Thursday, August 19, 2010

Did Christianity Spell the End of Classical Civilisation?

I recently received an email, several in fact, from a correspondent who believed that Christianity caused the fall of classical civilisation. His emails were prompted by some of the material on my website that shows the positive effect that Christianity has had on science. He followed his original email with several more which contained many quotations from historians and the primary sources like the Theodosian Code. He even included a couple of lines from our friend and regular poster Charles Freeman.

Here is an excerpt from a rather longer email that he sent me:

The Christian devout try very hard to rescue their religion from the bitter reproach that its advent caused the eclipse of learning and science in the West for many centuries. They claim Christianity preserved the remnants of classical learning during the barbarian era, so far from being guilty of destroying it.

I think this is a rather desperate apologia. It seems unconvincing to hold the barbarians responsible for so many centuries of darkness in terms of learning and science. It requires us to believe that the classical world, so sophisticated in its intellectual culture, with such vast intellectual and cultural resources, was largely wiped out by barbarian invasions, and took many many centuries to recover.

It is much more likely that, absent some other deculturising factor, the unsettlement caused by the barbarians would have been relatively brief, the barbarians would have been absorbed by the superior civilisation, and the process of intellectual development would have resumed. But of course there was another factor present, and that was the takeover of Western society by the Church. There is no doubt that the Church was bitterly hostile to the intellectual and cultural presence and challenge posed by Graeco-Roman polytheism. To conquer the populace securely for the new faith, it would have had to resort to vast and sustained destruction of the classical heritage. That was the only way in which it could have prevented itself from being absorbed by the old culture. We know from the historical record that Christian destruction of the classical temples and texts was on a huge scale. This is surely not contested by yourself. We know that the destruction was on such a vast scale that in the end it took the transmission by the Arabs of the classical texts, many centuries later, for sustained learning to resumed in the West in a big way.


Far from being an non-believer, my correspondent is a Hindu and sees parallels between his own religion and ancient paganism. I don't know enough about the Hindu pantheon to comment on this, but it may account for some of the evident sympathy that he feels for paganism. It may also account for the fact that he makes a fundamental mistake about Christianity's role in late antiquity. Despite the fact that Tim O'Neill has corrected this misapprehension many times, I want to note the error again because it is so widespread. Indeed, Freeman himself wrote an entire book, The Closing of the Western Mind, which is simply the age old mistake in extra-long format.

Christianity did destroy ancient paganism. It caused enormous damage to many wonderful works of art and fine buildings. Even the art and architecture produced in the name of Christianity can scarcely hide the fact that if you happen to prefer classicism to gothic, the end of paganism was an aesthetic set back. It also seems likely that many pagan religious texts have been lost, although judging by the survivals, such as the Hermetic corpus, this is rather less of a misfortune. And it is false to say that Christians targeted pagan literature. Indeed, they preserved some of the best of it including Homer and Virgil, despite these epic's explicitly polytheistic subject matter.

The central confusion of my correspondent, of Charles Freeman and of so many others is to imagine that a campaign against pagan religion should have caused a decline in science. It is just assumed that ancient paganism and ancient science were one and the same. But they had almost nothing to do with each other. O'Neill puts it better than anyone:

As a humanist with a fondness for most aspects of the ancient and Medieval past, I'd certainly lament the destruction of pretty buildings. And the oppression of pagans by Christians is about the same as the oppression of Christians by pagans to me, since (i) I'm a non-believer and (ii) I avoid value judgements about the supposed sins of the distant past. But how "mounting evidence" that Christians closed down the irrational, superstituous cults of their religious rivals and no longer allowed painted priests to shake rattles and intone chants at incense-wreathed statues of Olympian gods somehow supports your thesis I really can't fathom. The fact that the Flamen Dialis in Rome could no longer wear his magical hat, no longer observed his strange taboos against touching raw meat or beans and no longer had to carefully guard against sleeping in a bed whose legs were smeared with clay (?!) may be sad if you're into that kind of thing, but I can't see what the death of such weird superstitions have to do with any argument about rationality.


I would add that the similar level of cultural vandalism that accompanied the Reformation in England, when a large chunk of the country's medieval heritage was trashed, appears in no way to have set back the development of science. And why should it? Knocking down temples does not cause men to stop studying mathematics. Melting down reliquaries does not impact the advance of physics. And banning ancient rituals does not encompass holding back scientific advance.

Finally, my correspondent suggests that a pagan Roman Empire would have been better able to absorb the barbarian invasions than the Christian one could. This is an interesting reversal of the historical orthodoxy that Christianity helped produce a united polity that allowed the Empire to survive another thousand years in the East. But that is for another post.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum

75 comments:

Tim O'Neill said...

It seems unconvincing to hold the barbarians responsible for so many centuries of darkness in terms of learning and science. It requires us to believe that the classical world, so sophisticated in its intellectual culture, with such vast intellectual and cultural resources, was largely wiped out by barbarian invasions, and took many many centuries to recover.

I can only conclude that our Hindu friend isn’t terribly familiar with what happened in the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Because that is precisely what we find, as detailed recently by Bryan Ward-Perkins in his recent The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization and James J. O’Donnell in The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History. Except his idea that it was simply “barbarian invasions” that caused this catastrophic collapse of everything (not just intellectual culture) is pretty naïve and simplistic. The western half of the Empire never recovered from its virtual collapse in the Third Century, was always the sick sibling of the Empire in the Fourth Century and then went into a spiral of economic, political and administrative decay, decline and final collapse in the Fifth. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the barbarians were a symptom of all this, not its cause.

Learning was in severe decline in the west long before there was any barbarian threat and literacy in Greek was already dying out long before the deposition of the last Emperor. Cassiodorus and Boethius tried to prop things up in the Sixth Century but another century of devastating wars and invasions sealed the doom on any pre-emptive revivial of learning. After that the destruction of any vestage of central authority, the fragmentation and localisation of power and repeated external threats meant Europeans had a few more pressing needs than reading Aristotle for several centuries.

By the time they had the luxury of the time, learning and inclination to do so, the relevant works had been long lost. Cue the Twelfth Century Renaissance. Have you recommended some reading for this guy? If he’s open to learn and not just another ranting ideologue, that is.

Baerista said...

In addition to what Tim said, our friend has some highly exaggerated ideas of the degree to which "learning" suffered during the early middle ages. The last few decades of research have unearthed impressive evidence for the continuity of classical learning during the "Dark Ages". Does he know that they studied Greek at Canterbury in the seventh century?

Anonymous said...

The rallying cry of the reformers as they destroyed the shrines was that they were destroying Catholic superstition, so one would not expect the destruction to halt science, if anything to encourage it. Of course, the Catholic church’s decision to launch a Papal Index, the first edition of which had the entire works of 550 named authors and to which were added such figures as Copernicus, Francis Bacon and Kepler, helped ensure that the major scientific breakthroughs took place in the Protestant world not the Catholic.

The Scylding said...

I find that many of Christianity's dtractors that play the science/civilization/art card, are historically very ill-informed, especially as they somhow miss the existence, the culture and all that of the Eastern/Byzantine Empire. This clealry indicates that what happened in the West had multiple causes. But ideologists of all stripes generally do not like acknowledging multiple causes.

TheOFloinn said...

Francis Bacon's manifesto that real he-man scientists should whip female nature into submission was a major step forward for science.

Tim O'Neill said...

I find that many of Christianity's dtractors that play the science/civilization/art card, are historically very ill-informed, especially as they somhow miss the existence, the culture and all that of the Eastern/Byzantine Empire.

The fact that the Eastern Empire didn't collapse and that learning chugged along there quite happily for centuries to come kills the "Christianity caused the fall of Rome/collapse of learning" argument dead. The people who like to make this argument are usually vaguely aware that learning in the west was revived largely thanks to works preserved in the Islamic world. But when I ask them where the Muslims got their Aristotle they are usually stumped ...

Bookworm said...

Have any of you guys read Valerie Flint's The Rise of Magic in Early Modern Europe? I think she was from the UK but she was highly respected in the US , Princeton,etc. (Actually there is a Times of London obit.on line.) Argues that Christianity incorporated pagan magic in order to Christianise the masses. Seems to tie in with some of the ideas put forward here.Does Freeman use her?

Matko said...

James, for some reason, this blog-post doesn't have a title.

Morrison said...

Classical Civilization was internally corrupt, base on elitist rule, and rampant with euthanasia, blatant infanticide of the "unfit", and "man/boy love" etc.

Like, other corrupt systems...for example the Soviet State...its collapse was unavoidable.

bookworm said...

I am confused. Was classical civilization something amazing that Christianity saved for another thousand years, or was it something very corrupt that Christianity, thankfully,got rid of?

Ignorance said...

I think we could state that classical culture was not monolithic, tentative and cannot be characterised as simply as either "corrupt" or "the bees' knees". If it would be possible to accurately describe it in black and white, one would think that historians would not have much of a job.

It was "elitist" in the sense that social mobility was generally low due to the class system (but I doubt this was equally rigid over the entire period), but we should not forget that feudal Europe also became a class system (though this probably was not constant either during the entire Middle Ages).

Anonymous said...

Dear Tim (also James)

Thank you for taking the trouble to reply to my earlier communications and apologies for having overlooked your replies until now.

I think you have gone as far as an uremitting Catholic can do in admitting the major part of my indictment of Christianity for its destruction of Classical civilization.

As you yourself say:

"Christianity did destroy ancient paganism. " What does surprise me, even for a person well used to Christian rubbishing of the value of non-monotheistic religious and cultural traditions, is how you go on to say that the destruction of major pagan religious institutions like temples dd not mean Classical science suffered a setback. Why should the erasing of pagan superstition mean a defeat for rationality, you and your co-thinkers ask with magnificent innocence?

One would think, to read you, that the religion of virgin births, risings from the dead, the curious doctrine whereby the Son is the Son of God and God simultaneously, and of the literal consuming of Christ's body and blood in the form of a wafer, brings cool, impeccable reason in its train.

