Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Pope cancels speech after more quotation trouble

Pope is in trouble again for quoting somebody else (previously, he got into trouble for quoting anti-Islam sentiments of a 14th century Byzantine emperor, Paleologus) . This time he has been forced to cancel his speech at Sapienza University after students and faculty staged protests against his anti-science stance (also reported at Faithworld):

The pope’s speech at the university, which was founded by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303 and is now public, was to mark the start of the academic year. But professors and students objected, citing specifically a speech that Benedict gave in 1990, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, on Galileo, condemned by the Inquisition in the early 1600s for arguing that the Earth revolved around the Sun.

In that speech, Cardinal Ratzinger, who would become pope in 2005, quoted the Austrian philosopher Paul Feyerabend as saying: “The church at the time was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Galileo was rational and just.”

Oh...but he wasn't infallible then!
Yes, the Galileo Affair was more complicated than it is often portrayed (as a straight forward science vs religion battle) and involved political and cultural reasons as well, but to say that "the Church at the time was much more faithful to reason than Galileo" is more than just a stretch. [For more details on the Galileo Affair, check out these two articles: Science, Religion, and the Galileo Affair and Truth is science: Proof, persuasion and the Galileo Affair (pdf file)].
In the speech, Cardinal Ratzinger did not argue against the validity of science generally or take the church’s position from Galileo’s time that heliocentrism was heretical. But he asserted, as he has often since elected pope, that science should not close off religion and that science has been used in destructive ways.
Ok..so he is anti-science. But would it have been better to actually let him speak and then criticize him on its current content rather than on the basis of a quote made 18 years ago? This is a tricky issue, but I would rather have disagreed with him than to not let him speak. But I don't know more details about the situation at Sapienza University. Any thoughts?