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Storm over Rome: Physicists against Pope Ratzinger January 14, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, physics, politics, religion, science.

In four days, Pope Ratzinger is expected to give a speech at the Rome University “La Sapienza” at the end of the ceremony for the start of the academic year. He was invited to do so by the University, but a physics professor emeritus, Marcello Cini, took exception, and manifested his dissent in a public letter to the rector of La Sapienza, Renato Guarini. Here is the letter, in italian. Professor Cini declared to be outraged by the decision of the rector, explaining the reactionary views of pope Ratzinger and the 705-years-old laic and autonomous tradition of the La Sapienza University.

67(*) more professors have since joined the protest, with this additional letter:

Magnificus Rector, with these few lines we wish to let you know that we totally support the criticism that the colleague Marcello Cini addressed to you on press regarding the bewildering initiative which foresaw the intervention of pope Benedict XVI to the opening of the academic year at La Sapienza. Nothing to add to Cini’s letter, except a detail. On March 15th, 1990, still a cardinal, in a speech in the city of Parma, Joseph Ratzinger took a sentence by Feyerabend: “In the age of Galileo the Church showed to be more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The trial against Galileo was reasonable and just“. These are words which, as scientists faithful to reason and as professors who dedicate their lives to the advancement and diffusion of knowledge, offend us and humiliate us. In the name of the laicity of science and culture and in respect of our institute open to professors and students from every religion and ideology, we hope that the incongrous event can still be cancelled”. (original version here).

Among the signers many notable physicists and other scientists: Carlo Bernardini, Luciano Maiani, Giorgio Parisi, Andrea Frova.

In the last few days Radio Vatican counterattacked, claiming the letter to be a censorship attempt. Professors and students are now announcing sit-ins against Benedict XVI, and other expressions of protest. Catholic students prepare themselves to the event with a vigil of prayer.

I stay an observer of the upcoming storm, but I still hope pope Ratzinger realizes Universities are no place for him and declines the invitation. If I read him, though, I know he will not decline: what a lovely occasion for a reactionary to show his balls and show up where he is the least wanted. Nonetheless, his place is his own sinking ship, the Vatican, more and more detached from real life as years go by. 

(*) UPDATE: As the physicist and signer of the letter Andrea Frova explains, the subscribing faculty members are ten times more than those who actually signed the letter quoted above, which was meant to be a private document (unlike the original public letter by Cini). Also worth noting today is the starting anti-clerical week at La Sapienza, organized by students of Physics. If you are around, join in for a delicious panino con porchetta and red wine.

UPDATE: several politicians and men of letters chose to comment one way or another the initiative by the physicists of La Sapienza. Some (Garavaglia, vice-mayor of Rome) speak of “paradoxical behavior” and should go back to reading a few books on the history of science. Others (Gasparri, a politician from AN not particularly reknowned for brilliance) claim that a legal action should be initiated against the 67 professors, and is well advised to read a few books of law. I expect many further reactions, as the news is spreading and it keeps making headlines.

UPDATE: this morning (1/15), about 100 students have occupied the meeting room of the academic senate at La Sapienza. They manifest against the decision of enforcing a police presidium around the rectorate next Thursday, to avoid a sit-in during the visit of Ratzinger. In the meantime, the Vatican confirms for the umpteenth time that the pope will visit La Sapienza on Thursday.

UPDATE: the students have bargained with the rector a place for their manifestation of Thursday, and in exchange they have left the rectorate.

UPDATE: the pope is not going. The Vatican now says the pope, saddened by the events, has decided to cancel his visit. He will send a document containing his planned speech. I think it is a wise decision, and I am happy for it. No need for a confrontation. Renato Guarini, the rector, must now feel like a fool… And maybe he is one. This whole story is his responsibility.


1. Bee - January 14, 2008

You know what stuns me is that all the world religions are so completely outdated. It’s a disadvantage on their side, and imo an unnecessary one in addition. Why isn’t there yet any widely spread ‘modern’ religion that incorporates the scientific knowledge of the 21st century? Not saying I’d want that, just wondering why it’s not the case? Isn’t TV preacher a well paid job, why are they generally so backwards oriented towards superstition and books that have been written thousands of years ago?

2. Tony Smith - January 14, 2008

Bee asks “… Why isn’t there yet any widely spread ‘modern’ religion that incorporates the scientific knowledge of the 21st century? …”.

It might be useful to look at two current attempts to unify science and religion.

One attempt to do that is the Maharishi Central University
which John Hagelin plans to open this year, based on
“… the Unified Field … E8xE8 superstring field …”
“… Vedic technologies of consciousness, including the Transcendental Meditation technique …”.

Another attempt to merge religion and science is the Templeton Foundation
which supports work in that direction.

It seems to me that such efforts meet with resistance not only from established bureaucratic religions, but also from established scientific bureaucracies.

For example, Don Page, for a Templeton lecture in China, wrote the arXiv paper 0801.0246 in which he said
“… Here I argue that multiverse ideas, though not automatically a
solution to the problems of physics, deserve serious consideration and are not in conflict with Christian theology as I see it.
Although this paper as a whole is addressed primarily to Christian cosmologists and others interested in the relation between the multiverse and theism, it should be of interest to a wider audience. …”.

Tommaso commented (on Peter Woit’s blog) “… Wow, Page speaks of “christian cosmologists”… ”
Peter Woit said: “… arguably anyone who has done serious work in the past should be allowed to make a fool of themselves at least a couple times …”, which is an interesting attempt to have it both ways: recognizing Page’s establishment credentials while at the same time trashing his paper.

Since Don Page’s acknowledgements included Sean Carroll,
Hans commented on Sean Carroll’s CV blog:
“… Sean … since you are known as an atheist:
Your name appeares on, what is maybe the worst submitted preprint on the arxiv.
Don Page has submitted a preprint with the title;
Does God So Love the Multiverse?
… He thanks you, Sean Carroll in the paper, for many important thoughts. … Among those peope, whom he especially thanks are
David Deutsch, Bryce DeWitt, Gary Gibbons, Stephen Hawking, George Ellis, Andrei Linde, Lee Smolin, Bill Unruh, Alex Vilenkin, Steven Weinberg, Leonard Susskind, Alan Guth, James Hartle
What has happened here? Do all these people support such non-physical ideas? …”.

As far as I have seen, Sean Carroll has yet to comment on the Don Page paper (perhaps out of respect/fear of Page’s establishment credentials?).

Such things indicate to me that it would be far from easy to “widely spread” any “modern religion that incorporates scientific knowledge of the 21st century”.

Recall that the USSR’s Soviet Marxist Scientific Dialectical Materialism did not last even 100 years,
that even China does not so much try to create such a thing as to just subject existing religions to political controls, and to direct study of ancient Chinese traditions away from free-thinking stuff like Taoism towards conformist Confucianism.

Even Bee, in the comment above, for some reason feels it necessary to say “Not saying I’d want that …”,
which may be an indicator that potential market demand for such a scientific religion is not so attractive,
which may explain why TV preachers tend to make religiously conservative appeals: their money comes from having a large market, and the large market is not so scientifically oriented.

Tony Smith

3. Guess Who - January 14, 2008

Hey, Bee: http://www.scientology.org/

They even have DC-8s in space, surely that’s scientific enough even for you? 🙂

4. Paolo - January 15, 2008

Hi everyone… Tomorrow I will be at La Sapienza (to attend a seminar) and… enjoy some porchetta, I think! 🙂 Anyway, if I will see something really unexpected I will post something more here.

Well, I have also a sad note, mostly for people reading Italian: unfortunately the same Andrea Frova is the author of a book titled “Armonia celeste e dodecafonia”. To summarize, he tries to argue, basing on pseudo-scientific arguments that the only sensible music is tonal music and that essentially the last 40 years of truly innovative contemporary classical music is plain horrible, That’s sad, really sad. If, among the readers of this Blog there are supporters of that position, I hope not, please, please, read at least the following book too:


5. davidjcarney - January 15, 2008

The 19th century doctrine of “Papal Infalibility” really gets a test here! Since Herr Ratzinger’s 1990 comments, the Church has decided Galileo was right after all. Does this prove that the His Holiness is not infallible? But wait — Ratzinger was not pope back in 1990. Just a cardinal! So cardinals are fallible, but cease to be so once they become pope? Phew! This Canon Law is so exhausting.