This is really giving the game away. He who tries to prove too much, proves that he is wrong.

What the victory of a fanatical brand of Middle Eastern monotheism in the Roman world meant was the obliteration of a relatively open society, with great freedom of debate and possibility for religions to flourish together, and its replacement by a totalitarian world where the state ruthlessly imposed one religion and concentrated on wiping out all the cultural institutions and ideas of others.

The meticulous smashing of the pagan temples was a catastrophe for the West's artistic inheritance ("pretty buildings", you say condescendingly) but more importantly, marked the wiping out of a world of free ideas and debate, in return for the calustrophobic Mosaic closed shop admitting only Christianity.

History tells us the growth of science needed some freedom of debate and exchange of ideas.

This Christianity put an end to in the West for a very long time. In India, Hinduism ceased to be creative in science and philosophy when Christianity's sister Islam destroyed the Hindu temples and likewise ended free debate. In the Arab world, science ceased to develop when the relative freedom of discussion of the first centuries of Islam ended.

What surprise then, that monotheistic fanaticism ruthlessly imposed set the West back as an area of scientific growth?

I am a Hindu agnostic, and I do deeply regret the takeover by fanatical monotheism of Classical civilization. It meant that history became far more bitter ideologically, hatred -driven: now only one religion was true, and only one version of the story about God. There could be only one winner, and those who got the story wrong, like the Jews and the pagans, were doomed. The destruction of non-Christian cultures did not matter. One can easily understand the Holocaust in this context. To this day in the Catholic mass the role of the Jews in "handing over" Christ is mentioned - in an astoundingly inflamed manner during the Easter Passion.

The Christian attempt to erase non-Christian, particularly polytheistic cultures, is going on fiercely to this day.

The monotheists will very likely win, as they have fanaticism on their side. But what a drabber world, culturally, these Koran and bible thumpers will inherit!

And why should we be sympathetic to the plight of Christian communities at the hands of Islam? It is only a replay of what Chistianity did itself, without apology.

I do hold that Islam is only an Arab version of Abrahamic monotheism. Muslims venerate Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, Job, David, Solomon, John the Baptist, Jesus and Mary.

Dalat Ram

Baerista said...

You are trying to reduce world history to a simple dichotomy of monotheism vs. polytheism. Which is the mark of a monomaniacal lunatic. Unfortunately, your arguments don't fare much better.

Our sources leave no doubt that classical antiquity was just as superstitious and just as bad a slaughterhouse of ongoing warfare and torture as the middle ages were. And that's without taking into account the institution of slavery. Greco-Roman polytheism wasn't nearly as tolerant and open-minded as you portray it. Anybody who's seriously studied the period knows how easily Roman state religion was employed as a political power tool and instrument of coercion. Similar observations can be made about Athens, as friends of Socrates and Alcibiades will be able to tell.

More importantly, and as has been pointed out over and over again on this very blog, Greco-Roman science had lain in doldrums for centuries before Christianity became a relevant political factor. According to your theory, ancient science should have progressed linearly after the third century BCE, which it didn't, polytheism and its alleged role in the growth of science notwithstanding. Your historical catastrophism, which makes you conceive of classical civilization as some monolithic timeless entity that was destroyed at some discrete point in time is childish to say the least. Roman society wasn't forced into monotheism by some outside military force, but it evolved over centuries, like cultures generally do.

Funnily enough, what we call the scientific revolution happened in evil old Christian monotheistic Western Europe, its agents being god-fearing monotheistic fundamentalists such as Isaac Newton and *gasp* even a bunch of Jesuits. Which makes nonsense of your theory.

Neither did Hindustan, as the world's powerhouse of polytheism, become the world's powerhouse of science. Which again makes nonsense of your theory. To blame it on Islam is not only ridiculous, but also deeply dishonest. The Indian subcontinent was never as completely submerged by Islam, whether spacially or temporally, as you imply. If Christianity set back the development of the West by a thousand years, one wonders why neither India, nor China, nor the Meso-American civilization ever took advantage of this headstart. You cannot explain this, nor can anybody else on the basis of your assumptions.

It is even more dishonest to claim that religious fundamentalism is a monotheistic speciality. Everybody who's casually observing what's happening in modern-day India knows better. Vedic creationism is no better than evangelical creationism.

I wonder who's really giving the game away here. Non-beliefers such as Tim and myself, who simply have an interest in obtaining an accurate view of the history of science? Or yourself, whose assumptions appear to be driven by some closet Hindu nationalism. Religious fundamentalism is despicable, but ethnocentrism and chauvinism is no better. They're all the signs of a closed mind.

Baerista said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Baerista:


A longer version of this reply has been posted in James Hannam's blog site.

That polythiestic societies have been, on the whole, strikingly more tolerant in matters of religion that monotheistic ones is not a matter of dispute for those informed of world affairs and history.

A great historian like Joseph Needham, the author of the monumental "Science and Civilization in China", repeatedly dwells on this fact. Chinese toleration and reasonableness in matters religious as compared to the savage intolerance of the Middle Eastern monotheisms, including Christianity, deeply impressed Western Enlightenment founders like Voltaire.

As for India, it is obvious that Hinduism, whatever its faults, has treated the Muslim minority incomparably more leniently that Hindus have been treated in Muslim countries.

Muslims in most parts of India have the possibility of freely condemning Hinduism; for a Hindu to venture to whisper the mildest criticism of the proclaimed successor of Jesus known as Mohammed would be to invite being torn to pieces. Muslims live by the Muslim law in India.

Hindu India with its multitudinous Gods and easy-going attitudes to religious dogmas has proved highly hospitable to liberalism and democracy, unlike the Muslim states. The difference can be verified by the zealots of Middle Eastern monotheism by simply reading the newspapers, assuming they ever do something so ignoble and profane.

It is well known and not a matter of dispute among historians that the Graeco-Roman world was, in matters religious, strikingly tolerant compared the situation of fierce religious intolerance and jealous upholding of one tightly defined faith intrduced by the zealots of the Lamb.

The Romans cheerfully adopted and adapted the gods of other cultures into their pantheon. When you have many gods, the religions of others are not an immediate threat - unless they themselves be intolerant, like Christianity. One finds it easy to adopt a live-and-let-live attitude to all gods, and to accept the notion that there may be truth in all religions, not just one.

When we see that Christian intolerance led to the Holocaust, a crime graver than any other humanity has known, the beginnings of Christianity seem not so much moving as sinister and fateful. To this day the role of the Jews in "handing over" Christ is recalled in the Catholic Mass.


I am glad you say that religious fundamentalism is despicable. That is a step forward. It is religious fundamentalism when writers claim, for instance, that Christianity launched modern science. This is like saying that Hindu theology is vindicated by the fact that the zero - an essential device for profound mathematics - originated in India and the counntry had a great role in laying the foundations of mathematics.

Newton would have been nought without the zero, after all. Does that vindicate Hinduism?

What history shows, I would gently suggest to the zealots of Middle Eastern monotheism, is rather different. At least in pre-modern times the development of science has needed some real freedom of debate, in addition to a literate culture.

States with fierce and tightly defined reliious orthodoxies seem to have stifled science. We see the coincidence of the decline of science and philosophy and the introduction of fierce monotheistic states in the Roman world and in India. Morever, the Arab world, so fecund in science in its early, relatively freer centuries. ceased to be creative in science after the imposition of an intolerant Islamic orthodoxy. As for the West, science took wings simultaneously with the decline in the authority of the Church.

All mere coincidence? Methinks no.

I remain midly amused to see that Westerners who deplore the imposition of the closed society today in places like Iran welcome as Salvation the imposition of a closed society in the luckless Graeco-Roman world. Why? Salvation from thought and sensible doubt?

Baerista said...

You are repeating yourself in a rambling and fanatical language, unable to address any of the arguments that have been proposed to you. The main problem is that you are unable to discern the treatment of minorities in historical societies from questions pertaining to the history of science, a subject you are jarringly ignorant of. You also have a naive and schematic view of history, which makes you equate monotheistism with fundamentalism wherever you see it. To invoke first the Indian invention of the concept zero (like we didn't see that one coming) and then the Holocaust (so I guess the Japanese were Christians, too, when they went into China) as somehow supporting your position is ridiculous and a sign of desparation.
The 16th and 17th century were the two single most ardently religious centuries in European history. Instead of citing Voltaire you might actually educate yourself by reading a proper book on the subject, such as S. Gaukroger's "The Emergence of a Scientific Culture". Naturally, I doubt that you will read any serious book on the history of science, as it might impede your capacity of spewing bullshit on the internet. Instead, I predict that your next post will contain the same old platitudes, repeated ad nauseam. The closed mind is not a prerogative of monotheists and you're living proof of it.

Anonymous said...

Baerista:

More intemperte outbursts from you. In my longer posting over on the James Hannam blog site I sardonically noted the link between ardent advocacy of monotheistic religions and short tempers.

The 16th nd 17th centuries wallowed in Middle Eastern cult fanaticism, true, but the clouds were beginning to lift - the heliocentric theory blew a lilltle hole in Middle Eastern smugness and thinkers like Montaigne were treating Churchianity with temperate irony. Things got better as time went on. Look at Voltaire and Gibbon in the 18th century for whom Christianity was a cruel farce.

Not quite sure why you dismiss my point about Hinduism not being vindicated by crucial Hindu mathematics. And the Holocaust by Christian peoples certainly surpasses the Japanese.

ReadJoseph Needham on hina. It will open your mind. Truth is not always Middle Eastern.

TheOFloinn said...

Interestingly, it was Needham who pointed out that science never arose in China mainly due to the lack of belief in a single ordering deity.

To say that "the heliocentric theory blew a lilltle hole in Middle Eastern smugness" overlooks the fact that geocentrism was established by the Greeks, and established on sound observational and empirical grounds. OTOH, when the Jesuits reached China in the 17th century, the Chinese still believed that the earth was a flat blanket (with China in the center).

