Giordano Bruno, meet Leo Tolstoy

If there is any such thing as a work that should end all debates on a subject, Heaven and Earth by Ian Plimer, emeritus professor of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne, is it.

Plimer’s brilliant book shows the global warming activism for the politicised scam it really is. Densely packed with analysis of multiple disciplines, the book proves the nonexistent scientific basis for just about every faddish claim, certainly one about the vital role of carbon dioxide as a driver of climate change.

However, my admiration for the book is diminished by Prof Plimer’s forays into areas outside his vast expertise. One of them is economics, where the author attaches too much importance to his speciality.

It’s true that there may be an historical correlation between warm interglacial periods and prosperity. However, as Prof Plimer himself states often and correctly, correlation doesn’t mean causality.

It’s not only earth scientists but also economists who must draw on a raft of diverse data to be entirely credible. Overstressing just one factor, in this case climate, at the expense of others, is as unsound in economics as singling out carbon dioxide is unsound in Prof Plimer’s chosen field.

That, however, is a minor gripe. The major one involves Prof. Plimer describing global warming as a secular, atheist religion.

By itself, this comparison is unobjectionable, provided it’s made casually and left at that. Alas, Prof Plimer doesn’t leave it at that. He uses the parallel to bring up that old chestnut about science and religion being incompatible.

When I got to those passages, and there are many of them, I felt sad, even though Prof. Plimer thereby confirmed my lifelong observation that, whenever even extremely intelligent atheists start talking about religion, they can’t avoid sounding silly, ignorant or both.

Entering this field, Prof. Plimer displays all the same failings for which he so convincingly lacerates global warming fanatics: negligent treatment of facts, ignoring information that contradicts one’s pet beliefs, barely concealed emotional afflatus.

Someone who wishes to malign the Church as a mortal enemy of science, has to drag in some putative martyrs. Giordano Bruno has to lead the way, what with the secure niche he has carved for himself in atheist mythology.

Hence Prof Plimer writes: “In 1600, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for supporting the Copernican theory of a Sun-centred universe.” One wishes he had brought to this topic the same analytical acuteness and breadth of knowledge he so amply displays throughout the book.

For Bruno wasn’t, nor could have been, immolated for that reason. In 1593-1600, the years of his lengthy trial, the Church had no official position on the heliocentric theory, and it was certainly not regarded as a heresy.

Bruno was indeed burned as a heretic, but that had nothing to do with Copernicus. In fact, both his heretical teachings and the arrogant, intolerant manner in which he preached them were eerily similar to those of Leo Tolstoy 300 years later.

Like Tolstoy, Bruno attacked, viciously and rudely, not only the Catholic Church, but every Christian doctrine, without which Christianity simply wouldn’t have existed.

Bruno denied the divinity of Christ, the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity. He rejected both Transubstantiation and the Eucharist. Christ to Bruno wasn’t God but simply a clever magician. He mocked the virginity of Mary, although he stopped short of Tolstoy’s claim that she conceived her son in an adulterous relationship.

Bruno’s theology tended towards Hermeticism, Gnosticism and pantheism, with a good dollop of vaguely Eastern beliefs, such as metempsychosis, transmigration of the soul into a new body of the same or different species. Tolstoy, in common with many Western atheists, also gravitated towards Eastern tenets, although not all the same ones.

Unlike Tolstoy, however, Bruno wasn’t a writer of genius. In his book The Torchbearer he attempted a satire but achieved nothing but obscenity. Hence, also unlike Tolstoy, he didn’t enjoy the protective cocoon of worldwide renown.

Therefore, if Tolstoy could get away with doctrinaire rudeness, obtuse dogmatism and violence towards those who dared disagree with him, Bruno couldn’t. That’s why, when he first left Italy in the 1580s, he failed to gain academic positions at a number of European universities, including Marburg and Oxford.

Having been rejected at the latter, Bruno wrote a vindictive pamphlet in which he claimed that Oxford professors knew more about beer than their academic fields. In this at least he showed prophetic powers, anticipating the developments of much later vintage.

In short, Bruno wasn’t the martyr of science he is often portrayed to be by atheists, including, alas, such otherwise brilliant ones as Prof Plimer. Bruno was an out-and-out heretic, much as Tolstoy was in his time.

That Bruno was burned at the stake, while Tolstoy got away with mere excommunication, had to do with the difference in their reputations, achievements (towering in Tolstoy’s case, negligible in Bruno’s) and above all their times.

In Bruno’s time the Church was reeling from the blows delivered first by Renaissance humanism and then by the Reformation. It had to stamp out heresy within its ranks if it was to survive, and so it tried.

In that the Church displayed much less murderous cruelty than is claimed by its enemies. The Spanish Inquisition, for example, was responsible for only about 3,000 executions during the 400 years it was in business – a trivial number by the standards of the enlightened 20th century, even its average month.

Tolstoy, by contrast, lived at a time when secularism had vanquished and, according to Nietzsche, God had died – meaning that educated, or rather semi-educated, people no longer believed in him. Also, Tolstoy’s deserved popularity as a great writer and an undeserved one as a great thinker explain why the Russian (or for that matter any other) Church was in no position to impose a serious punishment for heresy.

I just hope that scientists who, like Prof Plimer, fight against global warming activism will go unpunished and indeed praised for their courage and integrity. I only wish he concentrated his formidable intellect in the areas of his expertise.  

5 thoughts on “Giordano Bruno, meet Leo Tolstoy”

  1. Even if manmade global warming theories correct, the planet earth has a built-in self-regulating mechanism sustaining life forms. Never too hot, never too cold.

    Normal temperatures as we understand them today only existing for the last 20 million years or so. Give a tad here and there. For the rest of the last 530 million years the temperatures at least 10 C. higher, give a tad here and there also. With oxygen and CO2 levels higher also.

  2. Back in the ‘80’s I assisted with some scientists to organise what should have been a rational debate at Newcastle University (Aust.) to discuss purposeful creation verses the atheists viewpoint. Prof. Plimer was the president of the Atheists Foundation of Australia and was very willing to represent them.
    The speaker for creation started, with the grand picture of the universe, by stating how the second law of thermodynamics supports deliberate creation and does not support atheist beliefs of a spontaneous energy, and having the chaos directing such raw energy into maintaining and increasing complexity.
    Plimer interrupted and said (I kid you not), “but don’t you play with little boys?” to the howls of laughter and “give it to ‘em” from his students encouraging his rudeness. This was the descent into chaos!
    When Plimer’s turn came, he simply dismissed the night by saying, “we know the science, evolution is proven and I don’t know why I’m wasting my time here”. Not long after he wrote the book ‘Telling Lies for God’.

    1. Yes, quite. When an otherwise intelligent man takes on God, the man’s reason is always the first casualty. I have among my close friends some atheists who are capable of cogent and even subtle thought on every subject. However, when they try to support their atheism with arguments, they sound like schoolboys with learning difficulties. Plimer is another example of that, and there are many.

      1. The odd thing with people like that is just how often many are so adamant about their viewpoint being the only one that makes sense. Often this borders on being an obsession as with, say, Dawkins.
        I think your mention of schoolboys is very apt because none of them seems to have gone beyond the Bible stories they were taught at junior school. Of course, younger people probably never got even that far.

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