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Roman Catholicism and Modern Science: A History [Paperback]

By Don O'Leary (Author)
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Item description for Roman Catholicism and Modern Science: A History by Don O'Leary...

In the popular imagination, historical relations between the Roman Catholic Church and modern science are best epitomized in the case of Galileo Galilei. Condemned in 1633 for advancing the theory of a moving earth and a stationary sun, he was only exonerated in 1992. Yet apart from relatively few and specialized studies, there have been no extensive historical treatments of Catholic attitudes toward science after Galileo. Roman Catholicism and Modern Science is the first general history of the reactions of the Roman Catholic Church to developments in the natural sciences from about 1800 to the dawn of the twenty-first century.While Galileo's heliocentric universe had challenged the "inerrancy" of the Bible, Darwin's theory challenged the direct and immediate creation of the first humans. Through O'Leary's cast of characters popes from Pius IX to John Paul II, polemicists like Thomas Henry Huxley and Irish physicist John Tyndall, and Catholic apologists and scientists like St. George Jackson Mivart we get a clear picture of the back and forth volleys between representatives of the scientific and ecclesiastical establishments as well as within each of those establishments. Besides evolution, a wide range of other issues receives attention, including agnosticism, biblical criticism, the philosophy and professionalization of science, the nature of Catholic dogma vis-a-vis science and of intellectual freedom vis-a-vis faith and ecclesiastical authority. Many of these issues achieved a certain resolution in the years before and after the Second Vatican Council. However, toward the end of the twentieth century, new issues facing the church and global society emerged with a new variety and urgency, with environmental concerns, on the one hand, and portentous developments in the biological sciences, on the other, including contraception, "in vitro" fertilization, gene therapy, experimentation on embryos, and organ transplantation. O'Leary explains the intricacies of all of these issues clearly and fairly, though their ultimate resolution may take decades to achieve."Roman Catholicism and Modern Science is a fascinating and reliable account... It makes an important contribution to modern church history as well as to the present dialogue of science and religion." America Magazine"From Galileo and bioethics to the "Syllabus of Errors" and Pope John Paul's philosophy of science, O'Leary's synthesis of history and science is fascinating to read and intellectually enlightening... a sourcebook to understanding the complex dynamic between faith and reason." Library Journal"Don O'Leary has written a bold and sweeping history of the interactions of the Roman Catholic Church with modern scientific thought. This book is deeply researched and thoughtfully argued. It will become the standard work on the subject and will because of its strengths generate both controversy and new research. It is a remarkable achievement." Frank M. Turner, John Hay Whitney Professor of History, Yale University

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Continuum
Pages   356
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.94" Width: 6.1" Height: 0.98"
Weight:   1.25 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 21, 2007
Publisher   Continuum International Publishing Group
ISBN  0826429262  
ISBN13  9780826429261  

Availability  78 units.
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More About Don O'Leary

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Don O'Leary is professionally qualified in the disciplines of science and history and is currently employed in scientific research at the Biosciences Institute at University College Cork. He is coauthor of four neuroscience papers published in Acta Neuropathologica, The Journal of Anatomy, and Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience. He is also the author of Vocationalism and Social Catholicism in Twentieth-Century Ireland. He is a member of the British Society for the History of Science.

Don O'Leary was born in 1955.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > Church History
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Bible > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Science & Religion

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Reviews - What do customers think about Roman Catholicism and Modern Science: A History?

Not a 100% Faithful-to-the-Magisterium Depiction  May 2, 2010
I expected a different book this. I expected a new synthesis of truly Catholic thought, but what I got was a regurgitation of what one can glean from reading encyclicals pertaining to this subject, such as John Paul II's Fides et Ratio, Pope Pius XII's Humani Generis, Pope St. Pius X's Pascendi and Syllabus, and Pope Leo XIII's Aeterni Patris.

Also, I was disappointed to read that Don O'Leary thinks Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanæ Vitæ condemning contraception was "the error of 1968" that has "disastrous consequences for the Roman Catholic Church. [...] Comparisons were made with the errors of the church in dealing with Galileo and the Copernican hypothesis [in the 17th century]. The error of 1968 was probably far more damaging to the reputation of the magisterium than the errors of the seventeenth century, because the issue of birth control extended beyond intellectual concerns to an issue of central importance to the quality of life of ordinary Catholics." (Introduction xvii & xviii). Galileo did not have an effect--indirect or direct--on "the quality of life of ordinary Catholics?" And "damaging to the reputation of the magisterium" according to whom? To liberal, dissenting "Catholics?" To non-Catholics? To faithful ones? The Galileo sentence did not have the weight of a papal encyclical. O'Leary just makes in passing this unjustified claim I have quoted. Because of the author's lack of complete faithfulness to the Magisterium--especially on the important issue of contraception, which indeed does influence science, e.g., in determining what scientific research should be conducted to determine, e.g., whether "the pill" is indeed a carcinogen--his scholarship has suffered.

