Saturday, March 10, 2007

Some readers may recall last year about this time that your host weighed in on matters pertaining to one John Sharpe.{1} Well earlier today, a friend and reader of this weblog sent your host an article from The Navy Times about the same John Sharpe:

Carrier PAO Relieved Pending Investigation

Anyway, it is noted here for those who were following this subject before who may find this of some interest.


{1} On IHS Press, Potential Fascist Ramifications, and Antisemitism (circa March 1, 2006)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Points to Ponder:

If I saw a man wandering through the desert, crazed and dying from thirst, I would tell him not to drink kerosene because it would be kindness to remind him of what he truly seeks. But I would not mock his search, or tell him that only fools fail to realize that "water" is a lie. The necrotic arrangement which now passes itself off as "Western Civilization" has been doing that with increasing ferocity for the better part of two centuries. That is why the West is dying, and why the terrorists have come: Maggots attack corpses, not living beings. The West's secular disdain for religion has not protected us from Islam. Why should anyone want to trust that it will protect us in [the] future? [Ian Mclean (February 2006)]

Thursday, March 08, 2007

On the Appeal to Authority and Distinguishing Between Valid and Fallacious Appeals Thereof:
(Musings of your humble servant at Rerum Novarum)

One of the unfortunate patterns infecting modern discourse to an ever-increasing degree is an overabundance of fallacious argumentation. Out of all of them however, perhaps the most pervasive is the appeal to authority (Lat. argumentum ad vericundiam) by not a few people in their presumed "reasoning" and/or self-styled "methodologies." This has been a subject raised by your host at sundry times and in diverse manners in years gone by -though in virtually all cases said responses were to fallacious forms of this common appeal in argumentation in "real time" if you will. The purpose of this posting is a more general examination of the matter to hopefully assist readers in the area of rational cultivation.

Unfortunately, too often people who involve themselves in fallacious forms of argumentation respond to criticisms of their errors factually, prepositionally, or otherwise by claiming that their critics are disparaging any and all appeals to authority. This even happened recently to your host where a critic made this assertion -one which our history more than amply demonstrates is no small misrepresentation. To wit:

One of the most frequently means of arguing a point is resorting to an erroneous usage of what is called argument from authority. Now I should note in advance that to some extent, everyone relies on those whom are recognized to various degrees as "authorities" outside of themselves to develop and/or maintain a position in an argument. (As no one can possibly know everything there is to know about any subject in question, let alone the entire spectrum of subject matter.) Nonetheless, there are proper and improper ways of doing this -and the post you are reading will endeavour to explain the proper means versus the improper means of appealing to authority. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa August 27, 2004)]

In other words, the present writer has not failed to recognize that there are valid appeals to authority -indeed that anyone could claim that he has not only shows the degree to which certain critics do not bother reading what your host has written before attempting to "refute" him.{1} The purpose of this posting is to set out in as brief a form as possible{2} the difference between a valid and invalid appeal to authority. But before that can be done, a focus must be made on the word "fallacy" and the related term "fallacious" and pinpointing what it is precisely that makes an argument fallacious,a particular approach a "fallacy" and in essence, invalid.

In setting forth a thesis{3} to be defended in the form of a hypothesis{4}, the present writer asks the reader to consider what is about to be said on the matter of the merits of the arguments presented and nothing else. This is requested because what is about to be said is not to be presumed as true or false merely on the present writer's assertion that it is so but instead by objective criteria. Having noted that, consider the following thesis as the proposition which the balance of this posting intends to propose:

--A fallacy of argument is by definition erroneous in the areas of usage and application of logic and reason thereof and nothing else.

In other words, a fallacy means the argument fails for some intrinsic reason pertaining to the reason and logic involved in its composition. When dealing with an appeal to authority, there is no fallacy if there is a reasoned argument set forth which cites for support of the conclusion reached by rational argumentation the opinion of an authority or authorities. However, responding to a reasoned and logical argument with citations of presumed "authorities" and sources where actual arguments interacting with the hypothesis or theory of another have not been made is intrinsically fallacious.

Now surely, anyone with a normal, intact, functioning brain can see the distinction being made here as being both logical as well as simple common-sense. It provides if you will for a rational explanation for what constitutes a fallacy of argument and does this by objective manifestation and not mere subjective opinion. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who claim to have much higher than average intelligence who involve themselves in this exact form of fallacious argumentum ad vericundiam. Having noted the distinction between valid and invalid appeals to authority, the next point to be considered is what makes an argument erroneous objectively speaking.

