Friday, March 31, 2006

Sagan's Sophomoric Scientism

A while back, an anonymous poster contributed a quotation from Walker Percy that is excellent enough to bear repeating:

This chapter, as well as other parts of the book, owes a good deal to Carl Sagan's splendid picture book, Cosmos. I hope he will not take offense at some fanciful extrapolations therefrom. Sagan's book gave me much pleasure, a pleasure which was not diminished by Sagan's unmalicious, even innocent, scientism, the likes of which I have not encountered since the standard bull sessions of high school and college—up to but not past the sophomore year. The argument could be resumed with Sagan, I suppose, but the issue would be as inconclusive as it was between sophomores. For me it was more diverting than otherwise to see someone sketch the history of Western scientific thought and leave out Judaism and Christianity. Everything is downhill after the Ionians and until the rise of modern science. There is a huge gap between the destruction of the library at Alexandria and the appearance of Copernicus and Galileo. So much for six thousand years of Judaism and fifteen hundred years of Christianity. So much for the likes of Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen, Aquinas, Roger Bacon, Grosseteste. So much for the science historian A.C. Crombie, who wrote: "The natural philosophers of Latin Christendom in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries created the experimental science characteristic of modern times."

So much, indeed, for the relationship between Christianity and science and the fact that, as Whitehead pointed out, it is no coincidence that science sprang, not from Ionian metaphysics, not from the Brahmin-Buddhist-Taoist East, not from he Egyptian-Mayan astrological South, but from the heart of the Christian West, that although Galileo fell out with the Church, he would hardly have taken so much trouble studying Jupiter and dropping objects from towers if the reality and value and order of things had not first been conferred by belief in the Incarnation.

Yet one is not offended by Sagan. There is too little malice and too much ignorance. It is enough to take pleasure in the pleasant style, the knack for popularizing science, and the beautiful pictures of Saturn and the Ring nebula.

Indeed, more often than not, I found myself on Sagan's side, especially in his admiration for science and the scientific method, which is what he says it is—a noble, elegant, and self-correcting method of attaining a kind of truth—and when he attacks the current superstitions, astrology, UFOs, parapsychology, and such, which seem to engage the Western mind now more than ever—more perhaps than either science or Christianity.

What is to be deplored is not Sagan's sophomoric scientism—which I think I like better than its counterpart, a sophomoric theism which attributes the wonders of the Cosmos to a God who created it like a child with a cookie cutter—no, what is deplorable is that these serious issues involving God and the nature of man should be co-opted by these particular disputants, a popularizer like Sagan and fundamentalists who believe God created the world six thousand years ago. It's enough to give both science and Christianity a bad name.

Really, it is a case of an ancient and still honorable argument going to pot. Even arguments in a college dormitory are, or were, conducted at a higher level.

It is for this very reason that we can enjoy Cosmos so much, for the frivolity of Sagan's vulgar scientism and for the reason that science is, as Sagan says, self-correcting. One wonders, in fact, whether Sagan himself has not been corrected, e.g., by Hubble's discovery of the red shift and the present growing consensus of the Big Bang theory of the creation of the Cosmos, which surely comes closer than Sagan would like to the Genesis account of creatio ex nihilo.


Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: the Last Self-Help Book (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1983), 201-202.

23 comments:

Doctor Logic said...

I have hardly read a worse piece of utter bilge. Talk about co-option.

Six thousand years of Judaism? Really? Is that on the creationist calendar perhaps?

And Aristotle, who died in 322BCE, postdates the destruction of the library in Alexandria in a Christian pogrom in 391CE?

What could have befallen the world that so many of the technological, scientific and mathematical advances of the Greeks were lost or halted for the better part of two thousand years? Archimedes invents integral calculus before 212BCE only to have his work burned at Alexandria or his papers cut and washed clean to make prayer books. Calculus was re-invented by Newton and Liebniz in the Enlightenment about 1800 years later.

And who was it who fought Bacon tooth and nail? What force could have been responsible for Galen being the last to make significant medical progress until the 16th century? And what would become of scientists and scholars who had no rank or dispensation for free thought from the church? Do I smell smoke?

Talk about historical revisionism!

Holopupenko said...

DL:

Based on your MO as promulgated on your blog site, please provide empirical evidence (meaning only that data which can obtained immediately through the five primary senses) to support your emotionally-charged (ad hominem, intolerance for other’s beliefs, etc.) assertions.

