Does God Want You To Be Curious?

In a recent interview, science writer Philip Ball talks about his new book on curiosity, and implicates religion in stifling it:

It’s certainly true that the instinct to know more about our environment must go back as far as humanity does, and before. That makes perfect sense because there’s an evolutionary advantage to knowing more about what surrounds you. So from that point of view, there’s no mystery why we are curious.

In my new book, however, I really interrogate this slippery concept of curiosity. If you look back to classical times, it’s clear that people in ancient Greece were asking questions about how nature worked that to us look just like curiosity, but they would never have used that word or its Greek equivalent. To them, curiosity was something quite different, all about prying into things that didn’t concern you. There was a hierarchy to asking questions about the world. Some questions were clearly important and some weren’t worth asking, often those to do with particulars rather than overarching themes or principles.

The case I argue is that science in the modern sense only really took off when that hierarchy started to be eroded – when it became acceptable to ask any question about anything. That really began to happen towards the end of the 16th century and particularly in the 17th century. Curiosity also had theological connotations. Most obviously in the Christian tradition, curiosity was problematic and impious, trying to pry into God’s creation. If something was hidden, a lot of medieval theologians thought, then it was something that God intended us not to know about.

Ask any question about anything. I like that. But if you want to hide the truth about something, set it at the top of a hierarchy of values, make it sacred, and discourage certain lines of inquiry. That should do it.

And it frequently does.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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13 Responses to Does God Want You To Be Curious?

  1. Marlen says:

    “But if you want to hide the truth about something, set it at the top of a hierarchy of values, make it sacred, and discourage certain lines of inquiry. That should do it.

    And it frequently does.”

    Cool

  2. David Yates says:

    All due respect to this Philip Ball character (personally, I’ve never heard of him, but I admit that doesn’t mean a whole lot; there’s plenty of people I’ve never heard of), but he nonetheless maintains a view of Christianity (specifically that of the Middle Ages) and its alleged opposition to scientific enquiry that’s long been disproven.
    As I’ve already posted on this topic several months ago, I hope no one minds if the following is largely me quoting myself:
    “In reality, science suffered a series of stillbirths in various cultures prior to its flourishing in Western Europe (a.k.a. Christendom). The diverse worldviews inherent in each of those civilizations made this all but inevitable. E.g. China had a huge head start in terms of science, but its citizens were so rigidly stratified in their society that any innovation among the lower strata was quickly squelched; thus there existed no incentive to innovate since it wouldn’t improve one’s station in life anyway. Additionally, any gains in knowledge that could be derived from what we would call empirical observation was regarded to be of no genuine benefit since the Chinese believed that everything was filled with ‘chi’. The end result was that, figuratively speaking, you couldn’t build a model of anything and then take it apart to see how worked, because you couldn’t fill your model with chi. Therefore, anything that might be learned was considered of no real consequence.
    Ancient India famously produced several excellent mathematicians, but that never then developed into the language of science. Hindu pantheism saw the universe as Brahma, or “One.” Therefore, how could one countenance experimenting on, organizing, and then classifying any constituent parts of it? It would be inconceivable. Moreover, Hinduism also taught that, in reality, there was no reality; rather everything was Maya, or “Illusion.” One couldn’t empirically observe the world because it was all illusion, all one could do was merely to meditate on that.
    Similarly, despite some initial promise, there was really very little scientific progress in ancient Greece. Nor could there be, since in Platonic thought, the material world as experienced with the senses also isn’t real, but merely reflections of that which was actually real: the realm of Ideas. Hence, any experimentation conducted in this world was regarded as all but completely useless, since they would only be experimenting on the reflection or shadow of their subject’s Ideal form, which only truly existed in a realm that is ultimately and forever beyond them. The result was that, as in Aristotelian thought, all “true” knowledge could only be achieved deductively, through the mind. Therefore, as a result, Aristotle could teach with authority that larger, heavier objects fall faster than smaller, lighter ones. All one had to do was try it to see that this was false, but no one bothered (until Galileo nearly 2,000 yrs later), because that would be knowledge attained through inductive experimentation, not deductive reasoning. (Just for another obvious example, Aristotle also “reasoned” that all objects behave the same in all mediums. Thus, if you drop a rock, within the medium of air, it will fall, and it will also behave the same way within the medium of water. But try doing this with a stick of wood.)
    As I alluded earlier, these cultures could excel in a completely abstract discipline such as math, where one is dealing almost entirely in concepts that possess no objective reality (e.g. show me ‘5’ – you could show me 5 OF something, or you could show me its symbol ‘5’, but otherwise ‘5’ qua ‘5’ possesses no actual existence), but to translate this into scientific observation is completely beyond such views of reality.
    Also, within polytheistic societies such as these, nature is governed, not by reliable and predictable laws, but at the capricious whims of any of a number of gods and goddesses – some of which may wish you well, while others may actively wish you harm. Within these cultures, shamanistic magical potions, spells, or incantations may “work” on one occasion, but by no means would it necessarily work the next time.
    Thus, pre-modern Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, and even Muslims, could obtain many accurate insights into nature and the cosmos, they could make certain observations and state certain facts, but they couldn’t take the next step toward explaining what they observed. Without explanation, one can arrive at facts but not science.
    No, it was only within a biblically-derived worldview that science could not merely survive its birth but also thrive. The Bible revealed that a good, rational God had created an orderly universe that ran according to natural laws that he had established for it. And perhaps what was most crucial was that, since God had created us in his own image – and so we are also rational – and that God is also good, then those laws are also discoverable. Furthermore, it was reasoned that at least a part of God’s command to humanity to “subdue the earth” was for us to use our God-given intellects to then actively go out and discover those laws.
    As well, it was also of crucial importance that one’s worldview saw God as being transcendent from his creation, so that you knew when you were dissecting any part of it you were not essentially also cutting into God.
    Thus, it’s not by accident that it was only in the Christian West that astrology developed into astronomy, alchemy grew into chemistry, and that mathematics was translated into the language of science.”
    In fact, one of my more recent acquisitions for my library is the book, “God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science” by James Hannam. Incidentally, it was shortlisted for the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books.
    When we couple all this with the fact that virtually every branch of science had as its father, discoverer, significant contributor, or pioneer a devout Christian, the answer to your question, Santi, is both an inescapable and resounding “YES!” God does indeed want us to be curious.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      David,

      Your narrative of how science came about is too simple, in my view. Christianity has long been known as Platonism for the masses. And Aquinas was an Aristotalian. So, to the degree that Christianity has ever philosophized about science at all, it has done so via the Greeks. And the ancient Hebrews, having all the elements you posit as necessary to science, didn’t discover anything true about nature.