6. James Layne - January 15, 2008

davidjcarney, your statement reveals how clueless you are. First of all, what Ratzinger said as Cardinal is correct. The accepted science of the time was against Galileo, so those who questioned him were the ones who accepted the scientific conclusion of the day, although the Church remained more open than most to the scientific progress that disproved geocentrism.

Second, even if the Pope had said something like this, papal infallibility isn’t at all in issue. As you SHOULD know, papal infallibility applies only in matters of faith and morals taught to the whole Church. The Pope is not infallible in matters of science, although he could be accidentally so to speak if, for example, the matter of science in question coincided with a matter of doctrine… i.e. if science claimed that Adam and Eve didn’t really exist (an absurd example, but you get the point). If it did that, the Pope’s statement on the matter would touch on doctrine and would thus be infallible if expressed to the whole Church.

It always bewilders me how strangely ignorant the Church’s detractors are. The Catholic Church has never been hostile to science. It has, to the contrary, been one of science’s greatest contributors and benefactors. The real truth in the Galileo controversy comes down much more to his arrogance and personality. He was a man very hard to get along with and very challenging of authority. It is men of that sort who in every historical age and with every institution runs into trouble. Galileo was no exception to that rule, but not for reasons of religion.

7. James Layne - January 15, 2008

p.s. It also ought to be noted that the supposed statement by Cardinal Ratzinger wasn’t even said by him. He was simply quoting an Austrian philosopher. You guys sound like the extremists who similarly attacked him for simply quoting an emperor regarding Islam.

It is a strange reality that those who often claim to be the champions of reason are often the ones who abuse it most.

8. Amara - January 15, 2008

Dear Paolo: the best porchetta will not be in Roma, but up the hill in Frascati. Dear Bee: Heh: Raelians.

9. goffredo - January 15, 2008

I feel it was a mistake to invite the Pope in the first place, but I also feel these 60-some professors are behaving like idiots. Mind you I am NOT saying they are idiots, I am saying that I feel that their behaviour is idiotic.

It is so fashionable these days for professors to sign this or that petition to silence who they disagree with. These now-a-days professors like to move in groups. They care more about what their colleagues think then in thinking for themselves. So they all to quickly sign petitions. And this whole idea of writing a letter is just so …. infantile. The infantile need to be accepted.

10. goffredo - January 15, 2008

Science, good science, cannot be the basis for Religion. Science is based on uncertainties! Any theory is just a tool and should be taken as provisional as new evidence can prove it incomplete or wrong. In Science theories evolve, grow or die according to how experimental evidence flows in and gets interpreted. Religion doesn’t work that way. Any religion that tries to incorportare scientific theories is pathetic. Religion and science are incompatible but that does not mean they cann’t be found in a single person or community. Indeed this sems to be the norm.

11. Paolo - January 15, 2008

Dear Amara, believe it or not, I have never been in Frascati! Now I’m thinking, maybe I can visit the INFN Labs which are there and have some good porchetta the same day… I also want to add that recently, December the 31st, I had *excellent* porchetta close to Viterbo, in Celleno, a small one, around 15 Kg, made on order for my company by a local butcher… so… 😉

12. Frederick Jones - January 15, 2008

Are there people so afraid of an intellectual Pope that they have to sit-in and demonstrate? Cannot they let him lecture and then ask questions or write articles attacking what he says? Are they indeed devoid of courtesy?

I wonder who founded their university?

As for science and religion, there are a lot of scientists who are Christians, especially physicists. They tend to regard the scientific method as a wonderful tool for the advancement of knowledge., not an over arching philosophy.

I understand that the main gentleman objecting to inviting the Pope is not a historian but a physicist. Perhaps if he took the trouble to read a popular work such as A. Koestler’s “The Sleepwalkers” which outlines the Galileo case he would not be so dogmatic in his views.

Mr Carney would also benefit from reading C. Butler “The Church and Infalliability” as he seems to have some strange doctrine of his own devising which he attributes to the Pope.

13. db - January 15, 2008

Frova’s opinions on the last forty years of modern classical music sound intriguing. Not only is there virtually no market for such music, but there is also scarcely any demand for the atonal and serial music composed in the early part of the 20th Century by composers such as Berg, Webern and Schoenberg, which is why it is so hard for concert programmers to include it.
When Herbert Von Karajan recorded his famous three disc collection of the works of the above-mentioned composers with the Berliner Philharmoniker, he had to pay for it himself, as Deutsche Grammophon refused the budget.
Surely it is no accident that the most popular 20th century composers continue to be tonal composers such as Jean Sibelius, Dmitri Shostakovich and Richard Strauss?
I don’t know whether Forza’s theories are scientifically credible, and if, as you claim, he calls modern classical music “plain horrible” then you are right to criticise him. But he is right to ask whether there are underlying physiological reasons which might explain the public’s continued preference for tonal music.
After all, Noam Chomsky has shown that we arrive in this world pre-wired with a universal grammar and it is not unreasonable to hypothesize that similar principles may also underpin musical cognition.
My apologies to Tomasso for diverging from the main discussion.

14. Francis Caestecker - January 15, 2008

Uhm. Call me wrong, but I give the pope credit here. The fact was that Galileo was a show off. He wasn’t trialled for his science, he was trialled for political reasons of the pope towards the spanish (I think.) And the pope and Galileo used to be “friends” but then they got in a fight or something. Galileo isn’t my favourite type of guy :p.

That’s all I remember. Or am I wrong???

15. dorigo - January 15, 2008

Hi all,

let me start from the end – no apologies needed, Db (#13): I do not consider a focused discussion thread added value in this blog, and rather prefer to see how it freely branches.

I think Bee’s question was well answered by Tony – science has little market power. Also, pseudo-science and science-fiction are much more rewarding in that department, and so the rising of Scientology and other pseudo-religions, as GW (#3) and Amara (#8) have quickly pointed out.

Paolo, I do not enter in the discussion on whether Frova’s ideas are defensible or not, but just would point out that it does not take anything away from his reputation as a scientist, in my opinion.

James Layne, I think your catholic fervor blurs your sight. Your sentence “The accepted science of the time was against Galileo, so those who questioned him were the ones who accepted the scientific conclusion of the day, although the Church remained more open than most to the scientific progress that disproved geocentrism.”
is full of bias. An open institution would not threaten those with different ideas with fire and stakes. They would not put people to trial. The church burned to death Giordano Bruno for claiming stars were copies of the sun. See also the discussion here. How do you explain that from your viewpoint of the openness of the Church ?

Jeff, I think you are entitled to having an opinion, however I think your claim that “These now-a-days professors like to move in groups. They care more about what their colleagues think then in thinking for themselves. So they all to quickly sign petitions” is really arrogant, especially since it is moved against some of the brightest minds of our physics community.

Frederick, you would not invite at your house somebody who insulted you, would you ? The physicists of La Sapienza are justly offended. The pope did quote Feyerabend, and he supported the philosopher’s view. That is enough to declare him persona non grata to an institution for which the advancement of science comes before any creed or defence of faith.
Also, the gentleman who started the issue is a really knowledgeable person. Did you read his public letter ? I guess not, unless you understand italian. Cini is a professor emeritus with 50 years of service. Who are you to pretend to teach him the history of Galileo ?

Cheers to all,

16. goffredo - January 15, 2008

the topic of music is a nice one and maybe Tommaso could open a thread. I have mixed feelings. I grew up, musically, listening to contemporary music and love Webern. I glanced thru Frova’s book and read a few passages. I too think he is too aggressive and even wrong in his conclusions (e.g. about Webern). But I too always thought there is a pre-wired disposition to art and not every wierd idea can be considered art. I especially think that the avantgard after WW2 had a serious bug: it wanted to protest against social order and was “destructive”. The stranger the better. The point was to shock, to contest, to destabilize. Instead good art is contructive, even if revolitionary. Instead being revolutionary without contructive ideas is just crap.

17. goffredo - January 15, 2008

Tommaso what is ARROGANT is that these professors, good (brilliant), in their specific fields think they are entitled to behave as if everything they say or their judgements about OTHER issues and topics is gold. This is arrogant. I think signing petitions to silience anyone is stupid! Inspite of all my arrogance I would never dream of signing a petition to silence anyone.

