The Modern 'Wisdom' of La Sapienza

Of all the things in the world to protest, I never thought the pope would be one of them. But, alas, a large group of students and professors as Rome’s La Sapienza University has done just that, signing petitions against Benedict’s upcoming visit to the school and thus, forcing the Vatican to cancel the trip citing security concerns. The ‘reason’ for the protest (which I find an ironic choice of words) is in defiance to the pope’s allegedly non-supportive position on science. Although I really cannot fathom what this might mean in the minds of the protestors, I can say what I think it stems from…

Science is a funny thing; nowadays, we look at pretty much everything through the lens of science. What I mean is, we look at everything through the lens of modern science. What’s the difference, you may ask? The difference is everything.

Modern science, unlike “science” in the classical sense, views everything in terms of output; “What has been absolutely proven, beyond doubt, and therefore has become ‘knowable’ to me?” While it does rely on a standard method (i.e. the ‘scientific method’), modern scientific research truly does not seek to expand itself in that manner; in other words, the method is not truly that important, so long as it produces results that are tangible and indubitable. On the other hand, the classical sciences—which certainly include theology, philosophy and other disciplines, which modern people know as ‘liberal arts’—look not so much at finding definitive answers, but rather toward asking the right questions. In contrast to modern science, classical sciences are interested in methodology far more than tangible and indisputable realities. [This is not to say, for those who may be thinking it, that classical sciences lack the teleological significance we can clearly ascribe to modern science, but rather that they internalize and integrate their respective teloi much more effectively than do their modern counterparts.]

What’s all this have to do with the pope? Everything. Precisely this misapprehension of key terms is the beginning of a much greater rift forming between institutes of higher learning and the Church. Particularly, a misunderstanding of the differences between modern and classical sciences—while both have certain and indispensable value—provides nothing but a foundation of sand from which all further arguments must be launched. In the case of La Sapienza, the pope’s seeming ‘opposition to science’—probably an affront to the Church’s consistent stance against contraception, euthanasia, abortion, Communism… who knows—the students and professors have mistaken true scientific progress for the scientific dabblings of an utterly secularized and desensitized modern scientific community.

Thankfully, the president of La Sapienza has criticized the protests as out-of-line; however the fact still remains that this is not an isolated occurrence. It is clear to see that the mission of the Catholic in the modern world (and all the more so for the budding Catholic academic and scholar) must be to consider how better to reconcile this fabricated issue of ‘science vs. Church.’ In my estimation, there is no better place to look than the writings of Pope Benedict, who unfortunately will not be able to present his own ideas when they are so desperately needed.