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I’m a Muslim But Here’s Why I Admire the Catholic Church

First, allow me to start this short article with what might be deemed a startling confession: I am not a Catholic, nor am I even a Christian. In fact, I am a secular Muslim and an avid reader of philosophy and history with an unswerving commitment to the unmitigated truth no matter where it is even, nay especially, if it runs counter to commonly held beliefs.

I have spent the last few years researching the history of Christianity, especially the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, and was shocked to discover that almost everything we had been taught about Catholicism was erroneous and apparently affected by anti-Catholic bias. In contradistinction to what most people both in the West and Middle East think, the Catholic Church and Church Fathers did not suppress science, reason, and knowledge. Quite the opposite, in many cases they even encouraged the acquisition of secular learning and the pursuit of science, and placed a high premium on man’s rational faculties. I was also astonished to discover that the “dark" Middle Ages were not intellectually barren after all. This period was not one of utter stagnation, superstition, or the persistent persecution of natural philosophers. In fact, the universities—where unhindered scholarly and intellectual debates were held—were founded in Europe during the High Middle Ages. In addition, 12th- and 13th-century Catholic scientists, who were committed both to their Christian faith and the scientific method, laid the groundwork for the Scientific Revolution. It is becoming more and more evident that this revolution, which began with the publication of Nicholas Copernicus' On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres and Andreas Vesalius' On the Fabric of the Human Body, was not an abrupt outburst of creativity but a continuation of intellectual headway reached in previous centuries, namely the High Middle Ages. What is equally stunning is the importance medieval Catholic theologians and philosophers attached to human intellectual capacities, and their relentless pursuit to create a synthesis of reason and faith. In a nutshell, years of intensive research have made me respect and even admire the Catholic Church even though, as I have said earlier, I hail from a secular Arab family that has taught to investigate all issues without any pre-conceived dogma and to accept the truth even if it turns out to be incongruent with generally accepted views.

I feel utmost respect for the work of Catholic monks and monasteries in the Middle Ages. Their intellectual activities are one of the brightest chapters in the history of the Catholic Church. The monasteries played a positive role as centers of teaching, learning, and scholarship, and they can be aptly described as "proto-universities" (Trombley 58). These monasteries taught grammar, logic, rhetoric, and later mathematics, music, and astronomy, and they were "among the most important libraries in the history of Western thought” because they copied, transcribed, and stored valuable texts (58). While the Catholic Church is persistently accused of destroying classical or Greco-Roman culture, the fact is that the monasteries should be credited for "the careful preservation of the works of the classical world and of the Church Fathers, both of which are central to Western civilization" (Woods 42).

Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular could not have stifled or destroyed Classical learning because it emerged in a Greco-Roman environment and as a result it had to have assimilated Greek philosophical notions, such as Logos, synderesis, the idea of a rationally ordered and mechanical universe operating according to fixed and consistent laws, etc. This enabled Christianity to live in peace with Greek/pagan philosophy and rationalism—a crucial accomplishment that Orthodox Sunni Islam has unfortunately failed to make following the suppression of Mu’tazalite thinking (this topic in itself requires a long and thorough study).

Sometimes I wonder out loud: if the Catholic Church had indeed snuffed out the Classical tradition, as many scholars claim, then how come many early and medieval churchmen were conversant with Classical writings? Indeed, many monks and churchman commanded immense knowledge of classical texts, especially those by Virgil, Cicero, Pliny, Ovid, Horace, Plato, etc. These churchmen include, to name but a few, Alcuin (one of the architects of Emperor Charlemagne’s intellectual project), Lupus (805-862), Abbo of Fluery (950-1004), Desiderius (one of the greatest successors of St Benedict as the abbot of Monte Cassino and later served as Pope Victor III), Archbishop Alfano (a monk at Monte Cassino), Gerbert of Aurillac, Saint Hildebert (Woods 40-41). Clement of Alexandria (150-215), whom Pope Benedict XVI has described as "one of the pioneers of the dialogue between faith and reason in the Christian tradition" (16), stressed that the study of Greek philosophy was not only permissible but necessary for Christian believers (Kenny 95). In addition to viewing it as "instruction which prepared for Christian faith", Clement of Alexandria elevated Greek philosophy to the domain of revelation and compared it to the Old Testament (Pope Benedict XVI 18). In fact, God had given philosophy to the Greeks so as to ensure humanity had reached intellectual maturity by the time of Christ's arrival (Kenny 95). Justin Martyr (100 – 165) held the Greek philosophical tradition in high regard as well, viewing it as a legitimate property of Christians. Both the Old Testament and Greek philosophy are two paths leading to Christ and therefore there can no contradiction between Greek philosophical ideas and the gospels (Pope Benedict XVI 9-10).

To go back to the valuable monastic activities I was discussing, I would add that in addition to copying and preserving texts, the monks, especially Cistercian ones, were known for their technological sophistication and ingenuity. They used waterpower for all kinds of activities (including crushing wheat and tanning), demonstrated knowledge in metallurgy, and devised sophisticated clocks. In 996, Gerbert of Aurillac, later known as Pope Sylvester II, is believed to have built the first clock for the German town of Magdeburg. For his part, the Benedictine abbot Richard of Wallingford designed in the 14th century an astronomical clock, the most sophisticated one for the next two centuries. Monks also engaged in manual activities that brought benefits for their human surroundings. For example, they cultivated lands, drained swamps, cleared (and at other times preserved) forests, planted trees and vineyards, bred and reared animals, and introduced new crops, etc. They also produced wine, beer, champagne, and cheese, and stored up water for distribution in times of draught. They taught irrigation to peasants in places like Lombardy, and "were the first to work toward improving cattle breeds, rather than leaving the process to chance" (Woods 31).

The Middle Ages "offered some important antecedents to the Italian Renaissance," including the Carolingian Renaissance of the 8th and 9th centuries; the 10th-century Ottonian Renaissance, and 12th-, 13th- century Renaissance (Trombley 85-86). One of the important intellectual figures of the Carolingian Renaissance is the Irish Neo-Platonist John Scotus Erigena (810-877) whom I admire very much. Erigena was well-versed in Greek and conversant with the writings of both Western and Eastern theologians, especially St. Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, and Denys the Areopagite. Erigena translated the writings of Denys the Areopagite into Latin, thus enabling later medieval theologians, such as St. Bonaventure, to become familiar with the Greek philosopher’s work.

What is truly remarkable about Erigena is the high status he accorded reason. He stressed the harmony between faith and reason because of their common source, namely God, and encouraged its use to shed light on the Scriptures and the writings of Church Fathers. In fact, he seems to have seen reason as an arbiter of the validity of any authority including sacred one: "Any type of authority that is not confirmed by true reason must be considered weak...Indeed, there is no true authority other than that which coincides with the truth, discovered by virtue of reason, even should one be dealing with an authority recommended and handed down for the use of the successors of the Holy Fathers" (Pope Benedict XVI 187). He adds: "Let no authority intimidate you or distract you from what makes you understand the conviction obtained through correct rational contemplation. Indeed, authentic authority never contradicts right reason, nor can the latter ever contradict a true authority. The one and the other both come indisputably from the same source, which is divine wisdom" (187). Commenting on these brilliant passages, Pope Benedict says: "We see here a brave affirmation of the value of reason, founded on the certainty that the true authority is reasonable, because God is creative reason" (187). Erigena’s emphasis on the harmony between faith and reason anticipates the philosophy of 11th-, 12th-, and 13th-century theologians such as Saint Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Peter Abelard, and others.

I need to say a few words about Gerbert of Aurrillac whom I mentioned earlier as the maker of a sophisticated clock. He is one of the key figures of the Ottonian Renaissance and the most erudite scholar in Europe at the time. His encyclopedic knowledge spanned a broad range of topics, including mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, logic, Latin literature, music, and theology. He secured his place in the history of the scientific development of the West by introducing the abacus or counting board and the Hindu-Arabic numerals (Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science 50). He also is credited for being "the scholar who first brought Arabic science to the West," as he spent three years in Spain where he may have acquired knowledge of Arabic scientific work, and "traces of Arabic influence" are manifested in his astronomical and mathematical texts (Zuccato 192-93). Two years before becoming a pope, Gerbert received a letter from the German Emperor Otto III requesting his services and pleading with the great scholar to educate him and explain a book of arithmetic. Gerbert complied with the request, and stressed to the emperor that the Holy Roman Empire had a legitimate right to claim Greek and Roman wisdom as its own (Woods 23).

Like Erigena before him and many church figures after him, Gerbert of Aurrillac underlined the need to combine faith with learning, knowledge, and science. He is reported to have said that "[t]he just man lives by faith, but it is good that he should combine science with faith" and that “[t]he Divinity made a great gift to men in giving them faith while not denying them knowledge," adding that "those who do not possess it [knowledge] are called fools" (23). It is this profound commitment to reason that has made me admire Catholic philosophers and theologians.

Another Christian scholar and philosopher who has commanded my respect is Saint Anselm (1033-1109), the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm has been described as "the father of the Scholastic tradition" (Stokes 48) and "the most important philosopher of the eleventh century" (Kenny 119). His balanced commitment to faith and reason is evident in a saying attributed to him: "It seems to me a case of negligence if after becoming firm in our faith, we do not strive to understand what we believe" (Watson 330). Rather than accept God’s existence purely on the basis of faith, Anselm sought to devise rational arguments for the existence of God, one of which is known as the Ontological Argument. He also came up with a rational argument for the Christian doctrine of Incarnation. Like Aquinas after him, Anselm saw reason as a legitimate tool for defending and justifying the faith.

Anselm's basic definition of God, which he says both the believer and non-believer would agree on, is the foundation upon which he constructs his ontological proof. He defines God as "a being than which nothing greater can be thought." God is a perfect being and the greatest entity imaginable or conceivable. It follows that such a being has to exist because existence is a necessary attribute of perfection. If God didn't exist, He would not be perfect and this would contradict the premise of the argument. Something that exists is surely greater than that which does not. If God is the greatest entity possible then He must exist because otherwise He wouldn't be. In other words, "the existence of God would seem to follow necessarily from the definition. For it would be a contradiction to suppose that God is on the one hand something than which nothing greater can be thought of and on the other hand does not exist" (Stokes 49).

