the most famous precursors of modern science in the High Midd le Ages. That’s why in 1941 Pope Pius XII named him the patron of all who cultivate the natural sciences, and well he should. In fact, he was so prolific, his output spanned so many disciplines that even people who despised the Church continued to ad mir e Albert the Great, Albertus Magnus. “The aim of natural science,”he said,”was not simply to accept the statements of others, that is what is narrated by people but to investigate the causes that are at work in nature for ourselves.” Well, ther e you go. Now, let’s get down to the brass tacks her e, though. Let’s move further toward the present and consider some long forgotten names. For example, Fr. Nicholas Steino was, in fact, consider ed to be the father of stratigraphy, which is in fact the study of the layers of the earth’s surface. Geologists need to know Steno’s principals. He later became a Catholic priest. In the late 1980’s he was beatified by Pope John Paul II who praised him for his sanctity and his science. I’d like to focus specifically, though, on the Jesuits because they, I think, have been criticized like no other religious group in the Catholic world over the centuries. They’ve been thrown out of countries, they’ve been banned, they’ve been suppressed, they’ve been imprisoned, they’ve been killed. It’s unbelievable the calumny against the Jesuits and yet… and here I’m quoting an expert on the Jesuits who has no axe to grind in this, one way or the other… the Jesuits by the 18th century had contributed to the development of pendulum clocks, pantographs, bar ometers, r eflecting telescopes and microscopes, to scientific fields as various as magnetism, optics and electricity. They observed, in some cases before anyone else, the colored bands on Jupiter’s surface, the Andr omeda nebula and Saturn’s rings. They theorized about the cir culation of the blood independently of Harvey, the theoretical possibility of flight, the way the moon affected the tides and the wavelike natur e of light. Star maps of the Southern Hemisphere, symbolic logic, flood control measures, introducing plus and minus signs in to Italian mathematics all wer e typical Jesuit achievements. Now, I’m sorry to sound like a broken record but how often are students taught this in school? Never! It’s not like they’r e taught it a little, or once in a while they hear about this. They never hear it. They never hear it. I have never seen a Western Civilization textbook that takes note of this phenomena, not one. And believe me, over many an anguished night when I was a pr ofessor in New York, I would search through Western Civ textbooks one after the other. “Which one of these can I assign in good conscience?” And it was hard to find any. So what I wound up having to do, in case you’re wondering, is assign a not- so-good textbook but then also assign my own How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. And I took some comfort in knowing that, “Okay, maybe the students won’t read my book, but they pr obably, these are the same students who won’t read the textbook, either.” And so, one encouraging thing about the fact that we live in a world in which students don’t r ead is that they won’t be reading the pr opaganda either. And so it’ll be easier for me to debrainwash them because they won’t be reading anything. They won’t be reading anything to contradict that. They’ll actually finally get to hear the truth for a change, unmediated. But consider now, some more specific examples on Jesuits and their achievement. We have only a minute befor e we have to break but let’s consider Fr. Giambattista Riccioli who was the first person to calculate how fast a freely falling body accelerates to the ground. Surprising isn’t it? Fr. Francesco Grimaldi first discovered and named the phenomenon of the diffraction of light. Now, Fr. Francesco Grimaldi – you may be thinking about pasta sauce but that’s Francesco Rinaldi… and I’m sure Francesco Grimaldi would be appalled at that sauce! But what’s inter esting about the two of them is that they work together to pr oduce a selenograph, which is a detailed description, or pardon me, a detailed map, in effect, of the surface of the moon, depicting all the various aspects of it, and their selenograph adorns the entrance to this day to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D. C… These were not stupid idiots. Now, there ar e still other scientists we have to cover and we’ll be getting to them a little bit after the br eak. But for now, let’s just note that it isn’t just that we’ve got a bunch of scattered scientists here and there. It’s that in practically every scientific discipline ther e are priests who ar e involved… not just Catholic laymen, but priests… who have, who occupy this most important vocation in the Church. So join me in a minute. Let’s keep doing some myth-busting. (music) (music) Thomas: Welcome back to The Catholic Church: Builder of Civilization. I’m Thomas Woods. We’ve been looking today at unknown and forgotten Catholic scientists who were not simply Catholics but who were Catholic priests. So I think this helps to overturn the idea that ther e is a necessary contradiction between being a Catholic and being a scientist, between the Catholic faith and scientific endeavor. Now, any one of the people that I’ve mentioned up to now and whom I will mention in a moment would make the subject of an excellent term paper or book. And yet, astonishingly little is written about these gr eat Jesuit scientists. In fact, can you believe ther e is nothing in the English language… there is no systematic study in the English language… of the Jesuit scientists? There’s no book on the subject. So, graduate students