      Lawfulness and predictability are important, but Hume noted that science may be just the observation of regularities, not laws, and science can proceed either way. That means there’s room for the Tao as well. Protestants living today have no inherent advantage over Taoists. We can all make our ancient traditions “fit” our scientific projects (if we want to).

      And, of course, you have to have the right to question everything. Please don’t pretend that institutional Christianity has ever unfettered the mind in this manner. It obviously doesn’t, and never has. One need only speak with evangelicals about their fear of hell and evolution to observe the residues of this grotesque legacy.

      It took the Enlightenment, and the philosophes who looked to ancient pagan models for their humanism, to really set science free. Science and fears of hell for pursuing thoughts do not mix and are not overcome by simply believing that the universe is lawful.

      Having said all this, I agree that contemporary science, based in strict materialism, has philosophical problems. But it simply doesn’t hinder science to get philosophical problems wrong (now that science is so thoroughly established). In other words, you can be a Thomist philosophically or an atheist, and one of these worldviews are obviously false. But, if you are a scientist who believes in Thomism, and you’re wrong about Thomism, it doesn’t hurt your scientific work in the least. And if you’re an atheist, and you’re ultimately wrong, your science does not suffer either. Science as practiced by the community of scientists internationally is robust and successful irrespective of which philosophical worldview ultimately proves true.

      Whatever gets credit for triggering science, the fact is that it’s here. And once science gets going, philosophy and religion must then chase it, and have no power, short of government force, of stopping it. Philosophy and religion are the tails trying to wag a mastiff.

      —Santi

      • David Yates says:

        Naturally, my post was necessarily “simple” — I was trying to condense in a mere few hundred words an immense and obviously controversial subject. But it’s hardly a situation of my simply theorizing my way toward a desired, preconceived conclusion. There is ample evidence to support my contention. For example, the book I mention above is only the latest addition to just my own personal library on the subject. There are also…

        -“Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition: 400-1400” by Marcia L. Colish (Yale University Press; part of ‘The Yale Intellectual History of the West’ series);
        -“God and Reason in the Middle Ages” by Edward Grant (Cambridge University Press);
        -“The Rise of Western Christendom” 2nd edn. by Peter Brown (Blackwell Publishing);
        -“Medieval Thought: The Western Intellectual Tradition from Antiquity to the Thirteenth Century” by Michael Haren (Toronto University Press);
        -“The Autumn of the Middle Ages” by Johan Huizinga (University of Chicago Press);
        -virtually any of the writings of Etienne Gilson, but a good place to start would be “Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages” (Macmillan)
        -virtually anything by Henri Pirenne, but his classic “Mohammed and Charlemagne” (Meridian) would be profitable, as well as his “Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe” (Harcourt-Brace);
        -“Medieval Technology and Social Change” by Lynn White, Jr. (who was no friend of the Church, btw; OUP);
        -Rodney Stark is probably among America’s foremost sociologists today and he’s written several books on the role of religion in history in general, and the role that Christianity has played in history in particular; these include “The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries” (HarperCollins); “One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism” (Princeton); “For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery” ( in fact, it was while writing this book that Rodney Stark converted to Christianity; Princeton); “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success” (Random House); and finally, “The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion” (HarperOne);
        -anything by the late, great Jaroslav Pelikan–an incredible history scholar who was fluent in a myriad of languages both ancient and modern–but the most pertinent to our subject would be his “The Excellent Empire: The Fall of Rome and the Triumph of the Church” (Harper & Row);
        -“Those Terrible Middle Ages! Debunking the Myths” by the renowned French historian Regine Pernoud (who has worked as conservator at the Louvre, the Museum of Reims, the French National Archives, and eventually became director of the Jeanne-d’Arc Centre at Orleans);
        -“The God that Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West” by Robert Royal (Encounter);
        -“Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe” by Thomas Cahill (the author of the best-selling “How the Irish Saved Civilization”), the latest instalment in his “Hinges of History” series;
        -“Christianity On Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry” by Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett (who are a journalist and a free-lance writer, respectively; Encounter Books);
        -“Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization” by Alvin J. Schmidt (HarperCollins);
        -“How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (Regnery);
        -anything by Christopher Dawson, but esp. “Religion and the Rise of Western Culture” (Image) or his “Progress and Religion” (Sherwood, Sugden & Co.);
        -“Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered” by Peter S. Wells (Norton);
        -“The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade” by Susan Wise Bauer (Norton).

        Or, from distinctly Christian publishers:
        -“What Has Christianity Ever Done For Us? How It Shaped the Modern World” by Jonathan Hill (InterVarsity Press);
        -“Six Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization” by Philip J. Sampson (InterVarsity Press);
        -“Remembering the Christian Past” by Robert Louis Wilken (Eerdmans)
        -and, finally, from a distinctly non-Western perspective, “The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization” by Vishal Mangalwadi (Thomas Nelson).
        Of course, I’m sure there are many others but, if nothing else, perusing any of these will give you a much more balanced picture of how Christianity has worked itself out over the past two millennia and will, I’m confident, go a long way toward showing how the Christian Church has actually been a tremendous boon to humanity.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        David,

        Here’s the thesis you endorse (if I can boil you down a bit): science requires an insight into the universe’s lawfulness to get started. Christianity had this insight and therefore laid the ground for the beginnings of science.

        It may be a crucial intellectual link (or it may not be), and if it is, great! Yeah for Jesus!

        But a great deal of ink can be spilled around a flawed thesis. I’m not saying, in this instance, that the thesis underlying the books you list is flawed, but a distinction should be made: on the road to science, there are intellectual factors and there are freedom factors.

        You surely don’t think that medievalism made the full range of thought permissible, do you?

        The Renaissance and Enlightenment had some positive role in where we’re at today, right?

        And now that science is the driving force of the 21st century, and not religion, has religion lost its relevance?

        —Santi

    • David Yates says:

      I know this is ludicrously lengthy but I hope it provides sufficient meat to my merely mentioning in passing that “virtually every branch of science” had as its father, discoverer, formulator, pioneer, or significant contributor a devout Christian.

      Robert Grosseteste (ca. 1175-1253) – first proposed the inductive, experimental method, and Bishop of Lincoln.