Anselm's argument drew a response from a Benedictine monk called Gaunilo who claimed that one could conceive of the greatest island imaginable and, if Anselm's reasoning were correct, it would follow that the existence of such an island is necessary because otherwise it would not be the greatest island imaginable. Gaunilo charged that Anselm's argument "licenses the existence of all sorts of imaginary objects and must therefore be faulty" (49). Anselm responded by saying that his definition only applies to God and therefore it cannot be used in relation to other beings or objects. The exchange or debate between Anselm and Gaunilo suggested that nothing lay outside the realm of intellectual inquiry including the issue of God's existence; it "assumed that one could talk about God in terms that were 'reasonable', that God could be treated like anything else..." (Watson 368).

Anselm also set out to justify the Incarnation or the central Christian idea that God became incarnate in man. Adam's original sin was an offense against God and the scale of atonement had to be congruent with the severity of the offense. Man as a finite being could not by dint of his own efforts expiate the infinite sin against God and therefore needed divine assistance or intervention. Kenny explains: "Satisfaction can only be adequate if it is made by one who is human (and therefore heir of Adam) and one who is divine (and can therefore make infinite recompense). Hence the incarnation of God is necessary if original sin is to be wiped out and the human race is to be redeemed" (121).

No essay on the rational tradition of the Catholic Church and the place of reason in the West can skip the thought of Dominican theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). His importance lies in the bold attempt to stand up to the challenges Aristotelian thought supposedly posed to Christianity (especially the idea of an eternal universe) and to dispel the fears Aristotle's philosophy had instilled in some ecclesiastical quarters. Aquinas sought to reconcile reason and faith, Christianity and Aristotle, thus incorporating Aristotelian elements into Christian theology. Not only did Aquinas establish common ground between Christianity and Aristotle, but he also found Aristotelian logic a useful tool for defending the Christian doctrine. Like his teacher Albertus Magnus, Aquinas admired Aristotle, seeing that the Greek master's philosophy was "the greatest achievement of human reason to be produced without the benefit of Christian inspiration" (Watson 330).

Like many theologians of his time, Aquinas advocated the unfettered and free pursuit of knowledge. It is incumbent on human beings to pursue knowledge wherever it leads because it reveals God's design and enhances man's knowledge of Him (331). There are only three truths that must be accepted because they cannot be proved rationally: the creation of the universe, the Trinity, and Jesus' role in our salvation (370). Any other truth, however, should not just be accepted, but it has to be demonstrated and proved by reason. Osborne argues that Aquinas sought "to reinstate reason as a legitimate and worthy element in human nature" (220). The conclusions reached by human reason can never contradict or clash with the Christian doctrine because they both emanate from the same source, God.

This Dominican philosopher also revived the ancient Greek idea that the universe is imbued with order and purpose and that man is a rational creature. God is a rational and just creator who laid down the rational order of the universe and bestowed reason on man. Explaining Aquinas' thought, Osborne says: "Since both order in the universe and reason in the human mind were deliberate creations of God, it was a legitimate enterprise, indeed a Christian duty, to use the gift of reason to explore the meaning of God's creation" (221).

As evidence of his commitment to reason, Aquinas tried to prove God's existence through rational arguments unaided by revelation, known as the Five Ways (the last of which, the teleological argument, best demonstrates Aristotle's influence). Stokes has described the Five Ways, which appeared in the voluminous work Summa Theologica, as "the clearest and most succinct attempt to prove the existence of God by means of logical argument" (51). These five proofs show that Aquinas viewed reason as a legitimate tool for proving what is arguably the most important article of faith.

In addition to Aquinas, Peter Abelard (1079-1142) is considered one of the icons of rational Christian thought and one of the masters of logic. Huff opines that "it is virtually impossible to pick up any major work on the renaissance of the twelfth century dealing with law, logic, ethics, philosophy, reason, and conscience, as well as the founding of the universities, that does not give a major (and positive) role to the teachings and writings of Abelard" (140). Abelard is primarily remembered for formulating dialectical logic aimed at solving or reconciling what he saw as contradictions in Biblical passages and statements by religious authorities. The dialectical method consists of the following parts: (1) a questio presenting the contradictory passages in a text (2) a propositio spelling out reasons and arguments in support of one position (3) an oppositio stating reasons and arguments in favor of the contrary view (4) a solutio or conclusio resolves the conflict between the propositio and the oppositio (128). Abelard also emphasized the unity of truth and the harmony of its diverse manifestations, saying: "Truth cannot be opposed to truth" (141). His commitment to reason and logic did not in any way detract from his faith as evident in his famous assertion: "I do not wish to be a philosopher if it means conflicting with Paul nor to be an Aristotelian if it cuts me off from Christ" (141).

The Unprecedented Translation Activity

Those who still insist on calling the Middle Ages a “dark” period in the history of Europe choose to ignore the magnificent translation activity in Spain following the expulsion of the Muslim occupiers. There is no doubt that medieval Muslims, with the assistance of Nestorian Christian scholars (such as Hunayn Ibn Ishaq, his son Ishaq, and nephew Hubyash, in addition to Abu-Bishr Matta Ibn Yunus, Yahya ibn Adi' the Logician, Isa ibn Zur'a, and many others), had preserved Greek texts that had been lost in the West as a result of the Barbarian invasions and disintegration of the Western Roman Empire. Also, many Muslim scholars such as Ibn al-Haytham (a pioneer of the scientific experimental method), Kamal al-Din al-Farisi, Ibn Sina, Al-Razi, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, Ibn al-Rushd, and others had produced excellent scientific and philosophical works. Following the liberation of some Spanish territories, Latin scholars flocked to these areas and collaborated with Spanish Christians (known as Mozarabics, those Christians who adopted Arabic culture) and Jews, producing translations of Arabic and Greek texts. In most cases, the Jewish and Christian scholars translated the Arabic texts into Spanish and their Western counterparts in turn translated them into Latin (Watson 279-80). This fruitful cooperation resulted in the translation of Ibn al-Haytham's Optics, the algebra of Al-Khwarizmi, Euclid's Elements, the medical writings of Ibn Sina (Canon), Galen, and Hippocrates, as well as Ptolemy's Almagest (Huff 181). This "unprecedented translation activity" or “monumental translation feat" eventually brought the corpus of Aristotle and his commentators, as well as other Greek and Arabic works, into Europe "in scarcely a hundred years" (180).

In Barcelona, Italian mathematician and astronomer Plato of Tivoli collaborated with Savasorda (a Jewish mathematician, astronomer and philosopher) in translating Arabic texts on astrology and astronomy (Watson 279). The center of translation was Toledo, where Archbishop Raymond spearheaded a major translation activity. Examples of productive cooperation between Latin and Iberian scholars include Gerard of Cremona and Gallipus (Ghaleb); as well as Dominicus Gundisalvi and the Jew Avendeath, also known as Ibn Dawwud. Two Englishmen, Adelard of Bath and Robert of Chester played a key role in this activity as well, as the former translated Euclid and Al-Khawarizmi while the latter is "notable for producing the first Latin version of the Qur'an and the first translation of Al-Khawarizmi's algebra" (280). As a result of this translation activity, “by the close of the 13th century, the bulk of Arabic (and therefore Greek) science had been transmitted to Europe” (280). From the Iberian Peninsula, this knowledge passed into southern French towns and from there to Liege (among other places) and on to Germany and England (280).

The 12th- and 13th-century Renaissance

This translation activity had the ultimate effect of sparking or igniting what is known as the 12th- and 13th-century Renaissance, which included brilliant Catholic scholars and scientists, such as Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Jean Buridan, William of Conches, Thierry of Chartres, Peter Abelard, High of Saint Victor, Thomas Bradwardine, Witelo, and many others.

What characterizes their thought is (1) the idea that the universe is a rationally structured sphere or machine that operates according to consistent, intelligible, and discernable patterns. In other words, there is regularity, order, harmony, and purpose in nature. God is the ultimate or primary cause, but there are secondary causes independent of God that man is capable of discovering and understanding. The laws of nature operate independently of God and on the basis of cause and effect (natural causality). God is a loving, rational, and beautiful creator who does not interfere with the laws He has laid down. In fact, it would be inconsistent with His nature to tamper with these laws or to create randomness and arbitrariness in the cosmos.

Hugh of Saint Victor, for example, perceived orderliness and unity in the universe where all parts are somehow interconnected: "The ordered disposition of things from top to bottom in the network of this universe...is so arranged that, among all the things that exist, nothing is unconnected or separated by nature, or external" (Huff 99-100). He espoused a mechanistic view of the visible universe: "As there are two works, the work of creation and the work of restoration, so there are two worlds, visible and invisible. The visible world is this machine, this universe, that we see with our bodily eyes" (100). For his part, Adelard of Bath hailed the "amazing rational beauty of the universe" (Woods 87) while Thierry of Chartres (d. 1150) asserted that "the world would seem to have causes for its existence, and also to have come into existence in a predictable sequence of time. This existence and this order can be shown to be rational" (Huff 100).

(2) God has endowed man with rational faculties, and as a rational creature, man has the ability to decipher the laws of nature and to unravel the mysteries of the universe. Adelard of Bath said that “[i]t is through reason that we are men,” adding: "Although man is not armed by nature nor is he the swiftest in flight, yet he has that which is better by far and worth more -- that is, reason. For by possession of this function he exceeds the beasts to such a degree that he subdues them...You see, therefore, how much the gift of reason surpasses mere physical equipment" (102).

Man also possesses an innate moral faculty or agency that allows him to reach moral truths, solve moral dilemmas, and distinguish between good and evil unaided by revelation (106-108). Furthermore, man has the rational capacity to understand the scriptures and to decipher their mysteries without the aid of revelation (102).

The Catholic view of a rationally ordered universe shot through with purpose and of man as a reasonable creature capable of predicting nature’s operations encouraged medieval Europeans to engage in scientific activities and paved the way for the Scientific Revolution.

