Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Laudato Si — Truth is not the Enemy — Part VII

July 21st, 2015, Promulgated by Diane Harris

NOTE:  The prior post listed as Part VI –“Truth Matters in Theology and Science” was too long and has now been split into Parts VI and VII.  Part VI still deals with consensus as undermining Truth. This new Part VII is the second half of the prior post, now entitled “Truth is not the Enemy,” and it deals with how an impaired approach to Truth can lead to hostility toward and abandonment of Truth itself.   Part VI originally posted is now Parts VI and VII.  Other than minor typo corrections, the content is the same.  Thank you for your patience!

Chapter 3 of Laudato Si is a diatribe against science and technology, innocuously titled: “The human roots of the ecological crisis.

One hardly knows, as either a scientist or a logician, how to answer what appears to be a hostility and a diatribe against science and technology, and the heart of the experimental method for which Catholic Church leaders and best thinkers, over centuries, accelerated development and breakthroughs.  Are we now to abandon the methodology so supported by those leaders in order to slow down to nth world progress? It seems that might be the point:

“The basic problem…is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm …[which] exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object.  This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental methods, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation….as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation.” (#106) (Second emphasis mine.)  I simply wrote the very unscientific word “YIKES!” in the margin, when I perceived an almost total lack of respect for even the fundamentals of the scientific and technological, throwing out the value of centuries of the scientific method as if it were the cause of people going astray!  We have been warned.  Continuing to see technology blamed, we read:

“…many problems of today’s world stem from the tendency… to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society.  The effects of imposing this model on reality as a whole, human and social, are seen in the deterioration of the environment, but this is just one sign of a reductionism which affects every aspect of human and social life.  We have to accept that technological products are not neutral….”  (#107)  And, so, under this papacy, science and technology seem to have become an enemy.  Whether that is because Pope Francis hates it or fears it or is completely baffled by it, is still unknown.  Absent from most all this writing is even a head nod to the scientific breakthroughs in the medical arena, for example.  Further, in his condemnation of the throwaway culture (let us hope science isn’t becoming one of the throwaways) there is not even an acknowledgement that disposables have been key to infection control.

“The technological paradigm has become so dominant that it would be difficult to do without its resources and even more difficult to utilize them without being dominated by their internal logic…. Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology  ‘know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race,’ that ‘in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all.’…our capacity for making decisions, a more genuine freedom and the space for each one’s alternative creativity are diminished.” (#108)  Space for my “alternative creativity?”

In spite of this apparent aversion to science and technology, Pope Francis seems more than willing to appropriate it for global warming and climate control arguments, even though those are unproven.  Moreover, the Encyclical reads like science and technology have a Darth Vader or HAL type of existence, independent themselves.  The only independence that matters for science is TRUTH, and that is in short supply. Today, one cannot wish a disease to go away on its own, or deliver water without relatively high pressure aqueducts and treatment systems, or communicate globally without satellites and high speed devices.  The evil is not in these, but in those of unformed conscience, abusers, exploiters, not in those technologies themselves.

Pope Francis writes further:

“Nor are there genuine ethical horizons to which one can appeal.” (#110)  I thought the Catholic Church was supposed to provide this role, even at the risk of unpopularity, and do so with persistence, not simply to mimic the words of other world powers.  If that is a function of Church, then merely condemning the tools of progress is a failure.  In retrospect, on reading and rereading this particular subject matter, I realize this section is a large part of the “downer” experience of reading this Encyclical, and not because science and technology are being condemned, but they are seen as the enemy BECAUSE, in my opinion, of what the Church has failed to do.  Nowhere in this Encyclical have I been able to detect even a nod to the Greatest Commandment.  Nowhere have I read of the effort and commitment to form and care for souls obedient to Christ’s teaching.  Nowhere have I read in these words that the Lord’s burden is light and He will lift ours if we but turn to Him, or gratitude for exercising the gifts He has given us.  It is the dullness and aching of a world not turned to Christ. The readers have a right to look for some hope.  There is, in this Encyclical, a serious lack of fault-finding with how churches have implemented and witnessed to Christ’s teaching.  (And I have read NOTHING of Pope Francis’ resolutions about changes he intends to make in the Vatican, travel, communications, Synod trappings, his own life and diet and teachings, etc.)

Have Science and Technology outpaced human kind?  No, the human race and its human teachers have fallen short of keeping up with Truth, and witnessing to the Word, which  cannot be hidden.  The answers are to be found in the soul, not in the gene, the byte or the atom.  Interestingly, Pope Francis calls for a “bold cultural revolution” (#114) which is reminiscent of the Communist use of young people to enforce Mao’s beliefs, to destroy what was good, to create a bleak landscape.  A cultural revolution it was called.  Google it.  And its damages persisted for many years.  Perhaps the words in the Encyclical are simply a slip of the tongue, but the following words are similar to what was said about art, theater, writing and culture during the reign of the Red Guard.

Stop the World, I want to get off?

Finally, perhaps, we catch a glimpse that Pope Francis would like the developed world to slow down, perhaps to let other economies “catch up.” He seems to want to turn back the clock and give the nth  world time to catch up! The dilemma is how to even have a rational conversation on the subject.  But we should note these words carefully:

“Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way.” (#114)

“How can a society plan and protect its future amid constantly developing technological innovations?” (#177)

“But we need to grow in the conviction that a decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development.” (#191)

“…given the insatiable and irresponsible growth produced over many decades, we need also to think of containing growth by setting some reasonable limits and even retracing our steps before it is too late.”  (#193)

“…the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resource for other places to experience healthy growth.” (#193)

How can one not wonder if there isn’t some coveting going on globally?