Notice if you will what is not being asked here. The present writer is not asking what makes a person think an argument is erroneous but instead what makes it erroneous irrespective of what individuals subjectively think on the matter. Your host has asserted over the years that any approach that does not interact with the argument on its merits or lack thereof as determined by objective criteria is the correct point of focus here for pinpointing a fallacy. To summarize that principle in a nutshell:

--Only the data comprising an argument --either in its favour or in opposition to it on the merits of the arguments itself-- is what determines validity or lack thereof to an argument, nothing else does.

In other words, anything added to the mix of a personal nature does not change the validity or invalidity of the argument itself if the latter is interacted with on its merits. This will be noted later on in another posting when discussing valid and invalid forms of what is commonly called the ad hominem approach to argumentation{5} but if sufficed to mention it briefly at the present time; ergo that is what was done.

As your host has made this assertion numerous times over the years in a variety of manifestations (including HERE and HERE), some have responded to these and other such assertions by seeking to posit a dichotomy between actual arguments and logical fallacies when the subject of argumentation fallacies is brought into the mix. The problem with such an approach is that logic itself is an exact, specific discipline and it involves the study of propositions and the use of said propositions in argumentation. And as actual arguments utilize to some extent reason and logic (however well), any attempted separation here is part and parcel of what is called a false dichotomy.

The reason such a separation is not valid is again because strictly speaking logical fallacies involve patterns of reasoning which are wrong on the basis of structural flaws in the argument. Structural flaws which render an argument invalid are called "argumentation fallacies." And as argumentation fallacies are various structural flaws in arguments, whereas logical fallacies involve patterns of reasoning based on demonstrative structural flaws,{6} this is why the attempt to separate the two as if they can be actually separated is an example of a false dichotomy: another fallacy of argumentation by the way but to detail it would to get offtrack from the purpose of the present posting.

The reason all of this has been outlined in the manner above is because there have been some critics who think they can respond to a cogently argued hypothesis --or even worse, presume to do so with an established theory{7} or point of reference{8}-- with a bunch of references to the opinions or conclusions of presumed "authorities" on a matter as if that is a valid methodology or credible counter-argument. And sometimes these people have tried to appropriate for their own arguments made by presumed "authorities" as if that suffices to avoid a fallacious appeal to authority. But none of this actually escapes fallacious argumentum ad vericundiam for reasons soon to be noted.

Before dealing with the latter point though, it suffices to note at the outset when the latter methodology is validly utilized. In truth, there are two situations and they are as follows:

--In response to a proposition that a particular source does not say something.

--As supporting documentation for an opinion sustained by logic and reasoned argumentation.

In the first instance, while an actual argument is preferable, strictly speaking no actual argument by the responding party is needed because appeal can be made to the source itself. For example, if someone were to argue that "Adolph Hitler never thought badly of Jews", there is no need to respond to that assertion with an argument of one's own.{9} Instead, citing in context Hitler's own words where his contempt for Jews was more than sufficiently made clear would suffice to dispatch with such an assertion as non-viable for anyone with a semblance of intellectual integrity.

In the second instance, an actual argument is required to avoid a fallacious appeal to the authority being cited because otherwise there is no real argument being made. If (for example) someone says that World War II was a just war and makes a rigorous case for their assertion and a critic ignores their argument and says "I disagree because historian Mr. X says it was unjust", that is a fallacious appeal to authority. If said persons said that and then tried to appropriate arguments from Mr. X., the argument while valid would only be as strong as the arguments advanced by Mr. X.

Of course, if Mr. X's arguments are shot to pieces, the argument fails and must either be revised or discarded. And it should go without saying that if the response to a discredited argument is to reiterate the discredited argument and appeal to the authority making it and their presumed "authoritative credentials", then once again the person so arguing commits an objective manifestation of the fallacy of ad vericundiam irrespective of what their subjective intentions on the matter may or may not be.{10}

Some have gone further than this and sought to claim that there can be a logical or argumentation fallacy based on what is claimed to be a person's faulty premise. Now it is certainly true that this is possible but an accusation of a faulty premise requires demonstration by objective criteria.{11} And when people claim a faulty premise based on some unverifiable outside criteria or otherwise refuse to prove their assertion by rational argument, there is another fallacy of argumentation intrinsically taking place{12}. The present writer explained two possible reasons for an impasse in understanding --presuming for a moment no ill-will on the part of either party involved:

One reason could be because they cannot be reasoned with. Another though can be due to the person confusing reality with their intentions. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa February 27, 2007)]

The above excerpt is from a longer thread dealing with the difference between objective manifestation and subjective intention: another important-yet-often-overlooked factor in the equation. The point in a nutshell is that allowances can be made for what someone says their intentions were as the present writer has noted before.{13} But even that allowance does not detract from what said person objectively manifests.

