Domestic Bliss Report

Motherhood is hard work. If we don't stick together, we'll all fall apart.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Is hindsight really 20/20?

Three times in the past month I've had reason to reflect on history, the passage of time, and the distortions foisted off on it. In the order they've happened to me:

Episode the First
I recently finished Stanton's Ty and the Babe. I wondered as I read it about how Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth have been treated since the end of their careers (and lives). Cobb wasn't demonized until much later, deemed a dirty, racist, mean-spirited, almost outright evil baseball player, and that's just on the field. Ruth, on the other hand, has been portrayed as a "Hail-well-met" friendly guy, a gift right from God to baseball. Huh?
Maybe if Cobb had stayed in Detroit, where he was well-known, instead of moving back home or to the west coast, would have helped what became of his reputation. Ruth stayed in New York. If you're looking to be or stay in the public eye, it's New York or Los Angeles.
That's a start. But when you peel back the layers, and the distortions, and the ideals of today and judge them as men of their times, it's a lot closer competition.

Episode the Second
The other night I watched History Channel's hourlong show on cannibalism. The kids were in bed. They covered the Donner Party (where they determined the actual Donners had NOT engaged in such, but the others did after the group split--much to the relief of a descendant of the Donners). And they told of the Cubans getting out of the Bay of Pigs, spending 16 days on a raft with no food or water...
Anyway, I was watching it for the third segment. It was on these prehistoric bones found in caves somewhere in Great Britain. How old were they, who put them there, what kind of bones were they, were they evidence of cannibalism?
Turns out that they're from about 3900 BC, involve human babies and animals, and yes, they're probably evidence of cannibalism. You had me until this point.
One of the "experts" is trying to explain it from a modern perspective, and said something like this. "The location is about where neoliths, who were farmers, clashed with the mesoliths, who were hunter-gatherers. The mesos saw their own way of life ending, of dying off, so they decided what more brutal statement opposing their enemies' way of life than to consume their offspring? How more obvious could they be when watching their own way of life coming to an end?"
Ooookay. It's really nice to give these mesoliths all of this planning and long-term thinking. I thought vegans had a new idea with their diet-as-political-statement. On these prehistoric folks, I'm thinking of Occam's Razor--they were just mean, nasty people who'd eat anything including the babies of those who had ruined their hunting grounds. They were angry at the neoliths for destroying their hunting territory by farming and thought they'd get revenge. "Hey, you made it tough for us to get meat. Look, we found some!" They idea that they'd think any further ahead than their next meal, where they'd sleep that night, maybe the next day sometime is a tremendous overstatement.
I could be wrong. After all, they did come after Lascaux's artists.

Episode the Third
It's on the Church and Galileo. I know, "everybody knows" the Church punished Galileo for teaching heliocentrism. If that's what it did, prima facie, yes. But did it? Why? What else was going on in the world at the time that it would do such a thing?
If the Church condemned Galileo in an attempt to defend Scripture at a time when popular opinion was the Church doesn't care about Scripture, it makes a little more sense. If it condemned Galileo not for teaching or writing about heliocentrism but about having a heretical attitude about the Church and using astronomy and heliocentrism as a stick to beat the Church with, it makes sense too.

So... How much history is what we know to be accurate, and how much is us projecting our early-21st-century ideas on to the past? Was Ty Cobb a racist or was he no worse (or better) than others of his time and place? Were mesolithic peoples really able to project into the future and see that this 'farming' thing meant the end of their civilization (such as it was) as they knew it? And what really happened with the Church and Galileo?

Seriously, if anyone reading this knows of a good layman's book on the whole Galileo thing, put it in the comments box. Christmas is coming. Even if it's out of print--that just means a challenge to my beloved husband.

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At 8:25 PM, Blogger Kristina said...

I only have one comment. If Babe had stayed where he belonged, the Red Sox wouldn't have been cursed. So much for him being the good guy! Hee hee.

At 6:48 AM, Blogger Milehimama said...