      Roger Bacon (1214-1294) – forerunner of the scientific method itself and Franciscan friar. Bacon was a mathematician, whose most important mathematical contribution was the application of geometry to optics, specifically having to do with reflection and refraction (which aided in the later development of both the telescope and microscope).

      Theodoric of Freiborg (1250-1310) – discoverer of the rainbow’s cause and member of the “Order of Preachers,” or Dominicans.

      William of Ockham (1285-1347) – introduced the principle of parsimony (a.k.a Ockham’s Razor) and Franciscan friar.

      Jean Buridan (1300-1358) – introduced the theory of probability and a priest.

      Nicolas d’Oresme (ca. 1320-1382) – introduced the mean-speed theorem and Bishop of Lisieux.

      Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) – the formulator of the heliocentric theory of the solar system (a.k.a. the Copernican Revolution) and canon in the Frauenburg Cathedral in East Prussia.

      Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) – contributed to human anatomy, optics, physics, etc.

      Paracelsus (1493-1541) – argued that external agents caused diseases and, while admittedly of certain unorthodox beliefs, nevertheless, a believer who requested and was granted Christian burial.

      Ambrose Paré (1510-1590) – first modern surgeon and French Huguenot. So great was his success as a surgeon that he became the royal physician to three kings. Inscribed on his statue in Paris is his oft quoted remark: “I treated him, God cured him.”

      Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) – wrote ‘The Fabric of the Body’ (which is liberally peppered with comments noting how God has so wonderfully constructed the human body); called the “father of modern anatomy” and was a member of the Brethren of the Common Life, a Roman Catholic pietist movement (that also produced such notables as Thomas a’Kempis and Dutch humanist, Disiderius Erasmus); he was so devout as to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land shortly before his death.

      Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) – wrote ‘Concerning the New Star’; discovered a new comet and devout Lutheran who also married the daughter of a prominent Lutheran pastor.

      Francis Bacon (1561-1626) – father of the scientific method. A student of the Bible, he wrote: “No one should maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God’s Word (the Bible) or in the book of God’s Works (creation); divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficience in both.” (Incidentally, he also wrote in his “The Essays: Of Atheism” that “a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”)

      Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) – a devout Catholic to the end, as witnessed to by the correspondence he kept with his daughter, Sister Celeste (who, upon taking final vows, chose the name to honour her father and his devotion to the study of the heavens) of the Franciscan order of the Poor Clares.

      Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) – discoverer of the laws of planetary motion and devout Protestant.

      William Harvey (1578-1657) – discovered the circulation of blood; based on his assumption that the heart was created by God he sought to discover what God’s purpose was in doing so.

      René Descartes (1596-1650) – philosopher and inventor of analytic geometry. His intense belief in God stands in stark contrast to the agnosticism many today associate with great minds.

      Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) – discovered the law that liquid in a container exerts equal pressure in all directions; found barometric pressures varying with different altitudes; constructed first mechanical adding machine; founder of probability studies and hydrostatics, and known for his contributions to physics, mathematics, philosophy, and is at least as well known to day for his Christian apologetics as he is for his scientific achievements (e.g. his Pensées is still in print to this day); he and his sister were involved with a Catholic reform movement known by its detractors as ‘Jansenists’.

      Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689) – discoverer of malaria’s cure and a Puritan. His faith in a God who had designed nature led him to believe that it was the physician’s task to help nature complete the cure. This resulted in him reasoning that initial relief from a drug could be prolonged if administered in proper amounts, in the proper cycles of the disease, and at proper intervals after the initial symptoms disappeared.

      Robert Boyle (1627-1691) – the father of modern chemistry, and one of the founders of the Royal Society. A man who effectively turned the study of alchemy into chemistry, Boyle is the originator of what is now known as “Boyle’s Law,” which states that the volume of a gas is inversely proportional to its pressure. He also made many contributions to physics, discovering the part that air plays in carrying sound; investigating specific gravities, refractive powers, electricity, crystals, etc. He learned Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac in order to study Scripture in their original languages. He also gave considerable amounts of his own personal wealth to Bible translation work in order to bring God’s word to those without it, and he founded the “Boyle lectures” as an apologetics series to reach unbelievers.

      John Ray (1627-1705) – the first to classify plants and animals according to their species. Georges Cuvier called Ray’s surveys of birds, fishes, and insects “the basis of all modern zoology.” He also wrote several books on natural theology, including “The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation.”

      Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712) – co-founder (w. Marcello Malpighi) of the science of plant anatomy, and son of an Anglican clergyman. He entered his investigations with very little scientific training but with the firm conviction that “both plants and animals came at first out of the same Hand, and were therefore the contrivances of the same Wisdom.”

      Isaac Newton (1642-1727) – discoverer of the universal law of gravitation, inventor of differential and integral calculus (among many other contributions to science); often referred to as one of the greatest scientific minds ever. The author of “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica,” at the end of which, he concluded, “this most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets and Comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Although deists later used his work to argue for a universe that ran by itself, for his part Newton believed in a God who “governs all things” and “is more able by His Will to move Bodies… and thereby to form and reform the Parts of the Universe, than we are by our Will to move the Parts of our own Bodies.” He also once commented that he could be convinced of the existence of God through a simple study of the thumb.

      Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz (1646-1716) – co-inventor of calculus (independent of Newton); proposed the theory of monads, and a renowned Christian apologist.

      John Flamsteed (1646-1719) – maker of the first modern star catalogue, and ordained clergyman.

      Stephen Hales (1677-1761) – the first to bring the exacting methods of physics to biology, and ordained clergyman.

      Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) – father of taxonomy. The Linnaean system was inspired by his search for the distinct “kinds” of created organisms related in Genesis 1.

      John Michell (1724-1793) – father of seismology, predictor of black holes, and dedicated church pastor.

      Sir William Herschel (1738-1822) – called the founder of sidereal astronomy and discoverer of Uranus. His zeal for astronomical research was such that telescopes of his day could not satisfy his insatiable curiosities. Thus he constructed the largest telescopes of his time and used them to discover two new moons for Saturn, that Mars has white poles and thus most likely polar icecaps, and, of course, a new planet outside Saturn’s orbit; later named Uranus. Herschel is also renowned for his conclusion that our solar system is situated within and near the edge of the Milky Way, which he claimed was shaped somewhat like a thick pancake. Although the scientific consensus would not catch up with him for another century, Herschel maintained that all the stars we could discern belonged to the Milky Way, while other galaxies like ours existed far away. His Christian devotion was demonstrated not only by his church associations, like playing the organ for church services (he was also a professional musician), but by his many comments in regard to God’s sublime harmonies in the heavens: “The un-devout astronomer must be mad,” he said.

      Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) – found that oxygen is needed for combustion; Lavoisier is listed among eminent Roman Catholic scientists, and as such he defended his faith against those who attempted to use science to attack it. Louis Edouard Grimaux, the author of the standard French biography of Lavoisier, and the first biographer to obtain access to Lavoisier’s papers, writes the following: “Raised in a pious family which had given many priests to the Church, he had held to his beliefs. To Edward King, an English author who had sent him a controversial work, he wrote, ‘You have done a noble thing in upholding revelation and the authenticity of the Holy Scripture, and it is remarkable that you are using for the defense precisely the same weapons which were once used for the attack’.”

      Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) – discovered current electricity; isolated methane gas

      John Dalton (1766-1844) – father of modern atomic theory and devout Quaker.

      Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) – founder of the studies of palaeontology and comparative anatomy, and French Lutheran.

      Sir Charles Bell (1774-1842) – the first to extensively map the brain and nervous system. One of the world’s greatest anatomists, his contributions tremendously advanced our knowledge of the brain and nervous system; he discovered the different tasks of sensory and motor nerve filaments. Bell wrote “The Hand; Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments, and Evincing Design, and Illustrating the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God.”

      John Kidd (1775-1851) – pioneer in the development of chemical synthetics. This Oxford don’s work to extract chemicals from coal led to the compound building processes from which all modern synthetics are derived. Kidd pursued this groundbreaking work in part to demonstrate that God had prepared the natural world for man’s use. Well known for his Christian convictions, he used his platform as a naturalist to tell others of the evidence of divine wisdom seen in nature.

      William Buckland (1784-1856) – the foremost English geologist before Charles Lyell, and an Anglican clergyman.

      William Prout (1785-1850) – the first to relate atomic weights to hydrogen. He is also known to biologists as the first to describe how free hydrochloric acid exists in the stomach and how it plays a necessary part in gastric digestion. Prout was also a pioneer in the science of nutrition, being the first to divide the fundamental foodstuffs into proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. He also authored one of the Bridgewater Treatises, a famous Christian apologetic series. In it, he reacted to the unscientific spirit of romanticism that had crept in through the popularisers of “scientism” (materialistic science) like Sir Humphrey Davy and T.H. Huxley (i.e. the many science popularisers who put their own pantheistic spin on science by speaking of how the laws of nature “govern” the universe; a philosophically foreign virus that continues to infect true scientific investigation to this day). Prout wrote; “The poor untutored savage “sees god in every cloud, and hears him in the wind.” The complacent philosopher smiles at the credulity of the savage, and perhaps deifies ‘the laws of nature’! Both are alike ignorant; nor is the imagined supreme being of the untaught savage in any degree more absurd than the imagined pantheism of the philosopher.”

      Michael Faraday (1791-1867) – discoverer of electromagnetic induction and founder of electromagnetic field theory, and a Sandemanian (these were classed among the “dissenters” from the Church of England as they were characterized by their dependence upon the Bible rather than church tradition).

      Samuel Morse (1791-1872) – inventor of the telegraph, and developer of “Morse Code.” Morse chose as his first message to be transmitted, “What hath God wrought?” from Numbers 23.23. His inventions also penetrated into the spiritual realm: he was among the first to conceive of and implement the concept of Sunday school for children, which he promoted during his travels. Although poor throughout most of his life, his wealth in his later years gave him the opportunity to practice philanthropy, supporting missionaries and schools for pastors. Late in life, Morse wrote: “The nearer I approach to the end of my pilgrimage the clearer is the evidence of the divine origin of the Bible, the grandeur and sublimity of God’s remedy for fallen man are more appreciated, and the future is illuminated with hope and joy.”

      Charles Babbage (1792-1871) – creator of the computer. Renowned today as a great mathematician and inventor, his ideas were so forward-thinking that the British government could not understand the use of his inventions and so refused him support. Babbage invented the speedometer, the principle of the analytic engine, and the first true, automatic computer with information storage and retrieval, including the ability to tabulate numbers up to 20 decimals. His mathematical analysis of miracles in the Bible was the last contribution to the famous Bridgewater Treatises, a series of Christian apologetic writings.

      William Whewell (1794-1866) – inventor of the anemometer. His invention of the modern version of this device for measuring wind velocity is merely one of his numerous scientific contributions. As a philosopher of science, he is best known for his promotion of scientific inductive methods and his coining of dozens of scientific terms now in common use: the title “scientist” itself, “physicist,” “anode,” “cathode,” “electrode,” “ion,” “electrolyte,” and the geological epochs: “Miocene,” “Pliocene,” etc. An ordained clergyman, he wrote and taught of the wisdom of God seen in nature. As his contribution to the Bridgewater Treatises, Whewell wrote “Astronomy and General Physics Considered with Reference to Natural Theology.”

      Joseph Henry (1797-1878) – discoverer of the principle of self-induction. The ‘henry’, the standard unit of electrical inductive resistance, is named for him. He shares credit with Michael Faraday for discovering electromagnetic induction. Many of his experiments resulted in discoveries that were later built upon by others. Henry invented the earliest version of the electromagnetic motor; he also invented a powerful short-coil magnet, which is essentially the same as that now used today in electric motors and generators. Further, he discovered the laws that led to the invention of the electric transformer.
      Using his long-coil intensity magnet, he first demonstrated long-distance transmission of electrical current, paving the way for the commercial telegraph. While serving as the first director of the Smithsonian Institution, he organized a corps of weather observers and supervised them for 30 years. Their successful work led to the creation of the U.S. Weather Bureau. A committed Christian, Henry was also known for his dependence upon God in all his work: standard operating procedure in all his experiments included prayer for guidance in every major decision.

      Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) – father of glacial science, should also be remembered as a zoologist and geologist whose contributions helped establish the science of palaeontology. Agassiz called each species of animal or plant “a thought of God.”

      Sir James Simpson (1811-1870) – founder of anaesthesiology. A pioneer in safer uses for ether and found chloroform to be a far superior anaesthetic, he also made a number of other discoveries that contributed to the practices of gynaecology and obstetrics. But his greatest discovery, by his own account, was that “I have a Saviour!” His search for anaesthetics, according to some accounts, was inspired by the passage in Genesis 2.21, when “God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep.”

