Cosmos: Same Old Ignorant Agitprop

A reader writes:

What’s your take on this show? Was it overtly anti-catholic or am I being overly sensitive as a Catholic?

It’s overtly and stupidly anti-Catholic. History for people who think The Family Guy is the History Channel.

For a good all-around debunking of this simple-minded “Catholic Church vs. Science” narrative, go here.

For an honest atheist’s review of God’s Philosophers, which overwhelmingly demonstrates that, so far from being the enemy of Science, the Catholic Church is its mother, go here.

The reason the three same names–Hypatia, Bruno, and Galileo–keep getting trotted out by historical illiterates as evidence of “The Catholic War on Science” is because there was no Catholic war on science. Hypatia was killed because she was unlucky enough to live in Alexandria, where civil violence was a municipal sport. Bruno was not a scientist, but a practitioner of what has rightly been described as mystic woo woo. For Cosmos to herald him as a champion of SCIENCE[TM] persecuted by the Church is like wringing one’s hand because the Pope did not convert to Scientology. And Galileo? Well, what you want to do is read Mike Flynn’s magnificent and hilarious account of how, largely due to the work of Catholic scientists, we got from geocentrism to heliocentrism–and how Galileo being a pain in the neck who went beyond the evidence available at the time and wound up running afoul of a hierarchy reeling from the Protestant revolt and jittery about his rash theological claims.

Next time some historical illiterate talks about the Church’s “War on Science” ask for details on these three. Then give the real details. Then, ask for other names. A “war” with only three casualties is not much of a war, particularly when the Church has canonized St. Albert the Great, has a couple dozen craters on the moon named for Jesuits, was mother to Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan Nicholas of Cusa, and Louis Pasteur (not one of whom the average Cosmos-educated sophisticate has even heard of), carefully fostered the work of Gregor Mendel (the Augustinian monk who founded the science of genetics), and fully supported the work of Jesuit Msgr. Georges Lemaitre, the formulator of the Big Bang hypothesis.

In sum, the iron truth remains that the more ignorant somebody is, the more certain they are they are obviously smarter than the common herd. Seth MacFarlane, the producer of Cosmos, is certain he knows what is talking about, and therefore has never bothered to discover how wrong he is.

Someday, somebody is going to have the guts to tell the story of the history of Science and the Faith that is not a cartoon. But one can hardly expect that from a cartoon maker.

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  • Spastic Hedgehog

    Just curious, Mark, did you actually watch it?

  • julie

    I now am so dismayed that I spent hours during high school watching Cosmos, and believing that the great library at Alexandria was burned by ignorant Christians, and worrying because the planet was becoming horribly overpopulated and making Earth barren like Venus like Carl Sagan said. I loved Sagan, but he sold a lot of snake oil.

    • The most hilarious part of Cosmos was the statement of faith with which it began: “The Cosmos is all that is, was, or ever will be.” How the hell does he know that?

      • MitchellJ

        isn’t that a line from the original one too. The original Cosmos was to me a show filled with a very mystical take on the grandness of the universe. Sagan was no theist, but he did seem to have a mystical sense of wonder; I am curious to watch this new one. I doubt that it will have that same sense. I suspect this new The Cosmos will be far to polemical to truly appreciate the radical mystery that is the cosmos.

        • Guest

          I think NDT is excited by the mystery of the COSMOS. But for a astro physicist mysteries are there to be unraveled. So it may not have the same impact on him as it does on us.

          • MitchellJ

            I haven’t watched any of it yet, so I’ll be curious to see if the producers and directors let the excitement of the host show through. That said I’ve seen NDT talk elsewhere and while he is very excited to talk about this it seems in a different vein then in the way Sagan talked about science. Keep in mind Sagan’s wife and son are proponents of Gaia theory in biology (which is not completely crazy, despite the name; its focus is on the inderdependent reality of biological life so much so that the entire earth’s ecosystem acts in some ways like a living organism itself). I think Sagan was likely clued into this sort of thinking too which lends itself to a much more organic vs. mechanistic view of nature and leaves room for a much richer appreciation of the mystery of nature.
            I’m excited to watch NDT Cosmos though, despite nonsense about Bruno, Galileo, etc.

        • I actually meant the original Cosmos. I haven’t watched this one at all, so I don’t know whether it starts out with a similar creed.

          And I’m all for a mystical sense of wonder before the mysteries of the universe. If this program gets kids interested in science, I’m all for it. If it continues, however, to promote unfair ideas about the church that undermine the truth, I will continue to be a little tetchy.

      • Francisco J Castellanos

        After spending the last 25 + years of my life in academic
        science, and meeting amazingly brilliant people, some of them Nobel Prize scientists, I have reached the inevitable conclusion that smart people can sometimes be incredibly stupid.

  • Julie

    BTW, I didn’t dare watch the new Cosmos.

  • Rosemarie


    My husband watched the whole thing since he was a fan of the original Cosmos. I watched it up to the Bruno part, then went to sleep.

    Jim says that, on the one hand, it wasn’t as anti-religious as Sagan was (though to be fair his anti-religious statements were polite and inoffensive). This show managed to be less anti-religious yet more offensive, which was no mean feat.

    He says that they dramatically portrayed Bruno being dragged out and thrown out the door of some English college, being verbally abused for not reading the Bible or Aristotle, and having him shout at them, “Your idea of God is too small.” They downplayed the fact that the authorities weren’t so much mad at Bruno for believing there could be life on other worlds (Nicholas of Cusa believed that) as the fact that he denied the deity of Christ and the Trinity. Though it was listed in the charges against him the entire thrust was to portray Christians as really “afraid” and threatened by the idea that there might be other worlds with life on them.

    They did mention that he was a mystic, not a scientist, and had no scientific training or proof for his beliefs about the universe. They just turned out to be a lucky guess. So why bring him up as the champion of science? As Mike Flynn said, saying that Bruno is a champion of science is like saying Deep Chopra is a champion of quantum physics.

    My husband says he is very disappointed and from now on he will go back to watching The Walking Dead at that time rather than the rest of the new Cosmos series.

    • IRVCath

      The thing is that Giordano Bruno was more a propaganda icon for Italian anticlericals in the 19th century than any real scientific accomplishment.

    • LSpinelli

      I was watching Duck Dynasty reruns. Remind me to keep doing so.

  • Guest

    The things mentioned are fact, they’re historical. The church persecuted people who conflicted with their teachings. To argue this shows you’re ignorant of history. SMH It’s people like you who make me feel ashamed to be catholic.

    • Jared Clark

      Only in the most technical sense can some of it be described as historical. Most of the time, it is either removed from its context and exaggerated, with the spinner of the narrative skipping a few key details (such as the popes opposing the brutality of the Spanish Inquisition…the actual brutality, not the exaggerated brutality that people always talk about.) Sometimes, they outright spread lies about a situation (Galileo’s trial was about his demands that the Church dogmatically declare Copernicus’s hypothesis, which had yet to be proven, to be true. If all were right, Galileo would either be an obscure name or the posterchild for how not to be a good scientist.)

      Next time you hear of some horrible crime in the Church’s past, go learn about it. We’re a bunch of sinners, so obviously there will be some bad stuff, but often you’ll find that it is either being exaggerated or it is a total lie.

      • Guest

        Spanish inquisition aside, the church was downright brutal. And they were not down with scientific thought, or rational thought in general. Justifying persecution because someone had the audacity to demand the church do anything is just ridiculous.

        If given the choice, the would have preferred to continue as things were. Science is a problem for dogma.

        • Katie in FL

          You can argue all you want about the Church and scientific thought based on actual events, but to say that the Church was not down with rational thought in general is false.

          • Guest

            That’s why the time they ruled also happened to be the Dark Ages. And if no one ever challenged their authority and dogma we’d still be there.

            • Andy, Bad Person

              Name one scientist persecuted in the “Dark Ages.” Just one.

              • Guest

                Name one scientist from the dark ages.

                • Kristen inDallas

                  Gerbert of Aurillac, William of Conches, Adelard of Bath…

                  • Guest

                    That was a question for Andy.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      If the question was answered, who answered it really doesn’t matter unless one doesn’t want it answered…

                    • Guest

                      One wanted the answer from Andy.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      So you really aren’t interested in answers but just want to make someone look bad?

                    • Guest

                      If one wants to think that one can think whatever one wants.

                      I just find it funny that we’re all here arguing because a couple people’s feelings were hurt because a 3 minute cartoon in a show about he COSMOS mentioned that the church and free thought didn’t always get along. These are historically accurate statements.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      No I think we are having this conversation because:

                      drgonz0: “Spanish inquisition aside, the church was downright brutal. And they were not down with scientific thought, or rational thought in general. Justifying persecution because someone had the audacity to demand the church do anything is just ridiculous.

                      If given the choice, the would have preferred to continue as things were. Science is a problem for dogma.”

                      When huge amounts of nonsense get flung about like this it is going to engender a response. That you seem incredibly uninterested in anything that doesn’t fit your template is….telling….

                    • Guest

                      Well I was raised catholic.
                      But seriously I’m uninterested in a lot of BS. And I’d lump much of what i’m disregarding in to BS. Dogma is BS. , The church is BS. So yeah.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      >Well I was raised catholic.

                      We have a joke around here. When someone says “I was raised Catholic” that’s nature’s way of warning you that the next thing said is total bunk.

                      >But seriously I’m uninterested in a lot of BS. And I’d lump much of what i’m disregarding in to BS. Dogma is BS. , The church is BS. So yeah.

                      No you aren’t. You want to get your jollies by insulting Christians. Substituting ridicule for reason is standard fare for atheists such as yourself. People have responded to your nonsense and you simply continue to spout unthinking party lines. It has always been astonishing to me how the champions of reason seem to possess so little of it….

                    • Guest

                      I’m happy for my 20 years of Catholicism. They’ve allowed me to see religion for the BS it is. I honestly and truly am posting because I believe the OP’s position that the COSMOS episode from last night is anti catholic. It isn’t. It had a portion of the episode that showed how hard it was to present an alternate viewpoint int he world as it was when run by the church. The trolling did come secondary because there’s so much FUD here. I couldn’t help myself.

                    • Dave G.

                      You continue to not answer the previous question. Please continue. Name some scientists who were persecuted during that time called the Dark Ages.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      Except everything you’ve said is wrong and has been demonstrated as such. That you are ignoring this only shows that you are not only not interested in reason but actively fighting it. You won’t allow anything to penetrate your indoctrination.

                      I’m not sure who hurt you, but yelling at strangers and calling them idiots isn’t going to further your development as a person. You are only furthering the idiot/angry atheist stereotype.

                    • Guest

                      I never said idiot.
                      You said idiot.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      >I never said idiot.

                      You might as well have. Routinely calling Catholicism bunk by simple assertion is an attitude of superiority. You aren’t interested in dialogue because you consider yourself above us intellectually. Your attitude gives you away.

                      >You said idiot.

                      Yes I did. Because the way you are ignoring responses to your points demonstrates an unwillingness to engage. Only idiots do this.

                    • Guest

                      Again having grown up catholic, and followed devoutly until my 20s, I do think I’m above it. I’m above the waste of time. I’m above eating horrible wafers pretending they’re my lord. Above having my throat blessed, and wearing silly ashes on my head. Above seeing a pope as an infallible connection to my lord. Above having religion dictated to me by people who would cover up a culture of child abuse. Yes I’m above paying homage to a system that hid the rape of countless children. It was at that point that I decided it was wrong, It was when I found that the money from my tithes bought off victims, and moved offenders around. How could you be ok with that? It was that moment that being hurt by the church. (Yes It hurt me to be part of an organization that did this). Made me search my soul and realize that the entire time it was all snake oil. It’a massive sham pulled off on people.

                      All that said. I still identify as catholic. It’s like Stockholm syndrome.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      >Again having grown up catholic, and followed devoutly until

                      my 20s, I do think I’m above it.

                      And those who follow are beneath you. At least we know where we stand now.

                      >How could you be ok with that?

                      I’m not. But I don’t throw away my my Faith because the bishops failed. Judas betrayed Jesus. That doesn’t impact the claims of Faith one way or another.

                      >It’a massive sham pulled off on people.

                      And yet you offer no proof beyond massive assertions and bad arguments. You are angry. But not thinking. Normal people don’t charge into a forum claiming that everyone else believes massive bunk and then completely ignore attempts to correct that assertion with fact.

                      You are going to have to work out your anger issues elsewhere. Forums like this are for those who are willing to dialogue. You are not.

                    • Guest

                      Then be done with me. I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t feel I’m above anyone. But I do think it’s interesting how you feel my “faith” and where I put it is wrong, whereas yours is right.

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      “But I do think it’s interesting how you feel my ‘faith’ and where I put it is wrong, whereas yours is right.”

                      Why interesting? Because that’s what you yourself have been doing, like when you write that “[t]he church is BS”?

                    • Guest

                      Interesting because it’s wrong when I do it but right when it’s done, because mine doesn’t agree with yours. That’s all.

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      Yes, you are applying a double standard. That’s hardly interesting, but de gustibus etc.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      >But I do think it’s interesting how you feel my “faith” and where I put it is wrong, whereas yours is right.

                      Given that you have told me Catholicism is BS this is too funny. Are we lacking in self reflection?

                    • Guest

                      Scientology is BS too. Don’t take it personally. Believe what you want I’m fine with that. But It’s funny to me that you’ll likely agree that Scientology is BS.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      >Believe what you want’ I’m fine with that.

                      Really? After all that stuff about how the Church persecutes scientists and covering up abuse and is total BS you are “fine” with us continuing with us believing in something that you claim is harmful and destructive? Either you don’t believe your own claims or you actually don’t care about others and simply want to club the Church.

                    • Guest

                      You’ve been emotionally tormented with the prospect of hell since you could walk. How can I judge you for not being able to overcome that.

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      You’re doing a marvelous job of embarrassing yourself.

                    • Guest

                      If your the audience I’m fine with that.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      >You’ve been emotionally tormented with the prospect of hell since you could walk.

                      Ah! Now we are entering the realm of armchair psychology now?

                      Besides which that isn’t true. My family converted, so I wasn’t even exposed to the concept of hell until the 3rd grade.

                      Is this what drove you away? The fear of hell? A scrupulosity that could only be removed by denying the truth? Funnily enough I did suffer from scrupulosity, but it was learning my Faith that helped me to overcome it.

                      I suspect that this reveals more about you than it does about me. Care to elaborate why you would think that I’m tormented by the fear of Hell?

                    • Guest

                      No it wasn’t the fear of hell, it was the sanctioning of child abuse by the people who were teaching me about hell my entire life that drove me away.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      >it was the sanctioning of child abuse

                      Really? Did the Church say child abuse was ok? One would think the covering up was an implicit acknowledgement that abuse was wrong.

                      >teaching me about hell my entire life that drove me away

                      Interesting. The Catholic Church that I know isn’t really preoccupied with Hell (in fact there is a criticism that your average parish priest doesn’t talk about it anymore).

                      What do you think Hell is?

                    • Dave P.

                      Then you must have a severe dislike for the public school system, which has a higher rate of sexual abuse than any religious denomination.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      It did show Bruno being tossed out of Oxford, which was not run by the Church, and being excommunicated by the Calvinists and Lutherans, which were likewise not run by the Church. They got the sequence wrong — and excommunication is not done by stamping a big red wax seal — and they showed him lecturing at Oxford, which he was not invited to do. It was that lack of an invitation that honked him off so much he wrote The Ash Wednesday Supper against the dons of Oxford. For that matter, they did not explain why he went back to “Italy” or why the Inquisition spent six years trying to talk him down off the ledge.

                      Basically, they ignored the entire exciting history of science up to then — as well as extolling the scientific method based on facts just before lauding a hermetic mystic, who by their own admission had none.

                      Who did have the facts? The Ptolemaic astronomers.

                    • Dave G.

                      Colin is correct. The question has been answered. We can continue. At this point whether or not Andy answers is irrelevant. Andy could be busy right now. He could be working. Mowing the lawn (shoveling snow?). He may not be back until later. At that point he could just copy what was said. We’ll never know. So, continue. Some scientists have been named. Please give the names of some scientists who were persecuted during the ‘Dark Ages’.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      Actually, they didn’t just “mention” it. They quite deliberately misrepresented it. Observe too the artwork and colors. Bruno was tried on eight counts, and none of them involved astronomy or cosmology. Yet the cartoon claimed that the infinity of worlds was among them. This is quite simply false-to-fact. It is always astonishing how dedication to facts and rational thinking goes out the window when these folks switch from science to history. A few comments from an atheist historian in Germany that mention Tyson and history:



                    • MarylandBill

                      I think in charity, we should never assume malice when we can demonstrate incompetence. As your links demonstrate, Tyson, and Sagan before him might have been great at scientific education but they simply did not know the history they were presenting. I suspect that they probably got their history from similarly popular works (based on 19th century history likely). Once these myths become established, it is awfully hard to root them out. This is why we have had so many people in this thread call the Medieval Period the Dark Ages despite the fact that that term has been known to be false for over a century.

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      Yet he asked you a question as well, and he asked it first. Why you should you expect an answer from him when you fail to provide one yourself?

                    • Guest

                      Being that the “dark ages” are a period where there’s massive gaps in history, do you not find it odd that the only scientists of note from the time were church approved? My lack of an answer is my answer.

                    • Dave G.

                      At this point you must be pulling everyone’s legs. You can’t believe that’s a solid argument.

                    • Colin Gormley

                      He might. Like a cornered animal flailing is his only option.

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      “the only scientists of note from the time were church approved”

                      1. Define “church approved”.

                      2. Define the set of all scientists of note.

                      3. Define the set of all “church approved” scientists.

                      4. Show that the set defined in (2) is contained within (3).

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      You still haven’t answered his question. By the way, arguments from ignorance remain fallacies of informal logic, even if they’re posited by you.

