About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dear Pope

by Massimo Pigliucci

[This letter is in response to Pope Francesco, who recently wrote to Eugenio Scalfari, editor-in-chief of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, about opening a dialogue with non believers. The Pope’s letter was prompted by two editorials published by Scalfari in La Repubblica. This is my response to Francesco.]

Caro Francesco,

I honestly don’t know what to make of the “response” you wrote to Eugenio a few days ago. I mean, he asked tough questions about the relationship between the Church and the increasing number of non-believers, and your response was largely made up of pious platitudes about Jesus. Frankly, most of what you wrote seemed to be entirely besides the point.

Your first somewhat substantive comment concerns what you call “a paradox of modernity,” referring to the puzzling (to you) idea that has gotten hold of Western secular society, that the Church has “somehow” been cast as the enemy of reason and the defender of superstition. Well, from the burning of heretics (Giordano Bruno?) to the persecution of scientists (Galileo?), from the Inquisition to the opposition to the Enlightenment, it seems to me that — pace a recent trend in historical revisionism — those accusations are right on the mark. Yes, yes, history is more complicated than that, and of course the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution happened within the context of a highly religious Europe. But it seems obvious to me that they happened as a reaction to that religious context, not because they were somehow fostered and encouraged by it.

You continue by defending your predecessor’s encyclical, Lumen Fidei (the Light of Faith). (Let’s set aside the irony that said predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, use to head the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose forerunner was, ahem, the Inquisition.) In that volume, Ratzinger wrote:
It is clear that faith is not uncompromising, but grows in the ability to live with and respect the other. The believer is not arrogant; on the contrary, truth makes him humble, because he knows that we do not possess it, but rather it embraces us.
You’ve got to be kidding me, or perhaps you are writing from a parallel universe where things somehow went quite differently. Tell your little story of “living with and respect the other” to the countless your Church has slaughtered worldwide over the centuries. And as for lack of arrogance, let’s start at the very top: you seriously don’t think it arrogant for a single man (you, or Ratzinger, or whoever) to pretend to tell the rest of the world what God wants or doesn’t want? Wow.

The middle section of your letter to Scalfari is then filled with questionable platitudes about Jesus (you do know that there isn’t much evidence about what he actually did or said, right?), things like “the flesh of Christ is the pivot of salvation,” whatever that means (yes, yes, I did go to Catholic brainwashing, I mean catechism, so I have an idea of what it’s supposed to mean, but still...), and the like.

Toward the end of the letter you finally get to the real meat, beginning with the relationship between the Church and secular politics:
[from the above] follows — and it is no little thing — that separation between the religious sphere and the political sphere that is clearly captured by the phrase ‘to God what is of God, to Caesar what is of Caesar,’ firmly uttered by Jesus, and on the basis of which — with much struggle — the West has built its history.
You can say that again: with much struggle. A struggle derived by the fact that your Church has meddled in politics throughout the last two millennia, with no apparent intention to stop. Forget that during the Middle Ages your predecessors on the Throne of Peter actually waged war using real armies (and sometimes even rode into battle themselves!). How do you square your neat separation of the spheres of religion and politics with the continuous struggle you guys have engaged in — both in Italy and at the United Nations — aiming to oppose secular legislation about things you don’t like, from abortion to divorce to gay marriage? Of course, you do have the right to oppose those things on religious grounds, and to talk to your faithful about it — in Church, not on the floor of the UN or by putting direct pressure on Italian politicians to do your bidding.

And we finally get to the major issue at hand, the relationship between the Church and non-believers, with whom you claim to seek common ground so that we can “walk part of the way together.” I don’t doubt your sincere intentions, but I surely question your logic.

You say that “the issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their own conscience. ... It is on this basis that hinges the goodness or evil of our actions.” Okay, I could straightforwardly read this as saying that it doesn’t matter if one believes or not, God will simply judge each individual according to his actions. And yet, somehow I really don’t think that’s what you meant. If you did, it would negate many centuries of Christian doctrine, according to which Man can only be “saved” (whatever that means) by unquestionably accepting Jesus Christ. Take that out, or make it optional, and your entire house of cards crumbles.

Scalfari also asked you whether believing that there are no absolute truths is a mistake or a sin. Not sure why he goes all relativist on you, but let’s play that game too. You respond that “truth, according to Christian faith, is the love of God for us, which manifests itself in Jesus.” Uh? Dear Francesco, forgive me, but this seems to me a simple category mistake: “love” has nothing to do with “truth” (except in the special case when one is asking whether a particular love is true or not). Love is an emotion, truth is a question of epistemic warrant. Even if you meant that metaphorically, I fail to see what the point of the metaphor is. Indeed, you continue: “truth, in the end, is one and the same with love. ... we need to make our terminology clear.” We do indeed! And in that spirit — again — no, love is not at all the same as truth, and in fact the two are completely independent concepts describing very different aspects of the human experience.

Lastly, you address Scalfari’s (rhetorical, I hope) question about whether the extinction of the human race would mean the extinction of the capacity to think of God. I would obviously reply in the affirmative and you equally obviously don’t; but what irks me is that you begin by saying that “the greatness of Man lies in his ability to think about God.” Really? And here I thought that the greatness of Man (and Woman, you always forget that part of humanity) lies in the ability to make this a better world, to produce art that gives the mind new insights into what it means to be human, and to figure out — all on their own — how the world actually works (it’s called science).

Naturally you tell Scalfari that, according to the Christian faith, Man will not cease to exist, ever. Yeah, that’s the nice fantasy that you guys have been able to sell to countless human beings scared of facing their own annihilation, longing to see again their dead relatives, and hoping for a better place than this valley of struggle and tears that for most of them characterizes their entire existence. But make no mistake about it: it is a fantasy, an un-truth, and your Church ought to be ashamed of peddling it.

Your last lines to Scalfari include this sentence: “[in conclusion] take my words as a tentative and provisional answer, one that is sincere and hopeful, to the invitation I perceived from you to walk some of the way together.” Again, I don’t doubt your sincerity and hopefulness, but what, exactly, in your entire letter would prompt a non-believer to walk your same path? All you have given us non-believers is a reaffirmation of entirely unsubstantiated fantasies about God and his Son (can you explain again to me in what sense Catholicism is a mono-theistic religion?), followed by a confusion between the concept of love and truth, the whole peppered by a significant amount of historical revisionism and downright denial of the ugliest facets of your Church (and you will notice that I haven’t even brought up the pedophilia stuff!). Nice try, Francesco, but you’ve got a long, long way to go before we can engage in actual dialogue and try to seriously address the many problems of this world together.

ciao,
Massimo

62 comments:

  1. Those (many self-identified "progressive" Catholics, or even ex-Catholics, it seems) who think the Roman Catholic Church will some day be fair (with straight and gay, male and female, married and unmarried priests, bishops, and even popes) are thinking of something that cannot happen (and the Catholic Church still existing apart from Protestantism). The Catholic Church has to maintain its all-male hierarchical structure. Imagine a day with the Catholic Church with a lesbian pope with her female married parter in attendance officiating a same-sex marriage in St. Peter's Basilica.

