Monday, January 08, 2007

Appearing in Arizona

Event Announcement:

I will be speaking at an upcoming meeting of the CFI Community of Southern Arizona in Tucson, Arizona on the afternoon of Sunday, February 18 (2007). This is open to the general public. People are expected to be seated by 1:30pm. My talk begins at 2pm and ends before 3:00, with Q&A until around 3:30 and socialization until 4:30, when I have to leave for the airport.

The venue should be the Joel D. Valdez Tucson Main Library on 101 North Stone Avenue. If for any reason the venue changes I will correct this entry to reflect that. In the meantime, contact information and more about the venue is available at the CFI-SAZ Events page. Although right now this only lists and discusses their January meeting, eventually it will be updated with information for their February meeting.

The subject of the talk will be the ever-controversial:

Christian Hostility to Scientific Values in Antiquity: From the beginning of the Christian religion through to the early middle ages, Christians either discarded, hampered, opposed, or even vilified the advance of science and scientific values. Carrier will present a hardy and alarming selection of the evidence for this, with some discussion of why this was the case then, and why Christian attitudes gradually changed over the course of the later middle ages to eventually accept the ideals of scientific progress.

Unlike what I wrote on this blog a few months ago, this speech will delve in detail into the actual evidence before 330 A.D. and will briefly discuss some of the most important changes that took place after 1250 A.D.

It turns out that library rules will prohibit me from selling
my book Sense and Goodness without God. Although alternative arrangements for selling it are being considered, in the worst case scenario I will have order forms and flyers. Of course, if you bring a book you already have, I can sign that after the talk.

8 comments:

Jon said...

Is this talk ever going to be given in San Francisco? It sounds great.

Loren Petrich said...

As Richard Carrier himself has said, where he appears depends on who invites him and finances his travels.

But more seriously, the content of that talk should be VERY interesting, judging from what our host has noted in his Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (2006) on early Xians and science and rationality.

And Richard Carrier, might you someday want to someday write a book that critically analyzes attitudes of early and medieval Xian theologians to science? It seems to me that the "Jaki thesis" is seriously flawed, but you seem like you have to expertise to properly critique it. Maybe some of your atheist-group hosts could help finance your writing it.

I remember reading some of Jaki's books long ago, like "Mind, Brain, and Computers", in which he defends mind-body dualism, and "Planets and Planetarians", a history of planetary-science ideas like the idea that other planets are inhabited. It's a far-from-new argument and I recall Jaki implying something like how the "best" scientists of the past had rejected ET's.

Bill said...

Cool. Although, I don't know alot about biblical history, I am interested. I just moved to Tucson to get my masters in atmospheric science at UA.

Richard Carrier said...

Jon: Is this talk ever going to be given in San Francisco?

I suppose if they ask me I will. If you are really keen you can mention your request to someone on the SFA board. But do note that I already delivered an overly stuffy, technical version of it in Berkeley a few years back. From that experience I've learned to simplify and fun it up a bit, although the overall point and theme is the same.

Loren Petrich: Might you someday want to someday write a book that critically analyzes attitudes of early and medieval Xian theologians to science? It seems to me that the "Jaki thesis" is seriously flawed, but you seem like you have to expertise to properly critique it. Maybe some of your atheist-group hosts could help finance your writing it.

Indeed, I am accumulating material for this purpose. I've already completed the ancient period and have a chapter on it in my dissertation, which will definitely become a book. I may be doing a future radio show on Stark's lousy work on the medieval period (it's so bad that it will definitely make for a funny show). But I am still working on that period overall.

Because the rebirth of classical learning began in the 13th century, I agree with those historians who call this the early Renaissance, not the late middle ages as Stark would have it. Hence I call anything before the 13th century medieval, and everything after Renaissance. The two periods are so different in every measurable respect (economically, culturally, intellectually, militarily, etc.) that they must not be conflated. This is significant because almost everything Stark (and Jaki and gang) credit to the medieval period is actually post-1200 or pre-Christian. They also confuse invention with science. But that's all for another time.