                    • Andy, Bad Person

                      Surely, if there were a massive persecution of scientists in the Dark Ages, you should be able to name one.

                    • Kristen inDallas

                      Oh I get it. Intellectual curriosity doesn’t count if you get a St. added to your name. First, your argument was that scientific progress didn’t exist because the church wouldn’t allow it. Now its that the comparative abundance of church-sponsered progress proves that the entire institution of science was corrupted at that time anyway.
                      What if someone made the same claims about art? People similar to Miley Cyrus and Thomas Kinkaide did not acheive notariety during the renaissance, because the upper class hated and supressed all forms of art. (After being presented with examples of art from the period) Harrumph, well then why is it that the only artists that achieved any kind of success were the ones sponsored by the upper classes? Pretty suspect, huh?

                    • Guest

                      No, not playing down any of their contributions. However the collection of people who went against the church in scientific exploration didn’t have happy endings.

                      All I’m saying is science is all about constantly trying to challenge the status quo to get the truth. This doesn’t work well when the law is also the religion. As I said before the sins of the church of the time don’t bother me. Humanity was broken. What I’m objecting to from the start is taking offense to a small segment of a show documenting how difficult it was to challenge scientific principals at the time. These guys paid with their lives where at worst today you just get laughed at and lose your funding.

                    • MarylandBill

                      Where is this collection of people? It has been clearly shown that Galileo got in trouble not for his research, but by trying to force the Church to update its teaching to reflect his unproven scientific ideas and mocking the Pope. It has also been shown that Bruno’s execution had little if nothing to do with his unscientific ideas that just happened to be right, and far more his other ideas. And finally Hypatia’s death had less to do with her scientific ideas than the politics of Alexandria at the time. And these are the three strongest candidates you have for your contention.

                      No one is saying that the leaders of the Church have not sinned from time to time, indeed sometimes perhaps excessively, but they have never been the great persecutor of science that you make them out to be.

                    • Guest

                      Can you at least agree that the church should never have executed anyone? Or were they right because Bruno was an asshole?

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      Don’t move the goal posts. You’ve yet to answer Andy’s question, let alone MarylandBill’s question. You’ve nothing but gratuitous assertions so far. You’ve been challenged to back up your claim but have thus far failed to do so. Stop dodging.

                    • chezami

                      Sure. But the issue is not “Did Renaissance Europeans universally believe in the death penalty for heresy?” but “Is Bruno a martyr to science?” Also, stop dragging in the priest scandal and stick to the subject. Your sole warning from the Management.

                    • Guest

                      When giving my reason for the loss of my faith, the church covering up the molestation and rape of little boys is my reason. I make statements to that effect and when talking about sins of the church, but this offends your sensibilities as a contributor to those events. So Warning aside, I’ll not listen.

                    • chezami

                      This thread is about Cosmos and Bruno, not about your personal psychological history.

                    • MarylandBill

                      That is a different question, and holding the 17th century to the standards of the 21st is hardly relevant to the question of whether or not the Church persecuted scientists for the sake of being scientists.

                      Do I think the Church should have executed Bruno? No, but then I don’t think countries should have executed people for being pick-pockets either, but it happened, and I still think it was a crime.

                    • chezami

                      What collection would that be?

                    • Guest

                      Curpurnicus, Gallielo, Bruno.

                      Que people saying they were persecuted for other reasons. Like that makes it better.

                    • MarylandBill

                      Curpurnicus? Do you mean Copernicus? Who died in bed of illness at the age of 70? (A quite respectable age back then).

                    • Guest

                      Sorry yes, also should have clarified. He lived in fear of publishing his works and it wasn’t done until after his death to avoid persecution.

                    • MarylandBill

                      Sorry, again, there were actually church prelates who knew of his work prior to his death and were quite curious about it. If he was reluctant to publish, it was probably because he feared ridicule over his then novel hypothesis.

                    • Guest

                      ahh again, conflicting historical viewpoint?

                      The Church banned Copernicus’ “Des revolutionibus” for more than 200 years. Yeah seems they were thrilled with his work.

                    • MarylandBill

                      Yes, they banned the original version about 60 years after it was published. That being said, a slightly edited version was allowed, and Copernicus’s model was used to help calculate the formula used in the Gregorian Calendar reform.

                    • IRVCath

                      In other words, if de revolutionibus was condemned in toto, why did they use an edited version as a basis for setting the calendar and calculating Easter?

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      Copernicus was quite clear that he feared the ridicule of the physicists because what he proposed went against the Established Science and he was a mere mathematicus. (For a flavor of how this seemed to the ur-scientists of the day, imagine someone who runs a pet store today proclaiming Darwin was wrong.)
                      De revolutionibus circulated for about 70 years, during which time there were only about 10 Copernican mathematici. The humanists loved him, but the ur-scientific establishment pooh-poohed the whole thing. They had what seemed very solid evidence against it.
                      Copernicus’ book was not suppressed, but only withdrawn from circulation “pending corrections.” These consisted of altering statements which seemed to assert the system as fact to statements asserting it as a mathematical system that was mostly correct.

                    • chezami


                    • Guest


                      See I can write one word answers too.

                    • chezami

                      Goodbye. I have no obligation to play host to an ignorant loudmouth. If you want to becom unignorant, go here and read the whole series:

                    • SteveP

                      And McDonald has a very brief article buttressing Flynn’s first point:

                    • MarylandBill

                      He feared ridicule of other philosophers, not the Church.

                    • chezami

                      And was buried with honors beneath the floor of the Cathedral. Some persecution.

                    • PalaceGuard

                      Curpurnicus was Gallielo’s dog.

                    • chezami

                      You are ignorant. Copernicus was not persecuted:

                      Nor were Galileo and Bruno martrys to science. And frankly, I don’t believe your BS about being terrorized about hellfire either.

                    • Dave G

                      Apart from the actual details, you’re sort of making Mark’s point. When people speak of the hapless hordes of scientists put to the sword by the science-hating Church, they only and ever seem able to name the same three (if they’re ignorant of the actual facts, but the same three nonetheless): the ones you mention. Why, is the question. Certainly there should be more than that. Name some others. Take away Copernicus if you’re schooled, and let’s assume the worst in the other two cases, that’s still not a sustained campaign given the centuries we’re talking about.

                    • IRVCath

                      First, it’s “Copernicus” (or Kopernikus if you’re German).

                      Second of all, it’s heavily, heavily disputed in the scholarship as to whether, when he was alive, his fear of criticism was religious in nature, or the usual intellectual disputes among academics (which can be brutal, I tell you – step into a faculty meeting one of these days).

                      Galileo and Bruno have already been dealt with above.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      the collection of people who went against the church in scientific exploration didn’t have happy endings.

                      Your argument would be much more concise and far more convincing if, instead of theoretical and generic “people,” you could actually name some individual persons and describe their unhappy endings. You would still have the problem of showing that these were typical, but at least you would be dealing with facts instead of myths.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      Which dark ages? The one when barbarian tribes were roving all over Western Europe burning things down? The gaps in history aren’t really too massive, though there are points where information has been lost. But then we have less information on other areas of history, like the Egyptian Middle Kingdom and Minoan Crete; India after the Maurya Empire; and so on. For the Western Dark Age, we do have quite a bit in comparison. For example:
                      And a sampling here:

                  • Dave P.

                    Not to mention the anonymous monks who preserved and carried on knowledge and introduced things like crop rotation.

                • Heather

                  Roger Bacon? Isidore of Seville? Gerbert of Aurillac (also knows as Pope Sylvester II)? Peter Peregrinus of Maricourt?

            • You give yourself away: No legitimate historian uses the term “Dark Ages” any more, and no one has for decades now. Why? Because it’s just name-calling by the same people who decided the period of murderous nationalism that followed quickly upon the Reformation was the “Enlightenment”.

              You are exposed as a victim of propaganda, unfamiliar with any actual history. Please, tell us when these Dark Ages began and ended, what happened during them, and, specifically, how the Church promoted superstition and opposed logic and reason – dates, names, some little indication that have the slightest familiarity with the subject you are using as a blunt object here.

            • LFM

              This is simply ignorant. The label ‘Dark Ages’ was given to the period from the fall of the Western Roman Empire (AD 476) to the much less clearly defined beginning of the ‘Renaissance’ in the 14th century (1300s) by a group of poets and humanists who had no interest in science but were interested in the revival of classical Latin.

              The humanists, who were not what we mean today by humanists, looked down on the ‘Dark Ages’ not because those years were unscientific, or because they were ruled by the Catholic Church (western Europe was still pretty much ruled by the Catholic Church in the 14th century), but because those years were a period of the collapse of learning, institutions, commerce and infrastructures. And the reason THAT had happened, they knew, was not because of the rise of the Church, but because of the Fall of Rome. Once the will, the armies and the money to maintain the facilities created by empire were gone, much of Europe collapsed into barbarism. Even if you aren’t barbaric yourself, it’s hard to concentrate on science or any kind of learning when you have to spend much of your life fighting barbarian invasions.

              Incidentally, there is a strong school of thought among historians that divides the time from Rome’s collapse up to around the 11th century as the ‘Dark Ages’ and the time from then until the Black Plague began (@1347) as the medieval period. Note that this had nothing to do with the Church’s ‘rule,’ either.

              • MarylandBill

                Actually I would say that many scholars would place the Dark Ages even earlier, and end it by the time of the Carolingian Renaissance.

                • LFM

                  I was trying not to stretch gonz0’s credulity, as he appears to consider the failure to use the label ‘Dark Ages’ as a species of political correctness… Odd, because professional historians, as I have cause to know, unfortunately, seldom bother to try to be politically correct about the Catholic Church. If they conceded that this label should be used more restrictively, it was because the historical profession had come to a consensus, more or less, on the subject.

            • Kristen inDallas

              The dark ages are named such because of our lack of historical documentation from the time. Dark doesn’t mean bad, or slow, or backwards… it means hard to see. Keep in mind the printing press wasn’t invented until 1436. Prior to that the preservation of written documents (and the progress they chronical) was dependent on someone somewhere copying them down many many times. The advancements of the Romans are well chronicled because of the copying-down of the monks that followed. The dark ages were followed by the 30-years war, the reformation, and leadership which did not have a particularly favorable view of the previous regime. It’s not super surprising that fewer manuscripts were reprinted, fewer buildings left intact, and fewer acheivements were memorialized…

              • MarylandBill

                Kristen, no offense, because, I know it was well intended, but the term Dark Ages, as they were originally applied had little to do with lack of knowledge about the period but rather were based on the rather parochial conceit of scholars during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

                That being said, scholars now generally reject equating the Medieval period with the Dark Ages. If they use the term at all, it tends to be applied to the period of 5th-7th century A.D. where there often is a scarcity (though not a complete lack of) of documents (which does in fact support your earlier description of Dark Age, but one that much narrower in scope).

                Large parts of the Middle Ages, especially the latter half are very well documented and we probably know more about that period than we do about much of the classical period.

                • Kristen inDallas

                  you are correct… there are several different ways that the “dark ages” have been defined temporaly. I was giving Drgonz0 the benefit of the doubt and hoping he was referring to the early medieval, more narrowly defined version in which it really is hard to find a lot of scientific writings. But yes the original term, as applied to the entire medieval period by those involved in the Enlightenment, is largely bias and pretty easy to debunk.

            • MarylandBill

              Please, you have no idea how modern scholars view the Middle Ages (They no longer call it the Dark Ages for a reason).

              • Guest

                Yeah apparently. It’s politically incorrect and people get butthurt when you use it.

                • MarylandBill

                  No, its not a question of being politically correct, its about being just plain wrong.

        • Dave P.

          Galileo had a quite a few supporters within the Church; however, he had a knack for alienating people. If he had mastered his ego just a little bit, he would have found himself in less trouble. As it was, his sentence was relatively light – recitation of the penitential psalms, which was delegated to his cloistered daughter. And he was basically pensioned off. He had servants, comfortable quarters, a decent allowance, and the resources to continue with research. And he lived to be 80 years old. Not a bad deal, in the long run.

          • Guest

            Ohh well that makes it ok then. The point of the argument is we’re better off now that the church doesn’t run the world.

            • Hezekiah Garrett

              How very eurocentric, you vile little racist. Europe isn’t even half the world, even if it is the only part concerning you.

              • Guest

                Let’s be honest from a historical context. As far as the church was concerned at the time, it was the world. See the crusades. Please take your objections up with the historical view from the European/catholic perspective at the time not me.

                • Ye Olde Statistician

                  Crusades? You mean the 100-year counterattack in the middle of a 1000-year jihad?

        • Dave P.

          I will also bring up my counter example to Galileo: Johannes Kepler, who actually got things right about planetary motion. The Protestants were nastier than the Catholics regarding heliocentrism. Kepler was given refuge by Jesuits, and that during the Thirty Years’ War.

          • Kristen inDallas

            Kepler is one of my favorite scientists… maybe he got his pass from all the torture and killing by not actually claiming heliocentrism, but rather helio-slightly-off-centrism. 😉

            • AnsonEddy

              This was actually clever and hilarious. Took me back to the Brahe/Kepler lecture in college physics. Well done.

        • MarylandBill

          The Catholic Church is not, and never has been a fundamentalist Church. As has been pointed out time and again, there were probably more scientific advances made between roughly 1000-1500 than there was in Europe during the prior 1200 years. This at the time when the Church was at the peak of its temporal power. Not exactly the sign of a Church trembling in fear of scientific knowledge.

        • Jared Clark

          Science is a problem for some dogma, yes.

          If the universe makes sense, then it seems obvious that its intelligibility is purposeful. If man is intelligent enough to study nature, then it seems obvious that his intelligence is not merely material.

          The only problem is, it’s atheistic philosophy, not Catholic theology, which is at odds with the scientific method. Science is a problem for some dogma, not ours. This is why it was theists in general, and Catholics in particular, who invented and developed the scientific method.

    • I am so damn sick of Classical Liberalism. It’s a dog’s breakfast of historically and philosophically vacuous and inconsistent tropes that substitute ignorance and emotion for any kind of rational discussion. It makes me ashamed to be human.

      • Guest

        You can check out any time you like. I’ll support it. If you want to have a rational discussion that’s one thing. If you want to argue against fact, then you’re a fool.

        • The point is that the facts don’t mean what people think they mean. “The [Catholic] church persecuted people [whose ideas] conflicted with their teachings.” So what? Unless you posit the utterly absurd and unrealistic premise that “It is always wrong to persecute people whose ideas conflict with your teachings” then there’s no significant point to be made.

          If people want to argue that it is sometimes wrong to persecute people whose ideas conflict with your own and that the church in this particular case was, in fact, wrong so to do, then you can have an informed, historical, and reasonable discussion.

          But if people, under the influence of emotional appeals to “freedom of thought” or speech or whatever, want to posit that it is never right to persecute people whose ideas conflict with your own, and that therefore the Catholic Church is a special, historical case of that particular kind of evil, then you’ve entered philosophical dream-land, where nothing makes any sense and you’ll be (as moderns do) contradicting yourself within two sentences.

          • Guest

            Very few (if any) organizations still exist after all that time. The catholic church may be the only standing organization that dates back that far. I believe it is.

            So to hold them to the it’s always wrong standard gives the opportunity to blame something that’s still around. So that makes the church a special case in all circumstances because they’re the only one’s left standing.
            This is what gets people so bent out of shape. It doesn’t upset anyone to criticize the old french or British monarchy, or Genghis Kahn or … because they don’t have followers today. Instead of getting butthurt about someone talking about the historical actions of the church accept it and move on. That’s what rational catholics have done.

            • In which case, there’s no case to be made for the Church being an essential special case, which is what people want to establish and what they are trying to teach with special programs like this (assuming that details of the program as related by Mark and Rosemarie are, in fact, accurate).

              • Guest

                Watch the program, mark is wrong. It’s not making any special argument of what the church had done outside of the historical facts. It’s merely stating that inspire of knowing that they would be persecuted, they learned from banned books, unlawful knowledge and contributed to the betterment of humanity. Sometimes knowing that would be martyred.

                Really should watch it for yourself instead of taking Mark’s overly sensitive review. It wasn’t a show about the church. It was a small segment for a history of exploration of the cosmos.

                • Well, that’s certainly fair, considering that I have not watched it. I don’t feel a great need to check out another science popularization program, since I’ve been a Feynman, Asimov, Scientific American, etc, devotee from my youth, but I’m all for fair and philosophically consistent popularization of science. I’m just hyper-sensitive to the extreme irony of people being told that by exposing themselves to these programs – and others like them – they are “thinking for themselves” and moving beyond the dark days when the wicked church told people what to think.

                  • Guest

                    It’s intention is to get people involved in scientific thought, not to indoctrinate anyone. That said, having the president make the opening remarks probably caused a number of people to turn off the television. My whole point to poetic is that Mark is way out here and positing as a catholic objecting to the mere mention of any wrongdoing in the churches past. The church as done much in the past that was wrong. Most catholics know and accept this, yet he’s raging.

                    • It’s intention is to get people involved in scientific thought, not to indoctrinate anyone.

                      This statement is either an outright contradiction or else a sad indictment of science education in this country.

                      *update* And I, for one, don’t give a rip about the president introducing the program.

