Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ah! The old science v theology chestnut...

...makes an appearance in this article in the Independent. It's headlined Science bows to theology as the Pope dismantles Vatican observatory and goes on to see the pretty innocuous relocation of the Vatican Observatory in the context of a long-standing conflict between science and theology. *Rolls eyes*
The eviction [!] of the astronomers and their instruments, reported by the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, and their removal to a disused convent a mile away, marks the end of a period of intimacy between popes and priest-astronomers that has lasted well over a century.
Father Jose G Funes, the present director of the observatory, known as the Specola Vaticana, insisted that there was no sinister significance in the move. "It is not a downgrading of science in the Vatican," he said. "To remain within the palace would have had only a symbolic significance, whereas where we are going we will be even more comfortable. Nearly everybody is in agreement with the move even though I realise that every change produces disquiet." His predecessor, Father George Coyne, said, "I agree completely with Father Funes. We have discussed the issues many times together and with the rest of our Jesuit staff."
But symbolism is exactly what close watchers [unnamed close watchers!] of Pope Benedict XVI see in the move: confirmation of the view that he is far less receptive to what scientists – including scientists in dog collars – want to tell him than his recent predecessors. [!] He has, for example, spoken in favour of intelligent design, in flat contradiction of the views of the observatory's former director.
The article goes on to give a rather simplistic account of the relationship between astronomy and the Papcy.
The sting is, of course, in the tail:
In 1978, Father Coyne was appointed director of the Specola Vaticana. He held the job throughout the long reign of Pope John Paul II. The theological conservatism of the Polish pope cohabited oddly with an enthusiastic acceptance of the findings of science. [Yawn! That old stereotype.] In a speech in 1996, for instance, he came close to accepting the theory of evolution.
Father Coyne's tenure did not long outlast the reign of John Paul. When Coyne retired in August 2006, it was rumoured that hostility to intelligent design had been his undoing. Benedict's rejection of the Enlightenment, and the reign of scientific truth which it ushered in, is well established. [That's a gross over-simplification.]
And now Father Coyne's former domain is to be dismantled. The two astronomical domes which crown the roof of the lakeside palace are to remain – to be transformed into museums. [The suggestion is that this is some kind of petty papal manouvering, rather than a practical question of how they use the limited space at Castel Gandolfo]


Wilf said...

I wonder if they know about the Vatican's other observatory at Mt. Graham, Arizona.

jacobus said...

I'm glad wilf beat me to this; I was going to mention all the Jesuit Astronomers who live across the street from me in Tucson, Ariz.