Loren Petrich said...

One does have to wonder what happened around 1200, since the medieval Church was not exactly known for great open-mindedness.

Loren Petrich said...

If you don't mind me asking, I wonder how that talk went. How well was it received? Any insights or critical questions from the audience?

Richard Carrier said...

Loren Petrich: One does have to wonder what happened around 1200, since the medieval Church was not exactly known for great open-mindedness.

It's a complicated story. But in general, the Church never had the power it wanted. It always had to negotiate power with secular leaders, and always had limited resources to enforce its will, or even to know where its will was being defied. Consequently, when larger social and economic forces swung a certain way, the Church didn't have a lot it could do about it, except struggle over generations to come to some accommodation.

That's why the Reformation couldn't be stopped, unlike heresies of the past: the forces that supported the Church stopped supporting it (completely or partially) in favor of other things various secular leaders (and even various members of the church hierarchy and intellectual set) had started wanting more. The Church resisted such departures, but ultimately had to give in, usually with a lame compromise that saved face or dogma but really didn't stop what the Church opposed, though this always took a long while.

The response to Aristotelian philosophy exemplifies this: once the Church saw what was going on, it tried stomping it, but eventually gave in, as long as it was allowed to set the agenda and some rules, which were ultimately broken anyway. Likewise, the Galileo affair killed the scientific revolution in Italy and thus basically surrendered world empire to England, but within a hundred years Galileo's legacy had completely defeated the Church's will and Italy was playing catch up.

The Church was ultimately weak and could only hold the water in the dam for a generation or two before it broke. But that rarely stopped it from trying. The reason things really started changing by 1200 (in the West) is that technological and economic conditions started improving, thus creating power and interests outside the Church that hadn't been there before, or had not been as strong. As for what caused conditions to improve around then, the most credible explanation so far, in my opinion, is climatic and demographic more than ideological, but there are still disputes about that.

Loren Petrich: If you don't mind me asking, I wonder how that talk went. How well was it received? Any insights or critical questions from the audience?

It was very well received. Lots of interesting questions. Nothing overly memorable, except one fellow who got massively angry over a completely peripheral issue. He kept insisting Ptolemy engaged in a conspiracy to conceal heliocentric theory (as if that were possible), even claiming that Ptolemy never mentioned things in his writings that I know for a fact he did. This exchange inspired notes that will result in a blog entry, which will combine this Ptolemy weirdness with another, unrelated Ptolemy issue that I have often had to discuss, though it didn't come up this time, but more on all that later.

Loren Petrich said...

I've seen various Jakian arguments, like "modern science developed in the context of a Xian society" and a lot of rhetoric on how the Xian God is supposed to be a rational being who created a lawful and intelligible Universe. Which seems like a rationalist version of Paul's being "all things to all people".

You are likely correct that increasing wealth had helped; I think that an additional help came from the rediscovery of the works of various pagan philosophers like Aristotle.

But it's a remarkable accomplishment getting Aristotle turned into "The Philosopher" and an honorary Church Father when the Church authorities would get worked up over the smallest deviation about the Trinity.

Another Jakian argument is the theological preoccupations of many early scientists. It may have been difficult to draw a line between "natural theology" and early modern science.

However, some of those preoccupations the Jakiites look the other way at, like Galileo's invention of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (the Holy Spirit tells us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go), and Newton's rejection of the Trinity.

In retrospect, some of their theological arguments, like Newton's belief that God has to fix the planets' orbits every so often, look like "God of the Gaps" arguments. And Steven Weinberg has suggested that the later abandonment of theology in science suggests that theological arguments are fundamentally useless. "Goddidit!" is not much of a hypothesis unless one has some reason for supposing that God had done one thing and not something else.

And if one takes "natural theology" and runs with it, one likely ends up with deism, another viewpoint that many Jakiites consider heretical. This is because if God prefers to create natural laws rather than work miracles, it is hard to take seriously the miracles of the Bible and of the saints -- and those are an important part of traditional Xianity.