It is also noteworthy that this mechanistic view of the universe leaves little room for miracles. In contrast to the skewed belief that Catholicism is riddled with nothing but superstitious beliefs and myths completely detached from reality, here we have Catholic philosophers who seem to believe that miracles are not a norm or a regular occurrence, but a departure from the fixed laws of nature. Miracles do happen, but only against the backdrop of regularity and order. For example, Adelard of Bath charged that "we must listen to the very limits of human knowledge and only when this utterly breaks down should we refer things to God" (87). On the interpretation of Scripture, Andrew of St. Victor argued that the interpreter "should realize this: in expounding Scripture, when the event described admits of no naturalistic explanation, then and only then should we have recourse to miracles" (Huff, “Science and Metaphysics in the Three Religions of the Book” 189).

(3) a strong commitment to doubt, rationalism, and the unhindered, unfettered search for knowledge, learning, and the "truth": Hugh of Saint Victor encouraged his students to “learn everything” because “later you’ll see that nothing is superfluous” (Watson, 330). He is reported to have also said: “Learn willingly what you do not know from everyone. The person who has sought to learn something from everyone will be wiser than them all. The person who receives something from everyone ends by becoming the richest of all" (Pope Benedict XVI 220). Peter of Poitiers, chancellor of the University of Paris, went as far as saying that "although certainty exists, nonetheless it is our duty to doubt the articles of faith, and to seek, and discuss" (Watson 367). The great logician Peter Abelard said the search for the “truth” is founded on doubt: “We seek through doubt and by seeking we perceive the truth" (366). John of Salisbury, bishop of Chartres, saw reason as central to understanding and knowledge: “It was the mind, which by means of the ratio, went beyond the experience of the senses and made it intelligible, then, by means of the intellectus, related things to their divine cause and comprehended the order of creation, and ultimately arrived at true knowledge, sapentia” (367).

(4) the harmony between the truths of revelation and truths of reason, as both reason and faith originate from the same source, God.

(5) experimentation and observation as the basis for investigating the physical world: Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, and Robert Grosseteste can be seen as the precursors or forerunners of the scientific method in the West. These three scientists/priests embraced an empirical or experimental method that prioritized empirical data over theory. Bacon stressed that "the strongest argument proves nothing, so long as its conclusions are not verified by experience" (Woods 94). He added: "Without experiment, nothing can be adequately known. An argument proves theoretically, but does not give the credence necessary to remove all doubt; nor will the mind repose in the clear view of the truth, unless it finds it by way of experiment” (94). Echoing the same sentiments, Albertus Magnus said the aim of natural philosophy or science is "not simply to accept the statements of others, that is, what is narrated by people, but to investigate the causes that are at work in nature for themselves" (95). In science "only experience provides certainty" (Watson 369).

For the sake of intellectual accuracy, I would have to add that the three Christian scientists/theologians mentioned above were influenced by the Islamic medieval tradition of scientific experimentation and observation. Huff points out that "the scientific world of Islam was rich in experimental ideas...in optics, astronomy, and medicine" (218). Ibn al-Haytham and his successor Kamal al-Din al-Farisi performed experiments in optics while .Avicenna's Canon, which held sway over the medical field in Europe for centuries, laid down rules for testing drugs. Al-Razi refused to accept statements that had not been validated or verified by experiments and observations (216-18).

The experimental method of both Catholic and Muslim scientists stands in contrast with the predominantly theoretical, contemplative, and abstract approach of ancient Greek and Hellenistic scientists. Greek science was founded on all-embracing or overarching theories, and instances that challenged these theories were either brushed aside or forced to somehow conform with these theories. One medical theory, which "would bedevil the practice of medicine for more than two millennia" (Kriwaczek 199), claimed that illness was a result of the imbalance of the four bodily humors: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. Aristotle had argued that an object twice as heavy as another object would fall twice as fast if both objects were dropped from the same height. This statement remained unchallenged for centuries even though a simple experiment would have proved him wrong. Though Aristotle collected empirical data for his studies on biology, he "persisted in believing that natural philosophy could be based on purely rational, as opposed to strictly empirical, investigation" (Woods 81). In The Republic, Plato was even more committed to the theoretical and abstract approach than Aristotle: "We shall approach astronomy, as we do geometry, by way of problems, and ignore what is in the sky, if we intend to get a real grasp of astronomy" (Freeman xvii). This Greek attitude to science may have been influenced by Plato's idea of the Forms, namely that sense perceptions do not convey reality and could only lead to opinion; what we see with our eyes are mere shadows or images of their ideal forms which can only be accessed through contemplation or reflection rather than observation.

Aristotle also made a distinction between two types of knowledge: "techne" and "episteme.” Techne is knowledge of recurring natural patterns or knowledge derived from experience, such as that the sun rises every day, clouds produce rain, etc. Aristotle defined episteme as knowledge that comes from the application of reason and the search for causes (knowledge of the "why" or "how" of things; knowledge of causes; how/why clouds produce rain, why the sun rises every day, etc). In the Greco-Roman world, scholars pursued the acquisition of episteme knowledge rather than techne (Osborne 285-6).

The Establishment of Universities

The establishment of universities in Europe during the Middle Ages is sufficient to debunk the myth of the “Dark Ages.” The first European universities were set up in Bologna (1088), Paris (1090), and Oxford (1096). Subsequently, a spate of other universities cropped up, especially in European cities such as Montpellier, Salamanca, and Cambridge. Certain universities were famous for their instruction in particular subjects: the University of Salerno was famous for its medical studies; Paris for theology and logic; Bologna for civil and canon law (Irnerius and Gratian taught there); and Oxford for mathematics and the natural sciences.

What is striking about these institutions of learning is that they incorporated into their curricula the natural sciences and the newly discovered texts of the Greek ancients and Arabs, especially Aristotle, Ibn al-Haytham, Euclid, Ptolmey, and others. Science was deeply embedded in medieval university education, and that is why Huff goes as far as saying that the medieval universities laid "the foundations for the study of modern science" (180). In other words, the study of science underwent a process of institutionalization during the High Middle Ages, thus enabling its dissemination. What is also interesting is that European universities were legally autonomous entities that provided their students and masters with legal protection and intellectual freedom to pursue their studies undisturbed. They created a protected and autonomous sphere where scholars could freely engage in intellectual and scientific inquiries. As corporate entities, the universities enjoyed several rights and privileges, such as legal autonomy from the church and secular rulers and the right to legislate their own laws and to run their own affairs without outside interference. University scholars enjoyed several privileges and prerogatives, such as exemption from civil duties, local taxes, and the jurisdiction of the town in which the university was located. They also enjoyed protection from the potential rage of the masses (Huff 234).

What struck me the most, however, is that the papacy in many cases played a key role in the establishment of universities and in providing a free academic environment. By the time of the Reformation, 81 universities had already been set up, 33 of which had received papal charters and 20 had obtained both imperial and papal ones (Woods 48). In 1254, Pope Innocent IV conferred upon the University of Oxford the privilege to award degrees without papal, imperial, or royal intervention. Pope Gregory IX issued in 1233 a document entitling students with a master's degree to teach anywhere in the world, thereby "encouraging the dissemination of knowledge and fostering the idea of an international scholarly community" (49). Two years earlier, this same pope issued a bull protecting the legal and academic autonomy of the University of Paris and giving students and teachers the right to go on strike if their rights were infringed upon. Pope Honorius III acted similarly when he interfered to protect the autonomy and independence of the scholars at the University of Bologna. In other cases, popes protected university students from the rage and abuse of the local townspeople by granting them the benefit of clergy. This meant that they had the right to have their cases heard in ecclesiastical rather than secular courts. Popes like Boniface VIII, Clement V, Clement VI, and Gregory IX are recoded to have intervened to pressure the universities into paying the salaries of the professors (48-51). Pope Innocent IV hailed the universities as "rivers of science which water and make fertile the soil of the universal Church" while Pope Alexander IV (1254-1261) described this institution as "lanterns shinning in the house of God" (65).

It is worth pointing out that the Catholic Church’s sponsorship of scientific activities persisted well after the Middle Ages and many Catholic priests continued making significant and often trailblazing scientific contributions. For example, Nicolas Steno (1638–1686) is considered the father of geology; Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680) the father of Egyptology; Roger Boscovich (1711 –1787) the father of atomic theory; Gregor Mendel (1822 –1884), the founder of the modern science of genetics; and Francesco Lana-Terzi (1631–1687), the father of aviation. Giovanni Battista Riccioli (1598 –1671) is credited with computing the acceleration of falling bodies while Francesco Maria Grimaldi (1618 –1663) discovered the diffraction of light and measured the height of lunar mountains and clouds. Father Nicolas Zucchi is considered the inventor of the reflecting telescope and Father J.B. Macelwane (1883–1956) introduced the first textbook on Seismology in America. All this valuable information is taken from Woods’ highly informative and well-researched book, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.

I have not written this essay to whitewash Catholic history. Nor am I claiming that the Catholic Church has been nothing but infallible or that its record has been immaculate. My aim was to express admiration for the prodigious achievements that Catholicism and the Catholic Church deserve credit for—credit that is not often given to it due to deep-seated bias and firmly established myths.



Works Cited

Freeman, Charles. The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason. New York: Vintage Books, 2002. Print.

Huff, Toby. The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West. 2nd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

_________. 2000. “Science and Metaphysics in the Three Religions of the Book.” Intellectual Discourse 8, no. 2: 173-98. Print.

Kenny, Anthony. A Brief History of Western Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998. Print.

Kriwaczek, Paul. Babylon, Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization. London: Atlantic Books, 2010. Print.

Osborne, Roger. Civilization: A New History of the Western World. New York: Pegasus Books, 2006. Print.

Pope Benedict XIV. Great Christian Thinkers: From The Early Church Through The Middle Ages. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2011. Print.

Stokes, Phillip. Philosophy: 100 Essential Thinkers. New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2005. Print.

Trombley, Stephen. A Short History of Western Thought. London: Atlantic Books, 2011. Print.

Watson, Peter. Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, From Fire to Freud. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005. Print.

