Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Pope, Science, and Technology: My Take

I remember the trailing edge of a time when quite a few folks felt that Progress (capital "P") and science and technology would solve all of humanity's problems: ending poverty, tooth decay, ugliness, and wrinkled fabrics.

A more recent fashion has been to think that we're pretty much doomed by science and technology and icky stuff like that. Maybe that's passing, along with nostalgia for the sixties. And that's another topic.


Science and Technology: Good News/Bad News

Up until places like Auschwitz and Dachau were found, and folks were taught to feel bad about Hiroshima and Nagasaki1, the notion of inevitable progress wasn't all that daft. From 1801 to 1899, a huge number of things we take more-or-less for granted were developed:
  • Anesthesia
  • Antiseptics
  • The Jacquard Loom
  • The McCormick reaper
  • Steam locomotives
  • The telegraph
  • A variety of electric lighting devices
    ( 1800s)
The first half of the 20th century was more of the same:
  • Air conditioners
  • Kidney dialysis machines
  • Neon lights
  • Penicillin
  • Talking motion pictures
  • Radio transmitters and receivers
  • Zeppelins
    • Okay: so not all inventions caught on
    ( 1900s)
The first application of nuclear energy was the atomic bomb, which didn't help the reputation of power technologies. Oddly, lobotomies in this country and a German chancellor's practical application of eugenics principles didn't turn people off medical science so much.

Then 'natural therapies' became popular starting around the sixties. Maybe folks were paying attention, after all.

I've mentioned lobotomies in this blog (August 26, 2009), and discussed the practice briefly in another one. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (June 17, 2008)

Ah, For the Good Old Days of Cholera, Scurvy, and Iron Plows

Actually, the iron plowshare was a big step up in its day.

So were antibiotics and other medical technologies that took diseases like cholera out of everyday life in many countries. Haiti's one of the places that's revisiting that part of the 'good old days' just now.

While I'm thinking of it, there's a list of charities helping Haiti - and other places - in another blog. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (January 15, 2010)) No pressure, but a whole lot of folks in a lot of places could use help.

So, do I think that medical science and technology is good? By itself? No. That doesn't mean I think it's bad, either.

On the whole, I'd rather live now, than in the 'good old days' before the 19th century. Partly it's because I can remember when polio was being stamped out in this country. And I was paying attention when the green revolution happened. Norman Borlaug and all that. Never heard of him? I'm not surprised. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (July 18, 2007))

I've discussed this before. In my opinion, there isn't any such thing as "evil" science or technology. It's what people decide to do with them that has a moral dimension. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (December 2, 2009))

What 'Everybody Knows' About Religion and Science

Some folks back in the 19th century didn't want God to exist. They took some interesting research and claimed that is was a proof that they were right. If they'd hijacked some of their day's astronomy, I think we'd be hearing radio preachers rant about the evils of astronomy. (March 20, 2009) As it is, we've got folks who go a bit nuts when they hear the word "evolution."

I'm sure that some of the religious folks who don't like what's been discovered over the last few centuries are very sincere. That doesn't mean they're right. And it sure doesn't mean that everybody with religious convictions regard ignorance as next to Godliness. (March 6, 2010)

Coming from another direction, there are other folks who may be quite sincere in their conviction that religion must be suppressed in the name of reason and science. Again, sincerity doesn't imply accuracy.

The Pope's a Religious Leader: And He Said What About Science?

Like I said, some frightfully religious folks are convinced that science is evil and anti-Christian. Maybe even un-American.

Others are convinced that religious people - particularly those Christians - are ignoramuses who hate logic, reason, and science. I can see how they might get that impression.

Provided they carefully avoided learning about the Catholic Church.