      James Joule (1818-1889) – discoverer of the first law of thermodynamics. Joule attacked the caloric theory of heat, the view that heat was a fluid that combined chemically with particles of matter. By demonstrating that a specific amount of work produced a specific amount of heat, and vice versa, he replaced the caloric theory with the kinetic theory, attributing heat to the motion of the molecules themselves.
      Joule’s experiments demonstrated the relation between mechanical, electrical, and chemical effects; this led to his principle of the interchangeability of various kinds of energy and to the principle of energy conservation. As a committed Christian, Joule thus appears as an archetype of the many scientist-believers who first recognized patterns that make up our most fundamental laws of science.

      Sir George Stokes (1819-1903) – contributor to light and sound wave theory. This physicist/mathematician held the chair as Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge while at the same time serving as secretary and president of the Royal Society; he is the only person other than Isaac Newton ever to hold the three offices simultaneously. Stokes’ Christian beliefs are amply displayed in his book, “Natural Theology.”

      Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) – father of genetics. Like Roger Bacon long before him, Mendel served his God as a monk (Augustinian order) and as a devoted student of his creation. Mendel discovered his principle of heredity and laid the foundation for the science of genetics in a small monastery garden.

      Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) – formulator of the germ theory of disease. A devout Roman Catholic, when once asked how his religious beliefs had been affected by his science, he answered: “The more I know, the more does my faith approach that of a Breton peasant.”

      John Henri Fabre (1823-1915) – chief founder of modern entomology. His painstaking, direct observations of insect behaviour made him the world’s leading authority on insects. He imparted his expansive knowledge on the subject in many books; his 10-volume set, “Souvenirs entomologiques” was crowned by the Institute of France. Like his friend, Louis Pasteur, he scoffed at the then current theory of spontaneous generation (the theory that life might form from non-life in a closed container). His research also led him to vigorously oppose the theory of Darwinian evolution (i.e. purely materialistic, undirected, purposeless evolution). Certain of his books were long used as textbooks in French state schools, although many opposed his frequent references to divine design. Fabre spoke openly of his Christian faith. Concerning the relationship between his science and his faith in God, he wrote: “Without Him I understand nothing; without Him all is darkness…. You could take my skin from me more easily than my faith in God.”

      William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) – first to clearly state the second law of thermodynamics. Deeply influenced by James Joule, Lord Kelvin was one of the first scientists to adopt the concept of “energy.” As a result of his establishment of an absolute scale of temperature, intervals of temperature are now measured in degrees which bear his name. During his prodigious career, he published over 300 papers, touching on nearly every area of physical science. In one he redefined Joule’s conservation of energy and went on to state the principle of energy dissipation, now known as the second law of thermodynamics.
      Kelvin is also known for his many nautical inventions—such as ship’s compasses and devices for ships to take soundings—as well as for solving the problems of sending telegraphic signals over long distances through the first transatlantic cable. Kelvin’s biblical faith led him to strongly support the Bible’s teachings in British schools, and to oppose the doctrines of Darwinian evolution. Evolution, as he saw it, demanded infinitude of time, whereas thermodynamic considerations rightly led him to believe that the universe and Earth have a limited history.

      Sir William Huggins (1824-1910) – the first to measure the stars’ velocities and chemical composition. Using spectroscopy, he was the first to break down starlight into its constituent colours in order to learn the stars’ chemical composition. He discovered that stars were composed primarily of hydrogen and contained much smaller amounts of other elements. As far as cosmologists are concerned, his greatest accomplishment may have been his recognition of blue- and red-shifting starlight as a Doppler effect. Huggins readily confessed his faith in Christ.

      Bernard Riemann (1826-1866) – formulator of non-Euclidian geometries. This son of a Lutheran pastor pioneered several new branches of mathematics. Some idea of the extent of his influence on mathematics can be had by considering a few of the concepts and theorems that now bear his name: Riemannian geometry, Riemann curvature, the Riemann mapping theorem, the Riemann integral, the Riemann approach to function theory, etc. He is best known today for the fact that Einstein based his general theory of relativity on Riemannian geometry.
      Like his father, Riemann began his education with an intention to enter the ministry. However, an obvious prodigy in mathematics, he soon changed his course of study in that direction; but he always retained his love for the Bible, even writing of the mathematical evidences that he regarded as pointing toward its inspiration.

      Joseph Lister (1827-1912) – founder of antiseptic surgery. Learning from Pasteur’s experiments that putrefaction might be due to microbes coming from the air, Lister strove to eliminate the microbes. His extensive experiments led to his use of a careful mixture of chemical agents to serve as disinfectants, sulphochromic catgut to serve as sutures, and the scrupulous cleansing of operating instruments and personnel.
      In addition to the development of such standard procedures, Lister invented many new instruments, including the aortic tourniquet, the sinus forceps, and the wire needle. Lister also founded the British Institute of Preventive Medicine, later named the Lister Institute. Throughout his life, and in spite of his many honours, Lister maintained the humility characteristic of his Quaker upbringing, as well as the biblical beliefs handed down to him. At a time when many scientists of his acquaintance denied divine revelation, Lister continued to describe himself as “a believer in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.”

      James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1870) – formulator of the electromagnetic theory of light. Known as a diligent student of the Bible and a man who freely confessed Christ as his Saviour, he wrote that God’s command to humanity to subdue the Earth provided the ultimate motivation for his scientific research.

      John Ambrose Fleming (1849-1945) – inventor of the diode. Because of his contributions to electronics, wireless telegraphy, and television, some call him the father of modern electronics. The son of a Congregationalist pastor, Fleming was also known for his work in Christian apologetics. He was particularly alarmed at the growing acceptance of Darwinian evolution as fact. Thus he formed the “Evolution Protest Movement” and wrote a book defending the notion of the universe as the creation of God.

      Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916) – discoverer of the rare gaseous elements. Those who knew Ramsay personally knew him to be an outspoken, evangelical Christian who had once intended to go into the ministry. Today scientists know him as the only person to ever discover a whole family of new elements. He also received the Nobel Prize in 1904 after successfully demonstrating the radioactive decay of one element into another: radium into helium.

      George Washington Carver (ca. 1864-1943) – developed numerous by-products from peanuts and sweet potatoes, and described himself as “a humble and sincere Christian,” who never hesitated “to confess his faith in the God of the Bible and attribut[e] all his success and ability to God.”

  3. Longtooth says:

    Santi,

    “…… if you want to hide the truth about something, set it at the top of a hierarchy of values, make it sacred, and discourage certain lines of inquiry. That should do it.”

