Lecturas de verano

Summer reading

Author: José María Valderas

Bibliophiles know that their Library Services holds wonderful secrets. Those that produce immense pleasure when leafing through any volume at random. This is what happened to me in a parenthesis of work, a pleasure that I would like to share with the friends of Faith, Reason and Science. In this case it is the Revue des Questions Scientifiques, published by the Société Scientifique de Bruxelles, in its issue of April 1880. On the cover we read a statement from the Constitution De Fide catholica, the first dogmatic constitution of the Vatican [I]: "Nulla unquam inter fidem et rationem vera dissensio esse potest". This was also the motto adopted by the Brussels Scientific Society when it was set up in March 1875.

The Revue was born in 1877 in a context of a vigorous push by the Belgian Church to break with the deep-rooted cliché of Catholicism's allergy to scientific development . An impulse cherished, blessed and closely followed by Leo XIII. In his first issue there is, among others, a reply to Draper, "L'Eglise et la Science"; another article also discusses Darwinism and palaeontology. We can also read an extensive review of contemporary books on the Galileo case.

But let's go back to issue in April 1880. That was 130 years ago. In the eyes of today's reader, Antonio Damasio appears as the discoverer of the case of Phileas Gage, on which he relies to reaffirm his organicist materialism, expressed in Descartes' Error and others. But Cuylits already picked it up, without such an interpretative reduction, in article "L'écorce grise du cerveau", which begins "Les localisations cérébrales sont un des sujets les plus en faveur aujourd'hui. Ce n'est pas là, croyons-nous, une mode passagère; car il n'est n'est n'est guère de recherche expérimentale qui puisse présenter plus d'intérêt, soit au médecin, soit au philosophe, par l'importance de ses résultats pratiques et de ses conclusions théoriques."

The author states on page 497 of the aforementioned issue that the cerebral cortex of the prefrontal region has as ineluctable consequences correlative alterations of the psychical Schools . "This part of the grey cortex, he continues, is reserved exclusively for such disorders Schools". The case usually cited is not a Yankee invention, but the body of the crime is preserved in an anatomical museum, and Dr. Harlow, who attended the patient at the time of the accident, has left us a detailed observation. And he continues with the very famous text of the railwayman who had an auger put through his head, survived and changed his character. The author adds more cases of cerebral localisation of certain functions obtained through anatomical observation, usually subsequent to cranial traumatisms. In other words, he describes what science says, without forcing any ideological interpretation.

In the review section, we find a detailed analysis of Carl Güttler's Naturforschung und Bibel, published in 1877 by publishing house Herder in Freibug im Breisgau. The following paragraph is very topical: "He believes without hesitation that the Bible is inspired in all its parts and cannot claim any scientific error, but he does not admit that all scientific truths have been revealed to the sacred authors, and in particular to Moses. Si quelques théologiens et même quelques naturalistes imbus de cette idée ont voulu puiser dans la Bible des arguments décisifs en faveur de telle ou telle théorie purement scientifique, c'est un abus individuel, dont l'Église n'est pas manager" (page 583).

It is not a question of falling into anachronisms and seeing precedents everywhere. But it is about denouncing myths and prejudices, while at the same time enjoying extremely useful insights from those who encountered the same problems, mutatis mutandis, as we did.

Ampurias, summer 2010