    How would one then distinguish the RCC from the Protestant UCC? Belief in transubstantiation? There are probably some UCC members who believe that (since they believe pretty much what they want anyway).

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    1. Well, you'd still have the relatively continuous line of succession going back all the way to the very early days of Christianity. They do at least have that veneer of respectability going for them.

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    2. That's an interesting thought. But when they chose a female pope, that would be a change. (I was in a UCC church some years ago where they had pictures of their designated "Saints": Buddha, Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Harvey Milk, ...)

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  2. Wow Massimo, you sure are angry. It’s a bit unfair to throw all that messy history at Francis. Just as it’d be unfair to throw the death, the shattering of lives and lies that was the Iraq war at Obama (or even you), after all every citizen in this country is to some extent responsible for what our government does.

    You ought to read more poetry and literature. I think if you did, then maybe you’d be able to see more of a connection between truth and love. Jerry Coyne said love starts out as “environmental influences that can affect our brain molecules”. When you say it is just an emotion you’re closer to him than Octavio Paz, Muriel Rukeyser or Virginia Woolf. I have heard love described as (not just an emotion but) an attitude of the mind; as self-transcendence in that when we love our interest is focused on the other rather than the self. Love is contrasted with fear in this way. When we fear, when we are afraid of getting hurt, our focus is on the self. I think this is what the author of the first epistle of John was getting at when he said “perfect love casts out all fear”. Of course there is no perfect love. We all love imperfectly and some more imperfectly than others. My point is when one’s focus is outside oneself like this, when it is on the object and not the self . . . well, you stand a better chance of seeing what’s true.

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    1. Not at all Louis, are you? What does it matter anyway? Are you asking because I quoted from one of epistles of John? I happen to like Stephen Jay Gould, a lot. I liked how he was generous to Jew, gentile, Catholic and Protestant. He was better educated, I think, than most scientists who are experts in their narrow field but not very well read outside of it. He could quote from the Bible and the Koran with almost as much ease as “On the Origin of the Species”. I think Francis is trying. I agree with Philip that the Catholic Church is unlikely to change until it becomes more like a Protestant church. There are still a lot of Catholics in this world. Any movement away from all that dogma is a positive change. Massimo’s letter seems full of hurt, anger and even hate. I don’t see it as being very productive.

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    2. > My point is when one’s focus is outside oneself like this, when it is on the object and not the self . . . well, you stand a better chance of seeing what’s true.

      Yes, you need the right attitude to see truth, and that attitude is similar to certain aspects of love. But that's very far from saying that love and truth is the same thing.

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    3. This was highly suggestive that you might be:

      "You ought to read more poetry and literature. I think if you did, then maybe you’d be able to see more of a connection between truth and love."

      I think Massimo's point about a category error still stands.

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    4. Patric, Massimo ought to read more poetry? Really, perhaps you can suggest a reading list for all of us. Also, what is wrong with the analysis of truth and love from Massimo?

      To be clear. Love IS an emotion (result) extracted from the sharing of values between two individuals. Or if you are a blond bimbo, from looking in the mirror, i.e narcism. Love for things are also subcategories of values expressed and reflected. Love from god has inherent in it the idea that you accept a god concept to begin with. Also if you accept that killing your kids as a sacrifice is a gratifying example of love, then one has to assume that the end result justified the means. If that is true then the god question is answered forever... god must have been Niccolo Machiavelli.

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    5. When One finds love or truth, the outside and the inside become just One. And as for perfect love or truth, once found, it must be practiced, over and over again. Practice make perfection, a wonderful true purpose of life!

      =

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    6. Hey William,
      Yeah really! Love has probably been written about far more than anything else in the whole world. A lot of people (especially poets and novelists) describe it more as an attitude than just a feeling. A philosopher ought to know the wide range of definitions and cut people some slack rather than dig his heals in and insist on a narrow (and I think inadequate) definition.

      A couple years ago I took my son to a play about the inventor Buckminster Fuller. He was a quirky but brilliant guy who invented a lot of things and was obsessed with ending hunger. The dialogue included this definition (like the guy who said it, it's kind of quirky but poetic):

      Love is omni-inclusive,
      Progressively exquisite,
      Understanding and tender
      And compassionately attuned
      To other than self. R. Buckminster Fuller

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    7. Patrick,

      I agree. Very disturbing and also disheartening. The hatred is misplaced. The letter is also full of problems and misconceptions and pointed questions. The age old, albeit childish, attack on the catholic church by listing its mistakes is pointless and unfair. Most people do not regard God as a fantasy (even people with greater intellects' than his own). The common theme among Massimo's writings is his belief in his own intellectual superiority (I'm both a scientist AND a philosopher). If this letter is sincere, and not muddled with emotions that are later regretted, then I shall have lost respect for him. Attributing wrong to religion has been done many times, but how about the good it has provided? The latter is usually conveniently ignored. And although there are plenty of virtuous atheists in the world there are also many great believers in god.

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  3. From what I've read, Giordano Bruno wasn't killed because his scientific ideas contradicted religion, but rather because of his views about Jesus.

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    1. But the punishments of imprisonment, torture and being burned alive were cruel beyond belief. In today's world he would have been denied tenure.

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  4. Dear Massimo, have you thought about anger management?

    As for love and truth, One leads to the other and the other to just One.

    Scientifically, mathematically, or empirically, the absolute is One too.

    Be One,

    =

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  5. Quanto è stupida! Preferisci vino rosso o bianco con stufato?

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  6. Massimo,

    What you wrote is not worthy of you (you can do so much better).

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    1. I agree, Vasco. Massimo, are these really your arguments against the Pope? They do not strike me as any less "emotionally charged" than the arguments you assume to counter. Is this really the best you can do?

      I'm reminded of the final chapter of Francis de Waal's most recent book "The Bonobo and the Atheist." Although his work is not the most philosophically rigorous, he makes a very good point about the culture of the new atheists- their arguments are largely a regurgitation of prior attempts to eliminate religion from culture. Dawkins' "poison of the masses" is reminiscent of Marx's "opiate of the masses;" Harris' "religion of reason"- not so different than 18th century France's "cult of reason;" and Hitchen's "god is not great" wreaks of Nietzsche.

      All that to say- your arguments are nothing new, and frankly, I expected a much more robust response. As is, you come off sounding simply spiteful, instead of offering real solutions or genuine arguments.

      Respectfully,

      Jaime

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    2. I agree with Owl and Pasco. If I hadn't known beforehand, after reading the letter I would have thought a sixteen year old had written it. It actually saddens me. I have lost a lot of respect for Massimo. He has lost me as a potential customer of his books. It boggles my mind that a professional philosopher is capable of such nonsense. The experience reminds me of when the great Bob Dylan finally had a chance to meet is idol -- Woody Guthrie. The conversation took place at Woody's bedside, as he was sick. From heroic genius to ordinary in one evening. I have always enjoyed reading Massimo even while usually disagreeing. From a sometimes snarky but respectful self
      proclaimed 'public intellectual' (don't ever forget he is both a philosopher and a scientist) to another pathetic atheist turning emotions into vicious ad hominem (seemingly rooted in an inferiority
      complex) in the blink of an eye. Sigh.