While more could be noted on these matters and may well be in the future{14}, hopefully what is outlined above is adequate to (i) explain the important distinction between a valid and an invalid appeal to authority, (ii) more than adequately sustain the hypothesis the present writer noted was the main intention of this posting, and (iii) in some small fashion contribute to an improvement in public discourse and the use of reason and logic by those who have read this thread and reflect on what is written above.

[Update: For a dialogue on (and some criticisms of) this post from a friend, see the thread posted here. -ISM 3/27/07 2:15pm]


{1} Without mentioning any names, your host can think of many people who think they know how to dialogue but who appear to evince no familiarity whatsoever at times with those two key elements of authentic dialogue. Listening does not mean scanning the words of someone to immediately throw together a half-baked (if even that) "response" which demonstrates that you did not bother to take in what they actually said. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa February 9, 2006)]

{2} And in a different fashion than this subject has been dealt with in the past.

{3} Having established a working meaning of the term theory, it is worth noting also that the word thesis according to the Merriam Webster Thesaurus is related to the word theory. (Both of them having a foundation in the term assumption.) A good way of looking at this in the current context is to view a thesis as "an abstract principle or proposition to be advanced and maintained by argument" and a theory as incorporating a thesis -or a series of theses -with a guideline for successful action. [Excerpt from the Rerum Novarum Miscellaneous BLOG (circa January 14, 2004)]

{4} Hypothesis: An explanation of a subject, circumstance, or event which is advanced on tentative grounds by a proposed thesis or series of theses and is open to further examination or being potentially disproved before it reaches the stature of a viable theory. [Excerpt from the Rerum Novarum Miscellaneous BLOG (circa August 22, 2006)]

{5} Your host is not sure when this one will be worked on but some of what is in this posting and the one distinguishing between objective manifestation and subjective intention circa last month will be presupposed when that subject is dealt with.

{6} [L]ogical fallacy - a fallacy in logical argumentation. [Excerpt from The Free Online Dictionary and Thesaurus Defining the Term Logical Fallacy]

{7} [W]hen one is dealing with a theory, they are dealing with both abstract notions as well as coordinating dynamic principles of action. One of the author's intellectual mentors once defined a theory as "a set of non contradictory abstract ideas (or as philosophers like to call them 'principles') which purports to be either a correct description of reality or a guideline for successful action." [Excerpt from the Rerum Novarum Miscellaneous BLOG (circa January 14, 2004)]

{8} A hypothesis in other words is a thesis or a coordinative series of theses which are set forth in explanatory form for examination, testing, etc. for potential flaws which could invalidate it. Among the flaws in potentia (but by no means the only ones) are errors of fact, errors in logic, formal contradiction, etc. If a hypothesis withstands this kind of scrutiny and remains intact, it can validly be considered a theory. A theory is therefore defined as follows:

Theory: A set of non-contradictory abstract ideas (or as philosophers like to call them, principles) which purports to give either a correct description of reality or a guideline for successful action.

A theory in other words is a solid point of reference and is not to be dismissed as a mere whim. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa February 17, 2007)]

{9} Obviously one can if they want to but it is in this instance strictly speaking not necessary.

{10} The reason for this should be obvious: the argument itself does not withstand scrutiny so appealing to the presumed "credentials" of the person making the debunked argument does not rehabilitate said argument. Ergo, unless the argument itself is revised or replaced by one that is viable, the further appeal to the presumed "authority" at that point is fallacious and therefore invalid methodologically. Period.

