The Pretense of Knowledge



I have been viewing with some mirth the joy of the Left in regard to the release of the Green Encyclical.  Prior to Pope Francis, most of those celebrating were intensely hostile to the papacy, viewing it as enemy number one on their path to the ever elusive socialist utopia.  Now they think they have a pope on their side.  Of course, in regard to the Green Encyclical we have Pope Francis being celebrated by the Left for doing something which was anathema to them before he came on the scene: a pope  judging science.  Leftist accusations aside, that is something the Church has rarely done, for sound reasons.  Most ecclesiastics lack the education to make sound judgments on science.  Plus, the conclusions of science are always being modified as new data is studied, and for an institution that exists to expound the Timeless Truths of Christ, it is dangerous to seek to mix in with those Truths opinions on science which are bound to be wrong in part in the fullness of time.  Thus the Pope is being celebrated by the Left for agreeing with them, although his manner of agreeing with them can just as easily be turned against them when a future pope has different opinions on science, if a future pope is foolish enough to wish to do what the Pope has just done.  It is one of the features of our time that the clergy, doing a lousy job by and large in expounding the Gospel, are eager to give their opinions on subjects they are frequently bone ignorant about, merely parroting, in the main, beliefs of the Zeitgeist popular among the chattering classes, and the clergy are always members in good standing of that group.

Father George Rutler at Crisis Magazine explains why having the Church sit in judgment on the conclusions of science is a very bad idea indeed:

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the ecology of the earth is adventurously laden with promise and peril. It can raise consciousness of humans as stewards of creation.  However, there is a double danger in using it as an economic text or scientific thesis. One of the pope’s close advisors, the hortatory Cardinal Maradiaga of Honduras said with ill-tempered diction: “The ideology surrounding environmental issues is too tied to a capitalism that doesn’t want to stop ruining the environment because they don’t want to give up their profits.” From the empirical side, to prevent the disdain of more informed scientists generations from now, papal teaching must be safeguarded from attempts to exploit it as an endorsement of one hypothesis over another concerning anthropogenic causes of climate change. It is not incumbent upon a Catholic to believe, like Rex Mottram in Brideshead Revisited, that a pope can perfectly predict the weather. As a layman in these matters, all I know about climate change is that I have to pay for heating a very big church with an unpredictable apparatus. This is God’s house, but he sends me the ConEd utility bills.

It is noteworthy that Pope Francis would have included in an encyclical, instead of lesser teaching forms such as an apostolic constitution or motu proprio, subjects that still pertain to unsettled science (and to speak of a “consensus” allows that there is not yet a defined absolute). The Second Vatican Council, as does Pope Francis, makes clear that there is no claim to infallibility in such teaching. The Council (Lumen Gentium, n.25) does say that even the “ordinary Magisterium” is worthy of a “religious submission of intellect and will” but such condign assent is not clearly defined.  It does not help when a prominent university professor of solid Catholic commitments says that in the encyclical “we are about to hear the voice of Peter.”  That voice may be better heard when, following the advice of the encyclical (n.55) people turn down their air conditioners.  One awaits the official Latin text to learn its neologism for “condizione d’aria.”  While the Holy Father has spoken eloquently about the present genocide of Christians in the Middle East, those who calculate priorities would have hoped for an encyclical about this fierce persecution, surpassing that of the emperor Decius.  Pictures of martyrs being beheaded, gingerly filed away by the media, give the impression that their last concern on earth was not climate fluctuations.

Saint Peter, from his fishing days, had enough hydrometeorology to know that he could not walk on water. Then the eternal Logos told him to do it, and he did, until he mixed up the sciences of heaven and earth and began to sink. As vicars of that Logos, popes speak infallibly only on faith and morals. They also have the prophetic duty to correct anyone who, for the propagation of their particular interests, imputes virtual infallibility to papal commentary on physical science while ignoring genuinely infallible teaching on contraception, abortion and marriage and the mysteries of the Lord of the Universe.  At this moment, we have the paradoxical situation in which an animated, and even frenzied, secular chorus hails papal teaching as infallible, almost as if it could divide the world, provided it does NOT involve faith or morals.



Go here to read the rest.  In the Green Encyclical we have flawed science being supported by a religious figure who has no claim to make authoritative statements in regard to science, but does so anyway.  This all brings to mind Friedrich Hayek’s Nobel Prize Lecture, The Pretense of Knowledge on December 11, 1974:

The conflict between what in its present mood the public expects science to achieve in satisfaction of popular hopes and what is really in its power is a serious matter because, even if the true scientists should all recognize the limitations of what they can do in the field of human affairs, so long as the public expects more there will always be some who will pretend, and perhaps honestly believe, that they can do more to meet popular demands than is really in their power. It is often difficult enough for the expert, and certainly in many instances impossible for the layman, to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate claims advanced in the name of science.

Rather than Laudato si, the proper name for the Green Encyclical is The Pretense of Knowledge.


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  1. Pope Francis has forsaken the concerns of God for those of Man. Ignoring the spiritual climate vs pontificating on “climate change”. Helping folks get to heaven vs. making a heaven on earth. Enriching the poor in spirit vs. increasing the dissatisfaction of the actual poor. Imagine what the Holy Trinity thinks about this. I wonder how They plan to get our attention this time. My understanding is that floods are out. May God have mercy on us all especially our poor Pope.