Another way of looking at it was that in the course of a century and a half, Christian astronomers overturned a pagan theory that had stood virtually unquestioned for two millennia.

It would also be instructive for someone who thinks that heliocentrism is somehow more obvious and that Aristotle, Archimedes and the rest were fools for not having noticed to put forward the proofs for the dual motions of the earth, answering all objections. Most folks I encounter can't even prove the earth is a sphere, which is much easier, or show from simple geometry why the earth cannot be a flat blanket. (The Chinese, be it noted, did not have Euclidean geometry and their word for "logic" is a loan-word from Western languages.)

Baerista said...

Montaigne, Voltaire, Gibbon. The usual suspects. So what contributions to science did any of them make?
Unlike you, I have no intention of playing the genocide card, but if you think there's a relevant order of magnitude between the European and the Asian "Holocausts", you really need to educate yourself. While you're at it, also educate yourself on history in general.
Everybody knows that Christianity is the product of a fusion of Mediterranean-Greek and Levantine-Semitic elements. Your compulsive and derogatory use of the term "Middle Eastern" shows that you're just another ranting ideologue, not worth talking to. I'm done with you, you tool.

Anonymous said...

"Baerista:More intemperte outbursts from you. In my longer posting over on the James Hannam blog site I sardonically noted the link between ardent advocacy of monotheistic religions and short tempers...."

...and yet here you are, IndianChap: proving the exact opposite.

The monotheists (and at least one Atheist in the form of Baerista) have been very calm with you despite your temper tantrums, ridiculously unsupported arguments and continued ideological saber rattling.

It seems the only "intemperate outbursts" come from you.

In fact, the only heat you've received from Baerista was only after your latest obnoxious tirade and refusal to back up your claims with anything substantial.

Likewise in the forum.

As an Agnostic myself, I am pre-disposed to be rooting for you.
However, you have given me no reason to do so. In fact, it would seem that, up to this point you have behaved as nothing but a ranting ideologue holding fast to disproven ideas.

If you would like honest discourse, I suggest you reevaluate how you react to criticism.

I would also suggest you read Lindberg's "The Beginnings of Western Science" as it would correct many of your misconceptions.

Anonymous said...

Baerista, TheOfoilin:

Not much point in debating with people who regard as negligible Montaigne, Voltaire and Gibbon, three giants of the Western Enlightenment who freed the Western mind from the thralldom of bigoted religion....

However, for others who might view this site I would suggest that the whole gambit of crediting a particular religion, Christianity, with breakthroughs in science, is ideal stuff for satire. The obsession proves a lack of any sense of humour, a key trait of Christian apologists.

To say the world view of some modern scientists of importance was Christian and therefore Christianity can be credited with their science is laughable.

As well say Einstein's Theory of Relativity is "Jewish science", as indeed the Nazis described it. Are we going to say the achievements of Catholic scientists like Pasteur (I suppose he was Catholic? Who cares?) is due to some mystic property derived from Catholicism? That Clerk-Maxwell's discoveries on the other hand are to be credited to the particular brand of Protestantism he signed up to?

Are we to say the discovery of the zero, so crucial for enabling modern science, was Indian and therefore Hinduism is to be credited with modern science?

Give us a break.

I suggest that science needs some freedom of debate and considerable literacy. Given these factors, any part of the world can develop it, the Son who was identical with his Father and whose flesh and blood can be literally eaten as wafers and whose mother gave virgin birth and who couldn't care less for learning notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

Beerista:

Are we then affirming Hitler was right after all, and that if there is "Christian" science there must be "Jewish" science, too? As well as all mathematicians being signed up as Hindus if they use the zero?

Just curious.

It's sweet to cook up stories attributing all good things to the Saviour, is it not? Unfortunately, like so many nice games, OTHERS, too, can play it on behalf of THEIR faith.

Baerista said...

*facepalm* I should have known you're just a troll.

Anonymous said...

Beerista:

Game, set and match to me and Voltaire.

Up the Enlightenment !

Anonymous said...

Sure indianchap...if you can call the fact that you have been proven wrong on each and every turn, your sources revealed as incorrect, and your attitude revealed as being that of a child who lost his pacifier a "victory".

TheOFloinn said...

To say the world view of some modern scientists of importance was Christian and therefore Christianity can be credited with their science is laughable.

What midwifed the birth of science was a number of things that occurred in Latin Europe. One was Western Law, which spun off of canon law. Western Law established "corporate persons" like the Church, guilds, medical societies, universities, etc., independent of the State, self-governing, with jurisdiction. They existed nowhere else in the world.

Secondly, one of those corporate persons was the university, which received its "Magna Carta" in the Papal Bull Parens scientiarum (Parent of Science), which declared universities free of interference by political and other authorities and free to decide their own lectures and manner of instruction, except only in the school of theology. (See: http://www.hs-augsburg.de/~harsch/Chronologia/Lspost13/GregoriusIX/gre_scie.html) The undergraduate curriculum was devoted exclusively to logic, reason, and natural philosophy, and their methodology of disputation and quodlibet encouraged what Grant called 'poking into things.' They gave natural science for the first time an independently-governed home base.

Also, certain religious beliefs facilitated inquiry into nature. Not least, that there actually was an objective physical universe to be studied and not merely a veil (maya) of illusion hiding the True Reality. They also believed that time was directional, leading from a beginning to an end. They did not believe in endless cycles that reduced the physics of the present moment to being endlessly superseded.

Their religion also taught them that, God being rational and singular, the universe was rationally ordered, not to be overridden by some other deity as Poseidon might overrule Zeus. Hence, there were natural laws, "the common course of nature."

Furthermore, they believed (Wisdom 11:21) that the world was "ordered by number, weight, and measure." Therefore, the natural laws could be learned by numbering, weighing, and measuring things.

Perhaps most crucial was their belief in secondary causation. We find this theme repeated by Augustine of Hippo, Adelard of Bath, William of Conches, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Nichole d'Oresme, and others all the way down to Fr. Georges Lemaitre and Christoph Cardinal Schönborn: God had endowed the natures of material things with the power to act upon one another directly. This meant that one should search for natural causes of natural things, confident that God's power underlay not simply the things, but the causes.

Then, too, there was Wisdom 7:17-22, which taught that:
"He gave me sound knowledge of existing things, that I might know:
The organization of the universe
and the force of its elements,
The beginning and the end
and the midpoint of times,
The changes in the sun's course
and the variations of the seasons.
Cycles of years,
positions of the stars,
Natures of animals,
tempers of beasts,
Powers of the winds
and thoughts of men,
Uses of plants
and virtues of roots

Such things as are hidden I learned and such as are plain; for Wisdom, the artificer of all, taught me."

Thus, the Latin Europeans believed that seeking knowledge of the natural world was a fit occupation for grown-ups.

In concert, this attitude, the dogmatic beliefs about the nature of nature, the institutionalization of natural science in the universities all combined to (in Toby Huff's words) embed the study of natural science in the culture of Latin Europe.

Anonymous said...

Tim:

Are we then affirming Hitler was right after all, and that if there is "Christian" science there must be "Jewish" science, too? As well as all mathematicians being signed up as Hindus if they use the zero?

It's wondrous indeed to find that all good things come from the Saviour, is it not?

Which Christian denomination should I sign up to, now I have been taught that as well as saving people from eternal damnation Christianity is responsible for the internal combustion engine, air flight, modern medicine, and atomic physics? Previous reponsibility for virgin births and risings from the dead seem mere trifles by comparison.

Pleae do tell a mere Hindu psgan which Church to join. Now I know only Christianity ever achieved anything. It's not much fun being a member of an idolatrrouspeople like the Hindus who literally only invented the zero.....

No-one's needs are zero.

Anonymous said...

Tim:

Over on the James Hannam website James admitted to yours truly (I am known there as "Indianchap"):

"And yes, Hindus deserve heaps of credit for the invention of zero. Whether it was because they were Hindus I don't know. "

And that is the whole point, is it not? The lack of a Christian world outlook certainly did not prevent this epochal Hindu discovery, making possible modern science.

People, in other words, do not make mighty scientific discoveries because of the religion they belong to. Nothing in the alleged "fatalism" of Hindus prevented a good deal of vital science. (And Christians are fatalists too - think of Saint Augustine or Luther or the whole idea of Original Sin!)

People make breakthroughs in useful secular thought (religious thought being singularly useless) because they are intelligent and live in a society that does not make the discussion of ideas independent of religious orthodoxy fatal. In societies where there are independent institutions of learning and research such as the Academy, the Lyceum, the University of Nalanda in India (ever heard of it? It was destroyed by your amiable co-believers in Middle Eastern monotheism, the Muslims) or the famous House of Wisdom in Baghdad.

The ineffable "revealing" of that miraculously necessary thing, monotheism, to the Jews by a doting All-Mighty did not make them serious players in philosophy or science until the Western Enlightenment in the rough-and-ready form of the French Revolution abolished the ghettoes merciful Christianity had confined them to and set them thinking outside the closed worldof the Bible. Seems mere humble idolators had done infinitely better than the Jews until then.

TheOFloinn said...

The lack of a Christian world outlook certainly did not prevent this epochal Hindu discovery, making possible modern science.

The invention of a symbol for zero was a mathematical innovation. The Babylonians used such a placeholder many centuries before the Indians. In fact, India may have gotten it from the Babylonian-Seleucid empire, which had interests in the Indus Valley. The Chinese, middle east, and west used the counting board or the abacus to do their math, and so had no need for a written zero. They simply left that part of the counting board empty. However, the expansion from placeholder to a symbol for zero quantity seems to have been Indian, although the oldest extant example is from Cambodia.

However, the mathematical invention of zero did not "make possible" modern science, much of which could be done quite adequately (even if cumbersomely) without it. One may as well argue that the invention of the "+" sign by Nichole d'Oresme (later bishop of Lisieux) made modern science possible. The thing is, nearly all science and mathematics was done verbally, and not by writing out numbers. When math was used, it was typically Euclidean geometry, as in Oresme's proof of the mean speed theorem.