    Justice Antoine Scalia just a few years ago provided a salient example of this sort of tactic. It happened during oral arguments leading to a Supreme Court split-decision allowing a stone monument to the Ten Commandments to remain on the grounds of a Texas courthouse (Van Orden v. Perry). Justice Scalia declared, “What the commandments stand for is the direction of human affairs by God.” He punctuated his assertion by further declaring the Ten Commandments to be “a symbol of the FACT that government derives its authority from God”. It should go without saying that the existence of “God” is not a fact, but rather a religious belief. How can Scalia honestly assert that anything is derived from something that can’t even be proven to exist? He can’t. Scalia’s gross confusion of fact and belief was blatantly intended to squash certain lines of inquiry as to the constitutionally of the issue at hand. Unfortunately five out of nine of our Supreme Court justices at least implicitly agreed with him. Funny, I don’t remember any mention of God or Moses in the Constitution. I thought that rule by devine right was what we fought a revolutionary war to dig ourselves out from under.

    Longtooth

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I agree you offer a good example, but I also think invoking “God,” since it’s generally accepted as a concept by the masses of men, can function to restrain hubris in political culture. In other words, if liberty derives from a power higher than the democratic mass, then the democratic mass cannot vote those rights away. Having Moses’s tablets displayed in public can thus help secure in the popular mind the liberties granted in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (since Americans tend to conflate the country’s founding documents with sacred documents). Being endowed by your creator with certain inalienable rights is a good formulation for retaining them that everyone can comprehend.

      In the 1930s, it would have been good for Germans to have had such a formulation displayed around Germany and the “slave morality” of Jesus functioning as pushback against Nazi utopianism, Nietzscheanism, and hubris. I realize religion can be adopted as part of fascist ideologies, but it can also function to set government in its proper place (that is, as not the premier shaper of historical forces).

      And deconstructing milder forms of religion can open pathways to totalitarianism. The de-Christianizing of Europe may result, for example, in the triumph there of Islam. The weakening of Christianity in Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries led to the Nazis, and the collapse of religious belief in Russia brought it to Stalinism. There’s no use in pretending that secular movements don’t risk lapsing into totalitarianism, and mild forms of religion can serve to break secular utopian spells.

      If you read contemporary criticism and theory in the humanities, for example, it’s astonishing how in vogue Marxism still is, even after the experience of the 20th century. Whatever else Marxism is, it isn’t an endorser of the ten commandments, nor of the methods of the nonviolent Jesus, nor of Jeffersonianism. It’s a form of utopian hubris and totalitarianism of the spirit that needs checking, including from religion. But academics, not being very religious, seem prone to Marxism as a conceptual frame (because they’re bored with tenure, I suppose).

      —Santi

  4. Longtooth says:

    Santi,

    Apologies for indulging a rather lengthy response to your post, but I passionately believe the issues are worth picking through.

    Here in America “liberty” is indeed derived from an authority higher than just the democratic process. It’s called the rule of law. In that regard we are not a democracy but rather a republic with elected representatives. Among other things the rule of law exists to protect minority interests against majority ternary, or conversely, ternary perpetrated by powerful minorities. A very tangible problem ensues when judicial activism or revisionism causes the highest court in the land to fail to enforce the rule of law.

    The following quote was in a dissenting opinion from the previously mentioned Van Orden vs. Perry formal ruling.

    “The judgment of the Court in this case stands for the proposition that the Constitution permits governmental displays of sacred religious texts. This makes a mockery of the constitutional ideal that government must remain neutral between religion and irreligion. If a State may endorse a particular deity’s command to “have no other gods before me,” it is difficult to conceive of any textual display that would run afoul of the Establishment Clause.” (Justices Ginsburg and Stevens dissenting).

    Just because a cluster of right-leaning judges conspire to steer a ruling in favor of biblical theocracy does not mean that the ruling is constitutionally valid or good for the posterity of the nation.

    From your post:

    “Having Moses’s tablets displayed in public can thus help secure in the popular mind the liberties granted in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (since Americans tend to conflate the country’s founding documents with sacred documents). Being endowed by your creator with certain inalienable rights is a good formulation for retaining them that everyone can comprehend.”

    How exactly do Moses’s laws secure in the popular mind the liberties implied by the Declaration of Independence or the religious freedoms and immunities guaranteed by the Constitution? They don’t, they can’t. To the contrary,they have the effect of symbolically impaling the Nation on the scriptural leavings of a Bronze Age Middle Eastern monotheism. That’s called government endorsement of religion in gross violation of the First Amendment. It destroys any pretense to government neutrality in matters of deity or religious ideology. It’s just the sort of thing that sends a message to everyone other than the biblical faithful that they are outsiders and second class citizens. Further, the conflation of the Ten Commandments with the Bill of Rights is a problem rather than a nationalistic blessing. It obstructs accurate collective insight about the derivation and substance of American law. Aside from mentioning murder and theft (not original), the commandments have nothing in common with American law. They conflict with it in several instances, like the first commandment for particular example.

    All too many people have been programmed by social conservative influences to believe the Declaration of Independence is an affirmation of the Bible, whereas, it is not. The Declaration says “Their Creator”; it doesn’t say “God” or “biblical deity”. If Jefferson and the Declaration’s signers had intended an association with biblicalism or the biblical deity then why didn’t they state it as such? In fact, the only use of the term “God” in the Declaration is in “Natures God” not biblical God.” The use of “Natures God” implies a sense of deity that is both non-biblical and pluralistic and thus antithetical to the jealous and vengeful god of Moses and of the Bible.

    From your post:

    “I realize religion can be adopted as part of fascist ideologies, but it can also function to set government in its proper place (that is, as not the premier shaper of historical forces).”

    If the rule of law is going to be brushed aside in the service of biblical religion, than what is there to set biblical religion in its proper place? It would seem that the requisite mechanisms are being lost to America. Regardless of what is happening elsewhere, religion in America, particularly fundamentalist religio, in the present time, has become altogether too influential and altogether too intrusive upon the workings of state. The increased willingness of the courts to allow government to be used as a billboard or beast of burden for biblical religion is a glaring symptom of it.

    From your post:

    “The weakening of Christianity in Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries led to the Nazis, and the collapse of religious belief in Russia brought it to Stalinism.”

    I think it’s legitimate to ask, “what were the failings of Christendom in the old world that Nazism, Fascism, and Communism managed to capture the hearts and minds of so many?”

