Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A reader has kindly pointed out an attempted rebuttal to one of my articles about the Jesus Myth on Bede's Library. It is written by one Dan Schneider of whom I know nothing. However, as he seems to take Acharya S seriously, I don't think I need to say very much...

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

A combination of having to hand in a substantial piece for work for my PhD and feeling a bit under the weather with a throat bug has meant my entries here have become rather thin on the ground. I hope normal service will be resumed shortly.

I've finished Hooykaas's Religion and the Rise of Modern Science. It is a very interesting read but one that does not quite have the detail required to prove its central thesis - that Christianity helped the development of modern science. Certainly, it is clear that it has not had the widespread influence that might have been expected for such a ground breaking book. Published in 1972, it is based on a series of lectures delivered by Hooykaas at Edinburgh in 1969. The first four chapters deal with a specific metaphysical aspect of science that was affected by religion and the fifth covers the question of puritanism and science. The first four chapters all contrast the Christian attitude to that of other religions and suggest that it was the Christian view that was most conducive to science.

Chapter one covers the relationship between God and nature. It suggests how the Greek view of nature as organic and autonomous meant that its study was handicapped. The mechanistic model, so fruitful in the early modern period, depended on being able to point to a mechanic who had built the thing. Thus Christianity, believing that nature was a created artifact, provided a suitable metaphysical background.

Chapter two contrasts empiricism with rationalism. The Greeks, especially Aristotle, indulged in the later. They were determined that nature had to act in the rational way that made sense to them, without thinking that they also needed to look at the real world to determine what was really going on. Aristotle engaged in plenty of observation but nothing that could be called experiment. In contrast, Christians accepted that the God who created nature had the freedom to do what he liked. He was not restricted by what men thought was sensible. Thus, they realized that they had to study the real world and this led to real experiment.

Chapter three is entitled Nature and Art. Hooykaas shows how the ancients thought art should only imitate nature and man could not fundamentally change anything. In contrast, Christians like Sir Francis Bacon, said that man was not tied down by nature and could go further. Despite the Fall, man still has a spark of the divine in him that allows him to create art that overhauled nature and improved on it.

In chapter four, Hooykaas argues that ancient antipathy towards manual work prevented an experimental philosophy from taking root. Because the Bible had a much more positive attitude towards manual labour, Christians were more willing to use their hands and thus philosophers did experiments themselves.

Chapter five is intended as a support to the Merton hypothesis on puritanism and science. Robert Merton had argued in 1938 that puritans had specific attitudes towards science and against authority that meant that the new philosophy was particularly well regarded among them. The thesis has been much criticised, not least due to the difficulty to defining a puritan. Hooykaas runs to Merton's defence with a host of examples. He also explains the problems of using seventeenth century polemic as the basis for undermining Merton, which is ironic because that was one of the central criticisms of Merton's own work.

In all, this is a very worthwhile and fruitful book that more sets the framework for future research than actually proves the case itself. Unfortunately, no one has seen fit to pick up the gauntlet.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Monday, June 20, 2005

My web provider has screwed up and caused all emails since last Friday to be deleted without my seeing them. Most were spam but if you sent an email to bede@bede.org.uk between Friday and Monday, then please resend it as I will not have received the original. Sorry about this. I am finding it very hard to locate a web provider that works.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

An apology. My post on the top ten anti-Christian myths also linked to an article by Kyle Gerkin. My post implied that Kyle was peddling all these myths himself which is not the case. However, I have written a specific rebuttal to his article which will hopefully appear some time soon.

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Monday, June 13, 2005

In an increasingly crowded field, we have a new entry into the all time most stupid conspiracy theory competition. The Lost Middle Ages theory asserts that around three hundred years from 700AD to 1000AD is mssing due to a conspiracy by the pope, Holy Roman Emperor and the Byzantines. Presumably they had to get the Chinese and Caliphate on board as well... I am quite in awe of the guys who made this up.

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Here is an amusing parlour game played by a bunch of right wing American intellectuals.

