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Friday, January 02, 2009

My Dear Galileo Galilei

My Dear Galileo Galilei, "It gives me great pleasure to inform you that we have reconsidered your case. A small mistake was made by our Vatican astronomers in the determination of the relationship between the earth and the sun. It was an easy mistake to make. I'm sure you will agree, since it was obvious to all that the sun moves from East to West in our skies whilst we remain in place. We regret that you were put in prison and that you were forced to recant under the threat of torture. As a result of the discovery of our mistake, it is our determination that you should no longer be confined to your home."

That wasn't the only mistake the Vatican made in the case of Galileo. They didn't much like his atomistic view of the universe. In recent decades the Vatican has tried to undo their mistake. Pope John Paul II blamed the Church's error on "tragic mutual incomprehension." This concession was beneath contempt since Galileo certainly understood the position of the Church. I suspect the church understood what Galileo was saying as well. Otherwise, why jail him, threaten him with torture in order to force him to recant, and then confine him to his house?

Thanks to protests of the faculty at Rome's La Sapienza University concerning the appropriateness of allowing Pope Benedict to talk there, the Pope canceled a lecture. It was argued that his hostility to science made him an inappropriate speaker at a public university. This seems to have put the Vatican in full retreat. At a Vatican conference on science, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the right hand man of the Pope, said Galileo was an astronomer, but one who "lovingly cultivated his faith and his profound religious conviction." Say what? How did they miss this fact about him 1633? I suspect he wasn't the only victim of the Inquisition who had profound religious convictions. By the way, what does "lovingly cultivated his faith" actually mean? Don't reply to this question. I can figure out some things it might mean, such as "he went to mass" and the like. The Vatican's sugar coating their grotesque acts during the time of the Inquisition with language like this is insulting to thoughtful person.

Good old Bertone also said, "Galileo Galilei was a man of faith who saw nature as a book authored by God." We dealt with this "language of God" nonsense in my last blog. The more religious folks talk about science and religion the stupider they seem to get. If nature were any kind of book then why in hell have we not come to understand all of nature? Does it have too many pages? Or is it that some of the chapters are written undecipherable languages? I need help here.

Charles Darwin is lucky he didn't live at the time of the Inquisition. He would have been burned at the stake for the idea that apes and men have a common ancestry (which isn't to say of course that we are evolved from apes). And the Catholic Church is lucky as well. Pope Paul, who tried to get ahead of criticism of the Church's treatment of Galileo, made peace (on his terms) with the theory of evolution by noting that it is more than just a hypothesis and is consistent with Church teachings. That has not been the last word on catholic views of evolution but the Catholic Church has the advantage of not being literalist in the way that fundamentalist Christians are.

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21 Comments:

Blogger concerned citizen said...

but the Catholic Church has the advantage of not being literalist in the way that fundamentalist Christians are.
Allowing the Catholic Church plenty of wiggle room to engage in artfulness, insinuation, dodging, indirectness, cunning, etc...In other words, "baffle them with bullshit."

"lovingly cultivated his faith and his profound religious conviction." As they put the thumbscrews to him!

"Galileo Galilei was a man of faith who saw nature as a book authored by God." Appealing to a higher authority that us mere mortals could not possibly understand.

I do think most of us are getting a little too sophisticated to fall for a line of bull by men who dress like Merlin the Magician.

2:01 PM

 
Blogger SusieQ said...

I am not a practicing Catholic and was unaware that last January Pope Benedict cancelled a visit to speak before a select audience at the La Sapienza University due to protests from some faculty members and students.

After I read your entry, I did a search for news articles written about this issue. The letter protesting the Pope's visit was signed by 67 faculty members at this university. This represents about 3% of the faculty there. This university is one of the largest, if not the largest, in Europe. It isn't as if the Pope had no supporters there. The students who protested numbered around 100 or so as I recall reading. They threatened to blast the Pope with rock music and who knows what else if he showed up. So, there was a security concern.

Although the Pope was unable to give his lecture personally, he sent it along to the La Sapienza and it was read by one of the professors there during the inauguration ceremony. The audience responded with a standing ovation. You can read the Pope's lecture Here

I do not mean to excuse the past wrongdoings of the Catholic church with regard to Galileo and the Inquisition. It appears that there is more going on right now at La Sapienza University and in Rome than meets the eye though. I also think that Pope Benedict has been mislabeled by some as a person opposed to science.

1:02 AM

 
Blogger Hans Lundahl said...

Feel welcome to comment my posts against darwinism on deretour blog (see left hand menu bar), if you have scientific/philosophical or even religious arguments, as opposed to pity for Galileo and gratulations for Darwin ...

2:09 PM

 
Blogger concerned citizen said...

susiq Reading the speech by "His Holiness" it appears as if the catholic church is attempting once again to (hic) reconcile church & state using christian apologetics.

You said: I also think that Pope Benedict has been mislabeled by some as a person opposed to science.

IMO, it is not a mislabeling. IMO, the only thing the catholic church has ever wanted to do with science is to manipulate it & control it to fit their religious agenda.

1:44 PM

 
Blogger The Language Guy said...

It is a characteristic of those in power who know that their personal right to wield such power is problematic to attempt to manipulate institutions and individuals in such a way as to keep the power. The Catholic Church continues to exert its will over practicing Catholics and by opposition to freedom of choice in birth control, exert its will on all of us. If they are honest they would have to know that their right to power is problematic.