18. dorigo - January 15, 2008

Jeff, but the pope cannot be silenced! He speaks to a billion people every Sunday!

I believe those physicists are not arrogant if they ask an invitation to be retracted. They asked. They did not put themselves on a pedestal or claim their judgement was better than that of others. It is not what the pope might say, he says it anyway wherever he wants…. It is his presence there which is unfortunate and not welcome.


19. Tech News » Blog Archive » Scientists Protest Pope’s Planned Speech in Rome - January 15, 2008

[…] to physicist Tommaso Dorigo, who is following the controversy on his blog here, several Italian politicians have weighed in against the professors, while students are now […]

20. Andreas - January 15, 2008

goffreddo if you were to read the original text you would see that there many reasons for now wanting to have the pope in a respectable university. (Translate it with google if you need to, better than nothing)
There are many more reasons that Galileo itself, like his support to “Intelligent” Design false-scientific theory or the profound incompatibility between rational thinking and religion.

21. goffredo - January 15, 2008

My dear friends.
I am not defending the Pope. Indeed I started out saying that I think its was an error to invite the Pope in the first place.
There are indeed outstanding people amoung the professors and just maybe there might be one or two smart students. But I do think the attempt to stop him coming and the noisy occupation of the university by the students against him coming is plain stupid. The best way to fight integralism is not by integralism. And if you think the professors are not guility of intregralism, them at least I hope you will admit most of the noisy students are. As I do think this is the case I still feel the professors are not setting a good example.

22. dorigo - January 15, 2008

Hi goffredo,

ok, I agree. Too much noise was made. But I do not label manifesting against the coming of the pope as stupid. However, “just maybe there might be one or two smart students”… Lol! And you claim the professors were arrogant… Indeed, you are a physics professor and you fit the bill quite well! But I concede you do it with a sense of humor 😉


23. Andrea Giammanco - January 15, 2008

I think it’s difficult for foreigners to understand why this news is such a great news for laicity.
We are so used, in Italy, to have politicians and any kind of powerful people (including Rectors of prestigious universities, as in this case) to bow to the Church, and normal people just stay silent, that it’s incredibly surprising that 67 people took the courage to put their public image at risk, accepting to be ridiculized by 90% of the press and of the other media (as in fact it is happening: Renato Farina, a right-wing journalist, made irony on the fact that they were not such important scientists, which is a blatant lie of course) and be treated as dangerous people even by the left-wing politicians.

24. David Grossi - January 15, 2008

In reading Will Durant, Arthur Koestler (The Sleepwalkers), Pietro Redondi (Galileo-Heretic), De Santillana (The Crime of Galileo) and many others, and being steeped myself in anatomy and human biology, my view is that modern scientists are so saturated with expediency and with their elevated importance that there is not even room for raising legitimate discussion about the Galileo case from any perspective.

To look at it from the viewpoint of a modern utilitarian, that Galileo was a martyr of science against a monolithic Church, is to deliberately black-out the enlightening knowledge and wisdom that can come from putting this battle into a more accurate historical perspective.

Fear of Pope Benedict’s appearance at a University strikes me as paranoid rather than a legitimate protection of the domain of science from a religious leader.

25. dorigo - January 15, 2008

David, Galileo was no martyr. Maybe you are confusing him with Giordano Bruno ? Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for claiming that stars were distant suns. I do not understand how your readings can have shaped your view of modern scientists. I suggest you to read Andrea Giammanco’s comment above, because one has to live in Italy to fully understand the pressure of the catholic church in Italy, and the continuous and persistent invasion of clericals into matters they should not mess with. The letter of the physicists is a cry of exasperation. It is like trying to draw a line and say, ok, you are invading us with your doctrine and your fundamentalism, but you are not allowed to cross this one.


26. goffredo - January 15, 2008

I do feel that the students that are the most noisy and do political and “cultural” activity like occupying universities and filling the walls with political posters and graffiti are, when they do such activity, quite indistinguishable from stupids. When instead they study, speak and discuss their science the true bright ones will show signals of intelligence. Group behavior is, in my arrogant book, a stupid behaviour. An individual show signs of intelligence when he thinks with his own head and divorces himself from pre-cooked ideas baked up by others.

27. Dan - January 15, 2008

I find it shocking that professors and students at such a prestigious university have such an illiberal attitude toward intellectual debate. It is ironic that they accuse the Church of obscurantism when they themselves refuse to listen to what this brilliant Pope has to say. Pope Benedict is one of top thinkers of our times, and far and away the most brilliant public figure on the world stage. His book “Introduction to Christianity” is one of the most profound works of the 20th Century, and he has devoted great thought and erudition to issues concerning the relationship between faith and reason. I doubt that the professors and students who sought to silence the Pope could articulate, much less respond to, what the Pope’s reasoning on these issues is. Questi professori che si vantono di sapere tanto non capiscono quanto non sanno. E’ proprio triste.

28. Dan - January 15, 2008

Here is the passage that is cited as the grounds for not allowing the Pope to speak:

“Particularly emblematic of this change of intellectual climate, it seems to me, is the different way in which the Galileo case is seen.

This episode, which was little considered in the 18th century, was elevated to a myth of the Enlightenment in the century that followed. Galileo appeared as a victim of that medieval obscurantism that endures in the Church. Good and evil were sharply distinguished. On the one hand, we find the Inquisition: a power that incarnates superstition, the adversary of freedom and conscience. On the other, there’s natural science represented by Galileo: the force of progress and liberation of humanity from the chains of ignorance that kept it impotent in the face of nature. The star of modernity shines in the dark night of medieval obscurity.

Today, things have changed.

According to [Ernst] Bloch, the heliocentric system – just like the geocentric – is based upon presuppositions that can’t be empirically demonstrated. Among these, an important role is played by the affirmation of the existence of an absolute space; that’s an opinion that, in any event, has been cancelled by the Theory of Relativity. Bloch writes, in his own words: ‘From the moment that, with the abolition of the presupposition of an empty and immobile space, movement is no longer produced towards something, but there’s only a relative movement of bodies among themselves, and therefore the measurement of that [movement] depends to a great extent on the choice of a body to serve as a point of reference, in this case is it not merely the complexity of calculations that renders the [geocentric] hypothesis impractical? Then as now, one can suppose the earth to be fixed and the sun as mobile.’

Curiously, it was precisely Bloch, with his Romantic Marxism, who was among the first to openly oppose the [Galileo] myth, offering a new interpretation of what happened: The advantage of the heliocentric system over the geocentric, he suggested, does not consist in a greater correspondence to objective truth, but solely in the fact that it offers us greater ease of calculation. To this point, Bloch follows solely a modern conception of natural science. What is surprising, however, is the conclusion he draws: ‘Once the relativity of movement is taken for granted, an ancient human and Christian system of reference has no right to interference in astronomic calculations and their heliocentric simplification; however, it has the right to remain faithful to its method of preserving the earth in relation to human dignity, and to order the world with regard to what will happen and what has happened in the world.’

If both the spheres of conscience are once again clearly distinguished among themselves under their respective methodological profiles, recognizing both their limits and their respective rights, then the synthetic judgment of the agnostic-skeptic philosopher P. Feyerabend appears much more drastic. He writes: ‘The church at the time of Galileo was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Gaileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for motives of political opportunism.’

From the point of view of the concrete consequences of the turning point Galileo represents, however, C.F. Von Weizsacker takes another step forward, when he identifies a ‘very direct path’ that leads from Galileo to the atomic bomb.

To my great surprise, in a recent interview on the Galileo case, I was not asked a question like, ‘Why did the Church try to get in the way of the development of modern science?’, but rather exactly the opposite, that is: ‘Why didn’t the church take a more clear position against the disasters that would inevitably follow, once Galileo had opened Pandora’s box?’

It would be absurd, on the basis of these affirmations, to construct a hurried apologetics. The faith does not grow from resentment and the rejection of rationality, but from its fundamental affirmation and from being inscribed in a still greater form of reason …

Here, I wished to recall a symptomatic case that illustrates the extent to which modernity’s doubts about itself have grown today in science and technology.”

Now, what, exactly, is the objection?

