Saturday, January 02, 2010

Flynn's Pile of Boners

I've finished reading James Hannam's book God's Philosophers, which I'll probably start blogging about next month. But in the meantime I'm overdue to comment on a much screwier exchange on the same subject online. I'll do that now, to whet your appetite for my discussion of Hannam's much more careful and informative treatment.

Mike Flynn (in "The Age of Unreason") levels many correct and valid criticisms of Jim Walker's wildly erroneous "The Myth of Christianity Founding Modern Science and Medicine (And the Hole Left by the Christian Dark Ages)" (and that despite the fact that I'm sympathetic to Walker's point, and even make the same argument, albeit correctly, in the forthcoming anthology The Christian Delusion, about which I'll blog as soon as I've seen the galleys). Walker responded to Flynn's critique ("Mike Flynn Discovers the Dark Ages"), this time getting a lot more right (particularly in his discussion of technology), but he still gets enough wrong (or still makes too many claims with greater certainty than is warranted), that I can't recommend it. That aside, both Flynn and Walker's main essays are shot through with so many mistakes of fact they can only miseducate, and thus have no value (even worse than no value, since reading them will only spread their error further). So I don't recommend reading either. Here I'm going to try and correct the damage by dispelling the myths Flynn repeats.


I do recommend reading my précis of this same subject several years ago, which simultaneously calls out some of the most common errors of the Walkers and the Flynns of the world ("Science and Medieval Christianity"), which in particular explains what historians now mean by the Dark Ages (and thus why the term is here to stay, despite apologetic attempts to replace it with doublespeak). Here I'll just focus on what Flynn gets wrong, because it's so egregiously wrong, while the rest you can count as already a valid criticism of Walker, so I won't bother addressing Walker's errors myself (except a few in passing).

Flynn issues a long series of total boners that are so appallingly ignorant I can't count the number of times I bowed my head in exasperated shame. I'll just stroll from each to the next...



The Romans Had No Interest in Science (NOT!)
As Brian Stock commented in "Science, Technology, and Economic Progress in the Early Middle Ages" [in Science in the Middle Ages (Lindberg, ed.)] the Romans thought that nature could be imitated (via engineering), placated (via prayers and sacrifices), but not understood (via science).

There is absolutely zero evidence the Romans ever thought any such thing. To the contrary, from the writings of Latins like Seneca and Pliny, the assumption was not only that nature could be understood (especially through science) but that it was our moral obligation to seek to understand it. And when they did, they usually wrote in Greek. Ptolemy, Hero, Dioscorides, Menelaus, and Galen, some of the greatest scientists in antiquity, were all Romans. There were many more.

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Very little of Greek mathematics, for example, had been translated into Latin, beyond what was needed for accounting (of loot), surveying (of conquered lands), and architecture; and almost nothing of Archimedes or of Aristotle's natural philosophy.

This is a statement built on abject ignorance: all well-educated Romans were bilingual. That's why Greek science wasn't translated into Latin: they didn't need it. They were reading the stuff in its original language. Aristotle was undergoing a new craze of popularity, the Romans reissued a new edition of his complete works. The Roman engineer Hero praises, quotes and expands on the works of Archimedes, and Archimedes' science was used extensively by Roman technologists, in ship hull design, aqueduct design, the use of the water screw, and more.

Galen was lecturing to Roman audiences in Greek, performing public scientific demonstrations, and referencing Greek scientific classics from the works of Archimedes to Hipparchus to Herophilus. Plutarch discusses numerous Roman dinners at which sophisticated questions in Greek science were discussed, from Hipparchan optical theory to Seleucan theories of universal gravitation to advanced harmonic science, precisely focusing on the effort to understand nature as a central and popular concern. In fact, Dio Chrysostom describes a veritable craze among Roman audiences for popular lectures in the sciences. These would typically be delivered in Greek, even to Roman audiences.

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The Latin West never lost its Greek heritage because it never had it to begin with.

This is false: the Latin West had entire wings of their libraries (almost every city had one) stocked with Greek treatises, and Latin scientists spoke and read Greek. Even private libraries in the West were once well-stocked in Greek texts (like the one we've been excavating in Herculaneum). During the Dark Ages (500-1000 A.D.) the Latin West largely forgot how to read Greek, and gradually threw away almost all its Greek books out of disinterest, making little attempt to remedy the loss by translating them into Latin. That was a conscious choice. Indeed, since contact with the Greek East was never broken, they had every opportunity to remedy that loss. They didn't.

It is also common for amateurs not to know simple facts like that Marseille (very definitely a Western city), just like Sicily and Southern Italy, were predominately Greek. Archimedes was a Sicilian and worked for Rome (until his last days when Sicily rebelled). Roman Marseille was famous for its engineering schools. There was a very Greek heritage in the West that was very definitely lost.


Still, Flynn is right to say that Christians didn't actively abandon this heritage. It was destroyed by the largely unrelated collapse of society and the ensuing barbarian invasions. All the Christians did was lose interest. Hence they made little effort to preserve or recover what was lost, quite simply because it provided no demonstrable benefit to salvation, and was often a suspect fuel for heresy, while other goals were deemed far more worthy of devoting time and resources to (like copying and preserving devotional literature). And what they did try to keep they often kept incompetently, incompletely, or only in shallow outline.

As Clement of Alexandria describes the proper Christian attitude toward these things, which became all too common in the Middle Ages (emphasis mine):
It is necessary to avoid the great futility that is wholly occupied in irrelevant matters... [so instead the knowledgeable Christian] avails himself of the branches of learning [only] as auxiliary preparatory exercises, in order for the accurate communication of the truth, as far as attainable but with as little distraction as possible, and [only] for a defense against evil arguments aimed at destroying the truth. He will then not be deficient in what contributes to proficiency in the curriculum of studies and in Greek philosophy--but not principally, only necessarily, secondarily, and as a matter of mere circumstance. For what those laboring in heresies use wickedly, the knowledgeable will use rightly.
That's from the Stromata 6.10.(82.4-83.1). I could produce similar quotes from all the early Christian fathers. Such attitudes could not inspire progress in the sciences, nor even their preservation (other than minimally, selectively, and superficially).


Christians Diligently Preserved Ancient Science (NOT!)
[The Christians] preserved and copied an enormous amount of Greek mathematics, technical writings, and natural philosophy.

Actually, no, they didn't. They copied only a tiny fraction of it, and that only barely, and much of it incorrectly. Nearly everything that survives only survives in one or a few manuscripts, widely scattered and poorly kept. We are lucky anything made it to the age of printing. By contrast, the Bible, and Christian writings about God and theology and other religious matters, were widely copied and preserved, thus demonstrating they had the means to do far better on science than they did, they just chose not to. Only a very few Christians thought it worth the bother, and for only a very few treatises. And Eastern Christianity did most of this, and yet in a thousand years made no advances in the sciences of any kind, instead the topic became antiquary and obscure, as fewer and fewer cared to even bother preserving it. By contrast, Western Christianity abandoned and lost almost everything very quickly, and had to recover the ancient scientific heritage from the East a thousand years later. But since even the East preserved so little, what the West inherited was hugely distorted and riddled with gaps.

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For example, of the estimated ten million words of classical Greek that have come down to us, about two million comprise the medical works of Galen -- a full fifth of the entire surviving classical Greek corpus.

This actually illustrates how poorly science was preserved: of hundreds of crucial scientific authors, Galen alone received this treatment, and yet even of his works only a large fraction was preserved. Indeed, if Flynn is right (I'm skeptical of his numbers, but let's believe him, since they make his case worse), Galen constitutes fully a fifth of all ancient Greek preserved, which should shock and horrify us all: there were thousands of Greek authors, tens of thousands of books written, and yet so few were preserved that just one guy's opus makes up a fifth of what remains!?

A comparable analysis follows if we limit the sample to treatises in science, which I have personally verified. For my dissertation I counted some 200 or so scientific treatises preserved, in any field whatever, more than half of which are Galen's, and that from the single field of medicine. So it's actually worse than Flynn's numbers suggest. Even with his numbers, if an incomplete collection of writings from a single scientist comprise a fifth of all Greek texts preserved, clearly the Christians preserved next to nothing of ancient science. For then a complete corpus from a hundred scientists (and there were more than a hundred important scientists in antiquity), even if Galen (by some strange quirk of his) wrote five times as much as any other scientist, would still exceed the entire surviving body of Greek literature four times over. The Christians thus preserved less than 5% of ancient science. Flynn is therefore flat out wrong to claim "the Christians focused on preserving the scientific and medical writings." Historians of science like myself so often shake our heads in sadness at all the scientific treatises we know existed but can't read now, that it has become a common point of commiseration over stiff drinks. It only adds to the misery that we know there were many more books than we know about.

Nevertheless, Flynn is quite right to say the Christians did not set out to deliberately destroy scientific works. They just showed little to no interest in them, and thus let them rot and vanish, sometimes even scraping them off and writing over them with hymns to God, as happened to the Archimedes Codex. This was not because of any hatred at Archimedes or desire to suppress his work. It was just because of a complete disinterest in that work, and a greater preference for preserving hymns to God instead. Such represents the pervasive attitude of medieval Christianity, even in the East, where this terrible "deliberate" destruction of the work of Archimedes occurred.


Flynn attempts to invent an excuse for this...

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At the time that parchment was reused, as we know from references, the complete works of Archimedes were in circulation and so there was no big deal in re-using a scratch copy.

There is actually no good evidence for this assertion. The evidence we have actually suggests the contrary. As discussed in The Archimedes Codex, at the time this palimpsest was made (in the 13th century), his works were so rare there may have been only two other codices in the world with Archimedean works in them, neither of which contained all the works erased in this one (much less all the works of Archimedes).

Even if there were other manuscripts, there certainly were none in the monastery where this palimpsest was made, so the decision was not based on the monks' belief that there were plenty of others. The monks just didn't care about the texts they were erasing. And that's why those texts were almost all lost (until we were able to recover them from this palimpsest using modern technology, a gift of mere luck). So both Flynn and Walker are wrong: the text wasn't erased by an attempt to 'suppress calculus', but neither was it erased in the belief that the text wouldn't be lost. It was erased quite simply because no one cared anymore.

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Archimedes did not invent calculus.  The method revealed in the lost text was a refinement of the method of exhaustion that he had already written about.  You cannot invent calculus using nothing but geometry.  You need algebra, and that had not been invented yet.

That last generalization is incorrect. There is nothing you can do in algebra that you can't do in geometry. Algebra is simply a quicker method of notation and calculation. In fact, one of the most algebraic elements of calculus, the ability to specify particular curves and their properties, had already been entirely worked out geometrically by Archimedes' colleague Apollonius of Perge, without a single jot of algebra. Thus, you don't really need algebra to develop a form of calculus equivalent to the analytical calculus developed by Newton. Similarly, though our trigonometry uses a system of sines and cosines, exactly the same math was done in antiquity using a system of chords. In practical application there is no difference. It's just a different way of doing the same thing (though often one is quicker than the other).

However, it is correct that Archimedes did not invent the whole of calculus--so far as we know. It bears repeating that we lack almost everything he wrote, as well as almost all other ancient mathematics, yet based on what we've recovered that we once thought they didn't have, it is not unreasonable to assume a lot more existed that we don't know about, so calculus could be among those lost developments. For example, we know they developed combinatorics, yet not a single treatise on it survives, except a fragment of one by Archimedes in the very same codex Flynn and Walker are referring to (the one the Christian monks erased). So either Archimedes fully developed combinatorics or his immediate successors did (as it was already being employed by the time of Hipparchus a few generations later), and if that happened for combinatorics, it could have happened for calculus. 

In any case, what we can confirm Archimedes invented were principles of summation for actual infinitesimals, which is not a trivial extension of the method of exhaustion (which deals with potential infinities). The ability to do summations with actual infinitesimals is the core function of modern calculus.


Pagans Destroyed the Library of Alexandria (NOT!)
Plutarch, writing well before this time, states that it was a fire accidentally started by Julius Caesar's troops that destroyed the books [in the Library of Alexandria].

Claims that Julius Caesar destroyed the library have been thoroughly discredited by Robert Barnes, Luciano Canfora, Rice Holmes, and Edward Parsons: only some book warehouses on the docks were burned (as we know from a surviving fragment of Livy, writing a hundred years before Plutarch). It is not known when or how the main library was destroyed, but evidence of its survival extends well into the 4th and 5th centuries (a few examples follow). The daughter library in the Serapeum (a different quarter of the city) was burned by Christians in the late 4th century, but not because of the books inside (see my discussion in Weisz Is Hypatia). So again, both Flynn and Walker are wrong. Contra Walker, Christians didn't burn libraries (at least intentionally), but Flynn repeats just as egregious a myth in his attempt to dispel that one.

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There are no contemporary references to the Library after the reign of Ptolemy Psychon, when there was an anti-foreigner pogrom and the Greek scholars were driven from Egypt.

That's false. The expulsion was too brief. There is no evidence the library abated then, as the scholars had returned well before the arrival of Caesar. Cleopatra even patronized scholarship and the sciences extensively, producing a notable revival in Alexandria. After that, an extant inscription documents Tiberius Claudius Balbillus was appointed head "of the Museum and Library of Alexandria" in 56 A.D., Suetonius says Domitian relied on the Alexandrian library for copies to restock a recently burned library in Rome around 90 A.D., and a papyrus confirms Valerius Diodorus was ‘ex-vice librarian and member of the Museum’ in 173 A.D. (P. Merton 19). We have both kinds of evidence extending all the way past the 4th century.



We Should Believe the Bullshit in Martyrologies (NOT!)


In Julian's reign some Christian virgins of Heliopolis refused to surrender themselves for a night of sacred prostitution before their nuptials.

Since the institution of sacred prostitution has been refuted as a myth (see The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity), Flynn appears to have been duped by the wild myths of Christian hagiography. I doubt any such event occurred under Julian. Historians have long known that Christian martyrdom tales are wildly exaggerated and often complete fiction (the absurdities of the stories Flynn relates really ought to have given him a clue). Ironically, this makes Flynn a victim of the very "confirmation bias" he (rightly) accuses Walker of.


Medieval Christians Expanded Education (NOT!)
The cathedral schools of the early middle ages were open to all.  So were the universities that were Christian Europe's greatest invention. 

Flynn and Walker are again both wrong on this issue. The Church did not actively prevent the public from becoming educated. It just made no effort to educate them. Almost no one was privileged with acceptance in any schools, whether the very small and limited cathedral schools of the early Middle Ages, or the universities hundreds of years later. Only the ultra rich and ultra lucky got in, and of the latter almost all were officials of the Church (you almost always had to join a holy order, as a monk or priest, to gain subsidy for an education).

This rarity of access to education was not new. Education was more available in antiquity, but still at most only 20% of the population had access to basic literacy, and fewer than 10% or even 5% had realistic access to any more substantial education (based on the well-researched estimates of William Harris and Raffaella Cribiore). Though at least then you didn't have to be a professing, non-heretical Christian to get into a school. In the Middle Ages, even in the era of the universities (which only arose more than a thousand years after the advent of Christianity), the percentages would have been much smaller. This began to change perhaps by the late Renaissance. But by then we're no longer in the Middle Ages, and the Dark Ages are long past. Indeed, there were no "universities" in the Dark Ages (6th to 10th century), except the one Byzantine equivalent in Constantinople, nothing the like of which existed in Western Christianity at the time.

And science did not become a common part of university curricula until the Renaissance (c. 1300-1600 A.D.), a term which refers to the "rebirth" of classical art, literature, and values. A revival of interest in classical texts (including the scientific) had already begun in the late Middle Ages (c. 1000-1300 A.D.), but a wider embrace of the values they contained, transforming academic society and its intellectual aims and methods, took place during the 13th century.

Expansion of education was one of the novel aims of the Reformation Christians, and it is they who originated the polemic that the Church opposed such expansion. The reality was more complex. The Church opposed lay interpretation of Scripture, which an education inspired and made possible, and thus the Church had no motive to expand education, and every reason to be suspicious of such efforts, while the Protestants required a lay interpretation of Scripture, which made an education indispensable and its expansion paramount. But all of this transpired after the Middle Ages.


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Nearly every medieval theologian was first educated as a scientist.

This isn't true. That they were taught courses in science did not make them scientists, any more than college students today who take courses in science are thereby scientists. But it was even worse then than now. Only by the end of the Middle Ages did sciences enter any curriculum. And even then for centuries the science taught in universities was shallow, limited, and backward even by ancient standards, and in fact often false even by ancient understanding. And none of it involved an education in actual scientific methods. Very few students were taught how to use scientific instruments to make scientific discoveries or confirm scientific theories, none were taught how to perform exploratory dissections or experiments, and there were no schools of engineering, in which, as in antiquity, practical and applied physics would be taught.

Nor were there any true schools of medicine, as, unlike in antiquity, medieval university medical degrees were all based on antiquated and often erroneous book learning, not on advancing the field or conducting experiments or dissections. Even the ancient practice of compiling and learning from case histories was not taught, nor surgery or apothecary. Dissection and case-history methodology was only taken up again at the dawn of the Renaissance (13th century), and Vesalius was still complaining as late as the 16th century that no students, nor even their teachers, ever performed any dissections themselves. It's well worth quoting him on this point, as he was a contemporary describing the actual situation of his own time:
When all operations were entrusted to barbers, not only did true knowledge of the viscera perish from the medical profession, but the work of dissection completely died out. Physicians did not undertake surgery, while those to whom the manual craft was entrusted were too uneducated to understand what professors of dissection had written. So far this class of men is from preserving for us the difficult and abstruse art handed down to them, and so far has this pernicious dispersal of the healing art failed to avoid importing the vile ritual in the universities by which some perform dissections of the human body while others recite the anatomical information. While the latter in their egregious conceit squawk like jackdaws from their lofty professorial chairs things they have never done but only memorize from the books of others or see written down, the former are so ignorant of languages that they are unable to explain dissections to an audience and they butcher the things they are meant to demonstrate, following the instructions of a physician who in a haughty manner navigates out of a manual alone matters he has never subjected to dissection by hand. And as everything is being thus wrongly taught in the universities and as days pass in silly questions, fewer things are placed before the spectators in all that confusion than a butcher in a market could teach a doctor. I pass over any number of schools where dissecting the structure of the human body is scarcely ever considered; so far has the ancient art of medicine fallen from its early glory many years past. (Vesalius, On the Fabric of the Human Body)
So the notion that medieval theologians were educated as scientists is simply not true. Which is why no advancement of the sciences occurred at any time during the Middle Ages.

Medieval Christians Invented Everything (NOT!)
Indeed, Roman technology in the late days of the Empire is not notably different from Roman technology in the late days of the Republic. [Brian Stock says] "The failure of Greece and Rome to increase productivity through innovation is as notorious as the inability of historians from Gibbon to the present to account for it."

This myth has been decisively refuted over the past twenty years (by the extensive research of such limunaries as K.D. White, Kevin Greene, Andrew Wilson, John Oleson, Örjan Wikander, Michael Lewis, Peter Rosumek, Tracey Rihll, Philippe Leveau, and more; e.g. Kevin Greene, "Technological Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World," Economic History Review 53.1, 2000: pp. 29-59).

The Romans extensively employed innovation to advance productivity. They mechanized numerous operations (pounding, grinding, pumping, and lifting), and widely exploited watermill technology (far beyond what was previously believed). They also developed numerous innovations routinely overlooked: improved locks, ploughs, wagons, furnaces, cranes, presses, scientific instruments, and numerous practical innovations in architectural design and materials, in mining operations, agriculture and manufacturing, and a great deal else.

The pace of innovation in the Middle Ages (especially the Dark Ages) is dismal by comparison. Certainly, all those ancient innovations had been proceeding apace since the Hellenistic and all through the Republic. But there was no sign of abatement under the Empire until everything went to hell in the 3rd century A.D. (on which see my discussion in Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 435-40). But the Christians are not to blame for that. They just didn't fix anything after it got broken. Thus the pace of technological advance largely stalled. The pace of scientific advance stalled completely, and in the West, actually went backwards, as an enormous amount of knowledge was lost and the ensuing gaps were filled with balderdash. Methodology suffered the worst, with all the gains having been made in antiquity, utterly abandoned in the Middle Ages.

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In no particular order [the medieval Christians invented]: watermills, windmills, camshafts, toothed wheels, transmission shafts, mechanical clocks, pendant clocks, eye glasses, four-wheeled wagons, wheeled moldboard plows with shares and coulters, three-field crop rotation, blast furnaces, laws of magnetism, steam blowers, treadles, stirrups, armored cavalry, the elliptical arch, the fraction and arithmetic of fractions, the plus sign, preservation of antiquity, “Gresham’s” law, the mean speed theorem, “Newton’s” first law, distilled liquor, use of letters to indicate quantities in al jabr, discovery of the Canary Islands, the Vivaldi expedition, cranks, overhead springs, latitudo et longitudo, coiled springs, laws of war and non-combatants, modal logic, capital letters and punctuation marks, hydraulic hammers, definition of uniform motion, of uniformly accelerated motion, of instantaneous motion, explanation of the rainbow, counterpoint and harmony, screw-jacks, screw-presses, horse collars, gunpowder and pots de fer, that there may be a vacuum, that there may be other Worlds, that the earth may turn in a diurnal motion, that to overthrow a tyrant is the right of the multitude, the two-masted cog, infinitesimals, open and closed sets, verge-and-foliot escapements, magnetic compasses, portolan charts, the true keel, natural law, human rights, international law, universities, corporations, freedom of inquiry, separation of church and state, “Smith’s” law of marketplaces, fossilization, geological erosion and uplift, anaerobic salting of fatty fish (“pickled herring”), double entry bookkeeping, and... the printing press.  (Yeah, some of the innovations are political and economic.).

Very little of this is true. In fact, not a single one of the items on this list was invented in the Christian Dark Ages. Only a few were invented in the Middle Ages, but either not before 1000 A.D. or not by Christians (and in some cases, neither). A handful weren't even invented until after the Middle Ages. The rest (in fact, most of the list) already existed in the Roman Empire. This kind of shameless conflation of periods and origins, and ignorance of ancient technology, all merely to fabricate a bogus claim of medieval Christian inventiveness, is a common disease among medievalists these days.

Laws of magnetism were not invented in the Middle Ages, but discovered during the Scientific Revolution, as were coiled springs. Smith's Law was invented after the Scientific Revolution altogether. Set theory (hence the definition of an open and closed set) was invented a whole century after that. Similarly,
"separation of church and state" did not in fact exist until the First Amendment was ratified in 1791. Since far more religious freedom existed in antiquity than in the Middle Ages (politically and legally), "separation of church and state" is not a real invention of the Middle Ages. Despite repeated doublespeak, no such separation in fact existed: to the contrary, Church will was enforced at the political and legal level on an infamous and appalling scale never before seen.

Other items were not discovered by Christians, but Muslims (the windmill, the refractory explanation of the rainbow) or the Chinese (gunpowder, the compass, the stirrup, and the printing press), and then only drifted West, inspiring Christians to make gradual improvements on them.

Of the items on Flynn's list, only escapement clocks, eyeglasses, the elliptical arch, and the Mean Speed Theorem have any claim to being medieval Christian inventions, yet all are in fact from the Renaissance (all date to the 14th century; except eyeglasses, which are late 13th), and calling the Renaissance the Middle Ages is an act of semantic legerdemain I have little sympathy for. Possibly double-entry bookkeeping, the modern horse collar, screw jack, treadle, and certain novel definitions of motion might be medieval Christian inventions, too, but we lack the sources necessary to confirm that these didn't also exist in antiquity (i.e. we cannot construct a valid Argument from Silence in their case), and there is even some circumstantial evidence that they did exist, or something like them (indeed, as screw jacks are just Roman screw presses turned upside down, it's already far-fetched to assume they didn't use them; and the modern horse collar differs from the Roman yoke by a single attachment point). But even if we credit them as new, all of those were invented after 1000 AD (hence after the Dark Ages), and none was put to scientific use (not even the Mean Speed Theorem or any medieval definitions of motion) until the Scientific Revolution.

One could quibble over the details in some cases. The Romans had multiple systems of two-field rotation, and three-field rotation simply combines two of those systems, and works only in certain northern environments for which we have few surviving sources in antiquity, so it is uncertain even that three-field rotation was invented in the Middle Ages. But even if it was, it was not as significant an innovation as is usually claimed, since it merely adapted field rotation systems the ancients had already invented. And even then, we still can't count it as a Christian invention, because it was invented by Muslims

Likewise, symbols and systems for fractional arithmetic and algebra existed in antiquity (one treatise on them partially survives from Diophantus), but they were all forgotten and had to be reinvented in the later Middle Ages. Similarly, there were ancient equivalents of universities and corporations, they just differed in how they were organized. And Gresham's Law isn't really a law, just an observation that "bad money drives out good" which was certainly understood in antiquity (the Romans had been putting it to deliberate effect in Egypt since the time of Augustus), even if not clearly articulated in extant texts.

Likewise, although Muslims invented the windmill (in use as early as the 9th century), it was of such a different design from the Western that it can only have been the idea, not the design, the Christians inherited (the Muslim windmill used a vertical shaft, which requires no gears or transmissions). But the Christian model is an obvious combination of the Roman "windmill" (described by Hero in the 1st century, though in fact a wind pump, not a grain mill, but the sail design was identical) and the Roman watermill (the gearing and transmission was identical), so it looks like someone heard of Muslim windmills without actually seeing one or knowing many specifics, and then they drew up their own by combining existing pagan machinery. So Christians earn a quarter of a point for that (since reverse engineering a Muslim idea by combining two Roman machines is 3:1 non-Christian). But that was still not done in the Dark Ages.

Finally, I don't know what Flynn means by "pendant" clocks or "overhead" springs. The Romans had springs of many kinds. Flynn may have in mind suspension springs, which the Romans had incorporated into wagons by at least the 2nd century, or table clock spring motivators, which were invented in the 16th century and thus not the Middle Ages. And if by "pendant clock" he means pocket watches (originally hung about the neck), those are again a 16th century invention. But the Romans had pocket sundials of considerable sophistication (of cylindrical design), as well as portable geared calendar sundials. If he means "pendulum" clocks, however, then that's the escapement clock, which is what I assume he means by "mechanical" clocks (misusing the word "mechanical," since the escapement is not the only way to operate a mechanical clock), but that would be a case of padding his list by naming the same invention thrice.


So of 70 items Flynn lists, 44 already existed in the Roman era (in some equivalent form), 7 can't be confirmed as novel to the Middle Ages (horse collars, double entry bookkeeping, screw-jacks, treadles, and three definitions of motion), 7 were actually invented by Muslims (windmills, three-field crop rotation, explanation of the rainbow) or the Chinese (gunpowder, magnetic compasses, stirrups, the printing press), 6 were invented after the Middle Ages (laws of magnetism, open and closed sets, “Smith’s” law of marketplaces, coiled springs, pendant clocks, and the separation of church and state), 1 is unintelligible (I have no idea what he means by "overhead springs"), and 1 isn't real (separation of church and state). That leaves a whopping 4 inventions Christians can claim in the whole of the Middle Ages (escapements, eye glasses, elliptical arches, and the Mean Speed Theorem), not one of which was invented in the Dark Ages (600-1000 A.D.) or arguably even the Middle Ages (all post-date 1250 A.D.), and not one of which was given any scientific application in the Middle Ages. In fact, three of them are largely redundant, as the Romans had magnifying glasses (Seneca explicitly refers to using one in the Natural Questions and Ptolemy studied the refraction properties of convex and concave lenses), and accurate mechanized clocks, and were more than effective in their use of the standard arch and vault.

So compare one single unused innovation (the Mean Speed Theorem) with what the Greeks and Romans developed, and the Middle Ages look awesomely pathetic. All the more if you don't count the Renaissance as the Middle Ages, for then not even a single Christian invention remains. And that's just using items Flynn tried to steal credit for. His list could in fact be expanded numerous times over and still we wouldn't exhaust the inventions of Greco-Roman antiquity. But just from his list: the Romans already had watermills, camshafts, toothed wheels, transmission shafts, mechanical clocks (powered by water), four-wheeled wagons (and with suspension systems no less), wheeled moldboard plows with shares and coulters, blast furnaces (the employment of torsion bellows in furnaces is taken for granted in the 1st century Latin poem Aetna 555-65, and archaeologists have found hints of their use at Roman sites), steam blowers (Hero describes several in his Pneumatics), armored cavalry (known to the Romans, but unused because it is in fact a tactically stupid military armament), equivalents of the plus sign and the fraction and arithmetic of fractions, preservation of antiquity (the Greeks, after all, invented not only the public library, but philology, chronography, and empirical history), an understanding of “Gresham’s” law, the equivalent of “Newton’s” first law, distilled liquor (Roman alchemical treatises describe the process and several still designs), use of letters to indicate quantities (Diophantus), discovery of the Canary Islands (by the Roman client-king Juba), knowledge of West Africa (what Flynn means by the Vivaldi expedition, such expeditions are recorded by several ancient geographers), cranks, latitude and longitude (invented by the Roman scientist Ptolemy, using Alexandria instead of Greenwich for the meridian), the equivalent to laws of war and non-combatants, modal logic (developed by the Stoic logicians of the Hellenistic period), capital letters and punctuation marks (both are visible in ancient inscriptions and papyri; plus an entire system of textual mark-up had been developed by the Alexandrian scholars), hydraulic hammers (and saws as well), the equivalents of counterpoint and harmony (bagpipes and organs made polyphony a regular phenomenon, and depictions in ancient art of horns and organs being played together suggests musical troupes exploited it), screw-presses, the possibility of a vacuum (in fact, empirically proven by Hero in the 1st century, and possibly by Strato centuries earlier), the possibility of other Worlds (explicitly argued by Lucretius), the idea that the earth might turn in a diurnal motion (not only proposed by Aristarchus, Seleucus and other ancient heliocentrists, but there was a whole school of dynamic geocentrists as well), the belief that to overthrow a tyrant is the right of the multitude (sic semper tyrannis, a concept as old as Aristotle's Politics, cf. Leslie Goldstein,  "Aristotle's Theory of Revolution," Political Research Quarterly 54.2), the equivalent of the two-masted cog (in fact, by the Roman era ship technology was even more advanced than this), infinitesimals (developed by Archimedes in On the Method), the equivalent of portolan charts, the keel, natural law and human rights (developed by the Stoics), international law (just another name for laws established by treaty, unless Flynn is using it in the sense of "natural law" and thus padding his list again), the equivalent of universities and corporations, freedom of inquiry (it's quite Orwellian of Flynn to credit this to the Middle Ages, which engaged the full apparatus of the state to suppress many elements of freedom of inquiry for the first time in human history), fossilization (Theophrastus wrote a treatise on fossils; you know, one of those scientific books Christians didn't care to save), geological erosion and uplift (described already by Eratosthenes and quoted approvingly by Strabo), and anaerobic salting of fatty fish (garum was a Roman staple, and not the only thing they pickled in anaerobic brine).

I'll document much of this in a future book (The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire). Until then, you can peruse the following works, yet they barely touch the tip of the iceberg of ancient technological achievements: John Oleson, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World (2008); Örjan Wikander, ed., Handbook of Ancient Water Technology (2000); and M.J.T. Lewis, Millstone and Hammer: The Origins of Water Power (1997). This isn't even remotely exhaustive. Suffice to say Flynn doesn't know what he's talking about.


~:~
Guy de Chauliac, who was also the Pope's physician [:] After he contracted the plague, Guy heroically and meticulously recorded his obervations of his own illness; and it is to him that we owe our knowledge of the course of the disease.

Yet almost all ancient treatises documenting the courses of countless diseases (including the Bubonic Plague) were not preserved by Christians. This is actually a perfect example of the disinterest of medieval Christians in science, and of why the Renaissance (Guy lived in the 14th century) is not the Middle Ages: only in the Renaissance did Christians finally revive the ancient method of meticulously recording observations regarding the courses of different diseases. But by then, they had already thrown out almost all the same work already achieved by the Greeks and Romans. In other words, Renaissance Christians had medieval Christians to thank for having to reinvent the wheel and start all over again.

~:~
It was also in Christian Europe that the first anatomical dissections were done, ever.  They quickly became mandatory at the medical universities.

Neither statement is true. Anatomical dissections using animals, to study the animal itself or as surrogates for people, were standard in antiquity, and dissections of human cadavers began under Herophilus in the Hellenistic period. Even the Roman physician Galen had the occasional opportunity to dissect a human cadaver, and refers to others of his time who had as well, and recommended every doctor pursue that opportunity, while dissecting animals as regularly as possible.

The Christians did not revive the practice until the Renaissance, long after the Dark Ages were over. And even then, once cadaver dissection was introduced in universities, it took centuries for the practice to spread and become mandatory, and even then, according to Vesalius, most doctors and medical students refused to do the dissections themselves and thus made little progress.

~:~
Mondino de Luzzi published Anatomia, the first manual on dissection, in 1316.  Hugh of Lucca used wine to clean wounds and founded a school of surgery at Bologna in 1204.  John of Arderne used hemlock as an anesthesia; and “soporific sponges” for knocking out surgery patients date from XI century.  Henri de Mondeville pioneered aseptic treatment of wounds and the use of sutures.

All these treatments were already standard in the time of Galen (and had been for centuries). Anatomical literature was also commonplace in antiquity, and the first known instructional manuals on dissection were written by Galen (he composed several, the most extensive was On Anatomical Procedures, completely discarded in the West, only half of it survived Eastern Christian disinterest, the rest we had to recover from Arabic translations).

~:~
What Vesalius gave us (which was a genuine advance) was the Renaissance invention of perspective in art applied to anatomical drawings.

Laws of perspective had been developed and were in use in antiquity. They may have even been used in anatomical texts (we have references to them), but since such drawings could not be copied faithfully (the woodcut press had not yet been invented, which is the only reason Vesalius' drawings have been preserved at all), ancient scientists tended not to invest in them (and we have ancient scientists on record saying essentially that). But whatever innovations Vesalius gave us, they are a product of the Scientific Revolution, not the Middle Ages (much less the Dark Ages). He wrote in the 16th century.

~:~
But recall that the temples of Asklepios were not hospitals where you went to be cared for by nursing sisters.  They were religious temples where you went in the hope of getting a vision from the god in your sleep.

They were actually both. Doctors frequented the temples (sometimes medical schools were even associated with them), and temple attendants saw to the needs of supplicants as well. The true hospital (as an organized and scientifically engineered facility for surgery and in-patient care) was invented by the Romans. In fact the hospitals of the Roman legions were so advanced they were not rivaled until the Scientific Revolution. Those who did not have access to them frequented the healing temples, some of which were massive hospice enterprises not at all unlike later Christian hospitals. But a great deal of ancient health care was outcall: doctors would visit the sick in their own home, in many cases charitably for free or for fees scaled to means, and many cities had subsidized health care (public funds paying the salary of one or more doctors for the whole citizenry).

Of these, the Christian hospital looked far more like an adaptation of the pagan healing temples (combining spiritual with informally arranged medical care for the indigent, acting more as hospices than scientific medical facilities) and very little like the Roman legionary hospital. It cannot really be called an innovation.


