Sunday, January 27, 2008

Unspoken words: Text of Pope's canceled La Sapienza speech

You may have already heard that a few weeks back Pope canceled his speech after protests from faculty and students, accusing the Pope of being anti-science as exemplified by his 1990 speech. Now you can find the full text of Pope's undelivered La Sapienza speech here. The undelivered speech talks about medieval university and sets it up in the context of faith, reason and secularism:
At La Sapienza, Rome's oldest university, however, I have been invited as Bishop of Rome, and so, I must speak as such. Of course, La Sapienza was once the Pope's university, but today it is a secular university with that autonomy which, based on its founding concept, has always been part of the nature of a university, which should be linked exclusively to the authority of truth.

The university finds its particular function in its freedom from political or ecclesiastical authorities, especially in modern society, which needs institutions of this kind. Going back to my question at the start: What can a Pope say and what should he say in meeting with the university of his city?
So lets get straight to the juicy bits. What does he say about science:
In modern times, new dimensions of knowledge have opened up, and in the university, they are appreciated most of all in two spheres: above all, in the natural sciences, which have developed on the basis of the link between experimentation and the presumed rationality of matter; and in the second place, in the historical and humanistic sciences, in whuich man - scrutinizing the mirror of history, and clarifying the dimensions of his nature, seeks to understand himself better. This development has opened to mankind not only an immense meassure of knowledge and power, but it has also developed the knowledge and acknowledgment of human rights and human dignity, for which we can only be grateful. But man's journey can never be said to be complete, and the danger of falling into inhumanity can never be simply abjured - as we see in the panorama of current affaris. The danger for the Western world - to speak of this alone - is that man today, especially considering the greatness of his knowledge and power, surrenders when faced with the question of truth.

This would mean that reason ultimately folds up from the pressure of interests and the attractiveness of utility, being forced to recognize it as the ultimate criterion. Stated from the point of view of the structure of the university, there is a danger that philosophy, no longer feeling capable of its true mission, degenerates into positivism; that theology, with its message addressed to reason, becomes confined to the private sphere of a group or groups. If however, reason, solicitous of its presumed purity, becomes deaf to the great message that comes from the Christian faith and its wisdom, it would wither up like a tree whose roots no longer reach the waters that give it life. It would lose its courage for the truth and will stop being great - it would diminish.
So yes, he feels that if reason/science (he separate them at other places in his talk) is divorced from faith, in particular the Christian faith, it will loose its connection to the truth. The charitable way to look at that is that - well...he is the Pope and he is selling his product. But this is indeed a departure from Pope John Paul, who was more sympathetic to science and often spoke of cooperation between the two rather an absolute dependence.

Now lets get to the conclusion:
Applied to our European culture, this means: if reason wishes to self-construct itself circumscribed by its own argumentation and that which convinces it for the moment, and - preoccupied with its secularity - cuts itself off from the roots through which it lives, then it does not become more reasonable and pure, but will decompose and break up. With this, I return to our starting point.
What does the Pope have to do or say in the university? Certainly, he should not seek to impose the faith in authoritarian fashion, because faith can only be given in freedom. Beyond his ministry as Pastor of the Church and on the basis of the intrinsic nature of this pastoral ministry, it is his task to keep alive the sensitivity for truth; to invite reason ever anew to set itself to a quest for the truth, for goodness, for God; and along this path, call on it to be aware of the useful lights that have emerged throughout the history of the Christian faith, and thereby to perceive Jesus Christ as the Light who illumines history and helps us find the way to the future.
On the one hand, we can again pass it through the Papal filter and say that he is simply selling his product and doing his job. On the other hand, we can also see an aggressive tone against secularism (and reason without faith) and that does not bode well for the future. On the plus side, at least he did not defend Galileo's trial in this speech. Lets be thankful of small things.


Don said...

The comments on science are pretty aggressive, but mixed in with them is a few swipes at philosophy. I wasn't aware that utilitarian equaled truth-avoiding positivist, but the man is clearly speaking from authority. I mean, faced with the voice of god on earth, what can one say?

I'm still recuperating from his appropriation of Feyerabend in his Galileo comment. What a revelation that was! It turns out that Feyerabend wasn't using the example of the Galileo affair to illustrate a perceived breakdown in scientific rationality and theory choice, but was praising the Catholic church. I mean, sure, he called himself a dadaist and is usually considered extremely anti-authoritarian by those philosopher types... but there's no arguing with such an inspired interpretation!

Salman Hameed said...

I agree, this is indeed the ultimate argument from authority (or argument from ultimate authority?). I think he only took a few swipes at philosophy because science at present is the bigger target right now - but he makes it clear that neither have much value without faith.

I didn't know Feyeraband wasn't referring to the Galileo Affair. This was then an interesting interpretation (or appropriation).

How are things in Edinburgh? I just saw your pictures at
Nice place! Oh and the next Culture, Brain, and Development lecture at Hampshire is "Embodiment in metaphorical imagination" by Raymond Gibbs on Feb 7th. This should be right up your alley.

Hope things are well.

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