out ther e, her e’s your project. Okay, you get, get your job somewhere. We need you to start working on this because this is a lost and forgotten chapter in the history of Western Civilization… and it doesn’t deserve to be. These men deserve better and the Catholic Chur ch deserves better, because we would go a long way toward overturning a lot of this mythology if people simply knew some of this information. But unfortunately, they don’t. You have to be some kind of a code breaker to figure it out, to find it in the midst of all the nonsense out ther e in the world. And ther e ar e books on every bizarre subject under the sun, hundr eds of them on everything… nothing on the Jesuit scientists. And yet it would be a work of many volumes to write this stuff, but it needs to be done. Somebody should do it. I don’t want to do it. It would take too long and I don’t have time, but I want somebody to do it. It’s an important project. Let’s consider another Jesuit in the modern period, Fr. Athanasius Kircher. My Confirmation name is Athanasius, so I have a certain kinship to Fr. Kir cher. Among other things, he’s consider ed to be the father of Egyptology. It may be a new word, and simply means a study of ancient Egypt. And Fr. Kircher is known as the Father of Egyptology because of his great scholarly work and he did that work even befor e we discovered the so-called Rosetta Stone which helped us to decode and decipher the various hieroglyphic symbols. In fact, it was because of Fr. Kircher’s work that when we did find the Rosetta Stone, scholars knew what to look for and knew how to approach the subject. He’s been called “the master of 100 arts.” And an historian writing as recently as 2003 said that, “Fr. Kircher is one of the few people of whom it can be justly said that all knowledge was his domain.” Astonishing, we never heard of this guy. His work in chemistry helped to debunk alchemy, which was this sort of phony science that alleged that you could take base metals and somehow transmute them into gold. There wer e serious scientists, even Isaac Newton and Boyle, who took this seriously. And it was Fr. Athanasius Kircher who helped to throw cold water on it. Again, forgotten, down the Orwellian memory hole. Roger Boscovich was a Catholic priest who is known to many as “the Father of Atomic Theory.” In fact, Werner Heisenberg in the 20th century of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle Fame… for all you scientists out there… gave a paper in which he praised and honored Fr. Boscovich. And a gr eat many other scientists have also pointed to him in the 18th century as being “the Father of Atomic Theory.” He’s been called the greatest genius Yugoslavia ever produced, and yet forgotten. Let’s consider the study of earthquakes, seismology. The Jesuits were particularly well-placed to study seismology because they had universities all over the United States and of course, indeed, ar ound the world. So they could build up seismographic equipment at these various universities and collect data about earthquakes and then bring it altogether and systematize it and examine it from a central location. So they began, in the early 20th century, building seismological stations at their universities across the United States. Now, let’s also consider, by the way, that it was a Jesuit who wr ote the very first book on seismology in the United States. The first textbook of seismology in the United States was written in 1936 by Fr. J.B. Mcllwaine. Fr. Mcllwaine, by the way, has a medal named after him. Every year the American Geophysical Union awards a medal to an aspiring young geophysicist and that medal is named after Fr. Mcllwaine, the great Jesuit who wr ote the first such textbook in America and who also served as the President of the American Geophysical Union. For these reasons, the study of earthquakes or seismology has become known as the Jesuit Science. Now, do people know about this? No, but should they? The question answers itself. What else did the Jesuits do, though? Sure, they were studying about earthquakes and measuring freely falling bodies and studying ancient Egypt and studying chemistry. So what have you done for us lately? Well, it so happens that fr om the beginning, at least fr om the 18th century all the way up to the present, Jesuit scientists have traveled around the world bringing knowledge of Western science everywhere they went, to places as far off as China and India. They built up, in effect, the scientific infrastructure of a gr eat many countries ar ound the world, ranging all the way fr om Ecuador to the Philippines and beyond. Thr oughout South America, for example, they set up meteor ological and seismological stations all over the place which were particularly helpful in, obviously, in predicting the weather and keeping an eye on various kinds of natural disasters. People have the Jesuits to thank for that. Now, here’s a part of the history of science that’s been totally forgotten. I realize the whole episode is stuff that’s been totally forgotten but this has been forgotten squar ed… which is the history of modern cathedrals and basilicas in Western Eur ope. It turns out that a good number of these cathedrals and basilicas wer e actually built to function, not only as cathedrals and basilicas, but also to function as solar observatories. It turns out that from the 17 th and 18th centuries onward, there was no better mechanism anywhere in the world, nothing more pr ecise than these cathedrals and basilicas for measuring the perceived motion of the Sun. And they wer e constructed so that you could observe the Sun’s apparent movement on the floor, using various shadows and the like. Well, this is extremely significant