{11} [A] refutation or confutation of an argument must involve objective proof by rational argumentation that said theories or viewpoints or assertions are false or otherwise erroneous. Many who write self-styled "refutations" make references to what they believe to be a refutation or some equivalent which is actually an out of context injunction on their part and properly classified as normative argumentation and thus subjective. This will never do because a refutation properly speaking is non-normative and requires therefore objective criteria for being able to be accurately assessed as to its veracity or lack thereof. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa September 17, 2006)]

{12} [H]ysteron proteron - The logical fallacy of assuming as true and using as a premise a proposition that is yet to be proved. [Excerpt from The Free Online Dictionary and Thesaurus Defining the Term Hysteron Proteron]

It should go without saying that the kind of "proof" which would be used in proving a given premise to be correct would be by objective manifestation or by non-normative criteria and not subjective intention or what is properly classified as normative.

{13} Most recently here:

Points to Ponder on Some Limits of Reason and Logic (circa February 5, 2007)

{14} As your host may be inclined by circumstances or whatever to revisit this subject again at a later date.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Points to Ponder:

Not to engage in the pursuit of ideas is to live like ants instead of like men. [Mortimer J. Adler]
More on Creation and Understanding Genesis:
(Responding to a Reluctant Atheist)

My interlocuter's words will be in shale coloured font.


In your blog on Saturday, February 17, 2007 you wrote in response to a letter from a Creationist:

"I would suggest that you be a lot more cautious in your attempts to dismiss the theories of evolution and a lot less blindly accepting of the contradictory, factually-challenged pseudo "science" of the Creationist crowd. We are not fundamentalists XXXXX and do not accept the Bible as a science text."

But Catholics do accept the Bible as the inerrant word of God.

Yes but the two are not ipso facto synonymous. As Venerable Cardinal Caesar Baronius around 1598 noted "[t]he Bible is given to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." St. Augustine similarly noted twelve hundred years before him that "[o]ne does not read in the Gospel that the Lord said: 'I will send the Paraclete who will teach you the course of the sun and moon.' For he willed to make them Christians not mathematicians." St. Augustine's teacher St. Ambrose asserted that "[t]o discuss the nature and position of the earth does not help us in our hope of the life to come." In other words, the Bible was given with a certain intention in mind and throughout Christian history, that view has been reiterated by the Church's most learned theologians.

Now it is true that some of them did espouse a literal view on these matters back when there was no scientific evidence to contradict it, the overall attitude taken was one akin to what is noted above by St. Augustine and St. Ambrose: recognition that matters of science and mathematics were not what the Scriptures were intended to convey. This is not difficult to demonstrate and it further erodes the notion that the church even from its earliest days read Genesis as the so-called "creationists" are doing. Consider for example the following written over a thousand years before the existence of the telescope:

Let us suppose that in explaining the words, "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and light was made," one man thinks that it was material light that was made, and another that it was spiritual. As to the actual existence of "spiritual light" in a spiritual creature, our faith leaves no doubt; as to the existence of material light, celestial or supercelestial, even existing before the heavens, a light which could have been followed by night, there will be nothing in such a supposition contrary to the faith until un-erring truth gives the lie to it. And if that should happen, this teaching was never in Holy Scripture but was an opinion proposed by man in his ignorance. On the other hand, if reason should prove that this opinion is unquestionably true, it will still be uncertain whether this sense was intended by the sacred writer when he used the words quoted above, or whether he meant something else no less true. And if the general drift of the passage shows that the sacred writer did not intend this teaching, the other, which he did intend, will not thereby be false; indeed, it will be true and more worth knowing. On the other hand, if the tenor of the words of Scripture does not militate against our taking this teaching as the mind of the writer, we shall still have to enquire whether he could not have meant something else besides. And if we find that he could have meant something else also, it will not be clear which of the two meanings he intended. And there is no difficulty if he is thought to have wished both interpretations if both are supported by clear indications in the context...

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books.

None of what Augustine recommends coheres with the approach to Genesis that you have taken. And as this was a thousand years before the invention of the telescope, you cannot credibly claim th at this attitude was taken as some feeble attempt to defend ancient understandings from modern science or something along those lines.

The same God who created the world also wrote the Bible. So when the Author of the Bible writes about how the world was created we have to assume that He knows what He is talking about.

There is no shortage of people who attempt to interpret the Bible through an empiricist framework as if the texts are all of the same genre, all of the same styling, and all to be viewed as literal history. Ask yourself for a moment this question:

If it is not difficult to misunderstand contemporaries when we use the same languages and (presumably) have many of the same fundamentals of understanding, why should one presume that ancient writings millennial in age would somehow be easier to correctly understand???