7:40 AM

 
Blogger Hans Lundahl said...

a) abortion does not become a moral option because Galileo had three days of scaring the shit out of him

b) opposition to abortion does not depend on blind obedience to Vatican

8:53 AM

 
Blogger The Language Guy said...

Hans, you have a reading problem. I didn't relate the choice issue to Galileo nor can I imagine why you think I did. Nor did I say or imply that such opposition is due entirely to the Catholic Church. All sorts of other religious groups try to impose their will on the rest of us. There are nonreligious people who oppose free choice. Them I have a bit more respect for.

11:21 AM

 
Blogger Rita said...

I was reading what Pope Benedict XVI said in a speech in 2006: Mankind, which has reached other planets and unraveled many of nature’s secrets, should not presume it can live without God...
He goes on to site(?) the prevalence of poverty & misery & blatant consumerism as reasons to put faith in the almighty as apposed to modern science, technology & our own human abilities. All of this coming from an old man who wears absurd gold & gilded costumes, funny hats & confesses to believe literally in a book written without benefit of modern science, written a couple of thousand years ago, actually.

Give me a break! Kudos to the 67 faculty members that had the guts to stand up for logic & reason. To recognize as LG puts it: their [The Catholic church] right to power is problematic.

6:32 PM

 
Blogger Hans Lundahl said...

Language guy, you have a memory problem.

It is a characteristic of those in power who know that their personal right to wield such power is problematic to attempt to manipulate institutions and individuals in such a way as to keep the power. The Catholic Church continues to exert its will over practicing Catholics and by opposition to freedom of choice in birth control, exert its will on all of us. If they are honest they would have to know that their right to power is problematic.

11:31 AM

 
Blogger Der Sankt said...

Well Well!

I thought you'd have a hoot over this!

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-edwards24-2009jan24,0,3344794.story

And to think, I was momentarily confused about my English grammar...

12:11 PM

 
Blogger Obscure Box said...

Tut tut Language Guy. You say: "In recent decades the Vatican has tried to undo their mistake."

Surely it should be "its" mistake. Vatican is singular, not plural.

11:47 PM

 
Blogger The Language Guy said...

"their" has become the new singular, as I am sure you know. Linguists tend not to side with language dictators, rather letting language change proceed without interference. Practically everyone now uses "their" this way. This is, by the way, as trivial a linguistic fact as can be imagined. There is no actual substance involved.

7:33 AM

 
Blogger Fairwords said...

I have never heard "their" accepted as singular.

For example a regular annoyance on popular sites such as FaceBook is automatic comments such as "Joe Bloggs has updated their status".

The regular outrage from users at such appalling English suggests many people don't use "their" this way at all.

Language should of course evolve but it still needs to make sense!

12:28 AM

 
Blogger brent said...

ur rite !!!


l3t ca@nge dicTATE it all!!!!!

WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! !!!!

5:07 AM

 
Blogger Shitika said...

Hey, i am a journalism student. And you surely need to brush up on "basic" grammar.
I agree with obscure box....
and i am sure we all were taught in school as well..
"THEIR" is not the new singular! :)
please dont teach your students that.. they will fail! :)

nice blog though!

5:08 AM

 
Blogger The Language Guy said...

The fact is that the use of "their" in the singular does make sense in that we all know exactly what it means. It is being used as a singular form. It is no different in principle from the use of "you" as a singular form and as a "plural" form. None of us have a problem with that. Why should we have a problem with the use of "their" in the singular?

I have written five books. Anyone who writes books in which pronouns occur faces the difficulty of finding a stylistically acceptable way of referring to individual humans, whether female or male. The idea that we should use the male forms, "he" and "him," is transparently sexist and must be avoided. That leaves us with three other possibilities. One can use "her." Not a good choice. One could use "him or her" or "her or him." Always putting the male pronoun first would be sexist. The third choice would be to go back and forth between them over the course of writing one's book. I haven't gone back to look, but I think I did that in one book. The sensible choice is the one the speaker's of English have made and that is to use "their." The speakers decide what the language is, not language "purists."

8:53 AM

 
Blogger Hans Lundahl said...

duuuuudes!


a)
"The Vatican ... their" is not their as sg, it is good old Constructio ad Sensum

The Vatican is one institution (actually a hill outside historic Rome) but several people

b)
feministic language purists are as bad, and considerably less close to popular usage (except "human being", nowadays, sigh) than grammatical language purists

9:03 AM

 
Blogger Hans Lundahl said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:08 AM

 
Blogger The Language Guy said...

Hans, I am baffled by your Vatican thoughts.

Your comments on feminist objections to sexist language vs grammar purists constitutes a false contrast. Grammar purists are ill-informed with very few exceptions. The "their" case is a modern one where everyone gets a vote. You are getting badly outvoted. Just listen to even literate discourse on radio or tv. Your unhappiness with feminist criticisms of certain bits of language are political and you have a perfect right to them.

4:39 PM

 
Blogger Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

baffled you may be, language guy ... you may be less

here's on Galileo again, the scientific question, not the process.

9:29 AM

 
Blogger Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

someone else did the process

8:04 AM

 

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