because, in fact, modern astronomers were able to use these pr ecise instruments in order to verify important theories about planetary orbits. For example, it was a Catholic astronomer named Giovanni Cassini who used the Cathedral of San Petronio in Bologna in the heart of the Papal States where the Pope lives… the Pope who’s supposedly discouraging the sciences… it was in that basilica that this Catholic astronomer Cassini used the mechanism of this basilica to, in fact, verify Johannes Kepler’s theories of planetary motion. That was done in the Papal States in a Catholic basilica by a Catholic astronomer. And Kepler himself, by the way, who was not a Catholic, nevertheless consistently observed that his favorite scientific correspondents were Jesuits, wer e Catholic priests because they were so knowledgeable… they understood what he was talking about, unlike most of the world. Again, these ar e forgotten chapters, but they don’t need to be. And they’re starting to be br ought out little by little. Isn’t it interesting that it was a pr ofessor at U. C. Berkeley… The University of California at Berkeley is not exactly known as being a big cheerleading institution for the Catholic Church, we’ll put it that way. But Professor Heilbron ther e wr ote a book, oh about five or six years ago called The Sun in the Chur ch and he told the story, this forgotten story about the use of cathedrals and basilicas in the advancement of our knowledge of astronomy. In fact, Heilbron went and said that ther e is no institution anywhere on earth that had dome more for the advancement of astr onomy or contributed mor e resour ces to this study than the Catholic Chur ch. Now, in large part, the Catholic Church did that because we wanted to be able to predict equinoxes, for instance, so that we could establish when Easter should be celebrated and establish it far enough in advance that we could enjoy a 40-day period of penance in advance, namely Lent. But nevertheless, once they’re built, scientists begin to use them, Catholic scientists, and advances science. A totally forgotten chapter finally being br ought forth by a figure, as far as I know, isn’t Catholic at all, but just as interested to recover important work and discoveries that, for one reason or another, we’ve forgot about. Now, the objection in the back of people’s minds… and it’s an understandable one at this point… is what about Galileo? Because you can talk all you what about all the wonderful things the Church did for science in general and astronomy in particular, but what about Galileo? I mean, wasn’t he, wasn’t he tortured and did n’t they try to kill him or something because he disagreed with the Church? But that is part of a, well, a mythology that let’s say is extremely difficult to dislodge from people’s minds. Now, I think it is safe to say that the Galileo episode is not exactly the Church’s shining moment and it should be acknowledged that there is reason for regr et about it, to say the least. In fact, in my seven years as a university pr ofessor in New York, I would say that the one episode that did mor e than everything else put together to discr edit the Catholic Chur ch in the minds of my students was the perceived history of the Galileo episode. There’s no question about it. So the consequences of it were just disastr ous. At the same time, I think it is important to revisit this episode for two reasons. First, so that it won’t seem as if we’r e just trying to duck it or that I’m just trying to find the good news and not dwell on the not-so- good, but secondly because I think the standard telling of the Galileo story is incomplete or is unfair or is one-sided. Yes, it’s, as I say, it’s nothing to be particularly pr oud of but at the same time ther e ar e facts, I think, that deserve mention. And before getting into the details of Galileo, we’ll just simply say this… Galileo was a genius and had much of importance to say, but his central thesis that in fact the Earth orbits the sun rather than the other way ar ound could not be established in his day to the satisfaction of all thinking people. I think the assumption is that, if you thought that the sun went around the earth in the 1600s, you must be some kind of a dolt. You know, you need to be smacked in the face or something. What’s the matter with you? Don’t you study science? But in fact, those who believed that the sun went around the earth in the 17 th century in some ways still had the better of the argument. They had important arguments to advance against Galileo that he himself could not answer. In fact, if you raised them to Galileo, he’d pr etty much have to say, “Hey, look over ther e!” and then run away because he’s got no answer for them. So next time we’re going to take our time and go thr ough this Galileo case step-by-step, see what really did happen to him, what didn’t happen to him and we’ll look at the arguments that were used. And I’m going to give a detailed explanation of the arguments that people who disagr eed with Galileo made to show you they weren’t stupid, they weren’t just ignorant religious people. They were making arguments that had gone unanswered since the day of Aristotle. And they wer e explaining that, “If you’re going to say that our interpretation of the Bible up to now,” which some people thought meant, said that the sun was going around the earth, “if you’r e going to tell us that’s wrong, the science better be absolutely ir onclad true and proved for sur e.” But it wasn’t, and Galileo did not get the better of the argument. So that’s where we’re going to pick up next time. Let’s look at Galileo and see what really happened next time on The Catholic Church: Builder of Civilization. Thank you. (music)

