The Catholic Church - Builder of Civilization, Episode 3: Priests as Scientific Pioneers

Uploaded by PerHedetun on 13.10.2011

Thomas: Last week we started
to overturn that firmly
established myth that the
Church has been an enemy
of science.
Today we'r e going to bury
that myth once and for all.
So join me for
The Catholic Church:
Builder of Civilization.
Thomas: Welcome to
The Catholic Church:
Builder of Civilization.
I'm Dr. Thomas Woods.
Last time, we engaged in
some myth-busting.
We looked at things
everybody knows.
The Church is an enemy
of science, right?
Everybody knows that.
We'r e all taught that
in school.
What we started to see was
that modern professors
who actually do this for a
living ar e starting to say
something like the opposite.
They're starting to say,
"We need to be fair to the
Catholic Church and give Her
Her due in the development
of science in the Western
And some have gone so far
as to ask the truly
forbidden question, "Is the
development of science in
Western Civilization
something that may have
occurred because of the
Catholic Church, rather than
in spite of it, as we're
so often told?"
Last time we placed
particular emphasis on a
central teaching that modern
science takes for granted...
namely, that the world we
live in makes sense.
You can understand it.
You can expect to find
patterns in it if you
investigate it.
You can expect to find
mathematical relationships,
if you investigate it.
In fact, you can hope to
reduce the phenomena of
nature to some kind of
mathematical formula so as
to understand it better
and predict it better.
Well, where did this crazy
idea come from?
It came right out of the
Bible, with Wisdom 11:21,
that tells us that "God has
ordered things according to
measur e, number and weight."
And we saw that the Early
Church Fathers, the
Cathedral School at Chartres
and others besides took this
to mean the universe makes
sense, so let's go find out
about it, let's go study it,
let's go use the scientific
method... gather data,
formulate hypotheses and
then test those hypotheses.
You can't do any of these
things unless you already
believe the universe makes
sense and is orderly and
follows consistent laws.
And that idea, that idea
comes from the Catholic
Church because the Catholic
Church insists that God is a
God of order and He's a God
Who has built patterns into
our universe that we can
discover using our minds.
Science is impossible
without this fundamental
And I gave examples last
time of civilizations who,
lacking that insight,
also lacked science.
This time we're going to
talk a little bit mor e
about specifics.
We'r e going to name names
We'r e going to look at
specific people who were
Catholics who pioneered
in the sciences.
And specifically, we're even
going to look at people who
invented things and who made
discoveries that we take for
granted today but that are
typically forgotten or left
out of standard textbook
So, for instance, I don't
think it's particularly
well known that 35 craters
on the moon are named after
Jesuit scientists and
I also don't think it's
particularly well known that
when you look at the history
of mathematics, a great many
of the greatest
mathematicians who ever
lived were Jesuits.
People don't r ealize that.
Is that taught in school?
Not usually.
But it's very inter esting
that in the early 19th
century when an early
historian of mathematics set
about chronicling the 300 or
so greatest mathematicians
of the previous 27 centuries
- so, going back to 900 B.C.
And then going to his day,
about 1800 A. D... those
27 centuries, he found that
of the 300, about 5%
were Jesuits.
Now, consider how
significant that is.
The Jesuits were ar ound for
only two, a little over two
of those 27 centuries because
the Jesuits, r emember, were
founded in 1540 and then
they wer e suppressed
briefly in the 1770s.
So a little over two
centuries, and yet, still in
an impartial compilation of
the greatest mathematicians
of all time, it turns out
that one out of every 20
belongs to this single order
of Catholic priests.
Well, again, rather
significant, is it not.
But we'll leave even the
Jesuit accomplishments to
the side now.
Let's mention Roger Bacon,
a gr eat 13th century figure.
Roger Bacon was a Franciscan
who taught at Oxford and
who's been considered a
forerunner of the scientific
Roger Bacon emphasized
the importance of
experimentation and
These are the key aspects of
modern science... that we
don't simply rely on what
other people have said.
"Well, Aristotle was really
smart, so we'll just sort
of more or less go with him."