Also, in his section on interpreting what "day" means in Genesis, he appears to have neglected the important St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) quote that says the Genesis "day" is not necessarily 24 hours. In fact, before the earth and sun were created, how could one even define "day" anyways?

Nevertheless, this book is one of the best exposés on the subject available, but sadly it is not completely faithful to the Magisterium. Maybe Catholicism and Science is better.
A Respectable Exception  Feb 5, 2009
Usually, mainstream historical and interdisciplinary books dealing with the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world are either non-existent or 2nd best. Except for Don O'leary here, there really are no Roman-Catholic counterparts to Anglicans/Episcopalians like William G. Pollard, Author Peacocke, or John Polkinghorne nor to Reformed/Protestant/Judaic scholars like John Dillenberger, D.G. Hart, Ian Barbour, Reijer Hooykaas, or Micheal Polyani, which is really, really astonishing given the reputation of the Jesuits, the 100+ year existence of the Vatican Observatory, and the large number of Catholic Univerisities and scholars around the world.

Just read the scholarly reviews on Brother Guy Consolmagno's God's Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion (2008) or Stephen M. Barr's Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (2003) to see that there is usually something 2nd best about Catholic works on Religion and Science.

This book however absolutely represents an exception. It is five stars no punches pulled.

Note: The Roman Catholic/Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is far, far more prophet than scholar, but he nevertheless represents a mind of 1st rate importance on history/science/religion scholarship. Perhaps the only 1st rate Roman Catholic individual to have such clear scholarly influence in the 20th century.
DEFINITIVE Summary of the Catholic Position on Evolution To-Date  Nov 22, 2008
Probably 3/4 of this book was devoted to Catholicism and evolution. The author painstakingly researched the issues around Catholicism and science. I only gave it 4 stars because I feel the author left out 2 important omissions from the International Theological Commission document, "Communion and Stewardship":

43. Every individual human being as well as the whole human community are created in the image of God. In its original unity - of which Adam is the symbol - the human race is made in the image of the divine Trinity.

70. Catholic theology affirms that that the emergence of the first members of the human species (whether as individuals or in populations) represents an event that is not susceptible of a purely natural explanation and which can appropriately be attributed to divine intervention.

In the above excerpts, found at the Vatican web site, if one reads carefully, they will find how the Church's teaching on polygenism has "evolved" and it is now acceptable to believe. It is noteworthy the progressive "Communion and Stewardship" was originally published in La Civiltà Cattolica in 2004, since, as demonstrated by the author, La Civiltà Cattolica was used to refute scientific findings in centuries past.

The history of theology and science is most interesting. Western science, in the sense of higher learning, really seemed to have started out as a branch of theology - the problem was, scientific findings moved at a faster pace than theological interpretations of scripture - Mr. O'Leary noted we seem to be facing the same dilemma today with bioethical issues.

The author also shows how, although the Catholic Church is One, there have been liberal and traditionalist strands in the Church for centuries. It paints a very human portrait of the organism, "The Church," since it consists of people all trying how to best interpret what they feel God's mission for humanity is. Defense of human life is most prominent in the decision-making process, although fear of new discoveries undermining traditional ways of doing things also plays a part in decisions made.

Since those same traditional strands exist today, you will find a percentage of Catholics (even notable ones) still arguing for a literal Adam and Eve from whom we all descended, a literal worldwide deluge, and the like. Since others in the Church, and virtually all respectable scientists, would agree both of these examples fly in the face of genetics and geology, it seems a little mind-bending is involved to continue to make the old beliefs tenable.

If believers keep in mind certain maxims used by others throughout the book, such as faith and science can never truly conflict, both come from God, etc. and if the Church continues to learn about modern scientific discoveries, they will likely be in a much better position than some conflicted souls of centuries past, who may have died carrying the existential burden of not being ble to reconcile their faith with discoveries in the scientific arena.

I recognize some atheistic scientists may seem to make philosophical assumptions based on their findings. Theists are guilty of the same. Since science is neutral, it can be described as agnostic at best. To be an atheist or a theist, faith is required beyond what the evidence demonstrates.

Any person of goodwill of any or no religious or spiritual affilitiation can find in this book cautions against using science to prove philosophical absolutes.

Any Catholic, or any Christian for that matter, who is conflicted about scientific theories and theology need not be, and I highly recommend this book. In fact, I think it should be required reading to educate all Catholics :-)

Well done, Mr. O'Leary.

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