Global warming then, and alleged climate change, might become an effective hammer to use for another agenda, for which Truth seems unimportant.  Rallying world action (even if unharnessed or in the wrong direction) may be seen as at least moving, readying for a leader to take control.

There is another point which seems to be a disconnect with how researchers really work.  Pope Francis writes:  “…it is essential to give researchers their due role, to facilitate their interaction, and to ensure broad academic freedom.” (#140).  It is interesting how most any researcher trying to argue against global warming or climate change can hardly feel they are assured “broad academic freedom” or that they have any chance of securing adequate funding for their programs.  One also has to be careful to allow researchers to develop their appropriate roles and not be like Big Brother peering over their shoulders.  “Facilitate” sounds a lot like “control.”

“…since the effects of climate change will be felt for a long time to come, even if stringent measures are taken now, some countries … will require resources….”  (#170)

This is an interesting conclusion, without details.  Regarding so-called “climate change” — we don’t know if it is real, how its caused, or what is its likely trajectory. but there is a sureness that it will be “felt for a long time to come”.  On the other hand, an almost throwaway sentence earlier, in paragraph #168, points out something which I don’t believe has received much attention:  “Thanks to the Vienna Convention for the protection of the ozone layer and its implementation through the Montreal Protocol and amendments, the layer’s thinning seems to have entered a phase of resolution.” (No references). Who knew that what was so often reported as a damaged ozone layer, expected to persist for centuries, is being resolved?  Why don’t we know that, and does it indicate a resiliency in nature that some don’t want to admit?  Does it bode well for resolving global warming, if it exists now?  And are the claims of persisting “for a long time to come” grossly exaggerated for the sense of pushing program implementation?

Perhaps it is best to close this Part VII on the note with which we opened Part VI:  “Honesty and truth are needed in scientific and political discussions.” (#183)  Too bad we haven’t seen that with respect to the unscientific seizure of global warming and climate change rhetoric.

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4 Responses to “Laudato Si — Truth is not the Enemy — Part VII”

  1. avatar snowshoes says:

    Thanks again, Diane for an excellent analysis. After having read and re-read parts of the encyclical, I would have to say that the Holy Father really is trying hard to do a good job. He is a masterful academic, but it would seem that he tried to “bite off more than we could chew” to coin a phrase… I actually like his poetically obscure statement which you quoted,

    “…many problems of today’s world stem from the tendency… to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society. The effects of imposing this model on reality as a whole, human and social, are seen in the deterioration of the environment, but this is just one sign of a reductionism which affects every aspect of human and social life. We have to accept that technological products are not neutral….” (#107)

    He might have been thinking of the novel, “1984” and that ilk. Indeed, with the statement, “Nor are there genuine ethical horizons to which one can appeal.” (#110), I think he is trying to describe the current culture as he sees it. I can certainly agree that there is no generally accepted “ethical horizon” or norm to which I can appeal with many people anymore when discussing the issues of the day. Could he have said it more clearly? I suspect so. But I agree with him that the “methods and aims of science and technology” have become an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society. Basically, the old, if we CAN do it, why not? I think it’s brilliant how he brought together the ideas of the devaluation of the lives of animals, and the devaluation of human lives as consequences of this epistemology, and the consequent confusion in values in the culture of the day. In all of this, he is setting the scene for his response.

    Okay, let me just say that I agree that there are many brilliant passages, but I think our Holy Father has simply tried to do too much in this one document. And as you have shown Diane, that makes his attempt to give meaningful advice and guidance confusing at best. A tip of the hat to you on the geocentrism worry, I had to laugh! You haven’t been reading other pundits yet, but I haven’t seen that out there. Looking forward to your next post. God bless.

  2. avatar annonymouse says:

    Snowshoes, I disagree. With all due respect, “masterful academic” is about the last thing I would think of if asked to describe the Holy Father. Pope Saint John Paul II was a “masterful academic.” Francis is not. A masterful academic is one who is able to very clearly convey a cogent, coherent message. Oh, he uses big words, but that is not the sign of a masterful academic. In a single sentence, can you please sum up the meaning of the paragraph you’ve quoted? I cannot.

    This encyclical, and indeed his entire papacy to date, have been an incoherent mess. He has caused nothing but confusion, and in his hubris he has forgotten that it is his role as the Vicar of Christ to safeguard and teach the faith as passed on from the Lord through His Church, not make it up as he goes or change it to suit the fashion of the day.

  3. avatar II Cor 2.11 says:

    For those interested in knowing more about the “epistemological paradigm” referenced above by Snowshoes -an excellent article called ‘Technocracy Now’ appeared in August/September FIRST ThINGS. A quote from the author James Kalb: “IN THIS WORLD, WHAT COUNTS AS REAL IS NARROWED TO TWO THINGS; INDIVIDUAL SUBJECTS AND OBJECTS OF THE KIND STUDIED BY THE HARD SCIENCES. THIS UNDERSTANDING OF REALITY HAS COME TO PREVAIL…’
    Yes, I know ‘epistemological paradigm’ sounds like boilerplate and so it is! But, I believe this sort of thinking represents ‘the modern mind’ and Pope Francis wants to address modern minds as well as faithful Catholics. He is the leader of a truly global organization – he is responsible TO about a billion souls but, because of the Great Commission, he is also responsible FOR the other six billion alive on planet earth today. I like his papal motto very much: Miserando atque eligendo…”to be pitied and yet chosen.”

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