Having a symbol for zero is no substitute for having the idea of natural laws, secondary causation, linear time, and so forth.

Nothing in the alleged "fatalism" of Hindus prevented a good deal of vital science.

It's not the "fatalism" (nor has original sin anything to do with fatalism). But other than the zero (which is mathematics, not natural science) what is this good deal of vital science? When I was in Chennai, I was told that Indian astrology was more accurate than Western astrology because it was based on the moon rather than the sun. But I hope you don't mean this.
+ + +
Regarding your put-down of the Jews, perhaps you have never heard of Jacob ben Mahir, Moses ibn Tibbon, Gregory bar Hebraeus, Moses Maimonides, and others?
+ + +
I think you suffer from the application of model-based history. That is, you have a model of how you think history must have proceeded. You have certainly not cited much in the way of facts.

Anonymous said...

TheoFlinn:

I could expand on how Indian science had more to it than astrology and that the zero was an essential discovery for science.

But I want to try another approach which I have found useful in debate:

What if you are right?

What are the lessons we will have to draw. the conclusions we will have to make?

That only the Jews and the Christians had the right world view for science and the Indians, the Chinese, the Arabs had nothing to contribute?

That the Greekes might have made a promising start but could have got nowhere without the genius of the followers of the Son of Man?

In short, simply sign up at the local church if you are scientific minded?

Is that it?

TheOFloinn said...

No, that's not it. You haven't been paying attention.

+ + +

You say you "could expand on how Indian science had more to it than astrology" but then proceed not to. Not even to cite one single thing. There was a lot of science or proto-science done in ancient Greece without the number sign for zero.

I'm thinking you may be confusing natural science with both mathematics and engineering. China is an excellent example of how a civilization may have an advanced technology but no science whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

TheoFlinn:

I suggest for Hindu mathematics you have a look at Peter Watson's "A History of Ideas: From Fire to Freud" - pages 382, 397-400. The website here doesn't allow long messages, but Watson notes: "In the year AD 499 the Hindu mathematician Aryabhata calculated pi as 3.1416 and the length of the solar year as 365.358 days. At much the same time he conceived the idea of the earth as a sphere spinning on its ow axis and revolving around the sun. He thought that the shadows of the earh falling on the moon caused eclipses. One wonders what all the fuss was about when Copernicus "discovered" some of the above nearly one thousand yearslater. Indian thought in the Middle Ages was in several areas far ahead of European ideas." Watson gives references.

As for Jewish philosophy, I was of course aware of Maimonides, but the names you mentioned were pygmies compared to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Montaigne, Hobbes, Gibbon, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hegel, Marx.

You can, of course, wallow in your little hole of Christian backstreet pride, but the world has bigger fish to fry. Your kind have been back numbers since Gibbon and Voltaire exploded their petty pretences. Those still hot on Middle Eastern tribal glory in all areas are today the Muslims.

Baerista said...

Your lack of understanding of basic science, which you are unable to discern from philosophy and mathematics, is really quite shocking, especially given the effervescent attitude with which you preach about it on this blog. The achievments you ascribe to Aryabhata had been known in the Mediterranean for centuries before that. The value of the solar year you cite is very inaccurate, even by ancient standards, and thus probably a mistake on your or Watson's part rather than Aryabhata's. The claim that Aryabhata developed heliocentrism is pure speculation on the part of some modern historians, which is not borne out by any of the recorded facts. Even if these speculations were correct, they would only concern planetary orbits, leaving the earth unmoved.
If Watson writes all of this without qualification, it only goes to show that his book is not a good source of information.
You appalling lack of understanding of the history of ideas in Europe also comes to the fore, when you treat polemicists like Voltaire and Gibbon as the causes rather than the symptoms of the European Enlightenment.
You started your tirades by claiming that only polytheistic societies could develop a properly scientific culture, whereas monotheism was antithetic to that. Now that we've pointed out the contrary to you, you get all whiny and defensive, saying that religion has nothing to do with scientific achievements. If you had taken that stance from the beginning, there would have been no need for all the brouhaha.
I suppose I'm speaking on behalf of most of the readers here if I kindly suggest that you go and educate yourself on basic history of science and ideas in Europe (for example by reading James's book, which is mighty good) before coming back to pollute this blog with your rants.

Anonymous said...

TheoFinn:

I would not have thought I needed to be told about rants by someone who assumed Hindu science amounted to astrology and that the world could get along perfectly well without the zero. Try telling that to Newton and Einstein.

If Jews or those mighty minds, the Christians, so great at creating loves and fishes out of nothing, had discovered the zero, what would you say? Would we ever hear the end of it?

As for mathematics not being science, which indeed could be done verbally, you other great thought, I fancied I saw plenty of math in the pages of Newton and Einstein, but this may have been a Hindu astrological illusion or "maya". I even remember some authority saying mathematics is the language of science, but again, don't take that seriously. Jesus knew none.

On one point I may have been unfair to the family of Jews, Christians and Muslims, the Abrahamic one. They have always loved each other dearly and set an example of a happy family. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Baerista:

I overlooked that the latest reply to me was from you rather than TheOFinn.

Well, I suppose your views do not differ that much, so no great harm done.

My line that Christians created "loves and fishes" was also a mistake; I meant "loaves". But then, love was invented too by them, so maybe that can pass.

I also appreciate being instructed about the history of philosophy by someone who thinks Montaigne, Voltaire and Gibbon are simply the "usual suspects".

Baerista said...

Actually I've been lecturing you on the history of science, but you have done enough already to prove to everyone's satisfaction that you can't tell the difference.
I refer to these people as the usual suspects because people who know bugger all about the history of science are particularly prone to drop their names in order to sound educated.
Didn't work that well this time around.

And please don't assimilate my views to yours. Just for the record: O'Floinn's points are all valid and historically informed.

I could go on pointing out to you how zero was not "discovered" by anyone, how Greek mathematics and astronomy developed in leaps and bounds without the decimal place-value system, or even better: how Indian astronomy was mostly geared towards religious and astrological purposes and how it was treated by its practitioners as divine revelation, which greatly contributed to its stagnation and isolation towards other disciplines - which is quite an embarrassment in light of your claim that polytheists are the champions of free inquiry, whereas only monotheists have religion get into the way of science.

But I guess it will all be lost on you.

Anonymous said...

TheOFinn:

I leave to you the belief that the zero was unimportant for science and that mathematics itself was not necessary either. Agebraists, Newton, Einstein etc will cough, but never mind them. Stick to the medieval schoolmen and the Great Revelation of Our First Fall.

Polytheism's merit I saw as merely negative: by allowing greater freedom of thought. It did not rule out superstition, for God's sake.

Indian science had more to it than astrology; Newton had more to him than alchemy.

Marx would say modern science was merely the result of the rise of capitalism. Chritianity had less than nothing to contribute. the West had the good luck not to be overrun by Central Asians as the Arab (much of it) and Hindu worlds were, destroying their achievements. The West had the structure of strong city states, with traditions of limited power for rulers - an inheritance from the much-despised pagan Greeks. And Christianity was easy to shake off, not being a religion that regulated daily life minutely like Judaism and Islam and (it must be said) Hinduism. Not Christianity, but how it went, saved us.

Anonymous said...

Baerista, I meant.

Baerista said...

I must admit I find it increasingly entertaining to see you struggling in a morass of your own making. Amusing how you keep ceaselessly whining about zero (whose utility nobody has denigrated), raising suspicions that you don't know anything else when it comes to India and science.

I also wonder what scientific achievements the Central Asians (or whoever takes the blame in your manichean, and apparently even racist, mental construct of world history) were able to destroy. The fact of the matter is that, as of 1900, there were appr. 100,000 preserved manuscripts of the Indian mathematical-astronomical tradition, on a good sample of which David Pingree was able to base his monumental 5-volume Census of the Exact Sciences in Sanskrit. Thanks to these manuscripts, we have a very good idea of what Hindu mathematical astronomy was and why it never progressed beyond a certain point.

Finally, I'm not really sure what's more laughable and inept: your invocation of Marx (why this constant recourse to antiquated Western scholarship?) and capitalism (why not invoke Weber, too, which gets you back to Christianity?) or the claim that Europe's city states were inherited from the Greeks. Aside from the fact that the scientific revolution belongs to an age of absolutism and dominating territorial states (England and France), while the city states of Germany and Italy had their heyday during the evil Christian Middle Ages, the very idea that medieval merchants based their guilds and councils on reading the Politeia (or whatever you have in mind) is downright comical.

As for Christianity being easy to shake off: it's the world's largest religion today, while secularization in Europe didn't happen until after the scientific revolution.
Your problem is that all your arguments are balanced on an embarrassing double standard. If polytheistic societies got shit done, their religion helped them. If monotheistic societies got shit done, their religion had nothing to do with it. If polytheistic societies messed things up, somebody else is to blame. If monotheistic societies messed things up, it's all because of their own religion.
Theories of this sort are the very hallmark of monomaniacal bullshit.
The positive influence of Chritian culture and ideology on Europe's scientific progress has been far too well-documented (by folks like Merton, Duhem, Fried, Grant, and Gaukroger) to be dismissed. Most of the relevant points have already been touched upon by the O'Floinn. You can only lose this debate.

Anonymous said...

Baerista:

I am not worried about losing arguments: arguments are one thing you can lose and still gain: a better standpoint.

Several things are confused here.

It was never my view that Indian science was infallible or did not have limitations - only that it did contribute something as essential as the zero and had its merits. It was more than astrology. This is a fact worth underlining because the advocates of the Middle Eastern fanaticism often give us to understand that only the Middle East and its later annexe the West have anything to say to mankind: the cultures of all other peoples can go. A viewpoint which has generated incredible ideological hates and(ironically) almost got the Jews themselves wiped out at the hands of the Christians.

The present tiff between the Jews, Christians and their Muslim brothers remains a matter of sardonic observation.