Introduction to a publication for a science convention at the Holy See:
"Certainly the Church acknowledges that 'with the help of science and technology…, man has extended his mastery over almost the whole of nature', and thus 'he now produces by his own enterprise benefits once looked for from heavenly powers' (Gaudium et Spes, 33). at the same time, Christianity does not posit an inevitable conflict between supernatural faith and scientific progress. The very starting-point of Biblical revelation is the affirmation that God created human beings, endowed them with reason, and set them over all the creatures of the earth. In this way, man has become the steward of creation and God's 'helper'. If we think, for example, of how modern science, by predicting natural phenomena, has contributed to the protection of the environment, the progress of developing nations, the fight against epidemics, and an increase in life expectancy, it becomes clear that there is no conflict between God's providence and human enterprise. Indeed, we could say that the work of predicting, controlling and governing nature, which science today renders more practicable than in the past, is itself a part of the Creator's plan.

"Science, however, while giving generously, gives only what it is meant to give. Man cannot place in science and technology so radical and unconditional a trust as to believe that scientific and technological progress can explain everything and completely fulfil all his existential and spiritual needs. Science cannot replace philosophy and revelation by giving an exhaustive answer to man's most radical questions: questions about the meaning of living and dying, about ultimate values, and about the nature of progress itself."
)Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 6 November 2006."
From "Plenary Session on The Scientific Legacy of the 20th Century" (PDF) (28 October - 1 November 2010))
Folks who don't like the idea of human beings being different from aardvarks and chiggers probably wouldn't like that "mastery over ... nature" thing. It's yet another thing we're supposed to feel guilty about, I gather.

Me? I don't have trouble with the idea that God made us in His image. (January 25, 2010) Which doesn't mean that I think we should pour raw sewage into our drinking water. We've got brains: I figure we're expected to use them. (September 23, 2010)

Then there's what Pope Benedict XVI had to say, earlier this week:
"Science leads to truth about God, humanity, Pope says"
Catholic News Agency (October 28, 2010)

"Science in the 21st century must work for the 'true good of man,' the Pope told a group of scientists Oct. 28. The 'positive outcome' of this century largely depends on it.

"The Holy Father hosted members of the Pontifical Academy for Science in audience at the Vatican. The group is gathered in Rome for the academy's plenary meeting examining 'The Scientific Legacy of the Twentieth Century.'...

"...The task of science, rather, 'was and remains a patient yet passionate search for the truth about the cosmos, about nature and about the constitution of the human being,' said the Pope....

"...The Church 'is convinced that scientific activity ultimately benefits from the recognition of man's spiritual dimension and his quest for ultimate answers that allow for the acknowledgment of a world existing independently from us, which we do not fully understand and which we can only comprehend in so far as we grasp its inherent logic,' he said...."
The CNA article has more about what the Pope said, including the observation that science isn't something that answers all questions about our existence. And it's not a bogey man that'll kill us with atomic bombs and bug spray.

A balanced view? I think so.

Related posts:More related posts in this blog:Posts discussing my take on science, technology, and getting a grip, in other blogs:More:
1 As I've written in another blog, America isn't perfect. But I don't buy the idea that this country is the source of all the world's ills. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (July 3, 2008)

About the two cities affected by nuclear weapons: I don't have the conventional knee-jerk reaction to that. I don't think war is nice. I'm sad that so many people were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On the other hand, I can't work up serious regret that a decision was made which - in all probability - saved an enormous number of Japanese and allied lives.

I'll admit to having a personal stake in the matter. I'm one of the many people on both sides of the Pacific who almost certainly would not be alive today, if a conventional invasion of Japan had occurred - with the sort of suicidal defense which had become routine for Japanese forces and the civilians they controlled. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (October 16, 2009, March 24, 2009)


Seven Star Hand said...

The Vatican is desperate to spin what comes next into a positive. They are deathly afraid of what I have just published and rightly so. The Vatican's worst nightmare is beginning to unfold.

Watch the video to understand the truth and then draw your own conclusions. I have come like a thief in the night...

Here is Wisdom !!

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Seven Star Hand,

Okay. The video's 1:36, and is pretty good marketing for that sort of 'vast ancient conspiracy' thing.

Books and videos on vast conspiracies, ancient stones, and the back side of the dollar bill sell: but I don't take the 'ancient conspiracy' thing all that seriously. ("Halloween, Emperor Palpatine, Electric Eyeballs, and Getting a Grip (October 29, 2010))

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.