29. Annette - January 15, 2008

I’m thoroughly sick of these arrogant pseudo-scientists. Do they think they are infallible? Galileo was persecuted all right but not by the Church – by the so-called scientific community of his day.
My message to scientists? Get lost!

30. goffredo - January 15, 2008

Italy is sunk! It is sunking in a pile of garbage, physical (Naples) and moral (University of Rome). This 2008 has really started off the wrong way.

Annette. Scientitsts are humans and humans can be terrible, especially when they are full of ideological crap. But Science is still the best way to investigate and learn something of value about the world and us in it and I’ll defend Science against any attack without blinking and indeed I’ll stare you in the eye and challange you any moment you wish.

But I never forget that scientists are people and people err for the stupidist or deepest of reasons. If they fall in love with their ideas instead of simply taking them as working hypothesis they can become just as mean, arrogant and, for all practical puropses stupid as other people that are full of shit.

A scientist should not be listened to simply because he is a scientist. If he is speaking about his field or his science then it is reasonable to assume, as a working hytpothesis, that he is expert. But if the discussion is about anything else about which he is not expert, then his words are as good as that of anyone else. It is unreasonable, it is not a good working hypothesis, to assume his opinions or feelings are better than that of any non-expert.

31. Mondrian - January 15, 2008

Disclaimer: I am a die-hard atheist,

and I am not precisely fond of the catholic church (and any other
church/sect/religion). But from a argumentative point of view, can
these people put something more on the table than just a twenty
years old out-of-context quotation? Papa Ratzi is not as simple a
person as some of these people want to paint him. I’d even say
that he is as brilliant as any of those lofty professors, and definitely
he is not averse to science. But to notice this you’d have to bother
with what he’s actually saying (of course, one cannot expect him
to say something terribly progressive — he is just the pope, after all).
Also, at the time of Galilei’s rehabilitation, Ratzinger was head of
the inquisition (or what it is called nowadays) and for sure he had
his fingers in this rehabilitation (I leave it to the more simple minded
among you to bicker whether this was a first-class rehabilitation or

32. Amara - January 15, 2008

Goffredo: Napoli has shown a face of large quantities of garbage to the outside world for some years, though, which is something else I don’t understand about the recent Italian news.

This Pope/Rome story is full of ironies. Perhaps Italian (Roman) scientists reached a tipping point with the Vatican, when, previously, they didn’t seem too concerned? For example, in 2004, they did little to counteract the Committee of Science and Life, Vatican’s well-funded outreach arm for assisted reproductive technology, many scientists did not, themselves, vote, nor did they do a good to discuss the scientific implications with their communities, and now Italy has Legge 40 and this obvious result.

I think that a healthy debate with the Pope would have been a good thing, and I suggest to people to read about the Galileo story with a fresh mind, perhaps starting with this Jesuit, who, with his director, George Coyne, played an important role in the 1990s Vatican pardon.

33. db - January 15, 2008

I can’t speak for the professors of La Sapienza, but I would have thought the objections are pretty obvious.

1. Benedict uses Bloch’s simplistic interpretation of relativity to pretend that heliocentric and geocentric models are only distinguished by mathematical simplicity and that this is the only distinction to be made between Ptolemy’s and Copernicus’ systems as far as General Relativity is concerned. But GR is a theory of gravity, while the former were simply crude mathematical constructs prior to Newton and Kepler. So he turns the magnificent march of progress from Ptolemy to Einstein, in which Galileo’s intervention was crucial, into a little game of intellectual masturbation so beloved of some philosophers. Benedict uses it to demean scientific progress, and notice his barely concealed delight in emphasising Bloch’s Marxism. Benedict’s version is an intellectual’s way of saying that the apple doesn’t fall to the ground, the ground falls up to the apple.

2. Benedict’s approving quotation of Feyerabend’s comment: “Its verdict against Gaileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for motives of political opportunism” needs to be compared with John Paul II’s declaration of 1992:
“Thanks to his intuition as a brilliant physicist and by relying on different arguments, Galileo, who practically invented the experimental method, understood why only the sun could function as the centre of the world, as it was then known, that is to say, as a planetary system. The error of the theologians of the time, when they maintained the centrality of the Earth, was to think that our understanding of the physical world’s structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of Sacred Scripture.”
I’ll let you work out the implications of that conflict for yourself.

3. The linking of Galileo with the atomic bomb is typically provocative – and I’ll steer clear of the barely disguised subtext of a German Cardinal’s relentless focus the actions of Jewish intellectuals: Marx, Bloch, Einstein, Oppenheimer et al. some of whom fled his country in terror. Why didn’t he link Galileo with the automobile, the aeroplane, the suspension bridge or any of the myriad examples of science’s gifts to humanity? Why didn’t he balance his argument.?

Why? well, I suggest the answer is that he uses his undoubted intellectual gifts in a dishonest, disreputable and deliberately provocative way. He behaved in a similarly perverse way towards Muslims, and Turkey rightly told him where to go – remember how he claimed he was only quoting a medieval scholar?

For all his conservatism, John Paul II played a straight bat, as English cricketers like to say.

34. Ottawa Citizen - January 15, 2008

[…] gained momentum, with the Vatican insisting this is censorship, and the professors firing back with “Anti-Cleric” week. Secular students have promised to greet the Pope with loud disco music (his least favourite) […]

35. Tony Smith - January 15, 2008

Dan quoted Pope Ratzinger as saying:

“… the heliocentric system – just like the geocentric – is based upon presuppositions that can’t be empirically demonstrated …
there’s only a relative movement of bodies among themselves … Then as now, one can suppose the earth to be fixed and the sun as mobile. …

C.F. Von Weizsacker takes another step forward, when he identifies a ‘very direct path’ that leads from Galileo to the atomic bomb.
To my [Pope Ratzinger’s] great surprise, in a recent interview on the Galileo case, I was not asked a question like, ‘Why did the Church try to get in the way of the development of modern science?’, but rather exactly the opposite, that is: ‘Why didn’t the church take a more clear position against the disasters that would inevitably follow, once Galileo had opened Pandora’s box?’ …”.

and then Dan asked “… Now, what, exactly, is the objection? …”.

Two of my objections are:

1 – Galileo’s heliocentric system is attacked because “… there’s only a relative movement of bodies among themselves …”,
so that Pope Ratzinger justifies the Inquisitorial result against Galileo by saying that the Earth and Sun, as bodies in our Universe, should be considered to be equivalent,
that is the position taken by Giordano Bruno (equivalence of Sun and Stars) for which the Inquisition killed him.

It is sad that Pope Ratzinger seems not to realize that his justification of Inquisitorial action against Galileo
condemns the Inquisitorial killing of Bruno
(but that would require a bit of intelligent thought as opposed to mechanistic scholasticism, which may be asking too much of a product of such a rigid bureacracy).

2 – Pope Ratzinger indicates that the Church should have “… take[n] a more clear position against the disasters … the atomic bomb … that would inevitably follow, once Galileo had opened Pandora’s box …”
by somehow blocking Weizsacker’s “… ‘very direct path’ that leads from Galileo to the atomic bomb …”.

As is clear from the proliferating number of nations with nuclear weapons, the only way to have blocked Weizsacker’s “very direct path” would have been for the Church to have blocked the progression of science over the past few hundred years.

Would Humanity really be better off if the Church had frozen technology at the level of, say 1400 AD ?

There is an historical example. Around 1400 AD, Chinese seafaring explorers rounded Africa and could reach Europe, so they told the government that by building more ships and increasing exploration, China could rule the Earth. The government was afraid of possible redistribution of power/wealth, so it prohibited further exploration in an attempt to preserve the status quo,
and the advances were made about 100 years later by Europeans who then colonized China.
(It is interesting that now it seems that Europe and America are stagnating, and that China is growing in power, so maybe China has learned its historical lesson and is in the process of reversing the situation.)

Further, was the atomic bomb really a bad thing?

a – The USA used it to end the war with Japan, killing many Japanese with the bombs but maybe not as many as would have been killed in an invasion with USA weaponry limited to Tokyo-Dresden style firestorms, conventional artillery fire, and close combat.

b – The USA and USSR never fought a really big war, because they both feared the nuclear weapons of the other side.

c – A few years ago, a major war between India and Pakistan was averted because leaders on both sides realized that the other side had nuclear weapons.

