“Truth Cannot Contradict Truth”
All about Science and the Church

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Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.”  St. John Paul II, Letter to Rev. George Coyne, S.J., Director of the Vatican Observatory.

 

The video above, “From the Big Bang to Hubble,” is put out by EESA (the European Space Agency) and is featured, among other bells and whistles, on the home page of my new web-book “Truth Cannot Contradict Truth.   Here’s what I’m trying to do with this, as set forth in the Preface:

What!—another book about science and the Catholic Church; who needs it?”

That was the question I asked myself as I thought about writing this ebook. Six months earlier I had published an ebook about science and Catholic teaching; “Science versus the Church—‘Truth Cannot Contradict Truth’”. I wrote it to demonstrate that there was no conflict between what science truly told us about the world and Catholic teaching. A few months after that, a very fine book (hard-copy) “Particles of Faith” by Stacey Trasancos came out, with the same goal and theme. And some 14 years ago, a classic work by Stephen Barr, “Modern Physics and Ancient Faith” had appeared, to mention just a few titles.

Well, here was the problem: I had taught several adult education courses on science and Catholic teaching for the Diocese of Harrisburg and had given talks locally about the subject. A great difficulty in this enterprise was that some students, adults, lacked the basic scientific knowledge needed to engage meaningfully with the proponents of “scientism” (the atheology that says science explains everything we need to know about the world); and I didn’t have the skill to impart these basics in the limited course time available. This lack was not only a concern for me, but is general, according to this headline in the U.S. Catholic, “Should Catholics get an F in science?”

So, my remedy: a book that proposes to give a background in the basic sciences, on a qualitative, pictorial level, to students that will enable them to understand, and when necessary, refute, arguments given by those who proclaim that science explains everything.

I’ve made every effort to avoid complex mathematics and have tried to give explanations that are pictorial, qualitative and down to earth. According to beta-readings of chapters by my wife (who’s a math-phobe), former students, and privileged viewers of my blog, this effort has been successful.

I’ve tried to relate specific areas of Catholic teaching with the appropriate science basics, as shown in the Table of contents. Finally I have tried to show how science, by its very nature, is limited in what it can tell us about the world. It has achieved much to enrich us materially, but as that great philosopher-physicist, Fr. Stanley Jaki, put it so eloquently,

“To answer the question To be, or not to be?’ we cannot turn to a science textbook.”

Here are posts to explore: Table of Contents;  ESSAY 1–The Catholic Church, Midwife and Nursemaid to Science; ESSAY 1, Section 5–Science Background, the Physics of Motion;  ESSAY 6–Can a Computer Have a Soul?

Please read and comment—praise welcomed, criticism tolerated, spam deleted.

Many thanks, and

Shalom,

Dr. Bob

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7 Comments

  1. I very much liked your essay, “Can a computer have a soul?”

    It set me thinking about, well, thinking and that brought to mind a lecture given by the Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid in 1751, which Prof Haldane mentions in his Could the Soul be Software?

    Reid asked, “How is it possible that there should be such a thing as thinking? I can be sitting here in Scotland and thinking of St Paul’s in London. How is that possible? The object is distant and yet somehow the mind can, as it were, pass through space, or indeed time — I could think about some past event which, as I think about it, it is immediately present to me in memory. How is that possible?”

    What Reid was concerned to deny was that the explanation could lie with any intermediaries, representations or ideas. Any theory which explains my thinking of some distant object in terms of my thinking of some internal mental object that in some way represents it, is inadequate for two reasons. First, if it were true that all we really think about are internal, mental, objects, we are not in touch with the world at all, and this seems absurd. As Reid says, it is the church I think of, not an image of the church. Second, the postulation of an intermediary does not solve the problem. To answer the question ‘How do I think about things? by saying “You think about them by thinking about representations” both leaves a gap between me and the object of thought, and worse, creates a second gap waiting to be bridged — the gap between the representation and the thing.

    His answer is instructive: “Let us suppose that ideas represent things like symbols. In this way words and writing are known to express everything. So let the intellect therefore be instructed by ideas not in the manner of a camera obscura [not like pictures] with painted images, but like a written or printed book, teaching us many things that are external that have passed away and that will come to be.”

    Words (and other symbols) have meaning because we invest them with meaning and this obviously applies to the strings of marks or impulses or sounds produced by a computer. It requires a projective act of the will.

  2. Michael, thanks again for an insightful comment. I will add this to the comments on the essay, if that’s okay with you.
    By the way, my wife (who knows more philosophy than I) said, on reading your comment, that Reid seems to follow Plato’s ideas about ideals and forms. Is that so?

  3. I can see the similarity between Reid’s ideas and Plato’s – They are discussing the same problem, after all.

    Reid was really intent on refuting Locke’s and Berkeley’s notion of the idea being an image or picture. That is why Berkeley makes such heavy weather of the “general idea” of a triangle; one can’t imagine a triangle that is neither equilateral, isosceles or scalene.

    As Haldane points out, Reid “anticipates a new theory — that thought is not a matter of pictorial images but of language — and it anticipates an objection to that view, one that is most famously associated with Wittgenstein. At one point in his reflections on these matters, Wittgenstein makes this point: if you understand Chinese, you hear a Chinese speaker, you understand what they say, but if you don’t understand Chinese, you won’t even know whether they’re saying anything at all. To understand language you have to share the symbolic medium of the speaker.”

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