Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cardinals Innumerate?

There is nothing strange about a bunch of bishops who have been trained, extensively, in theology, philosophy and languages.  This is about what one might expect -- and desire.

Nonetheless, Anthony Judge seems disappointed.  He has created a roster of the cardinals, indicating each man's areas of education, both in "social" and "natural" sciences.  It's worth a read.   Judge concludes (or should we say judges?) that
... very few cardinals have any formal training in the "natural sciences", most notably in mathematics. It would be an exaggeration to claim that cardinals were dangerously innumerate -- as this might however be claimed by mathematicians (or by other faiths attaching greater significance to numbers and their symbolism).  
Only eleven cardinals have training in the natural science column.  One is an economist.  The most promising of those, regrettably, is O'Brien -- trained in chemistry -- who has resigned his duties.  Several of the others are emeriti, and none have been named among the papabili.

Judge seems to think that evident the lack of training in math and science is a problem for church leaders.  While we doubt that it poses any serious problem at the level of day to day operations, except perhaps at the Vatican Bank, Judge may still be on to something.

For since the 17th century, our society has been reshaped by the progress of the natural sciences, which (particularly in the case of physics) cannot be understood properly without the use of sophisticated mathematics.  This has become far more the case over the past 75 years than ever before.

It is at least arguable, then, that a meaningful engagement with modern society must involve at least a respectable grasp of math and science.  One doesn't want to push this idea too far; it is surely possible to engage, up to a point, without a specialized degree.  While we are in an era when scientists seem to pass themselves off as a new priesthood, priests need feel no need to pass themselves off as scientists.  Moreover, there are plenty of highly numerate Roman Catholics, priests among them, so it is not as though the church has no resources in that department.

Still, one can only believe that the Roman Catholic church (and any other church, and any other cultural institution) would be better equipped for its work with a cadre of senior leaders who could grasp the power of quantitative tools, and interpret them for those among the faithful who cannot.

Andrew Sullivan, from whose blog we were referred to Judge, takes this argument even further.  He says that
... the kind of priesthood that would include that kind of experience [i.e., of science] would not insist on celibacy. If women and married priests were admitted, the range of skills, backgrounds and experience would definitely help the church convey its message more effectively. 
This seems illogical.  If married men and women were admitted to seminaries, the only thing of which one could be certain would be that more married men and women would have theology degrees.

As it happens, our own seminary class included several chemists, a rocket scientist, and (if we are  not mistaken) a psychiatrist.  But this was a function of their late vocations, rather than of their sex or marital status.   In fact, compared to Protestants, Roman Catholic bishops have a fairly easy path, since they have more power to steer their most promising priests toward graduate study.  If they want more scientists, all they really need to do is make them.

1 comment:

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Sounds like Republicans and journalists.