As for the rise of modern science, in the limited space here I suggest capitalism, economic factors, were the driving force. Scientific accomplishments like heliocentric theories, mathematics, lost in India or did not develop perhaps coincidentally after the Hindu society was overrun by Muslims. India at any rate ceases to a centre of serious scientific development after the Muslims took over. The Arabs, too, took a terrible beating from Central Asians, who desroyed Baghdad. The West suffered much less in this way. Capitalism developed there and made permanent scientic ideas and advances. Space permits me no more. Christianity was not a player, except to hold back.

Anonymous said...

I was careful to emphasise that polytheistic religion as such does not cause scientific progress; only that it produces societies on the whole much more laid back ideologically and more open to debate than the monothestic ones, and in this sense can make the development of science a bit easier. After all, the reputation of the ancient Greeks for wisdom did not come from nothing.

The West developed freedom in modern times when the Church was forced to take a back seat. For those who equate Chritianity with science it must be a bit frustratinmg that the more science deveklops, the more Christianity loses credibility.

Why is this? If Christianity and science are mother and child?

Why do characters that you clearly hate like Voltaire and Gibbon arise in the first place to pour scorn on Christianity?

Marx is a better guide by far on the relationship between economics and ideas. In the West capitalism took off; this made important scientific ideas which came to other places but didn't really develop become permanent factors i the West.

Baerista said...

Oh boy, you really like to repeat yourself, do you? Yes, right, I, duh, I really hate Voltaire and Gibbon. They were douchebags. Are you happy now? Actually, I also consider them completely irrelevant to this discussion, which is probably more to the point.

The claim that you can reduce the scientific revolution to capitalism just won't do (and no, Marx is not a guide to anything. He's also been dead for 130 years now). Sure, it's not without any merit, capitalism had something to do with it, but that gives you only an externalist torso of a theory, which still leaves all the pertinent questions, which concern the underlying belief systems, unanswered. There is no logical pathway that leads you from making money to figuring out shit about the universe. The overwhelming majority of late medieval and early modern scientists were believing Christians. Historians have to take this into account and they darn well do. Why? Because most of them want to understand what actually happened instead of buttressing their petty ideologies.

Your simplistic claim that the development of science automatically pushed back Christianity is one of those bromidic anachronisms, culled right from the 19th century. The decisive intellectual impulses that led to the Enlightenment were provided by fields such as history, philology, antiquarianism, biblical scholarship, anthropology, and law. Only gradually did geology join as another factor. Even so, there is nothing difficult to understand about the scenario of a religious culture giving rise to intellectual achievements which in turn undermine that very culture. Not unless you're a complete tool, that is. Guess what: admitting that Christianity left a mark on European intellectual history doesn't commit you to saying that Christianity is true. You can actually be intellectually honest about historical facts and still be down with Vishnu and Ganesha. Who would've thought?

Yes some of the old Greeks were smart guys, yes ancient Athens, for some of its history, was a place of relatively free inquiry. So what? Every culture has to be evaluated on its own historical merits. In particular, you cannot draw historical inferences from ancient Greece to Hindustan, just because they both had many gods. The cultures are much too different. There is no logical pathway from polytheism to a free society, otherwise world history would have taken different turns. A religion that worships many gods can be just as dogmatic, coercive, conservative, and hostile to new ideas as any other.

Most of your historical claims are just taken out of thin air, without any scholarship to back them up. Where is the evidence that the Muslims can be blamed for ending Indian science? And who said it ended in the first place? After all, the 100,000 manuscripts I mentioned earlier document an unbroken tradition of Hindu mathematical astronomy that continues right down to the early modern period with no signs of a serious breakdown. The claim that the Mongols are to be blamed for the end of Arab science is equally ridiculous. Seriously do you know anything specific about the history of science? Apparently not, otherwise you wouldn't continue the blanket assertion that the Indians developed heliocentrism, which I have already pointed out is wrong. Hindu astronomy, which was strongly dependent on Greek, Babylonian, and Persian influences in the first place, was largely unconcerned with physical descriptions of the heavens, so any traces of heliocentrism would have been a mere calculating device. But such traces cannot be found in the sources anyway. Or can you point them out?

Seriously, read a couple of good books on the history of science and get on with it. It really, really helps.

Anonymous said...

Berista:

So, to summarise; Hitler was right when he called the Theory of Relativity "Jewish science"?

And the zero is "Hindu science"?

Karl Marx has nothing to say just because he lived 130 years ago? Most unbiased historians, even pro-capitalist ones, respect his contribution to analysing the relationship between economics and ideas.

Incidentally, despite my civil tone, your bad temper goes on.

Why? Just argue, calmly. Socrates had a point here. Jesus was terribly bad tempered.

TheOFloinn said...

I leave to you the belief that the zero was unimportant for science and that mathematics itself was not necessary either.

Thomas Bradwardine (English, c.1290-1349) wrote that anyone who studied the Physics without mastering mathematics will 'never enter the portals of knowledge.' This was actually a break with Aristotle, who thought that mathematics (which is unchanging) could not be used for Physics (which deals in change). Mathematics was applied to a problem in the physics by Nichole d'Oresme (Norman-French, 1320-1382), who used Euclidean geometry (and a rudimentary analytic geometry) to demonstrate the mean speed of a uniformly accelerated body. The proof was good enough that Galileo used it as-is and without attribution in one of his own books almost 300 years later.

The application of mathematics to the physics was an important step forward; but it was not without antecedents, and there was a firm break only in the minds of people like Descartes and Bacon. The Cartesian program - to conduct the physics with the absolute certainty of mathematics - was a pipe dream.
+ + +
Indian science had more to it than astrology

Although you have to present any evidence thereof.

Marx would say modern science was merely the result of the rise of capitalism.

Marx was wrong about so much, what is one more wrong opinion.

the West had the good luck not to be overrun by Central Asians as the Arab (much of it) and Hindu worlds were, destroying their achievements.

No, they were only overrun by Goths, Vandals, Franks, Saracens, Vikings, and Magyars.

The West had the structure of strong city states, with traditions of limited power for rulers - an inheritance from the much-despised pagan Greeks.

How do you "inherit" something that had disappeared ages ago in the aftermath of Alexander the Great? There were city-states in Northern Italy, but only later in the Flemish lands. The remainder of the West consisted of dynastic states under kings. The idea of limited power for rulers was a consequence of the fact that rulers had limited power for so long, and Western law developed a doctrine of corporate persons and jurisdiction, with the corporations electing their own guild masters, rectors, chancellors, and such. Even on manors in the early middle ages, while the steward was appointed by the lord (from among the virgater peasants) the other offices were elected by the folkmote on Michaelmas: beadle, jurors, alewives, the wardens of autumn, et al. The Western institution of the Free Town developed from this tradition. Unlike the ancient polis, the town was a corporate person acting on its own recognizance within the larger polities of the Empire, of France, et al. See for more background Toby Huff's books: The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West and Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution.

It was the Enlightenment that brought in absolute monarchs claiming "divine rights", that introduced the totalizing state (seizing jurisdiction over formerly independent bodies), re-introduced slavery (after it had for all practical purposes died out), and demoted the status of women. Don't forget to credit Voltaire and the rest for that, as well.

TheOFloinn said...

polytheistic religion ... produces societies on the whole much more laid back ideologically and more open to debate than the monothestic ones, and in this sense can make the development of science a bit easier.

Except, it did not in fact. Anyone who thinks that the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans were "laid back" has not read enough ancient history. Ask the Gauls about the tolerance of the Romans.

Lay this against the fatal flaws of polytheism vis a vis natural science. 1) the belief in endless cycles of an eternal universe downgraded study of the briefly current natural world; 2) a plethora of bickering godlets hampered the development of the concept of natural laws, since Athena could always overrule Apollo; 3) in many cases, the belief that the natural world was only an illusion hampered the study of the natural world.

After all, the reputation of the ancient Greeks for wisdom did not come from nothing.

Right. It came from the medievals who preferentially copied (and thus preserved) works of Greek mathematics, medicine, practical arts, and natural philosophy. This gives us a skewed image of the rationality of the Greeks. Preserved fragments of papyri indicate that some 90% of all Greek documents were copies of Homer.

Anonymous said...

Baerista, TheOFlinn:

I am certainly learning from this site, though not the lessons you might wish to teach.

I am a born sceptic when it comes to claiming the credit for the achievements of scientists - of people who deal with the physical and mathematical sciences - for religions, no matter which.

Religious chaps ask: what if God is there? But the scientist has not done his work if he is content to say: this or that is the work of God. He has to analyse caues and factors that can be understood without recourse to the supernatural.

In all societies with traditions of learning and literate culture there have been sceptics, people who sensibly doubted all that the God-beleving society claimed.

In ancient India there was an entire school of philosophers who, in astoundingly modern tones, steadily debunked the whole god business. Just credulous people making up fairy stories, was their line.

So, rationlism, respect for observable evidence and mistrust of claims of supernatural causation existed, in India, too.

Buddhism in its original form was at least agnostic if not atheist.

Buddha once disposed of the whole God business very curtly:

"If God is All-powerful He can't be Good
If he is not All-powerful, he can't be God".

Which is about where we are today with Christopher Hitchens.

I wonder if Indian science, having flowered in the age prior to the dominance of Islam, simply died out in any significant way after this time - not because the climate of free ideas was no longer there, not just because the Hindu centres of learning had been destroyed and the literate people killed or dispersed - but simply because that was the fate of all science in pre-capitalist societies: to flower, make some interesting breakthroughs and then to fizzle out. Did something similar happen to Greek science, and Chinese, and Arab?

Did it, in short, take a capitalist economy to keep up the momentum of scientific development, and was this where the West had its advantage?

I am amused to note that you are still very grudging when it comes to accepting the ancient Hindus could do useful work in science. Well, so be it. I suppose one can't expect to extract blood from stone. Is this a case of religion influencing ideas about science? Must all glory go to the ONE Jealous God Jehovah? No mere Hindu pagan can be allowed to stand beside Him?