We have to verify
scientific conclusions on
the basis of either our own
observations or on the basis
of experiments by people who
are carrying them out
according to the sound
principles of scientific
Now, Roger Bacon
consistently emphasized
And he said, "Without
experiment, nothing can be
adequately known.
"An argument pr oves
theoretically but does not
give the certitude necessary
to remove all doubt, nor
will the mind repose in the
clear view of truth unless
it finds it by way of
Well, ther e is a
scientific turn of mind
right ther e with Roger Bacon
in the 13th century at
Among other things, Roger
Bacon identified the
following as obstacles to
the transmission of truth...
uninstructed popular opinion
and longstanding but
erroneous custom.
Well, all of these, both of
these things, I think, the
Church is usually accused
of, of encouraging.
"Well, you're just going
along with what people say
or you're trying to form
what they think.
"You'r e trying to get them to
believe crazy superstition."
But in fact, to the
contrary, Roger Bacon is
saying these are the things
we have to try to avoid.
We have to use
experimentation and our own
observation, because maybe
what people believe is
We need to verify things
using experiment.
Or St. Albert the Great
who taught at the
University of Paris...
one of his students was
St. Thomas Aquinas...
St. Albert, according to the
Dictionary of Scientific
Biography was pr oficient
in all branches of science.
He was one of the most
famous precursors of
modern science in the
High Midd le Ages.
That's why in 1941
Pope Pius XII named him the
patron of all who cultivate
the natural sciences,
and well he should.
In fact, he was so prolific,
his output spanned so many
disciplines that even people
who despised the Church
continued to ad mir e Albert
the Great, Albertus Magnus.
"The aim of natural
science,"he said,"was
not simply to accept the
statements of others, that
is what is narrated by
people but to investigate
the causes that are at work
in nature for ourselves."
Well, ther e you go.
Now, let's get down to the
brass tacks her e, though.
Let's move further toward
the present and consider
some long forgotten names.
For example, Fr. Nicholas
Steino was, in fact,
consider ed to be the
father of stratigraphy,
which is in fact the study
of the layers of the earth's
Geologists need to know
Steno's principals.
He later became a
Catholic priest.
In the late 1980's he
was beatified by
Pope John Paul II who
praised him for his
sanctity and his science.
I'd like to focus
specifically, though, on the
Jesuits because they, I
think, have been criticized
like no other religious
group in the Catholic world
over the centuries.
They've been thrown out of
countries, they've been
banned, they've been
suppressed, they've been
imprisoned, they've been
It's unbelievable the
calumny against the Jesuits
and yet... and here I'm
quoting an expert on the
Jesuits who has no axe to
grind in this, one way or
the other... the Jesuits by
the 18th century had
contributed to the
development of pendulum
clocks, pantographs,
bar ometers, r eflecting
telescopes and microscopes,
to scientific fields as
various as magnetism, optics
and electricity.
They observed, in some cases
before anyone else, the
colored bands on Jupiter's
surface, the Andr omeda
nebula and Saturn's rings.
They theorized about the
cir culation of the blood
independently of Harvey, the
theoretical possibility of
flight, the way the moon
affected the tides and the
wavelike natur e of light.
Star maps of the Southern
Hemisphere, symbolic logic,
flood control measures,
introducing plus and minus
signs in to Italian
mathematics all wer e typical
Jesuit achievements.
Now, I'm sorry to sound like
a broken record but how
often are students taught
this in school?
It's not like they'r e taught
it a little, or once in a
while they hear about this.
They never hear it.
They never hear it.
I have never seen a Western
Civilization textbook that
takes note of this
phenomena, not one.
And believe me, over many an
anguished night when I was a
pr ofessor in New York, I
would search through Western
Civ textbooks one after the
"Which one of these can I
assign in good conscience?"
And it was hard to find
So what I wound up having
to do, in case you're
wondering, is assign a not-
so-good textbook but then
also assign my own How the
Catholic Church Built
Western Civilization.
And I took some comfort in
knowing that, "Okay, maybe
the students won't read my
book, but they pr obably,
these are the same students
who won't read the textbook,
And so, one encouraging thing
about the fact that we
live in a world in which
students don't r ead is that
they won't be reading the
pr opaganda either.