                • Ye Olde Statistician

                  A very disproportionate digression at the expense of the actual history of science — and misrepresents intellectual histoy. Tyson could discuss the Big Bang without once mentioning it was first worked out by a Catholic priest, but he could spend several minutes on a comic-book version of Bruno. E.g., Cartoon Bruno is shown reading a cartoon manuscript copy of Lucretius’ De rerum natura (and getting thrown out of his monastery because of it). No comment on where that copy came from even though he was shown reading a codex, not a scroll. The text had been meticulously copied by Christian monks during the “dark ages” and then again and again during the Middle Ages. Indeed, copies were known in the 9th century, and other manuscripts survive which quote lines from the poem. There were also philosophical inquiries that paralleled thoughts in De rerum… but these may have been independently thought.

                  In any case, Bruno, if he had a copy, would have had a printed copy, not a manuscript. It was printed in several editions starting in 1473. A hundred years later, copies would have been widely available.

        • LFM

          But you do not know what the facts are, drgonzO. You ignore the various challenges that others here offer – the vast numbers of scientists, mathematicians, philosophers and thinkers of various types who were not only Catholic, not only grew up in Catholic societies, but were actively supported by the Catholic Church. Do you even know who Roger Bacon is? Do you realize that most of the first proponents of the principle of ‘Occam’s Razor’ were priests or monks? Do you know that the first mechanical clocks were created by monasteries? Do you know that the universities that trained the first scientists and mathematicians in Europe were nearly all Church-funded and staffed?

          You demand evidence in support of those who state that the Church supported science, but then ignore any evidence offered to you without bothering to refute it first, and then loudly assert your rationality and others’ lack of it.

          No one here is denying that the Church was at times guilty of discouraging intellectual inquiry and speculation. In certain times and places it *did* do so, but this was by no means a continuous or near-continuous fact of its existence.

          • Guest

            I’m not saying great things /research/banking /math art etc. didn’t come from church sponsored learning. However if anything conflicted with the church it was put down toot sweet. What I’m objecting to is the solid negative reaction to a very small portion of a good program discussing the challenges of scientists who disagreed with the church.

            • Hezekiah Garrett

              Toot sweet?

              If you want to be taken seriously, stick with words you understand and can reasonably spell.

              And do it tout suite, please?

              • Guest


            • Ye Olde Statistician

              The biggest challenge to the Church teachings came from the Cathars, a group that held the material world was evil and sex was dirty. But the Church engaged in dialogue for three generations before the Cathars assassinated a papal legate and patience wore out. That’s not tout suite, really. In the dictionary under “Rapid Response Team” they do not have a picture of the Catholic Church.

              • Harry

                “…held the material world was evil and sex was dirty.”
                So presumably the Church at that moment in history would be quite comfortable with the Theology of the Body? No suspicion of sex at all? And they had a view of vocations that held that one could pursue holiness in the world as well as in religious orders, without denigrating that state of life?
                Come on. I’m not much of an expert but I know that the Church had severe problems with its perspective on sex, and its view on the wider world in that era (indeed, throughout much of our history).
                All right, the Cathars assassinated a legate – a violent response was inevitable. But with all the horrific bloodshed that followed, is yelling “They started it!” a wise thing to do?
                Wouldn’t it be much better to just say – “Yeah, the Church sponsored some pretty awful acts back in the day. Understandable in that environment but not acceptable. We repent of them.”

                • Ye Olde Statistician

                  And they had a view of vocations that held that one could pursue
                  holiness in the world as well as in religious orders, without
                  denigrating that state of life?

                  Heck, they made matrimony a sacrament. Don’t confuse the medievals with the Victorians. (You should see some of their art.)

                  For a milieu that really has issues with and degrades sex, try the postmodern West, which has reduced everything to appetite and plumbing.

          • Kristen inDallas

            Even then… I’d say it was never “the Church” that discouraged intellectual inquiry, so much as certain individuals or groups within the church. Much like Drgonz0 is doing above, as a member of the church, but not as the ultimate arbitor.

            • LFM

              Well, yes, but the fact remains that the Church led some of the worst instances of persecution, like the Dominicans’ persecution of the Cathars of Languedoc in the Albigensian Crusade. While much of this was carried out by the French Crown, the Crusade was launched by Innocent III, and it would be difficult to argue that he did not represent the Church. A less well-known example: the Church authorities in Paris, with the cooperation of the Crown, relentlessly burnt at the stake anyone who attempted to translate and print the Bible in French. Ostensibly this was because these translations were heretical, but the dearth of efforts to print non-heretical translations suggest that their real motive was otherwise: they apparently did not want French people to get hold of Bibles they could read, or have read to them, in a language they understood. Even Martin Luther wondered whether it had been such a good idea to translate the Bible into German after all, when he saw the results of it. Sigh.

              But what drgonz0 should take from all this is that it was religious rather than scientific inquiry that was somewhat more likely to be persecuted by the Church, and for that matter by the state. Scientific study did not threaten the established order, whereas religious upheaval did.

              • MarylandBill

                I would point out that the Cathars were not simply persecuted because of their religious beliefs, but also over their practices and the implications both had for the continuation of society. Most people forget that at the time Catholic Beliefs also were the underpinnings of society.

                Indeed, look at what happened when Protestantism became established (whose beliefs and practices are quite a bit closer to Catholic beliefs than the Cathars were), for the next 150 years, Europe was ravaged by some of the worst wars it would experience prior to the 20th century.

                • LFM

                  Oh, I won’t disagree with anything you say here, Md Bill. The trouble is that the Church’s officials had a tendency to treat ignorant and unlettered people as if they were scholars who understood the full implications of what Catharism taught, and punished them accordingly. However, what most of the ordinary people who took up with Catharism saw, to my knowledge, which could be outdated, was an ‘alternative’ sect that did not seem to them to be very different from Catholicism; the weirder doctrines and practises of the Cathars were not well-known, and reserved for senior initiates.

                  What’s more, they practiced a self-denying austerity that was attractive compared to the self-indulgence of many of the Church’s prelates. And they were *there*. While I took a PhD in French history (of a later period, to be sure) I was astonished to learn that priests were scarcer on the ground in the late Middle Ages than today, at least at the level of peasant villages. Many parishes lacked any priest at all, or had only men in ‘minor orders’ who could say Mass but not (I think) distribute communion or hear confessions.

                  The trouble was that once a man’s family or community had spent money on educating him for the priesthood, they and he developed higher ambitions for him than to say Mass in country parishes. People could go and hear Mass at a monastery but of course these were widely scattered, while the Cathars were everywhere.

              • jaybird1951

                Interestingly, by the time of Martin Luther there were already dozens of approved vernacular translations of the Bible including several in High and Low German, French dialects, Dutch and other European languages of the time. The first printed book was the Catholic Bible in Latin, the lingua franca of educated people of the age. Mistakes were made by high churchmen in the Galileo case but he had his defenders in the hierarchy too. He was given the option of presenting his ideas as an hypothesis rather than proof that proved some passages of Scripture wrong. However, he insisted on asserting he had the proof even though, at the time, he didn’t. His strongest opponents were other scientists of the period including those in Protestant areas. His “persecution” consisted of house arrest in a series of villas with I believe, the freedom to correspond with the outside world.

                • LFM

                  Yes, it’s surprising in a way about the vernacular translations of the Bible in the various places you indicate. I did specify, however, that this issue was peculiar though not unique to Paris, which throughout the 16th century was a ‘hotbed’ of religious and political dissent. France (of which Paris’s ‘Ile de France’ was the central part) had a series of weak kings throughout this period, a situation that led to nearly chronic war on all its frontiers and the constant threat of civil war, finally fulfilled in the miserable period between 1562 and 1598 during the ‘Wars of Religion.’

              • Allan B

                And there’s the ignorance of the Brights showing its ugly face again. Along with its biases. Complaining about the crusade against the Cathars, and their “persecution”? The same Cathars who were massacring Catholics and burning down their churches, and eventually murdered a papal diplomat who had been sent to try to calm the situation? And do you know the actual teachings and beliefs of the Cathars, and how upsetting to the social order they were? For the well-being of the entire region, they were a group that needed to be put down. And if they were true to their beliefs, they weren’t nearly as upset about their “persecution” as you seem to be, as one of their beliefs was that the body was evil, and the soul needed to be freed from it. Thus they actually welcomed death, including suicide, which was encouraged. But I imagine you aren’t so much concerned with them, as with using them as a club to try to beat the Church with, right?

                • LFM

                  Sir, I am a stern, orthodox, not quite ‘trad’ Catholic, but almost, who is also a professional historian. I do not claim expertise in the Cathars and their history, but even the Catholic Encyclopedia (an older source, granted) does not suggest that the Cathars did much in the way of church-burning or massacring. Perhaps there are recent histories that correct this. Either way, I accept your point that that new beliefs could cause great damage to the stability of early modern society. That’s why I made mention in that previous comment of mine of Martin Luther, and how he repented, in some degree of having supported the translation of the Bible. Do read more carefully before jumping to the attack.


                  • Allan B

                    Fair enough, I did perhaps “jump to the attack” a little quickly. I guess Jem’s posts above got me a little worked up. I am by no means a professional historian, but something of a student of history, and have been delving into the histories of the various crusades and their causes over the past while, so a seeming defense of the Cathars didn’t sit well with me. But you are correct, I read your post hastily, not carefully. My apologies.

    • Alexander S Anderson

      If you assert something hard enough that will make it true!

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    I didn’t watch Cosmos, but we do watch a lot of Science shows, and I do think that very often the anti-Catholic bias is deliberate. We watched an hour long program on the Big Bang, and the name Georges Lemaitre wasn’t mentioned once. Not once. In fact, Hubble was credited as coming up with the Big Bang Theory, which is a bald-faced lie. I had to pause the show and give my kids a quick history lesson.
    There’s also just some plain illogical nonsense that anyone with a brain ought to catch on. Like when Michiu Kaku (who strikes me as a very smart, nice, affable, if occasionally deluded guy) says that contrary to what ancients thought, “We now know the universe COULD have come from nothing! Thanks to string theory, physicists now think that the Big Bang was caused by alternate universes banging into each other.”
    You don’t need a physics degree to catch that error. Just speak English. If the universe came into being when alternate universes collided (which may or may not be true), how does that qualify as “nothing?” Alternate universe = “nothing.” To quote the wise Inigo Montoya: “You keep using this word. But I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  • Kristen inDallas

    Yeah, I made it about 30 seconds and checked out when I heard “…Explore the planets of stars that never die, discover atoms as massive as suns, and universes smaller than atoms….” Sorry show claiming to be about science, if you want me to pay attention you must first learn the definitions of the words “never” and “universe.” Sincerely, someone who thinks science is awesome and compelling all on it’s own with no need to embellish or sensationalize what it really is. (Sensationalizing one star as one that “never dies” is only mildly interesting for a short time until you realize it’s complete hyperbole. The concept of entropy and the laws of thermodynamics STILL blow my mind when I reflect on what that must mean about the history of the universe.)

    • Guest

      You really should have held on a bit longer, you really missed out.

      • Kristen inDallas

        Meh. It’s on hulu if I change my mind. But I’m about as dumbed-down as I can get after I watch family guy, and I couldn’t stomache it even then. (At least Family Guy employs sarcasm when saying things I know aren’t true).
        I love the Rolling Stones… and I do enjoy the occasional documentary as a supplement to the music itself. But if someone starts a documentary by claiming that the reason the Stones are so great is because of how Paint it Black is some commentary on the US bipartisan system, and then goes on to misquote lyrics I know by heart in order to prove this theory…. I’m not going to watch that. Because 1) it’s simply not true. and 2) If they can’t see all the legitimately good reasons why the stones are amazing, I’m going to start to suspect that it’s really not a documentary about the music at all, but rather about how much the makers of the film hate some other thing and are attempting to co-opt and misinterpret an otherwise enjoyable band into making their point for them.

  • Sagan set the bar with the original series: the goal is to make sure we little people stand in humble, pliable awe of the dude in the lab coat, who, with his buddies, has given us everything that is good. Little if any science properly called is communicated – we are assumed to be too stupid to get it. Instead, we are shown pretty pictures and told very select and highly spun stories. Just so we understand who the smart guys are, and where we stand in the pecking order.

    I have not caught the new series yet, but, based on what I’ve heard so far, it seems like it’s a worthy successor to Sagan’s original, which I did catch back in the day. Maybe I’ll catch in on Netflix or something someday, assuming my blood pressure is holding steady.

    • Guest

      It’s supposed to inspire people to get into science. Are you so intimidated by “smart guys”?

      • MarylandBill

        Perhaps one should keep in mind that “smart guy” and scientist are not synonyms. Indeed, one of the big objections I have to some modern famous scientists (Dawkins and Hawking for example) is their assumption that being great scientists qualifies them to make pronouncements on areas of knowledge they clearly know nothing about.

      • Hezekiah Garrett

        Not a whit, just offended by smart guys passing of shallowminded dumb crap.

      • *You* imagine *I* am intimidated by smart guys? Or that I don’t know science? Fascinating.

        Since I do know science, I can spot a phony – Sagan’s a phony, a merely competent college astronomy professor who made only work-a-day contributions to his actual field of expertise such as any competent astronomer might make. Yet, he holds forth on ALL areas of science, and philosophy and history, as if calculating the heat generated by any force sufficient to stop the earths rotation (something he did once as part of debate, and something any college sophomore getting Bs in physics could have done) qualifies him revise history to his liking (Lysenko, anyone?) and to browbeat people over fantasies such as SETI and Nuclear Winter. If you don’t understand why SETI and Nuclear Winter are rank Cargo Cult science, I think you need back away from the keyboard and go read some Feynman.

        To inspire people to pursue science you’d need to, you know, talk about science, not some fantasy version of science for which facts and truth are strictly optional.

        • Guest

          Please reference your published works.

          • MarylandBill

            He said he knew science, not that he was a professional scientist. Heck, I know lots of PhDs in science who go on to have careers in… computer programming. It doesn’t mean they don’t know science, just that they decided they could do something else. Now of course he might be a scientist, but he didn’t claim he was in the above post.

            • Guest

              Fair enough. He did claim he can spot a phony. So he’s calling out one of the most celebrated minds of our time as a phony.

              • MarylandBill

                Well, I do seem to remember that the scientific establishment at the time was rather ambivalent about Sagan. Certainly he did real science, but he was far better known (and far more celebrated) as a promoter of science.

              • Ye Olde Statistician

                celebrated mind. Insofar as history is concerned, his celebrated mind has been raked over by historians,

        • Jem

          “Yet, he holds forth on ALL areas of science, and philosophy and history”
          I’m assuming that means that when it comes to reproductive medicine, you only listen to the priests who are qualified gynecologists .

      • Kristen inDallas

        The problem is, this kind of thing doesn’t inspire kids to become scientists, only to revere “scientists.” I say this as a former HS Physics and Chemistry teacher btw, when kids are presented constantly with exagerated claims and oversimplified processes, their first encounter with real science can often knock the wind right out of their sails. Just as many more tune out when eventually presented with the false dichotomy between science & philosophy. The cool thing about real science is that you can sometimes find something really neat, that you weren’t even looking for, because of a well recorded mistake. That you can constantly find out new ways to be wrong about something and still call it progress. That some of our most comprehensive theories are a result of “bookworms” who just sat there and wrote down observations of the exact same thing over and over again for the majority of their adult lives. That no matter how many mysteries we “solve” there is always a new question to take its place. My students were far more inspired watching an average episode of mythbusters (average people who were sometimes right and sometimes wrong but always clearly in love with what they do)

        • Guest

          I think myth busters is great for science. I have no problem with it, it’s a staple in this house. That said watch the show and give it a chance before passing judgment on inspiring kids to revere scientists vs inspiring kids to become scientists.

        • Marthe Lépine

          Your comment reminds me of something I read not so long ago. I may not give the exact wording, but it went like this: A scientist (Emerson? you see how much I don’t know…) tried 1000 times before he managed to invent a light bulb that worked. Someone asked why he did not get discouraged at failing so many times. He is said to reply that, each of these times that he failed did teach him something important – another way or reason why his experiments were not working. After eliminating all of these, he finally arrived at the one that worked.

          • D.T. McCameron

            Edison, most likely.

          • Kristen inDallas

            I’ve seen the Sagan version… and made the unfortunate mistake of using it in a class that was about a week ahead in material from all the other classes. This was one of my classes most enthusiastic about science. Half of them were asleep by the end of the period. I will withold judgement of the new version (beyond the first minute – of which I was not a fan)

          • S. Murphy

            Edison. 🙂
            Emerson wasn’t that bright…

            • He was a way better writer, though.

        • kenofken

          Sagan wasn’t trying to get everyone to become scientists. He tried to stir that passion and tried to welcome anyone who was bright and determined enough for such a rigorous career. He certainly played a pivotal role in Tyson’s career. His real passion and his mission was to spread scientific literacy to a a general population that was in desperate need of it.

          He wanted to convey some sense of the grandeur and scale of astrophysics beyond the literal handful of its elite academics. More than anything else, he wanted the average person to understand the power and accessibility of the scientific method.

          Sagan wanted people to understand that the true power of science lay not in its accumulated knowledge or methodology, but in strength as a way of thinking about the world and framing and answering questions. Not everyone can or should be professional scientist, but the average person needs to have a basic level of literacy and critical thinking skills. Democracy can’t work without that and it’s doubtful whether humanity can survive itself in a modern world without it.

          We are, if anything, in worse shape as a country on that score today than when Sagan hosted the original series. Our students are way behind most of their European and Asian counterparts, and falling farther behind. Our high school students as a whole are not even in the top 20 anymore. We’re falling behind Vietnam, the guys who were fighting us with sharpened sticks a generation ago. The guys we wanted to bomb back to the Stone Age but couldn’t because they were already there.

