Monday, August 18, 2008

The Olympic Spirit

A few years back I was having a discussion with a lapsed-Catholic-turned-Buddhist.

"Catholicism has always opposed itself to scientific progress," the fellow told me with supreme and aloof confidence. "Just look at how badly the Galileo situation was handled. It was a clear case of robed men once again suppressing progress under color of authority."

"You sure are credulous," I observed.

"Hardly," he replied insouciantly.

"Then why can't you come up with another example?" I asked. "If the Catholic Church is and always has been fundamentally opposed to scientific progress, then you should be able to come up with twenty centuries worth of examples. Yet somehow, you keep coming back to just one, and that one is five centuries old to boot."

"You can hardly expect me to offer a proof of a negative," the chap serenely whined. "How can I come up with examples of what has been permanently buried and done away with?"

"Well that's sure convenient for your case," I said. "You've made a sweeping generalization, and then you've offered no proof or evidence to back it up. How scientific is that? In my experience, an unsupported generalization is best met by a categorical denial."

"Of course you would say that," he smirked, "you're just sticking to the party line."

Of course.

For reference, here's a list I gave the fellow of some of the thousands of churchmen who through the ages have been practicing members of the Catholic Church and at the same time outstanding in the sciences (source: My Catholic Faith, 1954; pp. 28-9; 130).

My critic commented on my superb copy and paste job, but for the record I typed all of these myself.

With the Beijing Olympics so much in the news, it occurred to me that if we were keeping score, the two columns would read:
* Examples of the Suppression of Science Besides Galileo: 0
* The Catholic Party Line: 90

Talk about your mission impossible: I don't think even the redoubtable Mr. Phelps would want a piece of that action.


George Agricola, the Father of Mineralogy.

Albertus Magnus laid the foundation for experimental investigations into the natural world; a priest.

Jose Algue, a priest, invented the barocyclonometer to detect approach of cyclones.

Andre-Marie Ampere was founder of the science of electrodynamics and first documented the laws of magnetism.

Leopold Avenbrugger, whose methods in internal pathology paved the way for diagnosing ailments of the lungs.

Jacques Babinet, famed for his work in optics; "Babinet's Theorem" deals with the diffraction of light.

Antoine Cesar Becquerel was the founder of electro-chemistry.

Antoine Henri Becquerel was the discoverer of radioactivity.

Claude Bernard discovered the glycogenic function of the liver.

Jacques-Philippe-Marie Binet, mathematician and astronomer, set forth the principle, “Binet’s Theorem.”

Jean-Baptiste Biot, physicist renowned for his work in polarization and double refraction of light; his work helped standardize the length of the meter.

Theodoric Borgognoni, a Bishop, discovered anesthesia in the 13th century.

Louis Braille invented the Braille system for the blind.

Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon wrote the first work on natural history.

Andrea Cesalpino, a Papal physician, was the first to construct a system of botany.

Jean-Baptiste Carnoy, a priest who founded the first school of cellular biology.

Alexis Carrell, Nobel prize winner in medicine and physiology, is renowned for his work in surgical technique.

Giovanni Caselli, invented the pantelegraph for sending and receiving images over long distances by means of telegraph.

Giovanni Domenico Cassini, an astronomer who calculated the rotation periods of the planets Jupiter, Venus, and partly of Mars.

Cassiodorus, a priest and monk, invented the watch.

Benedetto Castelli, an abbot with expertise in hydraulics.

Augustin-Louis Cauchy placed differential calculus on a logical basis and was the first to give a rigid proof of Taylor's theorem.

Francois-Philippe Charpentier, the Royal Mechanician of King Louis XVI of France.

Michel-Eugene Chevreul, his work broadened the study of the theory of the constitution of organic bodies.

Christopher Clavius, a priest whose work was used in the reformation of the Gregorian calendar.

Realdo Columbo was the surgeon of Pope Julius III who discovered the pulmonary circulation of blood.

Nicolaus Copernicus, a priest who expounded the Copernican system.

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb established the fundamental laws of static electricity.

Guy de Chauliac, a Papal physician, was the father of modern surgery and hospitals.

Francesco de Vico, a priest, discovered six comets.

Rene Descartes founded analytical geometry.

Cesar-Mansuete Despretz, established the foundation of modern physics, notably in the domain of heat.

Pierre Louis Dulong, physicist who co-authored the “Dulong-Petit Law” for crystals.

Jean-Baptiste Dumas invented a method for ascertaining vapor densities.

Stephan Ladislaus Endlicher, botanist and historian, established a new system of classifying plants.

Bartolomeo Eustachius, anatomist for whom the Eustachian tube was named; one of the founders of modern anatomy.

Hieronymus Fabricius discovered the valvular system of the veins.

Gabriele Falloppio, for whom the Fallopian tube was named, was an eminent physiologist.

Armand-Hippolyte-Louis Fizeau, physicist who was the first to determine experimentally the velocity of light.

Jean-Bertrand-Léon Foucault invented the first practical electric arc lamp; he refuted the corpuscular theory of light and invented the gyroscope.

Joseph von Fraunhofer, optician who was initiator of spectrum analysis; he identified the laws of diffraction.