There Were a Zillion Christian Scientists in the Dark Ages (NOT!)

In response to Walker's claim that no Christian scientists "lived during the Dark Ages" Flynn gives the following list:

Jean Buridan de Bethune.  Nicole d'Oresme.  Albrecht of Saxony, William of Heytesbury, Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Thomas Bradwardine, Theodoric of Fribourg, Roger Bacon, Thierry of Chartres, Gerbert of Aurillac, William of Conches, Nicholas Cusa, John Philoponus, etc. etc.  (William of Ockham showed little interest in natural philosophy.).

Flynn evidently doesn't know what a scientist is. Not a single person on this list made any empirical scientific discovery or advanced the sciences in any important way. Even when they are supposed to at least have had a novel thought, in almost every case we can identify an ancient predecessor who already had the same thought, and regardless, none of them employed their novel ideas to advance science. 

For example, Buridan did nothing with his impetus theory. It would not be given scientific application for several more centuries. And Gerbert only rediscovered knowledge that had been lost from the ancients. Not one man on this list (except Gerbert) was even a practicing astronomer, doctor, botanist, zoologist, geologist, or engineer, much less a conductor of original research in any of those fields. There were, of course, many medieval Christian doctors, astronomers, and engineers, but they only practiced a degenerate craft. They didn't do any new research, and had forgotten almost everything the ancients had achieved in their respective fields. Only after the Dark Ages did this start to change, and only in the Renaissance did Christians catch back up with the ancient pagans (and started to surpass them in the Scientific Revolution). There were a few exceptions in the East (in Byzantium), but they gradually dwindled in number, and still made no advances, not even in a thousand years.

Flynn also seems chronologically challenged. Almost none on his list lived in the Dark Ages. Almost all of them are from the Early Renaissance (13th century or later), not the Dark Ages, a chronological confusion that many apologists for medieval Christianity seem suspiciously prone to. The only men on his list that are pre-Renaissance are Thierry of Chartres, Gerbert of Aurillac, William of Conches, and John Philopon, none of whom was a research scientist, and only one (Gerbert) even practiced a science.


Worse, Flynn's few examples from the Dark Ages actually prove Walker's point. Thierry's only link to anything remotely close to science is that he wrote a commentary on Genesis using Plato's Timaeus, which isn't even remotely scientific behavior. To the contrary, it is almost in every way exactly the opposite of doing science, and thus in fact confirmation of what Walker was saying: this is what Christians had replaced science with in the Dark Ages. Thierry also wrote an encyclopedia of the arts, whose only science content was a lay summary of rudimentary knowledge of astronomy that actually exemplifies the decay of scientific knowledge and abandonment of original scientific research in the Dark Ages. William was a grammarian (!) who did even less than Thierry. Why any modern scholar would try to sneak these names into a list of Christian "scientists" is beyond me, particularly as these men actually confirm the point that citing them is supposed to rebut.

Gerbert at least showed some real interest in astronomy and instrumentation, but his treatises demonstrate he didn't even understand correctly how to build or use an astrolabe (despite the fact that advanced treatises on this had been written in antiquity), and his correspondence demonstrates his knowledge of astronomy was rudimentary by ancient standards, hence in fact confirming how much knowledge had been lost during the Dark Ages (as Gerbert had access to all the educational resources any European Christian could then claim, and thus his ignorance could only have been surpassed by everyone else). As even Hannam admits, "Although Gerbert knew more about science than any other Catholic in his day, he was still well behind the achievements of the ancient world" and his correspondence only confirmed "how little information" had survived for him to consult (God's Philosophers, pp. 31, 28). Exactly. That's why we call it the Dark Ages.


311 comments:

1 – 200 of 311   Newer›   Newest»
The Nerd said...

http://lafinjack.net/images/comicz/joker/joker_boner1.jpg

AIGBusted said...

Fascinating post.

Jon said...

Good read. Do modern scholars, that happen to be Christian, have special trouble (due to bias) researching and writing about Christian history? Or are erroneous claims such as ones found in this book just one particularly bad example? I've always wondered about this.

Luke said...

Wow! Great post.

The Science Pundit said...

Great post! I knew that the Dark Ages were dark, but you've really shone the light on just how dark the Dark Ages were.

georgeforest said...

Interesting post and should be embarrassing to the two targets of criticism. It is too bad the East, and especially China, did not do more to integrate their scientific knowledge with that of the West. It is possible they could have saved much of what the West lost during the dark ages. Confucius did much to bring China out of its own dark age period.

JT Eberhard said...

O.O

That's a pretty amazing piece of surgery you've just done. I imagine Walker will be walking funny for a few weeks...

JT

Quine said...

Great in-depth post! I will be keeping a link to it.

Mark Jones said...

Agree with the other comments; an excellent blog to use as a starting point for some serious research, for us historically-challenged folk. Thanks.

magicshoemonkey said...

Could you provide a source for more info concerning the Roman hospitals and medical technology? Apologies if I missed it in the text of your post.

NAL said...

May I suggest you use "jump breaks" that create the "read more" links.

On the create post page, click on the "Settings" tab. Down at the bottom under "Global Settings" is the "Select post editor" option. Click on "Updated editor", and "Save Settings".

Then, under the "Compose" option for creating posts, you'll see a torn page icon all the way on the right. Just click this with the cursor in the desired position.

Humphrey said...

Richard

I don't see that you have done much better here than Jim 'no beliefs' Walker. On the one hand the Christians shouldn't be blamed for the collapse of civilisation that followed the fall of the Western Roman Empire. On the other hand they are to be berated for not showing enough interest in natural philosophy during this period and failing to learn Greek (Presumably they deserve a few claps for the translation movements of the 11th and 12th centuries). Then to further disparage the poor blighters, you have the renaissance beginning in the 13th century, which by my reckoning is the beginning of the late Middle Ages. Might you have asked, as many historians of science have, whether the 'scientific revolution' was entirely the product of the intellectual culture of antiquity and medieval Islam, or whether there were important contributions made by the Latins of the Middle Ages?. That seems to be the point at issue here.

Pikemann Urge said...

That was truly an amazing post to behold. I was hooked on every word.

Perhaps this type of subject should be debated in front of large audiences. It's much more practical and useful than polemicizing about whether or not God exists (I won't bother even listening to the Hitchens-Craig debate).

Pikemann Urge said...

Oh, and Richard, why are you using 'n A.D.' instead of 'A.D. n'?

Humphrey said...

Richard

I want to take issue with (among other things):

“Neither statement is true. Anatomical dissections using animals, to study the animal itself or as surrogates for people, were standard in antiquity, and dissections of human cadavers began under Herophilus in the Hellenistic period. Even the Roman physician Galen had the occasional opportunity to dissect a human cadaver, and refers to others of his time who had as well, and recommended every doctor pursue that opportunity, while dissecting animals as regularly as possible. The Christians did not revive the practice until the Renaissance, long after the Dark Ages were over.”

Although this successfully counters the original point, this doesn’t appear to me to give the whole story. The fact is that human dissection does not seem to have been practiced with any regularity before the end of the 13th century (which I always thought was high middle ages! – but then I’m a modern historian). The first known medieval anatomy textbook based on human dissection appears to have been produced by Mondino de Liuzzi (1275-1326) at Bologna. As you point out, the one period we know of in antiquity where it was practiced was in the fourth to third century BCE when studies of the human body were made by Herophilus and Erasistratus (one account says that they “cut open living men - criminals they obtained out of prison from the kings and they observed, while their subjects still breathed”). You mention that dissections ‘began’. You don’t mention that they ended and were possible only for a period of around fifty years. It was generally avoided because of the belief that corpses were ritually unclean.

By Galen’s time he had trouble even studying a human skeleton, let alone dissecting a human body. Hence he relied on animal dissection and recommended his students travel to Alexandria to view skeletons. He also mentions seeing the bones of a robber by the side of the road in the mountains (whose flesh had been devoured by birds) and gives the example of when a flood washed through a cemetery and revealed human bones which ‘it was possible to view as it would have been arranged by a physician so as to explain to a student’. I am not aware of him ever getting his hands on a human dead body to actually dissect. The closest he got were the aforementioned examples, an operation performed on a slave belonging to Maryllus (which displayed heart and breast bone) and some second hand reports from some army physicians who cut up barbarians killed in battle during Marcus Aurelius’s campaign, but who did not have sufficient skill to learn anything. The evidence appears to be against him having done so. If he had he might not have made such key errors such as attributing features to humans which are found only in animal sources (e.g the rete mirable he said was in the neck). So if antiquity deserves points for Herophilus and Erasistratus; the medieval period deserves points for ditching the kind of taboos which hindered Galen.

Pikemann Urge said...

Humphrey: "the medieval period deserves points for ditching the kind of taboos which hindered Galen."

AFAIK even Leonardo had problems getting corpses to dissect. That was, what, 15thC?

So obviously this issue needs to be looked at in more detail. I'm just trying to be thorough!

Humphrey said...

Hi Pikemann Urge (great name)

Leonardo never got into trouble for practicing human dissection, but it’s true that he had trouble getting hold of corpses. At this point Italian municipalities restricted dissection to those that were foreign born (defined as those who were born more than 30 miles away) or those who had just been executed. This was due to strong cultural sensitivities at the time that dissection was a shaming prospect for a family. Leonardo had some difficulties getting hold of cadavers for two reasons.

1) After 1500 anatomy exploded as a research field meaning that the supply of bodies couldn’t match demand. This meant that anatomists had to turn to the hospitals (Leonardo dissected an elderly patient there he had befriended). Some resorted to grave robbing of corpses which were not too old.

2) Leonardo was an artist with no medical training or institutional credentials.
See Harvard’s Katharine Park’s essay in ‘Galileo goes to Jail’.

Richard Carrier said...

Jon said... Or are erroneous claims such as ones found in this book just one particularly bad example?

Which book are you referring to? I was responding to a blog.

In answer to the question, there seems to be a direct proportional relationship between how conservative your theology is and how bullshit your view of history is. At any rate, some Christian historians (like Hannam) do very much better at getting this right than others (like Flynn).

Richard Carrier said...

Georgeforest said... Confucius did much to bring China out of its own dark age period.

I don't know what you are referring to. There was no decline or loss of knowledge in science and technology preceding Confucius, nor did he contribute to the advance of either.

In general, the Chinese were, like the Romans, brilliant technologists (their achievements in mechanization overlap, while some things the Chinese thought of the Romans didn't and some things the Romans thought of the Chinese didn't), but lousy scientists. Or rather, they were not scientists as such at all, lacking what we call scientific method and mathematical and logical theory, and accordingly lacking in the achievements realized in Greece and Rome. Their mathematical and scientific knowledge never went much beyond Classical Greece, until modern Western contact.

Chinese apologists, like medievalists, will try to claim otherwise by fudging the definitions of key terms like "science" and "achievement" and misrepresenting achievements as parallel to the Greco-Roman. For example, it will be claimed they had geometry, too, but when you look at the facts, what they had was pre-Euclidean geometric knowledge void of advanced theoretical understanding, and accordingly they never realized trigonometry or conics or proto-calculus, and they never built an accurate model of the heavens (they only had models slightly more accurate than the Babylonian). Likewise, they never discovered the law of buoyancy or why it held, yet understood the principle in rough outline, had tables of specific gravity they cobbled together from experience, and built some of the finest ships in history before modern times.

Why the Chinese could be so brilliant yet never realize what we call science (which is the only method of ascertaining knowledge of the world that makes theoretical progress) is a question that still vexes comparative historians. For the best attempts at explaining it, see G.E.R. Lloyd, The Ambitions of Curiosity (2002) and Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense (1993).

Richard Carrier said...

Magicshoemonkey said... Could you provide a source for more info concerning the Roman hospitals and medical technology?

For a complete survey and background, of the good and the bad, start with Vivian Nutton's tour de force Ancient Medicine (2004). He discusses hospitals on pp. 178-82 and the use of Asclepiea as hospices and clinics on pp. 103-10. See also Ralph Jackson, Doctors and Diseases in the Roman Empire (1988).

As to medical technology, you need to be more specific. The most comprehensive discussion of ancient medical instruments is that of Ernst Künzl, "Forschungsbericht zu den antiken medizinischen Instrumenten," Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 2.37.3: 2433-2639, but if you don't read German that will hardly be of use to you. John Stewart Milne's 1907 Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times is actually still very good despite being so old (a very rare thing in historical scholarship), but is still obsolete.

If you mean something specific, like antiseptics, I can direct you on a case-by-case basis, e.g. Celsus, On Medicine 5.19.1-28, gives an extensive list of recognized antiseptic agents; Galen recommended pitch and thick wine (i.e. ancient wine came in concentrate and was mixed with water before serving; thick wine means pre-mixed, so essentially the ancient equivalent of rubbing alcohol) in his Commentary on the Medical Practice of Hippocrates; the Romans even knew that water is sanitized by boiling (Pliny the Elder, Natural History 31.23.40).

Richard Carrier said...

Nerd: Joker Boner pic. Love it. You're awesome.

Richard Carrier said...

NAL said... May I suggest you use "jump breaks" that create the "read more" links...

None of your instructions correspond to anything that's in my blogger management environment. So I have no idea what you are even asking, much less how to implement it. Sorry.

Richard Carrier said...

Pikemann Urge said... Oh, and Richard, why are you using 'n A.D.' instead of 'A.D. n'?

Because I like the traditional format. It's what I grew up with.

Richard Carrier said...

Humphrey said... On the one hand the Christians shouldn't be blamed for the collapse of civilisation that followed the fall of the Western Roman Empire. On the other hand they are to be berated for not showing enough interest in natural philosophy during this period and failing to learn Greek (Presumably they deserve a few claps for the translation movements of the 11th and 12th centuries).

Correct: compared to the Greeks and Romans, Christians abandoned or reversed course on interest in making progress in the sciences, until they recovered the idea again from the Greeks and Romans after a long Dark Age of neglecting them (in the West) and a long Stagnant Age of ignoring them (in the East).

In other words, I am not berating Christians for failing to get back the scientific spirit. I'm berating medievalists for claiming Christians had never abandoned it (or worse, claiming Christians were the first to invent it--although Flynn doesn't claim that, other recent Christian scholars have).

Then to further disparage the poor blighters, you have the renaissance beginning in the 13th century, which by my reckoning is the beginning of the late Middle Ages.

Call it what you want. It's still not what people mean when they talk about the Middle Ages in connection with the Dark Ages. In other words, it is a semantic fallacy (or an outright con) to try and claim "the 13th century was the Middle Ages, therefore the Middle Ages didn't suck and/or were an era of enlightened advancement of knowledge," because that is only true if you ignore all the rest of the Middle Ages--which is what everyone else means by "the Middle Ages." As to why I put "the dawn" of the Renaissance in the (late) 13th century, I stated my reasons clearly in the blog: the Renaissance I set as officially beginning only roughly around 1300, because "a wider embrace of the values [pagan texts] contained, transforming academic society and its intellectual aims and methods, took place during the 13th century" and thus birthed the Renaissance.

Might you have asked, as many historians of science have, whether the 'scientific revolution' was entirely the product of the intellectual culture of antiquity and medieval Islam, or whether there were important contributions made by the Latins of the Middle Ages? That seems to be the point at issue here.

Not in this blog. The only point at issue here are the boner claims made by Flynn (see title, and introductory paragraphs). I made no claims here regarding the causes of the Scientific Revolution or what unique contributions Christian ideology made to it. I am not aware of any, that is true, but even if there were, that would not affect anything I argued above.

But Christian ideology is not the same thing as Christians. It's as idle to talk about Christians contributing to the SR as to talk about the Pagans contributing to theoretical geometry. Yes, they did. But their contributions hardly had anything to do with concepts uniquely derived from their religious ideology. Paganism is no more responsible for geometry than Christianity is responsible for the SR. Christianity (eventually) allowed the SR by allowing its adherents to embrace the values required for it, which only happened after Christianity was transformed by re-embracing the values of its pagan forebears, which values Christendom had abandoned for a thousand years.

Richard Carrier said...

Humphrey said... Herophilus and Erasistratus (one account says that they “cut open living men - criminals they obtained out of prison from the kings and they observed, while their subjects still breathed”).

Just FYI, almost certainly a slander. Galen never mentions this behavior, yet discusses their work extensively. It would also have been against their Hippocratic Oath at the time, so is inherently implausible. In my dissertation I discuss evidence of popular fears of vivisection, which were always based on fantasy (like the legends of "organ thieves" in Central America today). This probably reflects the same.

The claim may also be a result of confusion (it is only first heard centuries after the fact), since they vivisected animals and applied those findings to humans (a practice that likewise challenges the claim they vivisected humans, as if they did they wouldn't have needed to vivisect animals to draw conclusions about human physiology), which Galen did as well. I recall once being lost in the middle of one of his discussions and he was talking about a vivisection experiment and human physiology and I had to stop and go back to confirm he was actually vivisecting an animal, since the way he was speaking it sounded like he was vivisecting a man (and I thought, "Wait, that can't be right"), but really he was just vivisecting an animal and speaking as though it were a man. If I can do that, so could an ancient commentator, especially someone prone to vivisectophobia, or inclined to slander an ideological opponent.

Richard Carrier said...

Did Galen Dissect Humans? (1)

Humphrey said... I want to take issue with (among other things): ... The first known medieval anatomy textbook based on human dissection appears to have been produced by Mondino de Liuzzi (1275-1326) at Bologna.

If you mean manual on how to perform dissections, Galen still precedes (his dissection manuals discuss procedures for both human and animal dissection). If you mean a textbook on human anatomy, Herophilus and Erasistratus precede (Galen frequently quotes their books on human anatomy, which were indeed derived from dissecting humans).

You mention that dissections ‘began’. You don’t mention that they ended and were possible only for a period of around fifty years. It was generally avoided because of the belief that corpses were ritually unclean.

That's been refuted (most notably by Heinrich von Staden, who surveyed the evidence and found the contrary: though such taboos existed, ancient scientists were not bothered by such things).

I actually did mention that they continued, BTW (Galen several times mentions he and others having dissected humans and even recommends it, without any mention of taboo). So they didn't end. They just abated in frequency.

As to why, no historian has been able to ascertain, as all the obvious theories have been refuted. I survey the matter in my dissertation: there were no laws against it, and everyone recommended it without mentioning it being irreligious or illegal. The matter seems simply one of access to corpses, which happened to be a difficulty in the Renaissance, too, not fully overcome for several centuries. And the reasons were largely the same: people insisted on burial for the dead, and mutilating corpses was thus seen as an affront to the community.

Uncleanness would only have been a limited pragmatic problem, i.e. the elite wouldn't be bothered by it (they were not superstitious and saw no problem being treated by a doctor who handled the dead), but the superstitious masses had a problem with it, so doctors couldn't treat the masses if they had a rep for touching corpses, hence human dissection tended to be kept on the DL (at least from the illiterate masses). But that's only speculation (plausible as it is), since again, no one ever mentions this being an issue (not even Galen, even when he openly recommends dissecting humans).

By Galen’s time he had trouble even studying a human skeleton, let alone dissecting a human body.

Galen never once mentions "having trouble" at dissecting humans or handling human skeletons. He only mentions having trouble procuring a specimen. Huge difference. And again, same problem in the Renaissance. There is no record in antiquity of anyone ever getting into trouble dissecting humans, neither legally nor even as a matter of religious taboo.

Richard Carrier said...

Did Galen Dissect Humans? (2)

Humphrey said... Hence [Galen] relied on animal dissection and recommended his students travel to Alexandria to view skeletons.

Or, he says (and as you go on to note yourself), when occasion presents, and he describes several occasions when he himself was able to procure a human skeleton outside of Alexandria. He also discusses an occasion (as you also note) when a Roman commander had recently permitted German war casualties to be dissected by scientists in the legions (Galen complains they botched the research for lack of prior practice on apes; he makes no mention of any taboo, nor even expresses any surprise at the event, so it can't have been unique).

Though notably, what you yourself cite also proves that Roman Alexandrian medical schools had regular access to human skeletons, which seems to bite against your thesis, don't you think?

I am not aware of him ever getting his hands on a human dead body to actually dissect.

Notably, he is coy in the passages you refer to: he clearly dissected the bodies he found in situ (as his subsequent descriptions entail; and he says explicitly his colleagues dissected the Germans), but he avoids outright saying it or describing what he did. Possibly because he was (in that book) only writing about osteology and thus was only concerned with examining bones in their natural arrangement (and not with, e.g., discovering the arrangement of muscles or nerves), and so didn't mention further dissection because it didn't pertain. Or possibly because he didn't want to lose the business of any superstitious lower class clients (he frequently treated the slaves of his upper class colleagues, but also still charitably tended the poor) by advertising his contact with corpses. He doesn't say, so we can only speculate. All we can tell for certain is that he himself clearly had no problem with dissecting and handling the human cadaver (e.g. in his account of the dissected Germans, as well as his repeated recommendations to his students in On Anatomical Procedures that they dissect human cadavers any chance they get--without once mentioning any reason they shouldn't).

The evidence appears to be against him having done so.

Actually, none of the evidence you present argues this at all. That Galen certainly had dissected humans is proven from his having knowledge he could not have acquired any other way (see the evidence presented in Singer's introduction to Galen On Anatomical Procedures (1956), pp. xxi-xxiii, and Hankinson's note in "Galen's Concept of Scientific Progress" in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 2.37.2 (1994), p. 1786). And since he repeatedly recommends it and talks about others doing it, it is intrinsically improbable that he wouldn't have (why, after all, would his students and colleagues have done it, but he not?). Limited access to human specimens is the only reason Galen ever explicitly cites for relying mostly on apes.

If he had he might not have made such key errors such as attributing features to humans which are found only in animal sources (e.g the rete mirable he said was in the neck).

These same mistakes were repeated in the Renaissance. Vesalius found that fact annoying. It was only the Scientific Revolution that saw a change in this fact (beginning with Vesalius himself).

Richard Carrier said...

Humphrey said... So if antiquity deserves points for Herophilus and Erasistratus; the medieval period deserves points for ditching the kind of taboos which hindered Galen.

Those taboos weren't overcome in the Middle Ages. Early Renaissance dissection still faced them, or the equivalent of them (and most dissection hadn't occurred until late Renaissance: Oxford, not until the 16th century, and then only a couple of bodies could be procured a year). In fact, the compromise reached even among the elite was that the scholar never touched the body, a far worse compromise than in antiquity, which found a much smarter solution in just not advertising to the public what was going on.

Only gradually did the idea of the merits of allowing contact with corpses permeate the hoi polloi, and that largely due to the practical benefits demonstrated (through criminal autopsy and medicine, and by portraying it as a punishment for criminals to sate the bloodlust of the public, always more powerful than superstition), not because of anything to do with Christian ideology (which certainly had nothing in it tending to suggest dissection would be a great way to punish criminals). By that measure, elite pagan ideology had already abandoned that taboo, it just hadn't yet forced the masses to adopt that ideology.

See Sawday's account of the difficulty in overcoming popular opposition to dissection in the Renaissance. The concerns and superstitions were different, but just as much an impediment. And the solution effected was absurd, until Vesalius finally restored the ancient approach.

Richard Carrier said...

There are replies to my blog now by James Hannam and Flynn. Neither of them say anything relevant.

Hannam simply maintains his insistence on redefining "science" so medieval armchair hokum gets to "count," as if that was anywhere on par with anything Galen, Ptolemy, and Archimedes were doing. He also seems sold on the idea that the difference doesn't matter, even though scientific progress only can (and only ever has) occurred when the ancient model of science was embraced (or re-embraced), not the medieval notion of it.

Hannam's prize example, the Mean Speed Theorem, is a classic example: they did nothing with it. No scientific progress would be made employing that theorem until the Scientific Revolution, centuries later. That's exactly what was wrong with the medieval mindset, and why it is semantic legerdemain to claim medieval Christians were doing science. Or even anything comparable to antiquity: compare the Mean Speed Theorem (which is mathematically simplistic) with Archimedes' theorem of infinitesimal summation in On the Method of Mechanical Theorems and you'll see a vast chasm of difference in technical sophistication and achievement, even in the field of pure mathematics. Christians were thus just barely digging their way out of the Dark Ages in the 14th century (a thousand years since they took power), still a long way from even catching up to the level of ancient knowledge. And I myself don't even count that as the Middle Ages, but past it!

Flynn attempts some lame backpedals and exercises in conjecture, none of which actually pertain to all the points of fact on which I refuted him, nor actually establish even the points he wishes to salvage. While being annoyed by colloquial language, he completely ignores all the substantive points I made: that he was shamelessly conflating two entirely different periods under the single rubric "Middle Ages," that he was wrong about almost every single thing he claimed the Christians invented or did (e.g. he evidently wishes to brush under the carpet his solidly refuted claim that medieval theologians were "scientists") or that the ancients didn't invent or do (conspicuously forgotten altogether is his argument from technology), and that he had no evidence for his apologetic claims I took to task (such as that the late Byzantines were so awash with texts of Archimedes they were consciously assured they weren't destroying anything important when they were--nice bit of fantasy, but he still shows no evidence for his account).

Comparisons between my post and his should demonstrate the difference between faith-based history, and scientific history.

Tristan D. Vick said...

Great insights. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

Humphrey said...

“There are replies to my blog now by James Hannam and Flynn.”

The one on Hannam’s blog is by moi, lest I be accused of being an imposter. James is awaiting your reaction to his book which you said will be appearing soon.

“Hannam simply maintains his insistence on redefining "science" so medieval armchair hokum gets to "count," as if that was anywhere on par with anything Galen, Ptolemy, and Archimedes were doing.”

The point is that medieval woo and sky fairy worship (and certain types of Christian theology in the scientific revolution) did influence science in a number of ways, by offering presuppositions underwriting science, by offering sanctions and motives for underwriting science and by offering principles for regulating scientific methodology and selecting theories.

“Hannam's prize example, the Mean Speed Theorem, is a classic example: they did nothing with it”

A bit unfair considering the intellectual culture which produced the high water mark of medieval science was wiped out by the Black Death. The fact remains it shows up in Galileo’s ‘Two New Sciences’ as the fundamental axiom of the new science of motion.

‘compare the Mean Speed Theorem (which is mathematically simplistic) with Archimedes' theorem of infinitesimal summation in On the Method of Mechanical Theorems and you'll see a vast chasm of difference in technical sophistication and achievement, even in the field of pure mathematics.’

It is mathematically simple and it now forms an easy problem for schoolchildren. But the point is that it is an important step towards the more modern view that bodies move following mathematical laws. Hence I don’t think it is entirely fair to compare the Merton calculators to Archimedes (although they both made important strides towards the mathematization of nature).

“Actually, none of the evidence you present argues this at all. That Galen certainly had dissected humans is proven from his having knowledge he could not have acquired any other way “

Hmm, i’m still not convinced; the evidence seems flimsy (and I note here that skeleton is being used interchangeably with cadaver). Surely it is the case that scholars in the late middle ages / renaissance had significantly better access to bodies for dissection than Galen and his students (he had to send them all the way to Alexandria just to view skeletons). Anyway, I confess I could be wrong and I will investigate the sources you provide.

First comment deleted due to poor formatting

Humphrey said...

"That Galen certainly had dissected humans is proven from his having knowledge he could not have acquired any other way (see the evidence presented in Singer's introduction to Galen On Anatomical Procedures (1956), pp. xxi-xxiii, and Hankinson's note in "Galen's Concept of Scientific Progress" in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 2.37.2 (1994), p. 1786)."

Not that I am doubting the credentials of these scholars but that seems like a problematic conclusion given that we know Galen borrowed extensively from the work of Herophilus and Erasistratus who did perform human dissection (e.g the distinction between sensory and motor nerves).

Richard Carrier said...

Humphrey said... The one on Hannam’s blog is by moi, lest I be accused of being an imposter.

Oh, I'm sorry! My mistake. I just assumed he would be writing the blogs there on medieval history. (Did you sign that blog and I missed it?)

My apologies also to James for erroneously attributing your remarks to him.

Richard Carrier said...

Humphrey said... The point is that...certain types of Christian theology...did influence science in a number of ways.

Since I never disputed that, it isn’t relevant to my blog.

Again, though, many of the "presuppositions" you have in mind were already available in antiquity, and only "rediscovered" by Christians (and almost all Renaissance Christians, i.e. Christians being heavily influenced by a rebirth of interest in ancient texts and ideas, not "Medieval Christians" in the sense anyone like Walker means).

And even the few that might have been novel (like the Mean Speed Theorem) we can't really be sure weren't around in antiquity. In some cases, we have evidence they may have been (e.g. the equivalent of double-entry bookkeeping). In others, we have only a weak argument from silence, e.g. we lack all treatises on motion after Aristotle (Christians simply didn't preserve them, despite being seminal works more advanced than Aristotle's), like Hipparchus' On Objects Carried Down by Their Weight in which we know he articulated an essentially correct theory of parabolic acceleration using a principle of inertia--and being a brilliant mathematician, it's not unreasonable to suspect it may have contained a Mean Speed Theorem. But as I don't have any more direct evidence that it did, I left it in the Christian column. But it's still a shaky argument from silence.

A bit unfair considering the intellectual culture which produced the high water mark of medieval science was wiped out by the Black Death.

There is no evidence that intellectual activity was that impaired by the Black Death. I know Hannam claims this, yet his book goes on documenting examples of intellectuals all through the 14th and 15th centuries. Moreover, the number of universities increased during both centuries, none closed their doors, and there was no cessation or break in students and masters at Merton College anytime throughout. So that excuse doesn’t work.

Nor is it plausible that the Plague somehow resulted in the Mean Speed Theorem getting buried and forgotten in some library somewhere, before anyone could think to do anything with it, and then was magically rediscovered by an Italian centuries later who didn't even live in England.

To the contrary, if the Merton Calculators were doing science at all, they would have applied the Mean Speed Theorem immediately. That they didn't is my point: they weren't even doing science, just armchair philosophy, without practical application or interest in advancing empirical knowledge.

The fact remains it shows up in Galileo’s ‘Two New Sciences’ as the fundamental axiom of the new science of motion.

Yes, as I said: three centuries later. During the Scientific Revolution. Not the Middle Ages.

But the point is that it is an important step towards the more modern view that bodies move following mathematical laws.

That was already Aristotle's view (his laws were wrong, but he still originated the idea that "bodies move following mathematical laws"). So sorry, no dice. Christians don't get to claim that one.

Even the idea of improving mathematical description of motions is not originally Christian: Strato and Hipparchus both wrote mathematical treatises on motion advancing beyond Aristotle. We cannot reconstruct the math in them (since Christians didn't preserve them), but we know enough from scattered quotes that those laws were closer to the truth than Aristotle's.

This was still being explored, and had things not gone to hell in the 3rd c., the same advances could have been made within a few more centuries that were eventually made in the 17th. If you keep working a problem with the correct method (or any method trending correct), getting to the truth is inevitable, just a matter of time and application. The Christians just stopped using that method for a thousand years (and abandoned most of what had been discovered with it).

Richard Carrier said...

Humphrey said... Surely it is the case that scholars in the late middle ages / renaissance had significantly better access to bodies for dissection than Galen and his students (he had to send them all the way to Alexandria just to view skeletons). Anyway, I confess I could be wrong and I will investigate the sources you provide.

I don't think you are wrong about that, though: access to specimens was increasingly better in the Renaissance (for the reasons I myself suggested). It just started out equally as bad, and then only after most of the Middle Ages had gone by.

I'm only objecting to the myth that Galen had no access to specimens, or that the reason for his limited access had anything to do with his religion.

Not that I am doubting the credentials of these scholars, but that seems like a problematic conclusion given that we know Galen borrowed extensively from the work of Herophilus and Erasistratus who did perform human dissection

You'd have to review their evidence. Galen claimed to have made novel discoveries, and frequently speaks of what his predecessors had recorded. Though it's possible he inserted their findings into his uncredited, when he claims to have verified them, that becomes increasingly improbable.

At any rate, again, Galen never says he never dissected humans. That myth is a modern one, based on the usual tendency to exaggerate what really was said, in this case, that his access to cadavers was very limited. Conversely, access to cadavers didn't actually solve the problem of his greater dependency on apes: Renaissance scientists were dissecting humans and still making the same mistakes.

Once the Scientific Revolution was underway, we get someone like Vesalius restoring the ancient methods, which made far more of a difference than quantity of specimens ever had (and again, even then, that quantity was not enormous even in his day--but since we have no comparable evidence of numbers for antiquity, we can't really usefully compare them, except that they both appeared to be relatively small quantities, e.g. at Cambridge only two bodies a year even in the 16th century).

TheOFloinn said...

Flynn attempts some lame backpedals

Or you miscontrued where he was at in the first place. The claim was not that the Latins had invented science, but, contra Walker that that they had not been especially hostile to it.

Distracted for a time by existential threats from jihadis, vikings, and magyars, sure. But as soon as things settled down, the Europeans went out looking for everything they could find, and gave special attention to natural philosophy, mathematics, and medicine. That does not sound like disinterest. It sounds like it was finally safe to go out. (Think of someone walking to the local library. Now think of someone who must walk through a high crime area to do so. If the latter visits the library less often, is she "disinterested" in books or does she simply have more pressing concerns?)

he completely ignores all the substantive points I made

Far too tedious to discuss each item, most of which miss the point. The one where you put words in my mouth was especially self-revealing. You give no particulars, so it's hard to say more.

he was shamelessly conflating two entirely different periods under the single rubric "Middle Ages,"

I'm afraid I was going with the standard usage in the history books. None used your tendentious conflation of the 14th (and 13th!) centuries with the Renaissance.

he was wrong about almost every single thing he claimed the Christians invented or did

A close reading of the text will reveal that no such claim was made. Far be it from me to urge empiricism, but I do find it helps in my line of work. You ought not climb the "ladder of inference" quite so briskly. http://www.masterfacilitatorjournal.com/inference.html

The list of innovations responded to Walker's charge:
"When Christianity took over Europe, scientific and engineering advancement virtually stopped."

To which I answered, "In no particular order: watermills, windmills, camshafts, etc."

I looked closely at what I actually wrote and saw no claim that the Europeans had invented all these things. Some they did. Some were imported. Some were improvements on earlier innovations. Perhaps you only read what you expected to read.

In another article, I added this,
"Europeans were no more inventive than others. Some of the above inventions originated elsewhere – the spinning wheel in Syria – or were independently invented elsewhere. What was new in the Latin West was not inventiveness per se, but its social context. ... Only in Europe were inventions deliberately pursued and extensively exploited as labor-saving devices... Cf. Gimpel, Stock, et al.