    Being of limited knowledge in this area of history I really don’t know if there’s any simple answer that does adequate justice to those times. Nevertheless, could economic and political inequality perpetrated by Church-State sanctioned wealthy elite be a significant element lurking at the bottom?

    What I do know is that the institution of Christendom has always sought to be the final authority on all matters spiritual and civil and seldom if ever in the service of the liberties and wellbeing of the people (Madison paraphrase I think).

    It is historically notable that the Vatican was no innocent bystander during the raise of the Third Reich and certainly could not have been displeased that Hitler eventually turned his sights on Communist Russia in the war of conquest that ensued. Leading up to those events, agreements like the 1933 Concordat were brokered between Hitler and the Vatican. Hitler claimed that the Third Reich would rule Europe for a thousand years. With their status and authority on the wane in the old world, the Vatican wanted on board the Nazi bandwagon. The Concordat sealed the church’s right to propagate Catholicism throughout the Nazi empire and evidently also gave church clergy special status under Nazi law. If the Nazis succeeded in conquering “godless” Soviet Communist Russia then the Vatican would have a vast new territory to spread its mantel of ecclesial influence. That would be particularly sweet considering that Russia was the age old turf of the Vatican’s arch rival, the Eastern Church. To this day, the accessible record is murky as to when and if the Vatican crossed the threshold from opportunistic collusion to pusillanimity in the face of the Nazi monster. Throughout it all, however, the Vatican never did excommunicate Hitler. How does the old saying go? ‘‘Two wrongs do not make a right”? Well, it follows with logical necessity that three wrongs don’t make a right either.
    Anyway, the issue about the Laws of Moses being displayed on American government property is a relatively new phenomenon. It got underway in the aftermath of Cecil B. DeMille’s phantasmagoric 1956 movie “The Ten Commandments”. So inspired, the Fraternal Order of Eagles began generously donating stone replicas of the laws of Moses to government facilities across the nation, now amounting to about 2000 stone decalogues in all. The Order of Eagles’ delusion was that they were performing a patriotic act by donating the monuments, although the act was more closely akin to being errand boys for religion. Religious advocacy ion is not patriotism. The nation was not founded on a fundamental belief in the biblical deity; it was founded on a fundamental belief in human rights.

    The movement was yet another product of the Cold War era. Prior to the mid 1950’s there was no mention of God in the wording of either the National Motto or Pledge of Allegiance. Both motto and pledge were changed by Congress to include God in their phraseology. It was a knee-jerk response to soviet communism and its anti-capitalistic and antireligious ideology. Although terribly flawed, the implicit notion was that since all communists are non-believers in God, all atheists must therefore also be communists and subversives. The changes to the motto and pledge created a wedge against the Nation’s foundational ideal of government neutrality toward religion and deity worship. It thus compromised the nation’s unity for its historic value of personal conscience regarding beliefs about religion. The ideological change had the effect of excluding religion’s nonbelievers and critics from the privileged inner circle of American patriotism, thus relegating them to the status of outsiders and second class citizens. A classic example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It was the establishment of a government encouraged public bias against a minority group whose only collective offense is not subscribing to biblical religion or to religion’s appeal to supernatural authority.
    In my view, America has not fared better for those ideological changes or the prejudice they fostered, not in wisdom about matters of war, economic policy, or the collective intelligence of the populace. If the changes to the pledge and motto unambiguously resulted in anything, it was an ill conceived gift to the proponents of theocracy. They won divisive leverage against the integrity of the Constitution’s religion clauses and our liberties and immunities under them. The Supreme Court’s endorsement of the laws of Moses drives the wedge ever deeper.

    It’s ironic that our government now props the Nation’s economy up with huge loans from China, a communist governed nation. Equally as troubling, a recent international assessment of the academic performance of 15-year-olds around the world found America lagging badly. The US was ranked 14th out of 34 nations in reading skills, 17th for science, and only 25th for mathematics. Not exactly sterling performance for ostensibly the greatest of free world nations. I can’t substantiate a direct link between the aforementioned ideological changes and the surge in biblical fundamentalism over the past several decades. Still, the fundamentalists have certainly not fared worse for those changes. The fundamentalist movement’s detrimental influence on science literacy among the American public in general and the integrity of science education in the public schools is a virtual smoking gun.

    “Reasonable minds can disagree about how to apply the Religion Clauses in a given case. But the goal of the Clauses is clear: to carry out the Founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society. By enforcing the Clauses, we have kept religion a matter for the individual conscience, not for the prosecutor or bureaucrat. At a time when we see around the world the violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government, Americans may count themselves fortunate: Our regard for constitutional boundaries has protected us from similar travails, while allowing private religious exercise to flourish……Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?” (Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, McCreary County, Kentucky, et al. v. American Civil Liberties Union Of Kentucky et al. 2005)

    The deity of Moses was definitely not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he wrote “Their Creator” and “Natures God” in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration signed by all the leaders of the American Revolution is a legitimate artifact of this nation’s sacred history and traditions, whereas the laws of Moses are not. We already have in the Declaration a “symbolic” standard of the kind that Justice Scalia pontificated about. And to matters of Decalogue, we already have that in the Bill of Rights. We do not need those great touchstones of our National heritage supplanted with a civilly intractable, religiously prejudiced substitute from the archaic tool bag of Middle Eastern theocracy.

    The issue at hand is not just one of pure symbolism. Having the laws of Moses in any translation showcased on government property, puts the standing law of the Nation in a competitive relation to them. Not only are the commandments inexorably religious, many of the mandates within conflict with our civil liberties and immunities under the Constitution. To buy into Justice Scalia’s construction is to conclude that the laws of Moses trump the authority of the Constitution itself. That is a very divisive notion indeed. In such case, it would inevitably follow that using the public trust as a billboard for advancing biblical doctrine should be viewed as some kind of divine right. All this loudly smacks of judicial activism in the service of biblicalism’s pulpits. Allow the fundamentalist social conservative agenda to gain the upper hand in the courts and kiss goodbye to the non-majoritive authority of the Constitution and the religiously neutral integrity of the public trust.

    There are those who argue that prohibiting such displays on government property would be an act of government hostility toward religion. The argument is patently false. If the government prohibited such things on church property or personal property, then it would indeed be in violation of the free exercise clause and the hostility argument would be valid. To the contrary, it is those who refuse to remove such monuments from government property or conspire to deposit still more who are guilty of hostility. The commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, speaks for itself. There is nothing democratic or pluralistic about it. It epitomizes hostility toward all other religion and thus also toward any legitimate pretense to religious freedom. That is a fact. Compounding the establishment clause violation, the showcasing of such dogma on government property completely contradicts the spirit and intent of the free exercise clause. It is undeniable antithesis to government neutrality toward religion. That is a fact.