          Almost half of our population believes in young Earth creationism and even more seem to uncritically swallow whatever self-affirming New Age hokum or conspiracy theory comes down the pike. We’re increasingly a low-wage economy because we’re not the center of innovation in a lot of areas, we don’t invest in basic science and we don’t even bother to analyze any science that tells us anything we don’t want to hear.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)
  • SteveP

    I did not tune in simply because it was advertised as a remake. I.e. nothing new simply previously presented information (probably in HD [where available]!)

  • Mark, we were having fun. 🙁

  • PhilipNerianish

    Wow. Sorry I’m late to the party, but I just wanted to understand something here.

    Mark, your criticism of Cosmos is that it’s anti-Catholic because it inaccurately portrays the Holy Church in a bad light for claiming the Church tortured and burned alive Giordano Bruno for disagreeing with the Church’s cosmology, when really it tortured and burned him alive for disagreeing with the Church’s theology?

    I want to get that right, so correct me if that’s wrong.

    So, if Cosmos accurately showed Bruno being tortured and burned at the stake for his non-Trinitarianism, his denial of transubstantiation, and his other heretical claims, that would show the Mother Church in a good light?

    Your denunciation of the show is based on it’s getting wrong the Church’s rationale for burning Bruno alive?

    • Le Fox

      No, the criticism is that the common narrative is that the Church was so anti-science it burned everyone who dared question it. The truth is not so, and for the most part, those who were burned did so on their own accord, not due to their theories.

      And yes, you are late to the party.

      • PhilipNerianish

        Hmmm, maybe I didn’t have my Catholic-persecution senses up, but I really didn’t get that the first episode of Cosmos at all. Other places I have sensed that narrative, just not in Cosmos.

        To me the narrative was that the Church was authoritarian and didn’t tolerate heresy or theological dissent (which, of course, was true), but non-Catholics often don’t grasp and fail to see how the Church can get worked up about non-Trinitarianism, denial of transubstantiation, scripture and liturgies in non-Latin prior to the Novus Ordo … you know, the traditional burning-alive-at-the-stake offenses. Understandably, non-Catholics don’t see much a moral distinction between torturing and killing people for their views on cosmology and torturing and killing people for their views on theology.

        Complaining about how people get the reasons for Bruno’s execution wrong just comes across as whining pedantry. Yes, yes, I know. “The evil secular narrative casts us as the enemies of science, and it’s not fair!” May as well just cry “Help! Help! We’re being oppressed!”

        • Right. Because no one, ever, nowadays, accuses the church of being anti-science.

    • chezami

      Come on. It’s not hard to figure out. If you want to have a discussion about the fact the Medievals inherited from their ancestors the belief you should torture and kill heretics, that’s fine. But this is not a program on premodern jurisprudence. It’s about science and offering a false narrative about the history of science. That’s the focus of the discussion.

      I oppose the death penalty. At the same time, I recognize that there’s this thing called “historical development” and that holding premoderns to modern standards is a childish game.

      • Jem

        “I recognize that there’s this thing called “historical development” and
        that holding premoderns to modern standards is a childish game.”

        Do you feel that holding moderns to premodern standards is childish, too?

        • chezami


          • Jem

            A simple enough question. You said “I recognize that there’s this thing called “historical development” and that holding premoderns to modern standards is a childish game.”, but does the opposite also apply?

            Personally, I find morality at least as important as technical progress. And, just as we’ve come a long way in our understanding of astronomy since the times of Bruno and Jesus, we’ve also made great strides in terms of how we see women, foreigners, slaves, animals.

            Isn’t it also childish, given ‘historical development’, to hold us to the moral standards of premoderns?

            • chezami

              Of course it is. On the other hand, don’t overrate “progress”. As Chesterton says, the world does not progress, it wobbles. Your assumption “if modern, then better” is a rank and simple minded expression of chronological snobbery that assumes history is nothing but a straight line onward and upward. Sure, medievals used capital punishment. But they also observed standards in warfare that we have long since abandoned, such as at least *trying* not to obliterate civilian populations. Your blithe assumption that you live on the final and permanent platform from which to look down on all previous generations and that you may now kick down the ladder of history by which your ancestors got you to where you are is one of the most bourgeois assumptions of the pop atheist.

              • Jem

                “Your blithe assumption”

                Again, yawn. I didn’t say anything about straightforward upward progress.

                You clearly agree that we should not impose the moral standards of one age on another. Things change. Some for the better, some for the worse. It’s a dynamic situation, and as almost all moral issues are actually just about the conflict of rights, if you grant one party more rights, you’ll almost always be denying another party a right.

                We exist in a very different moral landscape from the one Jesus did. Does it not therefore follow that trying to impose his morality on us wholesale is, in your words, ‘a childish game’?

                • chezami

                  No, it does not follow. Because morality is not entirely relative.

                  • Jem

                    “Because morality is not entirely relative.”

                    “Holding premoderns to modern standards” can only be foolish if morality is relative. You were arguing that torture was fine in the context of Bruno’s time but isn’t now. How much more morally relative could you get?

                    Or is that meant to be covered by ‘entirely’. Are you seriously suggesting that the morality of torture, false imprisonment, the death penalty and freedom of expression ebbs and flows, but that gay marriage is a big deal and so always wrong?

                    • chezami

                      No. I was arguing that people at the time *thought* it was fine. They were objectively wrong, because not all morality is relative and there are things that, whatever *we* think are intrinsically and gravely immoral. We cut slack to people due to such reasons as reduced culpability due to understanding or impaired freedom. But that does not render the matter of the sin less evil. So it was wrong to burn Bruno. But it does not follow that the people doing it knew it was wrong and they may very well have subjectively believed they were doing what justice demanded. I’m inclined to think they did. Not super mysterious since I’m sure you have done things where you felt morally conflicted but thought you needed to do what you did. It’s called “being human”.

                      I’m saying different cultures and civilization put different emphases on what they think is crucial and what they think is negotiable and that these vary in approximating what is actually crucial and negotiable. Have you notice that you are obsessed with dragging gay marriage into every discussion, no matter how irrelevant to the topic? Can you stick to Bruno? The two question are “Is he a martyr to science?” and “Is there a War on Science by the Church?” Answers :no and no. Come to think of it, I can see why you feel the need to muddy the waters with gay marriage.

                    • Jem

                      “Have you notice that you are obsessed with dragging gay marriage into
                      every discussion, no matter how irrelevant to the topic?”

                      It’s entirely relevant to this topic.

                      OK. So the Church were objectively wrong in Bruno’s day to torture, falsely imprison and have him executed. They were also, of course, objectively wrong when they said Bruno was wrong.

                      Is it possible that the current Church are objectively wrong about gay marriage, women priests and abortion?

                    • chezami

                      No. It’s not. The only two questions relevant here are “Is Bruno a martyr for science” and “Is there a War on Science by the Church?” The answer to both those questions is “no”. Gay marriage has nothing to do with it. Stick to the subject. You are incorrigibly scattershot, which only contributes to the impression that you have no interest in truth, merely in winning.

                    • Jem

                      “The only two questions relevant here”

                      Humor me, then, with what you consider to be a side question. If the Church in Bruno’s day was wrong about torture, false imprisonment and execution, could the modern Church be wrong about gay marriage, abortion and women priests?

                    • Jem

                      The answer is ‘yes’, obviously. That’s why you’re not answering.

                    • chezami

                      No. The real reason was I went and took a nap. But it is a mark of the internet demagogue to say “You did not make my question the center of the universe. You skeered!”

                      I realize you very badly want to derail the discussion to something more promising like “Is the Church ever wrong?” (Duh. Of course it is.) But that’s not the issue *here*. The issue is “Is there a war on science by the Church and is Bruno a casualty of that war?” The answers are “bullshit” and “horseshit”. At some level, you are realizing that and so, like a good demagogue, you don’t acknowledge defeat on that point but instead now wish to change the subject–because you do not argue or ask questions to learn, but to Win.

                    • Jem

                      I’m not trying to ‘derail’ anything. I asked a very simple, very specific question:

                      “If the Church in Bruno’s day was wrong about torture, false imprisonment
                      and execution, could the modern Church be wrong about gay marriage,
                      abortion and women priests?’

                      As you flail around, you’re contradicting yourself. And I want you to understand that. You will, I think, come to understand the problem with your broader argument if you just answer that simple question.

                      If you’re right and it’s a side question, then just answer it and that’ll be that and we can move on.

                      For me it’s a fundamental question, one that cuts absolutely to the heart of ‘is there a War on Science and was Bruno a victim of it?’. Answer the question, I’ll explain why. I suspect you know why, and that’s why you’re being so evasive.

                      Truth doesn’t need to act so shiftily. It’s a very simple yes or no answer. So, which is it: yes or no?

                    • chezami

                      That is derailing the discussion, which is not about whether the Church can make bad calls (it can) but about whether there is a war on religion and whether Bruno was a martyr in that war. Answers: Bullshit and horseshit. You can here to press exactly those points, found you can’t and are now changing the subject.

                    • Jem

                      “which is not about whether the Church can make bad calls (it can)”

                      So your answer is ‘yes’ – the Church’s positions on gay marriage, women priests and abortions could turn out to be ‘bad calls’.

                      I’m not phrasing that as a question because it’s the only possible conclusion we can draw from what you’ve said.

                      Margaret1910 is right to be disturbed by this, and the reason is obvious: this isn’t about ‘universal values’ being protected, this is about local political jockeying *pretending* to be universal values, *pretending* to be God’s will to justify its position. At a Vatican level.

                      Bruno was martyred in the name of protecting the authority of a Church whose positions are basically human whims, not ones ‘undergirded’ by a God who they claim had no problem with torture one century, but felt it a grave sin in another.
                      And that’s the implication of the position you’ve backed yourself into, there. And that, I’m sure you’ll agree, is central to the questions being asked. If, at a deeply fundamental level, the Vatican *isn’t* defending eternal values, all its doing is covering its own ass.

                    • margaret1910

                      Please don’t take this the wrong way, Mark, but I am confused by your answer. You say that the Church is sometimes wrong? My understanding is that The Church cannot be wrong on a matter of faith or morals.

                      So, when the Pope declared Bruno a heretic and pronounced the death sentence, (I think) then that was NOT a matter of faith or morals? I find this disturbing. I am not an atheist, I am a Catholic, but I am finding this a matter of concern. Although, I realize that the Pope was not necessarily saying..this man is a heretic and deserves to die, and I say this as the Vicar of Christ..he did pronounce the death sentence using his full force and power as the Vicar of Christ? How do we justify this?

                      Of course, I agree that the Church is not generally opposed to science, and has actually been a promoter of the scientific method for pretty much Her whole existence. I just find this particular incident disturbing.

                    • chezami

                      When a bishop or a Pope makes a prudential judgment about how to apply her tradition to a particular situation, they can and do err. So, for instance, somebody at the Council of Trent decided that clothes needed to be painted on to one of Michaelangelo’s nudes in “The Last Judgment”. Dumb. Bishop can and do do stupid and even sinful things, as we are all too well aware. Infallibility is, in fact, a very limited protection guaranteeing that the Church will not define as dogma something counter to the faith.

                    • Jem

                      “When a bishop or a Pope makes a prudential judgment about how to apply
                      her tradition to a particular situation, they can and do err.”
                      Is it possible the Popes of Bruno’s era were right, and the Popes of our era are wrong, and actually torture’s OK?

                      “Infallibility is, in fact, a very limited protection guaranteeing that
                      the Church will not define as dogma something counter to the faith.”

                      Are the teachings on abortion, gay marriage and women priests dogma?

                    • Jem

                      Again, these are not diversions, they are absolutely central to the issue at hand. The ‘War’ is not a war as such, it’s the belief that the Church is the ultimate authority on Earth. And that when a scientific discovery contradicts Church teaching, it should be ignored or fudged.

                    • chezami

                      No. The Church does not claim to be “the ultimate authority on earth” in matters not pertaining to faith and moral. It defers to other authorities in matters outside its competence. That’s why the Galileo story is such a rare one. As a general rule, it sticks with “consensus science” but is willing to change its mind when the consensus does. There is no “Church teaching” on scientific matters per se, but on faith and morals. And this latter develops over time as we come to understand more deeply the implications of the Tradition. Changes in technology can affect this understanding (as for instance, when prison technology becomes good enough that it is no longer necessary to execute prisoners, the Church becomes vocal in its insistence that the death penalty be abolished. The insistence that the worst sinner is still one for whom Christ died is inherent in the Tradition from the start. It’s practical expression in Church teaching has to await the moment when murderous sinners can be safely jailed without killing them to protect innocents.

                      In between those two historical developments are a host of others, including the movement from the idea “Error has no rights” (which, among other things resulted in the unjust burning of Bruno) and the realization “persons in error *do* have rights”. Humans are slow to figure these things out and our victories are hard won. People with some appreciation of history get this. Shallow suburban westerners wonder why their ancestors were so stoopid and have absolutely no sense of their provincial historical blindness because they assume themselves to be the summit of History.

                    • Jem

                      “Shallow suburban westerners wonder why their ancestors were so stoopid”

                      I’m Oxford educated and married to a professor of medieval history. My objection is the *exact* opposite of that: the late medieval Church had a system at least as elaborate as the modern scientific consensus in place, one that endured longer than the current models of evolution or quantum physics or the Big Bang have. The problem is they doubled down on it. They taught Aristotle as fact – I’ve read some of the fifteenth century papers the Vatican used to explain the Eucharist in terms we’d call ‘scientific’. And they’re dependent on geocentrism, they’re dependent on hylomorphism.

                      As Ye Olde Statistician will no doubt agree, Catholicism doesn’t work if Aristotle doesn’t hold. If hylomorphism isn’t a thing, then the Eucharist isn’t a thing.

                      *That’s* the problem. The priests who went after Galileo (and Bruno, and Servetus) weren’t reality-denying shamans and cretins who couldn’t see what was obvious. They were exactly the opposite. They saw many more steps ahead than Galileo: that once you overturned Aristotle, you overturned a thousand years of Church teaching on cosmology.
                      It’s the same logic that led to the Vatican delaying and delaying the retraction of the teaching that all Jews shared collective guilt for the death of Christ. If you’re saying that a whole race of men can’t be held responsible for the actions of one or two of them thousands of years ago … well, where does that leave the Fall? And that’s the reason it took until *2011* for the Vatican to exonerate Jews for the death of Christ.

                      Not because Catholic priests are stubborn or stupid, because they’re *smart*. Because they know their theology and they know that if you start unpicking at one bit, the whole thing starts to crumble.

                    • Jem

                      ‘Humans are slow to figure these things out and our victories are hard won.’

                      I’ve just noticed a pattern here, and forgive me if this is off topic or scattershot, but I just re-read all your replies on this thread to check it, and I think it’s relevant and I hope you at least think it’s interesting to note:

                      You use a lot of martial imagery.

                      Here it’s a ‘hard won victory’, elsewhere you think I’m here to ‘win’ using ‘scattershot’.

                      I don’t think there’s a Catholic ‘War on Science’. I think it’s less melodramatic than a sort of ‘great men of history fighting battles’ model. As you say, even in the modern age there are plenty of Catholic scientists (prominent and less prominent). I can give you a new name for your list that I come across a lot in my line of work: Miriam Stimson.

                      We agree that it’s not some ‘us and them’ thing with ‘Catholicism’ on one side of the plain and the massed forces of ‘Science’ on the other.

                      And it’s not really about ‘winning the day’. I’m sure for ever loony mystic who it turned out later got something right like Bruno, there were a thousand loony mystics who were completely wrong.

                      Is it possible to show a consistent pattern through history of Catholic special forces taking out high value enemy scientists while the Pope co-ordinates it from the Vatican situation room? No, of course not.

                      The way I see it is more like institutional bullying, a use of power and position to silence dissent, to say ‘we will talk about this but not that’, to say ‘this oversteps’. There’s the instinct that anyone who disagrees must be shallow or thoughtless, perhaps because “science” is defined as a rather limited practical thing, a tool for working out the pH levels of water and the like that doesn’t have the sort of serious implications that, say, theology does. There’s the idea that the ‘scientific worldview’ as seen through, say, the Hubble telescope is limited, but that the Catholic concerns are infinite. I think *that* is still evident.

                      I don’t think the general statement ‘Catholicism uses its institutional power’ is a controversial one, is it? Or that ‘Catholicism has been known to abuse its institutional power’ is.

                      So the issue at hand is not ‘can you name any famous casualties in the War between Catholicism and Science?’ it’s ‘has the Catholic Church ever abused its institutional power when it comes to dealing with practitioners of the study of knowledge?’.

                      Not as dramatic, but, I think, the actual issue at hand.

                    • has the Catholic Church ever abused its institutional power when it comes to dealing with practitioners of the study of knowledge?

                      But that critique applies to every single institution ever charged with preserving knowledge. Cantor was persecuted by other math professors. That doesn’t invalidate the institution of university mathematics departments. People have been denied tenure for reasons not directly related to the legitimacy of their ideas. That doesn’t mean that universities are especially evil.

                      Absus non tollit usum.

                    • Jem

                      “Absus non tollit usum.”

                      Iniuria non excusat iniuriam. The issue here – as with any number of other Church scandals – is not ‘have other people done this, too?’, let alone ‘has the Church done anything besides this?, neither of which is in dispute, the issue is ‘has the Church?’.

                    • the issue is ‘has the Church?’

                      Yes. So what?

                    • Jem

                      “he issue is ‘has the Church?'”
                      ‘Yes. So what?’

                      I will try to explain by analogy:

                      If a man, call him Mark, says ‘I wish people wouldn’t say priests kick kittens in the face’, and a woman, call her Jem, says ‘there are examples of priests kicking kittens in the face as part of a general anti-cat climate’ then if another man, Jon, chips in with ‘priests kick kittens in the face, but so do lots of other people’, then Jon is agreeing with Jem and disagreeing with Mark.

