[Marxism] Biblical "truth"

Bill Lynch billlynch970 at netscape.net
Wed Oct 5 13:45:26 MDT 2005

Calvin Broadbent wrote:

>But the Catholic Church had, long before the development of evolutionary 
>theory, upheld the literality of the bible against heretics like Galileo who 
>claimed that the earth travelled round the sun, rather than staying still. 
>Many historians have argued that Protestantism was more conducive to the 
>growth of science than Catholicism.
>People seem to be under the impression that Roman Catholicism is
>"fundamentalist" in the sense that it believes in the literal truth of
>the Bible.  Totally wrong.
>It was Protestantism that raised and appealed to the Bible as authority
>for its rebellion against the Roman Church and the Papacy.  And the more
>extreme wing of Protestantism opted to cling to this notion of the
>literal truth of the Bible in the face of mounting evidence for
>biological evolution.
Strictly speaking, the Catholic Church did not uphold the literal truth 
of the bible against Galileo. Rather, they objected to Galileo's right 
to reinterpret biblical passages to conform with an unproven theory. 
Galileo actually appealed to precedent within Church tradition to 
reinterpret biblical passages away from apparent literal interpretations 
suggesting a flat earth, for instance, something done by the early 
Church fathers and considered acceptable so long as it was done by the 
established theologians. Galileo was, however, a mathematician 
(authorized to "predict" positions without explaining them) and, by his 
insistence when appointed to the Medici court, a "philosopher" 
explaining physical things in conformity with theological veto. The 
theological could only adjust to the physical (and from there to 
mathematical astronomical systems) if it was established to the 
satisfaction of the church hierachy that the new physical theory was the 
only possible one, and since truths of nature were understood as 
necessarily in conformity with truths of religion, the "apparent" 
religious truth in conflict must have arisen from some misunderstanding 
of the proper sense to be attributed to the words of scripture 
(inherited Church tradition decides it--the last thing they wanted was 
for people to decide how to interpret the bible themselves!). This 
situation did not obtain, since both the Ptolemaic and Copernican 
systems were equally capable of explaining the positions of the heavenly 
bodies. Galileo held that his (as it turns out, false) theory of the 
tides provided evidence for the physical truth of the Copernican system, 
while Galileo's former friend Urban VIII understood a "hypothesis" to 
just be one of any number of calculation tools for predicting positions, 
rather than a candidate for physical truth (recall that no thought that 
the system of epicycles, equants, etc. were real, just convenient tools 
that roughly fit the overall scheme laid down by Aristotle--solid 
spheres carrying visible planets can not rotate at different speeds, 
which is what equants implied. Copernicus actually tried to reform these 
physics-before- math rules to argue that these mathematical tricks 
should be physically realizable and that the mathematical elegance of 
his theory testified to their physical truth, ass-backwards by the 
standards of the time, influenced in part by Arabic astronomy ). 

Given this old sense of hypothesis, Jesuit astronomers were able to make 
significant contributions to astronomy so long as they did not hold to 
the physical truth of Copernicus' theory--they could use his math--that 
wasn't censored. There was probably a chilling effect on the physical 
question of the earth's motion in Italy, but other Catholic countries 
ignored the prohibition (see the circle around the French monk 
Mersenne--although Descartes may have equivocated a bit). The idea that 
Protestant countries were more favorable to the new approaches is more 
or less decisively rejected by historians of science--it was an idea 
that sociologist Robert Merton had applied to science, extending Weber's 
Protestant roots of capitalism argument (itself discredited, not least 
by a close reading of Capital, vol. 1).


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