Tony Smith

36. Jon Lester - January 15, 2008

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.


37. piscator - January 15, 2008


you repeated twice that Bruno was burned for saying that stars were other suns. look it up and stop saying it – it isn’t true. no reputable historian will defend it. it’s an ideological myth up there with the mediaevals thinking the world was flat. it progagates a lazy scientism that has everything to do with anticlericalism and nothing to do with science.


38. myhealingroom - January 16, 2008

Hi there, well said Andrea!
This is indeed great, historical world News!
Finally someone speaking up. This daring, long due initiative (finally taking a stand against the papal encroaching upon secular matters) couldn’t possibly be taken up by the politicians, nor by the common people. This great unexpected turn of events must be due to the shifting of power-giving Pluto into Capricorn, and obviously the planets are moved by Divine Providence. These great people, the students and the professors, need to be supported by all of us. I am writing from Italy and I just watched the news on the local tvs (owned by corrupted politicians loyal to mafia/vatican powers) and they are all claiming disdain.. How hypocritical.. Something is really shaking up, finally, after 2000 years of lies and crimes perpetrated by the church in the name of God.
Yes, Italy is sinking under the shame of huge piles of litter in Naples, exactly due to the very same ignorant, double-faced mentality promoted by these oppressors of Truth.
Papa Ratzi is not adverse to the science experimenting with devilish cloning and the like, he is adverse to science in the sense of Inner Knowledge (Sapienza, the equivalent of Wisdom). He is adverse – as are all the thousand of bishops thriving on the sins of the catholic church – to Sophia Herself. That is why their time has ended.
This pope is a brilliant thinker in the sense that he is a clever schemer, like no one before, perhaps. Having reached the throne from a position as head of the modern inquisition, what do we expect?
Do you know that former Popes devoted to Justice (like John XXIII and Papa Luciani) were murdered with poisoned food by their own secretaries? Wonder why they never allow autopsy… And the list of horrors goes on..
Bizarre enough, this is not the first time that Papa Ratzi’s initiatives are earning him utter unpopularity. In this way he is only accelerating the fall of the Rome/Babylon empire.. After all he is also part of the Divine Plan..
I think this unprecedented event is going to set the pace for many welcomed changes towards a more civilized world, towards a new era of Peace and Freedom. So Be It.

39. Annie - January 16, 2008

This decision to lobby against the Pope’s visit and call for it’s cancellation, goes completely against the most central tenet of enlightenment principles of freedom of expression and ideas.
By succeeding in intimidating the Pope to cancel his visit it sets a presidence that endangers acceptance of free thinking and ideas.
Protest with banners and speeches but calling for a ban will only lead to universities becoming a policing community and what they are policing strangely is ideas and thinking that is different to the secularist athiests.

40. David Grossi - January 16, 2008


My point in calling Galileo a martyr (albeit a “dry” martyr) is based in the modern myth that he stood for science against a monolithic Catholic Church which was only interested in its own power-base. This is certainly what moderns commonly believe; his trial is the example which is used frequently by people arguing for freedom of thought (whatever the context) against some entrenched authority.

I am familiar with Bruno’s case; it is my understanding that he was burned for theological heresy, an unfortunate incident even though I have less sympathy for him than I do for Fra Savonarola. Your statement about Bruno however does irritate me for its lack of any apparent interest in historical context, which could feasibly enlighten us in the realm of humanity and how to keep society balanced and just.

I would like to rephrase my position regarding my readings and scientists. The readings which I cited did not so much shape my view of scientists as give me an appreciation of the profound forces at work at that time. The story is far more important and interesting than the modern sound-bite mind can comprehend, or is even interested in.
It is “anathema” to even consider that the Church was taking a legitimate philosophical and cultural position against Galileo. This is truly dogmatic!

My position against modern science is critical, as it is against modern medicine, because it has become industrial and profit-centered, and is the cause of much suffering, just like modern drug-based medicine with its huge harvest of iatrogenic illness and death.

I am interested in a laundry list of those areas in Italy in which the Church “should not mess.” Italy, like most Western nations, is dying of birth control, divorce, and abortion. Those are arenas in which the Church is definitely active, yet it doesn’t seem to phase your country generally, or be much of a threat. Why such a threat to scientists? I would appreciate some concrete examples.

Thank you for your interest. My father was raised in a Jesuit seminary in Italy, and attended the Pontifical College (Frosinone?). He steeped me in Italian lore of all kinds, and I have an abiding love for Italy and its people.

Dio Ti Benedica

41. Paolo - January 16, 2008

db, I understand you didn’t read the book I linked at the end of my message. The same Prof. Frova, sigh.

42. frmad - January 16, 2008

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43. Tony Smith - January 16, 2008

piscator said “… that Bruno was burned for saying that stars were other suns … it isn’t true. no reputable historian will defend it …”.

Hilary Gatti, in “The State of Giordano Bruno Studies at the End of the Four-Hundredth Centenary of the Philosopher’s Death” (Renaissance Quarterly, March 22, 2001) said:
“… The documents relating to Giordano Bruno’s eight-year long trial for heresy at the hands of first the Venetian and then the Roman Inquisition, and to his execution in the Campo dei Fiori in Rome on 17 February 1600, have been gradually coming to light …
the official Avviso of 19 February 1600, announcing his death at the stake in Rome …[said]:

“… Thursday morning in Campo dei Fiori that vile Dominican friar from Nola was burnt alive. He was a most obstinate heretic who had capriciously convinced himself of a number of dogmas contrary to our faith, and particularly to the Virgin and the Saints, and who insisted on dying without repenting: evil man that he was. And he said that he died a martyr and willingly, and that his soul would rise with the smoke towards paradise. But by now he will have found out if he was right about that. …”. …”.

So, officially Bruno was burned for “a number of dogmas”, including particularly (but not exclusively) relating to “the Virgin and the Saints”,
so we should inquire what role Bruno’s stars-as-suns cosmology played in the inquiry. Although Gatti says that 1993 saw the publication of “… Jiprocesso di Giordano Bruno (Rome: Salerno Editrice) under the direction of Diego Quaglioni …[containing]… an almost complete overview of Bruno’s dramatic debate with the Roman Catholic theologians …”,
Gatti also say that “… a small number of new documents have emerged from the newly opened secret archives of the Inquisition, and are gradually being presented …”, so it may be that the whole story is not yet available to all historians.

So, trying to make do with what I have (I have not yet read “Jiprocesso di Giordano Bruno”) here is what I think:

Gatti also said: “… Michele Ciliberto, president of the official Comitato Nazionale per le Celebrazioni di Giordano Bruno nel IV Centenario della morte … proposes of Bruno as a fundamentally antihierarchical thinker, both at the level of his ontology, his infinitist, homogeneous cosmology, and at the level of his social philosophy …
my [Hilary Gatti’s] own work in Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999) has tried to bring Bruno back into the field of the history of the new science, although underlining his affinity with some of the developments in the field of the new post-relativity physics and mathematics rather than with the classical, mechanistic sciences of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with which he was often out of tune.

a similar approach had already been adopted above all in the cosmological field by Ramon G. Mendoza in The Acentric Labyrinth: Giordano Bruno’s Prelude to Contemporary Cosmology (Shaftesbury and Rockport: Element, 1995). This newly scientific approach to Bruno, which once again considers him as a participant of note in the new enquiries into the order of the physical world which characterized European, and particularly English culture in the second part of the sixteenth century, was … the subject of an important conference organized by the historian of science, Arcangelo Rossi, at the State University of the “Sapienza” in Rome in February 2000, to coincide with the celebratory events of the four-hundredth anniversary of Bruno’s death …”.

In light of that,
it seems to me that Bruno’s “infinitist, homogeneous cosmology” was an integral part of his ” fundamentally antihierarchical” thought, which made him a “participant of note in the new enquiries into the order of the physical world which characterized European … culture in the second part of the sixteenth century …”.
that such thoughts were indeed among the “number of dogmas” for which the Inquisition killed him.