                    • Jon is agreeing with Jem and disagreeing with Mark

                      All except for the “general anti-cat climate” part, which you have not established.

                    • Jem

                      “All except for the “general anti-cat climate” part, which you have not established.”
                      So, stepping out of the analogy and back to what we were talking about, if you’re agreeing that the Catholic Church as an institution abuses its power when it comes to individual scientists, I’m happy to discuss whether that makes it pro or anti science.

                    • Which scientists are you talking about?

                    • Jem

                      Please pick an argument.

                      I asked: “has the Catholic Church ever abused its institutional power when it
                      comes to dealing with practitioners of the study of knowledge?”

                      You answered: ‘Yes. So what?’

                      I agree it’s ‘yes’. So, if we’re both agreed on ‘yes’, we can move on to ‘so what?’. If you’ve changed your answer, that’s delightful, but for sake of clarity please just say ‘I would like to revise my previous answer’.

                    • chezami

                      So you’re not talking about scientists.

                    • Jem,

                      I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I just looked at the rest of this thread and your discussions with Mark and I realized I don’t have time for the kind of conversation you want or need to have. If you’re ever in NH, contact me and I’d love to talk as long as you like.

                    • chezami

                      “I don’t think there’s a Catholic ‘War on Science’.”


                    • chezami

                      Two point: The Catholic Church is Catholic: i.e. universal. But the paradox of the Faith is that it’s claims are quite limited. It claims to have a received a few point of revelation of which it is sure and basically treats the rest of the universe with wonder, letting such disciplines as politics, science, art, and philosophy do their thing with their own integrity. Ideology, in contrast, seizes on a small piece of truth and then tries to compress all of reality into it such that everything is about gender, or race, or class, or evolution, or electricity, or what have you.

                      Does the Church do this perfectly? Of course not. It is not even controversial that the Church at times abuses the power entrusted to it. That will continue to the Last Day, because the Church is staffed exclusively by sinners.

                    • Jem

                      “But the paradox of the Faith is that it’s claims are quite limited.”

                      OK … you’ve helped me with this before. And this is clearly worrying Margaret, too: isn’t it fair to say that the Church blurs the lines a little, here? That there appear to be things said/taught which carry the full weight of the Pope, Vatican and so on and so on which exceed those limits?

                      How can we say that Clement VIII was wrong to condone specific acts of torture, but that Benedict XVI was right to condemn the general concept of gay marriage, say?

                      The Bruno relevance here is that I think the answer has to be ‘look, you have to trust the Church to eventually come to the correct position’. Well, fine … but other Christian factions have come to the position that gay marriage, women priests and artificial contraception are OK, so what part of the ‘limited claims’ rules out Catholicism coming to the same conclusions?

                      “Ideology, in contrast, seizes on a small piece of truth and then tries to compress all of reality into it”

                      Um … so which part of reality isn’t encompassed by Catholicism? Is how I express my atheism, (which derives almost entirely from ‘it’s not axiomatic that any gods exist’) really more ideological in your terms than Catholicism?

                    • chezami

                      1. No.
                      2. No. But they are infallible. You can never take innocent human life. There is no such thing as gay “marriage” (though is Caesar wants to pretend that with civil “marriage” then that does not pertain to the sacrament). And the matter of the sacrament of ordination–men–comes to us from Jesus. It’s not that the Church refuses to ordain women. It’s that she does not have the authority to do it any more than she can baptize with wine or consecrate water in the Eucharist.

                      But all that is a distraction from whether there is a War on Science by the Church and whether Bruno was a casualty in that war. And you know this, which is why you are going down a fresh rabbit hole. I answered you this time, since your question actually mentioned Bruno (and increasing rarity). But now I have to get to work.

                    • Jem

                      If you don’t want to discuss your working behind those ‘no’s, then I won’t push you. But your answer there is rather telling:

                      “You can never take innocent human life.”

                      The implication is that Bruno’s was not an ‘innocent human life’.

                      There’s a distinction between the wrongness of the death penalty and the wrongness of Bruno being found guilty.

                      Do you believe the Inquisition was right to find Bruno guilty? Do you think that they were right to put him on trial in the first place?

                    • chezami

                      No. The implication is that abortion is the taking of innocent human life and that therefore the Church will never changes its teaching on that. Once again, your scattershot attempt to find some way to declare victory lead you off into rhetorical toolies.

                    • Jem

                      “your scattershot”

                      Mark, you asked me to confine this to Bruno. Your blog, so happy to do that. And, in that spirit, I asked ‘Do you believe the Inquisition was right to find Bruno guilty?’.

                      Is your ‘no’ your answer to that specific question about Bruno?

                    • chezami

                      Jem. You asked if the teaching on abortion is dogma. I answered that the Church has always and will always condemn the taking of innocent human life, which is what abortino is. Stop being hyper-clever.

                    • Jem

                      Mark. I’m not doing this to score points. I’m trying to clarify which question you were answering when you said ‘no’. It would clarify two issues.

                      1. You obviously disagree with the punishment Bruno received, but do you disagree with the idea of putting him on trial in the first place?

                      2. Was Bruno innocent or guilty?

                      This isn’t an attempt at a gotcha. My answers would be this: (2) yes, Bruno was guilty, (1) no, if the institution respected the study of knowledge, he shouldn’t have been put on trial.

                      What I worry about is that your ‘will always condemn the taking of innocent human life’ line leaves a loophole which is, ‘well, Bruno wasn’t innocent, was he?’. Is that an interpretation you are implying, or one I’m just inferring?

                    • chezami

                      Jem: When you fail to acknowledge the simple fact that I was answering your question about abortion you don’t impress me as somebody who is really trying to get at truth, but merely as somebody trying to win.

                      If, by “trial”, you mean do I think it wrong for the Church to have tried to determine (over a long period of years) whether Bruno was teaching heresy (not science) or not. No. Not particularly. The Church’s job is to guard the deposit of faith. I don’t think civil penalties should apply to those guilty of heresy. But I do think that it’s not a particularly bad thing to know who is teaching rubbish, what rubbish they are teaching, and how it compares with the faith.

                      And yes, Bruno was guilty of heresy.

                      And I repeat, your imagined “loophole” is the coinage of your brain. I was not addressing the matter of Bruno’s execution at all. I was answering your question about whether the Church’s teaching on abortion is going to change. It’s not. When you take a straight answer to a straight question and try to torque it into “So you *do* think the execution of Bruno was fine” you just persuade me that you are full of crap and arguing insincerely.

                    • Jem

                      ‘you just persuade me that you are full of crap and arguing insincerely’

                      Then I apologize for leaving room for that misinterpretation.

                      “whether Bruno was teaching heresy (not science) or not”

                      I don’t think Bruno’s a very good example of a modern scientist, but I do think his case points to issues around science and heresy. Cantor, who was mentioned earlier, had the same problem (and around the same issue, the nature of the infinite).

                      ‘Science’ for me would encompass studies of population growth, child mortality and of disease control.

                      Now, as I understand it, I can’t possibly ever be a heretic, as I’m not Catholic. But my field of work has, on occasion, touched on demographics in Africa, medical ethics and so on. So this isn’t coming from some shallow, suburban, first world, or indeed second hand, perspective.

                      Now, in the modern era, a Pope isn’t going to have anyone executed for heresy. The word has a medieval ring to it. But if a Catholic scientist working in, say, Sierra Leone, could produce statistical evidence that women who are educated in the use of contraceptives *even those who don’t use them* live longer, healthier, more prosperous lives, and so do their children, that, in fact, more of that woman’s children would end up surviving infancy [the choice would be ‘have six babies, two of which survive’ versus ‘plan for three babies, all three survive’], would it be heresy to suggest that education?

                      Or would ‘science’ end the moment the report was produced?

                    • chezami

                      No. It would not be heresy. Facts are fact, assuming the facts can be verified. But, of course, one could conceivably assemble data that parents who eat their young live longer, healthier, and more prosperous lives (according to purely secular metrics). Executives who sold zyklon B to the Nazi regime lived prosperous lives. It does not follow that the moral dimension to the question has therefore been exhausted merely by appeals to health and prosperity. White people who slaughtered Indians and took their land went on to great wealth and heath. Does it follow that it was a good thing to do?

                      In short, yes. Science ends the moment the report is filed, because mere physical measurements of data cannot tell you what the right course of action is.

                    • Jem

                      “Science ends the moment the report is filed, because mere physical
                      measurements of data cannot tell you what the right course of action is.”
                      I don’t mean this to be a rabbithole, I’ll try not to get all rhetorical or eat up your day or anything, but I’d love to discuss this a little more, if that’s OK.

                      I’m a medical statistician. At no point do I get to say what doctors or the people who pay them actually do. But what I can tell them, and in a lot of cases with considerable accuracy (I’m not boasting, it’s just that there’s a lot of data) what variables can make a difference to outcomes.

                      ‘Quality of life’ is subjective, yes. But the example I gave is … well, a loaded one. The only possible desirable outcome here, from a ‘quality of life’ issue is ‘babies surviving infancy’. It’s as close to a no-brainer as you can get.

                      The actual numbers in Sierra Leone used to be 267 infant deaths per 1000 births. The reason was definitely not ‘Catholicism’, I’m not saying it was, but … look:


                      See if you can spot where the education campaign started. I find it really, really easy to say what the ‘right course of action’ was, there. It was something our team predicted. And it was fought tooth and nail by the Bush administration because the teaching materials mentioned contraception.

                      *Scientifically* I’d say there’s just no discussion to be had here. So I think here is a place where religion and science clash in the modern world. Again, I risk being rhetorical, but I think that this is a point where the Vatican would seek to protect absolutist dogma over … well, honestly, ‘reality’. If the ‘bigger picture’ kills more babies, I say there’s something wrong with the bigger picture and would love to know what my error might be in saying that.

                    • margaret1910

                      I sort of get what you are saying. Because a particular Pope condemned a man to death for heresy, that was a “wrong” prudential judgment.

                      My problem with that is..that when a Pope pronounces, publicly, that an individual is a heretic AND gives him a death sentence..that is a little more than painting clothes onto Michaelangelo’s wonderful work. We are talking about a human being here.

                      I was not actually talking about the infallibility doctrine. I understand that the Pope could have been (and, I think, was) in error in this case.My issue is, how far does this extend?

                      For instance, is “just war” a doctrine, or just a tradition. If the Pope declared that atomic bombs should be dropped on Japan, would that be a prudential judgment? Or would that be considered heretical? I am well aware that the Pope is NOT the Church, and that he makes mistakes. My concern is that we may define, too narrowly, when the Church may be wrong. It looks like, from the outside, that we just blithely dismiss truly horrible things that we have done as “not infallible”, and insist that other things are right and true because the Church asserts that they are.

                      Trust me, this is a question, not an attack on the Church. I am just wondering how we make these assessments. I am well aware that the Church has a well thought-out theology. I am not a theologian, and want to think with the mind of the Church, but I find this…difficult.

                    • chezami

                      Popes didn’t pronounce the death sentence, nor bishops.

                      Just war teaching is an attempt to apply the Church tradition to questions about the legitimacy of the use of violence. It is a synthesis of certain things we know from the tradition.

                      Infallibility is generally a rare thing as the Church navigate moral complexity. Mostly it’s a matter of reasonable prudential judgment.

                    • margaret1910

                      Ah, then I am wrong. I thought the Pope at the time condemned Bruno to death. Upon further review, I think you are right. Still, the Church did not object to his death sentence, as far as I know. Which I do find..difficult to understand.

                      I know that the Church works long and hard to define doctrine. I am not sure that infallibility is quite so rare as you say. Formal infallibility, sure. My understanding is that all doctrine is infallible? Am I wrong? I thought that Church doctrine is unchangeable..although how we understand that doctrine may develop? As I say, I am not a theologian, but I have difficulties with how we define doctrine.

                    • Jem

                      “I thought the Pope at the time condemned Bruno to death. Upon further review, I think you are right.”

                      Wait. That’s technically right: the execution was carried out by the secular authorities. But he was tried by the Inquisition and the Pope issued a declaration that he was a heretic *during his trial by the Church authorities for heresy*. Everything in life is more difficult if you dig into it, but don’t fall for thinking this was some wild coincidence that the Church only found out about later.

                      Don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a man who the Church had burned to death for some speculative philosophical writing.

                      Was he a ‘scientist’? Yes. Science is the study of knowledge, not the practice of measuring things in laboratories. Would he count as a scientist in the modern day? No.

                      Was it a ‘war’? No, not really. It was a straightforward example of men running a powerful institution persecuting someone who they felt was threatening their authority.

                      Was it an isolated incident? Absolutely not.

                      Does Catholicism today have the same attitude? Well, the head of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute just said that “the hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities” should “all be taken out and shot.”

                      No, he’s not an archbishop. He’s doing it in the name of Catholicism, his group gets the tax breaks that come from being a recognized Catholic institution. Mark, his comments were widely distributed – can you find me the Vatican condemnation? Cardinal Dolan’s? Anyone’s?

                    • margaret1910

                      I thought I replied to this last night. I do agree, upon further research, that neither the Pope nor Bishops pronounced the death sentence.

                      I am just struggling here with the idea of “prudential judgment” which sometimes seems to be a “get out of jail free card”. We Catholics trust the Magisterium to lead us..and conform our consciences to it. In the time of Bruno, it certainly appears that the Church had the power to stop the execution, even if by just refusing to give the secular authorities the ability to do so. (Obviously, I could be wrong about this..any info on how the Church interacted with secular authorities at the time is appreciated.)

                      Oh, btw, I know this is a bit off-topic, as I absolutely agree that Bruno was not killed due to his “scientific” opinions.

  • Jem

    “Then, ask for other names.”

    Yes. On many occasions when you’ve laid down this challenge, I’ve said ‘Michael Servetus’ and you’ve plead the vapors and vanished from the discussion.

    • chezami

      You do realize that Servetus was killed by Calvinists, right?

      • Jem

        Sigh. Someone’s got Google, and two minutes after learning the name, he’s already an expert on the man. Well done.

        Yes, I know he was executed by Calvinists. You do know why he was in Geneva? Keep reading down that Wikipedia entry, you’ll get there.

        • Rosemarie


          Nothing there about Servetus being persecuted or executed for any scientific beliefs or findings. Like Bruno, it was for theological reasons; specifically denial of the Trinity and infant baptism. Although he was a physician, he was not persecuted *as* a scientist or on account of science. So he can’t be counted as a “martyr” for science.

          • Jem

            ‘So he can’t be counted as a “martyr” for science.’

            Again, it’s an utterly absurd distinction. He’s a man of learning, using his reason and writing, and tortured by the Catholics, executed by the Calvinists.

            • Rosemarie


              Yet he was treated that way because he used his “reason” and writing to deny religious beliefs. His understanding of pulmonary circulation is not what upset people. Catholics and Protestants did not oppose him because they were scared of science, but because he taught theological heresy.

              Had he not been a physician or scientist of any kind, he would still have received the same treatment because of his denial of the Trinity and other doctrines. So Servetus was not “martyred” for science; the distinction is perfectly valid.

              • Jem

                No. He was a prominent, published, popular man of learning, not some random member of the public who happened to say something about the Trinity.

                The ‘threat’ to the Church wasn’t ‘some guy said this’ it was ‘some guy that lots of people respect and think is smart said this’.

                Also, be careful of your terminology. Many ‘Catholics and Protestants’ clearly liked what he said (another factor in his persecution). What you mean is that certain prominent priests, Catholic bigwigs and (after they’d forced him to Geneva) Calvin himself opposed him.

                The Church has the same policy then as now – some areas of learning and knowledge are their territory, and theirs alone. Science ‘shouldn’t’ speak to certain topics.

                • Rosemarie


                  Nonetheless, he was not persecuted because the Church feared scientific advancement and knowledge. Had his religious views been orthodox he would have been left alone, like many other scientists at that time. He was treated that way *because* of his heterodox religious beliefs, not out of some hatred for or fear of science.

                  The question is: Is the Church anti-science and did she persecute scientists because of that? The question is not: Did the Church oppose people (who also happened to be scientists) for promoting religious heresy? An example supporting the latter doesn’t prove the former.

                  • Jem

                    “The question is: Is the Church anti-science and did she persecute scientists because of that”

                    And your argument is that they persecuted scientists, but it was a complete coincidence.

                    The Cosmos account is making a broad point that’s correct: there was an orthodox cosmological view, brutally enforced by the Church, and that some of the people they tortured, exiled, persecuted or had killed turned out to be right. As the show makes clear, in Bruno’s case it was little more than a lucky guess.

                    At heart, I strongly suspect the instinct to hurt such people comes down to simple bullying. Modern priests, left to their own devices, have proved more prone than the general population to hurt the weak in their charge.

                    But the ‘scientific’ explanation is simple enough: Catholicism was and is wedded to Aristotle’s physics.

                    The common narrative of ‘dark ages priest refuses to accept observed reality’ *is* wrong. It’s not that they were superstitious primitives. It’s exactly the opposite. The system they taught as Catholic doctrine was extremely complex, extremely well thought through, very long-established and the basis of their power and authority.

                    The slight fly in the ointment being that it’s all nonsense. We don’t live in a small, recent universe with Earth in the middle. We don’t live in a universe where cause and effect work in neat chains.

                    Aristotle is the basis of Aquinas’ reasoning, for one thing. If hylomorphism
                    doesn’t hold, the mechanism by which the Church continues to this day to
                    claim the Eucharist works doesn’t actually hold.

                    By the way, hylomorphism doesn’t hold. Sorry. It’s complete nonsense, entirely invalidated by the discovery of mass/energy equivalence.