Compare:
a) Su-Sung's great clock. Singular. One clock. A toy for the emperor, later dismantled and forgotten. [The Ottoman Grand Mufti declared public clocks haram in 1560.] Vs. how European towns vied to have the most impressive clocks, and delighted in them as technological marvels.
b) windmill: early versions appeared in southern Afghanistan [then under Persian rule] but never spread elsewhere in Dar al-Islam; vs. the European windmill [completely different design] first definitely attested in York and only nine years later being built in Syria by German crusaders.
c) watermills: The Romans had some. Antipater of Thessalonica writes of them in the Augustan Age. But, as Gimpel observed, "medieval society gave itself wholeheartedly to mechanization, while the classical world adopted it only to a limited extent." Gimpel assigns this to a) Roman slavery and b) paucity of year-round streams in the Mediterranean world. IOW, no compelling economic advantage. OTOH, the Domesday Book lists 5,624 mills on some 9000 manors. This is not just a difference in quantity; this is a difference in kind.

Humphrey said...

“Oh, I'm sorry! My mistake. I just assumed he would be writing the blogs there on medieval history.”

No worries. It just so happens that my hobby is history of science (well, intellectual history really) and that’s what I write about on that particular blog. It keeps me from going mad when I do corporate sales all day. I do sign the entries but it’s probably too small and faint to notice.

“You'd have to review their evidence. Galen claimed to have made novel discoveries, and frequently speaks of what his predecessors had recorded.”

Galen clearly had a lot of experience with combat injuries having been physician to the gladiators, then there are the examples we brought up earlier in the discussion which would have furnished him with some knowledge of human anatomy independent of Herophilus and Erasistratus. Why am I so sceptical that he actually performed human dissection? I suppose the fundamental reason for me is that he did not spot that there is no rete mirable in the human neck. It sounds trivial but it’s one of the cornerstones of Galenic theory as it’s the point where the psychic pneuma is produced and accounts for the cognitive, sensory and motor functions of animals. The medievals didn’t spot it because (until Vesalius) it was the barber surgeons who were doing the dissecting while the scholar would simply regurgitate the works of Galen from a raised platform but I would have expected Galen of all people to notice.

“There is no evidence that intellectual activity was that impaired by the Black Death.”

Well, I find that hard to believe. It did kill a third of the population of Europe including Thomas Bradwardine and possibly Buridan. Also recall Hannam’s account of the humanists in ‘God’s Philosophers’.

Humphrey said...

“That was already Aristotle's view (his laws were wrong, but he still originated the idea that "bodies move following mathematical laws"). So sorry, no dice. Christians don't get to claim that one. Even the idea of improving mathematical description of motions is not originally Christian: Strato and Hipparchus both wrote mathematical treatises on motion advancing beyond Aristotle.”

I don’t know that I would be comfortable claiming any particular scientific concept as ‘Christian’, a good reason for that being that the set of beliefs and doctrines we know as Christianity is effectively a Greco-Roman construct which borrowed it’s natural philosophical precepts from the intellectual environment around it. What we do see in the history of science is that certain ideas from antiquity are reformulated and repurposed to meet the needs of Christian theology (a good example of this is the mechanical philosophy of Gassendi, Mersenne and Descartes which revived atomism to divesting nature of all inherent powers and make brute matter subservient to God’s immediate Will).

What we see in Aristotle is undeniably an idea of the lawfulness of nature but it’s based on the immanent properties of natural objects, not absolutely invariant rules. Furthermore the natural powers inherent in objects could occasionally miscarry giving rise to exceptions. The other problem is that Aristotle there is a division of labour whereby natural philosophy deals with causal explanations and mathematics deals with human constructions. Thus a mathematical account can give good predictions (as for example with heavenly bodies) but without being taken as a true causal explanation. As far as I am aware Strato, while critiquing Aristotle (and possibly being an atomist) remained fundamentally Aristotelian in his views.

Of course, pointing this out doesn’t help my case since the Medievals never made the leap beyond the Aristotelian view of the universe either; but we do see signs of progress. The development of anti-Aristotelian traditions, the application of mathematics and mathematical modes of thought to natural phenomena and the emergence of the idea of a clockwork universe. The kinds of things which would lay the groundwork for what would follow in the scientific revolution. I wouldn’t call them just ‘armchair philosophy’.

“Hipparchus' On Objects Carried Down by Their Weight in which we know he articulated an essentially correct theory of parabolic acceleration using a principle of inertia”

I was very interested to see this. However Buridan’s later principle of impetus is more similar to Galileo’s principle which asserts that projectiles are retarded simply by the resisting force of the medium and their gravity. In Hipparchus it is a self consuming impressed force. Again I suppose it’s an example of a concept being gradually refined and reformulated rather than a ‘scientific idea simply appearing wholesale. In any case it is the Medieval principle which endured which argues against the era being one of scientific stagnation.

Humphrey said...

“evidence of numbers for antiquity, we can't really usefully compare them, except that they both appeared to be relatively small quantities, e.g. at Cambridge only two bodies a year even in the 16th century)”

I think the numbers were far greater in Italy. The practice of dissection was not as common at the universities of Paris, Oxford or Cambridge since it was a manual art. It was part of the curriculum at Italian universities but infrequent. However scholars also had the advantage of the practice of autopsy in criminal trials, the holding of private dissections and the increasing use of evisceration for embalming.

“This was still being explored, and had things not gone to hell in the 3rd c., the same advances could have been made within a few more centuries that were eventually made in the 17th. If you keep working a problem with the correct method (or any method trending correct), getting to the truth is inevitable, just a matter of time and application. The Christians just stopped using that method for a thousand years (and abandoned most of what had been discovered with it).”

Well that an interesting historical what if. I think there might be an extended blog post in there somewhere.

Humphrey said...

"OTOH, the Domesday Book lists 5,624 mills on some 9000 manors. This is not just a difference in quantity; this is a difference in kind."

Random fact. The house I grew up in lies on the site of one of the mills recorded in the Domesday Book (the 5,624 figure might be an undercount as the survey missed settlements further north). The ones used at the time of the Norman Conquest were probably small, low powered units powered by horizontal water wheels. Estimates for the mills around 1300 range between 10,000 and 15,000.

We can infer from the figures for England that France and Germany had a similar degree of mechanisation.

Michael said...

The link to Flynn's reply in your comment of January 15 simply leads back to this blog post. I think you meant this for Flynn's reply:

http://m-francis.livejournal.com/131531.html#cutid1

JoeWallack said...

Greetings Dr. Carrier. I'm looking forward to your article.

I think an objective consideration of the issue would be in an area where there was INTERACTION between Christianity and its MA rival, Islam. As near as I can tell the main interaction between the two would have been on the battle field. The superior age and numbers of the Christians combined with the success of the Muslims, suggests that the Muslims had superior military science.

Two questions:

1) Did the Muslims have superior military science?

2) If so, how would you quantify the difference?

Thanks.


Joseph

Richard Carrier said...

Jim Walker has pposted a much-revised version of his original essay. I can't vouch for everything in it but it at least now avoids the errors of the original (more or less).

Richard Carrier said...

JoeWallack said... Did the Muslims have superior military science? [etc.]

I have insufficient expertise to give you an authoritative answer. You should ask an expert in medieval Islamic warfare.

From what I do know, I suspect the answer is "not very." Much of what you could call advances the Muslims actually acquired from China (probably via the Silk Road). For instance, the trebuchet, the stirrup, gunpowder (insofar as Muslims were even first in the West to use any of those), all of which the Christians rapidly adopted, which I imagine would have quickly neutralized any advantage. In terms of tactical superiority, the heavy cavalry mode of combat is patently stupid, and I don't doubt would have easily been dispatched by Muslim forces, but I don't really know the degree to which such combat even occurred in the East.

Most Christian-Muslim contact in the intellectual domain did not occur on the battlefield, but in trade and academics Sicily and Spain were major areas of regular peaceful interaction between Christian and Muslim intellectuals, books, and ideas, right up to the 15th century. Remember, the Islamic Renaissance had already ended before the 13th century. No advances were made after that. (And fewer were made before that than is usually claimed.)

Richard Carrier said...

Non Sequiturs

Humphrey said... Why am I so sceptical that he actually performed human dissection? I suppose the fundamental reason for me is that he did not spot that there is no rete mirable in the human neck.

That's a non sequitur. His access to human cadavers being limited, we cannot assume he tried to verify every single anatomical detail everywhere on the body. Thus, errors will persist even given his access to human cadavers, simply because he won't have checked every such detail. And Galen all but says this himself.

Humphrey said... “There is no evidence that intellectual activity was that impaired by the Black Death.” Well, I find that hard to believe. It did kill a third of the population of Europe

That’s a non sequitur. Would killing a third of any university science faculty have any significant effect on scientific advancement? There were at least a hundred noted scientists writing research under the Roman Empire (that we know of). Killing a third of them still leaves over 60. There were supposedly at least a dozen universities in the early Renaissance. Killing even the entire faculty of a third of them still leaves the entire faculty of 8 whole universities.

But we needn’t run the numbers: intellectual activity demonstrably continued unabated right on through the Black Death. There is no evidence of any sudden loss of knowledge or cessation of studies or advances. There are as many published intellectuals in every fifty-year block of its reign (arguably the number increases during the Black Death).

Remember what is supposed to be proposed here: (a) that the Merton Calculators failed to apply any of their findings to science because the Black Death killed them all before they could (false: even the ones it killed all lived long enough to have done this, and it didn’t kill more than a fraction of them anyway), and (b) that no one after them applied their findings for well over a century because the Black Death jammed all the world’s printing presses, blinded every science scholar in every school across the whole of Europe, and covered all the Calculator’s books in a mysterious veil of invisibility.

Sorry, that’s just a stupid theory.

However Buridan’s later principle of impetus is more similar to Galileo’s principle which asserts that projectiles are retarded simply by the resisting force of the medium and their gravity. In Hipparchus it is a self consuming impressed force.

There is no relevant difference. Inertia is an impressed force (it is energy added to the object, which we now know even increases its mass), and it is consumed “by the resisting force of the medium” (acknowledged by everyone in antiquity, including Hipparchus, even Aristotle) “and their gravity” (i.e. innate center-directed weight), which is how everyone in antiquity conceived it, and mathematically is described exactly the same way.

In any case it is the Medieval principle which endured which argues against the era being one of scientific stagnation.

That’s a non sequitur. You are falling into that same fallacy again: conflating the whole “Middle Ages” into one single period. The loss of all that ancient knowledge (including Hipparchus’ entire science of motion and gravity) occurred in the Early Middle Ages (what we call the Dark Ages). That’s why it wasn’t the one to endure. The idea had to be reinvented in the Renaissance. And even then it wasn’t used to advance science—hence science continued to stagnate, until the Scientific Revolution, and those reinvented ideas (the ancient ideas the Christians had earlier forgotten and had to reconceive) were finally put to use. That’s what happened. There’s no use in trying to deny it or make excuses for it.

Richard Carrier said...

Aristotle Already Knew That

Humphrey said... What we see in Aristotle is undeniably an idea of the lawfulness of nature but it’s based on the immanent properties of natural objects, not absolutely invariant rules.

Why would the latter be an improvement? Since all scientists now acknowledge that what we call the laws of physics are the effects of the immanent properties of natural objects (if by "natural objects" we include space-time), insisting instead that they are absolutely invariant rules would actually be a regression scientifically.

Furthermore the natural powers inherent in objects could occasionally miscarry giving rise to exceptions.

As is in fact the case. Even in principle, if we could screen the Higgs field, we could eliminate inertia in masses, or if we could open a fourth extended spatial dimension we would change Newton's law of gravitation (it would no longer be inverse square, but inverse cubed), or if we could change the initial conditions of the Big Bang we could change the physical constants, etc. Just as by screening photons we can (and in fact do) block a magnetic fields, or (as we've also done) by realigning its iron atoms we can demagnetize a loadstones. And so on. Change the configuration of the system, and you change what happens. That was basically Aristotle's own conjecture. He did not imagine capricious deviations from the norm. Every conceivable deviation had to have a physical cause in the configuration of the physical system. Which so far has been confirmed is true.

The other problem is that Aristotle there is a division of labour whereby natural philosophy deals with causal explanations and mathematics deals with human constructions.

Yet the same man was imagined doing both. So it wasn't a division of labor, but a division of method. I prove this in my dissertation: there was no scientist in antiquity (Aristotle included) who did not do both the math and the empirical induction of theories. Aristotle's view was actually correct: math can only idealize, reality is messy. That happens to in fact be the case: no mathematical law is actually correct as written (see my discussion in the second half of Our Mathematical Universe). It just approximates the reality. Aristotle knew this when he attempted to establish mathematical laws of motion, and when he refers to mathematical laws of optics, and so on.

But discussing these things is moot, since Aristotelianism was just one school of physics in antiquity. There were atomists and Stoic physicists as well, and Empiricists, and others. It's medievalists who keep mistaking Aristotle as normative, because medievals mistook it as such too, having lost all the rest.

Richard Carrier said...

What Did Medieval Christians Do?

Humphrey said... I wouldn’t call them just ‘armchair philosophy’.

All non-empirical work is by definition armchair philosophy.

I don’t know that I would be comfortable claiming any particular scientific concept as ‘Christian’

By that I'm sure we all mean "first discovered or invented by Christians," not "uniquely entailed or inspired by Christian theology." There are some who claim the latter, e.g. Jaki, Stark, etc., but I didn't notice Flynn making that mistake. So I've only been talking here about "Christian" in the former sense. Just to be clear.

...but we do see signs of progress. The development of anti-Aristotelian traditions, the application of mathematics and mathematical modes of thought to natural phenomena and the emergence of the idea of a clockwork universe.

All of those already happened in antiquity. There were three major and several minor anti-Aristotelian traditions, indeed thriving ones; the application of mathematics and mathematical modes of thought to natural phenomena was standard fare, e.g. Hero, Ptolemy; and the equivalent notion of a clockwork universe was already extant: Cicero and Lucretius compare the universe to a machine (Cicero specifically to the complex mechanical clocks of his time), Ptolemy discusses modeling it with a machine and his opponents’ theories that it is in fact a machine, Posidonius and Archimedes actually modeled it with machines, etc. Moreover the ancient concept of the universe as organism actually was the same thing, since the body was widely regarded as a machine, as discussed by Galen, Erasistratus, etc. (the Latin poem Aetna and Seneca’s writings in natural philosophy both also give examples of the equivalency between organ metaphors and machine metaphors).

Conceptually, the Renaissance clockwork metaphor added no scientific advance over any of the ancient metaphors (at least those employed by ancient scientists). That all these developments had to happen again a thousand years later is exactly what demonstrates a Dark Age fell in between.

Richard Carrier said...

Miscellanea

Humphrey said... I think the numbers [of dissections of cadavers] were far greater in Italy.

If you have a source for that please let me know. At least I assume you’re not just making it up.

the increasing use of evisceration for embalming

Which was practiced on millions in ancient Roman Egypt.

Roman Egypt also had autopsies of the dead for confirming cause of death (Amundsen has studied this). It's possible other regions did as well (we only know of the Egyptian fact from papyri, but sufficient papyri don't survive from other provinces, like Italy).

Richard Carrier said...

What Backpedaling Looks Like

TheOFloinn said... The claim was not that the Latins had invented science, but, contra Walker that that they had not been especially hostile to it.

I wasn't arguing against those theses, either. Remember you’re attempt to list a bunch of medieval Christian scientists--none of whom was in fact a scientist? Remember my pointing out how you conflated the High Middle Ages with the Dark Ages? Remember when you tried to rebut the claim the Christians made no engineering advances by listing a bunch of technologies that had already been invented before Christians? Remember when you falsely claimed ancient Roman technology had stagnated before the Christians (you claimed) invented all the things that in fact the Greeks and Romans did? Remember when you claimed (citing Brian Stock) that the Romans had no science? Remember when you falsely claimed the Christians preserved "an enormous amount" of ancient science? Remember when you falsely implied ancient cities had nothing comparable to medieval universities? Remember when you claimed "every medieval theologian was first educated as a scientist"?

You've backpedaled now on every one. That's what backpedaling looks like. You were wrong. Massively, embarrassingly wrong. Now you claim you never claimed any of those things you were wrong about. Nice try.

Dark Age Christians were hostile to the values of science (curiosity was condemned, empiricism held suspect, and the notion of progress abandoned--see the relevant works of Neil Kenny, Peter Harrison, Lorraine Daston, and William Eamon), even if they weren’t aware of the consequences of this hostility to actual scientific advance. That’s why there was no scientific advance. Only in the Renaissance (or, at best, “Late” Middle Ages, however you want to call it, either way c. 1250 AD on) were the values of curiosity, empiricism, and progress restored, and only gradually over a few centuries, and only against active opposition from Christian conservatives of the time (whom even as late as the 17th century Bacon still has to combat in the opening chapters of his Advancement of Learning).

It was only after that restoration that science proceeded to advance again. That’s what happened. Dark Ages. Science and progress abandoned. Many centuries. Then gradual recovery. Still many centuries. Against overt resistance. And then, finally, progress again.

Richard Carrier said...

New Bogus Theory

TheOFloinn said... Distracted for a time by existential threats from jihadis, vikings, and magyars, sure. But as soon as things settled down, the Europeans went out looking for everything they could find, and gave special attention to natural philosophy, mathematics, and medicine.

This is a fictional version of history. Christian civilization grew and flourished all through this period, and yet still didn’t do any advancing of science for a thousand years. Byzantine Christians were even more successful, and still nothing. The ancient world was likewise always at war, yet saw slow but steady scientific advance. Hence the “existential threats stalled science” excuse just doesn’t hold water against the actual empirical facts of history.

That does not sound like disinterest. It sounds like it was finally safe to go out.

So you continue to conflate the whole Middle Ages. There was demonstrable disinterest in actual science (i.e. science that actually advances knowledge) within Christianity for almost a thousand years: from Christianity’s inception c. 50 AD to 1150 AD certainly, 300 AD to 1000 AD beyond question. Interest returned only gradually and poorly over many centuries. It wasn’t until 1500 that anyone was actually doing real science again, of the kind that could actually advance human knowledge.

That’s the fact of the matter. You’re attempts to conceal it with bullshit like the above are only making you look delusional, as if you are physically incapable of accepting the truth, so you talk past us with “the Middle Ages were great” mumbo jumbo, now arguing “at least they would have been if it wasn’t for those pesky vikings,” and still confusing two entirely different periods in one, all with a nice use of a fallacy of equivocation.

Richard Carrier said...

Tech Facts

TheOFloinn said... The list of innovations responded to Walker's charge: 
"When Christianity took over Europe, scientific and engineering advancement virtually stopped."

To which I answered, "In no particular order: watermills, windmills, camshafts, etc." 

I looked closely at what I actually wrote and saw no claim that the Europeans had invented all these things. Some they did. Some were imported. Some were improvements on earlier innovations. Perhaps you only read what you expected to read.

I think you clearly implied these were Christian inventions (because you were responding to the argument that Christians didn’t invent anything in the Dark Ages). Now you deny this. That looks like another backpedal to me. It’s all the worse that almost nothing on that list was even new, and of what was, almost none of it was introduced in the period Walker was talking about (“when Christianity took over Europe” = the Early Middle Ages). Hence your period-conflation fallacy.



Compare: 
a) Su-Sung's great clock.

Why are you going on about China? What about Roman clocks? Every major city had one (or several) public clocks, the best known example being the Tower of the Winds at Athens. This trend vanished under Christianity, the Roman clocks were evidently melted down and recycled as weapons or pots or something, the method of their construction forgotten. It took a thousand years to get back this lost knowledge and practice. And indeed, much of it had to be re-learned from Muslims, who transmitted the ancient Greco-Roman knowledge, so thoroughly did Christians abandon their own Greco-Roman technological legacy.


b) windmill: early versions appeared in southern Afghanistan [then under Persian rule] but never spread elsewhere in Dar al-Islam

How do you know that?

Do you even know how to construct a valid argument from silence? Or is logically valid method of no concern to you?

the European windmill [completely different design] first definitely attested in York and only nine years later being built in Syria by German crusaders.

Yet that same evidence could argue the reverse. That they were being built near simultaneously in the East and the West demonstrates they were invented many years before these attestations and thus could have been acquired in the East and been transmitted West (since “first attestation” rarely corresponds with “first invention”).

I personally doubt that, of course--as I said already the evidence indicates the Western windmill was an adaptation of Greco-Roman technologies and thus likely a Western invention of the early 12th century. Still not the Dark Ages. Nor completely novel (being two technologies the ancients already had, and quite likely inspired by a recent limited recovery of that knowledge, as the similarities of design argue).

And I'll remind everyone your list of some fifty or more items has now mysteriously shrunk to three, only one of which actually counts, and that only barely, and still not in the Dark Ages. What on earth do you think you are accomplishing?

Richard Carrier said...

The Truth About Watermills

TheOFloinn said... 
c) watermills: The Romans had some.

You are relying on outdated scholarship. In the last fifteen years we have established watermills were ubiquitous in the Roman Empire. And quite advanced, with massive multi-tiered facilities with special aqueducts built to feed them, and the same tech had been adapted to run sawmills and ore grinders across the empire. We have no reason to believe the actual mills in operation didn’t outnumber excavated examples hundreds of times (since evidence of mills does not easily survive, as waterways move, millstones are reused, and ideal sites replaced and thus eclipsed with newer mills), and we’ve excavated nearly a hundred so far, across the whole empire.

Gimpel observed, "medieval society gave itself wholeheartedly to mechanization, while the classical world adopted it only to a limited extent."

That claim has been decisively refuted by the scholars I cited.

It’s also period conflation again: only late medieval society expanded mechanization. Early medieval society appears to have had declining mechanization compared to what we now know was going on in the Roman era. More mechanization was maintained in Byzantine Christianity than in the West, but the East saw no ‘Dark Ages’ (they just stagnated rather than gradually forgot everything).

Gimpel assigns this to a) Roman slavery and b) paucity of year-round streams in the Mediterranean world.

Both claims have been refuted and are unanimously rejected by historians of ancient technology now. Not only are they false, they aren’t even logical. There is no sound reason slavery would impede mechanization, since mechanization actually improves the productivity of slaves—as economic historians have recently proved, and the ancient evidence confirms. Likewise, the Roman Empire spanned from Egypt, Turkey, Bulgaria, across Switzerland, France, and Spain, and England, in other words the same geography the Medieval Christians supposedly had the benefit of. The idea that there were no year-round streams in all this expanse is absurd. Moreover, the Mediterranean was more lush in antiquity—North Africa, for example, was the bread basket of the empire, rich with annual streams and forests. And to top it all off, the Romans just built aqueducts to feed their mills, so the absence of annual streams made no difference at all. And just to put the final knife into Gimpel’s stupid theory, we have excavated a watermill near Pompeii, so either semi-annual streams were good enough to cover the investment of building a watermill (even in a rural backwater!), or Italy had plenty of annual streams.

Richard Carrier said...

The Truth About the Domesday Book

OTOH, the Domesday Book lists 5,624 mills on some 9000 manors. This is not just a difference in quantity; this is a difference in kind.

That’s a non sequitur. Since we don’t have such a survey list from antiquity, you cannot claim the numbers were then less.

It’s also factually dubious. Though this claim is repeated often, I’ve actually read the Domesday Book, and the scholarship on it: not a single watermill is ever mentioned in it. Scholars who study the book concede this. Only one word is used for “mill” and it is used of all mills of whatever type, including hand and donkey mills. Those “5,624” mills are thus not all watermills. We don’t in fact know what proportion of them actually are. The assumption is often made that when a mill’s tax is paid in eels, this indicates a watermill (as eels could be captured in its race), by which logic the number of watermills is claimed to have been close to 5,000, but since taxes are paid in eels even in towns without any mills at all, that assumption is clearly wrong. Eels just indicate a nearby stream or river. The mere fact of a nearby stream or river does not entail any of the local mills used that stream or river, much less that all of them did.

This is yet another example of how Christian apologists not only love to boost medieval Christianity with logical fallacies, but also by not checking the facts (even when they are suspicious: a watermill for every fifty families in 1086 AD England ought to have been downright suspicious), and instead just believing anything you read that makes medieval Christians sound clever.

TheOFloinn said...

Carrier: you’re attempt to list a bunch of medieval Christian scientists--none of whom was a scientist?

There were no "scientists" before 1834. Modern vocational categories fit ill on other times and places.

Walker complained that "Christian apologists" always listed "Christian scientists" who lived after the Scientific Revolution. He thought this significant. So I made a list of earlier folks who had pursued natural philosophy. Your complaint that they pursued a wider range of interests only indicates how narrow modern education has become.

you conflated the High Middle Ages with the Dark Ages

I followed the common usage of historians of the field. Your idiosyncratic divisions do not refute Huizinga, Pirenne, White, Grant, Gimpel, Goetz, Heer, et al.

you tried to rebut the claim the Christians made no engineering advances by listing a bunch of technologies that had already been invented before Christians

You confuse "making advances" with "inventing," which I did not claim. I cannot be responsible for what you imagine I said. E.g., watermills were known to the Romans, but not widespread (lack of suitable year-round streams + plethora of slaves); versus the huge numbers of watermills across northern Europe.
E.g., some windmills found in Persian Afghanistan - but nowhere else in Islam. vs. first attested European windmill in Yorkshire quickly spread all over Europe. How did Yorkshiremen hear of Afghan windmills - while no one in between did? (First attested windmill in Syria was build by German crusaders.)

The list was to counter the Pavlovian reflex that the Latin West was uniquely hostile to invention. The inventions were embraced and exploited in the West.

you falsely claimed ancient Roman technology had stagnated ... when you claimed (citing Brian Stock) that the Romans had no science?

I was relying on historians of science. Silly me.

you falsely claimed the Christians preserved "an enormous amount" of ancient science?

They did. So they didn't get it all. Some of it was lost already in antiquity. They did preferentially copy natural philosophy, medicine, and mathematics, rather than works of literature, etc.

you falsely implied ancient cities had nothing comparable to medieval universities?

Silly me. There I was, relying on the historians again. Cf. Huff, Grant, Kibre/Siraisi, etc.

you claimed "every medieval theologian was first educated as a scientist"?

The undergraduate curriculum at the medieval universities was dedicated almost entirely to logic, reason, and natural philosophy. To matriculate in the graduate school of theology, the student first had to master this curriculum. I'm not sure how else you might construe that. If you want to say that they were not educated as 17th cent. scientists, well, no one was before the 18th cent.

Dark Age Christians were hostile to the values of science (curiosity was condemned, empiricism held suspect, and the notion of progress abandoned.

"If we turn our back on the amazing rational beauty of the universe we live in, we should indeed deserve to be driven from it, like a guest unappreciative of the house into which he has been received." - Adelard of Bath [Quaestiones naturales]

"Indeed, man’s reasoning shines forth much more brilliantly in inventing these very things than ever it would have had man naturally possessed them." - Hugh of St. Victor [Didascalicon]

even as late as the 17th century Bacon still has to combat in the opening chapters of his Advancement of Learning).

I like his description of science as enslaving the natural world [portrayed as a woman] and bringing her and her children in chains, in The Masculine Invention of Time Quintessentially modern.

TheOFloinn said...

It is hard for a modern, let alone a post-modern, to imagine that a society might have other concerns than his own. Civil society in the West had collapsed utterly. The cities could no longer be sustained and society reverted to a rural one of isolated castle-refuges protecting the manor lands which in turn supported the knights. The West had not been highly monetized even in Roman times, and the trade routes in the Med were lost, save for the thread to Byzantium. "The Christians cannot float a plank on the Mediterranean," boasted ibn Khaldûn. Charlemagne had continued to use the Roman solidus, but with the avalanche that sacked and burned so many towns and monasteries, things rather went under for a time. A poor society cannot support too large a leisure class.

Read a bit a while back that mentioned that the Dark Ages are called Dark because we can only see the past through the documentation; and a lot of documentation went up in Gothic, Vandal, Frankish, Saracen, Viking, and Magyar flames. The author wondered how much of the darkness is due to the age itself, and how much due to our lack of documentary evidence.

It took a while to recreate wealth based on a Northern trade and clay-soil agriculture. Meanwhile, they did the best they could and after Lechfeld, when it was safe to venture out once more, they went looking for all the stuff that had been lost in the meantime.

TheOFloinn said...

OTOH, the Domesday Book lists 5,624 mills on some 9000 manors. This is not just a difference in quantity; this is a difference in kind.

That’s ... factually dubious.
This is yet another example of how Christian apologists not only love to boost medieval Christianity with logical fallacies, but also by not checking the facts


Who is a Christian apologist? Certainly not Jean Gimpel!

Gilgamesh said...

Well, TheOFloinn, it seems rather dishonest to refute the claim of Carrier that Dark Ages Christians (about 500 to 1000 CE) were against curiosity and other scientific values by quoting two authors from the 12th century! Next I will prove that Romans were against slavery because no one in modern-day Rome fancies the idea.

Sorry, but I smell BS coming from your red herrings.

Charles Freeman said...

Richard. I agree with you that it is hard to compare the so-called scientific achievements of the Middle Ages with those of the ancient world. You get nothing of the buzz of the Greek scientists, arguing with each other or the extraordinarily high quality of Roman technology at its best. The problem with the Middle Ages is that everything became entangled with the needs of the church. On dissection there is a wonderful section in Caroline Walker Bynum's The Resurrection of the Body, New York, 1995 (pp. 322-3), where she notes ' the increased enthusiasm for boiling and dividing holy bodies to produce relics for quick distribution' . She goes on to tell how Thomas Aquinas' body was boiled and cut up, a Cistercian monk cut off the head so that he could keep it, and his sister got a hand. ( They knew it was the hand of a saint because it never decayed!) Then the story went around that you could find marks of sanctity inside a dead body. Clare of Montefalco's body was cut up in 1308 and sure enough ' a cross or an image of the crucified Christ' was found on her heart. Bynum goes on (p.323) ' By the fifteenth century inquisitors at canonization proceedings looked to autopsy evidence for proof of paramystical phenomena such as miraculous abstinence' .
It makes no sense to talk of 'medieval science' without placing it within the wider spiritual context of the age. One can hardly talk of science starting ( or restarting) until the medieval cosmography was overthrown and one got communities of individuals such as the Royal Society in London talking about natural phenomena independently of God. ( It was one of the rules of the Royal Society that you could not bring God into the discussions!)


I was saddened to see that the first sentence of Bynum's next section began ' As Edward Peters has recently reminded us, the years around 1300 also saw the revival of torture as a judicial procedure'.

TheOFloinn said...

Sure, Gilg, and the (11th and) 12th century came out of nowhere, utterly disconnected from the preceding centuries. Perhaps all the people of that prior age were replaced with new people imported from somewhere else, who did not share their religious beliefs. Or the brains of the 12th century people somehow overleapt space and time to rediscover "curiosity."

Consider that if two production lines have identical equipment, but one produces defects and the other does not, it cannot be the equipment design that accounts for the difference. If two workmen are using the same raw material and one produces defects and the other does not, it cannot be the materials that account for the difference. If one century is devoutly Christian and another century is devoutly Christian, the difference in their accomplishments cannot be ascribed to their essential Christianity. But we live in a post-rational age, following the triumph of the will over the past several generations.

IOW, if "Christianity" were some mysterious force that prevented, oh, let's say, Boethius, Cassiodorus, Isidore, Bede, or Eriugena from being curious about the natural world (Irony alert: They were intensely curious), then why did this mysterious force suddenly cease to prevent Adelard, William, and others from being "curiosity"?

Keep in mind that we have a lot more stuff from post-AD 1000 because after that time it wasn't getting burned up during barbarian sacking and looting. The Dark Age was dark not because the people living then had suddenly forgotten everything, but because very little of it survived. That which did is no more nor less "curious" than what came after.

The peculiar tendency of the West to exalt reason started in those Dark Ages. Boethius is said to have "taught the Latin West, above all else, the method of axiomatization, that is, of analyzing an argument and making explicit the fundamental presuppositions and definitions on which its cogency rests." I do not understand this desire to demonize whole peoples, as if a population of millions over several centuries can be reduced to a single type.

I look forward to your post tasking Mr. Carrier for presenting no evidences to support his contention that curiosity was somehow suppressed. But as Thucydides once remarked, we always accept without argument those conclusions we find congenial, but bring every argument to bear against those we find uncongenial.

TheOFloinn said...

One can hardly talk of science starting (or restarting) until the medieval cosmography was overthrown and one got communities of individuals such as the Royal Society in London talking about natural phenomena independently of God. (It was one of the rules of the Royal Society that you could not bring God into the discussions!)

Funny, that was the medieval rule, too. Reason could be applied to theological questions, but revelation could not be applied to questions of natural philosophy. The medieval belief in secondary causation was summed up by Billy Conches:

[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. and again, [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.

IOW, material bodies had been endowed with the power to act directly upon one another through their own natures. And "the common course of nature" is the precursor to "natural law." As to why those bodies have those natures, e.g., why matter has gravity, you could answer "It just IS!"

This goes back at least to Basil and Augustine. Augustine wrote: It is therefore, causally that Scripture has said that earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth. In the earth from the beginning, in what I might call the roots of time, God created what was to be in times to come.

This was endorsed also by Aquinas in the Summa theologica, Part I, Q 115, art. 2. Whether there are any seminal virtues in corporeal matter? By seminal virtues, read "natural powers." His answer, of course, was yes.

In De vegetabilibus et plantis, his teacher, Albertus Magnus, wrote, 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.

Or Nicole d'Oresme, in De causa mirabilium wrote: I propose here… to show the causes of some effects which seem to be miracles and to show that the effects occur naturally… There is no reason to take recourse to the heavens [astrology], the last refuge of the weak, or to demons, or to our glorious God, as if he would produce these effects directly

The notion of the world as a sort of machine rose early in the Middle Ages. One finds the imagery in Hugh of St. Victor, John of Sacrabosco, and Thierry of Chartres, among others. And it was Bishop d'Oresme who made the famous comparison of the world to a mechanical clock.

Gilgamesh said...

Maybe something happened in the 11th and 12th centuries that changed things? Maybe the rediscovery of the lost Greek heritage, the recovery of much of Aristotle, perhaps? Maybe part of why things started to change, and against considerable resistance, was that the power of ancient knowledge was being recovered in the West?

And consider that this new knowledge did not just come in and was instantly loved. The 13th century had multiple condemnations of Aristotle (ie 1277), so if we take anything, we can see the resistance to such methods of learning about the world; they were being resisted because it ran contrary to the beliefs of much of the Middle Ages. How would to explain this resistance if curiosity was the norm for centuries?

If you want to show curiosity was a virtue in the times before the 11th century, could you provide actual quotations of just that, and also show that that was anywhere near the majority belief? Rather, one can read Augustine and see his condemnations of curiosity as a great sin, for example. Carrier also gave a quote for Clement concerning the matter. Besides, if this way of knowing the world was already done in the Dark Ages, why did people like Albertus, Bacon, and Aquinas have to defend it?

Perhaps Christianity changed in the High Middle Ages because something happened. And by not even considering the fact that new knowledge was sweeping into Western Europe, this does not bode well for you.

And your contention that the West was effectively on fire throughout the Middle Ages is rather silly; I take it the empire of Charlemagne was nothing but anarchy, right? And there weren't any wars in Rome, where there? I mean, there never was a struggle for power after Julius Caesar died, or that of Nero and Domitian, right? And never mind that the monks had plenty of time and paper to copy Bibles and commentaries and prayers, right?