The truth is, the Semitic people of the ancient east did not conceive of history as we do and wrote with a variety of literary genres much as we do today. This is something that I am amazed is so often not considered by not a few people who attempt to write on these matters.

Yet it is clear that whoever wrote the creation story in Genesis doesn't know what he is talking about.

Again, only if you are interpreting the creation account as an emperical literal history. If this was not the author's intention, then can you not see how your argument from this point onward is constructed on a faulty premise??? You have to consider among other things the times the texts were written in, the intention of the authors, and how they would use figures etc. in a matter that would resonate with the understanding of the people of a given epoch. (I say it that way as the various books of the Bible were written at different times and with different intentions of the author in mind.)

So the credibility of the Bible is destroyed.

The credibility of the Bible is no more destroyed in such an example than the episodes of Star Trek would be if someone two thousand years from now tried to pass them off as "literal history" rather than try to assess what genre the writing is in. In the case of Star Trek, it is "science fiction", in the case of Genesis, the first three chapters contain an allegorical account which in the understanding of the monotheistic religions conveys essential truths without error.

To understand what a written text means, it makes sense to consider what the authormay or may not have intended does it not??? But rather than do that, the common approach of the modern atheist or agnostic is to subject the ancient texts to "enlightenment" principles including viewing every phrase in a crassly literal sense. Then they claim the Bible is "false" when they have not bothered to try and ascertain whether or not the methodology then employ --which in some cases is undoubtedly valid-- is not itself misapplied in this instance.

Creationists understand this. They understand what is at stake, which is why they try to find scientific facts to bolster the creation story.

They err in presuming that the creation story was intended to be read as literal history ala the sorts of histories we compile today.

Yes, they twist science to fit the Bible, but aren't you guilty of the same thing, Shawn, only in reverse? Aren't you twisting the Bible to fit science?

Since I do not consider the Bible to be a science book to begin with, how can I be doing this???

You criticize Creationists for not "accepting the (scientific) evidences for what they are and adjusting their interpretation of the (Biblical) text accordingly." But that approach results in a dishonest reading of the Bible. Six days doesn't really mean six days, forming man from the dust of the earth doesn't really mean that man was formed from the dust of the earth, creating trees before creating the sun doesn't really mean that trees were created before the sun. Your approach is intellectually dishonest. The Bible can never be proven wrong because its words have no fixed meaning.

Again, have you taken any time whatsoever to consider the situation of literary genres in writing??? If you are familiar with Hebrew at all, the word translated as "day" has several interpretations as to a length of time. There are various usages throughout the Bible including various usages in Genesis itself. Again, if you do not try to focus on what the intention of the writer was, misunderstanding is not only likely but to be expected.

As recently as the period of the high scholastics (13th century), a process of interpretation of the Bible was codified which was called the "four senses of Scripture." (Literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical.) It was not a novelty or an innovation at the time of interpretive methodology but instead was a summing up of the various ancient ways that were utilized by the Fathers and Doctors prior to their time under one heading essentially. (I gave you an example of Augustine taking this approach above.) This was all done centuries prior to the whole Galileo incident (yes, I know where this is going) so I cannot be intellectually dishonest in referring to it here.

As a Catholic you will say that we cannot rely on our own private interpretation of the Bible but, instead, we must defer to the Church's role as the Bible's infallible interpreter. As a cradle Catholic I would agree. Unfortunately, the Church has failed to live up to that role.

Here it comes...

In one fell swoop the Galileo affair destroyed both the credibility of the Bible as the inerrant word of God and the Catholic Church as the Bible's infallible interpreter:

Of course since the Church had no problem with heliocentrism proposed in various hypotheses before Galileo was even born, this is a fact seriously undermining the common account of this matter. Need I remind you of Nicolaus Copernicus??? He died twenty years before Galileo was even born. He formulated the first heliocentric scientific hypothesis. His hypothesis was tested in private and eventually delivered by Cardinal Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter (papal Secretary State for Pope Clement VII and Pope Paul III) before prelates in Rome including several high ranking cardinals and Pope Clement VII in 1533. This was a hundred years before Galileo's sentencing and thirty-one years before Galileo was born!!! Copernicus synthesized his findings into a book titled On the Revolution of the Celestial Orbs which was published at the urging of Cardinal Widmannstetter and dedicated to Pope Paul III: the man who had provided the means to enable Copernicus to do his research.