                    While the Church’s instinct to brutality and sanction has been curbed by secular society, now, modern official Church documents retain the same basic premise: that when it comes to the ‘cosmos’, the Church has special wisdom to impart in ‘dialogue’ with ‘science’, that ‘faith is above reason’.

                    The absurd official position is that ‘science and technology’ can’t have anything to say about ‘the meaning of existence’ without the help of the Church.

                    • chezami

                      No, Jem. There was lots of intellectual ferment and the Church had no particular investment in an “orthodox cosmological view”. Seriously. Go educate yourself. The reason Galileo is always trotted out is that he is an exception, not the rule. Bruno was no a scientist. Servetus got in trouble for his theological, not scientific, views. Here: learn. You’ve uncritically bought a creation myth of modern atheism.

                    • Jem

                      “You’ve uncritically bought a creation myth of modern atheism”

                      You seem to have adopted the view that endlessly repeating something makes it true.

                      The Church claimed and continues to claim that it has a special place in the human endeavor of understanding the world.

                      It’s nice, sweet even, that you understand now that the Church can’t appear anti-scientific. But the modern Church’s semi-scientific nature is just incoherent. It wants to accept the scientific worldview but with cheat codes – ‘directed evolution’, ‘ensoulment at conception’, ‘medical miracles’, ‘unnatural sexual urges’. These are just nonsense terms. Stories you tell yourself, predicated on the vestiges of a supernatural worldview. You want science, but with a few ghosts and angels and magic tricks held in reserve.

                      That’s not science, that’s anti-scientific. It’s like saying you accept mathematics, but reserve the right to believe mathematicians may have missed some whole numbers between 1 and 10, and that there’s no such thing as Pi.

                      If you believe there’s a grand scheme of things, and you look at the universe depicted in Cosmos, the one modern astronomy has revealed, can you honestly say that it looks like the human race has the central place in that grand scheme that Christianity affords it? If so, define ‘central’.

                    • SteveP

                      “If you believe there’s a grand scheme of things, and you look at the universe depicted in Cosmos, the one modern astronomy has revealed, can you honestly say that it looks like the human race has the central place in that grand scheme that Christianity affords it?”

                      Sure, why not? You are the observer. Have you observed from a position outside the universe? Are you ever able to move the centrality of your observation to occupy multiple observational positions simultaneously?

                    • Jem

                      “Sure, why not?”

                      We’re way past the point where that’s good enough.


                      That’s the question. ‘Why?’. What’s the positive, assertive reason that’s the case. ‘Who can say?’ is not an argument.

                    • SteveP

                      Well, wait. Who measured the point and is the measurement relative to their position or to some other entity’s position? Further, how is “good enough” quantified?

                    • Jem

                      Again, feel free to explain ‘why’, rather than wibbling on.

                      What is the positive, assertive case that human beings have a central role in a universe we know to be so vast that well over 99% of it could not possibly even theoretically have the information that human beings even exist?

                    • chezami

                      An excellent recitation of the creation myth. Whereas historically speaking, the scientific method owes its birth to Latin Christendom, the 18th and 19th century cult of Reason tried to use the creation myth of the War of the Church on Science to claim (exactly as you do) that it’s one or the other. But of course faith and reason do not contradict and God the Creator is also God the Redeemer. He who gave the law of nature science explores can also, as he wills, alter those laws. Ocassionally he does and science can have nothing to say about it. I’m not sure what you mean by “directed evolution”. If you are talking about ID, I don’t believe that. If, however, you mean that time, space, matter and energy obey certain laws and that these can result in living systems, then I don’t see what you mean by “undirected”. Aren’t the laws directions? Likewise, I don’t know what you think “ensoulment” means. If you think it means that’s when the ghost enters the machine that makes you a good Cartesian but not somebody who understands Catholic teaching. And if you have a problem with healings that science can’t explain you should be prepared for a life of disappointment. But the real key words in what you write are “vestiges of a supernatural worldview” because it show clearly that you imagine the Faith is a gigantic God of the gaps proposition: that everytime we come to understand how something works, God is therefore disproved to exist. This is to badly misunderstand the Faith. But it’s a cherished part of the myth, because atheism uses this silly notion to claim that God is being pushed out of the field by science.

                      You’re the one saying human beings occupy the central place in the universe. Christianity says that God is the Center.

                    • Jem

                      “I’m not sure what you mean by “directed evolution”.”
                      Do you believe God has or has ever had any control or influence over the results of the evolutionary process? Or was His role confined to ‘creating evolution’?

                      If you believe God ‘steers’ evolution, you don’t believe in evolution as understood by modern scientists. And it’s not a question of atheism, particularly, it’s the fundamental point about the evolutionary model: that it is a self-contained, self-explanatory system.

                      There’s possibly room for a ‘light the blue touchpaper’ type of divine presence at the beginning of the process. What there absolutely and fundamentally isn’t room for is God steering bloodlines to directly create human beings, not as a species, let alone individually.

                      Catholics don’t typically believe in ‘evolution’. They believe in a weird hybrid thing that looks like it but has God pushing DNA around to achieve desired results.

                      And that is your right, and that’s fine, and go in peace and everything, but don’t pretend it’s what evolutionary biologists or geneticists are talking about when they say ‘evolution’.

                    • chezami

                      You seem to have a very muddled idea of creation. I I have no idea what you mean by “creating evolution”. I also have no idea what you mean by “steering evolution”. Catholic Christians who know their faith and have not drunk in fundamentalist notions believe that the same God who created the universe also invests in that creation potentialities that unroll (Latin: evolvere) over time. So the created world acts with freedom, but at the same time that freedom is governed by the Providence of God expressed (among other ways) in the laws of nature itself. Consequently, there’s no particular conflict between speaking of the universe (and life) evolving and speaking of God’s providence. Creation isn’t the spark at the beginning. It’s happening right now. God isn’t just filling up the little cracks science can’t explain. He’s undergirding the whole shooting works in every square inch and nanosecond. He’s not a competitor with the rest of creation:


                      “Catholics don’t typically believe in ‘evolution’. They believe in a weird hybrid thing that looks like it but has God pushing DNA around to achieve desired results.”

                      Certain Catholics ignorant of the best Catholic teaching certainly do buy ID arguments like the only you just stated. They also buy horoscopes and palm reading, which the Church says is rubbish. But so what?

                    • Jem

                      The rather telling problem here is that the language we have to use about God is almost entirely incompatible with the language we use when talking about evolution.

                      So there will be translation difficulties. Which rather demonstrates my point.

                      Do you believe God set evolution in motion with specific goals in mind?
                      I understand God’s notion of time is different, so please don’t wibble away about that. Colloquially, functionally, whatever, do you believe God used evolution as a method of bringing forth the human race? Or was he happy to let whatever happened happen?

                    • chezami

                      Yeah. I’ve noticed that when I talk with my accountant and plumber, they almost never use theological language to discuss their disciplines. (*sotto voce whisper*) Very *telling*.

                      “Set evolution in motion”? So you’re still stuck thinking that “creation” equal the Big Bang and after that it’s a random crap shoot with God wondering how it will all turn out?

                      And you think God has “notions” of time? Guesses about what it might be? Wondering about how it will all go?

                      If you are asking whether human beings are intended by God then of course! What else to you think Providence means than that creation is ordered by the Creator? What you call “chance” I call Providence.

                    • Jem

                      “I’ve noticed that when I talk with my accountant and plumber, they almost never use theological language to discuss their disciplines.”

                      Ironically, whenever I get a bill from my accountant or plumber, I tend to cry out ‘Jesus Christ!’.

                      “So you’re still stuck thinking that “creation” equal the Big Bang and
                      after that it’s a random crap shoot with God wondering how it will all
                      turn out?”

                      No. You’re still stuck in thinking it’s not.

                      And that’s my point. What you believe is not evolution, as understood by science. Evolution is, necessarily, a blind process or it’s not evolution.

                      Now, you can say that modern science must therefore be wrong. That in the case of Church v Science, there’s a fundamental dispute and you’re on the side of the Church.

                      And … that’s the game. Thanks for playing.

                    • chezami

                      Science can have no say on whether Providence is at work in the Providential laws (including laws governing “chance”) that undergird the universe. That’s a metaphysical, not a physical, question. And yes, your claim that science can see beyond time, space, matter, and energy to declare the existence or, in your case, non-existence of an ordering Providence is the textbook definition of scientism: the belief that science Explains it All.

                    • Jem


                      You really are all over the place, aren’t you?

                      “That’s a metaphysical, not a physical, question.”

                      What’s the answer?

                    • chezami

                      To the question of whether God’s providence orders all of creation? Answer: yes.

                    • Jem

                      “To the question of whether God’s providence orders all of creation? Answer: yes.”
                      I say ‘no’. Demonstrate that you are right.

                    • Jem

                      “Likewise, I don’t know what you think “ensoulment” means.”

                      What was the difference between Adam and his father? According to modern Catholic teaching. My understanding – and I appreciate that Catholic theology is all over the place on this one – is that current teaching is that evolution is true and Adam was descended from apes, and that cavemen came along and Adam wasn’t the first caveman but he was the first to be given a human soul.

                      If I’m wrong, please tell me.

                      I mean, it sounds comical, but I had an ordained priest pal explain that to me.

                    • chezami

                      Speaking of being all over the place, You speak of ensoulment at conception–and then leap to Adam and his father. Do you understand that “soul” or “anima” simply refers to the fact that a thing is alive. So both Adam and pere had souls. So does your dog and your petunia. A human has a rational soul (i.e, is capable of reason). A non-rational creature does not. It always puzzles me when atheist materialists indulge in endless sneers at theist for their alleged irrationality and trumpet the cult of Science and Reason–and then sneer when theists say that human are rational animals in distinction to non-rational creatures. Make up you mind.

                    • Jem

                      “Make up you mind.”

                      Me mind’s fine, thanks. In your story, did Adam’s father have a ‘rational soul’? My understanding is ‘no’.

                      And all you’re doing is agreeing that there is a distinct human soul, you just call it a ‘rational soul’.

                      I don’t particularly distinguish between ‘rational’ and ‘non rational’ animals. There are animals capable of at least primitive rational actions. There are machines and computer programs capable of coming to the same decisions a rational person would. Clearly ‘rationality’ is a spectrum within the human population.

                      As I say, I’m not wedded to the idea of human uniqueness. I don’t think there’s any particular reason to see us as ‘special’. Are you?

                    • chezami

                      Depends what you mean by “special”. Do you argue thing we are discussing here with your dog?

                    • Jem

                      “Do you argue things we are discussing here with your dog?”

                      Ah. The ‘Search for Long Trunks’ fallacy.

                      You believe the universe privileges intelligence. The error is that you’ve taken the thing we’re best at out of the creatures on Earth and, concluded that means the universe was built to favor that. The analogy is that elephants would search other planets for signs of long noses.

                    • chezami

                      Um, no. Not saying anything about The universe. I’m saying that if you don’t think there’s anything particularly special about homo sapiens, why do you confine your discussion of philosophy only to that species? It’s as though you think *only* that species capable of abstracting and reason at the level necessary to have such a discussion. It’s like we’re special or something. As I say, make up your mind.

                    • Jem

                      “It’s like we’re special or something.”

                      Define ‘special’. We can do something the other animals can’t do as well. Other animals also have ‘special’ skills.

                      Your mistake, and be comforted that you’re hardly the first one to make it or to fail to understand it even when it’s explained to you, is basically the one an angler fish would make if it thought ‘you know what makes us Top Fish? That we have that fishing rod thing stuck to our head. God must favor us’.

                    • Rosemarie


                      >>>And your argument is that they persecuted scientists, but it was a complete coincidence.

                      What I’m saying is that the Church was concerned about religious heresy and punished people who promoted heterodox religious views regardless of their occupation. Bruno was not a scientist yet he got in trouble because he denied the Trinity. OTOH, many scientists of that era did not suffer at all because they were religiously orthodox. Servetus was not persecuted as a scientist, it was his religious views that caused him trouble. Therefore he does not qualify as a “martyr for science.” That’s what I’ve been saying all along.

                • chezami

                  Sooooo… you’re saying that “science” (which is now apparently a monolith for you) is somehow competent to speak about everything? What is the scientific measurement of how the golden morning I am looking at recalls for me the poignancy of fishing on the Skagit River? How much does the majesty and glory of Beethoven’s 9th weigh? The absurd notion that all of existence is reducible to measuring and manipulating the metric properties of time, space, matter and energy is one of the adolescent fantasies of the materialist atheist. It’s why she needs the creation myth of the War of Religion on Science, to shove religion off the field and claim to have the power to Know Everything.

                  • Jem

                    “you’re saying that “science” is somehow competent to speak about everything?”

                    Yawn. That old line? No. I’m saying Catholicism has nothing useful or interesting to add to ‘science’. It can agree with the scientific consensus or not, it’s entirely irrelevant by this point.

                    “The absurd notion that all
                    of existence is reducible to measuring and manipulating the metric
                    properties of time, space, matter and energy is one of the adolescent
                    fantasies of the materialist atheist. It’s why she needs the creation
                    myth of the War of Religion on Science, to shove religion off the field
                    and claim to have the power to Know Everything.”
                    Don’t be silly. Scientists don’t sit around coming up with ways to discredit Catholicism. The Church was collateral damage as biologists, geologists and astronomers figured out that our true place in the universe didn’t match our old understanding.

                    The whole point is that ‘science’ didn’t need to fight a war. We agree with the Catechism – truth need not fear investigation. We investigated. Turns out the old Christian model of the universe doesn’t match up with what was found.

                    And you’re the one locked into this narrative where science is ‘scientism’. Science isn’t ‘measuring things’, it’s ‘knowledge’.

                    • chezami

                      I didn’t say scientist do that. I said materialist atheists do that.

                      What, pray, is the “Christian model of the universe”? You do realize that everybody involved in the heliocentric revolution was a Christian, right? You do get that the Big Bang was formulated by a Jesuit?

                      You’re still creating straw men. There was no war against science by the Church. That’s the myth you feel you need to cling to.

  • Jem

    The issue is not, in any case, whether we can name some headline scientists persecuted by the Catholic Church. The key issue is whether the modern Catholic Church is instinctively anti science.

    And, yes, it is. It employs exorcists. It teaches that condoms have little holes in that AIDS gets through. It canonizes Cardinal Newman for a ‘medical miracle’ that’s patently absurd. It thinks Aquinas, from an era when the Britons were paying tribute to the Danes, has are more compelling account about the origins of the universe than Stephen Hawking does. And, more to the point, that they’re having the same conversation. That Bruno’s a ‘mystic’ but Aquinas – who claims to have levitated when he was filled with the holy spirit – has access to some superscience beyond that available to mere dabblers like Einstein.

    More to the point, it has the utterly ridiculous belief that ‘science’ represents a small subset of human knowledge and it’s theology and philosophy and teleology where the real action is. And that Catholicism has a special place in any such discussions.

    There’s a fundamental mismatch here. On the one side, you’ve got science – and Cosmos – showing images of galaxy filaments. On the other, you’ve got a Church that says cake shop owners shouldn’t have to sell to gay couples. One side has the universal truths, another is a bizarre local cult with some weird notions. If you can’t tell which, Mark, then … well, exactly. That’s your problem.

    • chezami

      The Church, ancient or modern, is not anti-science. It’s a silly meme promulgated by materialists who need a creation myth for their cult of the intellect.

    • hamous

      Universal truths? You mean “truth” like that a man can chop off his junk, take a bunch of female hormones, and be magically transformed into a woman? Yeah, I’ll stick to real science, the science that has grown along side the Catholic Church for the last 2000+ years, not a vision that came to some hippie at a drum circle in the 1970s.

    • Noah Doyle

      What does an image of a galactic filament tell us about how we should treat each other?

      • Jem

        “What does an image of a galactic filament tell us about how we should treat each other?’

        Exactly. Whatever forces formed a universe of such scale clearly have nothing to say about morality and social interaction.

        Nice to have a fellow atheist here.

    • Allan B

      Wow, a second post by Jem that’s just brimming with ignorance… by one of the supposed “Brights”. The Catholic Church is “a bizarre local cult?” The Church with over a billion members, in virtually every country on earth? Yeah, sounds pretty “local” to me. And really, why shouldn’t cake shop owners refuse to sell to gay couples? Gay couples are free to refuse to buy from Christian cake shop owners.
      Even your snipe about the Church employing exorcists betrays your bias. Because you are unable to measure and quantify the spiritual realm, you assert is doesn’t exist? Did quarks exist before scientists found a way to observe them? Why is it atheists have no trouble believing in a multiverse, of which there is zero proof, but cannot tolerate the possibility of a spiritual realm that exists outside our physical realm (though it may sometimes enter into it)? Is a spiritual realm that different from an alternate universe?
      I think the reality is, some people prefer the multiverse because it doesn’t imply a deity, and thus makes no demands on them, and doesn’t restrict them from using and abusing other human being for their own ends, whether financial, political, or sexual.

  • Jem

    It’s about authority. Which human institution has the ultimate authority on these matters? And the Church betrays its anti-science instincts by constructing ‘science’ as being some monolithic institution like the Church.

    Mark’s use of the word ‘agitprop’ is a dead giveaway.

    Wow, the godless forces of science, the media and, er, Family Guy are engaged in Soviet-style explicitly political messaging. It’s all part of some shadowy push to indoctrinate. By … showing a CGI image of the planet Jupiter and saying it’s big. Or noting that 2000 years isn’t that much in a universe 14 billion years old.

    There’s particular irony in this, of course, if you know the origin of the word ‘propaganda’.