You have nothing but red herrings and special pleading. "Oh, the Christians did virtue curiosity, but we just don't have the records, just of those that didn't care for it; but it really was there!" Please.

TheOFloinn said...

GilgMaybe something happened in the 11th and 12th centuries that changed things?

And made them give up Christianity? Remember, the Boogeyman Theory of History is that Christianity was the inhibiting factor.

Maybe the rediscovery of the lost Greek heritage, the recovery of much of Aristotle?

Boethius was translating Aristotle into Latin when the Goths executed him on suspicion of treason. Sylvain Gouguenheim contends in Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel that educated Latin westerners, even after Boethius, could read Greek, and that this explains why so few Latin translation between 500 and 1100 AD. Ethnic Hellenes lived in Sicily, Southern Italy, and Rome, producing men like Gregory of Agrigento, George of Syracuse, Saint Gilsenus; and Simeon of Reichenau, aka "The Achaean." All Dark Age figures.

Pépin le Bref petitioned the Pope for Greek texts and Paul I responded by committing to royal custodianship various "liturgical books, manuals of grammar and orthography, of geometry [and] works of Aristotle and pseudo-Dionysius" along with "men capable of translating them." Latin compendia of Platonist and Aristotelian teachings circulated during the Dark Age, as did medical handbooks in the tradition of Galen. Pliny, Macrobius, et al. were used as text books in the cathedral schools. The medievals didn’t stumble across the Greek texts; they went out looking. Curiosity first; translations second. Causes precede effects.

Jacques de Venise studied in Constantinople and brought Aristotle to Mont Saint-Michel, direct from Greek to Latin. Gerard of Cremona went to Toledo (after it was liberated) looking for texts the Syriacs had translated into Arabic.

The 13th century had multiple condemnations of Aristotle (ie 1277)

Multiple. So when were the others? And how did they compare to Francis Bacon’s condemnation of Aristotle?

The double standard of the true believer: the medievals were stoopid because a) they clung to Aristotelian "pseudo science" and b) they condemned Aristotle.

Learn which propositions were condemned, and why.

How would to explain this resistance if curiosity was the norm for centuries?

How to explain resistance to the blind acceptance of the ancients as having said everything worth saying? Gee, curiosity, I suppose! Maybe Galen didn't get everything right? Maybe Aristotle was wrong about local motion?

E.g., Bradwardine's rejection of Aristotle's theory of motion led him to develop new concepts like "instantaneous velocity". This is hardly due to a lack of curiosity.

one can read Augustine and see his condemnations of curiosity as a great sin

Folks from Plutarch to Pascal have condemned idle curiosity: what’s my neighbor up to? What’s in that sealed letter? What happens to black men if we allow their syphilis to proceed untreated? Augustine is firmly within this neo-Platonist tradition in the Confessions. cf. Aquinas Summa theol. Pt II-2 Q167 art.1 for detail.

why did people like Albertus, Bacon, and Aquinas have to defend it?

Another "coming-or-going." If they'd written nothing, you'd take that as proof, too.

your contention that the West was effectively on fire throughout the Middle Ages [sic] is rather silly; I take it the empire of Charlemagne was nothing but anarchy, right?

The "Carolingian Renaissance" was brief. The empire fell apart and viking marauders besieged Paris and sacked most of the monasteries where the copying was done.

And there weren't any wars in Rome, where there?

Of course there were, and much was lost because of it. (The palace district of Alexandria, where the Museum once stood, was leveled by Aurelian during the civil wars.) But the heartland of the Empire never collapsed into post-urban rural conditions with bands of barbarians roaming through the ruins. Magnitude matters.

TheOFloinn said...

Addendum to Gilgamesh:

never mind that the monks had plenty of time and paper to copy Bibles and commentaries and prayers, right?

And they had plenty of time to copy other stuff, too. For example, the following are known by reference to have had these authors in their libraries. E.g., Hroswitha could not write "in imitation of Terence" unless she had Terence available to her.

Alcuin: Aristotle, Cicero, Lucan, Pliny, Statius, Trogus Pompeius, Virgil; and he quotes from Ovid, Horace, Terence in his own writing
Abbess Hroswitha of Gandersheim: who wrote original comedies in rhymed prose in imitation of Terence
Abbot Lupus of Ferriers:
Cicero, Horace, Martial, Suetonius, Virgil
Abbo of Fleury: Horace, Sallust, Terence, Virgil
Nokter Labeo: translated works of Aristotle and Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy
Gerbert of Aurillac: Horace, Juvenal, Lucan, Persius, Terence, Statius, Virgil
Desiderius of Monte Cassino:
who oversaw transcription of Horace, Seneca, Cicero, Ovid
Archbishop Alfano: Apuleius, Aristotle, Cicero, Plato, Varro, Virgil, wrote in imitation of Ovid, Horace

All "Dark Age" folk. You'll note they never lost their Latin heritage, and already had bits of the Greek.

(Interesting footnote: As Abbess of Gandersheim, Hroswitha had a Seat in the Imperial Diet, commanded an army and a mint and had her own court of law.)

Pikemann Urge said...

What we've learned: there are no black-and-white summaries of any historical era, even though there are general trends that are easily identifiable. Surprise, surprise.

Let us sum up. A contention is made that it was Christianity that was the catalyst for scientific progress and the Renaissance. Some good words can be said for the faith in this regard. But the trend was quite clear: Christianity was either so-so about scientific progress or it actively inhibited it.

TheOFloinn said...

Pikeman:
Let us sum up. A contention is made that it was Christianity that was the catalyst for scientific progress and the Renaissance.

Amendment: the contention was that, contra Walker (and his original essay), Christianity was not a uniquely hostile civilization for science.

Part of the confusion stems from equivocation on the term "science," which can shift in meaning unexpectedly from "curious about the natural world" to "Baconian science only" to "Aristotelian science also" to "whatever dudes in white lab coats do" to the mere "accumulation of facts, rules of thumb, and nature lore." It has even been used to mean "engineering and tinkering with gadgets" and to include "mathematics, astronomy" and "medicine."

The mythos of "progress" and the notion that "the" Renaissance had something to do with science are separate issues.

Humphrey said...

Gentlemen. Good to see this discussion has reignited itself after a lengthy hiatus.

Richard, I'm afraid you have set me quite the taks (for which I both thank you and curse you). I now have to explain, at length, the difference between Aristotle's and late medieval/early modern conceptions of the lawfulness of nature (and the relative superiority of either approach) and do pretty much the same with Hipparchus and Buridan's theories of inertia/impetus. I will have to do this on the blog.

On the plague (and Galen's dissections ; what about the other 200 mistakes?)I'm afraid we shall just have to agree to disagree. Recall that your contention is that 'the same advances [made in the scientific revolution] could have been made within a few more centuries that were eventually made in the 17th' if things had not gone to hell in the 3rd century. Presumably the political upheavals of the 3rd century did not kill or blind all those super rational Roman and Greek 'scientists', so it's about as good as my excuse.

That's by the buy. Your entire claim about the Middle Ages being an age of scientific stagnation appears to rest on the world of antiquity having already laid all the necessary foundations for the scientific revolution. This I think this is a similar argument to that made by Lucio Russo in his (eccentric) book 'The forgotten revolution: how science was born in 300 BC and why it had to be reborn'. This is not currently accepted among historians of science, and if it were true it would revolutionise our understanding.

Lastly, armchair philosophy is apparently any 'non-empirical' activity. Well that would rule out much of my hero Descartes's work, it would also rule out much of ancient thought; including ancient atomism which did not postulate atoms to explain the world but to free man from the ethical constraints implicit in a supernatural order. That doesn't sound very 'scientific' to me either but it was still a massive contribution to science.

Till the next episode

Humphrey said...

Charles

Re the Royal Society, you might want to read Peter Harrison's (one of the authors Richard recommends) critically acclaimed book 'The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science'. You may find it a bit of an eye opener. Failing that he has a lecture coming up on 'Religious Influences in the Founding of the Royal Society' coming up in spring 2010 which will be posted online.

Better still, come and start a discussion on our forum.

Regs H

Charles Freeman said...

Humphrey. Thanks for the book reference to Harrison. I have to say I am suspicious of a single explanation for the revival of science in the seventeenth century, especally a religious one. Back in 1965, I entered an essay prize competition for sixth formers. I managed to get access to a library that had a superb collection of English civil war pamphlets and these were the subject of my essay. Every political position, on each side of the divide,was argued with backing from biblical texts. I learned then, and believe now, that the way that the bible is interpreted ( and how it is used selectively) is swayed by forces in society, rather than the other way around. In particular, everything I have read since 1965 leads me to believe that there was never a coherent religious belief that acts as neatly as Harrison suggests in the seventeenth century ( although I have only read the preface on the Cambridge University website). It was, of course, this immense diversity in seventeenth century English thought that allowed new scientific ideas to get a toehold. However, I shall certainly look out for Harrison’s book.
Margaret Wertheim’s fine essay, ‘Lost in Space: The Spiritual Crisis of Newtonian Cosmology’ in Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society, just out, is worth reading.She explores the medievial conception that the spheres beyond the earth are qualitively different from the material earth and goes on : “the idea of spatial continuity was one of the more contentious propositions of the scientific revolution . . . and set the stage for an unbearable tension between science and Christianity”. She goes on to describe how Newton, who was, of course responsible for bringing together ‘the two demains’ by positing an essential continuity between earth and space, was profoundly worried by the theological implications of what he had done.
Personally I am fascinated by the idea (and this is why I am reading the ever-excellent Bynum) of the bodies of saints being qualitively different from other bodies. This idea goes right back to the second and third centuries but, as Bynum shows, was elaborated with great ‘sophistication’ by medieval thinkers. The rejection of this idea by the Protestant Reformers (as they cleared out the relics ) but its retention by the Catholic Church is an important moment in the history of European scientific thought. If the physical body is subject to different kinds of natural laws according to its spiritual status, you have an immense handicap in making progress in the understanding of the body! (Another important book by Bynum -Wondrous Blood - looks at how this all tied in with medieval blood cults.) Fascinating stuff.

Humphrey said...

Hi Charles:

"Humphrey. Thanks for the book reference to Harrison. I have to say I am suspicious of a single explanation for the revival of science in the seventeenth century, especally a religious one."

Me too. In fact I highly recommend Noah J Efron's essay in 'Galileo goes to Gaol', which you might have seen advertised recently, in which he rejects the myth that Christianity gave birth to modern science. While acknowledging that certain certain Christian institutions, doctrines and forms of theology supported or motivated scientific activity, he points out the dangers of a one legged interpretation. Firstly excluding the place of classical philosophers from an account of the history of science, as Stark does, is an act of 'intellectual appropriation of breathtaking arrogance'. Secondly the Latins of the medieval and early modern period benefited significantly from Islamic and Jewish philosophers, including sophisticated commentaries and glosses to Greek text. Thirdly other factors for the scientific revolution have been persuasively proposed by other scholars. The rise of commerce and the values inherent in it. The impact of the voyages of discovery. The invention or appropriation of new technologies, and the rise of new scientific societies which were built to transcend religious affiliations.

Having said all that, Harrison certainly isn't in the Stark category of historians. He builds a persuasive case that the chief obsession of the people advocating a rhetoric of experiment were obsessed with the fall of man, but they were also influenced by the revival of ancient scepticism.

On the civil war point, one of the beliefs most prevalent at the time was the imminent apocalypse. You find that in evidence across the Puritan radicals and even in thinkers as sober as Hobbes. See Arthur H. Williamson, Apocalypse Then: Prophecy and the Making of the Modern World (I have listened avidly to his lectures, but I have yet to get order his book when my wife isn't looking)

Greenwood said...

"13th century was the Middle Ages, therefore the Middle Ages didn't suck and/or were an era of enlightened advancement of knowledge," because that is only true if you ignore all the rest of the Middle Ages--which is what everyone else means by "the Middle Ages.""

In my experience that's dubious even among historians, but almost certainly false when applied to "everyone."

Humphrey said...

Well, the seven volume New Cambridge Medieval History begins in 500 and ends in 1500. But then what would those stuck up Oxbridge clowns know. They probably just stuck the last two volumes on to suck more money out of impoverished students.

Actually, I was having another argument with a chap on the other forum on a similar topic. When I suggested that Jean Buridan wasn't exactly a 'benighted, bible bashing moron' he replied (after looking him up on wikipedia) that I was an idiot. This was because Jean Buridan had lived from 1295 to 1358, which is "not the Middle Ages, it's the enlightenment!". "My work here is done" I said. When people start referring to the Late Middle Ages as the beginning of the enlightenment you know you've made a bit of progress.

Pikemann Urge said...

I certainly have no creds to take on the debate about timelines. Despite that, 1500 is way too late for me to call 'middle ages'. The Renaissance was well under way.

Art Deco might be said to have begun 'officially' in 1925. But the seeds go back to before WWI. Perhaps even before the late 19thC.

Humphrey said...

"This is yet another example of how Christian apologists not only love to boost medieval Christianity with logical fallacies, but also by not checking the facts (even when they are suspicious: a watermill for every fifty families in 1086 AD England ought to have been downright suspicious)"


Sorry I should have clarified this point earlier, to wit, the truth or falsity of the Christian religion in no way depends on the number of watermills that happened to exist in 1086 England. You could prove that the Medieval inhabitants of Norman England had been successful in creating some kind of combined blast furnace / astrolabe with dual steam turbines and heat seeking crossbows and it would still not make one iota of difference to the theism /atheism slugging match.

If Richard has some compelling evidence against the numbers of watermills cited in the Domesday book he should probably submit it for peer review. Again, it would revolutionise the field as most of the historians I have looked at think the figure of 5,624 is almost certainly too low.

TheOFloinn said...

Pikemann Urge
I certainly have no creds to take on the debate about timelines. Despite that, 1500 is way too late for me to call 'middle ages'. The Renaissance was well under way.



The Renaissance has rightly been called "more of a what than a when": an artistic shift toward imitation of Periclean Greek and Augustan Roman forms in sculpture and architecture. It began earlier in Italy, but it did not spread to transalpine Europe until much later. The French Renaissance, for example, is dated "from the late 15th century to the early 17th century" and the English Renaissance, "from the early 16th century to the early 17th century."

That the Middle Ages are customarily taken to run up through ca.1500 is a matter best taken up with the historians. Those texts that I have which deal with the whole period generally run up through the 15th century.

Johan Huizinga has a very nice study of the 15th century, centering on the Court of Burgundy: The Autumn of the Middle Ages. No one could mistake it for anything other than the decadence of the medieval; and no one could mistake the stirrings of Renaissance forms wriggling underneath like worms in a corpse. You could order it through Barnes and Noble, here:
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Autumn-of-the-Middle-Ages/Johan-Huizinga/e/9780226359946/?itm=1&usri=the+autumn+of+the+middle+ages

Humphrey said...

James Hannam has a post up on Galen's alleged human dissection and the human vivisections which appear to have taken place in Alexandria.

http://bedejournal.blogspot.com/2010/02/human-vivisection-and-dissection.html

The relevant passage of Von Staden's 'Herophilus: the art of medicine in early Alexandria' can be found on google books (pages 150-153)

Humphrey said...

“Humphrey said... I think the numbers [of dissections of cadavers] were far greater in Italy."

"Richard said....If you have a source for that please let me know. At least I assume you’re not just making it up.”

Sorry, still picking up on your earlier objections. I should give sources for all this stuff. I was going on Vivian Nutton and Roy Porter’s book ‘The History of Medical Education in Britain’. Fay Getz states on page 86 that:

‘Studies of the nature of the student bodies at Cambridge and Oxford confirm the small numbers of men who studied medicine in the medieval period. At Oxford for instance, fewer than 100 men left any record of medical study. This was about one percent of all recorded students. Cambridge’s body of medical students was about half the size of Oxford’s.’

The great problem here of course was the lack of monopoly anyone had over the practice of medicine.

Similarly see Roy Porter’s ‘Disease Medicine and Society 1550-1860’ in which he says (p6; referring to the seventeenth century’):

‘Puritans were right to think that English medicine had little reason to be proud of itself. The shortcomings of Oxford and Cambridge in providing medical education were underscored by the fact that nearly all top English physicians had studied abroad, mainly in France and Italy…Most practitioners had gained their skills as surgeons or apothecaries by apprenticeship. They had no formal anatomical or scientific training‘.

Luckily things were much better over on the continent. As Paula Findlen states in ‘The Cambridge History of Science: Early modern science p275’:

‘During the late Middle ages, occasional dissections of human cadavers had become a standard part of medical education in universities such as those at Bologna, Padua and Montpellier, where surgery was part of the medical curriculum. The first documented formal dissection of this sort was recorded in Padua in 1341 though it is clear the practice was considerably older; the anatomia (1316) of Mondino de Liuzzi, professor of Medicine at the University of Bologna was certainly composed on the basis of actual dissections’. Such practices accelerated in the second half of the fifteenth century’.

I don’t have the actual numbers of cadavers dissected in Italy but we can reasonably infer from the record that they were considerably higher that the pitiful numbers at Oxford and Cambridge. Using the example of ‘two bodies a year even in the 16th century’ at Cambridge tells us more about the moribund state of English medical education than it does about the period as a whole.

Richard Carrier said...

Humphrey said... I don’t have the actual numbers of cadavers dissected in Italy but we can reasonably infer from the record that they were considerably higher that the pitiful numbers at Oxford and Cambridge.

Why "considerably" higher? The sources you cite don't give any evidence of even greater numbers, much less very much greater. That medical education was better in France and Italy (or perceived to be) does not entail this, especially since we know the practice wasn't even to dissect, but to watch a butcher work on a corpse while a pedant read out Galen. Until, that is, the time of Vesalius, but by then everything had changed or was changing.

Richard Carrier said...

Humphrey said... If Richard has some compelling evidence against the numbers of watermills cited in the Domesday book he should probably submit it for peer review.

I don't have to. Exactly what I said is already admitted in the literature on the book. What peer reviewed articles and chapters represent as a speculation, is repeated by later writers as a fact. In other words, it's the latter claim that has yet to survive peer review.

Again, it would revolutionise the field as most of the historians I have looked at think the figure of 5,624 is almost certainly too low.

I'm going to have to call you on this. Cite where historians argue this number is too low for Medieval England.

Indeed, quote who you have in mind citing the Domesday book for their estimates of watermill counts at all--I mean I want you to present here, word for word, the actual argument or claim they make, and on what they say it is based (e.g. what source and page number they cite, etc.).

You may find yourself faced with an "Oh." moment when you do.

Richard Carrier said...

Humphrey said... Presumably the political upheavals of the 3rd century did not kill or blind all those super rational Roman and Greek 'scientists', so it's about as good as my excuse.

Actually it did. It killed a great many people, scientists included (just not specifically), but more importantly it destroyed their educational institutions and foundations and bank accounts and drove everyone into fascistic, mystical ideologies (and thus away from liberal empirical belief systems). In other words, it changed the zeitgeist, so that antiscientific mysticism like mystery religions and Neoplatonism dominated intellectual interest, while Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Atomism, and Skepticism declined. In other words, Christianity's subsequent success was a symptom, not a cause, of this zeitgeist shift. The causal facts are well documented (the decline of scientists and scientific philosophies), as are the effects (scientific advance stalled in the 3rd century and was not resumed until the 15th).

This I think this is a similar argument to that made by Lucio Russo in his (eccentric) book 'The forgotten revolution: how science was born in 300 BC and why it had to be reborn'. This is not currently accepted among historians of science, and if it were true it would revolutionise our understanding.

Either one claim or the other is incorrect. What I have actually argued is the mainstream view among current historians of science. So if you are saying that's what they reject from Russo, you are factually incorrect. What I know is rejected from Russo is his thesis that Newtonian physics and Keplerian heliocentrism had been developed in the 2nd century BC, which I am fairly certain is indeed not defensible (that's just not the only thing Russo argues in his famous book). So if you are now attributing to me that claim, you are factually incorrect again. So either I don't argue what scholars reject, or scholars don't reject what I argue. Those are the only two factually correct choices for you. You can't leverage Russo to any other conclusion here.

Armchair philosophy is apparently any 'non-empirical' activity. Well that would rule out much of my hero Descartes's work, it would also rule out much of ancient thought

And modern thought, too. Exactly. Those activities are not science.

The issue is whether there were any Archimedes, Hiparchuses, Herophiluses, Heros, Ptolemies, Soranuses, Galens, or Dioscorides (et al.) in the Middle Ages. There were not. Yet there were in antiquity. Scientific progress was happening in antiquity, not in the Middle Ages. It's not hard to understand that point. And the facts overwhelmingly support it.

Richard Carrier said...

Charles Freeman said... It was, of course, this immense diversity in seventeenth century English thought that allowed new scientific ideas to get a toehold.

Just FYI, I too am a multi-causalist, and I also believe this is likely to have been one of several requisite factors. For when science flourished in antiquity the same amazing diversity and intellectual liberty and experimentation obtained. Thus it was the breaking of the institutional power of the Church (and after that, Churches) that was a necessary precursor to any Scientific Revolution. But not in itself a sufficient cause thereto.

Richard Carrier said...

Semantics Now Substituted for Facts

TheOFloinn said... There were no "scientists" before 1834. Modern vocational categories fit ill on other times and places.

Semantics won't save you here. Archimedes and Ptolemy were scientists by any relevant definition of the word (it doesn't matter that English didn't then exist), and most of all, they were scientists in every way the men you listed were not. In other words, actual scientists conduct experiments and make observations and test theories against the evidence to better explain how or why nature operates as she does. Ancient "natural philosophers" like Archimedes did that. No one on your list ever did that.

Similarly, your attempt to cite authority for your use of the term Middle Ages is a dodge that misses the actual point: that you used that term to conflate different historical periods. You still conflated different historical periods. The fallacy was of your doing. It doesn't matter whose terminology you employed.

You also dodge again behind Bill Clintonesque hairsplitting over "inventions" and "advances" even though the hair you split has nothing to do with the point at issue: that the medieval Christians did no more than the ancient pagans (at best), and in the sciences far less (and that you grossly misrepresented the evidence on both counts). You can't deny that fact with semantics.

Richard Carrier said...

Why Do You Try to Bullshit an Expert?

Flynn, you also keep repeating groundless claims to fact, such as that ancient watermills were not widespread. Archaeological evidence suggests otherwise; whereas you have no evidence to support your claim, you're just making it up. Stop making shit up.

You likewise incompetently attempt invalid arguments from silence--as if our sources were as complete for ancient Persia as early modern Europe. You cannot argue that because the evidence we have is scant, therefore so were Islamic windmills. The evidence we have is scant because all the evidence we have is scant. If you cared to attend to the actual facts of the field, and bothered to consult anyone who knew what they were talking about, you would know that. Instead, you just blunder along like you're an expert, when in fact you're only advertising the willful rudeness of your ignorance.

You falsely claim Brian Stock is a "historian of science." He's not. He has no qualifications in ancient science or even in the history of science at all. He was a professor of literature (medieval at that). You claim to have been relying on "historians of science" (plural) yet you cite not a one. In contrast, I am relying on actual historians of science, including experts in ancient science (see my chapter on this topic in The Christian Delusion, hereafter TCD). And of course, I myself am such an expert, with a Ph.D in ancient science.

I said (correctly) that "you falsely implied ancient cities had nothing comparable to medieval universities" and you responded:

Silly me. There I was, relying on the historians again. Cf. Huff, Grant, Kibre/Siraisi, etc.

Not a single one of them wrote anything about the ancient education system. So how can you have been relying on them for a claim about the ancient education system?

If you want to say that [scholars] were not educated as 17th cent. scientists, well, no one was before the 18th cent.

Straw man. What I said was that none was taught anything that constitutes being a scientist, such as experimental method or how to conduct tests and make scientific observations, or given knowledge of the sciences that any practicing scientist then had (such as astronomers, engineers, and doctors). Ancient scientists did receive that education (so did medieval astronomers, engineers, and doctors, though to a much lesser extent, and none of whom were theologians). So nice try again. But your bullshit only mounts.

In response to my assertion that "Dark Age Christians were hostile to the values of science (curiosity was condemned, empiricism held suspect, and the notion of progress abandoned)" you gave two unrelated quotes that have nothing to do with any of this. None mention the moral value of curiosity, the authority of empirical facts, or the value and possibility of the advancement of scientific knowledge. That's called a non sequitur. In contrast, in my work I cite numerous historians of science and medieval culture who have extensively documented what I affirmed (see endnote 56 on p. 419 of TCD), including Kenny, Harrison, Daston, Eamon, and Clagett.

Richard Carrier said...

More Made Up Shit

TheOFloinn said... The notion of the world as a sort of machine rose early in the Middle Ages.

No, it arose in classical antiquity. See TCD pp. 410-11, with endnotes. Why you think you can claim to know otherwise is what I don't understand. Did you even check? Did you consult a single expert on ancient science?

It was Bishop d'Oresme who made the famous comparison of the world to a mechanical clock

Sorry, Cicero beat him to it by 1400 years.

(Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 2.38, expanding the point made in 2.35)

(similarly Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.96)

(Ptolemy himself debates the theory of universe-as-machine in Planetary Hypotheses, thus demonstrating it was a popular theory; he rejects it because friction would be a problem)

Folks from Plutarch to Pascal have condemned idle curiosity: what’s my neighbor up to? What’s in that sealed letter? What happens to black men if we allow their syphilis to proceed untreated? Augustine is firmly within this neo-Platonist tradition.

Funny you should cite Plutarch here as your only ancient example--the very man who authored an essay praising the superior moral value of scientific curiosity (called "On Curiosity"). You won't find the like of it in the Middle Ages, least of all from Augustine, who argued quite the opposite.

You also love the "West was fucked" excuse, when all the while the Byzantine Empire was just as Christian, massively rich and successful and continuous for a thousand years, and actually in possession of almost all the ancient scientific writings that survived the Middle Ages at all, and yet they, too, stagnated scientifically, not even hitting upon a Scientific Revolution at all.

Sorry, your excuses don't wash. They are also self-contradictory, as you keep defending the amazing industrial and economic ingenuity and success of the Western Middle Ages, while simultaneously claiming their poverty and chaos was too great to advance the sciences. Sorry, you can't have both. You're going to have to give up one.

And finally, as to your claim "The peculiar tendency of the West to exalt reason started in those Dark Ages," that's just appalling. The peculiar tendency of the West to exalt reason started in Classical Athens. Everyone knows this. Except, somehow, you.

Richard Carrier said...

Figure Out What We're Actually Saying

TheOFloinn said... And made them give up Christianity? Remember, the Boogeyman Theory of History is that Christianity was the inhibiting factor.

I never argued Christianity had to be abandoned to rebirth science. I argued Christianity had to radically change, by embracing once-pagan values in place of the original ancient Christian values the Church was founded on. Get our theory straight before attempting to criticize it.

TheOFloinn said...

That said, Ptolemy was not a scientist. He was an astronomer; and astronomy then was math not physics. He was not trying to explain the natural world, but to cast more accurate horoscopes. (The Greeks did not think the heavens were natural. The stars were alive, divine, and influential in human affairs.) No one believed that descants and epicycles were physically real. They were math gimmicks to "save the appearances."

Archimedes was also primarily a mathematician, and something like an engineer. He discovered physics principles the old fashioned way: by accident.

Part of the problem is 7 or 8 definitions of "science," with one or another trotted out depending on the need of the moment. But science in the modern sense is not the accidental accumulation of facts and rules of thumb, but a process for deliberately creating facts and forming physical theories about them.

I'm sorry you don't agree with the historians about the term "Middle Ages," but I'll have to go with the consensus. Of course, there were cultural changes within the Middle Ages. Hence, the plural.

+ + +
You cannot argue that because the evidence we have is scant, therefore so were no Islamic windmills.

But you certainly can't argue from the lack of evidence that they were widespread. Tain't me, McGee. I just get this stuff out of books, in this case, White.

I would never try to bullshit an expert; and would not dream of contradicting Grant or Lindberg or Huff or White or any of the others.

You claim to have been relying on "historians of science" (plural) yet you cite not a one.

Then you quote me: "Huff, Grant, Kibre/Siraisi, etc.," so I must have mentioned some. To which we could add Mahoney and others. Even poor old Brian Stock did his undergrad work in natural science before shifting to history. His paper, "Science, Technology, and Economic Progress in the Early Middle Ages" in Science in the Middle Ages indicates some work in the field. It even has footnotes and references. Imagine that.

How can you have been relying on them for a claim about the ancient education system?

Because in writing about the Universities, they contrasted them with other times and places, including the Chinese Imperial College, the muslim madrassas, and ancient tutors.

TheOFloinn said...

In response to my assertion that "Dark Age Christians were hostile to the values of science (curiosity was condemned, empiricism held suspect, and the notion of progress abandoned)" you gave two unrelated quotes that have nothing to do with any of this.

Ja, so incurious that they went out and translated everything they could find.

Let's try once more. The Latin term curiositas was an inquisitive nosiness, which the Latins thought opposed to studiositas. Curiosity was for personal enjoyment; studiousness was for utility. See for example, Summa theologica, Pt.II-2, Q.166, ad.2.) The English term "curiosity" did not acquire its present neutral meaning until the early 17th cent. IOW, it was redefined in the Scientific Revolution to mean something different than what the Latin-speaking Augustine had meant.

TheOFloinn said...

Byzantine Empire was just as Christian, massively rich and successful and continuous for a thousand years, and actually in possession of almost all the ancient scientific writings that survived the Middle Ages at all, and yet they, too, stagnated scientifically, not even hitting upon a Scientific Revolution at all.

Perhaps because they preserved more of their ancestral Romanized Hellenistic culture. No one ever said Christianity was some sort of magic wand that you could wave and, hey presto, Baconian Science springs full-grown from the brow and institutes the "masculine discovery of time" to dominate and subdue feminine nature. In math, a necessary condition need not be sufficient.

Then, too, they Byzantine attitude was that the ancients had discovered everything worthwhile, and therefore there was nothing to add to it. That's a killer, too.

And there is something to be said (at a safe distance, of course) for wiping the slate clean. It may be that the need to discover what had been lost accustomed the West to a culture of discovery.
+ + +
your excuses ... are also self-contradictory, as you keep defending the amazing industrial and economic ingenuity and success of the Western Middle Ages, while simultaneously claiming their poverty and chaos was too great to advance the sciences. Sorry, you can't have both.

Sure you can. Just remember what R. Carrier once said about the Middle Ages being more than one age. It is entirely possible for one age -- say, when the Saracens, Vikings, and Magyars were running all over Western Europe burning and looting -- to be in poverty and chaos; and then another age -- say after the Battle of Lechfeld -- to be one of recovery, prosperity, and success.

Richard Carrier said...

TheOFloinn said... Ptolemy was not a scientist. He was an astronomer; and astronomy then was math not physics. He was not trying to explain the natural world, but to cast more accurate horoscopes

Holy. Fucking. Shit. You did not just eat that foot? Oh yes you did!

Ahem. Why not do the least high school student research possible and read the fucking Wikipedia entry on Ptolemy. Then let's hear you confess to being an ignorant douchebag, here in front of everyone.

Let's see. Where to begin? Oh, I don't know, say, his Optics? Where Ptolemy conducts detailed experiments with instruments of his own invention to determined the laws of reflection and indexes of refraction with different lens shapes in different media (glass, water, and air), among much else (like determining the size of the human visual field and the principles of binocular vision). Or what about his cartography, inventing conic and other forms of cartographic projection, the system of using latitudes and longitudes, and using astronomical data to locate geographical sites? Or his treatises on constructing astrolabes and computers? His lost experimental treatise on levers? His extant experimental text studying the properties of sound and harmonics? His sophisticated planetary theory, including his equal angles in equal times law of planetary acceleration? His scientific confirmation of atmospheric refraction? His accurate determination of the distance of the moon from earth? Yadayada. That's fucking science, douche.

TheOFloinn said... The Greeks did not think the heavens were natural. The stars were alive, divine, and influential in human affairs.

First, many Greek scientists did not believe in astrology. Second, Ptolemy did regard the heavens as natural and as governed by laws (you clearly don't know the categories employed in antiquity; or that Ptolemy developed mathematical laws of planetary motion), and even attempted to explain astrological influence in terms of natural physics. Third, Kepler also believed the planets were moved by souls (and thus "alive"). Ptolemy concluded the same, but only against his opponents, fellow astronomers who argued they were just rocks carried along by inertia (Ptolemy himself discusses some of the views of these opponents; Plutarch explicitly elaborates some of their theories). Fourth, on the full extent of your ignorant misrepresentation of ancient science, read my discussion of this very point in TCD.

TheOFloinn said... No one believed that descants and epicycles were physically real. They were math gimmicks to "save the appearances."

That's a modern myth. In Planetary Hypotheses Ptolemy explicitly says they were real and discusses different competing theories as to their actual physical construction, e.g. crystalline armillary rings propelled by interlocking gears was one theory he rejected, arguing the friction would be prohibitive; he settled on solid spheres or armillaries propelled by internal motivating forces within the planets according to strict harmonic laws.

TheOFloinn said... Archimedes was also primarily a mathematician, and something like an engineer. He discovered physics principles the old fashioned way: by accident.

Retarded douchebag, just go read the Wikipedia entry on him. Jesus Christ. The guy deductively proved the mathematical laws of statics and hydrostatics, invented the principle of specific gravity, proved geometrically why and how levers worked, and demonstrated the different effects of ship hull design using physical and geometric principles. That's just the short list.

Richard Carrier said...

TheOFloinn said... But science in the modern sense is not the accidental accumulation of facts and rules of thumb, but a process for deliberately creating facts and forming physical theories about them.

Which is what all these guys did. Do you see why I'm calling you out as such an ignorant ass? You don't even check rudimentary facts that a high school freshmen could have learned in five seconds tapping on his iphone in lunch line.

Indeed, the saddest irony is that these guys even wrote books and essays on scientific method saying exactly this: that science cannot be the accidental accumulation of facts and rules of thumb, but a process of deliberately ascertaining facts and forming physical theories about them.

See TCD for complete list of references.

TheOFloinn said... I'm sorry you don't agree with the historians about the term "Middle Ages," but I'll have to go with the consensus.

Douchebag, pay attention. That's a red herring. It doesn't matter one whit what definition you use. You still committed a fallacy by conflating different historical periods (e.g. using evidence post-1100 as if it proved something for the period pre-800). You won't even admit that. Instead you blather on about irrelevancies like how widely the term "Middle Ages" can be applied. That has nothing to do with the point I made and the lie I called you out on.

But you certainly can't argue from the lack of evidence that they were widespread.

I didn't. YOU were the one who made a baseless claim (in an apologetic attempt to rescue your doomed argument). I only stated what we knew. Now you are pretending I'm the one who overstepped the evidence by claiming more than we know? You really are an ass.

TheOFloinn said... Then you quote me: "Huff, Grant, Kibre/Siraisi, etc.," so I must have mentioned some.

Not on the point I was referring to. Wow, you have a hard time paying attention to what anyone is even saying, don't you?