I've seen that in a History channel commentary on Cain and Abel too.
"Cain understood that if Abel was the favored one...blah blah blah" and "You have to understand, in that time period" blah blah blah.
Because Cain was a victim of vegetarian discrimination, you know.

It is tiresome.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger The Story Of Us........ said...

Hello Heather,

I'm trying to figure out what you are saying happened to Galileo other than the Church forcing him to obey their ideals.

The site you linked to laid out in detail by both the "nay-sayer" and the "Catholic opinion" that the Church did force Galileo to teach his findings as a theory and then persecuted him for stating it as fact.

All the notations and Catholic summaries agree that he was arrested and then put on house arrest for not continuing to bow to the wrong Catholic opinion of what the Bible says about the universe.

What am I missing? What is the "other thing" that you are thinking could have happened with Galileo?

Inquiring minds want to know. :-)

At 11:17 AM, Blogger Heather said...

You're right about the facts with Galileo.
One of my sources (it's a book--fancy that!) gives a different spin. He tells it that the Church HAD to shut Galileo up because so many others (he names Luther for one) were attacking heliocentrism as unBiblical. So the Church couldn't just let this guy go around spouting anti-Biblical theories without some kind of consequences, could it? That would give more fuel to the fire that Catholics disrespect the Bible, which was a popular notion at the time (during the Reformation).

Like I said, that's the author's spin. He didn't cite anything AT ALL to check about Luther's, or Calvin's, or Zwingli's, take on Galileo. It would have been nice if he had.

Hey, if you can come up with anything on Luther and Galileo, either pro or con, I'd like to see it. :)

Does that explanation help clarify what I mean?

At 8:25 AM, Blogger Melanie B said...


Sorry I don't know of a book. But did you see this article on the same site? It suggests that the controversy was as much about Galileo's abrasive personality as anything else. It also says :

"Today Galileo's conclusion seems obvious. But it was not obvious at the time, and the truth is that Galileo was jumping to conclusions unsupported by the facts. The fact that four moons orbit Jupiter does not in any way prove that the earth goes around the sun and neither does the fact that Venus shows phases as it orbits the sun."

it also says much of the opposition came not from the church as from the universities. At the time it was subject of debate among scientists, perhaps much as global warming is now. And further it says there were many in the Church who were swayed by the heliocentric model. To frame it as a debate between science and religion is a gross oversimplification and misunderstanding of the intellectual climate of the day.

To tell someone that they can't teach as fact a theory which they don't yet have enough evidence to support doesn't seem that intolerant to me. They pretty much said, until you have the data, you can present this as a theory but not as proven fact. He agreed. And then went back on his word. That seems to have really been the sticking point, making a personal attack on the pope, with whom he had previously been quite friendly.

Where's the data? Most science journals today would hold him to the same standard of evidence, no? So it doesn't seem that unreasonable to me. It was never about faith in literal Biblical accounts vs science as demanding scientific rigor and obedience to proper spiritual authorities.

The author of this piece is not Catholic by the way so has no dog in the fight.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Melanie B said...

There's also this, which makes the issues at stake even clearer:

"Galileo could have safely proposed heliocentricity as a theory or a method to more simply account for the planets’ motions. His problem arose when he stopped proposing it as a scientific theory and began proclaiming it as truth, though there was no conclusive proof of it at the time. Even so, Galileo would not have been in so much trouble if he had chosen to stay within the realm of science and out of the realm of theology. But, despite his friends’ warnings, he insisted on moving the debate onto theological grounds.

In 1614, Galileo felt compelled to answer the charge that this "new science" was contrary to certain Scripture passages.... Following Augustine’s example, Galileo urged caution in not interpreting these biblical statements too literally.

Unfortunately, throughout Church history there have been those who insist on reading the Bible in a more literal sense than it was intended. They fail to appreciate, for example, instances in which Scripture uses what is called "phenomenological" language—that is, the language of appearances. Just as we today speak of the sun rising and setting to cause day and night, rather than the earth turning, so did the ancients. From an earthbound perspective, the sun does appear to rise and appear to set, and the earth appears to be immobile. When we describe these things according to their appearances, we are using phenomenological language.