I think we’re all interested in evidence that supports your personal opinion that Newton “re-invented” the calculus and that Archimedes “invented” integral calculus before 212 B.C. In particular, what empirical evidence can you provide that supports your imaginative allegation that Archimedes had “his papers cut and washed clean to make prayer books.”

(How would you compare the latter to “scientifically- and secularly-based” regimes such as that in China and the former Soviet Union (body counts over 100 million) destroying generations of religious artifacts, architecture, and consigning millions to gulags?)

Note: you will not be permitted to interpret the data you provide. Why? Any attempt at interpretation produces new knowledge that is clearly not sensory knowledge. Yet, your empiricist and positivist antecedents do not permit going beyond the tools and methodologies you’ve imposed upon yourself and others. Any such attempt will be immediately rejected as a double-standard -- similar to that so often display when you’ve employed metaphysical arguments to argue against the validity of metaphysical knowledge.

Note also that if you attempt to claim it is “logic” that allegedly leads to conclusions that support your personal views (this “logic” will be carefully scrutinized), the onus will be on you explain to us how this newly-produced knowledge (i.e., your logically-derived conclusions) may be epistemologically equivocated to raw sensory knowledge.

I’m not arguing one way or another, for or against, any possible interpretation you could provide. I’m simply asking you to consistently apply your own rules of the game to the evidence you will present -- rules that do not permit interpretation because all knowledge all knowledge is (allegedly) pure sensory knowledge.

Finally, would you mind sharing with us a detailed rebuttal of the arguments presented in the several volumes produced by Duhem and Jaki who demonstrated that modern empirical science (as a self-sustaining human endeavor -- not to be confused with the epistemic cycle and science writ large) arose from only one historical and geographical condition, i.e., that of Medieval Catholic western Europe? Personal opinions and alleged “self-evident” assertions will be rejected as irrelevant and lacking in intellectual rigor.

Doctor Logic said...

Holopupenko,

Nice straw man. Logical positivism assumes only consistency and natural law, and it applies these assumptions to the only data we have - mental and physical sensation. The world of sense impressions and ideas appears "as if" it is governed by a consistent set of natural laws that, being logical, must be isomorphic to mathematical systems. So logical positivists are free to theorize about history as long as these theories have verifiable consequences. If you want to know more, read Hume and Ayer.

I notice that you have no actual rebuttal to my statements. You just object to my saying them.

I did not dispute that science as we know it today grew out of Christianized Western Europe. It's just that it did this despite church attempts to suppress it, and despite the religiously motivated destruction of Greek writings. For most of the Dark Ages, all Christianity could do was ape the Greeks. To claim that Christianity is responsible for the birth of science is a bit like claiming that German National Socialism was responsible for the birth of Israel. Science flourished as Christianity lost its authoritarian grip.

For your information, I criticize equally any agency that aims to suppress freedom of thought and expression, or the ability of the people to think critically. That includes politicians in my own country. Yet, it is an instrinsic function of organized religion to indoctrinate and to suppress critical thinking among the populace. Or are you going to tell me that there are no religious dogmas? Or that all those folks in church pews are philosophy students?

Holopupenko said...

Again...

Please provide empirical evidence (with references) for your emotional-charged ad hominem assertions against the Catholic Church.

Please explain how you are able to epistemologically equivocate between that which is sensory knowledge and any new knowledge obtained through reasoning.

The onus is on you to support your assertions. We're waiting...

Doctor Logic said...

Please explain how you are able to epistemologically equivocate between that which is sensory knowledge and any new knowledge obtained through reasoning.

Our experiences of recollection and reasoning are as empirical as our physical experiences. They are Hume's "ideas." All we can do is correlate impressions and ideas. We see patterns like consistency and regularity in both physical and mental sensation, and when we see such patterns, we have yet more experiences. If your view of empirical fact is "those physical things that take place in a lab," then it's not surprising that you don't understand logical positivism.

...not that the topic of this post ever had anything to do with LP in the first place...

The onus is on you to support your assertions.

Walker Percy is the one making assertions. I am merely refuting his errors.

And, no, I don't play games in which I am asked to regurgitate the entire history of Western civilization, or the sum of scientific knowledge. If you want to try to refute the Inquisition, Galileo's "heresies" of heliocentrism, and the apparent deceleration of scientific progress during the first thousand years of Christian civilization, that's up to you.

Holopupenko said...

