Pope of wax

Pope of wax

Pope of wax

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 22 2006 9:18 PM

Pope of wax

I generally don't talk too much about religion, unless I'm handing creationists their head as they so richly deserve. But sometimes an official religious figure says something so dumb and so ironic that I have to speak up.

I have always felt that of all the religions in the world, Catholicism is one of the ones that is more supportive of science (barring that whole 400 years to pardon Galileo thing). However, that is rapidly changing. If you're Catholic, and you think the Pope is infallible, then you may want to stop reading this now. I'd prefer that you don't, though, since really that's the whole point of what I'm writing.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Pope Benedict (neé Ratzinger), who has single-handedly reversed many a stance of the previous infallible Pope, has decided that science is too arrogant. Basically, it seems to me that he's a little ticked that so much science (that is, reality) tends to conflict with dogma. This has prompted him to compare scientists with Icarus, the tragic Greek figure whose curiosity led him to build wings so he could fly. But he made his wings from wax, and when he got too close to the Sun they melted, and he fell to his death.

I infer this from a recent statement he made:

"Letting yourself be seduced by discovery without paying attention to the criteria of a deeper vision could lead to the drama the [Icarus] myth speaks of," he told the Pontifical Lateranense University at the inauguration of a new academic year.

What he is really saying is that scientists should be mindful of god. We should not poke our nose into places where we might be on touchy ethical ground, like when life begins, or what happens after you die, or, I suppose, whether Intelligent Design is garbage or not. We might find out the truth!

Heaven forbid.

But it's funny, actually. I've known the Icarus myth my whole life, and I've always thought Icarus the fool, as the Pope so clearly does. But my reasons are vastly different: Icarus didn't test his wings first. He had so much arrogance, so much faith that he was right, that he didn't bother to apply any sound scientific or engineering principles to his work.

Icarus died because he was blind to reality, blind to his own weakness, and blinded by the idea that he was right, no matter what. He wasn't infallible. So he fell.