Woods E. Thomas. How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Washington: Regnery History, 2012. Print.

Zuccato, Marco. "Gerbert of Aurillac." Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Thomas F. Glick, Steven Livesey, Faith Wallis. New York: Routledge, 2005. 192-94. Print.

(Image credit: Bookworm Room)

Tamer Nashef

Written by

Tamer Nashef is an Arab freelance researcher and translator from Israel. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in English literature from the University of Haifa. Nashef is interested in a broad range of topics, especially Western philosophy, intellectual history of civilizations, Christian and Islamic theology with particular emphasis on the relation between science/reason and faith, and English literature. He is planning to write a book on the intellectual, scientific, and legal developments in the Middle Ages that led to the scientific Revolution and the rise of the modern world, and on the status of reason in the Catholic tradition. Nashef speaks three languages: Arabic, Hebrew, and English.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • JeffC

    Wonderful article, though you neglected to mention that St. Thomas Aquinas was heavily influenced in his intrpretation of Aristotle via the writings of a philosopher he called "The Commentator," Averroes!

    • Ladolcevipera

      It was also Aquinas (a brilliant mind) who saw philosophy as the "ancilla theologiae". According to him philosophy could not contradict faith; it should be used to proof the rationality of faith. He is therefore a "christian philosopher" which is a contradictio in terminis.

      • JeffC

        How is that a "contradictio in terminis?" Simply stating something is so, does not make it so.

        • Ladolcevipera

          The very essence of philosophy is that is does not accept any presuppositions (it is "voraussetzungslos"). Aquinas' presupposition is that faith is necessarily true. Philosophy can only help to proof it. He would never accept proof to the contrary.

          • JeffC

            That's incorrect for Aquinas.

            Aquinas accepts the presupposition that our sense knowledge is reliable (we can know through our senses), and can lead us to truth independent of faith. Aquinas talks about philosophy as proving the praeambula fidei, which make it easier for the mind to accept those things put forth in revelation for belief.

            Aquinas was both a philosopher and a theologian. Granted he was a theologian first, but to argue that he was not a philosopher as well is to seriously mis-read and mis-understand Aquinas.

          • Ladolcevipera

            "As proving the praeambula fidei"
            So, the praeambula fidei overrule whatever philosophy might say against faith. Aquinas is a theologian first. As a (great) philosopher he does not go all the way; but then of course for him there would be no other conclusion than that God exists - which is a presupposition.

          • JeffC

            Your conclusion does not follow. The praeambula fidei (according to Aquinas) are philosophical arguments (such as those made in the Summa Contra Gentiles) that predispose one's intellect and will to making the act of faith. How can a philosophical argument be a presupposition? I've always thought that a presupposition was something that someone took as a given and without proof. If one is beginning from a point based on reasonable argumentation, is that really a presupposition?

            You saying that Aquinas has to accept the existence of God as a presupposition for his philosophy is an un-founded assertion, as far as I'm concerned, more than it is an argument. Further, who said that philosophy must not accept pre-suppositions other than yourself? Kant? I am fairly certain it was not Aquinas.

            I know you've said elsewhere that you have an M.A. from KU Leuven. I have an M.A. in Philosophy from the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas; so I'm not unlearned in these matters myself.

          • Ladolcevipera

            Oops! Leuven against Texas? I don't think so. I did not think even for a minute you are unlearned; on the contrary! But we think differently. Our Institute (Faculty) of Philosophy used to be called "St. Thomas School". They dropped the name about 50 years ago, I think, because as a philosopher Aquinas - as any other philosopher or philosophy - is situated in a particular time with a particular (christian) worldview which is not ours anymore. Worldviews change and so does philosophy. It is much broader than Aquinas, although he is an important part of the curriculum.
            My problem with Aquinas is his top down approach in his final analysis. God always hovers over his line of thought. That is unacceptable for non-believers (and I am one of them). Philosophy is all about a bottom up approach. By sheer force of reason philosophy may conclude that there is a First Cause/Being/ Ultimate Reality or whatever you chose to call it and here philosophy and theology meet. But for philosophy this is also where it ends. This Ultimate Reality is an X. Philosophy can only say what God is not. Theology completes the image of God but it may never influence philosophical thinking.
            P.S.: the term "Voraussetzungslosigkeit" is Husserl's

          • Joe Martin

            You can't fly very well with only one wing. We need to use both wings of reason and faith, philosophy and theology, science and revelation; if we want to fly into the realities of the True, the Good and the Beautiful One.

          • Jon Kay

            I am only an undergraduate, but I dare say that Thomas Aquinas convincingly argued the existence of God in his work "On Being and Essence". If you have a counter argument against his reasoning, I would be thoroughly interested in hearing it, truly. Thank you very much.

          • Thomas J. Hennigan

            Does a particular world view change the rational nature of man? You gratiutously affirm that Aquinas has "top down approach in his final analysis". Gratis affirmatur, gratis negatur. Why do you have to make a limitation on philosophy as you do? You also have presuppositions as a non believer which you should analyze before making the statements you make. Another falisty is: "Theology completes the image of God but it may never influence philosophical thinking". Of course, theology can influence philosophical thinking and it has done so. What about the notion of the human person thus human dignity, as well as human rights? All of these have come from the influence of Catholic Trinitarian Thoelogy. You seeme to fall into an an alalogous error to that of Averroes.

          • Joseph Reese Brewer

            I very much disagree with the concept the the very essence of philosophy is that it does not accept any presuppositions. Of course there are presuppositions: The two main presuppositions are that I am real and that I am rational. Philosophy has no existence without those two statements being true.

          • Montjoie

            Read my mind Joseph.

      • scragsma

        First, "contradictio in terminis" is a phrase that makes no Latin sense. I think what you're trying to say is 'contradiction in terms' and trying to dress it up to sound like erudite Latin.

        Second, there's no contradiction in the phrase 'Christian philosopher'. It makes perfect sense.

        • LaDolceVipera

          I'm afraid you need to brush up your Latin.

          • Montjoie

            In Latin, terminis means "end" not "term."

          • LaDolceVipera

            Brush up your Latin

    • Patrick Carriveau

      Pity, there's not been much contribution from Averroes' group since.

    • Thomas J. Hennigan

      I cannot see how St.Thomas could have been influenced by Averoes in his commentary of Aristotle. He was involved in a controversy with the Averroists of Paris rejecting, as is obvious, the thesis of the double truth, whereby one thing could be held rationally thanks to philosophy and the opposite held thanks to divine revelation. Averrroes Commentary was available in a badly translated version at the time, but Thomas had a fellow Dominican translate Aristotle's works directly from Greek.

  • My atheism has nothing to do with my views on the Catholic church's views of emerging science in the Middle Ages.

    There is certainly a myth that the early Middle Ages were a "dark" religious age in which free inquiry was prohibited. That secular forces loosened the grip of an ever fighting church and moved society towards the enlightenment. This is an exaggeration as any secular history professor will tell you.

    However, it seems in the pages of Strange notions an alternative narrative is emerging, that actually this period of history was one in which free inquiry was championed by Catholicsim without which science would have been impossible.

    The truth is somewhere in the middle, there were theological views which supported free inquiry and were barriers to it. The emergence of the scientific revolution in the late Middle Ages occurred based on a multitude of factors including rediscovery and promulgation of ancient texts, catholic theology ( which was also influenced by these texts), technological innovation and so on.

    To be fair, I think we can all acknowledge some mischaracterization of history, as well as the Catholic Church having some blood on its hands.

    I am very interested in this history, but short pieces like this are not a good way to obtain a larger view. What I think we can look at here is what Catholic views support free inquiry what are their importance to Catholicism, can they be held by atheists and non-Catholics.

    I would suggest these are things like empiry, academic freedom, falsifiability, repeatability, experimentation, skepticism of ideas held by intuition, tradition or dogma. While the Catholic Church does not object to these principles, it doesn't seem to me to be their champion or that they are integral to Catholicism. Rather, I think these principles emerged in the enlightenment in contrast to the church, rather than because of it.

    • Ladolcevipera

      "Rather, I think these principles emerged in the enlightenment in contrast to the church, rather than because of it."
      I think the "disenchantment" of the world plaid a crucial role in the progress of science. It started with Galilei whose astronomical observations proofed Ptolemy's model to be wrong. The implications were that the distinction between the celestial and sublunary spheres ceased to exist. This had enormous consequences. The world became gradually separate from God and an object of natural science. I think the Church has only recently forgiven Galilei for being right.

      • Sure. I am looking for a good and historical biography of Galileo. I am finding this surprisingly difficult. I detect some bias in most that I have looked up.

        • Teresa Grodi

          You may be able to contact Dr. Kenneth Howell at the chnetwork.org. He as written a few books on the history of science and math. I remember one of his books was on the Galileo affair. He might be helpful in tracking down the resource you are looking for. As a secular historian, the Galileo affair has always been very interesting to me. Good luck with your search!

          • So, did you really think that the "coming home" network would suggest a lack of bias to me?

          • Teresa Grodi

            No, I said you can contact Dr. Howell through the Coming Home Network. Does a person need to have no faith background to be an "unbiased" historian? No, they just have to be submissive to truth and data in their work. I suggested Dr. Howell, because I believe, especially with his expertise and breadth of reading on the history of science and medicine, he will recommend to you the work you are looking for. If you don't like his recommendation, you don't have to read it. It is impossible to work within the realm of academia and not deal with scholars of all different belief/non-belief backgrounds. At some point, academics have to learn how to discern the work of authors as well as read through their biases. There is never going to be an "unbiased" representation of anything. Even primary sources are biased by those who made/collected them. This is what professional scholars have to do on a daily basis: analyze and judge sources. It's just part of reality.

          • Teresa Grodi

            Just as an aside, I am a professional historian, trained at a secular, state university. I'm also a Christian. I was a Christian when I studied and completed my degrees. My department and university did not challenge my ability to be "unbiased" in my work as a historian due to the fact that I held a religious belief. Why would they? The work of an historian should be transparent and cite sources. If not, you probably shouldn't be reading the work, unless the author claims to be a primary source, him- or herself. Then, it's up to you to judge them as a source. That's History 101: if your book makes claims and gives you no sources with which to verify, you probably should put it down. ;) One of the reasons I left political science, sociology, and journalism.