The phenomenological language concerning the motion of the heavens and the non-motion of the earth is obvious to us today, but was less so in previous centuries. Scripture scholars of the past were willing to consider whether particular statements were to be taken literally or phenomenologically, but they did not like being told by a non-Scripture scholar, such as Galileo, that the words of the sacred page must be taken in a particular sense.

During this period, personal interpretation of Scripture was a sensitive subject. In the early 1600s, the Church had just been through the Reformation experience, and one of the chief quarrels with Protestants was over individual interpretation of the Bible.

Theologians were not prepared to entertain the heliocentric theory based on a layman’s interpretation. Yet Galileo insisted on moving the debate into a theological realm. There is little question that if Galileo had kept the discussion within the accepted boundaries of astronomy (i.e., predicting planetary motions) and had not claimed physical truth for the heliocentric theory, the issue would not have escalated to the point it did. After all, he had not proved the new theory beyond reasonable doubt."

In other words, you stick to your field of expertise, doing science, and stop lecturing us on how to do our job, i.e. read the Bible. That being an especially touchy subject at that time with Catholic Church insisting that the Magesterium was the ultimate authority for scriptural interpretation and protestants insisting that anyone could interpret scripture for himself.

At 6:33 PM, Blogger The Story Of Us........ said...


The question truly being asked is...

"Did the Catholic church change its dogma?"

They taught that the earth was stationary and then taught something different later on. Is that changing dogma? Is that interpreting the Bible incorrectly? They did teach one thing and then teach another so there lies the dilemma...

Those are the questions people are wrestling are Luther followers...not just Catholic followers.

I'm having trouble wading through the mirk of opinions on the Internet.

At 8:12 PM, Blogger Matthew Siekierski said...

"Did the Catholic church change its dogma?"

No, because the teaching of geocentricity was never dogmatic. Nor was the condemnation of the theory in 1616 infallible. Heck, scientists at the time wouldn't accept heliocentricity because the theory wasn't supported by scientific observations...i.e., expected parallax shifts. (They didn't know how far away stars really are...and the instruments they had available weren't sensitive enough to measure the parallax that does exist.)

Copernicus dedicated his book to Pope Paul III. Kepler published a work that expanded on Copernicus' theories. Both men didn't seem to run afoul of the Church. They seemed to fare just fine.

Galileo had the support of the Pope in publishing the theories so long as he kept it as theory (arguments for and against). He also had the support of Jesuits. He ignored the limitations and basically slapped the Pope in the face by putting an argument provided by the Urban into the mouth of a character named "Simplicio". He lost the support of the Pope, offended the Jesuits (by attacking a Jesuit astronomer), and faced a trial for ignoring the orders from 1616 (which forbade him from holding or defending heliocentricity).

The link melanie provided covers it well (it's one I've used many times when Galileo comes up).

Galileo's trouble came from having insufficient evidence to prove his hypothesis, but promoting it anyway. Had he had evidence, he would have found support from the church.

Heather, I think I had some book titles written down that covered this issue. I'll see if I can dig them up. This might be a good place to start, if you can read it (I can't).

At 8:07 AM, Blogger The Story Of Us........ said...


God knows I'm asking this as a legitimate question and not one of starting a fight. Please take this as an honest questions because I'm new to Catholic teachings obviously...

It was never dogma? Isn't it part of the Catholic dogma that the church is infallible and is the only source that can interpret the Bible and they get it right every time because the church is infallible?

Didn't they interpret the Bible incorrectly? Even if they got it wrong because "science was wrong at the time" they still got it wrong. They still goofed. They aren't infallible in interpreting scripture so that part of dogma is wrong...

Right? What am I missing?

I'm starting to feel very stupid...and I don't feel this very often. LOL

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Matthew Siekierski said...

