Viewpoint: At odds with ‘ voter's guide for the faithful’In a recent letter titled “A Voter’s Guide For the Faithful” (Bulletin, Letters, Oct. 22), the writer, like so many ill-informed people today, indicted the Catholic church for a number of sins, including the now widely accepted but jejune version of the Galileo affair.
By: Thomas St. Martin, Viewpoint Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
In a recent letter titled “A Voter’s Guide For the Faithful” (Bulletin, Letters, Oct. 22), the writer, like so many ill-informed people today, indicted the Catholic church for a number of sins, including the now widely accepted but jejune version of the Galileo affair. He then went on to invoke Scriptural support for his Social Democratic agenda, his condemnation of the so-called “rich” in particular.
Perhaps he forgot that however many sharp things it has to say to the rich who oppress the poor, Scripture also forbids covetousness/ jealously/envy. I would add, moreover, that by using it as political tract, the writer abused and debased Scripture.
Regrettably, however, one cannot, in a few hundred words, adequately critique the many issues raised by the letter in question.
Given contemporary developments in the life sciences, it is, nonetheless, imperative to comment, albeit cursorily, on the writer’s apparent understanding of the relation between morality/ethics and science.
In this regard, the Galileo controversy is often cited as an episode involving obscurantist churchmen who allegedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to stem the advance of science (what was then called natural philosophy).
Unfortunately, for those who hold such views, a careful reading of history (but who reads history carefully these days?) gives us a much more complex, nuanced account.
At the center of the controversy was a Copernican heliocentric versus a Ptolemaic geocentric cosmology.
Although the Copernican view did not arouse much alarm when it was first promulgated (by a churchman at that), it seems that Copernican mathematics were not quite as good as Ptolemaic math, thus giving some scientists of the time (including the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe) reason to question whether or not the heliocentric theory had been “proven” conclusively.
Obviously, then, a cloud of reasonable doubt hung over Galileo’s acceptance of the Copernican view .
Worse, the acerbic personalities (Galileo’s in particular) of the adversaries in the case did little to encourage reasoned dialogue. Finally, there was the thorny issue of Scriptural authority (particularly as related to the Genesis account of creation) raised earlier during the Protestant Reformation.
As a result, the Catholic Church was reluctant to embrace a theory that seemed contrary to Scripture, at least that portion of Scripture which, when literally interpreted, seems to favor a geocentric cosmology.
After all, the Catholic church did not want to risk yet another Protestant attack on it’s views of Scripture.
All this, one might counter, is, even if true, irrelevant to today’s social and bioethical controversies. To which I would reply emphatically: it is not.
The Galileo controversy, when ripped out of its historical context is used, as our writer did, to discredit any moral/ethical objection to scientific “progress”, progress in the life sciences especially.
We are repeatedly told that reactionary churchmen are, like Galileo’s ecclesiastical adversaries, interfering with, among other things, the promise of research (e.g. embryonic stem cell research) which could benefit thousands. And so on.
What such people fail (refuse?) to concede is that there is a natural moral law which places limits on what may be done in the name of “science.”
A natural moral law which speaks to us both through Scripture and apart from Scripture. A natural moral law which holds that, even if the ends are desirable, it is unethical to intentionally attack the innocent.
And which further holds that innocent human life is to be respected, not to be used as a means to an end, even a noble end (or even in war: we are enjoined not to attack the innocent, a principle that, it seems, has often been ignored by combatants of whatever stripe).
Over and against the natural law view is a crude utilitarian view which now dominates much bioethical discourse, replacing the natural law view, with, among other things, the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number, good being defined as that which gives pleasure and reduces pain.
Thus, from the utilitarian point of view, it is permissible to sacrifice human life, nascent human life especially, for some “greater good.”
Thankfully, the election is now over. In retrospect, I can only hope that our writer’s “faithful voters” voted for candidates who supported a moral science as opposed to a utilitarian science based on some notion of the greater good and the pain-pleasure principle.
St. Martin is a resident of Woodbury.