Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ode to Freddi: Be Careful When You Write Papa

Last fall, militant Italaian atheist Piergeorgio Oddifreddi wrote Dear Pope, I'm Writing to You. Odifreddi later said he was particularly surprised that Benedict read his book from cover to cover and wanted to discuss it, as it had been billed as a “luciferian introduction to atheism.” He should not have been so surprised, had he known his man. 

Odifreddi's book was a critique of certain arguments and lines of thought found in Benedict’s theological writings, beginning with his 1967 volume Introduction to Christianity, and including his book Jesus of Nazareth, which he wrote as pope, both of which I have profited from enormously.

“My opinion about your book is, as a whole, rather mixed,” B16 said. “I profited from some parts, which I read with enjoyment, but in other parts I was astonished at a certain aggressiveness and thoughtless argumentation.”
He noted that, several times, Odifreddi refers to theology as science fiction, and he says that, in this respect, he is “surprised that you feel my book is worthy of discussion.” Nice.

Benedict made the case for theology with four points.

Firstly: “Is it fair to say that ‘science’ in the strictest sense of the word is just math? I learned from you that, even here, the distinction should be made between arithmetic and geometry. In all specific scientific subjects, each has its own form, according to the particularity of its object. What is essential is that a verifiable method is applied, excluding arbitrariness and ensuring rationality in their different ways.”

Second, he says that Odifreddi should “at least recognize that, in history and in philosophical thought, theology has produced lasting results.” As a history teacher I think one of these was the fall of the Soviet Union....

Third, he explained that an important function of theology is “to keep religion tied to reason and reason to religion.” Both functions, he added, “are of paramount importance for humanity.” He then refered to his dialogue with the atheist and sociologist Jurgen Habermas, in which he showed that there are “pathologies of religion and, no less dangerous, pathologies of reason.” That there are the latter needs no reiteration.
“They both need each other, and keeping them constantly connected is an important task of theology,” he added.

Fourth, Benedict says that science fiction exists in the context of many sciences. He explains that he sees science fiction in a good sense when it shows vision and anticipates “true knowledge.” This is “only imagination,” he says, “with which we search to get closer to reality,” and he adds that a “science fiction [exists] in a big way just even within the theory of evolution,” refering to the work of atheist Richard Dawkins. "The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins is a classic example of science fiction,” The Pope said, and he recalled how the French Nobel Prize winner and molecular biologist Jacques Monod inserted sentences into his work that, in Benedict’s view, could only have been science fiction.

What dazzled me most was the Pope Emeritus’ reference to areas of convergence in Odifreddi’s book with Benedict’s own thinking. “Even if your interpretation of John 1:1 [In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God] is very far from what the Evangelist meant, there is a convergence that is important,” Benedict said. “However, if you want to replace God with ‘Nature,’ it begs the question: Who or what is this nature? Nowhere do you define it, and so it appears as an irrational divinity that explains nothing.” He added, “....I want to especially note that in your religion of mathematics three themes fundamental to human existence are not considered: freedom, love [emphasis added] and evil.” “I’m astonished that you just give a nod to freedom that has been and is the core value of modern times,” Benedict remarked. “Love in this book doesn’t appear, and there’s no information about evil. “Whatever neurobiology says or doesn’t say about freedom, in the real drama of our history, it is a present reality and must be taken into account. But your religion of mathematics doesn’t recognize any knowledge of evil. A religion that ignores these fundamental questions is empty.” Amen. And Amen.