You are refusing to respond to the questions directly, and where you respond obliquely… you obfuscate. For example, consider your assertion: “Our experiences of recollection and reasoning are as empirical as our physical experiences.” Your equivocation is (a) admitted to, and (b) clear. Yet, you’ve never offered to defend the proposition that “reasoning” is as empirical as “physical experiences” (hence the obliqueness)—relying only on an argument from authority (a logical fallacy) using Hume… who is far from considered to be an authority figure… at least among reasonable people.

Anyway, empirical means (literally) data obtainable through the senses. Yet is empiricism (a philosophical theory) obtainable through the senses? Of course not. Empiricism is reasoned to, and if taken to the extreme to which you take it, it is highly incoherent from the philosophical perspective. Why? Because it cannot withstand the step of applying it back upon itself.

Given this and your assertion quoted above, you are equivocating between “reasoning” and “physical experiences.” I’ve not even gotten to the point of arguing against that assertion. What I’ve asked you to do repeatedly (here, and similarly in other blogs) is to support the notion that “reasoning” as empirically accessible as physical data PER YOUR OWN WORDS. What possible physical sensory data/experiences (meaning measurable or in some way observable through any of the five primary senses) could you present to us by which you could then point to and say: “There! Right in front of you is a ‘reasoning’!” You seem to be able to say, “Right there is a ball.” I doubt strongly you could say “Right there is a ‘red’ as separated from the ball.” If you could say that, then you should be able to put the color red in your pocket. I doubt even more strongly you could say “Right there is a ‘reasoning’.”

You’ve gone on record at the Tu Quoque blog as admitting you have no formal philosophical training whatsoever, so your bona fides are questionable at best. It is therefore not surprising you choose to defend positivism—even against professional philosophers who have long ago abandoned it. You claim, “Logical positivism assumes only consistency and natural law.” Assumes?!? You mean they are brute facts that require no explanation? Are you sure you want to go down that road? Further, you twist the argument around by (apparently) attributing a quote to me that I never made: “those physical things that take place in a lab,” while missing the fact that it is not I who make that claim but YOU, i.e., you are the one who not only claims but asserts “… reasoning [is] as empirical as our physical experiences.”

You set up the rules of your own little metaphysical world, you can’t defend those rules, and yet you demand all others adhere to those rules. Then, when asked you to defend highly-emotional and bigoted charges against the Catholic Church, your best response literally amounts to a kind of self-evidentiary view to which every clear-thinking person should acceded. Take your assertion: “For most of the Dark Ages, all Christianity could do was ape the Greeks.” Okay, provide some evidence of this. Are you ignoring St. Thomas Aquinas (as only one example) who wrote voluminous commentaries on Aristotle? Have you ever read Aquinas and given him a fair hearing, or is it self-understood that anything Catholic is dismissible as “authoritarian” or “anti-reason.” What could me more anti-reason than thinking science answers all questions? Or (per the very words you’ve used on other blogs), if modern empirical science can’t answer certain questions (like “why?” vs. “how?”) then those questions (to you) are “meaningless,” “irrelevant” or “don’t exist.” See how simple it all is: if you don’t agree with something or can’t address the question with the tools and methodologies of modern empirical science, you just consign those questions to oblivion. How easy… and how intellectually empty.

Your hatred is palpable. I’ve asked you to provide empirical evidence of your assertions. You resort to tired old slogans and diatribes against the Catholic Church. Your MO is like the tired old argument of Hugh Heffner (Mr. Playboy) who rails that the Catholic Church is against sex, and yet can’t explain why the Catholic Church celebrates human life and (prudently) large families. You claim to be an equal-opportunity criticizer… except of yourself. By the way, if the tone of the political rants on your blog site are any indication, by anyone’s assessment they are quite one-sided indeed. Frankly, I could care less about your political views. But your expressions of them surely put the lie to the claim you “criticize equally.” Well, in your personal opinion, I guess some ideas are more equal than others.

A final point: Percy Walker is quoted. You criticize him but provide no evidence -- just highly-charged emotional outbursts. You are asked to provide direct, empirical evidence (not to regurgitate the “entire history of Western civilization” -- as you incorrectly claim and which was a red herring). Not only do you not do so, but you provide more ad hominem attacks. Why are you demanding we believe you when you can’t humor the studio audience with a simple request?

Doctor Logic said...

Holopupenko,

I do not invoke Hume as an "authority," but as a reference point. Your comments suggest that I invented radical empiricism all by my self.