And so it'll be easier
for me to debrainwash them
because they won't be
reading anything.
They won't be reading
anything to contradict that.
They'll actually finally
get to hear the truth
for a change, unmediated.
But consider now, some more
specific examples on Jesuits
and their achievement.
We have only a minute befor e
we have to break but let's
consider Fr. Giambattista
Riccioli who was the
first person to calculate
how fast a freely falling
body accelerates to
the ground.
Surprising isn't it?
Fr. Francesco Grimaldi first
discovered and named the
phenomenon of the
diffraction of light.
Now, Fr. Francesco Grimaldi
- you may be thinking about
pasta sauce but that's
Francesco Rinaldi...
and I'm sure Francesco
Grimaldi would be appalled
at that sauce!
But what's inter esting about
the two of them is that they
work together to pr oduce
a selenograph, which is a
detailed description, or
pardon me, a detailed map,
in effect, of the surface of
the moon, depicting all the
various aspects of it, and
their selenograph adorns the
entrance to this day to the
National Air and Space
Museum in Washington, D. C...
These were not stupid
Now, there ar e still other
scientists we have to cover
and we'll be getting to them
a little bit after the
br eak.
But for now, let's just note
that it isn't just that
we've got a bunch of
scattered scientists here
and there.
It's that in practically
every scientific discipline
ther e are priests who ar e
involved... not just Catholic
laymen, but priests... who
have, who occupy this most
important vocation in the
So join me in a minute.
Let's keep doing some
Thomas: Welcome back to
The Catholic Church:
Builder of Civilization.
I'm Thomas Woods.
We've been looking today
at unknown and forgotten
Catholic scientists who were
not simply Catholics but who
were Catholic priests.
So I think this helps to
overturn the idea that
ther e is a necessary
contradiction between being
a Catholic and being a
scientist, between the
Catholic faith and
scientific endeavor.
Now, any one of the people
that I've mentioned up to
now and whom I will mention
in a moment would make the
subject of an excellent
term paper or book.
And yet, astonishingly
little is written about
these gr eat Jesuit
In fact, can you believe
ther e is nothing in the
English language... there is
no systematic study in the
English language... of the
Jesuit scientists?
There's no book on the
So, graduate students out
ther e, her e's your project.
Okay, you get, get your job
We need you to start working
on this because this is a
lost and forgotten chapter
in the history of Western
Civilization... and it doesn't
deserve to be.
These men deserve better and
the Catholic Chur ch deserves
better, because we would go a
long way toward overturning
a lot of this mythology if
people simply knew some of
this information.
But unfortunately,
they don't.
You have to be some kind of
a code breaker to figure it
out, to find it in the midst
of all the nonsense out
ther e in the world.
And ther e ar e books on every
bizarre subject under the
sun, hundr eds of them on
everything... nothing on the
Jesuit scientists.
And yet it would be a work
of many volumes to write
this stuff, but it needs to
be done.
Somebody should do it.
I don't want to do it.
It would take too long and I
don't have time, but I want
somebody to do it.
It's an important project.
Let's consider another
Jesuit in the modern period,
Fr. Athanasius Kircher.
My Confirmation name is
Athanasius, so I have a
certain kinship to Fr. Kir cher.
Among other things, he's
consider ed to be the father
of Egyptology.
It may be a new word,
and simply means a study
of ancient Egypt.
And Fr. Kircher is known
as the Father of Egyptology
because of his great
scholarly work and he did
that work even befor e we
discovered the so-called
Rosetta Stone which
helped us to decode
and decipher the various
hieroglyphic symbols.
In fact, it was because of
Fr. Kircher's work that
when we did find the Rosetta
Stone, scholars knew what to
look for and knew how to
approach the subject.
He's been called "the master
of 100 arts."
And an historian writing
as recently as 2003 said
that, "Fr. Kircher is one
of the few people of whom
it can be justly said that
all knowledge was his
Astonishing, we never heard
of this guy.
His work in chemistry helped
to debunk alchemy, which was
this sort of phony science
that alleged that you could
take base metals and somehow
transmute them into gold.
There wer e serious
scientists, even
Isaac Newton and Boyle,
who took this seriously.