          • (I cannot help myself) I trust you do not apply "if your book makes claims and gives you no sources with which to verify, you probably should put it down" to ALL books making claims about what happened in the past!

            I thoroughly recognize that there will be inherent biases in any history writing and particularly popular history writing.

            It is precisely because I am not doing this as a historian, that I do not want to spend much time checking sources. I want a popular bio that I can trust on the reputation of the author that he or she is not taking liberties and stretching the facts.

            I've looked at the following and though the authors appear reputable, they both seem to be trying to taking a position that either Galileo was persecuted, or that stories of his persecution have been exaggerated.



            They are probably both fine, but I would have thought with an individual
            like this we would have a few bios that were adamantly stating that
            they were going to try to be as impartial as possible. I think I will go with this one. (edit: watching the video in the link below, I think this is exactly it!)


          • Thomas J. Hennigan

            The notion that history is free of biases is totally false. The notion that scientists are squeaky clean and bereft of biases is also false, as the whole gobal warming debate patently demonstrates.

          • William Davis

            I agree with you, three are plenty of Christian Historians who do great work. Many of the evangelicals like to call them names which is really sad. Apologists tend to be quite different from genuine historians.

          • I appreciate your thoughts, but I am honestly astonished, that in the context of discussions between atheists and theists and a specific request for an unbiased historic account, you would send me to a theologian.

          • Chad Eberhart

            This is probably why she sent you to that website:


        • Ladolcevipera

          Have you tried John Heilbron: Galileo ? I haven't read it but it looks promising


        • Kevin Aldrich

          Try "Galileo in Rome" by Shea and Artigas. It frames Galileo's live by means of his six trips to Rome.

          You will probably claim it is biased, though.

          • I was looking at that, but then did think it might be coming from a slightly whitewashing perspective. Comments like G might have dug his own grave. But researching the authors they seem of good repute, it was top of my list but I think I am going to go with Heilbron. I am looking for one by a reputed historian which could be described as "one side says Galileo was a martyr to science, the other says he was an intelligent jerk who dug his own grave. The truth is he was both and the real story is much more interesting." I also rejected one promising book because it seemed biased the other way.

          • David Nickol

            You will probably claim it is biased, though.

            Here's the deal. The Church not only set itself up as the ultimate authority on truth (including scientific truth), but also claimed divine authority to force individuals to deny conclusions they had arrived at based on reason and personal conscience. The Church forced Galileo to swear under oath that he was wrong, when in fact he was right. Any account that seeks to avoid or mitigate that fact is simply not acceptable.

            Certainly we can acknowledge any number of realities about the "Galileo affair." He was no doubt arrogant and reckless and could have avoided a confrontation. Given what the Church might have done to someone other than Galileo who committed the same "offenses," the Church treated Galileo leniently. In many respects, it is misguided to hold people in the 17th century to contemporary standards. However, that doesn't prevent us from saying that what the Church did to Galileo (and not only Galileo) was very wrong.

            There is nothing at all wrong with (or biased about) writing books that go into great detail about what actually happened and dispel whatever myths there may be that Galileo was just a kindly old man, minding his own business, when the evil Catholic Church knocked on his door at midnight and dragged him away. But it is dishonest to attempt to maintain that the Church did not do something very wrong in the Galileo affair, whether or not any of the individuals involved were morally culpable.

            And speaking of Cardinals note this from today's New York Times: Cardinals Face F.B.I. Inquiry in Hacking of Astros’ Network.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know the objective distinction between wrong and very wrong, but I think the Church has admitted that the Inquisition's decision to find Galileo vehemently suspect of heresy was wrong.

          • fergalf

            The church was wrong in trying him but on technical grounds the church was right. Galileo's model was flaw.

          • The_Bustle_in_Your_Hedgerow

            Galileo wasn't charged because of his theory; he was charged for overreaching and involving himself with theology. Please study this -- and note, too, that Copernicus, a Third Order Dominican, proposed a heliocentric universe, dedicated his book on the topic to the Pope at the time, and wasn't put through any trial.

          • Thomas J. Hennigan

            You also need to examine your biases and prejudices which obviously don't allow you to have a balanced view of the Galileo case. Pope John Paul II ordered a complete examination of the case and the errors committed were clearly recognized. However, the reality of the Galileo case is very far from what is normally published in the press. You don't seem to be very up on the case yourself.

          • David Nickol

            Don't be so quick to judge. Four hundred years from now I may reexamine my position and correct whatever errors I may have made.

        • Michael

          While some biographies are certainly more biased than others, I have never read a wholly unbiased biography and I doubt that any exist or can exist. That said, I found Heilbron's "Galileo," published by Oxford a few years ago, to be very informative.

          If you would like more insight into the trial of Galileo, I suggest the relevant works of Thomas F. Mayer.

      • Thomas J. Hennigan

        You obviously know little about the Gallileo matter and are repeating the usual prejudices. The fact is that Gallileo didn't have the scientifica proof for his theory at the time and that only came many decades later, plus he also had many supporters in the Church. Get a lesson on Gallileo and come back.

    • Mislav Srečec

      "emerged in the enlightenment in contrast to the church, rather than because of it"

      The scientific boom that occurred during the enlightenment wasn't due to the metaphysical views of the 17th and 18th century but due to scientific endeavour which studied (and still does) nature. And the scientific endeavour wasn't somehow "liberated" from the oppression of the theological views because the theological views were not an are not in any conflict with the scientific ones, rather they are complementary one to another.

      And it's absurd to say "The Church has blood on it's hands", well of course it does, and so does every other state in the world that existed more than 1000 years. but no one is saying England is a horrible monstrosity and that no one should have anything to do with it, only because what the 19th and 18th century imperialists did. And that now somehow David Cameron has blood on his hands, but the analogy works more than often in case of the Church when people say "Oh look at that crusades". If I applied that logic I wouldn't have any foreign friends. So yeah, the anti-catholic bias is quite obvious in these sort of cases.

      The case of Galileo wasn't in conflict with the theological views, but with the fact that he couldn't prove his views and was inclined to use his theological views as an argument to justify and prove his scientific views, in fact he even refused to recognise the eliptic orbit theory because he found elipse to be aesthetically repugnant. Charles Darwin even found mathematics to be repugnant and didn't want to have anything to do with it, but today biology is impossible without the computational basis in algorithmic approach to solve huge puzzles in gene sequencing.

      • I think you and I agree for the most part. If you read my comment carefully you will see that I do not take the position that science was liberated from oppressive theological views. Nor do I say that the Catholic Church is a horrible monstrosity that should be spurned because of its oppression of heretical views. I suspect this may be the case, but I just don't know enough about the history.

        I am pointing out that the image of the Catholic Church being the champion of freedom and free inquiry throughout history is also an exaggeration.

        My reasons for rejecting Catholicism are based on my disbelief in its foundational assertions of the existence of a god, the resurection of Jesus and so on.

        • Mislav Srečec

          Yes I would agree that in metaphysical sense they were not champions of free thought, but I would also agree that neither were the secular leaders at the time. The reason behind this is that the metaphysical views in Christianity were (and still) are the foundation of human rights since the intrinsic value of human being wasn't universally recognised in any culture (Roman, Greek, etc) untill the Christians came, and thus the medieval laws were laid on the foundations of Christianity, so if anyone were to attack or disregard that foundation it would be a real problem for the secular leaders since their power relied on those laws. For example, the spanish inquisition wasn't organised by the Church, only approved by it. It was organised by the by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile and the reason behind that is the huge opression made by the arabs who invaded the Iberian peninsula not long before that. But regarding free thought, it's not entirely true that they wouldn't allow discussion and reasoning in metaphysics, in fact the first universities were established to discuss those aspects of human life. The problems were not the same from time to time, and due to those problems (invading arabs, ottomans etc...) the monarchs and especially popes who got to their position through nepotism which was present during the reign of certain popes who were in fact aristocrates grasping for power instead for God.

          In fact some Catholic theologians were corresponding with arabic ones, (there were certain articles on strangenotions some time before only I don't have the time to digg them up right now, Kalam argument for example), but a lot changed from time to time because of wars and invasions, so yeah, it's not a one sided truth there, it's mixed, and there's no absolute unique monochromatic truth regarding wether the Church opressed different metaphysical views or not, sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't, and the fact they didn't is that the Greek (pagan) philosophy was crucial to theological thinking at the time and still is.

          • Like I said, it is a mixed bag. I would disagree with the position that our current views on human rights are than significantly attributable to Christianity. Christianity arose in the 1st century, gained significant power in the fourth and fifth century, and was pervasive in all Europe and beyond by 1000. Human rights would not emerge for at least another 700 years and was often equally promoted by countries irrespective of faith. One could make a stronger argument that human rights arose because of atheistic communism. Unlike Christianity, I which here are a few verses about being created in Gods image and loving ones neighbour, the communism is expressly based on equality of all humans. Certainly both perspectives led to incredible abuses by leaders.

            I would also object to the idea of medievil secular leaders. There was no such thing, kings and queens ruled by divine right and were generally very religious as was virtually everyone. I don't have the historical background to debate the role of the clergy approving versus actively being involved in oppression and genocide, but I do know that its approach to the Cathars pretty much dispels the notion that the Catholic Church was anything like a champion of religious freedom and other human rights until much more recently.

          • Thomas J. Hennigan

            St. Thomas Aquinas hold that there are First Princiiples of speculative reasoning and of practical reasoning and nobody is free to reject them. These are for instance, the principle of non contadiction, of sufficient reason. Of course, Catholics.
            Regarding the Inquisition, yes it was estabished by the King and Queen of Spain, but was approved by the Pope. You have some historical errors in your comment, as the Arabs conquered Spain in 711 and they were finally expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. The Inquisition had little to do with muslims, only if some of those who remained had falsely converted to Christianity. At the time, it seemed to almost everyone that the unity of a nation required unity of religion. We canot retroproject back our ideas regarding separation of Church and State to those days. Now, there were excesses in the activity of the Inquisition and it even harassed saints like St. John of Avila and St. Teresa of Avila, but it was not the monster that most people think it was. The fact is that thanks to the Inquisition, Spain was able to avoid the terrible civil wars promoted btt he Protestants in France, Holland and Gemany and live a period called the "Goldlen Century", with its greatest writers and artists. Like everything human, it had some positive aspects and some negative, but it must be judged within the historical context of the time.