If you can't broaden your conception of empiricism to encompass mental sensation then it's not surprising that you fail to comprehend Logical Positivism. The radical empiricist can say "that was an experience of reason" as well as he can say "that was an experience of seeing a red ball."

Your MO is clear. Avoid philosophical debate at all costs, and focus on political debate. Unlike politicians, philosophers who debate in good faith seek the common ground and mutual understanding that may serve as a starting point. I have answered your queries many times in the vain hope that you will engage like a grown-up. And every time, I'm disappointed. Today, you play your usual role as spoiler.

But this is the best bit...

You claim, “Logical positivism assumes only consistency and natural law.” Assumes?!? You mean they are brute facts that require no explanation?

An explanation is a set of facts and rules under which the subject being explained is implied. So an explanation of consistency and natural law is a set of facts and rules under which consistency and natural law are implied. What reason can be given for reason without presupposing reason? Have you ever thought about this subject for yourself?

Holopupenko said...

Sigh...

Still waiting for empirical evidence to back up your ad hominem emotionally-charged allegations against the Catholic Church... and the equivocations of "reasoning" with "physical evidence." Simply asserting such is the case and trying to turn the tables back upon the one posing the question in order to avoid the issues won't work.

The other things you assert are sad, really...

Doctor Logic said...

I didn't say that mental sensations were the same thing as physical evidence. You just pretend that I did. I said thoughts were experiences comparable to (and largely distinguishable from) physical experiences.

Of course, if you don't experience awareness of your own reason, then we don't have any common basis for a conversation about it.

Holopupenko said...

DL:

Neither did I say (per your words immediately above) that “mental sensations were the same thing as physical evidence,” nor did I claim you asserted they were the same thing. That would be a univocal statement -- quite similar to the grand mistake of Parmenides. What you did assert, however, was an equivocal statement, to wit: “Our experiences of recollection and reasoning are as empirical as our physical experiences.”

To repeat and to be clear, you are not saying they are the same thing, but you are saying they are the same kind of thing. THAT is your mistake.

(The fact that you appear not able to draw these important linguistic and philosophical distinctions (or purposefully dismiss them as “meaningless”) witnesses again to a lack of philosophical bona fides.)

To provide concrete examples, you do not claim a red ball is the idea of the ball in your mind (as opposed to your brain); but you do assert over and over again (without justification) that things like the physical (sensory) evidence of the red ball’s presence is the same kind of thing as the idea of the ball.

From this, you have two choices: (1) all existents are ideas (albeit different kinds of ideas), which is the philosophical mistake of Idealism, or (2) all existents are material entities and physical phenomenon, which is the mistake of Metaphysical Materialism (or Metaphysical Naturalism depending on what is accented). Based on this and former discussions, your philosophical position is the latter and is (as you’ve stated) allegedly validated by the methodological and epistemological approach of Positivism. Given your latter choice, mental sensations for you are reducible to nothing more than material entities and the physical phenomena that form patterns in the brain, i.e., to you ideas are nothing more and nothing less than complex electrochemical signals crossing synapses in the brain.

Does that make sense? If you really believe this is the case, then “knowing” is reduced to material entities and physical phenomena… which explains NOTHING about how you are able to “know” anything in the first place -- despite your emotional claims to the contrary. Further, it does NOTHING to explain why you try so hard and with great purpose of intent to convince others of your position. (I remind you: per your worldview, purpose, intent, free will, etc. are nothing more and nothing less than complex material interactions and the fleeting patterns they form in the brain.)

You assume so, so much about what you believe the act of knowing might be, and yet you choose a worldview that destroys any ability to know anything in the first place. If “intent” and “purpose” are nothing more than complex electrochemical patterns in the brain (meaning they are the same kind of thing as sensory data), then why are your “patterns” any more logical than anyone else’s, i.e., what does it mean for a brain pattern to be more or less “logical”? That’s nonsense.

Yes, yes… you may go back to leaning upon qualia and other pretty-sounding theories you’ve read in Wikipedia or wherever -- as you’ve done in other blog’s posts and whose implications you clearly do not understand). But (as I’ve tried to explain in those posts), these mean little given that the building blocks of your thinking are so lacking in philosophical rigor. You literally and truly believe that it is sufficient to enter into philosophical discussions equipped only with your formal training in physics and any autodidactic reading on the side. The haughtiness of such a scientistic belief is borne out in fruits of these discussions (or lack thereof).

