Thursday, January 17, 2008

From La Sapienza to La Ignoranza

The Pope's cancellation of his planned speech at La Sapienza in Rome is a revealing event, for a couple of reasons.

First, this incident is almost a mirror image of the reaction to his Regensburg speech. A tiny minority has wilfully extracted a non-existent offence from the Pope's critical use of a scholarly quote. In this case it's a speech on Galileo that Benedict gave back in 1990 in which he actually defended Galileo against Feyerabend's criticism.

The difference this time is that the critics are Western postmoderns rather then Islamic fundamentalists. But these two groups surreptitiously share an underlying assumption - the rejection of the true role of reason. Both reduce reason to a purely instrumental role, severing it from the pursuit of ultimate truth. For them, this is the very definition of "reason" - that it should not touch on anything other than the material world, and has no role in the discovery of the spiritual.

Second, and most cheering, is this: criticism has rained down from every quarter, and some of the academic signatories to the letter rejecting the Pope are backing away from the vehemence of their original stance. It is la Sapienza, not the Pope, that has been embarrassed by the cancellation. And this is an indication of where moral and intellectual authority now rests.

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