Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Return of the Dark Ages

In the latest round of the historical feud between Mike Flynn and Jim 'No beliefs' Walker, Richard Carrier has waded into the fray with a recent blog post 'Flynn's Pile of Boners'. It makes essentially the same argument as Jim Walker did (although whilst calling his commentary 'wildly erroneous' and trying to distance himself from him) and puts forward a sort of a 'thinking man's Christian Dark Ages'. Although this exchange has involved some 'face palm' moments, I am pleased to see that Jim Walker has at least gone from this:

To this:

Ok, it's not much of an improvement, but at least his presentation skills are improving.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum


Endre said...

It is quite amusing that, according to Flynn's chart (without actually reading what he plots, just going by the chart), the Enlightenment and post-enlightenment until 1950 apparently was half as productive in "inventions" as the Dark Ages and the Renaissance. But all get their comeuppance by the "pre-Dark Ages", that invented ten times as many things as the world after 1650 and five things as many things as the "Dark Ages".

Unknown said...

Funny, the BBC says the European Renaissance took place in the 15th and 16th centuries; I wonder what Carrier and Walker would say to that. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/tudors/renaissance_europe_01.shtml

And I wonder what would happen if somebody pointed out to these two gentleman that the Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478 (right in the middle of Walker's Renaissance time line), that witch burnings were a lot more common during this time then in the previous era or that the Thirty Years' War (one of the most destructive conflicts in human history) was the note their beloved Renaissance ended on according to Walker's chart?

Anonymous said...

So, dear people on the internet I trust about the history of science, how accurate is Carrier in his assesment?

TheOFloinn said...

It was "Walker's chart of his interpretation of things he thought Flynn really meant to say."

In it, he projects the modern notion of "invention" [oddly, a medieval term and first applied to music] onto the past.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if this graph will beat out Walker's original for the title of "Stupidest Thing on The Internet" as awarded by Tim?

Anonymous said...

Correction: Walker's chart, not Flynn's.

Anonymous said...

I'm confident that the first chart originally came frome Luke at Common Sense Atheism, which despite the rare, but
interesting post, is usually full of the typical atheist schtick (such as this chart).

The Perplexed Seeker said...

It always seems to me that these charts have what I call an "Age of Empires" computer game attitude to technology (which I guess is basically 19th century Positivism). In the games, technological advancement is always assumed to move in a linear manner, with one invention neatly following another in the ladder of progress provided enough gold is spent on "research".

I'm truly curious as to how these people define "inventions". If they mean the frequency of paradigm shifts in the Kuhnian sense, maybe you could make a case for what they're saying, but it seems to me that greater progress can often be brought by bringing an old technology to maturity or widespread use rather than making a new one (which will take time to perfect).

After all, no idea appears completely out of thin air. We can argue that the helicopter was "invented" by Leonardo da Vinci in his drawings, but he never built one. I guess he'd have wanted to, but that required centuries of advancement in the unrelated fields of material science and engineering...

Humphrey said...

"So, dear people on the internet I trust about the history of science, how accurate is Carrier in his assesment?"

Not very.

It's very much 'party line' stuff on the Xian dark ages which has been dressed up a bit.

For example, the Christians are apparently 'not to blame' for the collapse of civilisation in the Western half of the Roman Empire yet they are castigated for not being interested enough in natural philosophy and relying on the Latin handbook tradition when they could have been jaunting off to Byzantium to learn Greek. They did eventually conduct a mass translation movement when conditions in western Europe had improved sufficiently (thanks in part to improvements in technology and something akin to an agricultural revolution) which makes his contention that they weren't interested in natural philosophy a bit odd. He gets around this by calling everything from 1300 onwards the renaissance, which neatly cuts off the cream of the medieval intellectual achievement (which he says did not advance the sciences in any significant way). Add to that his insistence on aggrandizing the Greek achievement and calling natural philosophers of that period 'scientists' completely anachronistically and you have a total mess. I think you have to give him a bit of credit for his PHD but I think he's lost it with this and the christ myth stuff.

TheOFloinn said...

Oddly enough, da Vinci is the only name anyone comes up with when asked to name a Renaissance scientist -- and he never actually did anything scientific. He did some so-so engineering, mostly military work; but he discovered nothing and formulated no scientific theories. His notebooks no more qualify him as a scientist than the art sketches of any modern-day SF illustrator. As an artist, he was without peer; but as a scientist, he is simply the object of modern projections.

The campaign for more sophisticated history blogging. said...

Part of the problem here seems to be that there is no clear dividing line between the Renaissance and the Middle Ages. Classical humanism began in Italy with Petrarch in the fourteenth century but there is not much evidence of any humanist thought in conservative Paris until the 1490s. Britain does not see much Renaissance influence before the sixteenth century. Italy with its very high levels of literacy, progressive universities and widespread commercial contacts got things moving long before other parts of Europe. The Spanish Inquisition was nothing to do with the Renaissance- it was rooted in the aggressions against Islam ,and especially Judaism, in the specific context of Spanish nationalism. Again the Thirty Years War had many political causes but was also partially fuelled by post- Reformation religious conflict ( Protestantism can't really be linked to the Renaissance.) One must also remember that there was a major turning point with the discovery of the New World. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto', 1492, The Year the World Began is just out (well, here in the US, maybe not yet in Europe) on this theme and Toby Lester's The Fourth Part of the World is also important for showing how the discovery shattered medieval cosmology ( and, he argues, shook up Copernicus' thinking). I share the contributors' to this blog uneasiness about these simplistic divisions of history into periods and even more so the award of good and bad to them! Not proper history at all.

Anonymous said...

So where's the chart that compares Medieval and Contemporary theology?

(pause for uproarious laughter)

I suppose we could just flip this one around.

James Chastek

Tim O'Neill said...

"I wonder if this graph will beat out Walker's original for the title of "Stupidest Thing on The Internet" as awarded by Tim?"

No, the original is still much dumber (though I still can't work out if Walker made it up or got it from somewhere else).

As for Carrier's weasely reply, I already have an Armarium Magnum post in response to his grab bag of errors, howlers, distortions and garbage bubbling at the back of my brain. I suspect it won't be kindly.

The shifting sands of the terms "Dark Ages", "Medieval" and "Renaissance" is especially tricksy. I love this business of having the "Renaissance" start in 1300. This makes Crecy, Poitiers and Bannockburn “Renaissance battles”, the Black Death an “epidemic of the Renaissance”, the Flagellants “a Renaissance religious movement”, the Great Schism of 1378-1417 a “a split in the Renaissance church” and Chaucer, Machaut, Boccaccio and the Gawain-Poet all “Renaissance poets”. Hilarious.

While these periodisation terms are rubbery at the best of times, the whole idea of “the Renaissance” as a historical period simply doesn’t work. It was a cultural movement closely associated with Humanism that took root in different parts of Europe at different times between the later Fourteenth Century (where we see its beginnings in Italy) through the “Northern Renaissance” in Germany and Scandinavia in the Sixteenth Century and can be seen in more far flung places (eg Scotland) as late as the Seventeenth Century. It simply doesn’t work as a periodisation term, largely because it’s a “what”, not a “when”.

Anyway, once again Carrier proves he is to anti-theistic atheism what Ken Ham is to biology – an evangelical polemicist with a degree and a big rusty axe to grind.

Unknown said...

Yay Blogwar! I'm looking forward to Tim's post.

Noons said...

As for when the renaissance began, I remember seeing paintings in museums and textbooks, and can conclude that the renaissance began when people took off their peasant rags and chain-mail and put on pantyhose and funny hats.

On a more serious note: another marker of the end of the middle ages was the introduction of firearms.