Follow @neilsteinbergIf you visit the University of Notre Dame, located near but not actually in South Bend, Indiana, as I did a few years ago, scouting colleges with my boys, you might be surprised, as I was, by the Jordan Hall of Science.
Though opened in the relative yesterday of 2006, Jordan Hall is a gorgeous brick edifice with crenelated ramparts, Gothic tracery windows and arched doorways festooned with carved stone statues. Not statues of Catholic religious saints either, but the Catholic saints of science: Louis Pasteur, Madame Curie, and, I noted with amusement, Galileo.
Galileo Galilei, you may recall, ran afoul of the church by claiming the Earth revolves around the sun; heresy because it implied that little old us are not the center of the universe, the hub of God’s creation.
The church has come around since then, and admitted the Earth does indeed revolve around the sun whether the pope says it does or not, just as — and you saw this coming, didn’t you? — the Earth’s climate is heating up because of the carbon emissions humanity has been spewing into the atmosphere for the past 200 years whether Republicans acknowledge it or not.
Most of the world accepts this, but the GOP — in the lazy denialism that also elects a Donald Trump to the presidency — are loath to recognize this truth for a simple reason: battling climate change costs money, money their masters — the oil and coal companies — prefer to keep for themselves.
Not that they put it in those terms. That I could almost respect. It’s one thing to boldly smoke, another to insist that medical warnings are dubious. In that spirit, Republicans gin up the most distorted climate change logic to hide behind. I’ve heard it all: science has been mistaken in the past, ergo it must be mistaken now. Some people disagree, therefore everything is up for grabs. Any rationale except the actual one.
Follow @neilsteinbergEnter Pope Francis.
At the end of November, the pope gathered some of the world’s premier scientists at a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican.
There has “never been such a clear a need for science,” the pope told them, not naming Trump, who said he would walk away from the global climate change agreements the United States signed, but condemning the “ease with which well-founded scientific opinion about the state of our planet is disregarded.”
You might wonder: how does the Catholic Church manage to mesh science with an ancient faith while more recent offshoots, like Evangelical Protestantism, can’t seem to get their heads around it?
I would argue that, while the Catholic Church certainly has had its moments of intellectual shame, burning books and holding inquisitions such as the one that vexed Galileo, respecting contrary opinions did not arrive with Pope Francis. “One should not try to defend the Christian faith with arguments that are so patently opposed to reason that the faith is made to look ridiculous,” St. Thomas said. If you read a Roman philosopher like Seneca, if you enjoy a play by Aeschylus, the only reason their words survived to our day is because Catholic monks transcribed them from crumbling scrolls onto new parchment for about 1,000 years, even though the ideas being preserved represented thoughts that were at odds with their theology. The church respected ideas other than its own.
Sadly, that tradition of preserving intelligence through a Dark Age is required again. The United States has hitched its cart to a fervently anti-science Congress under the whip hand of an unfit fraud. Pope Francis’ leadership is welcome, and while Trump hasn’t pried his lips off Putin’s hind end long enough to hypocritically denounce the idea of paying heed to a foreign leader, that great moment in hypocrisy no doubt approaches.
Inside Jordan Hall of Science is a museum dedicated to biology, with a focus on evolution, an endeavor that would get all responsible parties fired at Wheaton College.
Walking in, I couldn’t help point out the sculpture to my boys.
“Galileo,” I said. “All is forgiven.”
My lads squinted at the statue.
“He recanted,” my older boy dryly observed.
Cynics. Where would we be without them?