Category: History

The Bible That Went to the Moon

Microchip bible that went to the moon (Catholic Herald)The Catholic Herald reports:

Nearly 200 rare biblical texts on parchment and vellum are among the artifacts that will be on display at the Vatican in a new exhibition.

The event, which will be called ”Verbum Domini II: God’s Word Goes Out to the Nations”, will run from April 2 to June 22.

Along with three fragments of the Dead Sea scrolls and an original copy of the King James Bible, printed in 1611, visitors to the free exhibition will see the microchip Bible that traveled to the moon and back on Apollo 14 in 1971.

Read here.

9 Scientist Priests

RealClearScience has posted a brief slideshow of nine priests who were also important scientists. See the list here.

Powell on “Cosmos”

As much as I hate to keep picking on Cosmos, its good to see that its historical inaccuracy has not gone uncontested, even outside of the religious media. Here’s Discover‘s Corey Powell asking, “Did ‘Cosmos’ Pick the Wrong Hero?”:

“Despite his heresies, Bruno was neither impoverished nor alone. In reality, he had a series of powerful patrons. In 1579, he was appointed a professor of philosophy in Tolouse, France. In 1581, King Henry III of France offered him a lucrative lectureship at the Sorbonne. In 1583 he visited England, lived with the ambassador to France, and met regularly with the Court…and so on. The gaunt, lonely fellow you see on screen in Cosmos is not the real Bruno.

Nor was Bruno the simple, humble figure shown on TV. A major reason he moved around so much is that he was argumentative, sarcastic, and drawn to controversy. He engaged in bitter academic disputes, many of which had nothing to do with his cosmic framework. One example: He fled France because of a violent dispute about the proper use of a compass (seriously).

None of this means that Bruno in any way deserved his fate. But neither does he deserve to be reduced to a cartoon about intellectual freedom. He was a brilliant, complicated, difficult man.”

Read here.

UPDATE: A response from Cosmos cowriter Steven Soter, and a reply from Powell.

MacDonald on “Cosmos”

Tom MacDonald writes at God and the Machine:

“The final question to all this is “Why”?

Why are we replaying the Bruno story in a documentary about space?

What is the purpose? What is the result?

Is it to show how science and religion came into conflict? The Galileo case would be a better example for that, but people already know that one and Galileo didn’t have the benefit of a cinematic death that makes his opponents looks like mindless savages.

In the development of theories about the cosmos, Bruno was almost irrelevant, and perhaps even harmed those debates because he meshed those theories with a staggering level of heresy and New Age-style nonsense. He was a hermeticist and cabalist, and viewed heliocentrism not as some verifiable scientific truth, but as a sign of the return to the true, superior religion of ancient Egypt. He saw his work as a corrective to Copernicus, who failed to understand the religious significance of heliocentrism. He was more influenced by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, an occultist and magician, than by anyone else. His work had little to do with science.

Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa would have been a far better figure to illustrate the development of the idea, but he died peacefully in his bed, a cardinal and officer of the papal court, so he’s not as useful as Bruno.

Bruno makes for good propaganda, and continues the Church versus Science lie so dear to the hearts of reactionary atheists. Never mind that it’s not true and that we have only one scientist really punished by the Church at least in part for his science, and that was 400 years ago.”

Read here.

Einstein & the Steady State Universe

Following up on the post about Einstein’s early preference for a Steady State versus Big Bang cosmology, here’s a new story, also from Nature, describing a recently discovered draft written by Einstein outlining a Steady State theory:

“A manuscript that lay unnoticed by scientists for decades has revealed that Albert Einstein once dabbled with an alternative to what we now know as the Big Bang theory, proposing instead that the Universe expanded steadily and eternally. The recently uncovered work, written in 1931, is reminiscent of a theory championed by British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle nearly 20 years later. Einstein soon abandoned the idea, but the manuscript reveals his continued hesitance to accept that the Universe was created during a single explosive event.”

Read here.

UPDATE: John Farrell offers some good discussion about this find.

Einstein’s “Conversion” to an Expanding Universe

From Springer Select, reporting on a new paper published in History & Philosophical Foundations of Physics:

“[Einstein] then fiercely resisted the view that the universe was expanding, despite his contemporaries’ suggestions that this was the case. For example, in 1922, Russian physicist Alexander Friedman showed that Einstein’s equations were viable for dynamical worlds. And, in 1927, Georges Lemaître, a Belgian astrophysicist from the Catholic University of Louvain, concluded that the universe was expanding by combining general relativity with astronomical observations. Yet, Einstein still refused to abandon his static universe.”