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  7. > Pope

    Patrick,

    > you sure are angry. It’s a bit unfair to throw all that messy history at Francis. <

    I'm not angry, at best I'm impatient. It's perfectly fair, as long as he keeps defending or justifying that history, rather than frankly admit its ugliness. Besides, he was the one who brought in history...

    > You ought to read more poetry and literature. <

    Forgive me, but that sounds very condescending. How do you know I don't? As it happens, I read a lot of literature, though not so much poetry, since that form of art doesn't resonate as much with me. Regardless, as others have already pointed out, my point that love and truth are distinct categories of thought remains untouched.

    Anonymous,

    > From what I've read, Giordano Bruno wasn't killed because his scientific ideas contradicted religion, but rather because of his views about Jesus. <

    You have been badly informed.

    Thomas,

    > Quanto è stupida! Preferisci vino rosso o bianco con stufato? <

    Seriously? You want to result to insults rather than arguments? And I'm a pescatarian, so I don't eat stufato.

    Jacob,

    > What does that mean? <

    It means: "This is very stupid! Would you prefer red or white wine with your stew? See my response above.

    Vasco,

    > What you wrote is not worthy of you <

    Well, can't please everyone. But of course you didn't really provide any criticism of what I said, just conveyed a general dislike, more akin to an emotional reaction.

    Owl,

    > are these really your arguments against the Pope? They do not strike me as any less "emotionally charged" than the arguments you assume to counter. <

    I am constantly puzzled by people who dismiss arguments if they perceive (or project) emotions. To begin with, yes, these are arguments, and pretty darn good ones at that. Second, if my writings show emotions it's because I care. So what?

    > their arguments are largely a regurgitation of prior attempts to eliminate religion from culture <

    I don't consider myself a NA. But just because their arguments aren't new it doesn't mean they aren't good. To claim so is a straightforward non sequitur. And, again, I think *my* arguments are good. And you haven't provided an actual criticism of them, either.

    > you come off sounding simply spiteful, instead of offering real solutions or genuine arguments. <

    I meant to come across as ironic, but that's in the eye of the beholder. "Real solutions" to what problem, exactly?

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    1. Massimo

      What you wrote is just rude (it is not even insulting) and although you seem convinced that you advanced any reasonable and coherent ideas (or arguments), clearly it is not the case. It would be preposterous to take it seriously and try to contradict any of your “thoughts”.


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    2. Bruno was killed for both reasons, Massimo, sorry. He was a pantheist of some sort, and the Inquisition's charges against him included anti-Trinitarianism and other specific religious issues.

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    3. Massimo, as a scientist as well as a philosopher, you could ask Francis what the discovery that many of us are likely genetic chimeras means for the idea of an individual soul formed at conception. I wrote about Carl Zimmer's informative base-level piece from the New York Times on my blog: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2013/09/chimerism-causes-problems-for-souls.html

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  8. Predictable,the criticisms of this article have decided to focus on the style rather than the substance of the argument, as it seems to be the case of probably 99% of the reactions of religious people who complain when criticisms of their beliefs and positions are expressed. If other skeptics (like Shermer and Coyne )can handle Massimo's harsh criticisms, why can't the religious believers handle it too?

    I think Massimo is right in being frustrated with this kind of discourse by the Pope, who seems to want to convert non-believers by shouting slogans at them and ignoring large portions of the church's history, and who wants to have his cake and eat it too, by expressing intentions of having a respectful exchange with non-catholics, while affirming the old dogmas of the church at the same time, which are not so respectful to people who are not catholics, especially the one that says that outside the church there is no salvation. Also lets not forget that the encyclical,"Lumen Fidei" affirms things such as: 1.- Atheism leads to immorality, atheists are a menace to society and that atheists are devoid of love!!!

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  9. Honestly Massimo both you and Francesco are preaching to the choir. Although a lot of the Italian people along with the rest of the Europeans are not followers of religion or religious practice. I believe 50% of European couples do not have civil marriages let alone church marriages. However the church is still big biz to the Italian economy because of all of the tourists and pilgrims.

    Francis was not chosen for his intellect though he is an astute fellow. He has an undergraduate background in chemistry and psychology and he once had the hots for a woman who lived down the street from him. However his first encyclical was mostly written by Benedict, akin to copying someone else's term paper.

    Unfortunately all great institutions have their low points, even Hitler praised the US Government for its white supremacist treatment of African peoples and its Native Americans population. Bruno was quite a genius but imagine the church adopting heliocentrism back then, it would be worse than Coca Cola changing its recipe.

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  10. Massimo: Seriously? You want to result to insults rather than arguments? And I'm a pescatarian, so I don't eat stufato.

    The remark had more to do with the choice of subject matter. You want to hold Francis more accountable than Benedict? Why are we even discussing this? Thus, the joke about red vs white wine with stew. It's a joke, but you will allow me the leeway to characterize this as silliness. Perhaps not. It doesn't seem I'm the only person here who has expressed surprise.

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  11. I would think that progressives would be happy that it appears we finally have a civilized, sympathetic Pope, who is going to get off of the gay-marriage/abortion obsession train and perhaps even focus on social justice issues.

    What is the point, then, of bashing and snarking at him? Do you really expect him to denounce the institution of which he is the head? Or to offer apologies for the Inquisition?

    I am quite a fan of Dr. Pigliucci and feel a special affinity, given that he is a professor at the institution at which I received my own Ph.D. in philosophy. But I am afraid that this post comes off as rather juvenile. The Catholic Church is not going anywhere. We have had to suffer quite a long time, with a nasty, tin-eared, ghoulish Pope, in the person of Ratzinger, who did real harm to the institution and to the larger human community. Surely Francesco is a tremendous improvement. Wouldn't it behoove us to support the man, to the extent that we can, rather than attempt to undermine him? I mean, it's not as if we want conservative Popes, in the model of Ratzinger, back.

    (And for the record, I am not Catholic, but Jewish.)

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  12. I think you would have done better by contemporizing the "charges" against the Church a bit more. Reaching back into pre-enlightenment ecclesiastical history no longer carries the same force it once did. Despite the institutional continuity with their past, the Catholic Church today is not the Church of the Middle Ages. Besides, there's plenty to chew on with their destructive positions and practices on contraception, homosexuality, patriarchy, pedophilia, etc. - perhaps not as dramatic as the Crusades or the Inquisition but certainly more germane.

    And do you honestly think that Pope Francis could have given us non-believers anything other than "a reaffirmation of entirely unsubstantiated fantasies about God and his Son"? I enjoyed the piece nevertheless.

    And for those of you wondering, although it shouldn't matter, I am a devout atheist who deeply misses Christopher Hitchens.