Even the hoistory of the West would inducate caution in attributing science to religious outlooks. First you get Greeks going impressively far under polytheism. Then you get a hiatus and a slow re-growth, with Christianity kicking around. It is not obvious this was religion kick-starting science.

TheOFloinn said...

So, to summarise; Hitler was right when he called the Theory of Relativity "Jewish science"?

You are the only one harping on this, in between your sneers at Jewish philosophy. Actually, it was other German scientists, including Lenard (a previous Nobel prize winner) and Gehrcke, who said such things. The attack was sponsored by the Association of German Scientists for the Preservation of Pure Science [Arbeitsgemeinschaft deutscher Naturforscher zur Erhaltung reiner Wissenschaft] was started by Paul Weyland, who was its sole member. (Weyland was a two-bit hustler and con-man who, though thoroughly anti-Semitic, was later denied membership in the National Socialist party and was stripped of his German citizenship by the Nazi government.) All this happened in 1920 during the Weimar Republic. At the time Hitler was still a two-bit agitator in Munich, and had just taken charge of setting up meetings and rallies for the German Workers Party. He gave his first speech this year.
+ + +
And the zero is "Hindu science"?

Babylonian, actually.

There is a difference between the notation for the value zero and the digit zero in a positional notation system. The pagan Romans had not used a positional system, and so had no need for that sort of symbol. However, a symbol for the quantity zero was developed by the medieval Latins: N, which was short for nullus, meaning "none." The first surviving use is in AD 525 by Dionysius Exiguus, who developed the BC/AD dating system. Ca. AD 725, Venerable Bede (or a colleague) used the letter N in a table of epacts written in Roman numerals.

It was only when arithmetic began to be done with pencil and paper rather than with computers (counting boards) that a place-holder symbol for N was required.

Karl Marx has nothing to say just because he lived 130 years ago?

He had plenty to say, but it has mostly been proven wrong. What can we say about a non-empirical theorist in the Hegelian tradition? Observation and data collection were not his forte.

Anonymous said...

TheoFlinn, Baerista:

Of the zero, all I can say is that every text on the history of mathematics I can find attributes it to the Indians. I think even Baerista might agree.

One of the best recent discourses on science in India is a piece I am appending by Armartya Sen, the Nebel Prize economist who is also a Sanskrit scholar and rather famous for his critical attitudes to Hinduism.

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article1063459.ece?homepage=true

Have a look. You might respect the Indian intellectual heritage a bit more.

TheOFloinn said...

Religious chaps ask: what if God is there? But the scientist has not done his work if he is content to say: this or that is the work of God. He has to analyse caues and factors that can be understood without recourse to the supernatural.

IOW, he accepts the medieval Christian doctrine of secondary causation.

"[T]he natural order does not exist confusedly and without rational arrangement, and human reason should be listened to concerning those things it treats of. But when it completely fails, then the matter should be referred to God. Therefore, since we have not yet completely lost the use of our minds, let us return to reason."
-- Adelard of Bath [Quaestiones naturales]

[They say] "We do not know how this is, but we know that God can do it." You poor fools! God can make a cow out of a tree, but has He ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so.
...[God] is the author of all things, evil excepted. But the natures with which He endowed His creatures accomplish a whole scheme of operations, and these too turn to His glory since it is He who created these very natures." -- -- William of Conches

"In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power; we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass." -- Albertus Magnus [De vegetabilibus et plantis]

"Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship."
-- Thomas Aquinas, [Commentary on Physics II.8, lecture 14, no. 268;

[See also Summa Theologica, I.115, art 2. Whether there are any seminal virtues in corporeal matter?]

Or more recently: "Scientists are most welcome to 'explain everything they need to without appeal to God;' indeed, I hope all the readers of First Things would join me in strenuously objecting if God is ever invoked in the course of normal scientific explanation!" -- Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn
+ + +

I am amused to note that you are still very grudging when it comes to accepting the ancient Hindus could do useful work in science.

And the rest of us are amused because, despite repeated encouragement, you have yet to cite anything. Mathematics is not natural science.

TheOFloinn said...

Another distinguished university, which did not stay in existence continuously either, viz. Al-Azhar University in Cairo,

Calling something a "university" does not make it a university. Al-Azhar was a madrassa. It offered instruction for ijtihad only, which included qiyas and kalam. However, instruction consisted in masters explaining books of which they were licensed memorizers, at the end of which they offered the student an ijaza, a license to teach that book. There was no instruction outside of religious topics except briefly at Maragha (in Persia) and no regular curriculum. Students went from master to master collecting ijaza, but no collection of ijaza ever added up to what we call a university degree. It was only in recent times that al-Azhar became a university on the European model.

The linked article was interesting because it cited Nalanda as a Buddhist training center, and then said that because Buddhists were cool, the really must have been into all sorts of things that we consider cool. (Buddhists were evidently not cool enough to be tolerated by the Hindus; but that was because Buddhists, like Christians, ignored things like caste thing.) He mentions no science being systematically taught and is even a little hazy about "medicine, public health, architecture, sculpture, and astronomy, in addition to religion, history, law and linguistics." Some Chinese Buddhists who came there reportedly learned some of this; but all the documentation was destroyed. No natural science is evident.

Fear not. No one supposed that India was a land of howling savages. And their work in mathematics was apparently very good, what survived the destruction. It is well-known that Tamil Nadu, where to this day people live in grass huts along Beach Road, produced two Nobel prize winners in physics and a world-class mathematician. No slouches, they.

Anonymous said...

TheOFinn:

OK, TheO, I appreciate the last para.....I guess this is as good as the pagans are going to get.

Reminds me of an old story from the Deep South. A plantation owner once tossed a bottle of rum to his slave for Christmas. Later he asked him: "How was the rum?"

Th slave replied: "Jus'right, boss, jus' right!"

"What d'you mean, jus' right?"

"Well, the way I figures is, if it was any better you wouldn't have given it to me. If it was any worse, it'd have killed me. So, it was jus' right....."

Guess the only acknowledgement of merit we pagans will get out of the Chosen will be "jus' right".

Seriously, though, how about looking further into how not Christinity with all its loaves and fishes but good old capitalism was the real benefactor of science?

Religions don't kick-start science. They merely come to be re-defined and seen as scientific after science has won. It is retrospective, this glamourisation of pretty savage, ignorant cults.

Jesus had no use for linear time or the things of this world; he said so, on any evidence we have. He was expecting everything to end pretty soon, to be suceeded by not linear time but eternity.

(Rather a boring prospect, what? Who WANTS eternity? One life has been bad enough for me! A very good reason why I would never sign up for Christianity.)

Anonymous said...

TheOFinn:

One quick clarification on the Buddhists and Hinduism. The two schools of Indian religion had their bickerings, but got along pretty well. At the base level of Indian society Hinduism seems to have mostly clung on even under Buddhist ruling elites. In any case, until the Muslims took over there was no lack of Buddhists in India.

Buddha is hugely venerated by Hindus, and is in fact regarded as a reincarnation of Vishnu.

The enormous prestige of the Dalai Lama in India is an indication that whatever its faults, hostility to Buddhism is not a typical Hindu trait.

As for Hindu casteism, I loathe it myself - and I am pretty low caste. But after all, does not the West have class distinctions becoming ever more hard? Why do Americans and Britishers sneer at Hindu casteism but seem happy enough with the rule of upper castes in their own societies?

Am I right that Westerners, especially the Anglo-US-Irish despise Hinduism and favour Islam at gut level because after all Islam belongs to the Judaic religious family? I ask, because the obvious loathing of Hinduism and all its works is so visceral in the US-UK press. Whereas every allowance is made for Islam - a bad boy, but a member of the family who will outgrow his youthful errors.

I have no indignation about this, mind you. Birds of a feather must flock together and at bottom Jews, Christians and Muslims are all one Abrahamic family, give or take a few fisticuffs. We Hindus must not expect friendship from them.

Anonymous said...

TheoFloinn:

Last thought for the night...Isn't this writing up of Christianity and Judaism for being linear in terms of ideas of time and therefore, unlike the poor doomed unenlightened pagan Greeks and Hindus, historically progressive in character, rather capricious?

After all, even if the Jews and the Christians saw time as linear they did not mean this would be a progressively better process: on the contrary, they were expecting that there would be catastrophic events leading to the coming of the Messiah as the only hope. If this soor of apocalyptic outlook was being hopeful and optimistic I fail to see why the Hindus who expected a bad age to be succeeded by a golden one can be dismissed as chronic pessimists.

It is all part of this funny game Jews and Christians love to play: equating their religion with science and damning all others as no-hopers.

In support of Lindberg. said...

'Baerista: 'Thomas Bradwardine (English, c.1290-1349) wrote that anyone who studied the Physics without mastering mathematics will 'never enter the portals of knowledge.' This was actually a break with Aristotle, who thought that mathematics (which is unchanging) could not be used for Physics (which deals in change).'

Lindberg's The Beginnings of Western Science which seems to be a sort of bible among posters here refutes this claim, which never had much support among historians, on pages 360-1. 'Aristotle consistently rejected [word emphasised by Lindberg] a prohibition against crossing the boundary between physics and mathematics' (p.361) and he provides quotations to back this up.
It is also useful to read Lindberg's summing up of Aristotle in the section 'Aristotle's Achievement' , p. 65-6. Like Edward Grant, and ,of course, the vast majority of students of the Greek intellectual tradition, Lindberg is a big fan. 'Aristotle's philosophy is an astonishing achievement . .. Aristotle also went far beyond any predecessor in the analysis of specific natural phenomena. It is no exaggeration to claim that, almost single-handedly, he created entirely new disciplines' etc, etc. Lindberg concludes, p.66., that Aristotle's later intellectual dominance in the Renaissance was the result of ' the overwhelming explanatory power of Aristotle's philosophical and scientific system'.
It is odd to find bloggers who take Lindberg's book as the basic text and then make assertions, about Aristotle, for instance, which contradict what Lindberg actually says! As he concludes his survey, p. 359, he notes' few medievalists now defend a strong version of the claim for continuity between medieval and early modern science'.