Read here.

“Science Was Born of Christianity”

Via this story, I’ve just become aware of Stacy Trasancos’ book Science-Was-Born-Coverdiscussing the thought of Stanley Jaki. With the proceeds going to a good cause and the subject matter supremely interesting, I recommend taking a look. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Royal: Medicine as if Catholicism Mattered

Today at The Catholic Thing, Robert Royal writes about his recent visit to the conference of the Religious medicineCatholic Medical Association. To say that Catholicism has a role to play in medicine is to say a number of things. First is the historical fact that the modern hospital system has its origin in Christendom’s Church-supported, religiously motivated charitable enterprises. Second, is that although we should be wary of reducing religion merely to charitable aid (as Pope Francis has said, we cannot think of the Church as just another NGO), it remains true that “faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:17) and that Christian charity extends not only to eternal but to temporal concerns. Therefore, it is fitting and proper that Catholics act vigorously in the field of providing healthcare to the suffering in society.

But the main point I wish to make is that Catholicism may have a particular role to play in recalling medicine to itself. As Royal notes, the Association “is a group that knows itself to be operating in a culture that is now at odds with the great tradition of medicine from … the Hippocratic Oath down to our own day.” Medicine is a powerful force; modern technology only makes it more so. Medicine has a tradition, even preceding Christianity, of attempting to temper its power and of focusing its  treatment on the good of the suffering person. But when the fundamentals of medical ethics are questioned, and we see a proliferation of approaches that treat patients (born and unborn) as simply factors to be evaluated in some abstract calculus of personal or social convenience and utility, it just might be the case that an institution that a tradition of two millennia of serious thought about the questions of ethics and morals might have something substantial to bring to the table.

Coyne on Christianity and the History of Science; Hannam & Berezow Respond

Jerry Coyne is contesting the thesis that Christianity played a crucial role in the rise of the enterprise of modern science. At Real Clear Science, Alex Berezow & James Hannam (The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution) offer a response:

“Historians have long realized that the great conflict between science and religion is a myth. But it continues to be an article of faith among the New Atheists. In contrast to his views on evolution, Dr. Coyne thinks that he can ignore the evidence from history and disregard the settled view of experts in the field. But, being a scholar and a rational man, we’re sure that he will change his mind if shown to be wrong.”

(Read here.)

Although all of Coyne’s points demonstrate simplistic thinking regarding the history of science and religion, for me, two in particular stuck out:

“7. If religion promulgated the search for knowledge, it also gave rise to erroneous, revelation-based “scientific” conclusions that surely impeded progress. Those include creation ex nihilo, the Great Flood, a geocentric universe, and so on.”

Except that nothing in science whatsoever has disproven creation ex nihilo—that doctrine God created the entire universe out of nothing, rather than by working with preexisting, eternal matter, as most pre-Judeo-Christian cosmologies assumed. Coyne may perhaps be confusing creation ex nihilo with a fundamentalist sort of special creation, but the latter is not the teaching of the Church, although it has been a not-uncommon opinion (Catholics are, in fact, free to think for themselves on this question). As for the Great Flood or geocentrism, aside from the fact that Galileo ended up living out his days under a fairly comfortable house arrest, it is not clear how either of those held up “scientific progress”—indeed, other thinkers continued studying and writing about the heliocentric vs. geocentric models contemporaneously with the Galileo affair, without trouble from the Church—mostly because the hostility between the Church and Galileo was exacerbated by the strong-willed personalities involved, and not an innate hostility to new scientific ideas. Once the evidence supported it, the model was accepted, and the Church’s bungling of the Galileo case became an atypical quirk of history.

“8.  Early scientists were Christians, at least in the west, because everyone was a Christian then.  You would have been an apostate, or burnt at the stake, had you denied that faith.  If you’re going to give Christianity credit for science, you have to give it credit for nearly everything, including art, architecture, music, and so on.”

Okay, if you insist.


Scott Carpenter, Requiescat in pace

Mercury program astronaut Scott Carpenter has died at age 88. Carpenter traveled into space aboard Aurora 7 in 1962, as the fourth American into space and the second to orbit the Earth. Read the story from Spaceflight Now. With Carpenter’s death, John Glenn remains the only member of the “Mercury 7″ still living.