    In my view the whole retrograde state of affairs might be roughly characterized as the cultural flipside of the long run problems that you observe Europe to be currently facing.

    Longtooth

    • David Yates says:

      Oh, there is a lot here that I would very much like to respond to, but for now will limit myself to one subject that, at first glance, may appear to be taking us off-topic but, upon reflection, is at least an important aspect of the issue at hand.
      Re: the Nazis and RC Church. Far from doing nothing, before he became Pope Pius XII, Cardinal Pacelli drafted a papal encyclical denouncing Nazi racism and had it read from every pulpit. Hitler is said to have screamed in anger when he heard about it.
      Moreover, the Vatican used its assets to ransom Jews from the Nazis, ran an elaborate escape route and hid Jewish families in Castel Gondolfo, the Pope’s summer residence. All this is confirmed by Jewish experts such as B’nai B’rith’s Joseph Lichten.
      Because of the actions and presence of Pope Pius XII, the Jews of Italy had a far higher survival rate than in most other Nazi-occupied European countries. Indeed the World Jewish Congress donated a great deal of money to the Vatican in 1945 and Rabbi Herzog of Jerusalem publicly thanked Pope Pius “for his lifesaving efforts on behalf of the Jews during the occupation of Italy.” When the Pope died in 1958, Golda Meir, then Israeli Foreign Minister, gave a eulogy at the UN praising the man for his valiant work on behalf of her people.
      All this seems willfully forgotten only because in the 1960s a German playwright claimed that the Vatican had somehow done nothing to help the Jews. An anti-Catholic German intellectual full of guilt seems hardly a reliable source. But since then, many of an anti-religious, anti-Christian, anti-Catholic bent have taken this unsubstantiated and grossly unfair farce and run with it. For instance, John Cornwell (“Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII”) bases his claim that the Pope was anti-Semitic and that the Vatican did little to help Jews is based on a single sentence from a letter Pius XII wrote in 1919.
      While it’s true that the Pope did not issue an outright attack on the Nazis, this was calculated; it was believed that tailored caution would be more prudent than a full-throated condemnation, which would likely only have brought greater, unwelcome attention from Nazi authorities, which in turn would only serve to jeopardize their accomplishing what they could under such circumstances as they were already facing.
      After all, the leaders of the Catholic Church in Holland did make a public statement, roundly condemning Nazi anti-Semitism and protesting the deportation of the Jewish people. In response the German occupiers arrested and murdered every Jewish convert to Catholicism that they could find in The Netherlands. This group included the brilliant Edith Stein, a nun who was dragged from her convent to the slaughterhouse of Auschwitz. She was gassed in August 1942. (Stein was later declared a saint by Pope John Paul II and was revered by him as one of the greatest minds and souls of the Church.)
      Another witness whose voice has been unfortunately lost is that of Titus Brandsma, a monk and scholar who helped smuggle Jews to safety. He worked with the underground and for his heroic efforts was taken to Dachau. There he was subjected to human experimentation and was finally given a lethal injection by a Nazi nurse. As he was dying he gave his rosary beads to the nurse killing him and forgave her. Brandsma’s final letter, composed while in great physical agony, stated, “Many greetings to the parish priest and curates at Bolsward, to Father Provincial and all the Confreres. Let us remain united, under the protection of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Not too much worrying about me.”
      Brandsma was one of hundreds of thousands of RC priests, monks, nuns, bishops and lay people who risked their lives and sometimes gave them to help Jewish victims of the Nazi pagans. But the last word should go to a Jewish man.
      In 1945 the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israele Zolli, publicly embraced Roman Catholicism. This extraordinary conversion was largely due to Zolli’s admiration for the Pope’s sheltering and saving of Italian Jews. Since the conversion the former Chief Rabbi has been slandered because of his actions, but then so has Pope Pius XII. But the truth is still the truth, such heroism should not go forgotten, and such heroes should be defended when unfairly derided. (It should perhaps be noted that I am not a Catholic.)

      • Longtooth says:

        David,

        Thanks for your response. As I stated, I’m no expert about this phase of European or church history and gladly stand to factual correction about any significant details. I would be interested in knowing the particulars on your historical references. I don’t doubt there were acts of humanity and even heroism performed by individual members of the RC Church on behalf of the Jews. However, given the 1933 Concordat it nevertheless appears that the Church did at first actively pursue and cultivate a cooperative relationship with the Nazis. And thus what eventually unfolded in the European RC community in response to the Nazi monster, was so to speak, something on the order of damage control.

        In this, the RC Church could hardly stand unaccountable for the anti-Semitism that had lodged itself in Europe centuries earlier. At an earlier time in church history (as I understand it) the practice of classical Judaism was forbidden under penalty of death and the church’s standing dogma was that the Jewish race in mass was responsible for the death of Jesus. Because of the stigma of their mythologized association with Jesus’ death and their continued embrace of the Old Testament religion, the Jews were widely viewed as being sub-human by the now very Christian European world. In fact, I believe it was only in the last few decades (after WW II) that the Vatican officially forgave them.

        Longtooth

  5. David Yates says:

    Longtooth,
    That there are in the past numerous instances of violent anti-Semitism by Christians is as undeniable as they are tragic. However, re: the 1933 Concordat, as we know, hindsight is always 20/20. Let’s remember, we look back on this treaty between the Vatican and the Nazi regime knowing all that happened in the ensuing decade-plus, such as the Holocaust and all the other Nazi atrocities, but at the time of its signing Hitler had only become chancellor a few months before. No one could have known of the unprecedented horrors that were to come. Indeed, given the animosity that had existed between Bismarck and the Catholic Church (he had referred to Catholics as “the enemy within”), one can — with some charity — almost understand how the Vatican might enter into such an agreement with a certain degree of hope — especially since Hitler had been baptized into the Catholic Church as an infant and at least made the pretense of being a faithful Catholic.

    David

    • Longtooth says:

      David,

      That seems like a reasonable insight. Hitler was renowned for talking a great game. He thus evidently managed to snooker just about all of Europe (including Stalin) for a while before his dark and treacherous sides undeniably showed themselves. By then it was a little too late for any institution or nation to avert the unfolding horror.

      Longtooth

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