Monday, September 10, 2007

Top Tens and Other Matters

Three things today.

1) I've enabled comments on this blog. Commenting is regarded as a basic human right among blog readers so I have relented and will encourage them here. I was worried about having to moderate, but realised that my readers would not require moderation as they are such a civil group of people. So feel free to argue, explicate and debate.

2) What is the world coming to? A correspondent pointed out this story about an anti-Shakespeare pressure group trying to publicise the lunatic idea that he didn't write the plays. Fine actors like Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance are making themselves look like complete plonkers. Worse, it seems that Brunel University is launching an MA course on Shakespeare Authorship studies.

3) I've been posting a top ten list of "things you never knew about science and religion" to some discussion boards to gauge debate and publicise my book. Another correspondent has been working on this idea in the past. Here's my list:

1) In the Middle Ages, Christian universities laid down the foundations of modern science and took the subject of rational logic to heights not reached until the nineteenth century.

2) The Jesuits published over 6,000 scientific papers and texts between 1600 and 1773 including a third of those on electricity. They were by far the largest scientific organisation in the world.

3) Copernicus’s book, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, was never banned by the church. Instead, the pope’s censors compiled a short insert with ten corrections intended to make clear heliocentricism was an unproven hypothesis. At the time, this is what it was.

4) During the Middle Ages, hardly anyone thought the Earth was flat. The question never arose with Christopher Columbus.

5) No one has ever been burnt at the stake for scientific ideas. The only great scientist to have been executed was the chemist Antione Lavoisier. ‘Freethinking’ anti-clerical French revolutionaries guillotined him in 1794, although for political reasons.

6) Calvin never said “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit.

7) Even by the standards of their time, Sir Isaac Newton, Johann Kepler and Michael Faraday were devoutly religious. During the Enlightenment, when scepticism about religion became acceptable, scientists almost always remained committed Christians.

8) Christians did not try and destroy pagan Greek scientific ideas. Instead, they laboriously hand copied millions of words of Greek science and medicine thus ensuring they were preserved.

9) The church never tried to ban zero, lightning conductors or human dissection.

10) The concept of a good creator god who laid down the laws of nature at the beginning of time was an essential metaphysical foundation for modern science.

Let me know if you think anything is needed to finesse the list, add or subtract or otherwise amend. In fact, I suppose that's what the comments function is for.

Click here to read the first chapter of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science absolutely free.


Anonymous said...

Woohoo! Comments, finally! Love the site, but the yahoo group was just too much or a pain to use.

Don't have much to say now, other than thank you.

I discovered your library years ago when I was still a searching agnostic. Few resources had a more profound impact on my journey to Catholicism than the material at the Bede's Library.

I've been silently following both sites ever since.

I mean it in earnest when I say that I will be eternally grateful to you.

Thank You for the amazing work you do.

NickM said...

There was certainly something going on with churches and Ben Franklin's lightning rods, or at least I have seen this mentioned by modern history of science people, presumably fully informed about the various legends of the "religion and science at war" paradigm.

So: you gotta source on that one?

Bjørn Are said...

Don't trust "presumably" too much.

I would recommend “Benjamin Franklin and Lightning Rods” at

Bjørn Are said...

And even that article has some unspecified "religious" troubles.

An even better article is "Popular Prejudice against the Introduction of lightning Rods" by Cohen some decades ago.

James said...

Thank you for your kind words, Steve.

BTW, nick, I wrote a bit about the lightning rod controversy a while back:

Kzer-za said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kzer-za said...

I think #1 and #10 sound too broad and grandiose for a top 10 list, like you're trying to prove too much at once.

Elliot said...

Comments, at last! Huzzah!

I agree that #1 and #10 are a bit too broad. I mean, they're true, but you might scare off some people. Maybe you should include something about the Library Alexandria? Or the Scopes trial? Or Bruno Giordano? (sp?)

Elliot said...

Or perhaps something about Christians who strongly supported Darwin, scientists like Asa Gray, or clergy like Frederick Temple?

Elliot said...

PPS: Uh, make that Giordano Bruno, the alchemist, not Bruno Giordano, the actor.

Bjørn Are said...

I would also suggest some of the following

- The Fanatic Christian Paul dismissed all worldy knowledge to put an end to all ancient and new learning, and succeeded for millenia

- Fanatic Christians burned the Library of Alexandria in 391 to put an end to all ancient learning, and succeeded for a millenium

- Fanatic Christians murdered Hypatia in 415 to put an end to all ancient learning, and succeeded for a millenium

- The Fanatic Christian Emperor Justian closed Plato's Academy in Athens in 529 to put an end to all ancient learning, and succeeded for a millenium

- Fanatic Christians placed Roger Bacon in prison in the 1200's to put an end to all new learning, and succeeded for centuries

- The Fanatic Christian Church burned Bruno in 1600 to put an end to all new learning, and succeeded for decades

Anactoria said...

I think that number 1 on the list is pretty open to debate.

With a top 10 list like this, when you're refuting commonly held (even if false) opinions, I think its important to give your sources. You can't just sweepingly say, "here is a list of 10 things that you're wrong about" without documentation. It would be really nice to see some of the links/sources you're using for support.

Anactoria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Regarding Bruno -- wasn't he actually burned at the stake for being a hermetic occultist, as opposed to being a heliocentrist? (He was a heliocentrist, of course, but not for *scientific* reasons.)

Not that I'm advocating the burning of hermetic occultists or anything.

Al Moritz said...

Great site indeed!

I also have been a silent reader until now; the yahoo group was just too painful to use.

Not just from your writings but from other sources as well I agree with the first part of # 1:

“In the Middle Ages, Christian universities laid down the foundations of modern science”

but have trouble with the second part:
“and took the subject of rational logic to heights not reached until the nineteenth century.”

The scientific revolution, which has seen some great rational thinking, started before the 19th century. Or do you specifically mean rational logic in a philosophical sense? Aquinas (13th century) must certainly be one of the greatest rational thinkers of all time, but then what happened in the 19th century – and not in the two or three centuries before – that is so special?

James said...

Al, thanks for your kind words. I meant logic in the strict philosophical sense.

In the next few days, I'll replace numbers one and ten, mention Bruno and also include some references.

Thank you to everyone for their thoughts.