TheOFloinn said... Because in writing about the Universities, they contrasted them with other times and places, including the Chinese Imperial College, the muslim madrassas, and ancient tutors.

Ancient tutors? Honestly. Let's test this theory. Give me the page numbers where the guys you named discuss higher education under the Roman Empire. We'll start there.

Then I'll haul out the actual scholarship on Roman education and slap it on the table. I guarantee my dick is bigger in that contest.

TheOFloinn said... Byzantine attitude was that the ancients had discovered everything worthwhile, and therefore there was nothing to add to it.

Stop making shit up.

Quote me one single Byzantine author who says this.

Or finally admit you're just making all this up as you go along. Either way, I'll be very impressed.

Richard Carrier said...

TheOFloinn said... Let's try once more. The Latin term curiositas was an inquisitive nosiness, which the Latins thought opposed to studiositas....

Just when I thought you couldn't deliver an even more disconnected non sequitur, you astonish me with this one. Your entire paragraph makes absolutely no sense as even being in any way relevant to the point I made. To respond to my pointing out that you employed a complete non sequitur, by employing another complete non sequitur, takes real crazy. The kind they sell in lollipop land.

TheOFloinn said...

TheOFloinn said... Archimedes was also primarily a mathematician...

Retarded douchebag, just go read the Wikipedia entry on him. Jesus Christ. The guy deductively proved the mathematical laws of statics and hydrostatics, invented the principle of specific gravity, proved geometrically why and how levers worked, and demonstrated the different effects of ship hull design using physical and geometric principles.

TOF
Right. Primarily a mathematician. What's wrong with mathematicians? Science does not deductively prove anything. It inductively supports falsifiable theories.
+ + +
RC: First, many Greek scientists did not believe in astrology.

TOF
Ah, the "many" vs "most" issue. Of course, if they did believe in astrology, you could always declare them a "non-scientist." But let's distinguish between the culture and a few folks who went against the grain in some matters. It takes more than talented individuals to make science in the modern sense. One of the marks of the Revolution was a re-imagining of the social context within which nature was studied.
+ + +
RC: Ptolemy did regard the heavens as natural and as governed by laws

TOF
Mathematics will do that to you. But there is a distinction between a mathematical law and a physical law.

Perhaps by "natural" you include the fifth element which made up the translunar region. OK, I'll go along. But IIRC its nature was supposed unlike the elements of the sublunar realm, so I did discount it. So let's include it: the crystaline spheres were natural, composed of an unknown element whose natural motion was circular.

RC: Ptolemy developed mathematical laws of planetary motion, and even attempted to explain astrological influence in terms of natural physics.

TOF
Like I said, mathematics. Modern astrologers also attempt to explain astrological influence in terms of natural physics, citing gravity, for example. That doesn't make Madame Fluffy a scientist.
+ + +
RC: read the fucking Wikipedia entry on Ptolemy

TOF
I'd rather read Ptolemy. It's been a while and at the moment I have to finish a failure mode and effect analysis manual, but the book's within arm's reach, so maybe later.

Several areas of applied mathematics were called "the exact sciences" precisely because they could be worked out with geometry and arithmetic: astronomy, optics, music, and statics being among them. But using math does not in itself make science in the modern sense and scientiae did not mean "sciences" in the modern sense.
+ + +

TheOFloinn said...

RC: YOU were the one who made a baseless claim (in an apologetic attempt to rescue your doomed argument). I only stated what we knew.

TOF
Apologetic? Lynne White? What we know is that some windmills were built in southern Afghanistan and centuries later German crusaders "built the first windmill Syria had ever seen," and of a radically different design. Where did all the other windmills go?
+ + +
RC: I guarantee my dick is bigger in that contest.

TOF
If that is important to you.

TheOFloinn said... Byzantine attitude was that the ancients had discovered everything worthwhile, and therefore there was nothing to add to it.

RC: Stop making shit up. Quote me one single Byzantine author who says this.

"The great men of the past have said everything so perfectly that they have left nothing for us to say."
-- Theodore Metochites, 1270–1332,Historical and Philosophical Miscellanies, quoted by Runciman and in Edward Grant, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their religious, institutional, and intellectual contexts.
+ + +
TheOFloinn said... Let's try once more. The Latin term curiositas was an inquisitive nosiness, which the Latins thought opposed to studiositas....


RC: Just when I thought you couldn't deliver an even more disconnected non sequitur, you astonish me with this one. Your entire paragraph makes absolutely no sense as even being in any way relevant to the point I made.

TOF
You claimed that Augustine had denounced "curiosity." Augustine wrote in Latin. The Latin term curiositas did not mean quite the same thing as the 17th cent. did when they redefined it. You used the disapproval of self-indulgent nosiness and to imply that the medievals were opposed to investigating nature, when all they did was employ a different term: studiositas.
+ + +

As a post-script: I have not called you a single foul name. I wonder why you feel the need to vilify those who disagree with you. Why not try to keep this on a rational basis? It may be that I am mistaken on some points, or that the references I rely on, not being Wikipedia, are less correct than that august source. Perhaps my memory plays me tricks. All these things are possible. It may also be that comm box limitations mean explanations are too brief, though in one or two cases, you did miss qualifications that were in the original, and when I pointed it out, you claimed I was backpedaling.

Richard Carrier said...

TheOFloinn said... What's wrong with mathematicians? Science does not deductively prove anything. It inductively supports falsifiable theories.

Not quite. Newton deduced Kepler's laws from his three laws of motion. Conversely, Archimedes inductively tested the falsifiable premises in is deductive argument (which is why he was right: the mathematical laws of physics he discovered do exist and operate just as he predicted). Science uses the hypothetico-deductive method: it proposes a hypothesis (the premises in Archimedes On Floating Bodies), deduces the consequences (the conclusion of Archimedes On Floating Bodies), then makes observations to verify or falsify the result (the applications and experiments Archimedes conducted confirming his laws, e.g. in immersing objects in baths, in ship hull design, in municipal water delivery systems, and even, famously in his case, criminal forensics).

Again, that's science. There is no sense in which Archimedes was any less a scientist than Newton. And no sense in which any medieval person was a scientist like them in any comparable way.

TheOFloinn said... [Re: Ptolemy's laws of planetary motion:] Like I said, mathematics. Modern astrologers also attempt to explain astrological influence in terms of natural physics, citing gravity, for example. That doesn't make Madame Fluffy a scientist.

So Kepler's laws of planetary motion are not science, just astrology? (he was, let's recall, also an astrologer, and also did not cite gravity)

Or wait, you might say, his laws at least made empirically testable predictions that were confirmed. Shit. So did Ptolemy's laws.

You really are digging a hole for yourself here, aren't you?

TheOFloinn said... Several areas of applied mathematics were called "the exact sciences" precisely because they could be worked out with geometry and arithmetic: astronomy, optics, music, and statics being among them.

So Ptolemy's use of experiments and instruments to make observations, take measurements, and test theories regarding physical processes and mathematical laws of physics, isn't science? What the fuck is then?

No wonder you said theologians were scientists. You must actually believe even modern scientists aren't scientists!

You also skipped the other stuff I mentioned, like physiology (Galen's experiments proving his theory of kidney function; Herophilus' experiments proving localization of brain functions) or botany (Theophrastus' empirical studies on plants and plant physiology).

How many more do I need list before you make excuses to reject every scientific activity imaginable as not really science? Are you just fucking with me, or are you genuinely this stupid?

Richard Carrier said...

I love this one...

TheOFloinn said... The Byzantine attitude was that the ancients had discovered everything worthwhile, and therefore there was nothing to add to it.

I asked "Quote me one single Byzantine author who says this."

You replied with:

"The great men of the past have said everything so perfectly that they have left nothing for us to say." -- Theodore Metochites, 1270–1332

Nice try. This is a great example of why you don't know what you're doing.

First, where is anything in this quote about making discoveries? Where does he say there was nothing left to discover? Hmmm. The ancients left us nothing left to say...about what exactly? Didn't you even think to ask?

I wonder if it ever occurred to you to even check the context of that quote? Do you know what he was actually talking about? It wasn't science. It was moral, political, and educational theory (see here for a scholar remarking upon that fact, but one can verify this by reading the table of contents from the Greek available here). A few of his essays touch on natural philosophy as a topic, but only in respect to semantics (e.g. the difference in meaning between natural philosophy and logic and mathematics) or other nonscientific aspects. The closest he gets to an actual science subject is an essay on Archimedes' mechanical defenses of Syracuse, where he repeats Plutarch's myth that Archimedes spurned practical applications for pure geometry, yet even there his point is that enough has been said about that story (and the moral thereof)--not that enough has been said about mechanical science or physics. No actual science or physics is even mentioned in that essay. He certainly doesn't say anything there about all physical theories and mechanical inventions having already been "discovered" and thus there were none left to be discovered.

That's a bummer. I was hoping you'd find a good example...because it would confirm my report (argued from abundant other evidence by the scholars I cite in TCD) that medieval Christians did indeed denounce even the prospect of making progress in science. If you could find even one Byzantine actually saying no progress was possible because everything had been discovered, that would have been gravy. Alas, Metochites never says that. He never discusses the specific content of any sciences at all.

So do please try again. Find any Byzantine author who says this about science.

In other words, try backing up what you originally claimed: The Byzantine attitude was that the ancients had discovered everything worthwhile, and therefore there was nothing to add to it.

Richard Carrier said...

TheOFloinn said... You claimed that Augustine had denounced "curiosity." Augustine wrote in Latin. The Latin term curiositas did not mean quite the same thing as the 17th cent. did when they redefined it.

Then you lost track of the argument. I cited scholarship establishing that medieval Christians denounced scientific curiosity. You tried to rebut me by presenting quotes of Christians praising scientific curiosity. The quotes said nothing of the kind. When I called you out on this non sequitur, you pulled out this irrelevancy about the Latin term, which again is a complete non sequitur. You are left with no argument against me or the scholars I cited who confirm that medieval Christians denounced scientific curiosity.

Perhaps you meant to say all those scholars I named "must" be wrong because the Latin terminology differed from the modern, but if that's what you meant, you are still issuing a non sequitur. As those scholars show, Augustine denounced scientific curiosity specifically (as did many Christian authors before him, including Eusebius, Lactantius, Tertullian, and even to a lesser extent Clement of Alexandria). It's not a single word we're talking about, but whole sentences and paragraphs. Check out those sources.

You're thus left with nothing. Instead of checking the facts, you just keep pulling shit out of your ass and making shit up and throwing out irrelevant facts. All the while never admitting any of the gross errors you've made that betray your thorough ignorance and incompetence in this subject. Why still no admission you were wrong? No honesty. No humility. So much for Christianity inspiring morality. Oh wait, or are you a godless Hindu? I forgot to ask.

TheOFloinn said...

Well, no one said the border between math and science was clean.

And you are correct about the method that Grosseteste called "composition and reduction" and which Galileo called the "demonstrative regress." But science cannot deduce anything unless it first induces a theory from which to make the deduction. Of course, a scientist uses deduction for some purposes. So do police detectives. So do analytical philosophers.

You will note that Newton called his great work Principia Mathematica. He deduced Kepler's laws mathematically. The use of math in the physics was one of Dear's six pillars of the Scientific Revolution. (Descartes was convinced that if physics could be expressed in mathematics, its theories would be as certain as mathematical theorems. Of course, this makes works without a single equation in them suspiciously unscientific.)

Similarly, Einstein's relativity was taught in math departments rather than physics departments - up until the Mercury business.

The confusion may lay in the layer cake of the positivists.
1. Facts [metrical where possible!]
2. Laws [in mathematical form!]
3. Physical theories.

A physical theory is a story that makes sense of the facts and laws, and from which the laws may be deduced and the facts predicted.

Now, if someone does only 1, is he doing science? Facts stumbled upon? Deliberate facts? [From factum est, that which has the property of having been made.] Opening a body and discovering a kidney say; or seeing mountains on the moon with a telescope. But if fact-discovery is science, what of explorers who gather geographical facts; or historians who gather documents and eyewitness testimonies? Or police detectives?

What then if someone does only 1 & 2, developing equations or formulas that account for the appearances and make accurate predictions? Is he doing science yet? In his book, _To Save the Phenomena,_ the physicist Pierre Duhem described how Clavius considered both the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems, had great respect for Copernicus, and gave his reasons for preferring the former over the latter. At issue: there may be more than one way of saving the phenomena. Why prefer one over another?

Modern science combines 1, 2 and 3. It is the physical theory that is problematical. It's the part that Popper declared "falsifiable." Again, more than one story can make sense. E.g., there are five quantum theories, all consistent with the known facts. (Oddly, one requires a cosmological constant orders of magnitude different from that required by relativity. Don't know about the others.)

But I digress. Its easy to see how one might credit earlier eras with doing only 1 or only 1&2. Or even to overlook the distinction. And then castigate some other era for only doing 1 or only 1&2.

Richard Carrier said...

TheOFloinn said... Well, no one said the border between math and science was clean. ... [yadayadayada]

All a nice song and dance. Has nothing to do with what I said.

There were empirical scientists making important advances in scientific knowledge in antiquity. There were none in the Middle Ages (even by the broadest extension of that term).

You're just hell bent against ever admitting this. So now you dodge the evidence, as if you were never caught with your hand in the bullshit jar.

Opening a body and discovering a kidney say

Not what Galen did. The kidney had been discovered centuries before, along with all the components of the renal system. Galen conducted an interrelated system of controlled experiments proving the kidney selectively extruded toxins from the blood and secreted them, along with water (which he proved was the same quantity of water taken orally by the subject and excreted from the digestive system into the blood), into the bladder through the ureters (and thence on its way down the line). His experimental protocol was almost identical to Harvey's experiment proving the new theory of circulation (it's no surprise where Harvey got the idea how to design an experiment like that).

So if Galen wasn't a scientist, neither was Harvey. Or Pasteur.

No one in the Middle Ages ran any kind of experiment like that. Not once in a thousand years.

But if fact-discovery is science, what of explorers who gather geographical facts; or historians who gather documents and eyewitness testimonies? Or police detectives?

The difference is easily quantified: Galen, for example, documented observationally the exact position, pathway, and features of the motor nerves all the way from the speech center of the brain to the muscles of the larynx, lips, and tongue, using careful and repeated protocols of dissection, which he called others to replicate to confirm his results. That's scientific by any standard in the world (in its application of precision, careful documentation and use of distinctions and definitions, discovery of general facts repeated in many bodies, in a manner producing replicable results, leading to major improvements in medical practices and contributing to advancement of theories regarding development, origin, and function).

All scientific progress requires foundational establishment of basic observational facts (e.g. continued and precise cataloguing of planetary positions and apparent diameters, or documenting the position, organization, and features of organs in plants). None of even this was occurring in the Middle Ages (when knowledge of such matters actually regressed considerably, rather than progressed), beyond extremely trivial matters (such as making observations of use in fixing feast dates).

A classic example is how no one listened to Ptolemy's insistance that a better observation be made determining the diameter of the earth. Not only did no one do that for over a thousand years (except the Muslims, in a finding that wasn't disseminated West), but when Columbus sailed, he completely ignored Ptolemy's explanation that the measure he had was inaccurate and required revision, and instead treated Ptolemy's measure as Gospel. Even Columbus couldn't be bothered to do any science. Nor anyone in his entourage or that of any of his patrons or in fact anyone, anywhere, in the whole of Renaissance Europe at the time.

Fortunately things soon changed after that (largely because of the shock of what then happened). But that stubborn refusal to make scientific observations represented the last death throes of the Medieval mindset, so entirely opposite the ancient mindset, which was so much more scientific.

Richard Carrier said...

TheOFloinn said... Modern science combines 1, 2 and 3. It is the physical theory that is problematical. It's the part that Popper declared "falsifiable."

Which the ancients had. Lots of such theories. Well tested, and built upon over generations. Archimedes and Ptolemy both tested falsifiable physical theories against observational evidence (as I explained in detail even here, and which you completely ignored). So did Galen, et al.

There were no such theories developed and tested in the Middle Ages. None. Zero.

You delight in ignoring me every time I say that. Because you know it's true. And it's being true means you've been wrong from square one. And you don't seem willing to ever admit when you're wrong.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Alright, I read the essay, but I must admit I did not read all the comments.

That having been said, I *DO* have a quibbles with your remarks.

1) When you say "science" you obviously mean either "applied science" or in some cases "experimental science," although you seem to switch back and forth between the two without always making the necessary distinction.

Fine. But that's not the only kind of science there is. There is also formal science, such as math and - don't laugh - theology. I agree that the Christians didn't destroy science, they just didn't care about that particular kind of science.

On the other hand, you berate the Christians for having completely lost a piece of knowledge, then when they rediscover that piece of knowledge all on their own, you berate them as not being original discoverers because someone else came up with it first.

Well, maybe someone else did - but if they really did lose all that knowledge, as you claim, how would they know it?

Why doesn't their rediscovery - which to them is an original discovery - count as an original discovery?

You can't have it both ways.

Finally, as you correctly point out, a lot of these guys had original ideas but did nothing with them. Yes, well Arthur C. Clarke had the original idea of the geostationary satellite, but he did nothing with it either, so he isn't any different than Theirry of Chartres.

Successful experimental science requires not only (1) original ideas and (2) a way to test or verify them but also (3) a community which can discuss the idea at length and assist in test and verification. Clark had that in the 20th century, so all he had to do was describe the thing and the rest of the community jumped on it.

But, as you point out, the whole communications system of the Romans was essentially taken out by the fall of empire, the invasion of barbarian tribes, the invasion of various Muslim armies, the Vikings - pretty much everyone invading everyone once the Roman legion was gone.

So, you can't very well blast the Christians as non-scientific when they had no good way to re-build the necessary communications structures.

Instead of investing in the science of physical knowledge and physical comfort, the invested in the science of spiritual knowledge and spiritual comfort - theology.

You think that a whacked choice - fine. But they, who had to live in this tumultuous time, thought it a good investment.

So, while on the one hand I readily agree that the Romans kicked booty in the physical world, the very fact that Christianity made enormous inroads into Roman culture demonstrates that even the Romans were in dire need of something their own theological sciences (remarkably backward by modern standards) were unable to provide.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... When you say "science" you obviously mean either "applied science" or in some cases "experimental science," although you seem to switch back and forth between the two without always making the necessary distinction.

That confusion was Flynn's doing. I was just answering his confusion by showing both are evident (thus avoiding having to force him to pick one).

But that's not the only kind of science there is. There is also formal science, such as math...

Which I also addressed. Because Flynn similarly conflated those sciences, too.

and - don't laugh - theology

Theology is not a science. It's a branch of philosophy. And philosophy is by definition not science. In fact something becomes science precisely to the extent that it departs philosophy by becoming empirically verifiable (even mathematics is such, in that a proof can be empirically confirmed, not only in application, but by you repeating the observational experiment of following the proof and confirming it's sound and valid). Theology has no such verifiable proofs. To the contrary, it qualifies as a pseudoscience, insofar as it touts as proofs what are in fact invalid or unsound arguments (see Paulos Irreligion and Murray Atheist's Primer).

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... On the other hand, you berate the Christians for having completely lost a piece of knowledge, then when they rediscover that piece of knowledge all on their own, you berate them as not being original discoverers because someone else came up with it first.

First, I don't berate them for recovering the knowledge. I berate them for having taken so damn long to do so. Second, they didn't recover it on their own. The Muslims gave them a huge assist.

Why doesn't their rediscovery - which to them is an original discovery - count as an original discovery?

Because people like Flynn are claiming the pagans couldn't make these discoveries, and therefore Christianity was necessary for them to be made. That's their argument, not mine. Thus I am rebutting that notion. I am not attacking Christian ingenuity.

But, as you point out, the whole communications system of the Romans was essentially taken out by the fall of empire, the invasion of barbarian tribes, the invasion of various Muslim armies, the Vikings - pretty much everyone invading everyone once the Roman legion was gone.

Not true. The Christian Church maintained an intact communication network. Indeed, their broad correspondence is well attested in God's Philosophers which Flynn cited. Likewise, the Church maintained a lavish budget in book production--it simply diverted almost all of it to making bibles and sacred literature, and almost none of it to preserving (and absolutely none of it to creating) science. Moreover, the claim being made by people like Flynn is that the medieval Christians were economic blockbusters. Which, if true, puts the lie to any claim that they couldn't have produced any kind of communication network they wanted. "That they wanted" thus still remains the operative phrase.

Instead of investing in the science of physical knowledge and physical comfort, the invested in the science of spiritual knowledge and spiritual comfort - theology. You think that a whacked choice - fine. But they, who had to live in this tumultuous time, thought it a good investment.

If that is what Flynn had argued, I wouldn't have had anything to respond to.

So, while on the one hand I readily agree that the Romans kicked booty in the physical world, the very fact that Christianity made enormous inroads into Roman culture demonstrates that even the Romans were in dire need of something their own theological sciences (remarkably backward by modern standards) were unable to provide.

I don't know how you know their theology was backward (even by modern standards, much less medieval). But as to why Romans went Christian, I discuss that in chapter 18 of Not the Impossible Faith. It was because the empire collapsed (from a fifty year long civil war followed by an economic depression, all in the 3rd century) and the Christians took over the government by force (by sponsoring Constantine in a civil war in 313 A.D.), and eventually outlawed any other religion (under Theodosius in 395 A.D.). It had nothing to do with a backward theology.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

In fact something becomes science precisely to the extent that it departs philosophy by becoming empirically verifiable (even mathematics is such, in that a proof can be empirically confirmed, not only in application, but by you repeating the observational experiment of following the proof and confirming it's sound and valid).

So, if a branch of mathematics is not based in empiricism, do you refuse to call it a science?

And what do you do with Godel's Incompleteness Theorem or Cantor's set theory Is that science, according to you, or philosophy?

It would have to be philosophy, because we have no empirical demonstration of infinity (by definition) and the Incompleteness Theorem points can't be empirically confirmed, again, by definition.

Are you going to write off Godel and Cantor as mere philosophy and not science?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"Christians took over the government by force (by sponsoring Constantine in a civil war in 313 A.D.), and eventually outlawed any other religion (under Theodosius in 395 A.D.). It had nothing to do with a backward theology."

Yes, that's a convenient standard meme.

The Protestants say Constantine is the villain, changed the Church, yada, then Luther and the printing press saved Christianity.

Dan Brown says Constantine and the Church are the villains, and the Wiccans and the vibrator saved humanity (at least, I think that was essentially his argument).

You combine the two memes into Constantine and the Church are the villain, yada, and the Renaissance and the printing press saved humanity's technology (which produced the vibrator, although I admit you don't say that and I'm just going with logical conclusions here).

But isn't that line of argument really just historian bullshit?

I mean, why don't the UFO nuts take over the government? Because no one buys their meme.

The Christians were COMPOSED of the Greeks and the Romans. The Greco-Roman world CHOSE Christianity. I don't care how strong the strong man is, he can't make you drink the kool-aid unless you really kind of want to drink it to begin with.

If he can't convince you and at least a good percentage of your friends, then the group of you would just get together and beat the crap out of him. No man is stronger than the Varangian Guard standing at his door, and he has to convince THEM to be members of that guard.

So, when you say Christianity was imposed by force on the Greco-Roman world, I don't even know what you mean, because it ultimately is a nonsensical statement.

I know, historians say crap like this all the time, as if it makes sense, but the people at that time had to WANT to go along with it or it wouldn't have happened. There are any number of failed efforts by rulers which failed precisely because they couldn't convince enough people to buy in.

So you're really dodging the question when you say "Ooooh, the bad Constantine and the evil Christians MADE them do it" - it's just the historico-theological equivalent of "The devil made me do it!" and just about as logically compelling.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Here, if you want a fuller explication of my points, you can go over to
http://skellmeyer.blogspot.com/2010/09/lament-atheists.html

It's hard to lay out a full thesis in a combox.

TheOFloinn said...

Because people like Flynn are claiming the pagans couldn't make these discoveries, and therefore Christianity was necessary for them to be made.

No, I never said that. Anyone can make discoveries of fact about the natural world. One need only think of Chu Hsi or ibn-Haytham or Archimedes. But as Poincare once pointed out: A house is made out of bricks and a science is made out of facts. But a pile of bricks is not a house, and an accumulation of facts is not modern science.

Peter Dear listed six essential elements of the 17th century Scientific Revolution, and one of the key elements, also noted by Toby Huff, was the reconstruction of the social role of science within the culture. It is difficult for those of us who have always equated science with a sequence of "discoveries" to appreciate the importance of this "cultural embedding." (One need only think of the fate of Shen Kua's astronomical reforms in China to understand how the cultural context matters.)

What I did say is that the pagan worldview inhibited the development of (our kind of) science, not that it inhibited the discovery of facts about the world. You don't even need to be a scientist to do that (though your descendants will call you one as an honorific.) The main problem is the lack of a unifying principle and the assignment of willfulness to inanimate objects. When trees have dryads and planets are literally gods it is hard to expect them to behave lawfully unless there is something which in turn governs them. That's why those Greeks who did approach science often had an implicit monotheism, like Aristotle's prime mover. They did good work, but classical society has a whole still clung to their immanent gods and goddesses.

The distinction Huff and others drew was between what individuals and their followers do and what society does.
+ + +
I understand that about half of all ancient papyrus fragments are copies of the Iliad and Odyssey; so it's no great surprise if half of all medieval manuscripts are religious. I'd bet the majority Late Modern manuscripts are more likely to be suspense/thriller/police procedural novels than copies of the Proceedings of the NAS, etc. That's the way it is. No matter how important you and I think natural science is, most of society doesn't much care.

TheOFloinn said...

Flynn similarly conflated those sciences, too.

OTOH, I was trying to distinguish between scientia which means "knowledge" and Science which is a methodology for creating knowledge about the natural world. And to distinguish more carefully between what it is we do today and what it was that the medievals and ancients did in their days. I also distinguished between science/natural philosophy and engineering/invention, as the two were not joined at the hip until after the Baconian revolution.

I certainly did not conflate mathematics and physical science, since a) they are clearly distinct as to object and b) my degrees are in mathematics and my career for some 36 years has been applied statistics. I do point out that there was a distinction drawn between the physics as such and the "exact sciences" of optics and astronomy and the like, inasmuch as the latter were primarily mathematical and required no knowledge of the physics of stars or of light.

Theology is not a science. It's a branch of philosophy. And philosophy is by definition not science. In fact something becomes science precisely to the extent that it departs philosophy by becoming empirically verifiable (even mathematics is such

It was a scientia when that term was broadly defined. But strictly speaking metaphysics is a third domain of knowledge distinct from both mathematics and physics. Like physics, it starts from empirical experience, but where physics reasons inductively from the empirical to a physical theory, metaphysics reasons deductively (like math) from the empirical to a metaphysical conclusion.

People who refuse to have anything to do with philosophy have become enslaved to outdated forms of it.
-- Mary Midgley

TheOFloinn said...

"Christians took over the government by force (by sponsoring Constantine in a civil war in 313 A.D.),

The Christians in AD 313 were in no position to sponsor anyone. His father had refused to enforce Diocletian's persecution in Gaul and Britain, but elsewhere things got kind of nasty.

and eventually outlawed any other religion (under Theodosius in 395 A.D.). It had nothing to do with a backward theology.

Ja, that 'love your enemy' and 'feed the hungry' stuff is, as Nietzsche said, for losers.

However, during Trajan's persecution, Gov. Pliny wrote to the Emperor about the proper technique for persecuting Christians and one of the things he mentioned is that in the years prior to the persecution, the temples had emptied out, the rites were not being observed, and the sales of sacrificial animals had plummeted. That is, the Greco-Roman people were shifting en masse to the Christian religion without any governmental coercion. In fact, in spite of governmental coercion in the other direction.

As in most cases in history, we need to look at the local, the particular, and the personal, and not at broad generalities in which abstract philosophies somehow grapple with one another on a darkling plain.

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.
-- Tim O'Neill

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... So, if a branch of mathematics is not based in empiricism, do you refuse to call it a science?

If it's proofs can't be verified by an observer of them, yes.

Hence...

And what do you do with Godel's Incompleteness Theorem or Cantor's set theory Is that science, according to you, or philosophy?

I can verify in my observation that their proofs are sound and valid. Thus they are scientific.

It would have to be philosophy, because we have no empirical demonstration of infinity (by definition) and the Incompleteness Theorem points can't be empirically confirmed, again, by definition.

You seem to have an odd idea of what science is. We can't "observe" Big Bangs or ancient meteor impacts either. What we observe is evidence they occurred. Thus empirically verifying the scientific hypothesis that they did. Likewise we can infer the existence of infinities (for example) by exactly the same means. We don't have to observe them directly. Just look at how infinity is proven in the axioms of set theory and you'll see what I mean: every step is empirically verifiable, and that the conclusion necessarily follows is empirically verifiable (you can look yourself and verify this). That's science.

Theology doesn't have anything like this.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... The Protestants say Constantine is the villain, changed the Church, yada, then Luther and the printing press saved Christianity.

Maybe they say that. I didn't say that. Let's stay on track here.

But isn't that line of argument really just historian bullshit?

What you described perhaps. Since I never said that, it's moot.

The Christians were COMPOSED of the Greeks and the Romans. The Greco-Roman world CHOSE Christianity.

Since that's what I myself said, I fail to see what you are objecting to here.

I don't care how strong the strong man is, he can't make you drink the kool-aid unless you really kind of want to drink it to begin with.

Actually, threaten to take away people's lives, property, and influence if they don't "convert" (and then offer them benefits and opportunities if they do), and they will sieg heil right quick. The die hards will then be killed off (as happened frequently in Alexandria, Gaza, etc.). Thus leaving you with total market saturation. It wasn't all voluntary. But neither was it all compulsion. Hence I mentioned two causes, not one. You seem to have missed that.

So, when you say Christianity was imposed by force on the Greco-Roman world, I don't even know what you mean, because it ultimately is a nonsensical statement.

I didn't say Christianity was imposed by force. I said they seized the government by force. Constantine was schooled by a Christian (Lactantius) and the Christians were in his court influencing him long before he took up arms to seize power, and as soon as he did, he declared Christianity a state-sponsored religion, looted pagan temples, and delivered the cash to Christian churches. He then began giving positions of influence and power to Christians, started using state force to suppress heretics, and then left the empire in the hands of Christian heirs and successors. Who eventually did use force to impose Christianity: by outlawing all other religions in 395 A.D. Non-compliant groups were then harassed and eventually killed or driven into exile over the subsequent centuries. These things are true. I document all of this in Not the Impossible Faith.

All of this worked in conjunction with the second cause (the collapse of society), which convinced many people to join up, and how that threw the game to Christianity is what I demonstrate in that same book. Otherwise, but for the above two causes, Christianity would have remained a tiny fringe cult like every other.

Hence my point: it had nothing to do with improvements in theology.

Richard Carrier said...

TheOFloinn said... "Because people like Flynn are claiming the pagans couldn't make these discoveries, and therefore Christianity was necessary for them to be made." No, I never said that.

Yes, you did. First, just as you said again now...

What I did say is that the pagan worldview inhibited the development of (our kind of) science, not that it inhibited the discovery of facts about the world.

That's exactly the argument I was attributing to you. It's wrong. For all the reasons I've explained here, top to bottom.

But since your original article went on about Christians inventing everything that the pagans had not, it's clear you actually were arguing much more than this. You were (ignorantly) implying that even ordinary discovery was beyond them (I'll remind you that you never mentioned Archimedes until I did, and then you tried to deny he was a scientist or did any real science, and only after I bitch slapped you for that boner did you finally start singing the tune you are now).

So unless you now agree the Christians didn't do much of anything original, but merely reinvented or reinstituted everything the pagans already did but that early medieval Christians had abandoned or forgotten about (and if you are agreeing with that, you are agreeing with everything I have been saying), you are still standing on a factually incorrect position.

Peter Dear listed six essential elements of the 17th century Scientific Revolution, and one of the key elements, also noted by Toby Huff, was the reconstruction of the social role of science within the culture.

"Reconstruction" being the operative word. If we are agreeing on that, then you have come to my side on this issue.

The main problem is the lack of a unifying principle and the assignment of willfulness to inanimate objects. When trees have dryads and planets are literally gods it is hard to expect them to behave lawfully unless there is something which in turn governs them.

Except this is all bullshit. No Greek intellectuals believed this. It's a modern Christian myth (which you have apparently bought, hook line and "sucker"). I fully refute it in my chapter in The Christian Delusion (see pp. 409-11).

I understand that about half of all ancient papyrus fragments are copies of the Iliad and Odyssey; so it's no great surprise if half of all medieval manuscripts are religious. I'd bet the majority Late Modern manuscripts are more likely to be suspense/thriller/police procedural novels than copies of the Proceedings of the NAS, etc. That's the way it is. No matter how important you and I think natural science is, most of society doesn't much care.

That's moot. I'm talking relative degree: Christians copied next to no science, and that so scarcely even what they copied only barely survived, and often copied poorly. The pagans copied continually every science book they had, and so widely that scientists in widely diverse cities could access them, and copied with particular competence and skill. Thus, over 95% of the science that the pagans kept accessible, the Christians did not. That's a huge shift in social values. In the wrong direction.

Richard Carrier said...

TheOFloinn said... [Theology] was a scientia when that term was broadly defined.

You mean when it was just the Latin word for "knowledge."

Nice trick. "Broadly defined." Indeed.

People who refuse to have anything to do with philosophy have become enslaved to outdated forms of it.

I agree. But I'm sure you must know that. Doesn't change anything I've said here.

Richard Carrier said...

TheOFloinn said... During Trajan's persecution, Gov. Pliny wrote to the Emperor about the proper technique for persecuting Christians and one of the things he mentioned is that in the years prior to the persecution, the temples had emptied out, the rites were not being observed, and the sales of sacrificial animals had plummeted. That is, the Greco-Roman people were shifting en masse to the Christian religion without any governmental coercion. In fact, in spite of governmental coercion in the other direction.

That's bullshit, though. It's not even a valid inference--Pliny did not say people were leaving temples for Christianity, but that they were becoming irreligious; as to Christians, his letter states clearly he could rarely even find any Christians and only anonymous lists ever gave him any evidence there were any (and most on those lists said they gave up the religion decades ago), and he had never before even seen a Christian or ever heard anything about trials of them. That demonstrates exactly the opposite of what you are claiming. See my complete analysis of all the evidence and scholarship on Christian numbers--which all agrees with me, incidentally--in Not the Impossible Faith (chapter 18).

The oppression of pagans by Christians is about the same as the oppression of Christians by pagans to me

Certainly, if we limit discussion to the 3rd century (when pagan persecution of Christians became pervasive and state-organized). Before that persecution was sporadic and not state-organized (e.g. the letter you cite from Pliny has Trajan's response to it, in which Trajan says Christians are not even to be hunted down). But certainly the pagans went fascist in the 3rd century. And the Christians inherited that fascist system and all its ideals and ran with it, becoming the very villains they had once denounced. Sad, really.

(BTW, if you think medieval Christianity wasn't a network of weird superstitions every bit as bizarre as the paganism it replaced, you really haven't studied the middle ages at all)

TheOFloinn said...

