Abbé Henri Breuil, “Father of Prehistory”

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Abbé Henri Breuil studying the collections of the Moravian Museum in 1923. Photo: Archives of the Anthropos Institute, Moravian Museum.

Abbé Henri Breuil (28 February 1877 – 14 August 1961) was a French Catholic priest, archaeologist and paleontologist, sometimes called “Father of Prehistory” and famous for his studies of prehistoric cave art. He was the first to record the first cave art discovered in the Dordogne region in France in 1901 and 1902. He authenticated them as late Paleolithic (Magdalenian) and then copied the images, engraved onto the wall.

He was also the first to render color illustrations from the paintings in the Altamira caves (near Santander, Spain), presented to the public in 1906. The paintings in the cave had been discovered already in 1879, but the archaeological community considered them as forgery. Only in 1902, it was finally realized, that the Altamira cave paintings were genuine and the earliest paleolithic cave paintings. 

Through his recording of the details of such art he was able to develop a system, which has continued to be useful, to analyze the styles of art and the time periods in which they were produced, as well as interpret the meaning underlying the images. His imaginative writings, combined with beautiful illustrations, inspired readers and were instrumental in bringing the art of ancient peoples to the attention of the world.

Double-page spread from the Illustrated London News, showing eight Breuil drawings of animal paintings at Altamira, 1912 (Linda Hall Library)

Among his many important contributions to the field was a system of classification and chronology that he assigned to objects of art from the Ice Age. In particular, his paper “Les Subdivisions du Paléolithique supérieur et leur signification” (1912; “The Subdivisions of the Upper Paleolithic and Their Meaning”) established for the period a classification system that is of enduring value.

In 1940, the Lascaux caves were discovered and Abbé Breuil was asked to visit and investigate. He provided a summary description of the paintings, working there in 1940, and again in 1949 and following years.

Abbé Breuil also was a good friend and mentor of Dorothy Garrod.

Figures:

Portrait: Upload by Petr Kostrhun in: Karel Absolon (1877-1960) and the research of signigicant Paleolothic sites in Moravia

Cave paintings: Linda Hall, Henri Breuil

René Laënnec: Faith and the Stethoscope

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The stethoscope is the most recognisable of all pieces of medical equipment, and is identifiable by even the smallest children as being representative of a doctor. Its inventor René Théophile Hyacinthe Laënnec (17 February 1781 – 13 August 1826) was born in 1781 in France and studied medicine under his physician uncle in Nantes until he was called to serve as a medical cadet in the French Revolution. He was revered as an excellent student after he resumed his studies in Paris in 1801 and began working in the Necker Hospital once the French monarchy had been reestablished in 1815.

Late in 1816, while examining a patient suffering complications of the heart, René Laennec’s memory of a stroll taken months prior came rushing back. Walking the courtyard of the Louvre that day, he observed two children playing with a long stick–one scraped it with a pin while the other listened giddily to the amplified sound on the other end.

Recalling this, Laennec rolled up a piece of paper and pressed it to his patient’s chest. The beating of her heart was suddenly audible and clear, and the stethoscope–an innovation that would fundamentally change the detection and diagnosis of lung and heart problems–was born.

After several prototypes, he settled on an instrument that resembled a long, wooden tube. Using his invention, Laennec continued his research on sound in diagnostic medicine.

 It is said that Laennec ‘was intensely religious and was a devout Catholic all his life.’ He was noted as a very kind man and his charity to the poor became proverbial. Austin Flint, the 1884 president of the American Medical Association, said that ‘Laennec’s life affords a striking instance among others disproving the vulgar error that the pursuit of science is unfavourable to religious faith.’

In Sir John Forbes’ translation of a French biography, it was written:

“Laennec was a man of the greatest probity, habitually observant of his religious and social duties. He was a sincere Christian, and a good Catholic, adhering to his religion and his church through good report and bad report. ‘His death’ (says M. Bayle) ‘was that of a Christian. Supported by the hope of a better life, prepared by the constant practice of virtue, he saw his end approach with composure and resignation. His religious principles, imbibed with his earliest knowledge, were strengthened by the conviction of his more mature reason. He took no pains to conceal them when they were disadvantageous to his worldly interests; and he made no boast of them, when their avowal might have been a title to favour and advancement.’” — A treatise on the diseases of the chest and on mediate auscultation (1819), Translation John Forbes (1835).

