Friday, October 29, 2010

Plus Ça Change

An interesting passage in Owen Chadwick's The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (longish, but worth reading in full):

Near the end of the century a Catholic professor of theology in Münster (Bautz) made himself absurd by implying that volcanoes are one proof of the existence of purgatory. All the newspapers had it, men laughed, Professor Bautz disappeared for ever into night, bearing the nickname professor of hell. Almost simultaneously Haeckel, borrowing information from an exceptionally discreditable English pamphlet and declaring it to be the work of a learned and acute historian, wrote in The Riddle of the Universe that at the Council of Nicaea in 327 (sic) the four gospels were selected out of a heap of apocryphal and forged documents. The error was equally absurd academically. But it was a less interesting error, was made by a man who really understood science, and had not the touch of comedy possessed by volcanoes. No ignoramus would believe the doctrine of volcanoes. Some ignorant men would believe a fourth-century forging of gospels. This points to the way in which a general scientific knowledge was more widespread than historical knowledge. A little knowledge of the physical earth gained in schools would demolish Professor Bautz. To know the historical follies of Professor Haeckel one must be expert. It is also interesting how a scientist of academic stature lost standards when he became an evangelist. As a scientist Haeckel had care, diligence, accuracy and reverence. As an evangelist for anti-Christian scientific religion, he was careless, inaccurate, and irreverent as any hack writer hired to be unfair for the sake of a cause and willing, if necessary, to be scurrilous. The philosopher Friedrich Paulsen said that he read The Riddle of the Universe with a burning sense of shame that it could have been published by a scholar in the land of scholarship.

[Owen Chadwick, Secularization, Cambridge (London: 1975) p. 179]

I can think of a number of my fellow academics of whom much the same could be said.

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