Christians copied next to no science

I understand you are not a mathematician, but this much set theory should be evident: The two statements
a) most of what the medieval Latins translated were texts of medicine, mathematics, and natural philosophy (versus literature, history, etc.)
b) the medieval Latins translated most of ancient Greek science.

+ + +
I fully refute it in my chapter in The Christian Delusion

Much becomes clear now.
+ + +

No Greek intellectuals believed this. It's a modern Christian myth (which you have apparently bought, hook line and "sucker").

I did not say Greek intellectuals believed it. I said that Greek society as a whole believed it. Those Greek intellectuals whom the medievals preserved tended not to embrace the old time religion, replacing dryads and animate stars with First Movers or Demiurges. Toby Huff's argument was that science needed to be embedded in the culture and not remain solely the hobby or avocation of especially interested individuals. If your argument is that these other historians of medieval science are wrong and you have the truth from the mountaintop, so be it.
+ + +
"Reconstruction" being the operative word. If we are agreeing on that, then you have come to my side on this issue.

"Reconstruction" because science is a social construction. When society changed, we re-imagine science and start doing it differently.

I always did think you were drawing inferences that were not there. But you can't have a scientific revolution unless there is a science to revolve. For the Early Moderns to do this, the medievals had to have had a science to hand over to them.

That's a huge shift in social values. In the wrong direction.

They were more into that feed the hungry, clothe the naked thingie. You certainly agree with Nietzsche on that being the wrong direction. Still, "love your enemy" does seem a distinct change from "the strong take what they can, and the weak suffer what they must."

Alas, science tells us nothing about values.

TheOFloinn said...

TheOFloinn said... [Theology] was a scientia when that term was broadly defined.

You mean when it was just the Latin word for "knowledge." Nice trick. "Broadly defined." Indeed.

For a certain kind of knowledge; i.e., knowledge that has been demonstrated, as in QED. There was also opinio, which was knowledge known less certainly through logical determination, and fides, which was knowledge known through personal experience.

It is the broad use of "science" when one means "scientia" that enables one to cast the mantle of the white lab coat across the shoulders of an ancient natural philosopher.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Richard,

You keep using the word "empirical." I don't think it means what you think it means.

Consequently, you seem to have an odd idea of what "empirically verifiable" means.

And you clearly have NO idea whatsoever of what Godel proved in his Incompleteness Theorem.

Let's take the first problem: empirically verifiable. It is IMPOSSIBLE to empirically verify Cantor's theory of infinite sets.

That's the whole point - we are finite, and Cantor is talking about the infinite. There is, to our knowledge, NOTHING in the universe that approaches infinity. Even if there were, we couldn't observe it, by definition. We can try to imagine it, we can make logical statements about it, but none of that is EMPIRICAL.

You are exhibiting a confusion of class - you don't seem to distinguish between what happens when you think (formal operation) versus what happens when you observe (empirical operation).

So, when you say "I can verify in my observation that their proofs are sound and valid. Thus they are scientific" you are full of crap. You just keep making this proof by assertion, and appeal to your own authority, as if YOUR observation of ink on a page is identical to the ability to observe infinite sets.

The only thing you can observe is ink on a page. Worse, you can't verify the proofs are sound and valid in anything more than a relative way.

And before you say you can, talk with Godel. Godel's Incompleteness Theorem demonstrates that any logical system so complex that it can make the statement "1+1=2" is incapable of being a self-verifying system. It always contains within itself propositions which can neither be proved nor disproved (including his own theorem).

Consequently, all logical systems are faith-based, NOT empirical. These systems are NOT provable even in a formal way, much less an observable way.

Your assertions to the contrary are simple balderdash.

And as for your understanding of science, you clearly haven't done any. You seem to think that supposition is empirical. Yes, we see data points. And perhaps the theory which draws the lines between them is correct. But any mathematician can tell you Ockham was not a mathematician, nor even a particularly good philosopher.

As Duhem observed, and any REAL scientist can tell you, an infinite number of theories can connect any given set of facts.

I teach math - your statement that every step of Cantor's theory is empirically verifiable is just stupid. You have no freakin' clue what you're talking about.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

OK, Richard, here's your bullshit in your own words,

"Constantine declared Christianity a state-sponsored religion." Dude, that's SUCH bullshit. He didn't declare it "state-sponsored", he just said it was legal to be a Christian. Under Constantine, you couldn't be imprisoned or killed solely because you were a Christian. Christianity didn't become the state sponsored religion until the 380's.

Damn, you ARE Dan Brown in drag.

And here's more of your bullshit, in your own words:

"Actually, threaten to take away people's lives, property, and influence if they don't "convert" (and then offer them benefits and opportunities if they do), and they will sieg heil right quick. The die hards will then be killed off (as happened frequently in Alexandria, Gaza, etc.). "

Ooohhh, that's so SCARY. Except how did dipshit Constantine manage that? Did he personally go around to every person considering conversion and threaten to kill them?

Because if he didn't do it personally, then he convinced someone else to do it for him.

That second person had to buy into whatever Constantine said, and that second person bought in for reasons of his own, unless Constantine held a sword to his throat to convince him to do it.

If the guy didn't WANT to threaten other people with Constantine's retribution, and if he got tired of C. holding a sword to his throat, all he need do was convince a few of his own friends to help him take Constantine's head off.

NO man has any power to convince another man to do something against his will for any serious length of time.

Constantine could no more force Christianity on a pagan Empire than Julian the Apostate could force paganism onto an essentially Christian empire. The empire had to want to go along with it first.

The highly technological Greeks and Romans freely chose Christianity. They saw it as a higher science than the natural science they were so good at.

When you say "all the Christians did was lose interest" you would be much more accurate in saying "all the Greco-Roman Empire did was lose interest."

It was Latins and Greeks who told everyone that interest in the things of God was more important than natural science. So the very culture you hold up as a paragon of scientific endeavor is the SAME culture that would tell you that you're a fucking idiot to be an atheist.

The people who made the watermills are the people who made the cathedrals. The culture that felt we had a moral obligation to understand nature is the same culture that eventually decided that investigating the things of God are more important.

You may argue that they ARE NOT the same because one was pagan Greco-Roman and the other was Christian, but that's just begging the question - why did the pagan Greco-Romans switch worldviews?

And don't give me that bullshit that the devil, I mean Constantine, made them do it.

It's the typical hand-waving crap an historian uses when he doesn't have an explanation he likes, or he doesn't have one at all, so he just waves his hands and says, "Then a miracle occurs" or dresses it up and says, "Then Constantine single-handedly forced one-quarter of Europe to switch faiths."

At bottom, there isn't any difference between the two statements.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Richard, when The OFloinn bitch-slapped you and DEMONSTRATED that the Greco-Romans lost all faith in their gods, you were forced to admit it, but then you say "[Pliny's] letter states clearly he could rarely even find any Christians..."

What a SHOCKER!

Pliny is writing during Trajan's persecution, but the Christians weren't out in the streets wearing sandwich boards identifying themselves as Christians? How odd!

And why do you think that during a persecution of Christians directed by the emperor himself, Pliny would have had trouble determining whether or not the irreligious were leaving the gods for Christianity?

What, Trajan just got a wild hair one day and decided to persecute a non-existent sect for grins?

Or maybe the very FACT of the persecution is evidence that the Greco-Roman world was turning towards Christianity and Trajan was trying to stop it with... wait for it... persecution!

After all, while what you said about Trajan's reply is true, you cut off the good bits, right?

The emperor did respond that Christians should not be sought out, anonymous tips should be rejected as "unworthy of our times," and if they recanted and "worshiped our gods," Christians were to be freed.

BUT, he also said that those who persisted should be punished.

Which part of "punished" are you having trouble with, Richard?

Why would Pliny even have written to the Emperor about Christians to begin with if no one was interested in their fringe sect?

Why would the Emperor have seen to it that unrepentant Christians were punished, unless he considered them a threat?

How can an essentially non-existent group on the very fringe of Empire simultaneously be so well-known that the Emperor actually took the time to put a policy in place to deal with them specifically?

What kind of a historian ARE you, Richard? What happened to all that vaunted critical thinking that you supposedly swear by?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Richard,

You keep using the word "empirical." I don't think it means what you think it means.

If someone hasn't observed it, it isn't empirical evidence.

We can't empirically prove formal logic.

So, craters on the moon can be observed, but the idea that meteors caused each and every crater is not empirical, it is a a conclusion drawn from formal logic. Although it is quite likely meteors did all that, we cannot empirically prove that meteors caused all those craters.

Same with Cantor's set theory. The theory of infinite sets cannot be empirically proved because we are finite, the universe is finite, our ability to perceive is finite, so even if we were faced with the infinite, we would be physically incapable of empirically observing it.

When you say you empirically verified Cantor's set theory, even in theory, you are either lying or being stupid.

What you have observed is ink on a page, not empirical evidence. This ink constructs a formally logical argument for Cantor's set theory.

Unfortunately, that set theory cannot be even formally proven true in an absolute sense.

You clearly haven't read Godel's Incompleteness. Godel points out that any logical system so complex that it can say something as complicated as "1+1=2" contains within itself propositions which cannot be proved true or false from within that system. No logical system can be self-verifying.

Cantor's set theory is that complex, so it cannot be formally proven. It certainly cannot be empirically proven.

In fact, a moment's thought would demonstrate that empiricism does not work apart from formal systems, and Godel proved formal systems are generally likewise insufficient to prove anything.

As I'm sure you're aware, Duhem - who was a real scientist, as opposed to just an historian playing at being a scientist - pointed out that given any set of two or more points, an infinite number of lines can be drawn through them.

Same goes with data points.
Empiricism SOUNDS like a good idea to a shallow thinker, but ultimately, only formal systems actually drive knowledge.

Theology is a formal system for dealing with Persons who are infinite in being.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Oh, and let's not forget that this virtually non-existent sect, which was despite its virtual non-existence suffering from an Empire-wide persecution at the time of Constantine's ascension to power, "seized control" of the government and forced everyone to become Christian.

So, do you also think there's a virtually non-existent UFO behind Saturn, that maybe we should launch a world-wide hunt for the aliens, lest they pull a "Christian" on us and seize control of the government by backing a favorite human of theirs for President?

Except, for this to match one-to-one the virtually non-existent aliens in the UFO would have to (a) have no weapons and (b) be absolutely opposed to any interest in technology.

Yeah, you've got a GREAT theory going there, Richard. I'm sure it will be a wonderful book.

TheOFloinn said...

@Steve
Godel's Incompleteness Theorem demonstrates that any logical system so complex that it can make the statement "1+1=2" is incapable of being a self-verifying system. It always contains within itself propositions which can neither be proved nor disproved (including his own theorem).

Point of order: Gödel's Theorems are provable (granted, it took several days to work through the proof). The *continuum hypothesis is unprovable (as are a number of other theorems). Ol' Kurt showed that in any system of discourse at least as complex as Peano arithmetic (and that includes first order logic) there must exist a Gödel sentence.

TheOFloinn said...

@Steve
Richard, when The OFloinn bitch-slapped you

I try never to do that. My base assumption is that either Mr. Carrier has misunderstood something I wrote (or what other historians have written) or that I have misunderstood something he has written. That's one reason why I was probing earlier for the slipperiness of the definition of "science." Especially in eras when there was nothing resembling what we nowadays call by that name. It seemed to me that at times, Mr. Carrier would call a natural philosopher a "scientist" when he wanted to assume that science existed, while at other time he would insist that someone was "only" a natural philosopher for pretty much the opposite reason. That seemed to me like a squeegee balloon. I have only lately realized that Mr. Carrier is a polemicist, which means I will need to rethink his possible objectivity.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

TheOFloinn,

I apologize for having imputed the intention of bitch-slapping to you.

However, from Richard's point of view, that is most definitely what happened.

I recognized him as a polemicist from the moment I saw his use of crude language, which is why I responded in kind. When you're talking to teens, you have to use a language they understand. They think that if you aren't cursing, you aren't really serious.

A logician doesn't need to use crude language, as his arguments are sufficient to carry the day.
But a teenager - it's all he's got.

Richard is definitely not a logician.

He's a historian who always wanted to be a scientist, but never had the brains for it, so he got stuck pretending to be a scientist by being a historian of science. Now, he's very good at accumulating and spouting various facts (got to be to get your Ph.D.), but he has no ability to do really mature analysis (not necessary for a Ph.D., as numerous examples demonstrate).

He's an atheist not because he really believes it, but because he buys the myth that all really good scientists are atheists, and, as I said before, he wanted to be a scientist.

All atheists are stuck emotionally somewhere in that halcyon summer between their high school senior year and their freshman college year.

Intellectually, Richard has a Ph.D., but emotionally and spiritually, he is still trying to figure out his locker combination.

Thus, a polemicist.
He'll burn out in another couple of years, if he hasn't already, and turn into a caricature of a caricature of his former self, as Richard Dawkins has.

Best description of Dawkins I've ever heard: "An intellectual bag lady screaming at the traffic."

Pikemann Urge said...

I'd like to politely interrupt and clarify a technical point. Steve, you write that

There is, to our knowledge, NOTHING in the universe that approaches infinity. Even if there were, we couldn't observe it, by definition. We can try to imagine it, we can make logical statements about it, but none of that is EMPIRICAL.

and also

Duhem - who was a real scientist, as opposed to just an historian playing at being a scientist - pointed out that given any set of two or more points, an infinite number of lines can be drawn through them.

My question: you are saying that actual infinites do exist in our universe but that they cannot be empirically demonstrated. Do I understand correctly?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Pikeman,

I'm saying physical examples of infinity do not exist.

But despite the fact that we have no empirical evidence for them, nor any means of perceiving such a physical entity if it existed, we still have a concept of infinity.

Worse, the concept works, at least mathematically.

So, where did the concept come from?

And why does something we can't perceive work so well conceptually?

Richard Carrier said...

TheOFloinn said... It is the broad use of "science" when one means "scientia" that enables one to cast the mantle of the white lab coat across the shoulders of an ancient natural philosopher.

No, because I do not refer to just any natural philosophers, but the ones who actually did science: using the experimental-observational method and the hypothetico-deductive method, as I demonstrated many did in antiquity, and none did in the Middle Ages. You can't dodge this fact. Try as you might.

Richard Carrier said...

TheOFloinn said... I understand you are not a mathematician, but this much set theory should be evident: The two statements...(a)...[and]...(b)...

Neither statements are true. And I specifically refuted (b) earlier.

I did not say Greek intellectuals believed it. I said that Greek society as a whole believed it.

Except Greek intellectuals, who were doing all the science.

Toby Huff's argument was that science needed to be embedded in the culture and not remain solely the hobby or avocation of especially interested individuals.

Except (a) the Medieval Christians didn't do this (they never fostered scientific thinking among the masses; indeed, only a rarefied elite actually conducted significant science even during the Scientific Revolution, and none before that) and (b) ancient science continually made progress without convincing the masses of anything (thus refuting its necessity). Thus the theory is refuted on both ends.

It's only merit is that for science to survive a collapse of society like that of the 3rd century it must be sufficiently institutionalized, which did not happen until the founding of the Royal Society (and similar institutions) in the 17th century. That has nothing to do with Christianity (which did not found a Royal Society for the Advancement of Natural Knowledge, either before or after the 3rd century, or indeed at all for over 1500 years of its existence). It has more to do with certain historical contingencies that had nothing to do with religion. To the contrary, that science could be killed by the 3rd century can only be explained by the fact that Christians had no interest in saving it.

For the Early Moderns to do this, the medievals had to have had a science to hand over to them.

Yes. Pagan science. There is no independent Christian science there. It's all pagan ideas, pagan methods, pagan procedures, pagan values, pagan texts, and pagan findings to build upon. To thank the Christians for not completely killing pagan science so that it could evolve eventually is like thanking the Nazis for not completely killing the Jews so Judaism could evolve eventually. It's not exactly something to be proud of.

They were more into that feed the hungry, clothe the naked thingie.

Except they weren't. The Middle Ages were the greatest era of poverty and misery in Western history since the rise of civilization. Indeed, in practical effect, the pagan Romans did as well a job at feeding and clothing the poor (e.g. Trajan's alimenta fed all of Italy's poor at government expense). And yet they also preserved and advanced science. Hence it's not either/or.

Still, "love your enemy" does seem a distinct change from "the strong take what they can, and the weak suffer what they must."

Except the latter is how the Medievals behaved (even, in fact, the Popes, of all people). And the principle of loving your enemy was pagan (it was explicitly declared a moral principle by the Roman Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus, who was so revered by Romans he was considered "the second Socrates"; and he probably did not originate it, e.g. Seneca said similar things while implying it had long been a Stoic principle). That the Romans acted like jerks despite having high moral principles is no different than the fact that that's exactly what the Medieval Christians did, too. So there's no winner in that comparison.

Alas, science tells us nothing about values.

That's not strictly true. But the issue here is that you need certain values to have science. And medieval Christians abandoned those values. That's the sum of it.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... when The OFloinn bitch-slapped you and DEMONSTRATED that the Greco-Romans lost all faith in their gods

You need to get a reading comprehension test. I only said that's what Pliny claimed, not that it was true. Archaeological evidence actually confirms it wasn't true (Pliny was thus making it up to exaggerate his worries about society). I explain all this in the reference I directed you to. I wonder if you will ever actually read it.

Pliny is writing during Trajan's persecution

What persecution? There is no evidence of any "Trajan's persecution." To the contrary, Trajan himself says he wasn't interested in hunting Christians down. That they did punish outspoken Christians (in his reign as in any other) wasn't because of any special hostility toward Christianity as such (as Pliny reveals), but laws against illegal assembly and quasi-political factions (see, again, the chapter I referred to earlier, where I site and discuss the scholarship on this).

And why do you think that during a persecution of Christians directed by the emperor himself, Pliny would have had trouble determining whether or not the irreligious were leaving the gods for Christianity?

Since Pliny's claim wasn't even true (archaeology refutes it, and I assumed you knew this), this speculation is moot.


How can an essentially non-existent group on the very fringe of Empire simultaneously be so well-known that the Emperor actually took the time to put a policy in place to deal with them specifically?

He didn't. He explicitly says in his letter there is no law against Christianity. Pliny (and Trajan) were merely enforcing laws against illegal assembly and quasi-political factionalism, which netted many groups, not just Christians. Again, read my chapter on this. Then you will be informed, instead of delusionally assuming you know what you are talking about (when conversing with a Ph.D. in Roman history no less).

As for all your psychoanalysis of me, it's really rather childish and sad. It's not even factually correct in its premises, much less plausible in its conclusions. But a deluded man such as yourself must believe such things about me. Because otherwise you'd have to face the facts. And that's just too painful for you to bear.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... If someone hasn't observed it, it isn't empirical evidence.

You are confusing "evidence" with evidence of. We never observe anything, really. Even colors are fabrications of our brain, as stand-ins for complex fields of photon frequencies. And we certainly don't observe gravity or atoms. What we observe is evidence of these things. That's empiricism.

We can't empirically prove formal logic.

Yes, we can. It's easy. Just see if the conclusions of sound and valid arguments are observed when the conditions premised obtain. That's exactly what Archimedes did, and Newton incidentally. All logic and mathematics are premised on a very small set of axioms that are (and can only be) empirically verified (as they cannot be non-circularly proved logically or mathematically). Moreover, that a conclusion follows necessarily from stated premises is (and can only be) confirmed empirically, by our observing the relation between the premises and conclusion (hence if we never looked at a syllogism, we would never know it was valid).

So, craters on the moon can be observed, but the idea that meteors caused each and every crater is not empirical, it is a a conclusion drawn from formal logic.

Clearly you are the one who doesn't know what empiricism is. Look it up on Wikipedia.

Same with Cantor's set theory. The theory of infinite sets cannot be empirically proved because we are finite, the universe is finite, our ability to perceive is finite, so even if we were faced with the infinite, we would be physically incapable of empirically observing it.

We empirically observe evidence of it. Just like meteors striking the ancient moon. That's how all science works.

What you have observed is ink on a page, not empirical evidence.

It's not random ink on a page, but symbols corresponding to cognitive propositions that have a truth value, which truth value can be (and can only be) confirmed empirically, i.e. by observation (as all the axioms of mathematics are; as are the existence of logical relations between propositions: only by apprehending those propositions in our observation can we confirm they bear the logical relations between them being affirmed; that's why formal proofs, e.g. Fermat's last theorem, have to be observationally confirmed by numerous experts checking, visually, the logical relations asserted, and it took months of that verifying process before the proof is declared confirmed; look up the history of Fermat's last theorem for an example of this process and how long it took). Cantor's theorems about infinities are identical to this.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... Unfortunately, that set theory cannot be even formally proven true in an absolute sense. You clearly haven't read Godel's Incompleteness [Theorem].

Actually, I know that theorem quite well. You, however, do not seem to understand it very well.

That no logical system can be self-verifying is precisely why every logical system is at root empirical--because there is no other way to verify it than empirically.

For instance, we observe 1+1=2 in actual practice, with nuts, say, or, and this is what scientists really do, we observe empirically that the axioms of set theory hold true in our experience, therefore everything entailed by them is probably true--as they are necessarily true if the axioms are, so if the axioms are probably true, the conclusions drawn from them, e.g. Cantor's transfinite analysis, are probably true.

All Godel showed was that we cannot prove that the axioms of set theory are internally consistent (but that does not mean they aren't consistent, only that we can't formally prove it--and this is not the same thing as saying they can't be known to be true, to the same degree of certainty as we know anything at all).

Cantor's set theory is that complex, so it cannot be formally proven. It certainly cannot be empirically proven.

Godel did not show that theorems can't be proven from those axioms. Anyone who accepts the axioms, must accept the conclusions (hence must accept Cantor's theorems are true). Godel proved in fact that those axioms can only be empirically proven (to be true), because they cannot be logically proven (to be consistent with each other). Empirical proof is probabilistic and thus not absolutely certain. But we needn't be absolutely certain to know something is very probably true.

Theology is a formal system for dealing with Persons who are infinite in being.

That's not even an intelligible sentence.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... "Constantine declared Christianity a state-sponsored religion." Dude, that's SUCH bullshit. He didn't declare it "state-sponsored", he just said it was legal to be a Christian.

No, he did much more. He actively involved the state in enforcing Christian dogma (suppressing the Arian controversy, for example), and he actively took treasuries of pagan temples and handed them over to Christian Churches (thus giving state financial support to only the one religion). If U.S. Congress did those things in defense of Catholicism you would protest that they were making Catholicism "state-sponsored." Surely.

Except how did dipshit Constantine manage that? Did he personally go around to every person considering conversion and threaten to kill them?

I was referring to Theodosius and subsequent pogroms. Keep up.

The highly technological Greeks and Romans freely chose Christianity.

Some did. As I said. But also as I said, most converted out of opportunism (as I described) and fear (as I described). Anyone who doesn't see that is delusional. Or doesn't know anything about the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries.

When you say "all the Christians did was lose interest" you would be much more accurate in saying "all the Greco-Roman Empire did was lose interest."

I actually did say that. Keep up.

The people who made the watermills are the people who made the cathedrals.

I refuted this in the original blog above. You evidently didn't read it.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Richard,

I have never met a serious academic who puts as much stock in Wikipedia as you apparently do.

But, they seem to match your standard of research, so there you go.

As far as your attempt to dodge the fact that your claims about empiricism are absurd, I'll let the reader judge. It's obvious you aren't capable of it.

Same goes for your pathetic attempt to argue that Constantine - or anyone - can force large groups of people to do things they don't want to do.

This discussion is beginning to resemble a discussion with an idiot-savant. You obviously have managed to memorize a lot of facts, and you trot them out smartly, but you have no ability to understand what you're talking about.

Ah well.

Pikemann Urge said...

So, where did the concept come from?

And why does something we can't perceive work so well conceptually?


Well, AFAIK the concept of infinity was like all mathematical concepts: part discovery, part invention (in the same way that quantities are natural but numbers are not).

Apart from that, I don't know the answer. But you suggest that it leads somewhere, right? Maybe not necessarily theism, but possibly?

I'd also like to take you up on something. Richard didn't

argue that Constantine - or anyone - can force large groups of people to do things they don't want to do.

Instead, he argued that Constantine

actively involved the state in enforcing Christian dogma (suppressing the Arian controversy, for example), and he actively took treasuries of pagan temples and handed them over to Christian Churches (thus giving state financial support to only the one religion).

The only problem with what Richard wrote might be the bit about suppressing Arianism. Perhaps he meant after the Council of Nicea in 325.

These two statements are very different:

P1. Christianity is a delusion
P2. Christianity has delusions

P2 is true for sure, but I don't agree with P1. Does anyone agree/disagree?

Humphrey said...

Hi Richard. Sorry I dropped out of the discussion. I think there was a 5 month lull between my last comment and your reply. I'm actually interested in the Domesday point. You wrote:

"Indeed, quote who you have in mind citing the Domesday book for their estimates of watermill counts at all--I mean I want you to present here, word for word, the actual argument or claim they make, and on what they say it is based (e.g. what source and page number they cite, etc.)."

Will do - i'm relying on 'Mills in the Medieval Economy - England 1300-1500 - John Langdon p8-9. Following the footnote he is relying on the work of H.C Darby and his team. The text of the relevant passage reads:

'As to the number of watermills and windmills in England at the beginning of the fourteenth century, we are fortunate to have the Domesday Book as a base. The number of mills (all powered by water) recorded in 1086, as calculated by H.C.Darby and his team, comes to 6,082. This is a figure that should probably be considered a minimum,since many mills were not recorded for the far north, which was not included in the survey. Both Richard Holt and I have attempted to estimate the number of watermills and windmills in England about 1300 by comparing the number of mills on manors represented both in Domesday and
in documents around 1300. From doing this mainly from the Hundred Rolls of the late 1270ss and various estate surveys, Holt calculated that the number of mills about 1300 ranged between 10,000 and 12,000. From work based on West Midlands mills, I was inclined to agree with his minimum figure but thought the maximum figure might have reached as high as 15,000. Since then, I have performed a more broad-ranging comparison geographically.

Is the data in Darby Domesday England wrong? - If so can you point me to the literature on the subject?

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... I have never met a serious academic who puts as much stock in Wikipedia as you apparently do.

Then you don't meet many academics. I do. I find universal agreement among math and science experts that wikipedia's math-science content is generally superb and surpasses print encyclopedias (it's errors are no greater than theirs, and often theirs are worse). The humanities content leaves much more to be desired and should be used with considerable caution, but over the last two years has greatly improved, to be actually on par with print encyclopedias. At any rate, it does no good to claim that what a wikipedia article says is false simply because you want that to be so. You have to actually present evidence against what it says. In this case here you cannot, thus you did not. Instead you just impugn the whole source without relevant grounds. Nice trick. Denying reality by fabricating claims that everyone is lying is exactly how delusional people behave.

Same goes for your pathetic attempt to argue that Constantine - or anyone - can force large groups of people to do things they don't want to do.

I said a lot more than that. I said conversion became opportunistic: some to gain the political and economic and social benefits, others out of fear, and so on. You conveniently ignored all the other reasons I gave, and here make up some bull only about fear not being a motivator. But the Arian case is on point: by putting Arians under house arrest (through formal exile) and burning their books and declaring Arianism treason against the state, Constantine scared many into not being Arians. Hence Eusebius sieg heiled on that score right quick. Of course, like political sympathies in the U.S.S.R., religious sympathies swung with the wind, and Arianism became legal again, then was outlawed again, and so on. But in every case the full power of the state was deployed in the service of the Christian Church. That's called state sponsorship of religion. You've said nothing to refute that.

And then of course under Theodosius, when pagans were actually being executed by the state (or, in the case of elites, stripped of all property and exiled) for "refusing to hurry to observe the Catholic faith," fear became a right powerful motivator. The state was only too weak to uniformly enforce its law; but by permitting the murder of pagans, it thus recruited the mob as its enforcers. The pogroms against pagans, state-sponsored mass-murder, in Gaza and Alexandria eventually ensued. That's simply what happened. Your gainsaying it is futile.

This is what I find generally from people like you. When the facts vindicate what I actually said, you make lame claims like this, denounce my scholarship in vague terms, as well as that of all academia (read: experts who, unlike you, know what they're talking about), and claim the conversation is over. Indeed it is. But only because you are delusionally engaging in denial and avoidance behavior. You have ended the conversation because it was forcing you into too uncomfortable a proximity with reality. Shame.

The Nerd said...

"That averages out to 2.92 mistakes per article for Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia."

http://news.cnet.com/Study-Wikipedia-as-accurate-as-Britannica/2100-1038_3-5997332.html

Wikipedia can be subject to vandalism, but it also lists its sources, and there is a public edit history, should you doubt the current version.

Richard Carrier said...

THE DOMESDAY MILLS

Humphrey said... Sorry I dropped out of the discussion. I think there was a 5 month lull between my last comment and your reply.

No worries. I find myself too busy to attend to things here for months at a time anyway. So I don't mind long delays like this.

Following the footnote he is relying on the work of H.C Darby and his team....'As to the number of watermills and windmills in England at the beginning of the fourteenth century, we are fortunate to have the Domesday Book as a base. The number of mills (all powered by water) recorded in 1086, as calculated by H.C.Darby and his team, comes to 6,082.

Yes. Mills. Period. What kind of mill is never said anywhere in the DB. They only counted millstones. Not what was turning them. Just read the DB yourself.

I read Darby's work. Darby and his team argue only from the eel tax. Thus they infer a watermill count, based on a fallacious and easily-refuted premise (that a tax in eels entails a millrace which entails a watermill--easily refuted by the fact that eel taxes were paid in places where there weren't even any mills; since many a river provided ample sources for catching eels, the tax was based on natural availability of a valuable commodity, not the presence of millraces, so their inference has no basis whatever). They make zero arguments as to count of windmills, BTW (they never make any estimate of those).

See Finn's "guide" to the DB, pp. 60-61, describing their flawed methodology, although Finn simply trusts it, not noticing the fallacy it entails; in his earlier "introduction" to the DB, however, Finn concedes the data is flawed for these kinds of counts on pp. 187-90, but he doesn't realize what this entails; e.g. p. 188, a single hamlet, population 52, had "nine mills" of a total value of a single pound; these are counted as watermills by the Darby criterion, but clearly that is massively absurd, as they could not possibly have been anything of the kind; indeed, they are unlikely to have been anything more than hand mills. Similarly, Finn says Darby counts "winter mills" on the presumption that intermittent mills must be watermills, but that makes little sense: water would be low in winter, not high, so a watermill would only operate on a seasonal waterway in spring or summer, not winter; winter mills thus are more likely ordinary mills put into operation during the winter months because they were near grain storage facilities which would be left dormant during harvest seasons where grain could be ground closer to market, and the storehouses were being filled, not emptied.

Worse, even the Darby method is ignored in subsequent literature and instead of reporting their "estimate" of watermills based on eel taxes (a little over 3000), their total count of all mills (over 6000) is reported as a count of watermills! This then keeps getting repeated in the literature, when it's not even what Darby claimed, and can't possibly be even remotely correct. Not even his actual estimate can be.

Unfortunately, the source you quote isn't helpful--you have Langdon claiming he and Holt did some checking of other docs, but don't give any references. They mention the Hundred Rolls, but not which ones, or where they examined them, or where in them power source is mentioned or how it is identified (the Hundred Rolls use the same protocol as the DB, so I would expect they just list "mills" as well, not types of mills). Nor do they say where we can locate the "estate surveys" they looked at, or how they inferred power sources from them. Where have they published this count of theirs under peer review so we can assess their evidence and methods?

That's the info I need from you. Without it, I'm forced to assume they used the same method as Darby, which I've noted is fatally flawed.

Richard Carrier said...

2.92 mistakes per article for Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia

Indeed, that's not even the whole picture: that was for all fields (sci-math and humanities; based on my extensive experience the error rate in sci-math is substantially lower in Wikipedia than the rate in humanities, which entails Wikipedia's error rate must be lower than Britannica in sci-math subjects), and ignored content quantity (Wikipedia articles often convey substantially more information than Britannica), so the actual rate of error (per statement, rather than per article) even in the humanities must be worse in Britannica (since the error rates per article are virtually identical).

Moreover, even by the standards of degree, the study confirmed Britannica and Wikipedia are, per article, identically reliable:

"In the end, the journal found just eight serious errors, such as general misunderstandings of vital concepts, in the articles. Of those, four came from each site. They did, however, discover a series of factual errors, omissions or misleading statements. All told, Wikipedia had 162 such problems, while Britannica had 123.

The 2.92 vs. 3.86 ratio comes from the latter kind of errors, which are not substantial. In the substantial errors category, the rate of error was the same.

Thanks, Nerd, for finding that again! I had read that study before but forgot where it was when originally posting above.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Of course, you would ignore this article, finding Nature's study fatally flawed:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4840340.stm

And, even if we ignore those fatal flaws, since the Nature study was of only 50 articles in widely diverse areas, we don't know that Wikipedia's "accuracy" is specific to a particular topic, or has a massive fail in a particular topic. So, your contention that Wikipedia is a valid source for your particular cite is not validated.

That said, Dick, your reply still hasn't addressed the major problems with your premise.

You haven't explained why the Greeks and the Romans obviously turned away from a system that you think "worked", i.e., experimental science, and embraced a system that you think is stupid, i.e., Christianity.

Rome tried to suppress Christianity for centuries and failed. It tried to suppress paganism for less than a century and succeeded (admittedly with minor pagan flareups like Julian the Apostate and the frequent eruptions of Arianism).

Government rarely succeeds at suppressing something unless the people agree that it's a good idea.

You have never explained why the pagan Greeks and Romans turned from experimental science and paganism in order to embrace the formal science of Christian theology. All you can come up with is "the bad emperor MADE them do it" or variations on that theme (which is all that your other "explanations" amount to).

It's a grade school response. Why do you think it will work for you?

Humphrey said...

'That's the info I need from you. Without it, I'm forced to assume they used the same method as Darby, which I've noted is fatally flawed.'

Thanks for taking the time to respond Richard. That is very interesting and - if it is correct - means that a number of historians are relying on flawed data (not for the first time). Seems pretty sloppy to me.

I'll email John Langdon at the University of Alberta and see what kind of response I get.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... your contention that Wikipedia is a valid source for your particular cite is not validated.

What isn't validated is your claim that Wikipedia is not a valid source for my particular cite. You still haven't given one single valid reason to doubt any cite I used. And still you do not. That pretty much ends the debate, doesn't it? You didn't have the goods. So all you are left with is groundless, irrational denial.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... You haven't explained why the Greeks and the Romans obviously turned away from a system that you think "worked", i.e., experimental science, and embraced a system that you think is stupid, i.e., Christianity.

I did explain this: in Not the Impossible Faith, in the last chapter of The Christian Delusion, and in previous blogs that I've already linked to here before (e.g. Science and Medieval Christianity).

They turned to other stupid worldviews, too, like Neoplatonism, Manichaeism, and Theurgy. Christianity was just one of many similar worldviews people ran to.