        • Thomas J. Hennigan

          What do you mean by "free inquiry"? Do you seriously think that such free inquiry really exists these days in many universities? I invite you to read N.T. Wright's exhaustive study on the Resurrection. You may be rejecting what you actually don't know. I assure you that this is an excellent study on the matter. Here is the Amazon link to volume III of it: https://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Christian-Origins-Question-Vol/dp/0800626796

          If you reject a creator of the universe, then you must have some other explanation and answer to the question: Why does something exist rather than nothing? Would it be mere chance? Then you have a baseless faith, which we call "fideism".

      • The_Bustle_in_Your_Hedgerow

        The Crusades were defensive wars. They were so much defensive wars that they're practically the definition of defensive wars. The video link I posted just a bit ago, and will post here again, explains all that (and it's not a Catholic video in any sense): https://youtu.be/t_Qpy0mXg8Y

        • Bones

          That guy's ridiculous. What was common to most crusades was the slaughter of Jews. Heck they didn't mind killing other Christians as well.

    • fergalf

      academic freedom? Where does that exist? We may false this concept today but we certainly don't practise what we preach. Universities are hotbeds of censorship.

    • D Blyth

      Read "The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society"

  • Kraker Jak

    My aim was to express admiration for the prodigious achievements that Catholicism and the Catholic Church deserve credit for—credit that is not often given to it due to deep-seated bias and firmly established myths.

    That statement I can agree with. However...the words "secular" and "muslim" to me are oxymorons. ( two words put next to each other with opposite meanings, eg: deafening silence. Are you identifying yourself as Muslim as only cultural?....and similar to Richard Dawkins admitting to claiming that although he does not believe in the supernatural elements of the Christian church, he still values the ceremonial side of religion.But I don't think that his nostagia would allow him to call himself a secular Christian per se.

    You have given birth to an overly verbose opinion piece IMHO, stating many if not most of the defences that Cathlolic apologists on here and elsewhere give as rationalizations for the importance, triumphalism and superiority of the Catholic Church above all other cultures and religions.

    This could not have been more impressive as a PR Ad for the Catholic Church than if it had been created by Dan Draper and Co.

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      I don't claim to speak for the author, but many times the word "secular" is meant in regard to policy, not personal belief. So a secular Muslim (or Christian, etc.) would have their own beliefs, but also support the separation of church and state, freedom of religion, etc.

      • Kraker Jak

        This penchant for reinventing, and redefining ourselves gets more interesting all the time.

        Why I Call Myself an 'Atheist Muslim'

        I describe myself as an "atheist Muslim," which drew the single most commonly asked question about the piece by both atheist and Muslim readers: "How can you be an atheist and a Muslim at the same time?


        • "This penchant for reinventing, and redefining ourselves gets more interesting all the time."

          Indeed, as atheists have redefined "atheism" to mean what for centuries has been known as "agnosticism."

          • William Davis

            Perhaps this is because atheists had no control over the definition of the word until recently...in fact I'm pretty certain this is the case.
            Many like to separate belief from knowledge. Most intelligent people admit to being agnostic in knowledge, but atheistic in belief. The difference between knowledge and belief can be subtle, but it's helpful to separate the two as major degrees of certainty (knowledge completely evidence based, belief the free interpretation of knowledge that is more intuitive than rational). Obviously an argument can ensue here if we disagree on epistemology.

          • Kraker Jak

            Many like to separate belief from knowledge. Most intelligent people admit to being agnostic in knowledge, but atheistic in belief.

            Well said. Cartoon....no intention of offending sensitive believers.If God exists he must have a sense of humor...after all he created us.

          • Doug Shaver

            atheists have redefined "atheism" to mean what for centuries has been known as "agnosticism."

            Less than two centuries. T.H. Huxley coined the word "agnostic" in 1869.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      "Secular" means only concern with worldly affairs. It does not mean either "atheist," "agnostic," or "humanist," for which we have perfectly serviceable words. Catholic priests who are not in monastic orders are called "secular priests," which often startles those who have invented new meanings for old words.

      • Kraker Jak

        The etymology of the word may all be very interesting from the viewpoint of a purist or someone obsessed with semantics such as yourself.

        I think the word today in the west has come to be associated and imbued with the following meaning for the average person.
        Secularism: indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations. Secularism: is the principle of the separation of government institutions and religion.

        One can refer to their religious upbringing as descriptive of their
        ethno cultural background. But I do think it is a tad confusing today to
        describe oneself as a Christian or a Muslim and in the same breath as
        secular. If one is a Christian or a Muslim, I don't think it accurate to
        describe oneself as both. An oxymoron in the same vein as a Christian
        or Muslim describing themselves as Atheist in the same breath.

  • Beautiful piece!

    When I was a 32 year-old secular Sikh, I too came to respect admire the Catholic Church for the same reasons, so much so, that on the day I read John 20:24-30 I fell to my knees at the same time, crying out, "My Lord and my God!". From that moment I knew I would be a Christian, and was baptized after completing an RCIA course.

    Tamer, to learn more in depth about Catholicism and what it teaches, I highly recommend that you take a free RCIA course at any Catholic Church.

    God bless.

    • The_Bustle_in_Your_Hedgerow

      Amen to that! Being an aware Catholic, though, I have to issue a warning about typical RCIA programs. The world has been beating up on the Church for centuries now, and it's made inroads since "the spirit of Vatican II" has prevailed. I urge new converts to "go all the way" and study much more deeply than the typical RCIA program allows. Many of the things you'll encounter at the typical RCIA program that aren't quite so can be explored on this page, an introduction to traditional Catholicism: http://www.fisheaters.com/traditionalcatholicism.html See the FishEaters site in general: http://www.fisheaters.com

  • the Catholic Church and Church Fathers did not suppress science, reason, and knowledge. Quite the opposite, in many cases they even encouraged the acquisition of secular learning and the pursuit of science

    The phrasing feels too loaded in pointing out that the Church did not always suppress science, but in many cases encouraged it. One could equally well phrase it that the Church did not always encourage science, but in many cases suppressed it. The two phrasings refer to the same history but give opposite impressions. It's a big, complicated history. The Church was big enough to do both things. We have to simplify the history to talk about it, but let's be consistent about the slant with which we simplify it.

    What is equally stunning is the importance medieval Catholic theologians and philosophers attached to human intellectual capacities, and their relentless pursuit to create a synthesis of reason and faith. In a nutshell, years of intensive research have made me respect and even admire the Catholic Church

    Why is the attempt to synthesize reason and faith admirable? I'd find it more admirable if they had found their way to cast off the shackles of faith and run freely along the many paths of reason.

    Like Erigena before him and many church figures after him, Gerbert of Aurrillac underlined the need to combine faith with learning, knowledge, and science. He is reported to have said that "[t]he just man lives by faith, but it is good that he should combine science with faith" and that “[t]he Divinity made a great gift to men in giving them faith while not denying them knowledge," adding that "those who do not possess it [knowledge] are called fools" (23). It is this profound commitment to reason that has made me admire Catholic philosophers and theologians.

    That commentary doesn't sound to me like a commitment to reason at all, let alone a profound one. The fed man lives by bread, but it is good to combine it with butter; the baker gave him bread and didn't deny him butter. Does that sound like a commitment to butter?

    But for a moment let me grant the premise that the medieval Catholic theologians and philosophers thought reason was awesome and essential. Even then, I'm not clear why that would make them admirable. It only means, after all, that they met the bare minimum for being remembered as a philosopher in the first place.

    The article gives an overview of several medieval arguments invented or repurposed by clever Catholic theologians and philosophers. I fully admit that the cleverness required to invent or repurpose them is impressive. But I'm not personally the sort to admire cleverly constructed error. I much more admire, say, Euclid, Eratosthenes, and Archimedes, and unknown ancient Babylonian mathematicians and scientists, who, long before the Church was imagined, made discoveries that have stood the test of time and whose works still contribute to engineering a better life for us.

  • Beverly Stevens

    Tamar, this is EXCELLENT. Please check us out at http://www.reginamag.com and contact us there. We would be pleased to reprint this essay in our Magazine.

  • William Davis

    I think it's great to see a Muslim speak highly of the Catholic Church. Now I'd like to see a Catholic speak highly of Islam (and yes I think there are some positive things about Islam in spite of Jihad. Almost nothing is all bad except for mosquitos and ticks...and I'm sure a biologist would argue about that).

    • Mr_Electability

      Almost nothing is all bad except for mosquitos and ticks...and I'm sure a biologist would argue about that).

      Actually, there are a few quotes in the Bible about that. ;-)


      ...and others.

      As for Catholics who speak well of Islam: would the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI do? I can find others if not.




      • William Davis

        Close enough :) Cooperation between faiths is a very positive sign to me.

      • William Davis

        I'm very glad the Church FINALLY figured this one out

        Part four speaks of the bond that ties the people of the 'New Covenant' (Christians) to Abraham's stock (Jews). It states that even though some Jewish authorities and those who followed them called for Jesus' death, the blame for this cannot be laid at the door of all those Jews present at that time, nor can the Jews in our time be held as guilty, thus repudiating an indiscriminate charge of Jewish deicide; 'the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God'. The Declaration also decries all displays of antisemitism made at any time by anyone.


        • Mr_Electability

          As am I, but don't read too much into it, either.


          • William Davis

            Of course, but one can't forget all of this.


            We can, however, forgive, and hope these mistakes are never repeated :)

          • Mr_Electability

            Yes, but... when I read this, I have to roll my eyes:

            Recent Bulls and Encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI that reinstate anti-Semitic prayers and Catholic societies do not augur well.

            They aren't anti-Semitic prayers; they're prayers that ask for the conversion of the Jews. There's a difference.