    Catholics like Mark want a seat at this table. They don’t really understand why they don’t have one. At the end of the day, it’s because you get a seat at the table by earning it. If the Catholic Church want a seat at this table, perhaps they could spend less on retirement palaces for bishops complicit in vile crimes and more on telescopes.

    • Allan B

      Did you actually watch the show? Do you really think anyone’s complaining about the CGI images of the planets, or the timeline that was presented?

      • Jem

        No, they’re complaining because there’s money and attention in pretending to feel persecuted by a *cartoon*.

        • chezami

          Who said anything about persecution. A concern for historical accuracy vs lies is not a bad thing? Why do you try to suggest it is?

          • Jem

            What was the lie?

    • chezami

      Could you show me the Church document which construct science as a monolith? And could you point out where I said that science is a monolith? It’s not super complicated. One (1) show by a guy with a track record of spouting crap about the history of Science vs. the Church, spouts the same crap. Doesn’t mean “science is evil” and it certainly doesn’t mean the Church is anti-science.

      • Jem

        “Could you show me the Church document”

        Yes. But first, define ‘Church document’. I’ve been told in the past that if something’s taught in a Catholic school by a nun from an approved textbook written by someone from the Vatican quoting a Pope it doesn’t count as ‘Catholic teaching’.

        So, define ‘Church document’ and I’ll find you one.

        • chezami

          A teaching document of the Church, an encyclical, apostolic exhortation, conciliar or episcopal document. An expression of the Magisterium. And you seriously mean to find a document that proves the Church is anti-science?

          • Jem

            Thanks. No, I’ll do what you ask and ‘show you the Church document which construct science as a monolith’.

            • Jem


              This document treats ‘science’ as a discreet entity, separate from the Church, with phrases like “The Church recognizes the freedom of science and technology to use its own principles and its own methods.”.

              So, there you go.

              • chezami

                You just treated science as a discreet entity. And the passage you quote isn’t exactly a slam dunk proof of the War on Science. You’re being silly, Jem.

                • Jem

                  This, and many documents like it – the current catechism, for example – set up ‘science and technology’ and say it’s all very well and good, but it has its limits and the Church can say what those limits are and cover the gaps.

                  It’s a landgrab. It’s the drawing of a Venn diagram where ‘the Church’ is the big circle, with little circles inside it marked ‘science’, ‘technology’ and ‘philosophy’.

                  As in Bruno’s time, as in Servetus’, the Church positions itself as the final earthly authority on these matters.

                  And that, in the modern age, is just silly. A Church that believes in hylomorphism and medical miracles has lost its seat at the science table.

                  The thing you should be worried about isn’t the cartoon about Bruno, it’s that the fundamental message of Christianity is that man is special, that Earth is unique and central. And the universe that we observe, the universe depicted in Cosmos, is the refutation of that.

                  Human beings are wonderful. But the idea that the universe was created for us and that we’ve always been the central component of it is … not a compelling one, not now we have an inkling of the size, form and history of the cosmos. Every discovery we’ve made in 150 years now has been a hammer blow to that particular form of arrogance.

                  • Rosemarie


                    Christians adapted to this knowledge long ago. Decades ago, I heard people say, “Isn’t it amazing that the God of the universe, who created the farthest galaxies, cares about us on this little planet?” Believe it or not, modern Christians are not at all threatened by a huge universe; it doesn’t have to be small in order for the all-knowing God to care about us. The immensity of creation only gives us a better appreciation of the infinite, incomprehensible nature of its Creator.

                    EDIT: Just because we seem so insignificant in relation to the whole universe doesn’t mean we are not significant to God. A paradox? Maybe, but we’re not unfamiliar with paradoxes.

                    • Jem

                      “The immensity of creation just gives us a better appreciation of the infinite, incomprehensible nature of its Creator.”

                      Do you believe that this Creator takes a firm position on the issue of whether cake shop owners in Kansas can refuse to sell a gay couple a wedding cake?

                      Because that’s the issue here, isn’t it? Sit in your churches mumbling away and aggressively pretending about biscuits all you want. I mean, personally I wouldn’t, but everyone needs a hobby.

                      What your Church seeks to do is link the ‘nature of creation’ with their weird, local form of sexual ethics

                      Do you not feel a sense of mismatch here?

                      Is it not far more likely that … well, there’s no real link? That the current positions of the Catholic Church are far more easily comprehensible if you look at the human scale, at politics, demographics, cultural conditions?

                    • Rosemarie


                      How did we suddenly get into a discussion about bakeries? That’s not the issue, though you seem to think it is (or at least want to change the subject).

                      Whether or not a Christian baker should cater a gay “wedding” is a matter of prudential judgment based on a person’s own conscience. Some Christians right here on Patheos have even suggested that Christians could use such an opportunity to show the love of Christ to the couple. At this point, it’s a matter of debate and different Christians hold differing opinions.

                      Unless the Church ever rules definitively on the matter (and I highly doubt she ever will) there will be no dogma on the matter. I never claimed to know the Creator’s opinion about everything; I am comfortable living with some mystery, even as I am comfortable with the mystery of how the Creator of the universe could know and love me personally.

                      To bring the discussion back on topic, the fact remains that modern Christians are not threatened by a big cosmos.

                    • Jem

                      “How did we suddenly get into a discussion about bakeries”

                      This is the point I’m trying to make. ‘Look at the majesty of the universe, so support Proposition 8’ can only be a non sequitur.

                    • Rosemarie


                      The Church’s moral teachings do have a logic to them which I don’t have time to go into now because I’m about to bring my son to therapy.

                      Let me briefly say: While I accept the Church’s teaching on homosexual activity and gay marriage, I also deplore how badly some Christians have treated gays as individuals in the past. The Catechism says that they should be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (paragraph 2358), and how often we’ve failed in that regard. Even if I disagree with someone’s lifestyle that doesn’t mean I have to hate him. I’m personally trying to find a Christ-like way to respond to these issues, as the pope encourages us to do. I rather liked it when he said last year that gays are our brothers.

                    • chezami

                      So, wait. We’ve passed from saying that only intolerant bigots punish thoughtcrime (when it’s Bruno) to saying that punishment of thoughtcrime for Christians who think homosex a sin is the obvious and civilized thing to do? Whatever you say, chief.

                    • Jem

                      The only sin here is the term ‘homosex’, a word far, far more distasteful than any gay sex act.

                      And it’s a conflicting rights issue, and one that’s been settled in America for generations: if you want to do business in America, you have to do business with Americans, you can’t decide not to serve an entire class of Americans. Within that, you have plenty of personal protections. You have freedom of speech. You have freedom of worship. You have the freedom to refuse to serve *specific individuals*. You have the right not to have the smooth running of your business disrupted. But you can’t expect the law to be on your side if you decide unilaterally to discriminate against a whole group of law-abiding Americans.

                      A hundred years ago, there were ‘No Catholics’ signs everywhere. Catholics have long benefited from exactly the same protections that homosexuals are asking for, and asking to be enforced.

                    • chezami

                      You’re wandering far afield here, probably because you sense that the original question–was Bruno a martyr for science?–and the whole War between the Church and Science line of argument is utter bullshit. Stick to the subject.

                    • Jem

                      “Stick to the subject.”

                      You were the one who attempted to somehow equate the ‘thoughtcrime’ of Bruno with the ‘thoughtcrime’ of the cake shop owner. I was just explaining to you why you’re wrong to make that link.

                      My point here, as I say, is that you can’t derive moral instruction from the ‘nature of the universe’.

                      Now, please lighten the mood by claiming no Catholic thinker has ever said that you could. If you could supply your own laugh track, that might save some time.

                    • chezami

                      No. You were the one who irrelevantly dragged in the question of opposition to homosex as thoughtcrime after trying to make the case that it was a terrible thing to punish Bruno for thoughtcrime. That you fail to realize yet another contradiction in your messy and erratic arguments is not my problem.

                    • Jem

                      If you don’t understand the link, that’s fine. Add it to the pile.

                      But happy to get ‘back onto track’. Has Catholicism taught you derive moral instruction from the ‘nature of the universe’?

                    • chezami


                    • Jem

                      A simple enough question. When you look at the way the universe is set up, do you feel it implies particular moral instruction?

                      Or do you think that the material nature of the universe and morality are entirely decoupled as concepts?

                      Do you think ‘Nature’/’the Cosmos’ provides evidence of how God would like us to behave? Can we infer morality from the form the universe takes? Can we know the mind of God by looking at the Cosmos?

                    • chezami

                      Why would you think non-rational creatures would be a guide to how rational beings should act? Human morality corresponds to human nature, not to all nature. I don’t look to reptile that eats its young as a guide to child-rearing. Meanwhile, you are still changing the subject because the original point of the thread was “Is there a war on science by the Church and was Bruno a casualty of it?” Answers: bullshit and horseshit. So you continue trying to change the subject.

                    • Jem

                      “Is there a war on science by the Church and was Bruno a casualty of it?”

                      Cosmos accurately portrayed what happened. A man of learning was destroyed for daring to suggest the Church had something wrong. That man turned out to be right.

                      There are better examples fitting the same pattern.

                      To this day, Catholicism asserts that it holds knowledge inaccessible to anyone else, and that ‘science’, which it talks about as a single entity with an agenda in official documents, should be subservient to Catholic priorities. It continues to assert, with for example the AIDS virus, that where reality contradicts things taught by Catholics it’s reality that’s got it wrong. It asserts that there are untestable criteria, which it sets and arbitrarily changes, which trump scientific findings. Many Catholic spokesmen adopt a hostile and suspicious attitude to scientists and bandy anti-scientific terms like ‘scientism’ or accusations that scientific positions are ‘faith positions’.

                      While it claims to be ‘scientific’ it reserves the right to claim there are non-scientific observable phenomenon, and typically defines science far more narrowly as a straw man ‘practice of measuring’, then when it (correctly) notes there is more to life than that can be measured, it (incorrectly) asserts that Catholicism can provide answers to those matters.

                      It ignores or fudges some bedrocks of modern science, where the implications render traditional Catholic teaching irrelevant. Where it attempts to reconcile the Big Bang, the evolution of the human race and mass/energy equivalence to teaching, it embarrasses itself. It claims God has set natural laws but that, say, the speed of light and the conservation of energy don’t always apply.

                      It attempts to derive moral instruction from ‘nature’, seeing the universe as evidence of God’s opinion/will.

                      There’s no ‘war on religion’ among scientists. There is a striving for relevance and a seat at the table by the Vatican, when their beliefs are essentially either discredited or so vague and ludicrous as to be not worth discrediting.

                      The point of a show like Cosmos is precisely that you can describe all there is by never, ever referring to any of the gods, demons, sprites, prophets or talking donkeys and vengeance bears the Bible refers to. t

                    • SteveP

                      “Do you believe that this Creator takes a firm position on the issue of whether cake shop owners in Kansas can refuse to sell a gay couple a wedding cake?”
                      Sure, why not? The beauty and effectiveness of RNA recombination during gametogenesis shows a love of detail. Why would some details be important to a Creator but others not?

                    • chezami

                      You Cult of Size is charming and childlike. Really big things are important. Really small things are not. Are tall people therefore slightly more important than short ones? To the 19th Century idolator of size who shouted “Man is insignificant compared to the size the universe!” Chesterton drily replied, “Man is insignificant compared to the nearest tree.”

                      Here’s a suggestion for you: go and read “The Two Cultures” by C.P. Snow. You know how embarrassed you feel when some theist latches on to some equation in physics and tries to prove the existence of God from it? Well, we theists feel that kind of embarrassment for you when you come up Proofs Against the Existence of God Based on Worship of Bigness that would have made a pre-Socratic blush.

                    • Jem

                      It’s not a ‘cult of bigness’. It’s a cult of oh-good-grief-do-you-honestly-look-at-this-universe-and-think-gay-marriage-can-possibly-be-an-issue-of-intergalactic-importance.

                      To paraphrase Chesterton, do you think even the trees give a fuck about whether two women want to have a piece of paper formalizing their monogamous relationship?

                      If you believe in a small universe with Earth at the center and God making man in his image and separate from the animals and so on and so on, and a great chain of being and final cause teleology and God talking to people, and prayers being answered, and a harmony of the spheres and His ordering Nature, then, yes, I can see the case.

                      But if you believe in science, you do not believe in that, any more than you believe in smurfs. At the very best, you believe in science with some fudged edges to allow you to pretend someone got better because you prayed.

                      So. Pick one. The modern scientific consensus or a world of ‘directed evolution’ and ‘final causes’. They are not the same thing.

                    • chezami

                      Of course it’s a cult of bigness. Human are small so what concerns them is supposedly unimportant. And you make this clear a few lines later when you make the absurd claim that a small universe (which you assume your ancestors believed in) somehow makes it easier to believe in God, but the god Bigness, makes that impossible. Silly. You would embarrass a pre-Socratic with this logic.

                    • Jem

                      “Of course it’s a cult of bigness”

                      No. Read what I said again. If you need it explained, I’ll explain.

                  • Jem, I’m not a Christian so I have no problem with what you say about the anti-humanist history of the Church and religion in general. Ancient holy books are indispensible for finding out how our ancestors lived and thought, but not for telling us how to live and think. Certainly our scientific knowledge has shown us (contrary to what Jesus told his disciples) we are actually of the world as well as in it.

                    However, I’m as dissatisfied with the anti-human attitude of many nonbelievers as I am with that of the arrogance of the human-centered universe. We’re products of a long, unguided process of evolution, nothing more than bags of biochemicals, and a sentiment like “human beings are wonderful” only betrays the inadequacy of our expectations about life on Earth. Anything that’s personal or subjective is useless to science, therefore it’s trivial. Art and literature are nice, but they’re window dressing next to the manly hard sciences. The best we can do is be responsible citizens, consistent consumers, and docile employees.

                    Is it any wonder this perspective doesn’t inspire people? Isn’t this just as egregious a misuse of science as any other wacky theory?

                    • Jem

                      “only betrays the inadequacy of our expectations about life on Earth”

                      Are you kidding? No. Look … the Catholic holy book says that God magicked us into existence because he needed a gardener, then we got sacked for scrumping. It’s just so small and petty.

                      My purely materialistic worldview has far more grandeur to it, far more wonder. We worked to get here, a billion years of earning it, of making the best we could of the perilous situation we found ourselves in. In a blink of the eye, we’ve managed to go from an unremarkable hairless monkey to the only beings we know of that can look into the night’s sky and literally see history. We evolved to find fruit, and we found Higgs Bosons.

                      The universe is big, cold, fundamentally inhuman. And that makes our duty to be human all the more important. There aren’t angels looking out for us, so let’s look out for each other.

                      As for conformity and ‘the best we can hope for’. No. Life is what *we* want it to be. If some people want to be led by a hard right wing gang of pedophile dudes with a nice art collection and some own-brand magic crackers, then that’s fine. Let people do that. But the idea that’s the one, true way to live a life is foolish.

                      Being nice to people, art, love, increasing your own understanding, helping others. ‘The universe’ doesn’t care one way or the other. And that’s all the more reason why we should.

                    • chezami

                      “the Catholic holy book says that God magicked us into existence because he needed a gardener” Um, no. It doesn’t. If you can’t understand books written for grownups, at least have the good grace not to talk about them. Here’s how a grownup talks about Genesis:

                    • chezami

                      You’re on the right track, but please do understand that “the world” in Jesus parlance does not mean “the physical world”. Recall that the creation narrative is as emphatic as evolutionary science that human beings are made, in the long run, from mud. As to the problem of morality, atheism seems to me to suffer from twist bowel syndrome here. It’s generally intensely moralistic, yet has no way to give its moral claim trancendence. So it usually ends by stealing from theism the assumption that moral claims are trancendent while denying it is doing so. Richard Rorty has the New Atheists number on this. As he pointed out, there is no universally valid answer to moral questions such as, “Why not be cruel?” Quoth Rorty:

                      Anybody who thinks that there are well-grounded theoretical answers to this sort of question . . . is still, in his heart, a theologian or a metaphysician. He believes in an order beyond time and change which both determines the point of human existence and establishes a hierarchy of responsibilities.

                      The New Atheists, however, seem to be blissfully unaware of all this, because they are, in fact, Old Atheists of the 18th and 19th centuries who retain a serene confidence that the privileged bits of the moral and rational order looted from the Christian civilization they are laboring to destroy will just go coasting on of their own accord. Because of this, the New Atheists retain the charming Enlightenment faith that they can hold on to that particular pattern-making epiphenomenon of brain tissue called Reason.


                  • chezami

                    Soooo such gifts of science and technology as Zyklon B, or the atomic bomb should be allowed free use without the interference of the Church’s morality?

                    If you are saying that the Church believes the moral teaching of Jesus Christ are authoritative, then duh.

                    Your primitive assertion of the Cult of the Big is fetching, but poor philosophy, And a misunderstanding of the Church’s teaching, which puts God at the center, not man. Recall that Jesus does not come to earth to “You are awesome” It is our wretchedness that draws the ddivine attention. Also, you completely misunderstand medieval cosmology if you think it sees earth at the center. It’s much closer to say that it sees earth at the *bottom*. “When I consider the heavens, the work of your finger. The moon and the stars that you have appointed, What is man that you are mindful of him? The son of man that you care for him?” It turns out ancients were capable of looking up on a summer night and feeling insignificant too.

                    Your smug suburban notion that you are the discoverer of Awe is cute but… not compelling.

                    • Jem

                      “Soooo such gifts of science and technology as Zyklon B”

                      You really want to pull that one? You really want to get into what Catholic morality had to say about Jews?

                      OK. Before we start, one question. If someone is baptised Catholic, raised Catholic, and is never excommunicated, he’s Catholic, yes?

                    • Jem

                      Dodging that one. Noted. Another nap.