As to why, the explanation is the same as why people ran to Marxism and Nazism (and their often bizarre pseudosciences, like Lysenkoism and Deutsche Physik): the collapse of the social system (resulting from destructive wars followed by extreme economic depression).

The 3rd century saw a 50-year-long civil war in which widespread death and disruption of private and public institutions continued unabated for two generations and then, at the end of it, the entire fiduciary economy collapsed. So imagine if the American Civil War had lasted not five years, but fifty, and concluded with the Great Depression. The psychological effect would be devastating.

The probable assumption was that the old ways of doing things were disastrously wrong and something supernatural and otherworldly was needed. Government became extremely fascistic (under the pagan Diocletian; the Christians just ran with it once they came to power, and expanded its horrors, e.g. Constantine's enslavement of the peasantry with his law converting free tenant farmers into medieval serfs; Theodosius' outlawing of other religions; etc.). Which only made things worse, but it was fallaciously what people thought was the right path, erroneously thinking democracy and freedom is what got them into the troubles they were in.

Likewise people jumped to pie-in-the-sky salvation cults (Christianity was just one of many) and mystical, introverted, escapist, reality-denigrating philosophies (like Neoplatonism and Christian theology). The run was toward certainty, stability, lack of doubt, thus the zeitgeist turned toward fear of doubt-based epistemologies (like science must be to advance or correct its errors), fear of change (thus fear of progress, e.g. science overturns old ways of thinking and introduces newfangled ideas and technologies), and fear of unresolved disagreements (thus where once having many schools of thought debating each other was thought good, now it was thought bad, hence the drive toward creating and defending an "orthodoxy" against "heresies").

Not everyone ran that way. But enough did to swamp the minority and steer the social system into the Middle Ages.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... Rome tried to suppress Christianity for centuries and failed. It tried to suppress paganism for less than a century and succeeded (admittedly with minor pagan flareups like Julian the Apostate and the frequent eruptions of Arianism).

None of that is accurate (nor is any of it relevant to this blog thread).

The Romans did not try to suppress Christianity for any more than half a century at most. The attitude was Trajan's for the first two centuries: leave them alone unless they make a nuisance of themselves (and there was never any specific law against them); thus persecution was sporadic at best and rarely state-organized; then in the 3rd century actual attempts at burning books and requiring uniform public affirmations of state religion began, but were widely resisted even by state officials, who often harbored Christians or helped them evade the suppression, often because they needed Christians to replace decimated ranks of their armies in the endless civil war (see Chapter 18 of my book Not the Impossible Faith). Then Constantine legalized it and even threw extensive support its way.

By contrast, Christian suppression of paganism was sustained, pervasive, and brutal and lasted several centuries (see Frankfurter's Religion in Roman Egypt: Assimilation and Resistance and MacMullen's Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries).

Richard Carrier said...

Humphrey said... I'll email John Langdon at the University of Alberta and see what kind of response I get.

Please do communicate that here when you hear anything back. Or report here anything else you find on the matter. I'd appreciate it.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Oh, you've GOT to be kidding!
Greco-Roman society was "freedom and democracy?" Yep, for an atheist, I guess that's true - only 20% or 30% of the population was enslaved, so that's freedom for you.

Experimental science was created by Christian civilization. Christianity extensively used and perfected Aristotle's work on logic in the formal science of theology, then extended that method to the study of nature.

You can't see it because you are biased. You've got to learn to think in a more objective way.

As for Wikipedia's reliability... Richard, have you ever READ Britannica's response to Nature's claim?

It's right here:
http://corporate.britannica.com/britannica_nature_response.pdf

Read it.
Learn something.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

As for your comment that people turned to nutty philosophies in the past after major social upheavals, yes, that's true. And thanks for proving my point.

Let's look at the examples you bring forward: Nazism and Marxism, Lysenkoism and Deutsche Physik.

Apart from Marxism, did ANY of these last for more than a generation? Nazism, Lysenkoism and Duetsche Physik... none of them lasted more than a bare decade.

Even Marxism has had no serious implementation that lasted more than a few decades.

With Christianity, we're talking about a philosophical system that definitely lasted 1000 years, arguably has lasted 2000.

Even if we posit, as you do, that the Greeks and Romans founded experimental science, they weren't able to maintain it for any appreciable length of time.

Christian roots of experimental science, on the other hand, go back to at least Albert Magnus, and have clearly obtained since Galileo. And if you like Galileo's work, then you MUST like John Philoponus' work, because Galileo cited him more than any other author, and HE was writing in the 500's, so it can be argued that the Christian roots of today's science goes back 1500 years.

If you want to argue that Christianity is a nutty philosophy, you have to explain not only why the Greeks and Romans embraced it, but why they didn't drop it like a hot potato.

Why didn't they realize it was nuts?

There are only two conclusions: either the pagan Greeks and Romans were a lot stupider than you are or they were a lot smarter than you are.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Oh, I guess there is a third way out: you could argue that the Big Bad Emperor (tm, Richard Carrier) was much more effective at inflicting terror on its population than was the Cheka, the OGPU, NKGB, MVD, MGB or KGB. Stalin was a piker compared to the Pope.

Of course, Rome's empire was spread over the entirety of Europe, it could take the better part of a year for a simple letter to travel from one end of the Empire to the other, and apart from marching over with an army, an Emperor had precious little way of enforcing his rule, but they STILL did better than the Soviets, who were saddled with antiquated scientific inventions like the telegraph, telephone, railroad, advanced weapons, etc.

As everyone knows, advanced technology like that really, really hinders the development and enforcement of a police state such as Catholic Rome enjoyed.

If you want to force people to believe stupid things, you simply MUST restrict travel to ox-cart and restrict communication to hand-written letters to distant provinces transmitted via oared ships or shoe leather.

THAT'S how police states maintain high efficiency. /*sarcasm off*/

Really, Richard, all you're peddling is the Protestant version of the history of the Catholic Church. You just cut Jesus out of it, but the rest of the narrative is identical.

"Constantine enforced an idolatrous superstition on Roman society! He FORCED people to follow a clearly wrong ideology because of his hatred for the True Faith!"

The only difference is, for you the True Faith that got destroyed was scientism, while for the Protestants it was whatever Protestant flavor they endorse.

In this regard, when it comes to a choice between you and the local fundamentalist Baptist preacher, there's very little to choose.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... Greco-Roman society was "freedom and democracy?"

That's not what I said. I said people thought freedom and democracy caused all their troubles. I also made a point of saying that belief was false. Pay attention.

"Constantine enforced an idolatrous superstition on Roman society! He FORCED people to follow a clearly wrong ideology because of his hatred for the True Faith!"

Since I never said any of those things, all you're doing is ranting against a straw man.

Experimental science was created by Christian civilization.

Since we have documented experimental science in the writings of Galen, Hero, and Ptolemy, all pagans, clearly your statement is false.

Christianity extensively used and perfected Aristotle's work on logic in the formal science of theology, then extended that method to the study of nature.

That's almost the most retarded thing I've ever heard. There is no similarity at all between the logical methods employed in theology (by pagans or Christians) and the scientific methods employed in the Scientific Revolution (or by Greco-Roman scientists for that matter).

In fact, Aristotle specifically said scientific methods can't be used in theology, precisely because theology studies the nature of being itself, and therefore can only be studied in the realm of pure thought. He said science was the study of anything that moves or changes (or can in principle move or change), and therefore is always probabilistic and must be empirical, unlike theology which only deals in deductive certainties and must work from undeniable premises. Aristotle developed a whole logic of scientific method (in the Physics and his logical writings), and a wholly separate logic for theology (in the Metaphysics; just read the first book of that to see what I mean).

And Aristotle's methodology in both was clunky and imperfect. Aristotle's errors in both methods were corrected by subsequent logicians (Euclid, Theophrastus, Strato, Herophilus, Archimedes, etc.; as well as the Epicurean logicians in inductive logic, the Stoic logicians in deductive logic, etc.), none of whom were studied by medieval theologians (for roughly a thousand years). Medievals thought Aristotle was the pinnacle of ancient science and logic, when in fact he was the beginning of a whole stream of advances in both, made by other scientists and logicians and mathematicians after him. Thus their Aristotelian theology was by and large embarrassingly simplistic compared to, for example, the logical writings of Galen, Sextus, Apollonius, etc.

And there is nothing like the logical or empirical writings of Galen, Ptolemy, or Archimedes in any Christian book written at any time before the twilight of the Scientific Revolution (in the 15th century).

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... With Christianity, we're talking about a philosophical system that definitely lasted 1000 years, arguably has lasted 2000.

So? Islam, Hinduism, Yoga, Spiritualism, Astrology, all claim the same. Endurance is no marker of truth.

You asked why people turned to stupid philosophies. I answered you. And your retort is this non sequitur? I'm starting to think you're a lunatic. Perhaps we should end this conversation.

Christian roots of experimental science, on the other hand, go back to at least Albert Magnus

Who did not make a single scientific discovery.

So why cite him? He's no Galen, Archimedes, Ptolemy, or Strato. Those are the benchmarks here.

And if you like Galileo's work, then you MUST like John Philoponus' work, because Galileo cited him more than any other author

I'm curious. Please send me the citations where Galileo mentions Philopon. All of them--so I can check your claim that he "cited him more than any other author." I'm aware of only one single mention, and there Galileo specifically criticizes Philopon for having come to the conclusion solely from the armchair and not from having conducted any experiments! Which pretty much shoots you in the ass.

...and HE was writing in the 500's, so it can be argued that the Christian roots of today's science goes back 1500 years.

Except that Philopon didn't say anything that hadn't already been said by earlier pagans (Hipparchus on inertia and parabolic trajectories; Epicurus on equal rate of falling bodies, cf. Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 2. 225-45). Nor was Philopon correct even in what he did say (he claimed heavier bodies fall faster than light, but that the difference was slight (thus they "almost" hit at the same time) owing to air resistance, cf. In Phys. 683.16-25 vs. 420.13f. and 679.5-21).

So once again, it goes back 2000 years or more, to pagans, not Christians.

If you want to argue that Christianity is a nutty philosophy, you have to explain not only why the Greeks and Romans embraced it, but why they didn't drop it like a hot potato.

The same reason Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims don't drop theirs; the same reason people still believe in astrology, ghosts, psychics. You have to embrace a realistic standard of measure before you can even see that what you believe is nutty. When entire cultures reject that standard, they get locked into nutty belief systems, thinking they're perfectly sane, such as that crackers literally transform into human flesh when a spell of words and gestures is cast over them, that witches summon the devil from under the ground to have sex with him so they can send demons to spoil their enemy's crops, that a dragon is eating the moon during a lunar eclipse, and other things most Medieval Christians widely believed for over a thousand years.

Richard Carrier said...

As for Wikipedia's reliability... Richard, have you ever READ Britannica's response to Nature's claim?

Yeah. It's a bogus attempt to save face. As the peer reviewers at Nature confirmed, none of Britannica's claims had merit. The original study was verified as accurate and sound. You really should take the trouble to check these things, and not keep relying on the fallacious logic of verification bias (only checking for things that agree with you, instead of checking all sides of a debate--and a bit of advice: siding with a profit-seeking corporation against a panel of independent scholars is generally not going to pan out for you: the truth generally turns out to reside with the latter).


Learn something.

Deliciously ironic coming from you.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

The experimental science of Galen, Hero, Ptolemy was still-born. It never created a scientific revolution. It didn't last. Christianity's scientific revolution did last.

Islam, Hinduism, etc. may have lasted millennia, but none of them produced a scientific revolution anywhere near the magnitude of Christianity's scientific revolution.

Your explanation for why people turn to stupid philosophies doesn't explain anything. The kind of upset the Romans experienced is not exactly unparalleled in history, but similar upsets in other contexts did not produce a similar long-lasting change.

Greco-Roman society morphed into Christian society which in turn produced the Scientific Revolution. It's a specifically Christo-European phenomenon. Your "explanation" to the contrary consists simply of stating the conditions in Rome at the time Christianity was adopted, and then making a bald assertion, completely unsupportable, that the Emperor forced the whole Empire to become Christian.

Albert Magnus isolated arsenic. But that's not a scientific discovery, according to you...

FYI, no medieval Christian believed "crackers literally transform into human flesh" which pretty much shoots you in the ass, but since you don't understand Aristotle's distinction between accident and substance, you won't understand WHY you just got shot in the ass.

Speaking of verification bias, you don't realize that you exhibit it when you simply accept that Nature was trying to save face once Britannica caught them with their pants down.

C'mon. Nature wasn't even quoting ANY of Britannica's article for part of it's critique, Nature couldn't distinguish between an encyclopedia article and a yearbook, and it wouldn't allow anyone to know who did their review!

Nature's insistence on anonymity smells to high heaven like Jehovah's Witnesses, who insist only the best Greek and Hebrew scholars did their translation, but they won't say who...

But, since you INSIST that Wikipedia is a reliable source, then
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Philoponus#cite_note-0

"His critique of Aristotle in the Physics commentary was a major influence on Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Galileo Galilei, who cited Philoponus substantially in his works.[1]"

Eat your own crap, Dick.

Explain to me why the Wikipedia article is good enough for you when it agrees with you, but absolutely wrong when it contradicts you.

You just can't stand the fact that you're full of crap.

Rich Griese said...

Dear Richard,

First off, I have enjoyed the stuff that you have written over the years. I REALLY like that you are one that has a degree in history instead of a degree in one of the religion based fields.

I remember reading one of your online essays once in which you were outlining how Christianity initially could have been appealing to the down trodden of society. I remember at the time thinking, "yeah... the initial idea appealed to the same kind of people that the Republican Tea People group appeals to". I then tried to reconcile this sensible idea with another thing I noticed. It also, seems like there were a lot of intellectual Church Fathers. Tertullian being a lawyer, Irenaeus seems to have had skills, and a good number of the very early Church Father shapers seem to be in the intellectual circles. Add to that the intellectuals that liked what Philo had done, in effect appealing to those that probably hung out in the crowds that liked to argue Plato and that kind of philosophy, and opening up the entire body of Jewish Scriptures as something they could add to their discussions. That whole, Philo type group, I see as possibly being as popular as Yoga or Pilates in modern society to the ancient intellectual. I can see that having caught on as a very popular fad.

So I have been wondering if it possible that something like this happened. From some early seed, some what became to eventually be called "Christian" idea began to appeal to the underclasses. And it gained support and an initial following in the underclasses. Then, around the time that Philo's Jewish Scripture interpretations became "trendy" in intellectual circles. Some intellectuals decided that they would "take control" or "become leaders" in this prior to underclass Christian movement. They, being intellectuals, and/or people of influence in society, then naturally assumed leadership positions in the group. Just as most of even our politicians that "fight for the working man" are millionaires.

So... in Christianity you have two sets of messages and ideas that had to be reconciled. You have the very early simple messages that appealed to the under class, AND you have the philosophically sophisticated theories that the eventual intellectual leaders liked, and molded into a "system", all mish moshed together.

One problem with trying to unravel the separate strands is all our texts exist only in a form from after this mixing. For example, our oldest Pauline and gospels collections are the Chester Beatty Papyri from about 200CE. While traditionalists are constantly working to pretend that we can talk about texts in 70 or that time, that is the wildest of unsupported speculation. The first glimpse we have of texts if from about 200CE. And this is AFTER Irenaeus and people like him already wanted to start to control the message, and were deeply involved in text wars.

The more I study Christianity the more discouraged I become in ever being satisfied with finding anything real. Not only do historians have to battle "The Church" which is a marketing department that wanted to put out a particular message. We also have to battle the modern day religion academics, which in reality, don't seem to be actually trying to understand the history and explaining it to the world, but seem to be looking for any hope they can find that most of traditional Church legends actually are in any way historical. It's amazingly difficult, and draining.

I continue to enjoy your work, and if you might think of any other folks with degrees in history, and not a religion field, that also study the early church like you, I would appreciate it if you would email me their names, URLS, and even email addresses if you know of any.

Cheers! RichGriese@gmail.com

Charles Freeman said...

Dear Rich, I really came on this blog to comment on Galileo and Philoponus. John Heilbron's excellent new biography of Galileo lists some 240 people on whose research and ideas Galileo drew stretching back to the ancient Greeks. Philoponus does not even appear so it is hard to see how he could have been quoted so often by Galileo. One must also remember that Philoponus was also declared a heretic for his views on the Trinity, - the climate in which he was working was very different from that of the earlier Greek intellectuals for whom this was not a problem.
I am a historian working in this field and my A New History of Early Christianity (Yale University Press, 2009) may or may not be of interest. As I have said there the historian can say very little for certain about Jesus and the early Christian movement: it is all too often the theologians, not the historians, who say that they know exactly what happened!
You might also be interested in Ramsay MacMullen's new book, The Second Church, Popular Christianity 200-400 AD . I am awaiting my copy but the reviews suggest that he sees Christianity on the ground, as it were, as markedly different from the Christianity of the elite. I hope this is of help, Charles Freeman

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, Charles, the new book is obviously substandard crap, probably written by a Brittannica contributor.

Wikipedia has spoken.
The case is closed.
So says, Dick, anyway.
Besides, the Wikipedia article even has a footnote to the comment, so it seems your Galileo remarks are rubbish.

As for your book on early Christianity, if no one knows what really went on, then your book is about .... what? Your speculations? That and a quarter still won't buy a coffee at Starbucks.

Given that historians always feel confident that they can comment intelligently on theology, I don't see why theologians can't comment confidently on history. History is a lot easier to master than theology is.

And, since I have graduate degrees in both disciplines, I would know, as opposed to people like you, who do NOT have graduate degrees in both disciplines.

Charles Freeman said...

Wow,Steve Kellmeyer, you are some guy! Heilbron is one of the world's greatest authorities on Galileo and he would turn away Wikipedia with derision. Actually there have been many inaccurate,and often challenged, Wikipedia articles in this subject area of religion and science - I would certainly not touch it as a reliable source.
You have to read my books on Christianity to see how I deal with these issues. It is not pure speculation because we do know something about early Christianity but a historian can surely comment when a theologian claims that history shows x to be true when a historian would not be convinced by the evidence cited.
Still, I suppose it is a good thing to have superbrains like yourself to sort us all out. My humble brain has been working on these issues for some years and I still have difficulty in knowing what went on. I am old-fashioned in that I believe the more abuse a poster throws around,the lower their intellect and the less you need to take them seriously.
You might enjoy Heilbron actually.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Heilbron may turn away Wikipedia, but Dick doesn't! Dick Defends Wikipedia!

According to Dick, Wikipedia is as reliable as Britannica, and when Britannica demonstrates that Nature's protestations to the contrary are crap, it's Nature that is right and Britannica that is trying to save face!

Charles, if you wouldn't trust Wikipedia as a reliable source, then you are CONTRADICTING Dick!

Dick thinks I'm a nutcase to question him, and here you are doing the same thing! You, too, must be some kind of incoherent nutcase, that you dare to contradict Dick Carrier!

I'm just following Dick's brilliant defense of Wikipedia. If Dick is right, and he insists he is, I'm forced to conclude that Heilbron is full of crap.

So, if you think I'm being over the top, all I can say is, I'm just repeating what Dick taught me (see the above conversation to verify it all for yourself).

As for your comments about theology, you - as a good historian - have to know that both Jewish and Christian theology self-consciously rest on accurate history. The Judeo-Christian understanding of God rests on the idea that He is reliable, trustworthy, etc.

The history of God's relationship with the Chosen People, whether we mean the Hebrews or the fulfillment that Christians claim to be, is the record of God's faithfulness. Judeo-Christian faith in God rests on that accurate history - if the history is false, then God's faithfulness is questionable.

This is why the OT speaks so strongly against the lying tongue. Judeo-Christian is unique among religious faiths in that it rests on the evidence of history. In order to be a J-C theologian, you HAVE to be a historian first.

It is also for this reason, Judeo-Christian theologians have been right when historians were wrong. Take, for instance, the existence of King David. Reputable historians were long agreed that David was a mythical figure, not a real historical figure... until the 1993 discovery of the Aramaean stele that referenced the "House of David." Then we found out that the rabbis and the apostles knew a bit more history than the 20th century pantywaists with Ph.D.s.

So, to say that a historian wouldn't be convinced by the evidence cited doesn't prove the evidence is insufficient. It just proves that the standards and techniques historians use are different - not better, not worse, just different - than those theologians use. Theologians have additional ways to cross-check what they say, methods that are not used by secular historians, if only because the reason theologians do history is different than the reason historians do history.

I got the graduate degree in history while I was still an atheist - didn't get the graduate degree in theology until much later. But one of the reasons I am now a Christian is precisely because the historical claims J-C faith makes are reasonable. The theological claims pretty much match the historical evidence we have. Historically, where the evidence hasn't appeared to exist, J-C theologians have tended to be as justified by subsequent archeological discoveries as regular historians have.

Not everything has been verified, but not everything has been dug up yet. Given the stretch of millennia, the theologians have matched facts at least as accurately as the 20th century historians have.

Charles Freeman said...

I am not here to defend 'Dick's' view of Wikipedia which is his own affair. The problem with Wikipedia is that the quality of the contributors varies so widely and some of them have axes to grind. I have read some excellent articles and other misquided ones. Once there was even a Wikipedia entry for my book Closing of the Western Mind which only quoted negative reviews of it. You can't take Wikipedia seriously if that sort of thing is allowed to happen (it soon disappeared so I suppose there is some kind of monitoring but it devalues the whole process).
I wonder what would happen if some new scrolls appeared that showed that some key elements of Christian history as related by Christian historians were false. From what I can see of your argument it is impossible for that to happen because whatever Christians ( but hey Christian historians themselves disagree on the history of early Christianity) believe must be compatible with whatever is dug up in the future. Yours seems a circular argument, the evidence must always be interpreted to support what we already know, and puts it in direct contradiction to the way historians normally work. So whatever you learned as a historian has been overlaid by what you have been taught as a theologian.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Charles,

I wonder at your "thought experiment."

I pointed to an historical "fact" that was in direct contradiction to J-C theology - whether or not King David was a myth.

I pointed out that the historians turned out to be absolutely wrong and the theologians absolutely right.

You respond by essentially saying "Well, but what if it had turned out different!"

Yes, and what if the sky were chartreuse? Do you dislike the way reality betrayed you?

If you have new scrolls, please bring them forward.

But I cannot answer your question as I am not in the habit of speculating on the dietary needs of unicorns and dragons, as you (a professional historian) apparently are.

Maybe you should try writing one of those 'alternative history' novels. I hear they are quite popular. But perhaps you've already done that in your latest book?

Charles Freeman said...

Steve, I don't know where you learned your history but the historians I follow would have written: 'The Jewish tradition teaches of a king called David but the archaeological evidence for his existence is as yet unclear.' That leaves it as an open subject not a closed one. I would be as critical of a 'historian' who wrote that David did not exist as you would be. (The exception would be when there was clear evidence that the myth had been created as such.)
I am not sure why you make obscure generalisations about what I may or may not have written. You will find a number of my books available in the US which you are free to read and then comment on, critically if you should so want.
The focus of this blog was originally a review of James Hannam's God's Philosophers, a book I have read and found wanting. The only reason I came on it at all was to see what Richard Carrier, about whom I disagree on quite a number of historical issues, had to say about it. So far as I can see a year on he has still not delivered but I kept the link in case he did.
I shall,of course, let you know as soon as possible if new evidence comes up which allows us to expand our knowledge of early Christianity, whether it confirms existing Christian orthodoxy or not! I am keeping an open mind on what the subject will look like in ten years time.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... The experimental science of Galen, Hero, Ptolemy was still-born. It never created a scientific revolution. It didn't last. Christianity's scientific revolution did last.

Which had nothing to do with Christianity (any more than the collapse of Roman society in the 3rd century, which alone ended ancient science's progress, had anything to do with paganism--or Christianity, or the ancient scientific zeitgeist for that matter).

Islam, Hinduism, etc. may have lasted millennia, but none of them produced a scientific revolution anywhere near the magnitude of Christianity's scientific revolution.

For the fallacy you just committed, see The Christian Delusion pp. 398-400.

...then making a bald assertion, completely unsupportable, that the Emperor forced the whole Empire to become Christian.

Emperor Theodosius did. That's not assertion. It's fact. It then took the government several centuries to finally get that law consistently enforced, using murder and intimidation (and the distribution of favors exclusively to Christians). This is thoroughly documented by every historian who has written on the conversion of Europe to Christianity in the last fifty years.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... Albert Magnus isolated arsenic. But that's not a scientific discovery, according to you...

Zosimus describes the process for isolating metallic arsenic in his pagan alchemical treatise of 300 A.D., eight hundred years before Magnus wrote. So Magnus cannot be said to have discovered it. The fact that the word for arsenic is a Persian loan (and thus cannot have been coined by Magnus, who was not Persian) suggests in fact it was discovered in the East and diffused West, possibly many centuries before Zosimus (who does not claim to have discovered the process himself, and is not the earliest writer on chemistry we know existed in antiquity).

FYI, no medieval Christian believed "crackers literally transform into human flesh"

Yes they did. Indeed, they were explicit: in defense of the belief in the late 4th century Ambrose of Milan declared "if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements?"

You don't understand Aristotle's distinction between accident and substance, you won't understand WHY you just got shot in the ass.

The claim that it still "looked" like bread and wine (which is what you mean by the medieval abuse of Aristotle's "accident" distinction) but was really blood and flesh was in fact the very excuse made to maintain this ridiculous belief (that it literally changed substance into blood and flesh) despite plain empirical evidence against it. So it would seem you are the one who doesn't understand here. In claiming to shoot me in the ass, you just shot yourself in the ass. Again.

This is getting amusing.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... [Galileo] cited Philoponus substantially in his works

That's not "more than any other author." So you can't cite that statement against me. It doesn't contradict what I said. I know of only one reference to Philopon in Galileo, and it consists of a criticism of Philopon's failure to conduct experiments to confirm his conjecture. Whether that constitutes a "substantial" citation is a subjective matter of opinion. There is nothing here confirming any other references to Philopon.

(Although I should remind you to avoid stupid fallacies like this: I never said everything Wikipedia says is accurate, only that we cannot presume something it says is inaccurate merely because it's in Wikipedia, any more than we can presume something is inaccurate merely because it's in a print encyclopedia like Britannica--and I will remind you that you have still not shown a single thing I cited Wikipedia for is inaccurate!)

Richard Carrier said...

Rich Griese said... ...in Christianity you have two sets of messages and ideas that had to be reconciled. You have the very early simple messages that appealed to the under class, AND you have the philosophically sophisticated theories that the eventual intellectual leaders liked, and molded into a "system", all mish moshed together.

Indeed, they could be reconciled in often very dubious ways. See Origen's discussion of this very point.

On control of the canon undergoing a mid-2nd century filter like you suggest (which is indeed earlier than any extant manuscripts) see The First Edition of the New Testament.

...if you might think of any other folks with degrees in history, and not a religion field, that also study the early church like you, I would appreciate it if you would email me their names...

Actually I recommend everything in my Jesus Studies Amazon Store. But if you're keen on historians, read Robin Lane Fox (first page of the store has the item I mean), whose book on this is brilliant, and in Sources of the Jesus Tradition read Justin Meggitt's chapter (and anything else of his you can find). Then read anything you can find by Ramsay MacMullen (his top stuff I've included in my Amazon Store above).

Steve Kellmeyer said...

In regards to your historical instincts and phrasing: fair enough.

You might, in the future, refrain from making the general accusation that theologians argue in circles or love other kinds of logical fallacies.

While I am not unacquainted with those who do (and what discipline has not had its share of this abuse?), those who engage in logical fallacies are looked on with great disdain by the theological community, just as they are in any community dedicated to discovering the truth, whether truth be written small 't' or large 'T'.

Just as with natural philosophers and now experimental scientists, many individual theologians have discovered that their individual conceits were wrong. But, just as with natural philosophy, now "science", J-C theology has made the distinctions and clarifications necessary to accommodate new discoveries and deepen overall understanding.

I will readily admit it is of no help to the science of theology that anyone can start their own church at the drop of the hat, and that most Christian churches in the US (~80%) are run by people without even a high school diploma.

But, the ancient traditional faiths, such as Judaism and Catholicism, have as good a track record in telling straight history as any historian, ancient or modern. As an ex-atheist, I wouldn't be part of a group that didn't have at least that level of consistency.

As you are well aware, accurate timeline history is a Western invention, not something other cultures really cared deeply about. The practice of historiography, like the practice of science itself, is something that has only come vibrantly alive in the J-C tradition. It was still-born in other cultures, when it was conceived at all.

I have as much confidence in the truth-telling abilities of ancient Jewish and Christian scholars as I do in the truth-telling abilities of ancient pagan scholars. That is, I generally assume the surviving records we have of their reports relate the truth, if only because most cultures don't really tolerate liars.

Richard Carrier said...

Charles Freeman said... I am a historian working in this field and my A New History of Early Christianity (Yale University Press, 2009) may or may not be of interest.

It is indeed. And I have ordered it. The MacMullen book as well. I often recommend his other works. This one is new to me. It sounds quite valuable.

Just FYI, as I'm sure you can tell by now Kellmeyer is a lunatic. Anyway, I did not say Wikipedia is a reliable source, but that he could not dismiss something Wikipedia says merely because it's in Wikipedia, any more than he could dismiss what any other encyclopedia says merely because it's in an encyclopedia. Kellmeyer refuses to actually check a fact to refute it, so resorts instead to the fallacy of false generalization ("Wikipedia sometimes errs, therefore Wikipedia errs in every instance that disagrees with me"). Which is irrational. To illustrate his fallacy another commenter directed him to a scientific study (still upheld by peer review) that confirms that Britannica's website contains as many errors as Wikipedia does (the study was double blind, and thus unassailable, a point Britannica ignores in its lame attempt to attack the study).

Of course, we historians well know we never use tertiary sources in our fundamental research at all (whether Britannica or Wikipedia), but there's a difference between citing Wikipedia as your final authority, and referring someone to Wikipedia for a fact you have independently checked against primary sources (and for which Wikipedia itself cites both scholarship and sources). Kellmeyer wants to pretend doing the latter is identical to doing the former. All so he can persist in denying proven facts. (Did I mention he's a lunatic?)

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Is someone a lunatic on the internet?

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... As you are well aware, accurate timeline history is a Western invention, not something other cultures really cared deeply about.

China kept accurate timeline histories. So did Sumer, Babylonia, Persia, and Islamic civilization. So I have no idea what you are talking about here.

The practice of historiography, like the practice of science itself, is something that has only come vibrantly alive in the J-C tradition. It was still-born in other cultures, when it was conceived at all.

That's nonsense. Empirical historiography only declined in the middle ages under Christian tenure. It wasn't revived to ancient pagan standards until the Scientific Revolution. It was perfectly vibrant before that, having been born healthy and strong in Classical Greece (Thucydides, Aristotle), improved in the Hellenistic period (Eratosthenes, Polybius), and continued in the Roman era (Josephus, Dio). Which doesn't mean any of this was anywhere near as reliable as modern historical methodology (even the best of ancient historians exhibit error, inaccuracy, bias, fabrication, and deception--we can locate instances in every single one).

Steve Kellmeyer said... I generally assume the surviving records we have of their reports relate the truth, if only because most cultures don't really tolerate liars.

No competent historian is that naive. Read Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation by Michael Grant, just for starters. I summarize the field on this point in Not the Impossible Faith, chapter 7 (pp. 161-218).

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Richard,

The only way to believe Loftus' argument is to assume that the testimony scientists themselves made about their own motivation is erroneous. That is, Loftus claims to understand the motivations of people like Newton, Faraday, etc., better than the named principles explicitly did.

I doubt that.
So would most people capable of normal thought. But your thesis depends on Loftus' madness.

As for Theodosius "forcing" everyone, you have GOT to be kidding. I AGAIN ask you how an emperor could force an entire empire to do something it didn't want to do. And you again simply reply with bald assertion and hand-waving. Revolutions have been founded on much smaller causes than this one, yet Theodosius and his successors were peculiarly immune to any revolution that would overthrow THIS forced conversion.

Now, some Christians would agree with you wholeheartedly, and go on to insist that this was proof of God's miraculous protection, for it certainly IS a miracle that one man should manage such a thing.

I take the natural explanation - the culture wanted to move in this direction.

You insist having a result that (if we believe your characterization) could only be achieved by supernatural intervention, but you insist on not having the supernatural explanation.

In short, you choose the worst of both worlds. The only reason you have a career at all is that a lot of people WANT you to be right. If it were otherwise, you would be living out of a cardboard box, screaming at the traffic with Richard Dawkins.

As for Magnus' discovery of how to isolate arsenic, I am merely quoting your favorite source to you: Wikipedia!

So, you have to shut up and accept that you are wrong, Richard. Your own source - the one you so strenuously defended as incredibly accurate - has torn the rug from beneath your fragile feet.

As for transubstantation, I predicted you would make EXACTLY that mistake when I said you didn't understand the Aristotelian difference between substance and accident. My graduate theology degree is in Catholic theology, friend.

The fact that you would invoke empirical evidence as an adequate test towards a thing's substance shows that you don't really understand Aristotle at all, much less any idea built on his philosophy.

The substance of the bread is transformed into Christ's but it is not physically His body. The physicality of a thing is its accident. Empiricism can never get past the accident - it can only test the accident. It cannot touch the substance.

Philosophical nuance such as this is lost on non-Catholics such as yourself (and, to be honest, it is lost on quite a few uninstructed Catholics as well).

This failure to understand philosophical nuance is part of the reason you find it so difficult to recognize the Catholic basis of scientific thought. You aren't able to get into the skin of the Catholics who laid the groundwork, so you can't understand their motivations or the context of their thoughts.

All you can see is what they did externally. You can't see what thoughts brought them to do those external things. A non-Catholic simply doesn't have the necessary grounding to "see" internally into the mind of a Christian, much less a Catholic Christian.

As for the Philoponus quote, you know aver that "substantially" means "quoted once."

You must read different dictionaries than I do.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Richard,

Are you really as much a nut as you pretend? How many archeological digs did the Babylonians, Sumerians or Muslims do?

And why do you think Islam is somehow not influenced by Christianity? It didn't come into existence until 600 years AFTER Christianity began to spread, and the Quran cribs widely off Talmudic, OT and NT passages. Indeed, Islam sees Jesus as a great prophet, the one who will judge the world on the Last Day. Why you would bring it forward as something that is not connected to Christianity is beyond me.

Richard, I didn't say that Greek and Roman historians were always 100% truthful. They just didn't set out to lie to people. Most historians (perhaps you excluded) don't.

Pikemann Urge said...

I pointed out that the historians turned out to be absolutely wrong and the theologians absolutely right.

This from a Catholic theologian? No theologian would make a statement like this.

From all the statements made about King David in the Bible, which ones have been shown to be probably right and which ones have been shown to be probably wrong?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Of course theologians would make a statement like that. I just did.

The historians who questioned the very existence of King David were absolutely wrong.

The theologians who agreed that Scripture accurately described King David's existence were absolutely right.

Unless you wish to take issue with the stele the archeologists found in 1993?