Baerista said...

@ In support of Lindberg.
Actually, I didn't write this, the O'Floinn did, but I'm gonna respond anyway. That's a nice piece of quotemining you got there, but also kinda pointless. I'm sure we all know that Aristotle did not draw an unsurmountable distinction between mathematics and physics. The point is that they by and large remained separate magisteria in his system - a fact that is acknowledged by Lindberg on the very same pages you cite. It thereby remains true that the Merton calculators and other late medieval scholars broke new ground when they applied mathematics to physics the way they did. And that's all that matters. Nobody here defended a "strong" continuity thesis. The fact that I expressly speak of the "scientific revolution" should have made this clear to you. The view that matters is Grant's "foundations" thesis and the latter has received full support from Lindberg. So no need to strawman here.
Finally, it's ridiculous to say that Lindberg is used as a bible. If he is mentioned frequently, then that's only because he wrote the most comprehensive, accessible, and competent book on pre-modern science, which makes it a good recommendation to newbies. If you read this blog thread carefully, you will see that a multitude of other books and studies are cited, making nonsense of your claim.

@Indianchap

If you want to be taken seriously as a partner in discussion, you need to learn a few things. First: Stop rambling and start responding to the points that are made. Second: Start thinking and try to grasp the distinction between claim a) that a certain religious culture and metaphysical belief-system was conducive of certain intellectual breakthroughs and claim b) that Christianity equals science. If you can't make the distinction, you're a bumbling fool. So make it.
Third: Stop insulting other cultures or religions. Nobody's putting Hinduism down, easy though it would be. You're wasting your time attacking the Christian belief-system (which you understand poorly), whereas everybody else talks about the history of science.
Fourth: Educate yourself on the history of science in India. For instance by reading David Pingree's article in vol. 15 of the Dictionary of Scientific Biography.
Fifth: Read Robert Nisbet's "History of the Idea of Progress" and Johannes Fried's "Aufstieg aus dem Untergang" to see how hopelessly off track you are about Christian views of time and progress and their relation to science.

Humphrey said...

@In support of Lindberg

This quote from page 359 – ' few medievalists now defend a strong version of the claim for continuity between medieval and early modern science'.

Here Lindberg is clearly talking about Duhem’s continuity thesis (and perhaps has in mind Jaki, the best known modern supporter of Duhem) – the extreme form of which argued that experimental methodology was a creation of the Middle Ages. By contrast recent studies argue that the medieval natural philosophers refined and departed from Aristotelian methodology but never relinquished the fundamentals.

The full quote shows this better than the snippet you produced.

‘The early modernists no longer question whether important scientific achievements emerged from the Middle Ages; and few medievalists now defend a strong version of the claim to continuity between medieval and early modern science’.

In support of Lindberg and others. said...

The point still stands that a large number of bloggers on this and similar sites denigrate Aristotle but then still recommend Lindberg, an enthusiastic supporter of Aristotle, as the quotes I made illustrate, as an introduction to the history of science. I simply wanted to make the point that you can't have it both ways. I am not only referring to this site as there are others which claim Lindberg as representing the 'history of science' but then make arguments that Lindberg specifically refutes.
Of course, not everyone would accept Grant and Lindberg as satisfactory introductions to the 'scientific revolution'. Neither of them discusses the scientific advances of the sixteenth century, Lindberg ends in 1450, Grant in 1550 and even then says nothing about anything later than the medieval period, so anyone wanting to understand the seventeenth century is not told about the achievements of the intervening period, Might I recommend the late Margaret Osler's Reconfiguring the World: Nature, God and Human Understanding from the Middle Ages to Early Modern Europe,( Johns Hopkins, 2010). At the risk of being accused of selective quoting, she introduces her second chapter as follows"' During the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries great changes rocked European intellectual life. Many thinkers actively and explicitly searched for a new philosophy of nature to replace Aristoelianism, which fell into disfavour as the result of the confluence of several major developments. Renaisssance humanism, the Protestant Reformation , the exploration of the new World, and Copernican astronomy, each in its own way contributed to the erosion of the traditional world view [which she has discussed in her first chapter]'.
You would never guess that these events happened if you relied on Grant or Lindberg as a source for the foundations of modern science. Other historians of science treat them as standard and there is a mass of new work on sixteenth century science as any visit to a good library will show.
.

Anonymous said...

Baerista:

Many thanks for keeping after me.

I actually welcome savage put-downs of Hinduism, which I feel are the best tonic for it or any other belief system: challenge and criticism, as ruthless as possible, I revel in. Not for nothing do I respect Marx (not all his ideas were right): he was a merciless attacker, and took all the blows unflinchingly.

But Hindu science is a side-issue. None of us here is qualified to discuss it in much detail. Leave it to chaps like Amartya Sen, profoundly learned in both mathematics and Sanskrit.

As for the venerable zero, I am satisfied that every history of mathematics I have scanned give it pride of place as an induspensable enabler of deep mathematical study and mention its Indian origin. It would be great to have you and TheOFloinn concur, but you can't have everything in this world. I can live with wjhat I have got.

Much more interesting, and where I would be delighted for your thoughts, is the relationship between the rise of modern science and capitalism. Methinks that all this focus on medieval and ancient logic systems could be misleading, a new form of scholasticism (how many angels on a pin head, etc). What might have made science in the West a force that did not fizzle out like, say, Hindu science, could be the rise of capitalism.

Any ideas on this?

TheOFloinn said...

Seriously, though, how about looking further into how ... good old capitalism was the real benefactor of science?

Because the effect cannot come before the cause.

Religions don't kick-start science.

But they can create Weltanschauungen that impede or facilitate the study of the natural world. Such a study has not been thought worthwhile in all times and places (although one can find individuals in every time and place). If the natural world is an illusion, its study would not seem very interesting, for example. The collection of facts, lore, and rules of thumb is not science, either; nor is mathematics. Nor is engineering, for that matter. Late Moderns are confused on this point largely because these three have come together during the Modern Ages.

eternity. Rather a boring prospect, what? Who WANTS eternity? One life has been bad enough for me! A very good reason why I would never sign up for Christianity.

Endlessly replicated reincarnations is better? You apparently think "eternity" is "a really really long time." But eternity is not time, nor time as "short piece of eternity." To become bored, time must pass; and no time passes in eternity.

TheOFloinn said...



Am I right that Westerners, especially the Anglo-US-Irish despise Hinduism and favour Islam at gut level because after all Islam belongs to the Judaic religious family? I ask, because the obvious loathing of Hinduism and all its works is so visceral in the US-UK press. Whereas every allowance is made for Islam - a bad boy, but a member of the family who will outgrow his youthful errors.


What is the color of the sky on your planet?

TheOFloinn said...

Aristotle's later intellectual dominance in the Renaissance was the result of ' the overwhelming explanatory power of Aristotle's philosophical and scientific system'.

Aristotle dominated during the Middle Ages. The Renaissance saw an upsurge in Platonism and Hermetic mysticism.

That Aristotle is the only person in history to have invented natural philosophy is undoubted; but he did draw a clear distinction between the physics and mathematics. Remember that "science" [scientia] simply meant "knowledge," not only the sort of knowledge that we now call "science." Hence, political science, military science, the science of theology, and so forth, which ring oddly on the Late Modern ear. In particular, Aristotle recognized the "exact sciences" which included not only mathematics itself, but specialized branches of mathematics like astronomy, optics, and music. These could be described in mathematical terms, specifically in terms of Euclidean geometry, but also a bit of arithmetic.

But mathematics was static and the physics dealt with change. So it was thought that mathematics was not appropriate to the physics. It was not until Leibnitz and Newton that a mathematics of changing things was developed in the integral and differential calculus.

TheOFloinn said...

The continuity and break can be understood, I think, in terms of the Black Death. Anyone reading Oresme and Galileo without any knowledge of chronology, one writer said, would suppose the latter to have been a student of the former; yet, nearly 300 years intervened. Copernicus made the same arguments as Oresme; Galileo used Oresme's proof of the mean speed theorem; Galileo's "demonstrative regress" is Grosseteste's "reductio et compositio" flying under a new name.

In the Atlas of World Population History, we note that the population level of Europe did not reach 14th century levels until the late 16th/early 17th century. If the percentage of a population interested in natural science is constant, this means that not until the generations just before Galileo were there as many "scientists" in Europe as in the days of Buridan, Bradwardine, Oresme, and Albert of Saxony. If we suppose that ideas are like neutrons, the number of natural philosophers spitting out ideas, impacting other minds, leading them to spit out more ideas, the number of scientists must reach critical mass before you get a revolution.

Baerista said...

@ In defence of Lindberg.

I actually agree with most of what you wrote. Margaret Osler has indeed written a valuable and challenging contribution to the history of science. I also think, however, that most of us are well aware that Grant and Lindberg stop at a certain point and that helpful syntheses of early modern science have to be taken from elsewhere. That's why I recommended Gaukroger's "Emergence of a Scientific Culture" in my earlier posts.

@ Indianchap

"But Hindu science is a side-issue. None of us here is qualified to discuss it in much detail. Leave it to chaps like Amartya Sen, profoundly learned in both mathematics and Sanskrit."

Please speak for yourself. Being a professional historian of science, I am arrogant enough to claim that I can comment on Hindu science in as much detail as I feel comfortable with.

"As for the venerable zero, I am satisfied that every history of mathematics I have scanned give it pride of place as an induspensable enabler of deep mathematical study and mention its Indian origin. It would be great to have you and TheOFloinn concur, but you can't have everything in this world. I can live with wjhat I have got."

I think both the O'Floinn and me would be happy if you would stop fire-dancing around "zero" and start addressing it as part of the development of decimal place-value notation, while situating it within a wider context of mathematical history. It would make arguing with you much less frustrating.

"Much more interesting, and where I would be delighted for your thoughts, is the relationship between the rise of modern science and capitalism."