They decided to vote for the most dangerous books. The results were sent round my departmental mailing list as a joke but I think they are quite interesting. Perhaps we could do a similar survey here. Name your top three most dangerous books (in order) and either post to the yahoo group or email me. I'll tot up the scores once replies dry up and see what we get. My answers soon, but here is the top ten by those US conservatives.

Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries

1. The Communist Manifesto Authors: Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels Publication date: 1848 Score: 74 Summary: Marx and Engels, born in Germany in 1818 and 1820, respectively, were the intellectual godfathers of communism. Engels was the original limousine leftist: A wealthy textile heir, he financed Marx for much of his life. In 1848, the two co-authored The Communist Manifesto as a platform for a group they belonged to called the Communist League. The Manifesto envisions history as a class struggle between oppressed workers and oppressive owners, calling for a workers’
revolution so property, family and nation-states can be abolished and a proletarian Utopia established. The Evil Empire of the Soviet Union put the Manifesto into practice.
2. Mein Kampf Author: Adolf Hitler Publication date: 1925-26 Score: 41
Summary: Mein Kampf (My Struggle) was initially published in two parts in
1925 and 1926 after Hitler was imprisoned for leading Nazi Brown Shirts in the so-called "Beer Hall Putsch" that tried to overthrow the Bavarian government. Here Hitler explained his racist, anti-Semitic vision for Germany, laying out a Nazi program pointing directly to World War II and the Holocaust. He envisioned the mass murder of Jews, and a war against France to precede a war against Russia to carve out "lebensraum" ("living
room") for Germans in Eastern Europe. The book was originally ignored. But not after Hitler rose to power. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, there were 10 million copies in circulation by 1945.
3. Quotations from Chairman Mao Author: Mao Zedong Publication date: 1966
Score: 38 Summary: Mao, who died in 1976, was the leader of the Red Army in the fight for control of China against the anti-Communist forces of Chiang Kai-shek before, during and after World War II. Victorious, in 1949, he founded the People’s Republic of China, enslaving the world’s most populous nation in communism. In 1966, he published Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, otherwise known as The Little Red Book, as a tool in the "Cultural Revolution" he launched to push the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese society back in his ideological direction. Aided by compulsory distribution in China, billions were printed. Western leftists were enamored with its Marxist anti-Americanism. "It is the task of the people of the whole world to put an end to the aggression and oppression perpetrated by imperialism, and chiefly by U.S. imperialism," wrote Mao.
4. The Kinsey Report Author: Alfred Kinsey Publication date: 1948 Score: 37
Summary: Alfred Kinsey was a zoologist at Indiana University who, in 1948, published a study called Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, commonly known as The Kinsey Report. Five years later, he published Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. The reports were designed to give a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy. "Kinsey’s initial report, released in 1948 . . . stunned the nation by saying that American men were so sexually wild that 95% of them could be accused of some kind of sexual offense under 1940s laws," the Washington Times reported last year when a movie on Kinsey was released. "The report included reports of sexual activity by boys--even babies--and said that 37% of adult males had had at least one homosexual experience. . . . The 1953 book also included reports of sexual activity involving girls younger than age 4, and suggested that sex between adults and children could be beneficial."
5. Democracy and Education Author: John Dewey Publication date: 1916 Score:
36 Summary: John Dewey, who lived from 1859 until 1952, was a "progressive"
philosopher and leading advocate for secular humanism in American life, who taught at the University of Chicago and at Columbia. He signed the Humanist Manifesto and rejected traditional religion and moral absolutes. In Democracy and Education, in pompous and opaque prose, he disparaged schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking "skills" instead. His views had great influence on the direction of American education--particularly in public schools--and helped nurture the Clinton generation.
6. Das Kapital Author: Karl Marx Publication date: 1867-1894 Score: 31
