Friday, May 8, 2009

Tom Hanks isn't a historian but he slept at a Holiday Inn last night

Seeing Ron Howard’s film version of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons won’t turn you into either one. But the movie sure spreads another noxious layer of glaze over the devilish portrait of a Catholic Church forever locked in mortal combat with progress and science. Brown even has the camerlengo telling the assembled Cardinals at conclave: “Since the days of Galileo our Church has tried to slow the relentless march of science.” Not a red hat spun or pious eye blinked.

Most people- not historians of science- see the Church's relationship to science through the small and twisted lens of the Galileo incident. The distortion is enormous and confers political and cultural benefits to certain interest groups.

During 18th and 19th century England, America, and much of Europe Protestants and secularists, both eager to undermine the political and theological influence of the Catholic Church, found it easy to exaggerate the Galileo affair while simultaneously ignoring Catholic contributions to the scientific revolution.

I'll have an extended historical commentary on this persistent nonsense. Here's a taste:

Senior research fellow at Oxford John Heilbron’s prize winning study The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories (Harvard University Press) argues that the Catholic Church gave more financial aid and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries from the late Middle Ages into the 18th century than perhaps all other institutions. The Vatican still maintains two observatories staffed with top level astronomers.

We also know that the Papal medical school, now the University of Rome, pioneered in anatomy and physiology. Yes, they permitted autopsies and dissections.

A recent history of early electrical science awarded the Jesuit order the honor of being the single most important contributor to experimental physics in the 17th century.

The still misunderstood Galileo affair is the exception not the rule...That is, unless you want to play literary parasite on the corpse of a grotesque body of lies. Maybe that's where the demon or at least the incubus comes in.

Lots more to come.

Al shares his reaction to "Angels and Demons"

Watch live video from Kresta In The Afternoon's channel on


  1. Steven P. CornettMay 8, 2009 at 10:56 PM

    I just looked at the list of howlers listed in Dan Brown's book given in the Wanderer, and it left me shaking my head. But perhaps the worst thing about Angels and Demons is that Dan took what could've been a reasonable plot for a pot-boiler and ruined it in trying to beat his monist message over our heads.

  2. Steven,
    I agree.

    "Angels and Demons"- the movie-
    is suspenseful,
    moves with the same kind of breakneck speed as The Fugitive,
    deals with issues of moment
    but is so fixated on the Church as a corrupt institution that I hope it fails at the box office.
    It's actually better than the Da Vinci Code movie. And I've heard that it's anti-Catholicism has been softened. But it's attempt to get a happy ending just muddies the water.

  3. I am primarily offended by Dan Brown and his books/movies because I am a Catholic and I love the Church. I am also an art historian who just happens to love Bernini and Baroque art so those lies don't help any.