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  13. I want to apologize to you. My nonsensical comment about asking whether one would want red or white wine to go along stew was an attempt to capture the absurdity and futility that I feel underlies all such exchanges. There was no reason for me to attack your arguments since they are good ones and have been advanced many times before by others. I have used the same arguments before myself only to be confronted by the faith and grace and God's ways are inexplicable to man arguments. Ultimately, after such exchanges, my own faith in the power and utility of reasoned argument seems pitifully inadequate.

    Paul Wolff on his Philosopher's Stone blog had the following entry:

    "My old colleague, Ernest Allen, sends me this bit of news from the LA Times:

    "September 17, 2013, 7:56 a.m.

    "A little philosophy can be a dangerous thing. A heated conversation between two men about the seminal 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant first came to blows, then one man shot the other.

    "The Kant shooting incident took place in southern Russia in a beer line, Reuters reports, and the bullets were rubber. The 28-year-old victim is expected to recover.

    "The 26-year-old alleged shooter has been apprehended by the police and charged with "intentional infliction of serious harm." He could serve up to 15 years in prison for not living in accordance with the first, or indeed second, formulation of Kant's categorical imperative: using a gun to win an argument would not work as a universal strategy, and there is no rational end to getting into a fistfight about "The Critique of Pure Reason" or any of Kant's other works.

    "An interior ministry of the Rostov region, where the shooting took place, told the Wall Street Journal that the men had "decided to find out which of them is a bigger fan of this philosopher, and a tempestuous argument escalated into a fistfight."

    "If they had stuck with Kant's philosophy of relying on reason over emotion, Kant's biggest fans might never have gotten so wound up in the first place."

    Do you not sense the absurdity of this scene, in a "beer line" to boot?

    What I take away from all this is the desire to learn more about the persistence of belief despite evidence and argument to the contrary and attitude polarization.

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  14. Vasco,

    > It would be preposterous to take it seriously and try to contradict any of your “thoughts”. <

    I'm still hearing only a violent emotional reaction, no actual argument on your part...

    f0,

    > Honestly Massimo both you and Francesco are preaching to the choir <

    I disagree. Just like in any debate, you don't really talk to your opponent (besides, I'm not sufficiently deluded to think that Francesco is actually reading my blog posts!), you talk *both* to your choir and to as many people on the fences as you think you can reach. That's why the Pope wrote his letter to La Repubblica, the second largest Italian newspaper, and not to L'Osservatore Vaticano, the Vatican's main publication.

    > Bruno was quite a genius but imagine the church adopting heliocentrism back then, it would be worse than Coca Cola changing its recipe <

    Hmm, why? Besides, couldn't they have refused to adopt it without having to burn the guy who suggested the idea?

    Daniel,

    > I would think that progressives would be happy that it appears we finally have a civilized, sympathetic Pope, who is going to get off of the gay-marriage/abortion obsession train and perhaps even focus on social justice issues. <

    Somewhat, though his "progressive" words are getting a lot more press than his usually immediately following contradictions. Ex.: he says he cannot judge gays for their homosexual proclivities, but he also reaffirms that any homosexual act is a sin. He says we need to have a dialogue about how the Church treats women, but goes on to reassure his conservative base (he was, after all, elected by very conservative cardinals appointed by his two predecessors) that women will never be ordained. And so on.

    > What is the point, then, of bashing and snarking at him? Do you really expect him to denounce the institution of which he is the head? Or to offer apologies for the Inquisition? <

    Well, the latter would be a good start indeed. Why is it even beyond the realm of possibility anyway? And as far as bashing and so on, don't forget that my post is a *response* to what I saw as either a disingenuous or, at best, a hopelessly confused attempt on the Pope's part to engage in dialogue with non-believers. Unless "dialogue" actually means monologue on his part, my response is perfectly appropriate.

    > I am afraid that this post comes off as rather juvenile. The Catholic Church is not going anywhere <

    Obviously, I disagree. The Church has, very slowly, over the centuries, changed its behavior. And that has happened at least in part because of the sustained criticism it has received from both believers and non-believers.

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    1. This last point strikes me as a fair one, Massimo. But I'm not sure it's quite this sort of criticism that has accomplished this.

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    2. It is exactly this kind of criticism that has changed things in Ireland w.r.t the RCC. Outright protest is the only thing that has gotten the church here to budge. Going to Northern Ireland for condoms for example.

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    3. The RCC in Ireland does not and will not respond to reason in the first place, so while I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with Massimo's comments, Catholics have their fingers firmly lodged in there ears even when the church hierarchy is preaching to them.

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  15. Randall,

    > I think you would have done better by contemporizing the "charges" against the Church a bit more. Reaching back into pre-enlightenment ecclesiastical history no longer carries the same force it once did. <

    I simply picked up on Francesco's references in his letter. Don't forget that my post is meant as a *response*, not as a free standing critique of the Catholic Church.

    > do you honestly think that Pope Francis could have given us non-believers anything other than "a reaffirmation of entirely unsubstantiated fantasies about God and his Son"? <

    No, of course not. But he needs to be called on it. Again, the debate isn't with him, it's with people on the fences who may mistake his letter for a genuine offer of dialogue.

    Thomas,

    Apologies readily accepted, thank you.

    > My nonsensical comment about asking whether one would want red or white wine to go along stew was an attempt to capture the absurdity and futility that I feel underlies all such exchanges. <

    Again, see my comment above about who the audience for these exchanges actually is.

    > (about the "Kant shooting") Do you not sense the absurdity of this scene, in a "beer line" to boot? <

    Of course, but I am also aware of the rather exceptional character of the incident. Most philosophical disputes don't go that far into lunacy... ;-)

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  16. >I simply picked up on Francesco's references in his letter. Don't forget that my post is meant as a *response*, not as a free standing critique of the Catholic Church.<

    I understand that, but the historical point of departure for HIS engagement with modernity is the Second Vatican. As he says:

    "Therefore a lack of communication has arisen between the Church and the culture inspired by Christianity on one hand and the modern culture of Enlightenment on the other. The time has come and the Second Vatican has inaugurated the season, for an open dialogue without preconceptions that opens the door to a serious and fruitful meeting."

    My (not very clear) point was – Great! then let's start there and examine how well the Post-Vatican II Church has performed in its engagement with society in the 47 years since. Yes, I know, it's a choice you made and if I don't like it, I can write my own letter. Fair enough...

    As I said, I enjoyed your piece, and I agree with its entirety – my critique should have been more charitable.

    Anyway, your point about the platitudes throughout the Pope's letter is spot on. It's one of the most frustrating aspects of "dialoguing" with religious believers. But for them it's an opportunity to conjure up the magical powers of "God's word" and cast incantations on the public, aka preaching. William Lane Craig's public debates with atheists provides a good example of this. It's that dishonesty as you point out that needs to be exposed.

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  17. Hi Massimo,

    I have no love for the Catholic Church, but I agree with the other commenters that your tone was perhaps needlessly dismissive.

    You make a lot of points I agree with, however I am only too aware that the church has ready-made answers to most of these. These answers do not succeed, in my view, but they are at least worthy of serious analysis. They have had centuries of very clever philosophers constructing elaborate rationalisations for many of these positions, after all.