Tony Smith

PS – Sorry for the digression, but I cannot resist one more quote from Gatti: “… Tiziana Provvidera … can already boast the discovery of one of the most important Bruno documents to emerge from the archives in the twentieth century: that is, the note, written only a few weeks after the event, informing the Earl of Essex of Bruno’s death at the stake in Rome …
In 1600 … the Earl of Essex … in England … was already in trouble as the rebel who would soon be executed by Queen Elizabeth for high treason, and whose use of Shakespeare’s company to act Richard II on the eve of his public protest is well-known …
In the light of the new Essex document, the whole relationship between Bruno and the Elizabethan dramatists appears as a particularly promising field for further research, and one which could yield exciting and unexpected results. …”.

44. Fred - January 16, 2008

Tony, your digressions are usually more pertinent to the topic at hand than others addressing it head on. It is always a pleasure to read your insights. Now, let me digress. Goffredo, why do you show such disdain against a particular art movement as you stated, “I especially think that the avantgard after WW2 had a serious bug: it wanted to protest against social order and was “destructive”.” Might not Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ be considered the precursor of the same cloth and perhaps the Godfather of the avantgarde movement including the literature and films of Italy which subsequently evolved following the war?

45. ConservativeEconomist - January 16, 2008

Scientists are dogmatic and closed to reason.

How can I say that you ask?

They refuse to hear or debate other points of view. Instead of debating someone like the Pope, they close their ears and stomp their feet. Christians make up 30% of the world, Muslims 20%, 10-30% other religions/non-adherents, only <10% are Atheists (and this is mainly b/c of the 1B chinese who have NO CHOICE). Scientists… you’ve got to be kidding. How will the other 90% respect these egotistical and cowardly atheists?

46. Amara - January 16, 2008

David Grossi:
I am interested in a laundry list of those areas in Italy in which the Church “should not mess.”

I would say POLITICS, broadly. Do you know that, when one pays Italian taxes, the default tax form gives some amount of your money automatically to the Church? It’s in small print at the bottom, and you have to look very hard at the fine print.

So where does the Vatican enter Italian politics? One could cite the recent defeat of the Prodi’s gay marriage proposal and the Legge 40 as direct influences of the Church on Italian politics. Besides those specific examples, however, there were decades of activities of the political party of Christian Democrats were tied to the Vatican. You can read a little bit about it here. According to my Italian colleagues, however, John Paul II didn’t like to get involved in Italian politics, but I would venture to say, instead, that he wasn’t “overtly involved” to the deep level that Ratzinger is involved today.

47. dorigo - January 16, 2008

Hi all,

first off this morning, let me say I am happy to see a civilized, well behaved discussion going on here. It is not always the case when issues of this kind are discussed.

Second, I need to answer selected comments below. Let me quote and reply.

Jeff #26 says “Group behavior is, in my arrogant book, a stupid behaviour. An individual show signs of intelligence when he thinks with his own head “. I do not call group behavior stupid. I call it group behavior, without the urge to attach an adjective to it. My skin feeling, Jeff, is that you would label group behavior stupid even if it had different political connotations than the ones at hand, and in that I think you are honest. But you show some narrowmindedness, because groups can be a good thing even if not everybody is allowed to think with their own head. Leaders serve that purpose, and a good leader can do a lot with a good, stupid, group. A good soldier does not need to think over the orders he is imparted, right ?Would you call him a stupid ?

Dan #27 says “Pope Benedict is one of top thinkers of our times, and far and away the most brilliant public figure on the world stage”. Because of a book ? Dan, get real. Ratzinger is a good theologist, nothing more, nothing less. And physicists of La Sapienza are not preventing him to speak, but they express their objection to inviting him in a place where he is not welcome for his well-known reactionary ideas, his ingerence in secular issues, and his obscene sentences against one of the icons of science, Galileo. Yes, scientists have their icons too. If I said Jesus Christ was a hippie and he was rightly nailed down, I bet I would not be welcome to give a speech in the Vatican, would I ?

Anyway Dan, thank you for quoting the incriminated passage here.

Jeff, #30, I cannot but agree with all you say there. But the question is not whether scientists are smarter or not. The question is that professors of a university have a right to express their dissent to visits of religious or political leaders to their institute. Why would you take that right from them ?

Mondrian #31, I think you raise a good point. Indeed, the issue is not black or white, and there is a good degree of transversality in the opinions in fact. I think what is behind the objection to the Feyerabend quote is a generalized ingerence of the Church of Ratzinger in secular issues, which prevents Italy from moving forward. Scientists feel this more than other individuals, and they take exception.

Db #33, thank you for your detailed answer to Dan. I totally share your views on the matter.

Tony #34, the same thanks go to you, although I must say I have my reservations with respect to the atomic bomb not being a bad thing in itself… Of course your reasoning quia absurdum is appropriate here.

Piscator #37, I agree, mine is a simplification and an inaccuracy. I am not interested in historical accuracy here, and I just wanted to make sure people remembered that the church, five hundred years ago, was used to kill for ideological reasons. Now they do not do that any longer, but I wonder if anybody is nostalgic in the Vatican…

David #40, “Italy, like most Western nations, is dying of birth control, divorce, and abortion. Those are arenas in which the Church is definitely active” that is part of the problem with the church! Italy is not dying, for god’s sake. Our population is increasing thanks to immigrants. Moreover, divorce is higher in most other civilized countries! And abortion has decreased a lot since a law which the church fought with all its might was passed!! Your sentence shows what it is that Italy really has to worry about the Vatican. God bless you too, if there is one.

Tony #43, thank you for your summary about Bruno. I am often inaccurate in my simplifications, when I want to focus the issue on something else…

Conservative #45: christians are not 30% and muslims 20%. Muslims have surpassed christians. Read here.

Cheers all,

48. frmad - January 16, 2008

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49. Mondrian - January 16, 2008

Hi Tommaso,

I understand that the issue has a broader context which also has to
do with the role of the catholic church, specifically in the Italian society
and, more generally, in science. It is also clear that there have been,
and still are, strong forces within the church which oppose science and
progress. As scientists it is part of our duty to be vocal about this and to
counteract, whenever possible (and whenever we have nothing more
interesting to do, of course ;-). But what astonishes me on a regular
basis is that many natural scientists are able to let themselves down
on a superficial argumentative level which isn’t acceptable even by
high school standards. A good example here is Dawkins. Although I
agree with his basic message, I think he definitely does not know his
enemies well. He regularly portrays religions as being governed by a
bunch of baptist preachers. This is almost as wrong for the catholic
church as it is for Buddhism. Most belief systems come with a very
complicated inner logic which is hard to crack. You are not able to
crack it if you do not understand it at least a bit. The only thing you
will achieve is that you end up as a preacher yourself (as Dawkins
is), and you will only convince those which are weak-minded or
on your side already. Who would want that, seriously? As for those
lofty Italian professors, I think they just have managed to insult the
pope for almost no reason and just closed another door for dialog.

50. dorigo - January 16, 2008

Dear Mondrian,

I do not need to understand the magic behind spoon bending to dismiss it as false, as much as the claim that somebody can do it with the power of his or her thought as non-scientific and irrational. The same, I am afraid, goes with religions. I do not think scientists should care to crack the inner logic of a belief system based on faith. Nor should we continue to be accustomed to listen the pope when he speaks about secular issues. There is a divide which I have no interest in bridging. There are good moral teachings that clerics can give inside the four walls of churches, but when they pretend to lecture the rest of us on those and other issues using our own microphones I object.


51. Mondrian - January 16, 2008

Dear Tommaso,

I completely agree with you. I think you misunderstood me a little.
I did not mean to say that one has to understand religious reasoning
in any detail to find it silly, or something like that. Nor do I think that
the utterances of any priest about science are much worth listening to.
That’s actually the advantage when living in a western country nowadays
(well, most of them, most of the time) — when you bother about such
things, it’s your own fault. I cannot read the letter in Italian, but the way
you present it, I feel just pissed to see another example of a “profound”
document, set up by several dozen scholars, which completely fails to
drive home its point. At least I do not see who really is effectively
addressed by this. Fellow scientists? No need to convince us. The
rector? That’s their internal problem. The “common” people? Nobody
will care. The pope or any other potentially existing brain within the
church? They are not going to take this serious for precisely the
reasons I tried to point out.



