Will Francis Inspire More Priest-Scientists?

John Farrell has an interesting speculation about the influence Pope Francis might have inspiring more priests with an interest in the sciences:

This week’s issue of Nature notes with approval that the new Pope Francis has a background in science.

A pope who’s also a scientist is rare. But these days even parish priests who are scientists are not exactly common.

To be sure, everyone knows the name of Gregor Mendel, the founder of genetics. And there’s my hero, the Belgian priest and physicist Georges Lemaître, who came up with version 1.0 of The Big Bang.

But there used to be many more.

A few years ago, Physicist and author Stephen Barr discussed the many contributions that Catholic priests made to science in the early days of the Scientific Revolution. And they are not insignificant.

The first asteroid was discovered by a priest named Giuseppe Piazzi. Fr. René-Just Häuy is called the “father of crystallography.” Fr. Christoph Scheiner was one of the discoverers of sunspots and discovered the rotation of the sun on its axis.

An extremely important effect in physics called the “diffraction” of light was discovered by Fr. Francesco Grimaldi in the seventeenth century (something no physics textbook that I have ever seen bothers to mention, so that few scientists are aware of it). One of the top biologists in the world in the eighteenth century was Fr. Lazzaro Spallanzani. Among his many accomplishments was to disprove the theory of “spontaneous generation.” (Pasteur later made use of Spallanzani’s work in doing his own famous experiments disproving spontaneous generation.)

He goes on to discuss Pius X’s wariness about the sciences, but I’m not so sure I buy the notion that he was “anti-intellectual”.  Pius was, after all, Pope at a time when social Darwinist racism was approaching its highwater mark and it was not such a bad idea to be cautious about the arrogant claims of SCIENCE[TM].  It did, after all, lead to “scientific” eugenics and the experiment in “scientifically” manipulating “inferior” human stocks known to history as the Holocaust.  So I can see why a Catholic pope, watching such popular tides of human thought being propounded by such thinkers as Spencer, Galton, and Haeckel would want to put the brakes on.

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