    For example, your comment that the Catholic Church is not really monotheistic. I would agree with this, not only because of the trinity but also because there's a patron saint of pretty much everything, so that saints fulfill the same function as the minor deities of polytheistic religions.

    But while I agree with you, I think that if you want to make this point then it should be made in the context of a post addressing this topic, with consideration given to the counter-arguments of the Church. This is not after all a question they have never considered.

    Throwing it in as a passing element of ridicule is only going to alienate Catholics and make you appear unreasonable. While this is entertaining and perhaps even appropriate for the likes of PZ Myers or Richard Dawkins, I think it would be more productive for you in your role as a serious philosopher to engage with the ideas more seriously.

    I also think it somewhat unfair that you criticise him for reiterating beliefs he is bound to hold as leader of the RCC. Of course he believes in an afterlife. How could he not, as the Pope? I agree with you that the afterlife is a fantasy, but the appropriate place to point that out is in a topic addressing that subject, not as an aside in an attack on the Pope, since it's not a belief particular to him but one common to the vast majority of religious people. I think in the context of this article it would be better to take these beliefs as a given and assess him on how he is behaving within the context of his role.

    Focusing on social issues and extending olive branches to other communities is not a bad start, if that's in fact what he is doing.

    On the other hand, I think you are right to call him on his disingenuousness on the separation of church and state, although to be fair perhaps we ought not to blame the church of today for the crimes committed by the church of centuries past. We don't still hold Germany to blame for the crimes of only sixty years ago, after all.

    I'm on the fence as to whether "Love is Truth" is a ridiculous platitude or not. It certainly seems to be, but I can imagine that there might be some sophisticated theological argument to back it up whereby it might make some kind of sense were the Christian God to exist. Again, I would hesitate to be so quick to ridicule it so derisively, although it's certainly no bad thing to point out that it seems nonsensical on the face of it.

    I hope you can forgive my pompous sanctimony on this occasion, and know that I continue to enjoy reading your blog!

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  18. Christopher Hitchens took exception to the Old Testament God as a violent being who unleashed wrath and mass death however as scientists we have no problem talking about some astral event that could wipe out the entire planet. Interesting how sentience plays a big part in rationalist thinking.

    Honestly Massimo do you think Western Civilization and Western Learning would have evolved without the organizing force in Europe. Even Dawkins acknowledges the Western Church Civilization when he expresses his Islamaphobia about modern European events and cultural mixing.

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    1. Christopher Hitchens didn't believe in God or the divine authorship (obviously) of the Old and New Testaments, and thus couldn't have taken exception to a non-existent being from the pages of an incoherent fairytale. Hitchens took exception to religious believers who proclaim the unfailing love and goodness of their God because their "Good Book" tells them so, while at the same time proclaiming the inerrancy of that very same Book in which the Central Character's despotic, capricious, sociopathic, genocidal behavior toward its most precious creatures is so inerrantly revealed.

      Theodicy is a bitch.

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  19. Pope Nicholas V; a man who re- introduced Greek learning and introduced humanism into the Roman Catholic Faith, and the man who tore down the old Vatican.

    “A name never to be mentioned without reverence by every lover of letters…He has been severely censured for pulling down a portion of the old St. Peter's and planning the destruction of the remainder. He defended his action on the ground that the buildings were on the verge of ruin….His immediate predecessors had held the Humanists in suspicion; Nicholas welcomed them to the Vatican as friends. Carried away by his enthusiasm for the New Learning, he overlooked any irregularities in their morals or opinions… The crowning glory of his pontificate was the foundation of the Vatican Library. No lay sovereigns had such opportunities of collecting books as the popes. Nicholas's agents ransacked the monasteries and palaces of every country in Europe. Precious manuscripts, which would have been eaten by the moths or would have found their way to the furnace, were rescued from their ignorant owners and sumptuously housed in the Vatican. In this way he accumulated five thousand volumes at a cost of more than forty thousand scudi. "It was his greatest joy to walk about his library arranging the books and glancing through their pages, admiring the handsome bindings, and taking pleasure in contemplating his own arms stamped on those that had been dedicated to him, and dwelling in thought on the gratitude that future generations of scholars would entertain towards their benefactor. Thus he is to be seen depicted in one of the halls of the Vatican library, employed in settling his books"” …Catholic Encyclopedia

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  20. Randall,

    > As I said, I enjoyed your piece, and I agree with its entirety – my critique should have been more charitable <

    Thank you.

    > your point about the platitudes throughout the Pope's letter is spot on. It's one of the most frustrating aspects of "dialoguing" with religious believers. But for them it's an opportunity to conjure up the magical powers of "God's word" and cast incantations on the public <

    Precisely, which is why they need to be called on whenever they do it, especially at such high levels. What is astonishing about Francesco is that he is getting a lot of positive press for appearing to say the right thing, which is however immediately followed by contradictory behavior (e.g., we have to talk seriously about the role of women in the Church ... but it remains a fact that women cannot be ordained at higher ranks than they are now), or by no change in Vatican policy whatsoever.

    > William Lane Craig's public debates with atheists provides a good example of this <

    I know, I debated him a couple of times.

    DM,

    > I am only too aware that the church has ready-made answers to most of these. These answers do not succeed, in my view, but they are at least worthy of serious analysis <

    I think you are overestimating the sophistic abilities of the Church. Francesco’s letter presents *no* seriously debatable points, only a number of platitudes and vague gestures. Which is why my response is so “dismissive.”

    > your comment that the Catholic Church is not really monotheistic. ... I think that if you want to make this point then it should be made in the context of a post addressing this topic <

    Talk about nit picking, man! That was a parenthetical comment, clearly made in jest. C’mon.

    > I think it would be more productive for you in your role as a serious philosopher to engage with the ideas more seriously. <

    So I should devote a post to an intrinsically incoherent notion, such as that of the Trinity. Or elaborate on the obvious point that a religion that recognizes literally thousands of supernatural entities can’t possibly coherently present itself as monotheistic. Ok, I’ll consider it as soon as I run out of a bit more interesting topics.

    > Focusing on social issues and extending olive branches to other communities is not a bad start, if that's in fact what he is doing. <

    But it’s not what he’s doing, see my comment above.

    > We don't still hold Germany to blame for the crimes of only sixty years ago, after all. <

    With the difference that Germany has apologized and atoned. Not so the Catholic Church.

    > I'm on the fence as to whether "Love is Truth" is a ridiculous platitude or not. <

    No it isn’t, you’re being far too charitable on this one.

    > I hope you can forgive my pompous sanctimony on this occasion, and know that I continue to enjoy reading your blog! <

    You are forgiven... ;-)

    f0,

    > Honestly Massimo do you think Western Civilization and Western Learning would have evolved without the organizing force in Europe <

    Who knows? It’s a historical counter-factual, so we’ll never know. I think a pretty darn goos case can be made that the Church halted and regressed the progress that had been made by the Greek-Romans, so yes, of course it would have been perfectly possible to evolve a decent, perhaps even better, Western civilization without the Church. But, again, who knows. What we do know are the many documented cases of the Church getting in the way of free thinking.