52. dorigo - January 16, 2008

Hi Mondrian,

I understand. The thing is, probably the story has been misreported. By me, and then by the many commenters. The letter sent by 67 faculty members was addressed to the rector and was meant to stay private. In it, the professors expressed uneasiness with the visit of the pope, because of his rather reactionary views, including the quote by Feyerabend.

Once the letter became public the scope of the affair enlarged tremendously, but the writers of the letter have no fault on this.


53. Mondrian - January 16, 2008

I see. Anyway, thanks a lot for your interesting blogging!



54. Bee - January 16, 2008

Hi Tommaso:

Thanks for reporting on that! Thought you might be interesting in this


Hi Tony/Guess Who:

Thanks for your replies. This was not quite what I meant though… I am currently reading Dawkins book, so I might maybe write something about the topic sooner or later. Best,


55. Italiano - January 16, 2008

Ch fgr d mrd k stm fcnd n tln x clp d 4 cmnst dl czz!!!

56. Italiano - January 16, 2008

OO il papa è andato (go to) CUBA and RUSSIA e non va a ROMA in your city??? O.o

57. Tony Smith - January 16, 2008

Bee, sorry for misunderstanding what you meant about religion incorporating science. If you are reading Dawkins’s book(s), you might be interested in (or have already read) what Dawkins said in his answer to the Edge 2007 question “What are you optimistic about?”.
His answer was short, so here it is in full:

“The Final Scientific Enlightenment
I am optimistic that the physicists of our species will complete Einstein’s dream and discover the final theory of everything before superior creatures, evolved on another world, make contact and tell us the answer. I am optimistic that, although the theory of everything will bring fundamental physics to a convincing closure, the enterprise of physics itself will continue to flourish, just as biology went on growing after Darwin solved its deep problem. I am optimistic that the two theories together will furnish a totally satisfying naturalistic explanation for the existence of the universe and everything that’s in it including ourselves. And I am optimistic that this final scientific enlightenment will deal an overdue deathblow to religion and other juvenile superstitions.”.

Tony Smith

58. dorigo - January 16, 2008

Dear Italiano,

first off, if you want your comments to appear here and avoid disenvowelment, keep your language to a reasonably clean level.

Second, the pope can go wherever he likes, if he is invited. Your comment seems quite silly to me.


59. dorigo - January 16, 2008

Hi Bee, thank you for the link but… It does not work 😦
Does the independent require a password to access ?

60. John - January 16, 2008

Phrase it however you like, but you’re position comes down to this: I am all for freedom of expression… except when I disagree with somebody (in this case, the Pope). You try to hide this position by referring to his views as “reactionary.” It seems that fascism is alive and well in Italy.. and on this blog.

61. dorigo - January 16, 2008

You must be kidding. The pope can speak wherever he wants and is usually heard on a weekly basis by a billion people. There is in fact no single human being in the world with more powers to be heard than the pope.

The university La Sapienza, full as it is with brilliant scientists, is no place for this pope, and that has nothing to do with fascism, but a lot to do with his opinions, which he already distributes to a way too large audience.


62. John - January 16, 2008

“The pope can speak wherever he wants…” except at La Sapienza, you mean. Fascist.

63. Randall - January 16, 2008

John, I guess that you are clearly misunderstood, but I mean seriously misunderstood, the situation. And in giving the term fascist to someone like tommaso you clearly show that, thanks to your good star, have never had to do anything with real fascists…



64. Marco - January 16, 2008

Hi all (and ciao Tommaso). I think this a victory of the razionalism. Finally some people not genuflexed in front of a pope! I am very happy of this. It is not tollerable that this pope speaks about abortion, staminal cells, about a subdued science (to the religion)a nd nobody can reply him. If a religious man likes to discuss to scientists, he must accept the fact that science and religion have different ways (not compatible each other) for observing the things and he have to accept a public debate. I know: the pope cannot be contradicted, at least in Italy… We must remember that the cardinal Raztinger, many years ago, wrote that the process against Galileo could be reconsidered only for political reasons. Anyway, a pope can be invited to an university but not for the start of the academic year.

65. frmad - January 17, 2008

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66. Miguel Zambrano - January 17, 2008

the pope was going to talk about the death penalty.
Could I suggest that this is indeed an area of his expertise, and that scientists who protest it are going outside their area of expertise?

Of course, going outside one’s area of expertise never stopped Cini…

Cini’s attempt to apply quantum theory to evolution and economics resembles the wackos of Roswell more than the mathematics of quantum mechanics.

67. Amara - January 17, 2008

Meanwhile, there does not seem to be a lot of news that the Vatican Observatory and its astronomer-Jesuits are moving out of Castelgandolfo to a more remote location (Ratizinger reportedly needs more space at his summer palace).

68. dorigo - January 17, 2008

Hi Miguel,

what the pope would really speak about can only be guessed, since the written speech was distributed only after his decision to not go -and the chance to change or edit the text has been there.
In any case, whatever his expertise is, it does not matter. You seem to just not get it: the pope has a tribune from which he speaks -far too often for my taste. And a powerful radio. Why does Radio Maria never invites scientists to speak in favor of stem cell research, abortion rights, and the like ?

The university is no place for somebody who hinders research and scientific progress of mankind. Not even a pope.


69. goffredo - January 17, 2008

I have no reason to believe that the speach of the Pope that I read on a newspaper of today is different than the one he would have given. You have no reason either. I read it. I suggest you all read it. It is not easy but not confused and makes a few interesting points. I am not sure I understand it. But that is probably because the issues are subtle and I am ignorant. I’ll might even try reading it a second time this evening.

I also read the letter by Cini to the head of the University in which he complains about inviting the Pope, letter that sparked all this off. In my opinion Cini’s letter is angry, hysterical, and makes several banal remarks. I not sure I understand it. But that is probably because Cini is confused. I will not reread it as I have other things to do.

Of course these are my opinions.

70. DB - January 17, 2008

By contrast I found the Pope’s speech easy to understand but quite confused and very tedious. If he had stripped out all the name-dropping and waffle he might have said:

“Universities were set up to initially to apply reason to help Christians further clarify the nature of truth as revealed in their scriptures. It was a purifying force that, in the early stages helped support monotheism while retaining and developing the riches of Greek philosophy.
Nowadays, universities spend their time on secular pursuits such as the natural sciences and humanities, and even philosophy is in danger of becoming completely separated from theology, pursuing reason for its own sake. All this has brought mankind great benefits but maybe that won’t last. Universities need to rediscover their roots and apply reason to understanding the spiritual nature of man.”

Unfortunately for Benedict, universities invested very heavily in theology in the past and ended up with the Scholastics, so they are likely to stick with what works. This is why his argument is rambling and confused, he explains how universities have achieved their modern success – by turning their backs on religion, and tells them that is probably a mistake!. Nice one, Benedict.

By contrast, I found Cini’s letter to be honest and written from the heart. Not at all confused.

I also note that nowhere did the Pope speak of the death penalty, as his Vatican spin-doctors had claimed, but, as predicted, attacked, in his usual smooth and slick style, the secular values at the heart of modern universities.

If I were you Goffredo, I wouldn’t bother reading his speech again. Remember that you never need more than a quarter of your brain for religion, because it’s designed to short-circuit the reasoning part of your brain so you’ll be more docile and socially compliant. Think of it as a bunch of fairytales designed to placate those who psychologically can’t cope with personal extinction and to keep poor ignorant workers from asking why they are poor and ignorant. All the fancy stuff added by Benedict is just there to give an illusion of intellectual respectability.

We all have better things to do.

71. goffredo - January 17, 2008

Dear DB
well I actually read Cini’s letter again about an hour ago as it was forwarded to me by a colleague. From the heart? Maybe, but I still find it confused. In spite of your warm invitation I will re-read the Pope’s speach again. I prefer saying that I read his speach and gave it some thought rather than arguing one way or another regards this incident at the Sapienza without having done so.


p.s. If you think fairytales are the problem then I warmy suggest you never forget that giant tales have been told and are still taught by people that are vigoroulsy anti-religious. Being anti-religious is not the way to avoid being doped by some fairy tale.

p.s. By the way the average poor worker is smarter than what you think. And indeed we all have to cope with personal extinction. How one copes with that is personal and feel sorry for those that despise others for clinging on to some notion of God. I hope you keep your cool when you are about to kick the bucket. I also hope you don’t suffer too much when you will realize that your favorite secular anti-religious fairlytales turn out to be ridiculed.