And it was Fr. Athanasius
Kircher who helped to throw
cold water on it.
Again, forgotten, down the
Orwellian memory hole.
Roger Boscovich was a
Catholic priest who is known
to many as "the Father of
Atomic Theory."
In fact, Werner Heisenberg
in the 20th century of
Heisenberg Uncertainty
Principle Fame... for all you
scientists out there... gave
a paper in which he praised
and honored Fr. Boscovich.
And a gr eat many other
scientists have also pointed
to him in the 18th century
as being "the Father of
Atomic Theory."
He's been called the
greatest genius Yugoslavia
ever produced, and yet
Let's consider the study of
earthquakes, seismology.
The Jesuits were particularly
well-placed to study
seismology because they had
universities all over the
United States and of
course, indeed, ar ound
the world.
So they could build up
seismographic equipment at
these various universities
and collect data about
earthquakes and then
bring it altogether and
systematize it and examine
it from a central location.
So they began, in the early
20th century, building
seismological stations at
their universities across
the United States.
Now, let's also consider,
by the way, that it was a
Jesuit who wr ote the very
first book on seismology
in the United States.
The first textbook of
seismology in the United
States was written in 1936
by Fr. J.B. Mcllwaine.
Fr. Mcllwaine, by the way,
has a medal named after him.
Every year the American
Geophysical Union awards a
medal to an aspiring young
geophysicist and that medal
is named after Fr. Mcllwaine,
the great Jesuit who wr ote
the first such textbook
in America and who also
served as the President of
the American Geophysical
For these reasons, the study
of earthquakes or seismology
has become known as the
Jesuit Science.
Now, do people know about
No, but should they?
The question answers itself.
What else did the Jesuits
do, though?
Sure, they were studying
about earthquakes and
measuring freely falling
bodies and studying ancient
Egypt and studying
So what have you done for
us lately?
Well, it so happens that
fr om the beginning, at least
fr om the 18th century all
the way up to the present,
Jesuit scientists have
traveled around the world
bringing knowledge of
Western science everywhere
they went, to places as
far off as China and India.
They built up, in effect,
the scientific
infrastructure of a gr eat
many countries ar ound the
world, ranging all the way
fr om Ecuador to the
Philippines and beyond.
Thr oughout South America,
for example, they set up
meteor ological and
seismological stations all
over the place which were
particularly helpful in,
obviously, in predicting the
weather and keeping an eye
on various kinds of natural
People have the Jesuits
to thank for that.
Now, here's a part of the
history of science that's
been totally forgotten.
I realize the whole episode
is stuff that's been totally
forgotten but this has been
forgotten squar ed... which is
the history of modern
cathedrals and basilicas
in Western Eur ope.
It turns out that a good
number of these cathedrals
and basilicas wer e actually
built to function, not only
as cathedrals and basilicas,
but also to function as
solar observatories.
It turns out that from the
17 th and 18th centuries
onward, there was no better
mechanism anywhere in the
world, nothing more pr ecise
than these cathedrals and
basilicas for measuring the
perceived motion of the Sun.
And they wer e constructed so
that you could observe the
Sun's apparent movement on
the floor, using various
shadows and the like.
Well, this is extremely
significant because, in
fact, modern astronomers
were able to use these
pr ecise instruments in order
to verify important theories
about planetary orbits.
For example, it was a
Catholic astronomer named
Giovanni Cassini who used
the Cathedral of San
Petronio in Bologna in the
heart of the Papal States
where the Pope lives... the
Pope who's supposedly
discouraging the sciences...
it was in that basilica that
this Catholic astronomer
Cassini used the mechanism
of this basilica to, in
fact, verify Johannes
Kepler's theories of
planetary motion.
That was done in the Papal
States in a Catholic
basilica by a Catholic
And Kepler himself, by the
way, who was not a Catholic,
nevertheless consistently
observed that his favorite
scientific correspondents
were Jesuits, wer e Catholic
priests because they were
so knowledgeable... they
understood what he was
talking about, unlike
most of the world.
Again, these ar e forgotten
chapters, but they don't need
to be.