It was never dogma? Isn't it part of the Catholic dogma that the church is infallible and is the only source that can interpret the Bible and they get it right every time because the church is infallible?
Sort of. I'd have to check which parts of your statement are actually dogmatic. My interpretation is just that: the Church is infallible, it is the only reliable interpreter of Scripture, and it gets it right every time. There's a set of caveats on the end of that last one, though. The Church must be intending to teach something as absolute truth (that is, stating something to be dogma). That means it has to meet certain requirements, such as an official statement from the Vatican asserting the dogma. A single person, even a group of people, within the Vatican (even the Pope) can be wrong about things, but the Holy Spirit protects the Church from wrong teaching. If the Pope came out and said "Tomorrow's winning Lotto numbers for Michigan will be 2, 7, 14, 24, 28, and 36"

It's important to make the distinction between people in the Church and the official Church teaching. Not everything taught by people within the Church (even cardinals and Popes) is official Church teaching.

Didn't they interpret the Bible incorrectly?
Officially? I don't know. I haven't seen any evidence that the Church taught dogmatically that the sun revolved around the earth.

Even if they got it wrong because "science was wrong at the time" they still got it wrong. They still goofed.
So it would seem, but it goes back to the question of "official teaching" vs. expressed opinion. From what I've read on the issue, there was never an official declaration of geocentricity, just that Galileo didn't have sufficient evidence to prove heliocentricity (which was right for the solar system, but wrong for the universe anyhow), and that the standard interpretation of scripture (and scientific beliefs) should be held.

To put it a different way, there was scientific concensus for geocentricity based on emperical evidence, there was religious concensus for geocentricity based on scripture, but there was no official Church teaching on the issue. If the Church had convened a panel who were to study scripture and make a determination of scientific principles based on their findings in scripture which would then be published as Dogma, I haven't heard about it.

From what I've seen (admittedly limited), the Church didn't make a firm proclamation on the issue. Individuals within the Church may have, but they're fallible. So my interpretation of the history is that the Church basically said "we're not sure, but we give weight to a literal interpretation of scripture, which coincides with what science currently tells us."

I hope that makes sense to you. Official Church teaching is infallible, but people within the Church are definitely fallible. Which is why we can have a debate about something like Capital Punishment and scriptural interpretation that applies to that issue. Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the fact that such punishment can be just if necessary, but his opinion was also that it was no longer necessary for the protection of others. If you have two priests/bishops/cardinals on the two sides of that issue (one for state-based capital punishment and one opposed) both interpreting scripture and making arguments based on their interpretations, it's not the Church speaking. In a case like that, even the Pope's opinion is just opinion (although it deserves to be read with a great deal of weight.)

Again, Galileo wouldn't have faced such problems if he had followed the fairly loose restrictions placed on him...pose it as theory, not fact, because it not only contradicts current scientific beliefs, it contradicts what scripture seems to say, and there isn't currently reason to believe that both scripture and most scientists are wrong.

I understand your problem with the dogmas...there seems to be a cascade effect. The Church is infallible. The Church is the only body that can infallibly interpret scripture, and does so. Fr. Bob interprets scripture, and he's a member of the Church, but he's fallible.

I'll check and see if I'm right, but I think there are some key phrases you can watch for regarding dogmatic teaching...things like "it must be believed", or "all must accept".

There are also different camps out there regarding Church infallibility and when it applies. This link gives a nice summation at the top of the page (100% inerrancy of the Bible, limited inerrancy, or just a collection of myths) for Biblical inerrancy, and the same logic applies to Church teachings.

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Matthew Siekierski said...

Egad, that was a long post. Sorry about that.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger The Story Of Us........ said...


Thank You! You completely answered the question I was asking. I should have just asked it point-blank in the first place, instead of him-hawing around the issue.

Thank you for taking the time to really answer it and give sources for my further study.

Shelly Mabe

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Heather said...

As the main moderator of this blog, I just would like to thank all of the commenters to this post for their civility, kindness, sincere questions, time for research, and thoughtfulness.

It's been really nice to be a part of.


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