Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Blessed Nicholas Steno Honored by Google

Blessed Nicholas Steno
One of the ironies intrinsic to the world's view of the Catholic Church is that the Church has always been at odds with science.  However, over and over again I've come across so many instances of how, in actual history, Catholics have been at the forefront of science. 

Today, Google's "google" honors such a Catholic scientist.  It is Nicholas Steno's, the "father of geology", 374th birthday.  The irony is that they don't call him Blessed Nicholas Steno.  He was a Catholic Bishop who was a convert from the Lutheran church.  His inquiring mind led him to the conclusion that the Lutheran church was wrong because only the Catholic Church could answer his deep religious questions, and he had a sudden and powerful belief in the Real Presence during a Eucharistic rite.  If you click on the Google image it points one to a Christian Science Monitor article, which does not once mention the fact that he was a Catholic Bishop or that he was beatified by Pope Blessed John Paul II in 1988.  His feast day is December 5th, the day before St. Nicholas (the man who "became Santa") Day, December 6th.

Illustration from Steno's
work on fossils and strata
comparing shark teeth and
"tongue stones." 

Steno studied geological strata and built on the work of other scientists of his time.  His comparison of living shark teeth to "tongue stones," which people actually thought fell from the sky, built on the "glossary" of such "stones" by Fabio Colonna published in 1616.  His work called Preliminary discourse to a dissertation on a solid body naturally contained within a solid, published in 1669, contained his observations on fossils, crystals, strata, etc.  Thus giving him the name of "father of geology" or "father of stratagraphy" (depending on the article you read).  According to an article written for a Berkley website, he supposedly "abandoned" his scientific study when he converted.  Considering his inquisitive mind, which is why he became a scientist and a Catholic, I doubt that statement.  He may have changed the emphasis of his life (which was his more important call to holiness) but I am sure his inquisitive mind continued to follow the scientific studies of the 17th century.  Despite the propaganda, the Catholic Church neither discourages (then or now) scientific inquiry nor stops anyone from pursuing it, let alone stop them from being both a scientist and a priest (look at Gregor Mendel, a monk and the discoverer of inherited traits, and, ironically, largely ignored by the scientific community during his lifetime).  The Church is not in conflict with science.  In fact the Church, historically, has been the single largest supporter of scientific study.

There is much more to his story.  You can read the not so objective Christian Science Monitor article (which does not mention his Catholic Faith, let alone his beatification), the Wikipedia Article, Berkley's anti-Catholic article (at least they mention his conversion to the Catholic Church, but obligingly denigrate her) or the rather short Catholic Encyclopedia article.

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