And they're starting to be
br ought out little by
Isn't it interesting that
it was a pr ofessor at
U. C. Berkeley...
The University of California
at Berkeley is not exactly
known as being a big
cheerleading institution
for the Catholic Church,
we'll put it that way.
But Professor Heilbron ther e
wr ote a book, oh about five
or six years ago called
The Sun in the Chur ch
and he told the story, this
forgotten story about the use
of cathedrals and basilicas
in the advancement of
our knowledge of astronomy.
In fact, Heilbron went and
said that ther e is no
institution anywhere on
earth that had dome more for
the advancement of astr onomy
or contributed mor e
resour ces to this study
than the Catholic Chur ch.
Now, in large part, the
Catholic Church did that
because we wanted to be able
to predict equinoxes, for
instance, so that we could
establish when Easter should
be celebrated and establish
it far enough in advance
that we could enjoy a 40-day
period of penance in
advance, namely Lent.
But nevertheless, once
they're built, scientists
begin to use them, Catholic
scientists, and advances
A totally forgotten chapter
finally being br ought forth
by a figure, as far as I
know, isn't Catholic at all,
but just as interested to
recover important work and
discoveries that, for one
reason or another, we've
forgot about.
Now, the objection in the
back of people's minds...
and it's an understandable
one at this point... is what
about Galileo?
Because you can talk all you
what about all the wonderful
things the Church did for
science in general and
astronomy in particular,
but what about Galileo?
I mean, wasn't he, wasn't he
tortured and did n't they try
to kill him or something
because he disagreed with
the Church?
But that is part of a, well,
a mythology that let's say
is extremely difficult to
dislodge from people's
Now, I think it is safe to
say that the Galileo episode
is not exactly the Church's
shining moment and it should
be acknowledged that there
is reason for regr et about
it, to say the least.
In fact, in my seven years
as a university pr ofessor in
New York, I would say that
the one episode that did
mor e than everything else
put together to discr edit
the Catholic Chur ch
in the minds of my students
was the perceived history
of the Galileo episode.
There's no question
about it.
So the consequences of it
were just disastr ous.
At the same time, I think it
is important to revisit this
episode for two reasons.
First, so that it won't seem
as if we'r e just trying to
duck it or that I'm just
trying to find the good news
and not dwell on the not-so-
good, but secondly because
I think the standard telling
of the Galileo story is
incomplete or is unfair
or is one-sided.
Yes, it's, as I say, it's
nothing to be particularly
pr oud of but at the same
time ther e ar e facts, I think,
that deserve mention.
And before getting into the
details of Galileo, we'll
just simply say this...
Galileo was a genius and had
much of importance to say,
but his central thesis that
in fact the Earth orbits the
sun rather than the other
way ar ound could not be
established in his day to
the satisfaction of all
thinking people.
I think the assumption is
that, if you thought that
the sun went around the
earth in the 1600s, you
must be some kind of a dolt.
You know, you need to be
smacked in the face or
What's the matter with you?
Don't you study science?
But in fact, those who
believed that the sun went
around the earth in the
17 th century in some ways
still had the better of
the argument.
They had important arguments
to advance against Galileo
that he himself could not
In fact, if you raised them
to Galileo, he'd pr etty much
have to say, "Hey, look over
ther e!" and then run away
because he's got no answer
for them.
So next time we're going to
take our time and go thr ough
this Galileo case
step-by-step, see what
really did happen to him,
what didn't happen to him
and we'll look at the
arguments that were used.
And I'm going to give a
detailed explanation of the
arguments that people who
disagr eed with Galileo made
to show you they weren't
stupid, they weren't just
ignorant religious people.
They were making arguments
that had gone unanswered
since the day of Aristotle.
And they wer e explaining
that, "If you're going to
say that our interpretation
of the Bible up to now,"
which some people thought
meant, said that the sun was
going around the earth,
"if you'r e going to tell us
that's wrong, the science
better be absolutely
ir onclad true and proved
for sur e."
But it wasn't, and Galileo
did not get the better of
the argument.
So that's where we're going
to pick up next time.
Let's look at Galileo and
see what really happened
next time on The Catholic
Church: Builder of
Thank you.