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    1. Hi Massimo,

      I'm not so much arguing that the Trinity or the RCC's polytheism merits a post, more that there's not much point in simply raising these points as blanket criticisms unless you have the time and interest to actually explore the ideas in more detail.

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  21. Massimo,

    As I said before I will not try to argue on what you call “arguments” that you advanced to Pope Francis, I hope that someone better than me is able to respond to your doubts.

    However the historical insights you include in your letter (about the Catholic Church persecution of heretics and scientists) seemed a little bizarre, and unexpected, particularly from a philosopher who pays some attention to the epistemology of knowledge, and that devotes considerable efforts to the education of lay man in matters of science and philosophy (not in history).

    I don’t want to shake your opinion about God or the activity of the Catholic Church, but I feel that you share a few misconceptions about the medieval history (which are relatively common among illiterate atheists) and in this sense I would recommend that you should try to verify your historical concepts concerning the historical aspects related to the Catholic Church. I can suggest you a link to an article by a fellow atheist (Tim O'Neill, The Dark Age Myth: An Atheist Reviews “God’s Philosophers”: http://www.strangenotions.com/gods-philosophers/). This is an example, however I think that if you look for yourself you will be able to find a large variety of historical references that contradict (or confirm) the historical view you seem to hold.

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    1. Vasco,

      I find it very peculiar that you insist that my arguments aren't even worthy of being considered arguments, yet you refuse to engage them and hope for someone better prepared to do so.

      As for the history of the Church and its relationship to science and freethinking, I assure you that I am not an "illiterate atheist." Yes, it was a complex story, not the simple Good vs Evil that is often depicted. But to claim that the Church has largely been on the side of science and reason is simply ludicrous, and can be justified only by one's blind ideology.

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    2. Massimo,

      I know you are very far from being an “illiterate atheist”; my disappointment comes from the moment you chose to act as if you were.

      As for the matter of my inability to engage your arguments, it comes from the lack of respect (and meaning) contained (as perceived by me) in your letter that it my view is just a foolish provocation. It may well be that what you wrote is worthwhile to discuss, however I fail to see it (and I am sorry I am unable to satisfy your curiosity).

      As for the relationship between the Catholic Church and science and reason, I don’t know what one could expect it could be different than it actually has been through history. Is anyone claiming that the Church was (or is) composed of perfect beings (the priests and the believers)? NO. Did they made (and make) mistakes, OF COURSE? There are no such thing has perfect beings (except God). However atheists seem reasonable to expect priests and believers should behave perfectly and that the history of the Catholic Church should be exempt from errors and wrongdoings.
      For centuries the Catholic Church created schools, hospitals, universities, supported the development of arts, philosophy, theology, and supported almost every area of human knowledge. It is true that things did not always worked properly and many times it was much worse than that. It is true that the primary function of the Catholic Church should be devoted to the relation of humanity with God, it may well be that things could be different, would it be better? MAYBE (however we will never know for sure).

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  22. Hannam, author of "God's Philosophers", is a very conservative Catholic. If Draper and White's views can be dismissed because they were deemed anti-Christian.... well Hannam's views are definitely pro-Christian. Also showing that the conflict thesis formulated in the 19th c is wrong, does nothing to prove no conflict exists either now or in the past. The apologist always finds a way to dismiss contrary evidence as either irrelevant or due to another reason.

    See this exchange prompted by Hannam promoting his book at Natureblog:
    http://blogs.nature.com/soapboxscience/2011/05/18/science-owes-much-to-both-christianity-and-the-middle-ages

    Although there is plenty of myth propagation against religion in the comments - notice how when evidence is produced demonstrating the failure of the non-conflict view - the “anti-conflicters” quickly ascribe it to some other cause like "politics". Then one gets completely silly comments from Tim like - "For the whole 20+ years I have been studying this stuff I have been asking people to give me an example of the Medieval Church suppressing any scientist at all. So far no one has come up with a single one." This is his and his buddies’ - Hannam and Clarke (also in the comments) - stock comeback, as if it were a devastating answer. But, no matter what evidence were produced it would be waved away. On the face of it, the claim is ludicrous - really a powerful organization such as the Catholic Church didn’t suppress a single “scientific” thought in 2000 years. And given that what science was then or who was a scientist (a term coined in the 19th c by the way) is based on interpretation - we can of course see how Tim would never have found a single example - i.e. Bruno wasn’t a scientist or wasn’t killed for his scientific views, but for religious or political ones. All one need do is look at modern societies and how they attempt to suppress science that competes with their perceived interests and it becomes clear why conflict is inevitable.

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    1. Michael,

      I take your word about Hannam being a conservative Catholic, however this does invalidate his claims.

      About the modern times the Catholic Church oposes some activities in science on grounds of ethical arguments. A good example of this is the oposition to the eugenic mouvements in the XX century (this is well documented in the web, and you can easily find information). Nothing of that oposition was grounded on opposition to knowledge or science.

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    2. >I take your word about Hannam being a conservative Catholic, however this does invalidate his claims.

      Of course that was my point. People have dismissed White and Draper, in part, because they were claimed to be anti-Christian. They were also working in the 19th c. - and one can't say that since their arguments were wrong all arguments for incompatibility of science and religion are wrong.

      I wasn't thinking of the RCC in modern times, but now that you mention it their opposition to birth control has led them to make a number of unsupportable statements. No, I was really thinking about political parties or corporations such as the Soviets and Lysenkoism, the US Republican party and rewriting environmental reports, the tobacco companies and smoking health risks or the oil industry and climate change.

      The point is claims that religion and science are always opposed or always in harmony are equally wrong. The fact that modern science emerged in the west and in a population that was overwhelming Christian doesn't imply that the west or Christianity were necessary for science to emerge. Christianity is an odd religion in that it has no ties to place. Indigenous religions, including Judaism, are locally focused with guidelines for living within an ecosystem. I think this makes it a poor basis for promoting science - the emergence of science was more likely external than internal.

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  23. Michael,

    I am a Christian and for me it makes no sense to recognize that there is a conflict between the Catholic Church and science or knowledge (however sometimes findings of science may force the church to correct some of its teachings). If that was the case then why would the church, throughout history, supported the education of the layman, or the development of sciences. If the church was so strongly devoted to obscurantism and to promote ignorance, why would explain that they seemed so eager to promote knowledge (such as the creation of schools and universities). However if you find reasonable that the church leaders were ignorant, fools or stupid then your reasoning make sense (not that there were no ignorant, fools or stupid people in the church, but as whole it is not possible to see the institution in that way).

    The practice of birth control (as other moral issues) is not science, and the Catholic Church positions on that subject are framed on ethical and moral grounds and it is preposterous to defend that the church should follow or endorse conceptions that contradict its own values (regardless of each one opinions on that matter).