Summary: Marx died after publishing a first volume of this massive book, after which his benefactor Engels edited and published two additional volumes that Marx had drafted. Das Kapital forces the round peg of capitalism into the square hole of Marx’s materialistic theory of history, portraying capitalism as an ugly phase in the development of human society in which capitalists inevitably and amorally exploit labor by paying the cheapest possible wages to earn the greatest possible profits. Marx theorized that the inevitable eventual outcome would be global proletarian revolution. He could not have predicted 21st Century America: a free, affluent society based on capitalism and representative government that people the world over envy and seek to emulate.
7. The Feminine Mystique Author: Betty Friedan Publication date: 1963
Score: 30 Summary: In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, born in 1921, disparaged traditional stay-at-home motherhood as life in "a comfortable concentration camp"--a role that degraded women and denied them true fulfillment in life. She later became founding president of the National Organization for Women. Her original vocation, tellingly, was not stay-at-home motherhood but left-wing journalism. As David Horowitz wrote in a review for Salon.com of Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique by Daniel Horowitz (no relation to David): The author documents that "Friedan was from her college days, and until her mid-30s, a Stalinist Marxist, the political intimate of the leaders of America’s Cold War fifth column and for a time even the lover of a young Communist physicist working on atomic bomb projects in Berkeley’s radiation lab with J. Robert Oppenheimer."
8. The Course of Positive Philosophy Author: Auguste Comte Publication
date: 1830-1842 Score: 28 Summary: Comte, the product of a royalist Catholic family that survived the French Revolution, turned his back on his political and cultural heritage, announcing as a teenager, "I have naturally ceased to believe in God." Later, in the six volumes of The Course of Positive Philosophy, he coined the term "sociology." He did so while theorizing that the human mind had developed beyond "theology" (a belief that there is a God who governs the universe), through "metaphysics"
(in this case defined as the French revolutionaries’ reliance on abstract assertions of "rights" without a God), to "positivism," in which man alone, through scientific observation, could determine the way things ought to be.
9. Beyond Good and Evil Author: Freidrich Nietzsche Publication date: 1886
Score: 28 Summary: An oft-scribbled bit of college-campus graffiti says:
"‘God is dead’--Nietzsche" followed by "‘Nietzsche is dead’--God."
Nietzsche’s profession that "God is dead" appeared in his 1882 book, The Gay Science, but under-girded the basic theme of Beyond Good and Evil, which was published four years later. Here Nietzsche argued that men are driven by an amoral "Will to Power," and that superior men will sweep aside religiously inspired moral rules, which he deemed as artificial as any other moral rules, to craft whatever rules would help them dominate the world around them. "Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, suppression, severity, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and, at the least and mildest, exploitation," he wrote. The Nazis loved Nietzsche.
10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money Author: John Maynard Keynes Publication date: 1936 Score: 23 Summary: Keynes was a member of the British elite--educated at Eton and Cambridge--who as a liberal Cambridge economics professor wrote General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in the midst of the Great Depression. The book is a recipe for ever-expanding government. When the business cycle threatens a contraction of industry, and thus of jobs, he argued, the government should run up deficits, borrowing and spending money to spur economic activity. FDR adopted the idea as U.S. policy, and the U.S. government now has a $2.6-trillion annual budget and an $8-trillion dollar debt.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

It's been over two weeks since my last entry. Part of the reason for this is that it has been a very busy time, and partly because I've been arguing on the Sec Web about the history of science. The later used up my self imposed internet quota while it was happening.

The Da Vinci Code marches on. Today, even the Times Literary Supplement had an article by Professor Bernard Hamilton about it (basically saying it is historically rubbish and decidedly anti-Catholic) which was quite entertaining. I loved the dry and measured tone of the article which made it far more effective than a rant and also quite funny with its studied understatement. I could learn something from that technique myself when arguing.

Rather less pleasing is an interview in Christianity Today with a Jesus myther who is making a movie about his delusions. I have no objections to Jesus mythers being allowed to say their piece but I do think Christianity Today could have provided rather more commentary on the false claims being made here. Doherty certainly does not remain "unrefuted" today. He's been refuted so often that most of us have despaired of the true believers who cling to it.

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