Pikemann Urge said...

They had good reason to question the existence of King David (which is different from putting a probability of 0.00 on his existence). I find historians don't question enough. Those pyramids at Gizeh are tombs? Give me a break. Some deny the parallel between Orion's belt and the layout of the three main pyramids, as if admitting this mere fact opens the door to all manner of silliness.

We now know that King David did exist. And it's a great discovery. And historians had to change their positions. Which happens often enough.

I don't necessarily think that Shakespeare existed, but it doesn't mean that he didn't. My opinion so far: it's really Marlowe.

Charles Freeman said...

Steve, I have dealt in detail with Theodosius' part in enforcing Nicene orthodoxy on the church in my AD 381. I do warn you that it is a history book based on historical sources and not a theological study so it may not be of interest to you. The important point to note is that the historical record shows that Theodosius had made adherence to the Trinity law (in that no one could claim to be a bishop or receive the tax exemptions that the state had given the church since Constantine unless they signed up to it). It was only after this that a council of bishops already committed to Nicea were summoned to meet at Constantinople and even then we don't really know what they achieved. Theodosius followed his laws on the Trinity with widespread discrimination against other Christians - they were not allowed to have churches within cities for instance - and a massive campaign against paganism in the 390s which was enforced quite dramatically by some of his more enthusiastic civil servants.
I can't see much point in taking this discussion further as the way you see history and the way I do are so dramatically apart. Have a good new year, Charles Freeman.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Charles,

I'm an historian as well as a theologian, Charles. I'm fully aware that Theodosius made Trinitarian Christianity the official religion of Empire in 381 AD. I've lectured on that point many times.

I am perfectly aware that law is meant to force certain subpopulations to do things they don't want to do.

My point is not that Theodosius was not at all coercive, but that the entirety of Roman culture WAS ALREADY MOVING towards Trinitarian Christianity or Theodosius could never have passed his laws to begin with.

Why do you think Constantine didn't pass such laws, even though he clearly wanted to? He didn't pass them because he didn't think he could make them stick without losing hold of the Empire.

60 years later, Theodosius COULD make them stick, so he DID pass them.

To say that Theodosius passed such laws in the face of massive opposition, or forced the whole of Empire kicking and screaming into Christian faith is to assert nonsense. Given the size of the Roman Empire and the nature of control at that time, there were limits to what an emperor could decree.

Heck, try reading "The Limits of Hitler's Power" sometime. If Hitler couldn't get away with it against the Catholics, despite a much smaller domain and much more powerful military and popular support, it's just absurd to say the Roman emperor could do it against the pagans unless the general population already bought into it at some level.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Sorry to follow up to my own post, but you as much as admit to what I am saying when you say Theodosius' campaign was "enforced quite dramatically by some of his more enthusiastic civil servants."

Exactly my point. The bureaucracy was essentially Christian, and more than willing to move things along. That same bureaucracy could have stymied implementation quite easily.

At the same time, the bureaucracy went along with it because they knew the general population wasn't going to dramatically interfere in the enforcement.

Bureaucrats don't like getting killed by mobs any better than emperors do.

They wouldn't have been so enthusiastic, indeed, they COULDN'T have been so enthusiastic, if the general population didn't support their enthusiasm.

Now, population being what it is, I'm sure certain provinces were generally opposed to the implementation. But the Empire as a whole wasn't - Christianity was adopted by the pagan Greeks and Romans because it was seen by most people as the right direction.

And they held on to Christianity not for a decade or two, but for millennia, giving up the thin veneer of scientism that had arisen among the elites as the pagan gods died. Empirical science was only permitted to return once they had figured out how to integrate it with the new faith.

Even then, quite unlike their experience with paganism, they didn't give up the new faith - they proceeded with both, the theology leading and the empiricism struggling to keep up as they followed the Scriptural injunction to "Test Everything! Retain what is of God!"

Charles Freeman said...

Well, Steve, as you know exactly what happened there will be no need for you to read my book. In fact there is quite a lot of evidence of determined resistance to the imposition of the Nicene alternative but as my book AD 381 is in paperback and only has 200 pages of text there is no reason for you not to buy and read a copy if you are interested in knowing about it. However, I think you might well want to keep your mind pure.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, Charlie, "the historian can say very little for certain about Jesus and the early Christian movement."

I'm sure I'll read your book at some point, but even as I read your "expert" case, your little voice will keep niggling in the back of my head... you have already stated you don't really know very much.

But now your initial conceit that you could "say very little" turns into:
"You damn well better believe everything I say, and if you don't, you're a close-minded theological bigot with no appreciation for history."

And, to top it off, you attribute an omniscience to me that I've never claimed so that you can dispense with having to deal with the basic logical problems my comments pose to your theses.

I like the way you indulge in ad hominem and strawman fallacies, but I'm not surprised. I've noticed that "professional historians" - at least the two on this blog - aren't really very good at logic.

You prefer stating some basic facts, than making grand assertions even as you sweep contradictory evidence under the rug.

One of my old history profs, a fabulous and brilliant lecturer, once remarked that of all the historians whose hypotheses he had ever read, only one had ever proven himself wrong. All the others marshaled the evidence so as to demonstrate that their initial hypotheses were correct.

He thought this a remarkable demonstration of the intellectual acumen of historians.

And he laughed when he said it.

I think, were he to read this exchange, he would be laughing still.

Charles Freeman said...

Steve, As the end of your last post makes clear, you despise conventional historians, especially when they might provide new evidence that upsets your straitjacketed version of history. This has been clear throughout this discussion which is the reason I would not want to take it any further.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Charles,

On the contrary.

I have great respect for professional historians.

I just don't have a lot of respect for you or Richard.

Pikemann Urge said...

I have great respect for professional historians.

The ones which toe the line, don't rock the boat and keep things comfortable for you? Got it.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

You know, I was thinking about this debate, trying to figure out why you guys don't get it.

I had nearly an identical debate 20 years ago when I was still an atheist. It was in a graduate sociology course.

Everyone in it was blathering on about how a the medieval response to the plague was ridiculously over the top, the result of normal channels of conversation being shut down, yada, yada, yada.

I thought the conversation ludicrous. I pointed out that the people being subject to these "dictatorial" plague rules obviously went along with them. There's almost no reports of massive uprisings against the authorities for the way they treated plague victims.

If people didn't like the law, they would have ignored the law. If the authorities had tried to enforce the law anyway, there would have been a revolt - either an open revolt or a passive-aggressive revolt where the law was on the books but no one enforced it.

From an historical perspective, we see this constantly. So why didn't the sociology group get it 20 years ago? Why don't you people get it now?

All I can figure is, you really don't understand personal autonomy. You don't believe in it. You really don't believe in things like free will, personal responsibility, etc.

You subscribe to the Great Man theory of history, in which a great leader (or leaders) "push men around like blocks of wood. But men are not blocks of wood." You haven't ever read John Brown's Body by Stephen Vincent Binet, or if you did, you didn't believe it.

In short, you don't understand the human person. So, sociologists and historians who lack this understanding put forward nonsensical theories like those put forward by Carrier, Freeman and Loftus.

You all try to make believe that an empire full of individually autonomous people can be forced into any direction whatsoever as long as it's a Great Man (tm) pushing the direction.

I'm not a Great Man historian. There's a reason the definition of "person" must be thoroughly understood before you can be a professional historian or a professional sociologist.

Sure, you can have a Ph.D. and you can write books with lots of footnotes, and spew facts like a fire hydrant, but you ultimately don't ever understand people - the ordinary people in the street who have to put up with the Great Men, endure them, survive them.

That's the source of this problem - and I've fought it as both an atheist and a theist.

Pikemann Urge said...

All I can figure is, you really don't understand personal autonomy. You don't believe in it. You really don't believe in things like free will, personal responsibility, etc.

That is not true. The issue is certainly complex. Some things we do out of free will. Some things we have - like preferences - which are just there. E.g. favourite colour, who is the prettiest girl in school, etc.

You really think that non-religious persons do not understand this sort of thing? Or that we dismiss it?

I think perhaps you do understand it - but your problem is that you deny what is plainly true, those facts which don't strengthen your worldview or ego.

You all try to make believe that an empire full of individually autonomous people can be forced into any direction whatsoever as long as it's a Great Man (tm) pushing the direction.

We all have the capacity to be autonomous. But, as the great religious traditions (especially Buddhism) have implied or realized, many of us by default are reactionary beings. Our egos rule us and we react with glee to those things which stroke our egos and with venom to those things which offend it. When we realize, truly and deeply, that we don't have to react anymore, then we can be more or less autonomous.

One day I will visit the controversy around Hitler's Willing Executioners, which no doubt will deal with such themes. It will be interesting reading, I'm sure.

Speaking of sociology, even you would not deny that society plays a part in our identities. 100% autonomy is obviously unreachable.

That's the source of this problem - and I've fought it as both an atheist and a theist.

I was first an atheist, then a theist, now neither. And the source of all problems is our reactionary nature - a consequence of our primitive ancestry. So say I. Needless to say, you are welcome to disagree.

Charles Freeman said...

Steve, As you have provided no evidence that you have read any single one of my books, I think you would be better off not commenting what kind of a historian I am until you have. You don't help yourself by not having done your homework.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"You really think that non-religious persons do not understand this sort of thing? Or that we dismiss it?"

I don't think you dismiss it, I think you really don't understand it.

Look, do you even know where the definition of the word "person" comes from? How it is derived and who derived it?

Do you understand why it was derived in the way that it was, and who studied it, bit by painful bit, to arrive at the conclusions that we all take for granted today?

Sure, a physicist can do physics without understanding the four fundamental forces (historically, most of the people who did physics didn't know about any of them), but a physicist who DOES understand those forces is going to do a lot better job than one who doesn't even know they exist.

Anyone who tries to study and understand the interactions of persons without first really knowing what a person is, that individual is going to have tough sledding.

Why do you think Greco-Roman civilization turned away from its empiricism? It's because the Greeks really understood that the first problem is to know yourself.

Do you really think it's THAT hard for Christians - the people who invented the doctrine of original sin - to admit that various rulers (popes, emperors, etc.) were evil or did tremendously evil things? Please.

It's not that it's difficult to admit. It's that it's so obvious it's jejune, like writing a history in which the account of every day begins with 'and the sun again rose in the east.'

The question isn't about whether Theodosius attempted to impose Christianity via force - of course he did. The question is, why did he succeed?

And the answer never involves swords. Every one of those swords was wielded by a man who first had to be convinced to raise it against Theodosius' "enemies" instead of against Theodosius himself.

Sure, we're reactionary, but we're also primary actors. It isn't one or the other, it's both-and. The Christmas Truce spontaneously sprang forth during WW I. The Janissaries turned to the Caliph and said, "No. We're not going to attack the gates of Vienna today. We're going home." The "Indians" threw the tea in the harbor. The examples can be endlessly multiplied.

The question isn't why the Great Man succeeds, but why the people let him become a Great Man at all. Saying "Theodosius imposed it" is not an explanation - it's just a quivering blob of useless jello that explains as much as saying "It was done by magic" or "God did it."

All you do is exchange God for Theodosius.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Charles,

Oh, I don't know about that.

After all, you felt pretty free to judge me based just on what little you have read of my comments here (and you clearly didn't even bother to read all of that).

I don't see why I should use a different standard on you than you use on me.

Or are you a Great Man who deserves such special treatment, whose every thought and word should be studied before judgement is passed, while I'm just a nobody who warrants no special consideration?

Yes, I think any disinterested observer can see where you stand on Great Man theory - even if you apply it only to yourself.

Pikemann Urge said...

Look, do you even know where the definition of the word "person" comes from? How it is derived and who derived it?

AFAIK it came from the word for 'mask'. Alan Watts (a British philosopher who communicated Buddhism to the West) made the point that when we say "the genuine person", technically we don't know that we're literally saying "the genuine fake"! Kind of sort of.

Do you really think it's THAT hard for Christians - the people who invented the doctrine of original sin - to admit that various rulers (popes, emperors, etc.) were evil or did tremendously evil things? Please.

I certainly don't doubt that and I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I did. I recall an archbishop casually stating on a TV interview that the Church has had "bad Popes." I here it quite often from Christian commentators etc.

Sure, we're reactionary, but we're also primary actors. It isn't one or the other, it's both-and.

Some folks make the same mistakes again and again. They haven't even woken up! They don't want solutions, they just want dramas. But that's another issue.

Indeed what you're saying is true (e.g. trends, sentiments, morality, fashion all spring from the ground up). I am not sure whether or not the Great Man hypothesis is true or not or to what degree.

I think you are more right than wrong. In light of that, it's odd that you think that Christianity was a necessary catalyst for the scientific revolution. It wasn't and Richard and others have shown that it wasn't. The validity of the faith is not determined by this question anyway.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer said... All I can figure is, you really don't understand personal autonomy. You don't believe in it. You really don't believe in things like free will, personal responsibility, etc.

If that's all you can figure, then you are hopelessly obtuse.

You subscribe to the Great Man theory of history.

I do not. Had you read anything of mine on these subjects (particularly my discussions in chapter 15 of The Christian Delusion and chapter 18 of Not the Impossible Faith) you would know that. Hence the obtuse remark.

If people didn't like the law, they would have ignored the law.

Why would people obey the law? Because it was brutally enforced by men with swords. Why would the men with swords enforce the law? Because they were paid to (or, as the case often was, they believed they were "right" and the refusers were "wrong," the very thinking that sustains brutal Chinese and Islamic tyrannies to this day).

The genocide of the Gazan pagans is a classic example (NIF pp. 21-23). Once it got out your whole city's population (like Gaza's) might be buried for resisting, resisting costs too much. It's easier to just give in and adopt whatever is being forced on you. Exactly as happened in all Marxist regimes in the 20th century. And yet they learned much more quickly the economic poverty of autocracy, because they had the economic success of democracy literally on their very borders mocking them daily. The Medievals had no such public display of their folly. So they persisted in it for a thousand years believing there was none better to be had.

As for all else you've argued, you are now simply ignoring everything I say. I've already answered your every point. And now you are attributing beliefs to me (such as that Wikipedia is always reliable) that I have explicitly demonstrated are not mine. Conversation with you is pointless.

We're done.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Pikeman,

Ask a physicist what color a quark is and he won't answer red, yellow or blue. Physics redefined the word "color" and gave it a radically different meaning. Even referencing the old meaning in regards to the new one really doesn't make a lot of sense.

In the same way Christianity redefined the word "person." Watts doesn't understand this so he makes that ridiculous remark.

Without Christianity, there would be no concept of "person." Christians developed the concept in order to explain the three Persons of the Trinity - a person is that which possesses an intellect and a will. Another way of saying it is "an individual substance of a rational nature." Same thing.

In any case, NO OTHER CULTURE had this conception. For this reason, only Christians could really move beyond the animism of pagans like Aristotle. Moving beyond animism is critical for developing science. A purely numerical/empirical description of a thing is possible if it is inanimate, but not obviously possible if it is animate.

Now, why do I subscribe to the idea that Christianity is necessary for science while a particular Great Man is not? Precisely because - apart from that Jesus person - Christianity doesn't rely on any particular person. It is a philosophy, a worldview.

Every particular man has a particular worldview, but many men must share a worldview for a movement to start. Science is a movement. It requires a shared worldview, a shared vocabulary, a shared means of expression.

Modern science couldn't take off without a printing press - a cheap means of sharing ideas in a widely literate society. But the printing press isn't worth inventing unless you think everyone ought to have a chance to read something.

No point building a better mouse trap if the mouse is rare. No point building a printing press if the audience that would use it is not forseeably large.

The Greeks didn't invent a printing press in part because they didn't see a pressing need. Christians, however, had an enormous pressing need for communicating the Gospel. That's why Christian Rome spent a lot of time developing written versions of all kinds of spoken languages. The printing press was developed to help spread the Gospel, and precisely that kind of massive communication channel was needed for science to develop as the community effort it is.

So, Carrier et. al. are absolutely wrong when they say other cultures could have developed science. Unlike Christians - who point to the empirical evidence that no one else ever DID it - Carrier and his non-Christian friends spin webs of dreams about what might have been if only the sky were chartreuse and dragons roamed the land.

They can't point to any empirical evidence to the contrary because there isn't any. Carrier goes crazy trying to shoehorn the Greco-Roman world into a 20th-century mindset, but it ultimately doesn't work because it's anachronistic. He can't afford to admit that, of course, because he's a bigot, so he just keeps spinning his theories and cursing those who point out his logical failures.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Carrier even admits that the men with the swords "believed" but he can't bring himself to admit that the Gazans couldn't have been slaughtered unless they were a substantially minority opinion.

He's constantly pontificating about the importance of a group of men who were ultimately pretty marginal to the grand sweep of Greco-Roman civilization. He has to make Theodosius into a god of some sort in order to make his theories work.

But better Theodosius as god then God. Anything rather than face the fact that, although he's got a great command of the facts, he has no freakin' clue how to accurately interpret those facts. He just spins silly theories all day and calls it scholarship.

He can't really figure out how to get inside the head of a person because he doesn't really understand who a person is. He's making the same mistakes the Aristotelian philosophers made in the pre-Galilean universities.

It took a thousand years for Christians to get the understanding of person well-defined enough and well-advertised enough to allow Galileo to crush Aristotelian animism.

You have to remember that Galileo's major opposition didn't come from the Church - it came from university professors like Carrier and Freeman and Loftus. The university profs, headed by Columbe's "League of the Dove", were the ones who hounded Galileo and drug a reluctant Church into not one but two trials.

But you won't hear anything about that from Carrier and company.

Pikemann Urge said...

In the same way Christianity redefined the word "person." Watts doesn't understand this so he makes that ridiculous remark.

It was a joke - precisely because the word has an expanded meaning.

Without Christianity, there would be no concept of "person."

A claim worth investigating.

Christians developed the concept in order to explain the three Persons of the Trinity - a person is that which possesses an intellect and a will.

Interesting. That's probably the first practical application of the Trinity I've heard of. In that case, it's a good thing that Christianity adopted this belief.

It is a philosophy, a worldview.

There most certainly is a Christian worldview. But Christianity as a philosophy? Jesus was not a philosopher (that's not a derogatory statement). Is that not a handicap on the notion that Christianity is a philosophy?

The Greeks didn't invent a printing press in part because they didn't see a pressing need.

It seems to me a catch-22. Low literacy rates meant that handwriting was adequate. Which probably kept literacy rates low, which didn't spark the desire to invent the press.

There was no 'need' for the Sony Walkman. And the reason why PDAs failed while the iPhone & iPad succeeded? PDA makers listened to their existing customers instead of ignoring them. They were the wrong people to ask. Interested?

http://www.asymco.com/2010/12/27/the-parable-of-the-the-pda-predicting-the-smartphones-future/

The printing press was developed to help spread the Gospel, and precisely that kind of massive communication channel was needed for science to develop as the community effort it is.

But the pre-Reformation RCC did not see a huge need to produce large volumes of Bibles to the laity. Not until after Gutenberg's time, anyway.

At the same time as the Gospels were being typeset, indigenous South American books were being burned. I think one or two survive in the Vatican library.

precisely that kind of massive communication channel was needed for science to develop as the community effort it is.

It is 100% true that science could not proceed at the rates that it did without the movable type press. Sure, it could have progressed, but not nearly as quickly.

So, Carrier et. al. are absolutely wrong when they say other cultures could have developed science.

Could have? They did. But this science was deprecated so much in the centuries after Rome fell that it took a long while to recover. It did recover in the Christian world - and was resisted. And is still resisted to this day.

But you won't hear anything about that from Carrier and company.

I'll leave you and the other Ph.Ds. here to discuss those issues among yourselves. I don't know enough to form an opinion on your last comment.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

The personhood concept is critical for Western civilization because no other culture, not even the Hebrews, spent any time developing this technical concept. It is as precise, as arcane, and as central to Western philosophy, theology and science as the four forces are to physics.

Whenever anyone discusses personhood, they are discussing a peculiarly Christian concept.

Everyone had low literacy prior to the printing press, so that alone can't explain the lack of the use of press technology.

The Chinese had the press long before us, but they had an immense ideographic vocabulary to which the press wasn't suited AND they had no interest in barbarians or barbarian languages. They were (or at least saw themselves as) self-sufficient.

The Greco-Roman world had much the same attitude - they didn't mind conquering neighbors and gladly welcomed in neighboring gods, but they didn't have an evangelistic attitude towards their corpus of knowledge. They weren't trying to spread Aristotelianism. The literati saw themselves as above the common man and the slave.

But Christianity... that was a different animal. Christian philosophy necessarily considers everyone else at LEAST equal, and actually says Christians should consider themselves LESS than everyone else - there is no one beneath them. So no one can be ignored.

Furthermore, they are VERY evangelistic about their corpus of knowledge - everyone needs to know it. So Christians have a pressing need to communicate that no one else had. Even physical wealth and the need for trade was not so great as the need to communicate the Gospel.

You're quite wrong about the Bible not being spread prior to the printing press. It was spread quite widely, and whole written languages were invented precisely to do it - Old Slavonic, Germanic, Bibles or portions thereof in Spanish, Portuguese, English... They were spread as widely as a scribal society could manage it.

You don't see any other culture so intent on translating "barbarian" tongues, both human language and the Gospel written in the language of nature.

This driving need to COMMUNICATE is at the heart of the scientific paradigm. Greco-Roman natural philosophy was not a community in any overarching sense. It didn't have the peer review needed to be real science. It was just a few stray guys studying the world and writing down what they saw.

Science - modern science - is naturally evangelistic, it has a natural drive to communicate. It learned both of these habits at its mother's knee. It is logical and it denies animism, just as its mother did and still does.

Modern science is a Christian child.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Oh, and you're right.
Jesus was NOT a philosopher.

But the people who followed Him had this peculiar idea that everything He said was (a) true (b) in complete accordance with Hebrew Scriptures and (c) in complete accordance with the natural world.

The basis of Christianity is, in part, that truth cannot contradict Truth.

So, philosophy was forced to develop extremely nuanced and careful thought in order to reconcile all the seemingly contradictions that emerged from simultaneously holding these concepts.

The extreme nuance needed for much of this theological philosophy matches anything you see in particle physics in terms of subtlety and complexity, if only because Christian philosophy MUST necessarily agree with every aspect of what is definitely known about the physical universe and the historical events that take place within it.

And just FYI, Galileo was never convicted of heresy. He was vehemently suspected of it, but never convicted of it. He's the only scientist who the Church ever put on trial.

Thomas Huxley, the man who invented the word "agnostic" and who strenuously championed Darwin's theory (which most Christians initially had no quarrel with, by the way), Huxley investigated the Galileo affair and concluded that the Catholic Church was not at fault.

Try to come up with another "martyr" of science. You can't. Scientists have persecuted a lot more of their own brethren than Catholics ever have.

This is all the more true when you consider that Galileo's persecution was begun by university professors. If it's any consolation, Galileo actively despised university professors. He used to compose (very popular) scatalogical verses making fun of them.

It is the height of irony that these same profs use the man they martyred as their mascot today.

And it's no coincidence that Galileo's scientific treatises are translated into English, but his poetry is not...

Pikemann Urge said...

Whenever anyone discusses personhood, they are discussing a peculiarly Christian concept.

I wish I had something to say here but once again I'll say that I'll have to investigate that.

Everyone had low literacy prior to the printing press, so that alone can't explain the lack of the use of press technology.


I may not understand you here but I don't think I have an issue with that. Or maybe I wasn't clear enough with my previous comment.

Christian philosophy necessarily considers everyone else at LEAST equal, and actually says Christians should consider themselves LESS than everyone else

So which is it? And I don't consider it a triumph of ethics that Christians should consider themselves less than others. Modesty? Yes, but that's different.

Even physical wealth and the need for trade was not so great as the need to communicate the Gospel.

Yes - they did indeed have a priority on communicating the Gospel. But that wasn't enough for Western man. No, indigenous peoples had to be preached to, by force if necessary; and they had to be Westernized as much as possible, whether they liked it or not.

Mind you, the Spanish did stop human sacrifices. And the British did put an end to wife burning in India. I guess that's something. Christianity can't be all bad.

You're quite wrong about the Bible not being spread prior to the printing press.

I don't have an issue with that. It most certainly was spread. Just not to the lay person.

This driving need to COMMUNICATE is at the heart of the scientific paradigm.

The heart of science is to study nature and to benefit from that information. Communication - whether by hand or by press - makes it practical.

It didn't have the peer review needed to be real science.

Tactic: find something lacking in ancient science and use that to show how it wasn't 'real' science.

Peer review is a method which helps science filter out substandard work. I'm glad we have it, even though it can occasionally be used as politically to stifle ideas that reviewers don't like. Thankfully that's rare (and we're human, after all).

Modern science is a Christian child.

Let's say that's true, just for a moment. If so, then science is a far greater contribution than anything else that Christianity has come up with. In that case, I look forward to seeing the churches get rid of the dogmas and other things that don't benefit humanity.

But the people who followed Him had this peculiar idea that everything He said was (a) true (b) in complete accordance with Hebrew Scriptures and (c) in complete accordance with the natural world.

b) is interesting, only because the early Christians were divided as to whether their faith should be apart from Judaism or a continuation of it. We are in no doubt as to what the author of gMatthew thought.

I don't know enough about the Galileo question.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Interesting. That's probably the first practical application of the Trinity I've heard of. In that case, it's a good thing that Christianity adopted this belief.

Here's a riddle for you, Pikeman.

I think you can see why the uniquely Christian concept of "person" and the uniquely judeo-Christian concept that all persons are equal before God, that these two concepts are key to the entire development of Western civilization.

Can you tell me why none of your professors, none of the historians of science or philosophy, have bothered to mention who came up with these two concepts or why these two concepts are important?

Isn't it odd that the very people who vilify Christians as benighted, backwards, knuckle-dragging fools happen to consistently leave this out of their discussions?

What a fascinating hole to have in one's scholarship, wouldn't you say?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Oh, the Christians didn't just stop human sacrifice in India and Central America.

They stopped human sacrifice in Rome as well.

Didn't Carrier and Freeman mention this? It's even mentioned in Dick's precious Wikipedia! The Romans were FINE with human sacrifice - they sacrificed slaves and buried them in the foundations of buildings, among other things. That's what the gladiator games were all about, after all.

The baptized are all equal before God and all have an equal shot at salvation. "The last shall be first" meant that every Christian is supposed to put the needs of everyone else (Christian or not) ahead of his own.

Yes, everyone needs to be baptized, but Christian theology always recognized that forced baptism was not valid, even if individual mobs in specific situations might not always have agreed.

While experimental science is all about studying nature, that study is built on the replicated experiment. You can't replicate what you don't know about (thus Henry Cavendish doesn't get credit for a lot of what he did). Thus, built into the very heart of empirical science is the need for a community of observers and replicators.

That community is largely what is missing from the Greco-Roman situation.

And that isn't a tactic, Pikeman, it's just a fact.

What keeps astrology from being an empirical science? It has a community, but that community doesn't attempt to replicate results.

What keeps creationism from being a science? It isn't published in peer-reviewed journals.

If the community hasn't replicated it, or at least heard about it and discussed it, it isn't considered fully science.

It's like a marriage - it has to be consummated to be fully a marriage.

You say that science is a far greater contribution than anything else Christianity has come up with.

Even greater than the ideas of:
(1) personhood,
(2) equality of all,
and
(3) individual rights given not by government but inherent to each person because it derives from God?

Do you think THESE concepts have any value? Because they are all uniquely Christian as well.

Why do you think we stopped human sacrifice? What difference does it make to a Christian if the pagans want to sacrifice one another?

According to Christian theology, we are all brothers, sprung from the same parents, and thus your baptismal status is immaterial. I have a duty to save you from an unjust death even if you aren't a Christian.

Is THAT worth anything, Pikeman?

All the Christian dogmas are tightly tied in with the above ideas. Throw away those other dogmas and you weaken these.

I know.
I've tried.
It doesn't work.

Richard Carrier said...

Steve Kellmeyer, I'm sick of these lunatic ramblings of yours. You keep asserting as fact things that are not only false, but that you really ought to know are absurd, and clearly make no effort to check are true. I don't care at all any more about your ill logic (you are just ignoring me now, so you are no longer even interacting with my arguments). But I'm not going to let factually false claims be posted here without correction.

Since you aren't even trying to find out if your claims are true, you are a classic purveyor of bullshit. The following examples will demonstrate.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Richard!

I thought you were "done"?!?

So, what claim do you not like?

Are you going to tell me that Christians didn't actually define the word person? Let me guess... you're going to say Galen did it? Or maybe Marcus Aurelius?

You're frothing so much that you aren't even writing complete thoughts anymore.

Richard Carrier said...

Technology bullshit...

Steve Kellmeyer said... The Greeks didn't invent a printing press in part because they didn't see a pressing need. Christians, however, had an enormous pressing need for communicating the Gospel.

This is ridiculous. The Greeks had a massive publishing industry (and thus clearly saw a pressing need for efficient large scale printing), not only for books (for education as well as personal interest), but also large printing operations for producing political pamphlets (for which a printing press is a far more obvious need than is so for bibles) and technical manuals (such as were produced by Galen, Dioscorides, and Hero).

Many Greek scientists even complained of the need for accurate reproduction of scientific drawings, and in an attempt to answer this demand Hero invented the pantograph (a less efficient mechanical precursor to the printing press). Likewise evangelism was a major component not only of the mystery religions of the time (the priests of Isis, Mithras, and Cybele trod the earth seeking converts and spreading their Gospel), but also the philosophical schools, Stoics, Cynics, and Epicureans especially, e.g. Diogenes published the entire Epicurean philosophy in stone on a major public portico specifically, as he explicitly says, to evangelize the worldview (Lucretius declares the same aim in his composition of the De Rerum Natura); indeed, the massive epigraphic industry of the time evinces a need to publicize all manner of knowledge and information (religion is not the only motive for such needs, though I can understand your irrationally imagining no other is possible).

Had someone thought of a printing press, it would have shot up like gangbusters--exactly as it did in China (where, incidentally, they obviously had no need of a Bible to grasp the value of a printing press, which they used not only on books, but also in the production of, once again, political pamphlets). It was just a happenstance of history that it didn't occur to anyone in the West.

Inventions are only obvious in hindsight, which is why everything is not invented instantly: it takes continual centuries for seemingly obvious ideas to occur to people--exactly why Christians had this great need to evangelize you speak of yet in nearly 1500 years never once thought of a printing press--nor did God think to tell them about one, which IMO is pretty much a conclusive proof of the non-existence of the Christian God.

Richard Carrier said...

Philosophy bullshit...


Steve Kellmeyer said... The uniquely judeo-Christian concept that all persons are equal before God

That idea is present already in pagan intellectual thought of the Greco-Roman period. So it is not uniquely Judeo-Christian. It's fundamental to the mystery religions, as early as the rites of Eleusis, which were founded in close association with the development of democracy in Athens (a form of government based on fundamental equality which incidentally no Christian thought of instituting for well over a thousand years). They originated fictive kinship terminology in accordance with these ideals (initiates become "brothers" regardless of prior social station, this included woman, and all would enjoy the same rights and privileges in the afterlife equally). Stoics developed this concept into a formal legal theory of a universal "law of man" (and universal human rights) and the ideal state of man as a citizen of the world (in which social distinctions, like free/slave or senator/pauper, were merely incidental trappings and not fundamental to the nature of the men who find themselves in those stations).

The baptized are all equal before God and all have an equal shot at salvation.

This was borrowed from the mystery religions: as even Plato attests, initiates were "baptised" and therefore became equals (not only before God, but even each other), with an equal shot at salvation. Thus, again, the idea is originally pagan. Christians didn't invent it. But they did admirably (try) to adopt it (I say try, because the exact opposite was done by Christians, e.g. the institution of serfdom).

Steve Kellmeyer said... Without Christianity, there would be no concept of "person."...a person is that which possesses an intellect and a will..."an individual substance of a rational nature." Same thing....NO OTHER CULTURE had this conception.

I doubt you even checked if that claim is true for any culture (what have you read on the ancient Chinese philosophy of persons?). But it's certainly false as a generalization. That idea of a person originates with Aristotle. (read Aristotle's De Anima in light of related technical detail given in the Posterior Analytics and Metaphysics 5.8, 7.10). The extension of this definition to gods and demigods was explored by the Middle Platonists long before Christians started asking philosophical questions about the Trinity.

You have to remember that Galileo's major opposition didn't come from the Church - it came from university professors like Carrier and Freeman and Loftus. The university profs, headed by Columbe's "League of the Dove", were the ones who hounded Galileo and drug a reluctant Church into not one but two trials.

That is a hopelessly confused statement. That Galileo debated with other profs (indeed most of the academic establishment) is a wholly separate issue from why (and by whom) he was jailed for the rest of his life.

It's also a fantastical fallacy ("because the academic experts against Galileo were wrong, therefore the academic experts against Steve Kellmeyer are wrong"). This thread is now entering the realm of farce.

Richard Carrier said...

(On Stoic human rights theory see my online bonus chapter for TCD, Christianity Was Not Responsible for American Democracy)

Richard Carrier said...

Science bullshit...

Steve Kellmeyer said... So, Carrier et. al. are absolutely wrong when they say other cultures could have developed science.

The Greeks and Romans had science. So this statement is already proven false (the original blog here alone does that). But I've already refuted that claim directly at least three times in this thread and you keep ignoring me. That makes you a douchebag.

Built into the very heart of empirical science is the need for a community of observers and replicators.

And the ancients had that. Every science writer from Aristotle to Galen explicitly insists that their work be tested by replication. Galen and Ptolemy both frequently refer to their own efforts at replicating the work of others; Galen even wrote whole treatises specifically on how to competently replicate observations and experiments (in physiology). Hero declares as his specific purpose in writing his books the need of others to replicate his work. And so on. So nice try again, but you're still full of shit.

That community is largely what is missing from the Greco-Roman situation.

Since that is demonstrably false, I conclusively call bullshit.

This driving need to COMMUNICATE is at the heart of the scientific paradigm.

Indeed. And the Greeks and Romans had that driving need: that's why they published and publicly debated and communicated their ideas.

Greco-Roman natural philosophy was not a community in any overarching sense. It didn't have the peer review needed to be real science. It was just a few stray guys studying the world and writing down what they saw.

This is all completely false. In the Roman period there were established scientific associations in most major cities, and there were specifically known centers of public scientific debate (Galen tells us of many of these; e.g. the Temple of Peace at Rome was the known hot spot there for scientists to gather and debate, and it had a scientific library attached, and public "dissection battles" were performed there with large crowds in attendance, including major political figures), science was even a popular subject of public declamation (we have numerous examples of the subject's popularity with both speakers and audiences alike), and all the scientific works that survive from the era express the need, value, and desire to publish and communicate their results (as well as expressions of gratitude for being able to employ and build on the previous findings published and communicated--we find many such remarks and examples in the writings of Ptolemy). Vitruvius wrote a whole encomium on this, as did Galen, who declared it a religious duty to make, publish, and communicate scientific findings.

So once again, I call bullshit.

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