  2. As the incomparable Walter Bagehot pointed out, most statesmen, especially the successful businessmen who sit in the House of Commons (and other legislatures), do not look for certainty: “They have lived all their lives in an atmosphere of probabilities and of doubt, where nothing is very clear, where there are some chances for many events, where there is much to be said for several courses, where nevertheless one course must be determinedly chosen and fixedly adhered to… They got rich themselves by transactions of which they could not have stated the argumentative ground—and all they ask for is a distinct though moderate conclusion that they can repeat when asked.”
    The encyclical is very well suited to such an audience. That is why I am sure it will be well received in Paris in November.

  3. I’m exhausted, and the real spiritual battle will still be ahead in the coming synod.
    Make no mistake–it will be aimed at the sacraments–for they are what the diabolical seeks to destroy by man’s willing desecration–better if done by men in Roman collars.
    Gird your loins….

  4. I agree with Don L. I am exhausted and absoluely demoralized and disheartened. The Pope talks like a eco-wacko communist. The President of the United States is a baby-murdering, sodomy sanctifying collectivist. The Church and the Republic are both wounded, perhaps mortally. When will this end? I see impending schism in the Church and civil war in the nation. I pray neither happens. But frankly, I neither want to go to Mass at a Roman Catholic Church any longer, having to listen to this Gaia-worshipping eco-wacko, social justice, liberal progressive Democrat nonsense from the pulpit, nor do I wish to raise the American flag at my house because this isn’t the country of moral principle for which I served in the nuclear submarine force. I am angry – infuriated beyond measure. And for an alcoholic anger is always bad. Maybe I need to go to a 12 step meeting. Maybe I need to take my own moral inventory. Aaarrrggghhh!

  5. To Paul W Primavera

    You need not attend a novus ordo mass to hear all the nonsense you describe. Find instead a church that offers the Traditional Latin Mass. I wish you godspeed in your search and hopefully a solution to your dilemma. God bless.

  6. Man up Paul. Remember we are the Church Militant. Things are supposed to be the way they are as God has permitted it. So expect expect something good to come from all this evil. These are exciting times, so keep up the good fight. This is our era of history, our time of battle. Let us make the best of it. We need you.

  7. ” I neither want to go to Mass at a Roman Catholic Church any longer, having to listen to this Gaia-worshipping eco-wacko, social justice, liberal progressive Democrat nonsense from the pulpit,”

    You are not there for the empty vestments spouting politically correct nonsense from the pulpit. Remember what the Church really is. Remember what the Mass really is.

  8. Indeed. Modify it a bit for the Church and this speech from Soldier Ask Not by Gordon R. Dickson is my response to defects in the human side of the Church:

    “Suppose it was even as you think,” he went on, even more gently. “Suppose that all you say was a fact, and that our Elders were but greedy tyrants, ourselves abandoned here by their selfish will and set to fulfill a false and prideful purpose. No.” Jamethon’s voice rose. “Let me attest as if it were only for myself. Suppose that you could give me proof that all our Elders lied, that our very Covenant was false. Suppose that you could prove to me”—his face lifted to mine and his voice drove at me—“that all was perversion and falsehood, and nowhere among the Chosen, not even in the house of my father, was there faith or hope! If you could prove to me that no miracle could save me, that no soul stood with me, and that opposed were all the legions of the universe, still I, I alone, Mr. Olyn, would go forward as I have been commanded, to the end of the universe, to the culmination of eternity. For without my faith I am but common earth. But with my faith, there is no power can stay me!”
    ― Gordon R. Dickson, Soldier, Ask Not

    My belief in Christ and His Church is impervious to all the manifest human failings that ever have beset the Barque of Peter.

  9. Said it too many times – read “Jesuits” by Fr. Malachi Martin. You will understand this pope very well. He is a first class clown, with a second class intellect from a third class backwater country.

  10. How can the world be prepared to accept the Antichrist? We are living in an age that answers that question. The only institution in the world, in history, to educate, warn, and provide the proper tools of the armor necessary to defeat the forces of evil, is the Catholic Church. But its leaders since John XXIII have failed in their duty as defender’s and protectors of that armor and have instead, instructed the flock to tear off that armor, that the armor isn’t important, that they don’t need to believe or practice the teachings of Jesus Christ as handed down by Him to the Apostle’s and their valid successor’s. That there is a universal spirit, or essence, that exists in everyone and each can find that essence in their own way and that is God. There is no need to belong to Christ’s one true Church because it simply “subsists” within His body, which is not only those who believe in Him, but even those who do not. No, a little truth or no truth no longer matters. Go with your conscience! Simply love!

  11. Donald, thank you for Dickson’s speech. We must persevere knowing the final battle will be won by Christ and we will then share in His glory in His Kingdom forever and ever.

  12. Similarly, American Will Rogers said, “The problem isn.t what people don’t know. The problem is what people know that ain’t so.” Sadly, the problem is expanding.

  13. Shawn Marshall on Friday, June 19, A.D. 2015 at 1:29pm

    Said it too many times – read “Jesuits” by Fr. Malachi Martin. You will understand this pope very well. He is a first class clown, with a second class intellect from a third class backwater country.”

    I don’t know about your summation of the pope, but having read every word of that book (NYT best seller list) many times, My eyes were opened and I pray that many other “traditional” Catholics would climb down out of the clouds and learn about the great spiritual/political battle that’s been going on in their church while they trot back and forth to Mass.

  14. Paul,

    Don’t give up. Never give up. There were at least six truly bad Popes and the Church goes on.

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