Here’s a guest post by pseudonymous reader Sigmund (Martin Corcoran). He was brought up as an Irish Catholic and is now an atheist and a scientist; this made him particularly incensed when he saw an Irish Catholic from Oxford University bang on about how science and Catholicism are friends.
The Conflict between Faith and Science: the Catholic response.
The Iona Institute is a Dublin-based conservative Catholic lobby group whose aim is to preserve the prevailing influence of Catholicism in Ireland. Although concentrating largely on traditional Catholic opposition to female reproductive rights and gay marriage, Iona has devoted some effort in recent years to answering the challenge of New Atheism.
On February 18th, they hosted a talk in Dublin by Fr Andrew Pinsent on “The Alleged Conflict between Faith and Science”. Pinsent is both a priest and particle physicist and is described as “Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford University, a member of the Theology and Religion Faculty, a Research Fellow of Harris Manchester College and a priest of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton.” [JAC: Note that Templeton has now insinuated its filthy paws into both Oxford and Cambridge Universities: the latter in the form of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion.]
Of course the Ian Ramsey Center is heavily supported by—who else?—the Templeton Foundation.
Here’s a 53-minute talk by Fr Pinsent (you don’t have to watch it all; see below):
Pinsent introduces his talk as a response to New Atheism.
“The challenge of our time is that it is alleged that there is a conflict between science and faith and indeed this is one of the main battlegrounds in what are called the culture wars, so it is important that we are able to respond.”
Unfortunately, he then proceeds n to elaborate what must be, outside the confines of the Huffington Post religion section, the worst set of arguments on this subject I have ever heard.
Pinsent is a dreadful speaker, and if you don’t have 53 minutes to spare, I’ll save you the pain of watching by summarizing his argument as follows:
A) In the past, lots of famous scientists were religious.
B) Atheists are communists.
These two points are padded out with a lot of straw about the New Atheists who, according to Pinsent, “generally argue, and probably want to believe, that theists are generally irrational and evil”.
He then describes an interminably long list of priests who were scientists: Gregor Mendel, George Lamaitre, Nicholas Steno, Ruder Boscovich, and so on.
Echoing Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’, Pinsent goes on to tell us all the wonderful things the Catholic church has done for us.
Catholic civilization is described having given the world modern geography
”Almost exclusively, the great voyages of discovery were launched by Catholic powers or Catholic individuals”
It has given us law (apparently legal systems are derived from the Catholic middle ages).
And any past transgressions are exaggerated. For example what punishment did Galileo really have to suffer?
“He had to stay in his villa and the church made him recite seven psalms a week.
Well, in two thousand years, if that’s the worst thing we did that’s not too bad, eh.
And actually the church admitted Galileo was right, once the scientific evidence came in.
Is this that dogmatic evil institution that held back science?”
Well, considering that the Church’s admission that they were mistaken, and that Galileo was correct, occurred only in 1992, nearly 360 years after the initial trial, I guess Pinsent has some other unspoken reason why this shouldn’t be seen as the church hindering research. Perhaps they are just incredible sticklers for peer review?
Pinsent then wanders off on a strange detour to describe how religious imagery has gradually disappeared from works of art over the centuries, a point that serves no purpose in his argument except provide him with an opportunity to sneer at modern art.
Finally, we get the old tired tropes about atheistic communist regimes, Soviet Russia, Albania and North Korea—this is what happens when atheists get power!—and no mention whatsoever of secular democracies like the Scandinavian nations.
And that’s about it!
The important thing to take from this talk is that Andrew Pinsent is not some nobody on the internet. He is the head of a major Catholic theological center in Oxford university. He’s turned up at the culture wars armed only with one of those toy guns that, instead of firing bullets, just unfurls a flag. Only in Pinsent’s case the flag doesn’t say “BANG!” It says “COMMUNIST!”
Having been brought up a Catholic myself (I’m better now!) I can almost feel sorry for him. Catholic teaching, as exemplified by the Nicene Creed, is so vulnerable to scientific thinking that any efforts at apologetics are, by necessity, exercises in avoiding the subject. The direct, unflinching approach of the New Atheists have made this task almost impossible and it shows, both in Pinsent’s arguments and in his clear discomfort while enunciating them. Perhaps he is seeing what we can glimpse on the edges of this clip—that the audience is almost exclusively elderly. The young, and indeed the middle-aged, have long since abandoned the fight.