                      So. Would you say someone who talked of ‘gifts of science and technology as Zyklon B, or the atomic bomb’ sounds like they are ‘for’ or ‘against’ science? Would it qualify as ‘agitprop’?

                    • chezami

                      Um. You do realize that I have to sleep, right? Don’t know where you are but it 7:30 in the morning where I am. Look, you want to talk about the wonders of science untrammeled by Catholic morality. I simply pointed out tthat science is a tool that can be used for good or evil and has no power to tell us how it should be used. You, naturally, overlook this obvious point so that you can attempt a new diversion from the only point this thread was making: that there is no War on Science and Bruno was not a casualty in that non-existent war. Since your new quesion is a fresh diversion from that, I will leave you to go find out the answer to it. I don’t have time for your rabbit holes.

                    • Jem

                      Again, *you* raised this. And you’re now standing here and saying ‘I’ve got nothing against science, but science is what brought us atom bombs and Zyklon B’ and then wondering why that might seem hostile to science.

                      This isn’t a distraction, this is the issue. It’s basic word association. Someone says ‘science’, you say ‘Zyklon B’.

                    • chezami

                      Pointing out that science no more capable than a hammer of telling you whether you should use it to build a house or crush someone’s skull is not being anti-science. Come on! You’re better than this cheap demagoguery.

                      By the way, a note. I have a life and work to do. Your insistence on spray around as much mudslinging and irrelevant questions and then screaming if I miss one of them is a major timesuck. So from here on in, if you do it again, I will, in my office as boss of the blog, just delete your post if I regard it as off topic. Censorship? You bet! I don’t owe you are forum. You however owe me some courtesy for graciously giving you a chance to respond *to the post*, which you have resolutely refused to do since you know that there is no War on Science and Bruno was not a martyr to it–which is the subject. This is you one warning. Can’t spend my life dancing attendance on your demand I chase you down every rabbit hole.

                  • Ye Olde Statistician

                    A Church that believes in hylomorphism…

                    So, show me a pure form that is not embodied in matter. Or show me matter that is not some form of matter. Until you present evidence, the idea that every physical object is a form of matter seems to make eminent sense.

                    the fundamental message of Christianity is that man is special, that Earth is unique and central.

                    Actually, I had always heard that it was that man is fallen and the Earth is a vale of tears.

                    the idea that the universe was created for us and that we’ve always been the central component of it is … not a compelling one, not now we have an inkling of the size, form and history of the cosmos.

                    What we know of physics is that if the universe were any smaller than it is, it would have failed to coalesce into stars and planets but simply expanded into a dilute soup of particles. IOW, the universe would have to be as old and as large as it is whether one planet was home to intelligent life or a billion billion were.

                    • Jem

                      “So, show me a pure form that is not embodied in matter. Or show me matter that is not some form of matter.”

                      Hello, Ye Olde Statistician. Long time, no see. I can’t. Any more than I can show you a unicorn or an angel. The whole basis of the question is wrong. ‘Form’ is not a real thing.

                      Do you understand mass/energy equivalence? Good. See?

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      a) If form is not real, then how can this sentence have the form of a question?
                      b) Heisenberg thought that mass-energy was Aristotle’s prime matter.

                    • Jem

                      “If form is not real, then how can this sentence have the form of a question?”

                      The hylomorphic notion of Form and Matter isn’t real. It’s a solution to a problem that isn’t a problem if you accept matter/energy equivalence.

                      So, I’ll ask you again: do you accept matter/energy equivalence?

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      Of course it’s real. Show me something physical that is not composed of form and matter.

                      What problem do you suppose it was a solution to?

                      Of course, matter and energy are equivalent (certainly within the context of general relativity theory). But what has this to do with whether mass-energy has a particular form?

                    • Jem

                      “Of course, matter and energy are equivalent (certainly within the context of general relativity theory).”

                      As opposed to which other context? Show me, to coin a phrase, some matter that is not equivalent to energy.

                      The problem the form/matter theory was meant to solve, as I understand it, was how usefully to distinguish between what something ‘is’ and what it’s ‘made of’, particularly if there’s some form of change of state.

                      And if we accept matter/energy equivalence, the problem of a change of state just goes away. What we observe is just an expression of different energy levels.

                      As for what it ‘is’ … well, there are all sorts of ways to describe a thing. There’s no complete answer, at least not one accessible linguistically.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      And if we accept matter/energy equivalence, the problem of a change of state just goes away.

                      Change of state? I think you’re worried about the wrong problem. The problem of becoming is addressed by efficient and final causation. Material and formal causation have to do with being. That what we used to call “matter” is equivalent to energy simply makes them both different forms of matter. That’s why Heisenberg, whom I suspect of knowing a thing or two about physics, said that mass-energy was equivalent to Aristotle’s prime matter. Matter is “that which persists throughout change.” It is, in the Aristotelian view, “conserved.” It is the principle of potential. Form is how the matter is arranged, spatial arrangement being the most simple. It is the principle of act. What makes matter actually something is the form it takes. A chlorine atom and a sodium atom are made of the same matter– viz., protons, neutrons, electrons — but differ in the number and arrangement of these parts; and it is the arrangement, which is to say the “form,” which gives each its distinctive powers and attributes.

                      Transformation is, as the term implies, the change of one form for another. For example, through nuclear fission, uranium may be transformed partly into massive releases of energy. But the energy is simply a different form of the same mass-energy that was in the original hemispherical lumps of uranium. For this, one needs an efficient cause.

                      Hope this helps.

                  • Rosemarie


                    My husband wants to comment on this, so here’s his response:

                    Rosemarie showed me this thread so I thought I’d just chime in here.

                    Yeah, Atheists in the 19th century Pre-Hubble used to complain “If your God is Infinite why didn’t He make a larger more grand creation then He did?”.

                    Of course Post Hubble (and in modern times post Hubble Telescope) we know that at least the visible universe fits that bill and scientist speculate the non-visible universe is maybe a 100 trillion times bigger. Thus science has made the 19th century Atheists all wet.

                    So make up your mind! Is it too small & a real God would have made something more grand or God would not have wasted time making something so mind bogglingly big because it’s not anthropomorphically functional in your humble opinion?

                    Ya can’t have it both ways.

                    Son of Jimmy in the House!

                    Bellendaine by Moonlight! THE SCOTTS ARE OUT!!!!!!

                    (Rosemarie likes it when I speak in my faux Scottish accent)

                    • Jem

                      “So make up your mind!”

                      I wasn’t around in the nineteenth century, so one of those opinions wasn’t from my mind. And I’m not going to second guess God because either He doesn’t exist, so that would be silly, or He’s God and that would be silly.

                      The question I’ve been asking is simple: what moral instruction can we infer from the way the universe is set up?

                      I don’t think we can infer anything except ‘this wasn’t built for us’. It’s not a question of bigness. It’s just a question of … well, if we accept one of the bedrocks of modern science, the speed of light being a constant, and we accept another, that modern human beings have been around for, depending how you define it exactly, about half a million years … the vast majority of the universe, 99 point a *lot* of 9s % of it *can’t* be even slightly affected by us.

                      And, in the other direction, the atomic world is also blissfully incapable of being affected by us, except for a few times we’ve split atoms or thrown them around a particle accelerator.

                      The sort of personal universe that Christianity is premised on just doesn’t … well, seem to be this universe.

                      So I think trying to guess ‘purpose’ or ‘morality’ is just a category error. I think purpose and morality are great, I just don’t think you can couple them up to ‘Nature’, or what Cosmos calls the Cosmos.

                    • Rosemarie

                      Husband of Rosemarie here again.

                      My Reply:

                      So what are you bagging on about again?


                      I’d say you are moving the goal posts but I suspect your not even sure what game your playing.

                    • Jem

                      “So what are you bagging on about again?”

                      I’m saying there is no relationship between the shape of the universe and morality. That any appeal to the ‘universal’ or the ‘natural’, or the authority of God based on His role as creator is a non sequitur.

                    • chezami

                      You do get, don’t you, that “universal” mean “all humanity”, not “the entire universe”. Nobody’s making any claims about what Klingons should be doing. Natural law refers to human nature.

                    • Rosemarie


                      “I don’t think we can infer anything except ‘this wasn’t built for us’.”

                      I’ve been Christian all my life and I was never under the impression that God created the universe just “for us.” Colossians 1:16 says that God made all things through Christ and *for Him.* Christianity teaches that creation is God the Father’s gift to God the Son. We are a part of that gift, not the recipients.

                      Humankind may have a certain dominion over other creatures on earth but not over the stars. In fact, Psalm 8 conveys a sense of wonder toward God’s creation and the comparative smallness of humanity:

                      “When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
                      the moon and stars that you set in place—
                      *What is man that you are mindful of him,
                      and a son of man that you care for him?”

                      So no, the universe was not ultimately made for us and yes, Christianity has always acknowledged that we are small in comparison to the vastness of creation. Modern scientific discoveries only put an exclamation point on that fact.

    • MarylandBill

      Umm, you mean like the telescopes at the Vatican Observatory? Or the fact that quite a few Catholic Universities are major research institutions?

      • Jem

        “Umm, you mean like the telescopes at the Vatican Observatory?”
        The Vatican pay for some of the staff. The capital costs and most of the salaries come from private donors.

  • hamous

    I started to watch the show, then saw MacFarlane produced it, and decided what would be the point? You know he’s going to insert his blatant anti-Catholicism into any project.

    • kenofken

      Just be grateful he didn’t have Stewie narrate it!

      • What are talking about? That would’ve made it way better. Brian would step in to try and correct Stewie’s tendentious and misleading history and Stewie would make some gratuitous comment about Brian’s – ahem – proclivities and Brian would reply in kind and then at least then everyone would know exactly how serious to take it. 😉

  • Dennis Alwine

    The foundational statement of the original series, I should point out, is NOT a scientific statement. “The Cosmos (and Sagan almost always capitalized that word) is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be” is a metaphysical, even religious statement. This is, um, odd, for a series purporting to be about science, and should clue the viewer that what’s really going on is a religious polemic clothed in the garb of select scientific information. That Tyson was a disciple of Sagan (and is himself a strident apologist for atheism) only fills me with suspicion that the new series would be more of the same. I’d have to be convinced this is not the case before wasting my time.

    • Jem

      ‘”The Cosmos (and Sagan almost always capitalized that word) is all there
      is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be” is a metaphysical,
      even religious statement.’

      It’s really not. It’s a definition of terms. Turn it around. He (they, now) are saying ‘the word I use for everything is “Cosmos”‘. If you believe in multiverse theory, if you believe in the Empyrean, if you believe in Narnia, then you are saying there are realms beyond ‘this universe’. So he couldn’t call it ‘the Universe’.

      If he’d made the series in the seventeenth century, he’d have been sure to include Heaven, I’m sure. Just as if he was five, he’d have included Ben Ten.

      • chezami

        Of course it is a metaphysical statement. And a fine pre-emptive strike by an atheist materialist in establishing that creation myth whereby the measurement of the metric properties of time, space, matter and energy is proposed as capable of explaining all of reality when any poet, symphony lover, or child knows that’s rubbish.

        • Jem

          “whereby the measurement of the metric properties of time, space, matter
          and energy is proposed as capable of explaining all of reality when any
          poet, symphony lover, or child knows that’s rubbish.”

          Are you saying that nothing theistic can be measured? Happy to agree.

          And I’m happy to agree that ‘Heaven exists’ is true. As poetry. As, like you say, a childish notion.

          We’ll get to a consensus yet.

          • chezami

            Jem: You’re arguing like a cheap demagogue, erecting straw men and knocking them down. You’r better than that. I’m saying along with anybody familiar with metaphysics, that the natural sciences cannot explain all of reality. And the proof of this is that the sciences depend on certain assumptions that cannot be proved by the sciences. You can either face that fact or you can continue to indulge in cheap demagoguery that is more interested in landing a punch than in exploring reality.

            • Jem

              “And the proof of this is that the sciences depend on certain assumptions that cannot be proved by the sciences.”

              Yes. And I assume you know that many people who say that sort of thing are quick to deploy the word ‘scientism’ and that that is the ultimate straw man as there is not one single scientist in the world, yes including Monblot, who thinks that you can explain everything by measuring.

              The issue is not whether some narrow made up science-as-measuring can explain everything, it’s whether theism can explain *anything*. Whether it, itself, has anything useful to contribute in the form of explanatory power. Whether it says anything vaguely testable or with predictive power.

              Let’s explore reality with … what … pick something. The Turin Shroud. The difference between a second and third class relic. The protection granted by the scapular. Go.

              The critical error you are making is ‘Science can’t explain everything, and Catholicism is there to fill in the gaps’. It really and truly isn’t. Catholicism actively gets in the way of understanding. It knowingly teaches lies, for one thing, which is a bit of a giveaway.

              • chezami

                You seem to assume that God exists in order to explain the relations of secondary causes in the natural world. That’s science’s job. And in the course of doing it we make certain, well, faith assumption such as “The world operates according to knowable laws” and “a universe, that is, an ordered reality, is what exists rather than a chaos” and ” we are able to both accurately perceive with our senses and understand that universe”. These metaphysical presuppositions come from the Judeo-Christian tradition and gave rise to the sciences in medieval Latin Christendom. The peoplle who thought this way did not (and educated Catholic still do not) think, “Science can’t explain everything and Catholicism is there to fill the gaps”.

                Part of the problem is that in your demagogic zeal to just Win Points you are all over the map in this conversation. One minute you are trying to argue Bruno is a martyr for science and arguing that thoughtcrime should never be opposed. Next minute you want to punish people for anti-gay thoughtcrime. You talk as though Science has all the answers, then as though the Church *claims* to have all the answers. You put god of the gaps words in my mouth. You make stupid claims that the Church teaches lies on the basis of nothing. You read Genesis like a five year old and then ignore it when that fact is pointed out. You don’t argue in good faith, Jem, because your goal is not truth but merely winning. It’s tiresome wiping off mud flung by a vandal.

                • Jem

                  ‘And in the course of doing it we make certain, well, faith assumption
                  such as “The world operates according to knowable laws” and “a universe,
                  that is, an ordered reality, is what exists rather than a chaos”‘
                  No. There is no condition of any possible universe where no axioms hold. ‘This is a universe where no axioms hold’ is a logical impossibility.

                  I understand I’m a product of evolution. Evolution requires order to function. Understanding requires order. Evolution dictates that as I am adapted for my environment and as I am capable of reason, that my environment must be ordered.

                  Axiomatically, there is order. It is a necessary condition of any universe capable of supporting evolution that there is at least a region of order.

                • Jem

                  “Science can’t explain everything and Catholicism is there to fill the gaps”.

                  OK. Let’s try another tack. What can Catholicism usefully explain that science can not?

                  Please note I said ‘explain’ and not ‘guess’.

                  • chezami

                    Who is God. How much he loves you. What the meaning of your life is. How to worship him well. How to find fulfillment. What love means. What we can hope for. How can we find truth and love himself. What we must do to be saved. Why nothing in this world is, in the end, fulfilling or satisfying and how to know the God who is fulfillment and satisfaction. How to rightly order our earthly loves (including loves of science) so that they lead to eternal joy instead of away from it into eternal loss.

                    Just for starters.

                    • Jem

                      “Why nothing in this world is, in the end, fulfilling or satisfying”

                      Good gracious, no wonder you have to make stuff up if that’s your attitude.

                    • Jem

                      In all seriousness, do even you find that answer satisfying or persuasive? I mean, I guess you must. But … it seems to betray incomprehension.

                    • SteveP

                      I do find you persuasive – your restless seeking has convinced me that the Cosmos for you serves the same foil as the waters did for the Psalmist (and a few prophets). Your questioning here has broken up what otherwise might have been a dull day. Certainly God exists and has a quirky sense of humor – what other explanation can there be for your demand for a personal acceptance of personal meaninglessness in the face of “billions and billions” of AU?

                    • Jem

                      “personal meaninglessness”

                      I don’t see any evidence of a universal morality in Nature/the Cosmos/ the ‘billions and billions’. I don’t see how a human moral code and … that are coupled up in any way.

                      Do you?

                      That isn’t to say there isn’t a more local form of meaning, or just a value in trying to come up with one.

                    • chezami

                      Incomprehension of what?

                    • chezami

                      If you are so shallow that you do not recognize what every philosopher from Qoheleth to Augustine to Sartre and Camus have remarked on–the restlessness of the human heart–then I can’t make you see it. But perhaps you are just pooh poohing this universal fact out of your need to Win.

                    • Jem

                      “If you are so shallow that you do not recognize what every philosopher … ‘

                      If I don’t *have* the problem, isn’t that a sign I’ve *solved* the problem? If Qoheleth and Augustine and so on were all coughing, and I wasn’t, it would be a very peculiar person who suggested that I was the one with the problem.

                      I have problems of my own and all, but if you don’t believe in God, souls, angels, prayers, miracles, the Easter Bunny, Noah’s Ark, Heaven, Hell, reincarnation, ouija boards and so on, all the so-called theological problems disappear. I have never felt guilty. The location, at least, of purpose and meaning become easy to find and the question’s reframed to the point where answers become possible. I live, or at least believe I live, without sin. Perhaps I’m going to Hell, but the risk would seem to be higher that you’ll be gored by a unicorn or kidnapped by goblins.

                      ‘Restlessness of the human heart’? Nope, don’t have it. So it’s not ‘universal’. Sorry. As I say, if you know you’re astronomy, you’ll have a very clear understanding that ‘human’ and ‘universal’ have very little to do with each other. That’s been my point all along.

                    • chezami

                      No. It’s a sign that you are not too reflective.

                  • margaret1910

                    What is the nature of love? What is it and why does it exist? I think the Church explains this beautifully. I suspect you will disagree.