Copernicus was leery of having his work published but not because of concern of church censure. Instead, his concern was the ridicule he would receive from his fellow scientists!!! It was at the insistence of Cardinal Schonberg (Archbishop of Capua), Bishop Giese of Culm and many other learned ecclesiastics who insisted that he publish his findings. Bishop Giese selected the Wittenburg mathematician and cartographer George Joachim Rheticus (who had renounced his professors chair in Wittenberg to learn from Copernicus) to edit the work and assist the aging Copernicus in its publication. Here is where it gets a bit complicating but I will try to summarize it as reasonably as I can.

Rheticus was too busy to supervise the editing as he was in the process of trying to regain his chair in Wittenburg which he was refused on the grounds of his heliocentric beliefs. (I remind you that Wittenberg was a Lutheran institution not a Catholic one at this time.) He gave the work to the German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Schöner and the German Lutheran theologian Andreas Osiander .

The point I am making by outlining all of this is that Copernicus was never condemned by the Catholic Church for propounding his hypothesis of heliocentrism. It is true that Copernicus' work was placed on the Index seventy odd years later during the controversy involving Galileo. And as Galileo kept referring to Copernicus' work, it was subjected to examination and placed on the Index in 1616 "until corrected." The corrections were noted in 1620 and they consisted of nine sentences which proclaimed the heliocentric system as "certain." Those sentences needed to be omitted or corrected to indicate that the system was not proven but a possible theory only. Once that was done, the book was allowed to be read.

This is not the problem one might presume as Copernicus was on his deathbed when the first printing of his work was made and in no condition to review the printed text. However, he was a faithful Catholic and would have accepted these corrections to his work as he did not have the arrogance that Galileo had on the matter. As I know you want to talk about the Galileo incident as a supposed "proof" against the Church's credibility, let us do that now.

"We say, pronounce, sentence, and declare that you, the above-mentioned Galileo, because of the things deduced in the trial and confessed by you as above, have rendered yourself according to this Holy Office vehemently suspected of heresy, namely of having held and believed a doctine which is false and contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture: that the sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west, and the earth moves and is not the center of the world, and that one may hold and defend as probable an opinion after it has been declared and defined contrary to Holy Scripture." (Condemnation of Galileo, June 22, 1633)

How familiar might I ask are you of the whole Galileo situation??? Because as I noted with Copernicus, there was never a problem with the heliocentric system proposed as a scientific hypothesis. Galileo had no conclusive proof for his position and there still is not. But he moved anyway to declare that his position was "the truth" and despite the Inquisition giving permission for him to publish a book dealing with the two cosmological theories then in circulation (geocentric or Ptolemaic and heliocentric or Copernican) Galileo in doing this avoided a balanced treatment on the matter and instead treated the Ptolemaic view as naive and absurd.

He did this I remind you with no conclusive proof whatsoever for the Copernican model. And it was even worse when you consider that Galileo's theory on the Copernican model was filled with gaps and errors and the like. If you think this treatment is proper and scientifically appropriate than there is nothing more to say because by any pretense of scientific standard the idea of declaring any hypothesis as "certain" or otherwise beyond any doubt whatsoever is ridiculous if you do not have conclusive proof. And Galileo had no conclusive proof. To make matters worse still, he refused to consider modified versions of the Ptolomaic model (such as the Tychonic system) or Kepler's heliocentric models which were derived from measurements involved in the latter system and incidentally, more accurate than Galileo's. In fact, Galileo mocked these other approaches though they were more accurate than his own.

If he would have been content to render his view as a scientific hypothesis, there would have been no problem. Indeed, this was made clear by St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine in a 1615 letter to the Carmelite provincial Paolo Foscarini who had inquired on the matter with him.

I have gladly read the letter in Italian and the treatise which Your Reverence sent me, and I thank you for both. And I confess that both are filled with ingenuity and learning, and since you ask for my opinion, I will give it to you very briefly, as you have little time for reading and I for writing...

[I]t seems to me that Your Reverence and Galileo did prudently to content yourself with speaking hypothetically, and not absolutely, as I have always believed that Copernicus spoke. For to say that, assuming the earth moves and the sun stands still, all the appearances are saved better than with eccentrics and epicycles, is to speak well; there is no danger in this, and it is sufficient for mathematicians...