17 thoughts on “The Catholic Church – Builder of Civilization, Episode 3: Priests as Scientific Pioneers

  1. Ooooooh threats from the pulpit. Science is based on evidence – religion is based on faith (by definition it means belief in absence of evidence) therefore they cannot coexist. This is spelled out well enough now but I doubt its a lesson you will learn. Go pet your crocoduck lol.

  2. That is not a Christian definition of faith, maybe an athiestic defininition but not Catholic. We do not understand faith as "belief absence of evidence"

  3. No, it was how you defined faith. You might have a definition of evidence that is not correct (I don't know). But I was not addressing your use of evidence. My issue was your definition of faith. No Christian community defines faith that way.I do not believe I have any issue with the definition of evidence since you have not made any mention of how you define evidence.

  4. Your free to believe that there is no evidence to support the our reason for faith or in the Christian religion. But, that is not what you said, you basically gave a faulty def of faith. It is important to properly represent those who you might disagree with

  5. Technically, he is right. It wasn't until Kepler that Galileo and Copernicus could be proven correct to say that the Earth revolves around the sun. Had Galileo been proven wrong later (and what an odd universe that would be!), we wouldn't hear a thing about his trial.

    Galilieo's main substantial contributions in his day came from his physics of motion, particularly his influence on Isaac Newton.

  6. Yes true. catholic church not only builder of civilization but also the management techniques. The seed sowed day is, when Jesus Christ built church upon St. Peter.

  7. “Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.” ― G.K. Chesterton

  8. Again, this is mostly astronomy. (SEE MY OTHER COMMENT IN THE OTHER VIDEO) And many of these other people lived during the enlightenment.

    14:54 The RCC had good reason to be interested in Egyptology (see my previous cmment in ep 1 because the RCC has a special interest in events described in the books of jubilees

    16:40 seismology well.. They had good reason too. Italy is a lot like LA and PHX.

  9. @Machias, the point is that Catholics were never anti-science, despite what anti-Catholic people want to paint the picture as…the Catholic says, "of course they were involved with science! They are in every age!"

  10. 7:59 Can anyone transcribe that part of the speech to me, please? I'm producing the dubbed version in Brazilian Portuguese of this series, and I must complete some parts. Thank you in advance.

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