Sources:
wikipedia

Google Doodle Jean Laennec, 17 February 2016

Franco Rasetti: A clear NO to the Manhattan project on nuclear weapons

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Franco Rasetti (10 August 1901 – 05 December 2001) started his career as a physicist in Pisa and then in Rome since 1927, where he was called by Orso Maria Corbino to be a member of the famous Via Panisperna group led by Enrico Fermi. Along with Enrico Fermi, he played a key role in the rebirth of Italian physics in the 1920s and 1930s. He became professor of physics at Rome in 1934. He was one of the original members of our Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which were nominated on the occasion of its re-foundation in 1936. Five years later, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Rasetti was invited to join the faculty of Laval University in Quebec, where he taught, did research on cosmic rays, and founded the university’s first department of physics. A born naturalist and outdoorsman, Rasetti took up geology and paleontology while in Quebec. In 1947, he accepted a position as professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University, where he remained until 1970, returning afterwards to Italy. He started on his botanical studies (Alpine flowers and Italian orchids) while he was at Johns Hopkins. He wrote ”Elements of Nuclear Physics” (1936), ”Middle Cambrian Stratigraphy and Faunas of the Canadian Rocky Mountains” (1951), ”The Flowers of the Alps” (1980) and many articles on physics, geology and paleontology. He died in Waremme, Belgium at the age of 100. The Nature obituary noted that Rasetti was one of the most prolific generalists whose work and writing are noted for the elegance, simplicity and beauty.

Rasetti refused to take part in the nuclear weapon program, an example which was not followed by many of his contemporaries. He wrote of his decision:

“Discovering the secrets of nature is among the most fascinating things that one can do, but I must say the most fascinating is also the most perilous. Men have to ask themselves about their motivations in their hearts. And scientists don’t do that very often.”

Sources:
Watkins, Mel. “In Praise of Those Who Would Not Build the Bomb.” Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2011, p.21

Rowan Williams on God’s action in Creation

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“If God is truly the source, the ground and context of every limited, finite state of affairs, if God is the action or agency that makes everything else active, then God cannot be spoken of as one item in a list of forces active in the world. God’s action cannot be added to the action of some other agent in order to make a more effective force. And this also means that God’s action is never in competition with any particular activity inside the universe.”

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury,
“Christ in the Heart of Creation”(2018), p.xii

Source: John ZuHone, Moon Mission, Orbiter Mag, 09 July 2019

Scientists reflect on their faith (IX)

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Gayle Woloschak, born in the United States in 1955, is a lecturer in Radiation-Oncology, Radiology and Molecular Biology at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University in Chicago, and adjunct professor of Religion and Sciences at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and at the Pittsburgh Institute of Theology. A scientist of world renown, she directs a research laboratory. Orthodox and an expert in bioethics, she is interested above all in biological evolution, stem cell research and ecology. From 2014 to 2016 she was President of the Orthodox Theological Society in the United States and is currently Vice-President of the Zygon Centre for Religion and Science.

Read the interview in the Osservatorio Romano.

Karl Popper: Science, Ethical Principles and Truth

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karl popperKarl Popper (28 July 1902 Vienna – 17 September 1994 London)  was an Austrian-British philosopher.

 

Searching for truth is a most relevant human value, central to the scientific enterprise. Speaking against scientism, Popper says:

“The fact that science cannot make any pronouncement about ethical principles has been misinterpreted as indicating that there are no such principles; while in fact the search for truth presupposes ethics.” [1]

This is very important. Empirical science is meaningful above all as a search for truth, and this is a central ethical value in human life. The term “truth” is one of the most frequently used in the encyclical Fides et ratio ; in the English text it appears 365 times (without counting terms derived from truth). Pope John Paul II, in a few words full of philosophical meaning, writes: “One may define the human being, therefore, as the one who seeks the truth.” (Fides et ratio, no.28)

taken from: Mariano Artigas, The Mind of the Universe – Understanding Science and Religion, 2002

karl popper 2

Reference:

[1] Sir Karl Popper, Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind. In: “Evolutionary Epistemology, Rationality, and the Sociology of Knowledge.” (eds: Radnitzky, G. et Bartley III, W.W.; La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing, 1987), p. 141.