After pointing out the problems he saw with the assertions of Galileo beyond the area of scientific hypothesis, he noted the following as a course of action that would be required if scientific demonstration confirmed beyond the merely hypothetical what Galileo was presuming. To wit:

[I]f there were a true demonstration that the sun was in the center of the universe and the earth in the third sphere, and that the sun did not travel around the earth but the earth circled the sun, then it would be necessary to proceed with great caution in explaining the passages of Scripture which seemed contrary, and we would rather have to say that we did not understand them than to say that something was false which has been demonstrated. But I do not believe that there is any such demonstration; none has been shown to me. It is not the same thing to show that the appearances are saved by assuming that the sun really is in the center and the earth in the heavens. I believe that the first demonstration might exist, but I have grave doubts about the second, and in a case of doubt, one may not depart from the Scriptures as explained by the holy Fathers...

Note the reference to not being able to say that something was false which had been demonstrated. That is the rub because Galileo did not have a convincing heliocentric (or Copernican) model. The most accurate model of the time was that of Tycho Brahe which was a modified geocentric (or Ptolomaic) model which is what the Catholic leaders generally favoured at the time. It was significantly more accurate than Galileo's. Brahe's assistant Johannes Kepler actually developed his own heliocentric hypothesis based on Brahe's measurements later on. Did Galileo accept Kepler's model of heliocentrism??? Nope, he not only rejected it but he actually ridiculed it despite Kepler's model making far more accurate predictions of planetary movement than Galileo's did.

As far as the quote you noted above, it was the sentence of a court tribunal and based on Galileo traversing the field of scientific hypotheses and presuming to make definitive statements on matters of theology. It does not even remotely approach a matter of faith, the decision was never even signed by Pope Urban VIII (who was a friend of Galileo's in case you did not know). The idea that ecclesiastical court judgments of an individual somehow constitute matters of Catholic faith is a leap worthy of Evel Knievel.

It should also be noted that prior to his rash refusal to remain within the realm of scientific hypotheses that Galileo actually took the approach towards these matters that the Catholic Church has subsequently taken and akin to what Copernicus took prior to him. This is why Copernicus was not censured and why Galileo would not have been either -if he had possessed a greater sense of tact than he eventually did.

I used to fantasize about what would have happened if the Church had supported Galileo rather than condemning him. Protestants at the time would have had a field day crowing about how this was proof that the Catholic Church was ignoring the plain words of Scripture. Then the Prots would have had to eat crow when Galileo was proved right. That might have killed off Protestantism right then and there because they would have realized the dangers of private interpretation. It would be as if God had said, "My Word will do you no good without My Church to interpret it for you."

Of course the problem is, Galileo's model was highly inaccurate and he never established his model as a viable theory. Galileo was never "proven right" as you claim and that is the rub. By contrast Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity has been demonstrated to be a viable theory. And as Einstein's theories postulate the lack of a fixed geometric center to the universe -the universe's center for an observer essentially being where they stand- if this is not a refutation of Galileo's hypothesis then I do not know what is. (As all heliocentric models take as a foundational presupposition that the sun is at the center of the universe.)

In short, Galileo has been refuted by science but (strangely enough) those who bring the Galileo affair up never seem to want to acknowledge this. I wonder why!!!

But that did not happen. The Church proved to be no more inspired than the Bible. Consequently, the Church was wrong because the Bible was wrong. The Church retreated from any further confrontations with science, realizing that she could no longer trust the Bible or her interpretation of it.

Actually, Einstein's theories of relativity are quite consonant with the Scriptural accounts.

Protestants, however, conveniently reinterpreted Scripture and deluded themselves into believing that the conflict was caused by the Catholic Church corrupting Christianity with Aristotelian philosophy. Their faith in the Bible undiminished, it was the Protestants who fought the evolutionists while a chastened Catholic Church remained on the sidelines. But now most Protestants have conceded to the evolutionists and have also retreated from any further confrontations with science.

Let's face it, Shawn. You can believe in science or you can believe in the Bible. But you can't believe in both.

But I do believe in both. And as believing in science means rejecting the thesis of the sun being at the center of the universe (that is what is at the heart of heliocentric theory after all), to that extent I concur with science. And on this matter, so by all appearances does the Bible.


A Reluctant Atheist

Well, hopefully what is covered in this note will give you some food for further reflections on these subjects.