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  24. So when the church denies that condoms can help prevent HIV infections - saving the lives of women and children - no science is involved? Birth control also has implications for the physical and mental health of women and children even without HIV in the picture. Pregnancy and child-rearing are not without risks. Your argument that science is not involved is bogus. One could easily view the no birth control stance, as a ploy to get more members - Catholics breed more Catholics. Would that be cynical?

    You are being incredibly defensive about things I didn't say. Did I ever say that the church's main goals were obscurantism and ignorance? I was merely commenting on Hannam and his supporters' view that science and religion never conflicted (yet even you claim they have conflicted) - and that the church has never suppressed thought. I was pointing out that these were highly unlikely. Has the church not tried and continues to try to control thought even at its own universities? You don't think that if the church thinks some teaching might lead people to a false religious belief or no religious belief, it wouldn't try to stop it being taught? It is part of its job to do so; it should be protecting the souls of its followers, no? I am not choosing sides here, I am merely pointing out that conflicts are inevitable given the goals and methods differ.

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    1. Michael,

      The church doesn’t deny that that condoms can help prevent HIV infections (or any other sexually transmitted diseases), but the church can’t endorse this solutions on moral grounds. Birth is not generated spontaneously, it involves at least two people that are engaged on sexual intercourse, from this life can be generated, it is not at all like a curse that randomly occurs to people that do it because it is pleasurable and generates life. Pregnancy is not a disease that people may prefer to avoid, people know very well how to avoid it. There is no science involved in this, or better nothing that people don’t know for millennia. You may argue that people have a right to pleasure and no consequences should come from that pleasure (well, it is an opinion on morality, it is not science).

      Today there are no major conflicts between the church and science, however there are conflicts between the church teachings and some unsupported claims in the name of science, such as the suggestion that humans don’t possess free will (yes everybody knows that free will is not absolute, it has some limitations). Or that the church had some suspicions in what concerns the theory of evolution, which took some time to be considered as reasonable (nothing special), but the same thing happened in the acceptance of new ideas such as the big bang (which was clearly consistent with the theological view of the creation of the universe). In terms of knowledge the church is conservative and requires time to acknowledge the validity of novelty, which, in my view is a positive, otherwise it would be rapidly accessing every new idea and proclaiming one mistake after the other. The church is responsible and caution on its proclamations, as a large number of people take its opinion seriously.
      On your questions:
      “Has the church not tried and continues to try to control thought even at its own universities?”
      On this matter my guess is as good as yours. But what do you mean that is “to control thought”, if you mean to defend the church positions (in a convincing way), my answer would be yes (of course)

      You don't think that if the church thinks some teaching might lead people to a false religious belief or no religious belief, it wouldn't try to stop it being taught?
      I guess that it would be natural that the church would try to avoid those teachings to take place if it has the power to do so (the church is known to have opposed to divinatory arts, astrology, witchcraft and whatever they saw as superstition). However society (with the support of religion, human rights defense, …) evolved to a point where the church has no power in defining what can or not be taught. It is interesting that this didn’t happen in the muslim world, where the search for knowledge was somehow suffocated by theocracy (and the scientific advances from the middle ages leaded to nowhere).

      At this point we may question the course of things (related with the advances of society in the western societies), and we may think that it would be so much better if religion was irrelevant. However we had to wait to the beginning of the XX century to see the wonders of atheist regimes (carefully devoided of religion) and they were not pretty sights.

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    2. The Church has been saying obvious unscientific things about condoms and HIV.

      QUOTE:
      In an interview, one of the Vatican's most senior cardinals Alfonso Lopez Trujillo suggested HIV could even pass through condoms.

      "The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom," he says.

      The cardinal, who is president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, suggests that governments should urge people not to use condoms."
      ENDQUOTE
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3176982.stm

      That was in 2009. This is a recent case of the church going against all scientific knowledge because it conflicted with it's "moral" teachings. As you noted they have improved here. But I doubt the reversal would have happened if the power of the church in western societies were stronger.

      Ps. As a member of one of the most secular states in the world (Sweden), I find your comment about atheistic regimes quite strange.

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    3. Vasco, the historical average for maternal death during childbirth was 1000 women per 100,000 births or 1 in every 100 . The current rate in the US is 10-20 per 100,000 - many countries are better while others are much worse. I think this shows that childbirth is not without risks.

      You guess it would be natural? You are even trying to engage with the evidence. The church has no power? You don't pay much attention to the news do you?

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  25. That will teach him to try opening a dialogue with non-believers. Ecrasez l'infame!

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  26. Interesting report about the letter from Pope Benedict to the Italian Mathematecian. Really underscores the whole debate whether there is only objective truth (mathematicas, science etc.) or whether moral truth exists.

    I guess a naievety about whether the church created the civilization which fostered western science. Massimo claims it's an historical counter-factual until you study the scientific advancement of the eastern traditions as well of course as technological advancement.

    Interesting that ancients attributed everyrhing from rain to fire to gods, but monotheism unified them to one and western science discovered underlying phenomena, and in 20th century searches for unifying theory of everything.

    Old church moral teachings on sexuality protected married women from constant pregnancy. Even though condoms existed since 16th century, 20th century rubber vulcanazation made them available to lower classes and they were a military staple during the world wars, along with birth control which put church teachings into a 20th century dilemma. Upper class marriage before the 20th century was about preserving family wealth which is why the annulment procedure was critical to allow for marital dissolution if there were impediments to offspring production. Even in 19th century British government encouraged royal marriage which produced Queen Victoria. However 20th century birth control also made pre-marital and extra-marital relationships more common which also lead to moral dilemma. I was born in the 50's and most Catholic families I remember had two or less children so they were either very religious or used condoms at their discretion. Most married adults in the 20th century were rational and there was no church teaching about "grave sin" about marital birth control. Really much ado about nothing for most adults.

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  27. Vasco,

    > As for the matter of my inability to engage your arguments, it comes from the lack of respect (and meaning) contained (as perceived by me) in your letter that it my view is just a foolish provocation. <

    So let me get this straight: vigorous criticism peppered by the occasional quip counts, in your mind, as “lack of respect.” And what sort of respect did Francesco show the atheist community when he set out to write a letter that doesn’t engage anyone seriously and simply repeats vacuous platitudes about the Church?

    > Is anyone claiming that the Church was (or is) composed of perfect beings (the priests and the believers)? <

    C’mon, that’s either naive or disingenuous. Nobody is asking for perfection, and nobody is claiming total evil. But the historical record of the Church’s resistance to new ideas, suppression of intellectual opponents (even within its own), and general distrust of “modernity” is inarguable. Yes, there are exceptions; yes, the thing is complicated. But nobody can seriously accuse the Catholic Church of being a progressive intellectual think tank.

    > For centuries the Catholic Church created schools, hospitals, universities, supported the development of arts, philosophy, theology, and supported almost every area of human knowledge. <

    Very true. But what does that have to do with the content of Francesco’s letter? Not much, as far as I can see. My criticisms were aimed at his *specific* claims. To expect me to present an overall analysis of all the doings of the Church over the last two millennia is, again, either naive or disingenuous.