          • William Davis

            In the Jews mind their belief system and ethnicity are deeply connected. The conversion of a Jew to Catholicism would cause the subsequent generation of what would be Jews to now be Catholic...not Jews. It's probably fair to call this anti-semitism, but only in the cultural sense, not a genetic one (much better than previous versions of anti-semitism).
            I have no doubt that Catholics would be equally annoyed by serious attempts be Mormons or Jehovah's witnesses to convert their ranks. These efforts, and the efforts of atheists to "convert" Catholics can seriously be viewed as anti-Catholic. I'm sure you'd agree that the Protestant Reformation was seriously anti-Catholic. I'd file all these under freedom of speech and ideas, nothing close to immoral.

          • Mr_Electability

            I understand what you're saying, but as a Catholic convert who's dialogued (so to speak) on my doorstep with Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Baptist, and other missionaries, I disagree about the annoyance part. I'm much less annoyed about their targeting Catholics than about their troubling me when I'm in the middle of something. Then again, you might be right about the average, "cradle" Catholic.

            What's anti-Catholic, in my mind, are libels about, say, Catholicism being a form of sun-worship. Similarly, I would label as anti-Judaic or anti-Semitic (depending on the charge) Holocaust denials, libeling Jews as worshiping the devil, or claims Israel was behind 9/11. Sadly, there's some of that in Catholic history, too, even from high places.

          • The_Bustle_in_Your_Hedgerow

            With all due respect, you need to study the history of Jewish-Catholic relations in much more depth than you seem to have. A starting point for further explanation and "the rest of the story" you won't get from text books and the media: http://www.fisheaters.com/jcintro.html

          • Mr_Electability

            I lost interest after reading the phrase, "Jewish Bolshevik."

          • HoosiersH8ProgressiveRetards

            Good point.

            Here is another point: as a faithful Christian, I believe it is my duty to Witness and spread the Gospel...... And that it is the right if everyone who hears what I have to say to make their own decision, as did I, if they believe it. God gave us Free Will and I respect this.....I do not save souls or anyone. That is an individual choice and everyone has the right of self-determination WITHOUT force or external pressure, no exceptions. Why I love America and its founding principles.

            Do you beliebe Islam affords non-believers this same basic Free Will and self-determination?

          • William Davis

            In general Islam does not, and is probably the most problematic religion on the planet because of it's insistence on dogma. Christians have had their problems with dogma (so people of any ideology including progressives), and there are non-dogmatic Muslims. If I had my way, I'd prefer that Islam did not exist, but since I'm a realist I'll settle for secularizing (and removing dogma) Muslims. Treating secular Muslims fairly (not preferentially of course) can probably help that, while still protecting the freedom of speech of Muslim critics. The more people they murder for speaking freely, the louder we all should speak.

            With regard to military action in Muslim countries, the whole thing is a complicated mess and is a topic in and of itself.

          • HoosiersH8ProgressiveRetards

            I see your point and there is logic. However, I recently had a discussion with a fellow church member on this very subject. He was insistent that the 'Church', or really the Vatican and Popes, have committed atrocities paralleling recent Islamic terrorism. I couldn't disagree more. My view is that those who have murdered in the name of God and Christ, or at the edict of any given Pope, and let's face it, there have been many evil Popes, are APOSTATES and are NOT Christians. I find nowhere in Scripture or the Teachings of Jesus to murder, enslave, tax or exile non-believers. In fact, Jesus is quite clear in stating that those who commit evil in his name are hypocrites and he will deny them to the Father.

            Now, the Quran AND Muhammad specifically DO call for forced conversion (by Jihad) of all non-believers....by taxing, enslaving, exiling or killing.

            So, according to their writings, Jews and Christians are prohibited from 'murdering' although self-defense killing is permitted while Muslims are encouraged to enslave, tax, exile or murder all non-believers.

            Christians are called to preach, but refrain from forcing their views as God gave us Free Will and only an individual can freely choose Jesus.

            Muslims are called to preach, but are also called to force Islam on all non-believers.

            This is why I can honestly state that any Constitutional Republic should ban Islam, as its primary goal is the eradication of our Constitution and Freedoms.

          • William Davis

            I think a ban would be misguided and in direct violation of the principles of freedom of religion. I truly believe our reaction to Islam is a greater threat to freedom than Islam itself. I've dealt with well educated Muslims here in the U.S. and they are mostly like everyone else, and much of what we call terrorism today is a reaction to U.S. meddling in the middle east. Of course, we had good reason to meddle (google the Carter doctrine) as the Soviets tried to move in on the region first (obviously after all the oil). The idea that the CIA directly trained an supported Osama in the beginning is quite plausible, though somewhat disputed (obviously the CIA is has serious incentive to downplay it).


            Put yourself in their shoes for a second. If Muslims had had their military overthrowing our governments, bombing our cities, and meddling in our affairs for over 40 years...how would you react? This is by no mean an attempt to excuse their behavior (obviously terrorism results in renewed efforts to meddle in their affairs) but an attempt to understand the causation behind it. One of Osama's stated goals is to bankrupt the U.S. Look at our deficit and the cost of all this meddling. Are we actually falling into a trap with all this? There are many meta levels to this issue that don't get talked about in the political realm, but very relevant to the subject.


            Besides, look at the ability of secular education to cause Christians to reject their religion (or at least believe in water downed versions). I'm willing to bet you're smart enough not to believe in demon possession, though poorly educated Catholics in South American countries aren't educated enough to dismiss this somewhat dangerous idea. No reason to think this won't apply to Islam.

            All that said, I definitely view Christianity as a far superior religion to Islam, but I'm also fond of Buddhism. Saying Christianity was just as bad historically as Islam is simply false.

          • HoosiersH8ProgressiveRetards

            Unfortunately, we must disagree on this subject. I see Islam/Quaran, in its entirety, as a threat to not only my Christianity, but to every American Bill of Right Freedom.

            Let me ask you a question: do American Freedoms exist, and I mean, truly exist, in any country with a Muslim population exceeding 51% up to true Islamic Republics like Saudi Arabia and Iran?

            Saudi Arabia
            Western Sahara

            All these are Islamic Republics, with Muslim populations exceeding 85%. With the exception of a few of these countries, Homosexuals, Liberals, Christians, Jews and anyone who does not follow Islam are persecuted: churches burned, beheaded, taxed, property illegally seized, exiled.

            What happens when any Western Nation becomes 51% plus Muslim? Look at the facts. Democracy is scrapped. Christianity and Judaism are suppressed and eradicated..... people are murdered for no other reason but that they choose NOT to believe in Muhammad or the Quran.

            Show me where this is happening in any Western nation that is Christian? You can't.

            Ergo, I don't believe in a 'Peaceful Muslim' because the very writing they hold sacred INSTRUCT them to not only preach to me, to share their faith, but that they are required to FORCE my conversion if I am unwilling and if I speak ILL or their Prophet or draw a picture of him, are to wage Jihad on me and MURDER me.

            So all your 'Peaceful Muslim' is ....... is a Muslim who is not really Muslim, just as a Christian or Jew who doesn't actually believe in their hearts and follow the teachings of the Bible or Talmud/Torah are 'lukewarm'.

            America meddles because if we don't, nobody else will. If America had not fought Communism, who would have? If America had not fought oppression, who would have? If America had not stepped into the Serbia/Croatia genocide because the UN balked, who would have?

            America meddles because there is evil in this world and the less we meddle the move evil spreads.

            Just to be clear: I hate Islam and I detest all Muslims. I will not allow a Muslim in my house or on my property as I will not allow anyone who means to deny me my God Given Freedoms.

            Islam and Muslims intend, in the end, to deny me my right to worship and follow Jesus Christ. I will not Tolerate those who are Intolerant of my.

            I too am fond of Buddhism, because it is a philosophy and not a religion per se...... nothing wrong with trying to reach enlightenment and Nirvana through self-sacrifice. But even if I didn't appreciate or like Buddhism, as a Christian, I would NEVER prevent you from believing Buddhism.....

            Can you say the same about Islam/Muslims.....as based on their QURAN?

  • GuineaPigDan .

    Like many theologians of his time, Aquinas advocated the unfettered and free pursuit of knowledge. It is incumbent on human beings to pursue
    knowledge wherever it leads because it reveals God's design and enhances
    man's knowledge of Him.

    Can Aquinas really be said to have been an advocate for "unfettered and free pursuit of knowledge" when he was also an advocate for putting unrepentant heretics to death? http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3011.htm#article3 " That sounds more in line with ISIS than the enlightenment.

  • filiusdextris

    Most excellent. One you missed was Ramon Llull from Mallorca (Spain), who studied Jewish and Muslim sources, and thoroughly explored all the sciences.

  • Zachary Goldberg

    Brilliantly written.

  • Thanks for the article. As a non-Catholic myself, there are many things I deeply admire about the Catholic Church. Its art, respect for intellectual pursuits, involvement in science, especially astronomy, and most of all its charity work throughout the world.

    I'm not Catholic because I don't think it's the true church.

    If you believe what Jesus said about himself, and think the Catholic Church is truly his Church, no further reason will be necessary. If you don't believe, no further reason will be sufficient.

    I don't believe. Therefore I will admire Catholicism from a safe distance.

    • Ladolcevipera

      I am a non-believer but a cultural christian. What would be your definition of "a true church"?

      • If Jesus was who he said and if Jesus wanted there to be a church, then the true church is the church where Jesus is a member.

        • Ladolcevipera

          The IF says it all...

          • The_Bustle_in_Your_Hedgerow

            Not sure which premises you'd accept, but the Gospel of Matthew clearly says that Christ set up a Church and that he did so on the "rock" of St. Peter, who went to Rome, whose bones are buried in the Vatican, and whose successor was Linus, followed by Anacletus, followed by Clement, etc., until you get to the present day Pope. See the list of Popes, going all the way back to St. Peter, here: http://www.fisheaters.com/popelist.html

  • lifeknight

    Anyone who write that extensively about the Faith, SHOULD be Catholic! Stranger things have happened!