72. Bee - January 17, 2008

Hi Tommaso:

I don’t know what it is that doesn’t work, I just checked the link above and it works fine for me? Let me see… there is a brief summary here


Maybe the link on their site works for you.

Hi Tony:

Thanks for that. I don’t quite share Dawkins optimism though. In fact, I am not even sure how whether it is optimistic to believe we will just find the TOE and finito. Best,


73. DB - January 17, 2008

Unfortunately my favourite secular anti-religious fairy tales get banned. The childhood fairy tale The Golden Compass has just been banned by Abunga.com because of its “perceived anti-Catholic and atheistic themes”:

Now that you have reread Cini’s letter, perhaps this time you would explain precisely which of Cini’s arguments confuse you.

Also, please don’t confuse ignorant with dumb. Ignorant means lacking knowledge whereas dumb means inherently lacking the ability to process knowledge.

The psychological sticking plaster that is religion is very powerful, and I don’t despise those who have been unable to shake off their childhood brainwashing. The fact that plenty of highly educated people are able to compartmentalize their brains in such a way as to function as highly rational individuals while remaining extremely devout, is testimony to its insidious power.

74. Cynthia - January 17, 2008

Tony Smith,

It surprises me that the biology-blogs haven’t gotten wind of this story. Since the Templeton Foundation is looking more and more like the Discovery Institute for theoretical physics, I’d really like to hear what the biology community has to say about this recent clash between faith and science: the Catholic Church vs theoretical physics.

75. goffredo - January 17, 2008

I heard that Luciano Maiani was one of the 67 physicists that signed the letter against inviting the Pope. Luciano was recently nominated to become the head of the CNR, an italian national research entity, a wonderful choice. I admire him greatly.

It turns out that because of his signing the infamous letter he is risking not being confirmed to head the CNR. If this does turn out to be the case then Italy really is in deep shit! I think the 67 were wrong to start this (once the Pope was invited) but the worst thing that could happen is they they be punished for doing so! If the very VERY good Maiani does get sacked for his signing the letter then I AM CHANGING SIDES!

Mind you that I do NOT think hat someone of the Church picked up a phone and pressured for him to be sacked. It is more depressing than that. I think the idiots that make these decision are boneless morons that just play with the wind. The wind now goes that the Pope should have be respected and hence these morons, JUST TO SUCK UP, and puff up their medaless chests think it is best to sack Maiani. Simply disgusting

I fear I am profoundly fed up with Italy and italians (stuffo)


76. Ratzinger divides, Maiani unites « A Quantum Diaries Survivor - January 17, 2008

[…] are shaped on the directives of the Vatican. Here is Jeff’s comment, which he left on the thread following the post about the failed speech of Ratzinger at La Sapienza:  Well I heard that […]

77. Marco - January 17, 2008

Miguel Zambrano wrote: <>

Sorry but the pope would have spoken not about death penalty but about science and religion. His prolusion has been published. No tracks about death penalty. He would have said that science shouldn’t be blind in front of the faith and religion shouldn’t be confined in a private sphere. I disagree, of course but all this is off topic with death penalty.
Marco V. (Italy)

78. Jeremiah P - January 18, 2008

KUDOS TO THE ITALIAN MEN OF REASON! The Grand Inquisitor and Nazi sympathizer has always relished in the silencing of dissent. From denouncing German students in the late 1960’s to justifying the inquisition of Galileo, the man has shown himself to be more antichrist than “vicar of Christ.”

79. Amara - January 18, 2008

About the move by Vatican astronomers.. Boy I dislike journalists … Why did this story appear in the western press, NOW? I asked my friend, Guy Consolmagno, who works there, and he told me that the move was announced last March! The astronomers _are_ cramped there, I’ve visited the observatory a couple of times and have seen how little space Guy has for his lab, and his office and lab are split by five flights of stairs. The other astronomers, the same. I think probably the library and the Meteorite Collection is moving, as well. The telescopes stay where they are (they are used mostly for educational purposes), and the Jesuits are keeping the rooms between the two domes. The new location is visible from the roof of their current location; it is a large plot of land, gardens, that is used for gardens (!) presently… so there is a lot of work to build a new building(s) on that other hilltop and the move won’t happen immediately.

I always found it interesting that such plots of land are in fact different countries.. but they do depend to a degree on the infrastructure of the country around them. I commented once last October at the Vaticano Post that I wanted to use them because the Poste Italiano was too risky for me sending my boxes (and I couldn’t at the end because the Vaticano Poste has a 2kg limit), and the Vaticano Poste clerk answered: “The Poste Italiano is also risky for us!”)

80. Papst vergrault « DissBlog - January 18, 2008

[…] Papst vergrault 18. Januar 2008 Posted by Dejah in Politik, Wissenschaft. Tags: Galileo, Papst, Trennung Kirche und Staat, Vatikan, Wissenschaft trackback Auch wenn das mittlerweile alte Nachrichten sind, wollte ich hier kurz den kürzlichen Proteststurm an der römischen Universität “La Sapienza” erwähnen, angelehnt an Dorigos Berichterstattung in seinem Blog. […]

81. Anthony J Surman - January 21, 2008

His Holiness Bendict XVI The former Joseph Ratzinger states that in the context of the times The Roman Church prosecuted Galileo with reason and justice. Much like his own reasonable justification the future Roman Pontiff uses on when he served The Furher in Nazi Germany. Power it seems still corrupts. Popes and potentates are no exception.

82. dorigo - January 21, 2008

Hi Amara,

I agree, the move from the specola vaticana was not publicized a lot… I must say the PR of this pope’s entourage is very good. They have exploited the failed appearance at La Sapienza in a magistral way…


83. Maiani’s confirmation at CNR stuck in the mud « A Quantum Diaries Survivor - January 24, 2008

[…] by dorigo in news, physics, politics, religion, science. trackback In a series of recent posts (Storm over rome, The aborted speech, Ratzinger divides, Maiani speaks)I discussed the decision of the rector of […]

84. L.Cunningham - March 7, 2008

Its nice to see the science community (myself included [Biology]) still remains detached and doesn’t allow personal opinion (i.e. dislike of religion) to get in the way of understanding others and keeping an open mind.
Oh wait!
You didn’t keep an open mind, instead you prejudged a situation before it happened. What empirical evidence was used to make this judgement? …. None is the answer.
(Very scientific, you must be so proud!)
The truth is, (you remember truth don’t you? you know that thing we scientists aught to be seeking), everything you seemed to despise about the Pope was manifested in the behaviour of those who protested against him. Irrationality, prejudice, ignorance, old fashioned beliefs (the enlightenment happened a long time ago) etc
Some of you also seemed confused with history as well. Galileo was put under house arrest, this is true, but he was allowed to continue his experiments and the Church stated that if what he says is truth and can prove it then we will believe it, sounds rational.
Benedict a Nazi? If by “Nazi” you mean he was press ganged into the Hitler youth (which he deserted as soon as he could), then every German male his age could be called a Nazi, not very rational.
“Science and Religion are incompatible” a common phrase often banded about by people who fail to engage the brain. Simple explanation:
Science- seeks truth about the material world around us
Religion- seeks truth about the immaterial world around us
Both seek truth and both are compatible. Science, as wonderful as it is, lacks morals and ethics. It gets its morality and ethics from religion.
Still think religion is bad? Ok, picture a society with no religion… nice and clean and “rational”. Is it making you happy inside? don’t you wish you could go there? Believe it or not you can!
There used to be more of these wonderful, religion-free societies but other people didn’t like them and so many eventually stopped existing. Here are two of these old societies which many of you would have loved:
Communist Russia and Nazi Germany! yay! No religion there!
My point is many of you seemed to have missed the point about religion and the Pope and have failed to keep an open mind. Its just pretty pathetic really.
Hope you all feel proud (sarcasm there, and if you are feeling proud then you’re an even sadder little person that previously thought).
have a good day

85. L.Cunningham - March 7, 2008

I promised you a religion free society you could visit and in my excitement to rub shoulders with you physicists I completely forgot to tell you where to find some in this day and age.
Communist China? I hear they treat their people very well over there.

Have fun you crazy physicists!

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