Augustin-Jean Fresnel, physicist who contributed more to the science of optics than any other man.

Luigi Galvani, one of the pioneers of electricity, was also an anatomist and physiologist.

Flavio Giojas, father of scientific navigation, invented the mariner’s compass.

Andrew Gordon, monk and physicist, invented the first electrostatic reaction motor.

Zenobe Gramme invented the Gramme dynamo.

Francesco Maria Grimaldi, priest who identified the phenomenon of diffraction, and was the first to observe the dispersion of the sun's rays in passing through a prism.

Johann Gutenberg was the inventor of the mechanical printing press.

Alfred Waldemar Herzog discovered a cure for infantile paralysis.

John Philip Holland invented the first practical submarine.

Athanasius Kircher, a priest, made the first definite statement of the germ theory of disease.

Pierre-Simon Laplace, whose work was foundational for the development of mathematical astronomy.

Rene-Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec invented the stethoscope.

Giamaria Lancist, a Papal physician, was the father of clinical medicine.

Pierre-Andre Latreille was a pioneer in entomology.

Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier is the Father of Modern Chemistry.

Urbain Le Verrier discovered the planet Neptune.

Raymond Lully, the “Doctor Illuminatus,” a theologian who is said to have been the first to employ chemical symbols.

Marcello Malpighi, a Papal physician, was a botanist and the father of comparative physiology.

Guglielmo Marconi’s place in radio is unsurpassed.

Edme Mariotte, physicist who discovered Mariotte’s law of gases.

Gregor Johann Mendel, a monk, first established the laws of heredity, which gave a fatal blow to the theory of natural selection (Darwin, curiously, seems to have never read Mendel).

Ottmar Mergenthaler, the second Gutenberg whose machine revolutionized the art of printing.

Gaspard Monge, mathematician who invented descriptive geometry.

Giovanni Battista Morgagni, founder of modern pathology, made important studies in aneurisms.

Johannes Peter Muller was the greatest biologist of the 19th century, founder of modern physiology.

John Benjamin Murphy, surgical genius who advocated early surgical intervention in cases of appendicitis.

Jean-Antoine Nollet, a deacon whose research led to the invention of the lightning rod.

Louis Pasteur, called the Father of Bacteriology, and inventor of bio-therapeutics, was the leading scientist of the 19th century.

Giuseppe Piazzi, a religious brother who cataloged several thousand stars.

Jean Picard, a priest, was the first to measure accurately a degree of the meridian.

Gaston Plante, invented the lead battery.

Joseph-Antoine Plateau, physicist whose work on visual phenomena are still considered classics.

Henri Victor Regnault, a physical chemist whose work with gas and heat were invaluable.

Santorio Santorio, inventor of the a wind gauge, water current meter, "pulsilogium," and thermoscope.

Christopher Scheiner, a priest, invented the pantograph, and made a telescope that permitted the first systematic investigation of sun spots.

Theodor Schwann, founder of the theory of the cellular structure of animal organisms.

Berthold Schwarz, friar, discovered the explosive properties of gunpowder which he applied to firearms; reputed the inventor of gunpowder and firearms.

Angelo Secchi, priest, invented the meteorograph for measuring atmospheric phenomena.

Benedict Sestini, priest, astronomer in the Roman Observatory who cataloged the colors of stars.

Bernardino Spada, cardinal, organized the health care system of Bologna to combat the plague.

Niels Steensen, a Bishop, the father of geology.

Theodoric of Freiberg, priest, the first to give a correct explanation of the rainbow.

Evangelista Torricelli, invented the barometer.

Louis-Rene Tulasne, renowned for his expertise in mycology.

Jan Baptist van Helmont, the founder of pneumatic chemistry who introduced the word “gas” into the vocabulary of scientists.

Andreas Vesalius was the founder of modern anatomical science, the reorganizer of the study of anatomy.

Francois Vieta, the father of modern algebra.

Alessandro Volta, physicist, invented the first complete galvanic battery; the “volt” is named after him.

Giuseppe Zamboni, priest and physicist, devised an electric clock.


Rose Blue said...

Outstanding Sean. Thanks for this excellent list. As long as your blog survives, it's now on my list of resources when I come up against this silly assertion against the Catholic Church.

Many thanks for posting your hard work.

savannah said...

So enjoyed reading! Came across this and it warmed my heart....

Pasteur's faith was as genuine as his science. In his panegyric of Littré, whose fauteuil he took, he said:

Happy the man who bears within him a divinity, an ideal of beauty and obeys it; and ideal of art, and ideal of science, an ideal of country, and ideal of the virtues of the Gospel.

These words are graven above his tomb in the Institut Pasteur. In his address Pasteur said further "These are the living springs of great thoughts and great actions. Everything grows clear in the reflections from the Infinite". Some of his letters to his children breathe profound simple piety. He declared "The more I know, the more nearly is my faith that of the Breton peasant. Could I but know all I would have the faith of a Breton peasant woman." What he could not above all understand is the failure of scientists to recognize the demonstration of the existence of the Creator that there is in the world around us. He died with his rosary in his hand, after listening to the life of St. Vincent de Paul which he had asked to have read to him, because he thought that his work like that of St. Vincent would do much to save suffering children.