    • William Davis

      People almost always follow the religion of their upbringing, even if they do study other religions. It's largely a cultural phenomena and free will has little to do with it (except for relatively rare occasions).

  • Andres Remek

    Anyone who thinks the author is exagerating should read "How the Chruch Build Western Civilization" by Thomas Wood.

  • scragsma

    One major and currently significant omission: You fail to mention that it was a Catholic priest who formulated the "Big Bang Theory" in the early 20th century!

    • LaDolceVipera

      You fail to mention that he was a Belgian priest. His name is Georges Lemaître. He studied and started his career at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven/Université Catholique de Louvain i.e. my Alma Mater (sorry for the Latin).

  • NoreenD

    Exactly what does it mean to be a secular Muslim? Please excuse my ignorance but I thought to be a Muslim meant you were religious.

  • The_Bustle_in_Your_Hedgerow

    Bless you for writing an honest article. Me, I'm Catholic so, of course, pray that the Holy Ghost works in you and brings you to all Truth. I'm going to post a link here, and I do so with some trepidation in that I SO don't want to offend you, given that you describe yourself as a "secular Musim" (though I have to admit to being puzzled by that phrase). In any case, this video will fill in some of the blanks with regard to the so-called "Dark Ages": https://youtu.be/t_Qpy0mXg8Y It's not the sort of video most Muslims would want to watch, but I pray you do and that you spread it around. God bless you in any case. It's obvious that no matter what your faith, or lack thereof, you've got plenty of natural virtue working for you.

  • Szebran

    Regardless of the criticism U've received - good article. Its all about having an open mind.

  • dippu dixit

    Aquinas talks about philosophy as proving the perambulate fide, which make it easier for the mind to accept those things put forth in revelation for belief.


  • Persuasive

    Would that such an article be made a must read for every student entering any college or university, so that their future studies might be the better served by a willingness to study deeper than their professed major.

  • sparrowhawk58

    This article is a breath of fresh air. Thank you, Tamer Nashef! May God bless you!

  • Capt. Rosslyn V. Crasto

    All "Arabic Inventions & Discoveries" actually ORIGINATED from my Beloved Country: INDIA, an ANCIENT & HIGHLY ADVANCED CIVILIZATION, whose ancient Holy Texts the Holy Vedas, Holy Puranas & Holy Upanishads contributed immense knowledge & scientific value to the world.
    Arab Traders who regularly traded with India in the 1st to 10th centuries, carried this knowledge to the West & passed it off as their own !!!
    It has been said & proved that even the Greek Mathematician, Philosopher & Scholar: PYTHAGORAS, had VISITED INDIA whence he "acquired" his world-famous "Pythagoras Theorem" from an Indian Mathematician !!!

    • R0r1xJHYbe

      Sources please? And don't worry, the Indians are not entirely discredited. Just as an example, the numbers we use today are Indo-Arabic numerals.

  • D Blyth
  • pnmnm

    It should be mentioned that Bishop Nicolaus Steno, the father modern geology, was beatified in 1988.

  • Heyyou

    I wish they would have mention a fraction of this in Seth MacFarlane's Cosmos series. His anti-religious beliefs wouldn't let him though

  • JustARationalGuy

    "I am a secular Muslim..."

    No such thing.

    "and an avid reader of philosophy and history with an unswerving commitment to the unmitigated truth no matter where it is even, nay especially, if it runs counter to commonly held beliefs."

    I doubt that.

    I think you are like almost everyone on planet Earth, and you would rather die than rethink. I believe that you have no loyalty to unbiased facts and the truth that they point towards. In a short while, I am going to expose you to some harsh facts. And ultimately, deep down, you will know that you do not want to face those facts and the truth.

    If you are not afraid of such a thing, then I am going to put that “unswerving commitment to the unmitigated truth” to the ultimate test now…

    You are NOT a muslim! You are NOT a follower of muhammed! You never were. You are BETTER than muhammed.

    “Obey allah and obey the messenger [muhammed]…” quran 4:59.

    Tell me, how many times does one have to have sex with a nine year old girl, in order be called a pedophile? Three times? Four? The first five times is okay, but then on the sixth, the cops kick-in your door?

    No, the answer is once, and only once.

    Book 008, Number 3311:

    'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) married her when she was seven years old, and he was taken to his house as a bride when she was nine, and her dolls were with her; and when he (the Holy Prophet) died she was eighteen years old.


    Why would you follow a man who did such a thing? Yes, other men at the time did similar, but none of those men are claiming to be the model for all humanity to follow. muhammed deserves your loyalty about as much as any other sicko who is incarcerated for child molestation.

    Not to mention, that if a time came along when such actions were deemed reprehensible by people, wouldn’t that point to the fact that muhammed was not “the perfect man” who should be emulated by all people? Wouldn’t his god know that such actions would one day get him into trouble, and upset the status quo by stopping such a practice?

    muhammed also had people executed for insulting him. This “perfect man” had very thin skin. That is not the actions of a prophet of Almighty God, that is the action of a horrible narcissist.

    March 624: Al-Nadr bin al-Harith

    March 624: Uqba bin Abu Muayt

    March 624:Asma bint Marwan

    April 624: Abu Afak

    Those are just SOME of the names of the artists and poets that muhammed had executed for insulting him.


    Tell me, what other prophet of God executed people for insulting them? Is that an appropriate reaction to words? You are a civilized man, violence should be the LAST resort. muhammed was not a civilized man, violence was his FIRST resort.

    “Sticks and stones make break my bones, but words will never hurt me…” is found nowhere in islamic thought.

    The religion that muhammed founded CANNOT be true. If it were true, then it would be self-evident, and leaving islam would NOT carry the death penalty.

    Volume 4, Book 52, Number 260:

    Narrated Ikrima:

    Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn 'Abbas, who said, "Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, 'Don't punish (anybody) with Allah's Punishment.' No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.'


    islam is the ONLY religion in human history that carries the death penalty for leaving it. The Westboro Baptist Church, if one leaves it, one will be shunned. Effectively, you will be left alone to live your life the way you see fit until you die of old age. In islam, if you leave, your life is now forfeit. Ergo, the Westboro Baptist Church, with their signs that read “God Hates Fags” is BETTER than the religion that muhammed founded. You are a part of a religion that makes the Westboro Baptist Church look GOOD. Think about that!

    If your religion, whatever that may be, is true, then you should be able to use logic and reason to bring someone back to it. Violence should never enter the equation. Killing a person who leaves an organization is the action of a violent street gang, and that is what muhammed was the leader of.

    Every other prophet of God affirmed the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Murder“, muhammed is the only one who commanded that it be done.

    muhammed and his earliest followers can best be described as a violent gang.

    “So enjoy what you have gotten of booty in war, lawful and good…” quran 8:69. Every other prophet of Almighty God affirmed the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” muhammed (and his god allah) is the only one who affirms that theft is a good thing.

    That is what groups of outlaws do, not a prophet of god.

    If you really are a muslim, you are following a false prophet.

    I assert you are not even a muslim!

    I assert that you are better than muhammed. You have never slept with a nine year old girl. You have never killed anyone for insulting you. You have never stolen from anyone you’ve killed. You’ve never enslaved women as sex-slaves.

    If you really have an “unswerving commitment to the unmitigated truth” then look at muhammed. Look at his actions and the facts of his lift as they are recorded in the quran, the hadith and the sira.

    Do you really wish to follow such a man? muhammed has no claim on you. You own muhammed no more loyalty than any random murderer, pedophile, or gang-leader in prison.

    Leave his cult.

  • AlexD


  • John Common

    The Church of the Middle Ages also pioneered what we today would call charity and social justice. Wealth was distributed to the poor, and hospitals were set up. St. Thomas Aquinas' natural law theory, following Aristotle, sets the intellectual foundation for a human politics based on reason and justice rather than on the will of an emperor or warlord. This is the Western notion of politics that has never really dawned upon the East - the Eastern Orthodox Christians, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Confucian peoples, are all used to politics based primarily on submission to a leader.

  • I'm a Catholic from Baptism and have strived most of my adult life to learn all I can about the teachings of The Church. Good to learn more than I thought I could from a non-Catholic. Thanks!

  • I think this is an interesting article. I had just been reading earlier how Catholics appreciate both faith and reason, both religion and science, and how reason can lead to faith. I think it's interesting to look at the intellectual tradition. The monkey on my back with this article though was that the author isn't a Catholic, but a secular Muslim (which I've never heard of before, but I'll allow it) and what kept going through my mind was, "Doesn't that mean, as much as he might admire certain intellectual history of the Church, he ultimately finds some of its arguments lacking?" Since he doesn't come off as having an anti-Catholic bias, it seems that the only reason he wouldn't believe it is that he finds it untrue. My instinct is to assume this article is more to say that Catholicism isn't anti-science or anti-reason than to demonstrate that it is true. But it just bugged me a little to wonder *why* he wasn't Catholic then.

  • Thomas J. Hennigan

    There is a glaring ommission, and that is St.Augustine. who was the undisputed Master of all the Medieval scholars. It is impossible to exaggerate his importance. Likewise, St. Isidore of Seville is of enormous importance, as he preserved in his Etymoogies much of the knowledge accumulated in the Greco-Roman world. For this reason, there has been a movement in the Church to name him patron of the Internet, but I am not sure if that has happened or not. It does seem to be a good choice. There are some chronological incongruities. Abelard is mentioned later than 13th century scholars, when he lived in the 12th century.

  • PuerDeiDeploribus

    If this secular muslim really has an "unswerving commitment to the unmitigated truth no matter where it is even, nay especially, if it runs counter to commonly held beliefs." then why would he remain in error and NOT convert to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith?

    The goal of mohametism is jihad. It doesn't matter to them HOW or WHAT they must do to achieve it. Anything goes - sin, terror, injustice. Anyone who understands mohametism knows this.

  • romgtr .

    Mr. Nashef, thank you for writing such and thoughtful and fair analysis of the Catholic Church. Out of curiosity why do you believe that Islam is the true religion as compared to others? Thank you.

  • Nerd Power2000

    You admire christianity as a muslim i just have to say.... r u real:(