Re: [asa] On American Catholics and science

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Tue Jul 29 2008 - 13:52:38 EDT

All true -- but I tend to think about this more in terms of money, class and
power than the relative appeal of ideas. I think what primarily drove
discrimination against Catholics wasn't something like the subtleties of
materialism-vs-transubstantiation. Mostly I think those subtleties were
excuses for keeping the insurgent lower classes out of power. But I do
agree that pre-Vatican-II Catholicism tended towards obscuritanism and
fundamentalism and that this did not help matters.

On Tue, Jul 29, 2008 at 1:40 PM, Ted Davis <> wrote:

> I fully agree with David's comments about anti-Catholicism and
> universities.
> It's yet one more factor, and perhaps the single most important one.
> But the factors I pointed to are historically accurate, and IMO also
> relevant. Naturalism had a lot to do with scientists looking down their
> noses at Catholics, who maintained a supernatural view of both the
> Eucharist
> and the soul. I don't think it's widely realized, but the really dangerous
> science at the turn of the century was, in the opinion of liberal
> Protestants, psychology. Not evolution (which they readily embraced), and
> certainly not geology or physics or astronomy. The psychologists, as one
> of
> them (James Angell, president of Yale) told paleontologist Henry Fairfield
> Osborn, have gotten rid of the soul. This was the period of Dewey and
> Jacques Loeb, and that's why nearly every important seminary had a course
> in
> the psychology of religion: materialism (ie, the belief that mental
> phenomena are merely manifestations of hard-wired events in the brain) was
> a
> very serious threat.
> Protestants dealt with this is various, usually nebulous, ways. Catholics
> affirmed the supernatural nature of the soul. The Protestants could at
> least feign scientific respectability, but the Catholics couldn't--at least
> not in the eyes of the Protestants who still mainly ran the scientific
> establishment.
> Let me put this another way, David. Anti-Catholicism was widespread and
> very important, but that doesn't mean that the specific forms it took can't
> be seen as having some specific, historically situated factors that shaped
> them.
> Anti-catholicism was of course intimately connected with the Draper/White
> "warfare" thesis, itself substantially if not solely a response to
> assertions of Papal inerrancy in 1870. The Columbus myth is a prime
> example: a sailor shows the stupidity of Catholic intellectuals, who insist
> on quoting scripture and Augustine against his intuition and experience of
> the earth's sphericity. Washington Irving created the American form of
> that
> myth specifically to advance anti-Catholicism.
> For a nice English example of the same thing, I understand from Peter
> Bowler that the liberal Protestant theologian (a major one) E.W. Barnes had
> little patience with Catholicism, particularly b/c transsubstantiation ran
> so obviously counter to naturalism. I suspect that's also why Edwin Grant
> Conklin, a leading American biologist who was also a leading public
> intellectual before WW2, had a bee in his bonnet about Catholics.
> Ted

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
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Received on Tue Jul 29 13:53:02 2008

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