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    1. Massimo,

      I read the letter from Pope Francis to Eugenio Scalfari and your response letter to him (several times now), but I fail to see any way of proportion (or any sign of it). I also tried to read the initial letter form Eugenio, but it was in Italian and I may have misunderstood what he actually wrote, but it looked like to have been written in a friendly and cordial tone. The response from Pope Francis also looked quite friendly, polite and respectful (considering that it was addressed to atheists, who don’t believe in God). Your response looked to me has quite harsh and disrespectful and its general tone keeps me from taking any significant meaning from what is written. It looks like the response of someone that was really offended (which makes no sense to me).

      Maybe you are right to fell offended, however I seriously question if any offense was intended. But one needs to frame this letter. It was written by the leader of the Catholic Church to be published in the press as a response to Eugenio’s letter but also to the general population (believers and non-believers), there the Pope addresses a variety of issues and as expected (from someone who is the leader of the church) he speaks of God (is that offensive?), of Jesus, apparently Eugenio was somehow interested in the teachings of Jesus, which seems not be your case. Then it occurred to me that maybe this letter is offensive to you in particular and not so to some other type of atheist (or to the believer in general, say such as me that fails to see any reason to offend someone.

      It also strokes me that you misunderstood many parts of the letter, which would deserve a second reading, such as the confusion between love and truth. That in fact is not strait forward.
      Or when you quote Benedict XVI “The believer is not arrogant”, I guess that is wishful thinking (it should be “the believer must be humble, not arrogant”), I guess he is actually stating just the way the believers should behave.
      I really had a bad time trying to provide you some answers, I really am not able to respond to you, and for me it is quite clear that no offense was intended. And, really the only thing I can say is that your judgment of the church is unjust (in my view) and that was the only thing I addressed previously. But then it had been previously addressed in Pope Francis letter (in the end), “Believe me, in spite of its slowness, the infidelity, the mistakes and the sins that may have and may still be committed by those who compose the Church, it has no other sense and aim if not to live and witness Jesus: He has been sent by Abbà "to bring good news to the poor... to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (Luke 4: 18-19).”

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  28. Bill,

    > The hatred is misplaced <

    What hatred? At best, disdain for what the Church represents. Are you sure you are not projecting your own emotions on this?

    > The letter is also full of problems and misconceptions and pointed questions. The age old, albeit childish, attack on the catholic church by listing its mistakes is pointless and unfair. <

    Why, exactly? Why is it childish to point to centuries of blunders? Why unfair, especially when Francesco is apparently ready to defend the Church’s history?

    > Most people do not regard God as a fantasy <

    Argumentum ad populum? It’s a logical fallacy, you know.

    > The common theme among Massimo's writings is his belief in his own intellectual superiority (I'm both a scientist AND a philosopher) <

    Seriously? I point that out only when people accuse me of not having the proper competency to discuss a given issue. And if you spent some time on this blog you ought to know that I engage my readers continuously and in-depth. *That* is respect for someone’s opinions, even if you disagree with them, and it would be nice to be accorded the same from my critics.

    > Attributing wrong to religion has been done many times, but how about the good it has provided? <

    Again, besides the point. This was not an overall analysis of the Church’s doings, but a specific response to specific points brought up by Francesco.

    > although there are plenty of virtuous atheists in the world there are also many great believers in god. <

    As true as it is irrelevant to the matters being discussed.

    vicpanz,

    > Interesting report about the letter from Pope Benedict to the Italian Mathematecian. <

    Actually, no. This post is about the letter written by Francesco to the editor of La Repubblica. I have not written about what Ratzinger wrote to Odifreddi, though I’ve read that letter too.

    > Interesting that ancients attributed everyrhing from rain to fire to gods, but monotheism unified them to one and western science discovered underlying phenomena, and in 20th century searches for unifying theory of everything. <

    I’m sorry, are you attributing the advances of fundamental physics to monotheism??

    > Old church moral teachings on sexuality protected married women from constant pregnancy. <

    You’ve got to be kidding me! Not at all an instrument of patriarchal control, eh? Wow.

    > However 20th century birth control also made pre-marital and extra-marital relationships more common which also lead to moral dilemma. <

    Besides the fact that I don’t see what’s morally problematic about pre-marital relationships, there is no historical evidence that people didn’t cheat before the 20th century. And what does any of this to do with either Francesco’s letter or my response?

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  29. Given the tone of a number of comments I received for this post, I would also like my gentle readers to honestly compare my "disrespect" for Francesco as expressed here with the content and form of some of my criticism to fellow atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, and a number of others. I challenge anyone to claim that I was not even handed in the two cases...

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  30. Massimo, final paragraph in your August 16 post on Islamaphobia:

    >So where does all of this leave us? Hard to keep score, given the bizarreness of comments on both sides. I’m pretty sure Dawkins and other NA’s are in fact guilty of over-focusing on Islam. Then again, there are somewhat good reasons to do so provided by recent history, given that the Christian Crusades and Inquisition have been over for a while. Dawkins & co. are also overly sarcastic, certainly not subtle, and they do seem to use far too wide a brush to paint their nemeses. But it’s not like one reads writings such as Lean’s and finds shiny examples of restraint, subtle humor and focused targeting. The obvious casualty of all this is serious criticism, of both Muslims and New Atheists. >

    -So you do concede the Crusades and Inquisition have been over for centuries and criticize "Dawkins & co. are also overly sarcastic, certainly not subtle, and they do seem to use far too wide a brush to paint their nemeses".

    -Now go back and read this post and decide if your guilty of Dawkins errors?

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    1. vic,

      if you don't see the distinctions between the two cases and contexts, I really can't help you any further. Cheers.

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  31. Sorry Massimo but it is a fascinating discussion. It's one of his final statements that drives you and even alot of mainstream catholics nuts:

    "In the last question you ask if, with the disappearance of man on earth, the thoughts able to think about God will also disappear. Of course, the greatness of mankind lies in being able to think about God. That is in being able to experience a conscious and responsible relationship with Him. But the relationship lies between two realities. God - this is my thought and this is my experience, but how many, yesterday and today, share it! - is not an idea, even if very sublime, the result of the thoughts of mankind. God is a reality with a capital "R". Jesus reveals this to us - and he experiences the relationship with Him - as a Father of infinite goodness and mercy. God therefore does not depend on our thoughts. On the other hand, even when the end of life for man on earth should come - and for Christian faith, in any case the world as we know it now is destined to end, man will not finish existing and, in a way that we do not know, nor will the universe created with him. The Scriptures speak of "new skies and a new land" and confirm that, in the end, at the time and place that it is beyond our knowledge, but which we patiently and desirously await, God will be " everything in everyone"."

    The alternate reality of the high clergy. He's effuting some great ontological change in his own brain and nervous system so he is "at one" with the eternal ether..a Disneyworld Beyond...Like those scenes in the movie Becket where once he becomes archbishop he starts to drive King Henry II up the walls with his religiosity.

    OK....enough said....Cheers

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