If you had actually paid attention to my earlier remarks (a vain hope, I know), you would know that I am willing to acknowledge capitalism as an external factor. But external factors alone are not nearly satisfactory and invoking capitalism too much makes you risk putting the cart before the horse. Both developed side by side at BEST.

Anonymous said...

Bserista, TheOFloinn:

Well, the debate is taking an interesting turn now that the role of capitalism has been acknowledged. It really is the unnoticed elephant in the drawing room in this discussion, and makes ridiculous the toilsome attempts by Church admirers (if not believers) to prove that some wondrous Christian state of mind or logical auper-subtlety delivered us the modern world.....

Not so fast, comrades, might say Karl Marx.

What happened, vry roughly, was this: the West undoubtedly had an unusual history going back into classical times of restricting the power of rulers more than other major civilizatons. Roman law restricted the power of rulers over property more clearly than other legal systems....This meant that eventually principalities could grow up in places like Northern Italy and the Netherlands where the merchant class was unusually powerful and protected. This incubated capitalism. Capitalism meant a demand for economic and technological innovation, a market for science. It meant that people were increasingly unimpressed by the claustrophobic Middle Eastern, biblical world-view of the Church. The scientists may have been devout Christians often enough, but the implications of their ideas made the Church's doctrines absurd in the eyes of intelligent people. A great example is how the physics of Newton, staunch Christian, inspired Voltaire in his contempt for the Church. The religion of a West growing into modernity could have been Stoicism or Buddhism - any that, unlike later Islam, had some scope for secularism. We might have been spared Christian anti-semitism and the wars of religion.

Anonymous said...

Baerista, ThOFloinn:

Aristotle brusquely said: "So, good bye to Plato's Forms: they're just idle prattle."

Similarly< i say (no Aristotle, though): "So, goodbye to the Judeo-Christain linear sense of time and the necessity for the incubation of modern science of the idea of one Creator... That's just idle Church propaganda in the guise of historical argument."

Baerista said...

"Well, the debate is taking an interesting turn now that the role of capitalism has been acknowledged."

Actually, no. This was never a serious debate and it's not getting more interesting. It's just more of your dull pap.

"It really is the unnoticed elephant in the drawing room in this discussion, and makes ridiculous the toilsome attempts by Church admirers (if not believers) to prove that some wondrous Christian state of mind or logical auper-subtlety delivered us the modern world....."

Yeah, right, the big unnoticed elephant. Like we've never heard any of this before. You know, the last time I looked, historical processes usually had whole networks of causes and to demonstrate the existence of one factor didn't exclude all others. You actually don't even need a PhD to understand this. A functioning brain usually suffices.

"Capitalism meant a demand for economic and technological innovation, a market for science. It meant that people were increasingly unimpressed by the claustrophobic Middle Eastern, biblical world-view of the Church."

Uh-huh. So all the big Italian merchants just had to clatter with their money sacks and made the scientists, who had been hiding in a cigar box up till then, come running into the open. Cause now there was a demand, the forces of the market and all. And along the line that somehow translated into an anti-Church thingy. Brilliant! Have you ever contemplated a career in historical scholarship?

"The scientists may have been devout Christians often enough, but the implications of their ideas made the Church's doctrines absurd in the eyes of intelligent people. A great example is how the physics of Newton, staunch Christian, inspired Voltaire in his contempt for the Church."

Yeah, gravity makes baby Jesus cry. I'm sure Voltaire ate it all up. But wait, wasn't this whole anti-Church thingy supposed to have occurred before the scientific revolution thingy and not after? Because otherwise, that whole Christianity-nothingwhatsoever-to-do-with science-theory looks somewhat less sparkling. I guess I should say I'm confused now, but nevermind.

"The religion of a West growing into modernity could have been Stoicism or Buddhism - any that, unlike later Islam, had some scope for secularism. We might have been spared Christian anti-semitism and the wars of religion."

Yeah, counterfactuals are really something, aren't they. My favourite is this: If you hadn't turned up on this thread, you would have spared me all the braincells I've lost just from reading your inane gobbledygook.

Anonymous said...

Baerista:

I don't mind in the leasr arguing with all of you, and especially you.

You guys are runnin a website worth its weight in gold, and from me there can be no higher praise.

You say:


"Uh-huh. So all the big Italian merchants just had to clatter with their money sacks and made the scientists, who had been hiding in a cigar box up till then, come running into the open. Cause now there was a demand, the forces of the market and all. And along the line that somehow translated into an anti-Church thingy. Brilliant!"

Well, roughly speaking....yes. A permissible oversimplification. The freer old Mponeybags, the more the durable market for science, the greater the tendency to undermine prot-Islamic mumbo-jumbo (like Christianity) and the more enlightenment in science. Socapitalist Netherlands and England lead in science, Spain moulders in something like the Dark Ages even in the eighteenth century. Savvy?

Anonymous said...

Baerista:

"Proto-Islamic mumbo-jumbo", I meant, below. Typos are my enemy.

I am an admirer of Marx (the good stuff in him) so I have no great love of Moneybags...Nor did he, to put it mildly. But both he and I recognise (he is a billion times more intelligent) recognised that it is capitalism that powers science, not the Church.

Believe me, old man.

Anonymous said...

Maxim:

A clever guy simplifies great issues. A mediocre one complicates simple matters.

Anonymous said...

Baerista:

Sure, people have misconceived ideas about physical causation. But even in Ancient Greece they had good ones like heliocentrism which did not survive until revived about a thousand years later.

Why?

Because in the pre-capitalist economy there was no strong market for science. So science's prosperity in places like Classical Greece, India and China was episodic. Only with capitalism did science become a permanently progressing thing.

No-one needs the Church to get science. Science comes from the freedom to make money.

So, as Aristotle might say: "Goodbye to the Judeo-Christian linear sense of time and the rational Creator as begetters of science. Give me old Moneybags instead. "

Baerista said...

Congratulations! You may be the first thinker to successfully convert "science" into a commodity that can be 100% subsumed under Marxist categories, making you the externalist to end all externalism. The strong programme looks like ikebana compared to this. And here was I thinking the 70s are over.

All you need to do now is to write a study showing how all of this works in detail. After all we've heard by now, that shouldn't be too difficult for you: get it published and win the Balzan prize. You might even begin by demonstrating how the development of heliocentrism came about thanks to the merchant's mentality in super-capitalist sixteenth-century Poland. All this nonsense about the Ptolemaic equant model and Copernicus's secure life on the Church's payroll, which enabled him to pursue his research over decades, must obviously be discarded. And Aristarchus, his failure had nothing to do with the physical objections to his thesis (about which we know next to nothing) or the lack of a workable geometrical model (it's not like Greek astronomy made any progress after him), no: his contemporaries just couldn't see how heliocentrism could be used to build another Burger King at the outskirts of Syracuse.

I give it you, Indianchap, you're funny. And I can also see why you find the Marxist approach attractive. It relieves you from having to know anything at all about the scientific process and the history of ideas. Which you don't. And you can nevertheless feel like you've got a grasp of the big picture. Which you don't.

Oh yeah, and the horrible Catholic backwater of Spain which produced people like Diego de Zuniga, Jeronimo de Munoz, José Zaragoza, Juan de Carmuel, Benito Pereira, and Benito Arias Montano.

"Science comes from the freedom to make money."

Are you gonna sue me if I use this for my next bumper sticker?

Anonymous said...

Baerista:

OK, forget the idea.

Another subject: I once had an interview with the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko and asked him, "Why is there so much anti-semitism in Russia?"

He laughed embarrasssedly and said: "It's probably nowadays because many Russians think without the Jews there would have been no Bolshevik Revolution, which caused so much suffering in Rusiia."

I replied "It's not true about the Jews creating the Revolution, but you tell them in Moscow, Yevgeny, that without the Jews there would have been no Russian Orthodocx Church!"

He laughed and laughed and said: "That's very good! I'll spread this joke in Russia...."

I have had my successes.

Anyway, hope no hard feelings?

Baerista said...

I'm semi-tempted to burst into some rant about Oscar Cullmann and the theological underpinnings of Marxism, but I guess it's better to leave it at that. No hard feelings, I'm just pissed at the weather.

TheOFloinn said...

But even in Ancient Greece they had good ones like heliocentrism which did not survive ... Why?

Because the empirical evidence was against it. Science is not the same as "lucky guesses."

http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/but-it-doesn%E2%80%99t-move/

David said...

I know this is over a year old, but, it seems this Hindu guy is probably a part of the Hindu Nationalist movement (which has a lot in common with Islamic extremism, and Christian fundamentalism), there are elements of the Hindu Nationalist movement who wish to make Hindus believe their Tradition is in "danger" of going extinct, just like ancient "paganism", and also it helps them build bridges with certain elements of the Neo-Pagan world (and thereby get Western support), so, take him and any Hindu Nationalist with as much salt as you would an Islamic militant or a Christian fundamentalist).

I'm not Christian, and I guess, in some ways, identify as a Neo-Pagan (well, I used to anyway), but, it's great to see people debunking the idea that Christianity "destroyed" the Classical world, or that the Classical world was "amazing and great" and was "ruined" by Monotheism. The people who buy into theory have a naive understanding of the world and history, their worldview has much in common with Bush's - it's black and white, these people can be identified as "good", and those over there are "evil" or, at best, "ignorant".

Personally, I like learning about many aspects of history, and there were certain good parts of the Classical "pagan" world, but, there were also good parts of the Christian and Islamic worlds as well and countless others.

Anyway, I'm really glad that blogs like this one and Tim O'Neil's exist, as they're probably some of the most intelligent ones I've seen (most descend into attacking others, or trying to get as many "friends" signing up to their blog). Sadly, I doubt the ignorant people will care, if you're really convinced of something, no amount of evidence will persuade you of anything else (whether it's those who hold Christianity or Monotheism responsible for every "evil" of the world, or American Christian fundies who won't accept evolution, or the Christ Mythers who seem to have a fanatical devotion to their pet theory).