The Bryan Times,
The Notre Dame cathedral fire has raised interest about the Catholic Church history and teaching. I read about a book a week, mostly on science. One common claim I often come across is that the Catholic Church has opposed science throughout history. The example most often given is Galileo. Actually, many of the most important scientists in history were Catholics. Examples include Gregor Mendel, who founded modern genetics; Louis Pasteur, the creator of rabies and anthrax vaccines; and cleric Nicolaus Copernicus, who argued, correctly, the earth rotated around the sun. Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, pursued his work largely as a result of his belief in God as our Creator.
The charge that the Catholic Church opposed scientific progress is impotent in view of this documented history. Galileo, a devout Catholic, was the first modern scientist, and his main problem was his brashness, such as calling his former good friend, who was then Pope and a fellow mathematician, a simpleton in his book defending heliocentrism.
After Rome’s fall, monasteries and convents remained key scholarship centers, and clergymen were the leading scholars then—studying nature, mathematics, and astronomy. Catholic monasticism founded the great European universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Montpelier, Paris, Bologna, and Padua. Church-produced scholars included Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas, who helped develop the scientific method.
Some claim the church and science had a checkered history, pointing almost exclusively to Galileo. They claim, without evidence, that there has always been an intellectual conflict between religion and science. To the contrary, the Vatican Council (1869/70) declared, “Faith and reason help each other.” Papal astronomer Guy Consolmagno hails science as an “act of worship” and as “a way of becoming intimate with the Creator.” Science historian Professor Ronald L. Numbers notes what historians have known for years: claims of religion-science conflicts are mostly propaganda, not history. Yet this message has rarely filtered down to the common people. Enormous contributions in math, the sciences, education, medicine, and psychology also came from other Christian branches and also Jews. It was their sense of duty to seek God’s truths that compelled them to do science.