Finally, and for the fifth time, either provide empirical evidence of the following emotionally-charged allegations you’ve made against the Catholic Church or withdraw them for lack of such evidence and an apology for the bigoted antecedents that drive you:
     ++ “I have hardly read a worse piece of utter bilge. Talk about co-option.” [Yes, and… your supported-by-evidence point?]
     ++ “Archimedes invents integral calculus before 212BCE only to have his work burned at Alexandria or his papers cut and washed clean to make prayer books. Calculus was re-invented by Newton…” [Evidence?]
     ++ “… what would become of scientists and scholars who had no rank or dispensation for free thought from the church?” [Is this unsubstantiated speculation to be accepted without question as evidence to your overall claims?]
     ++ “To claim that Christianity is responsible for the birth of science is a bit like claiming that German National Socialism was responsible for the birth of Israel. Science flourished as Christianity lost its authoritarian grip.” [I’ve pointed you the scholarly work Duhem and Jaki, you’ve provided emotional slogans.]
     ++ “… science as we know it today grew out of Christianized Western Europe. It's just that it did this despite church attempts to suppress it, and despite the religiously motivated destruction of Greek writings. For most of the Dark Ages, all Christianity could do was ape the Greeks.” [Where is the evidence to support your claim? Have you read Aquinas to see how deeply he criticized Aristotle and his own colleagues?]
     ++ … it is an intrinsic function of organized religion to indoctrinate and to suppress critical thinking among the populace. [Really? As a hostile opponent of religious faith, do you feel objectively qualified to make even such emotionally-charged and unsubstantiated outbursts? Are you not trying to indoctrinate the studio audience to your views by spouting nothing more than unsubstantiated slogans? Is your approach and example of “critical thinking”?]
     ++ Walker Percy is the one making assertions. I am merely refuting his errors. [Where did you do this?]

We're still waiting...

Doctor Logic said...

To repeat and to be clear, you are not saying they are the same thing, but you are saying they are the same kind of thing. THAT is your mistake.

Ah, right. I forgot the meta-axiom that if you disagree, then it must be a mistake.

From this, you have two choices: (1) all existents are ideas (albeit different kinds of ideas), which is the philosophical mistake of Idealism, or (2) all existents are material entities and physical phenomenon, which is the mistake of Metaphysical Materialism.

Again, I see it is apparently a mistake to disagree with you.

But again, this quote is great. By your logic, when I claim that cars and boats are both types of vehicle, I must be claiming that all vehicles are boats, or that all vehicles are cars. So much for bona fides.

Does that make sense? If you really believe this is the case, then “knowing” is reduced to material entities and physical phenomena… which explains NOTHING about how you are able to “know” anything in the first place -- despite your emotional claims to the contrary.

This is a tired old argument that begs the question. Instead of defining knowledge and rational thought in terms of our prior mental experience of them, you redefine them as having been more than physical in the first place. That the love we plainly felt before somehow isn't love any more if we're part of a big machine. Sorry, but you don't get to redefine love after the fact (post-investigation) so as to exclude conclusions you don't like.

If “intent” and “purpose” are nothing more than complex electrochemical patterns in the brain (meaning they are the same kind of thing as sensory data), then why are your “patterns” any more logical than anyone else’s, i.e., what does it mean for a brain pattern to be more or less “logical”?

Here you go again. "Intent" and "logic" are empirical facts of experience that are prior to our investigation of them. You don't get to say that they are more than they were when first observed just to avoid answers to which you have a subjective aversion.

these mean little given that the building blocks of your thinking are so lacking in philosophical rigor.

Thus far it looks like your arguments are the ones lacking rigor.

“Archimedes invents integral calculus before 212BCE only to have his work burned at Alexandria or his papers cut and washed clean to make prayer books. Calculus was re-invented by Newton…” [Evidence?]

Read it and weep. I wanted to.

“… what would become of scientists and scholars who had no rank or dispensation for free thought from the church?” [Is this unsubstantiated speculation to be accepted without question as evidence to your overall claims?]

Galileo. The Catholic Church admitted it was wrong to imprison Galileo for the offense of heliocentrism (albeit 100 years later). Heliocentrism was a crime that the church punished by house arrest if you were lucky!

[I’ve pointed you the scholarly work Duhem and Jaki, you’ve provided emotional slogans.]

Allow me to counter your pro-religion theses with two of my own, random, pro-atheist ones...

Draper, 1910

White, 1896

all Christianity could do was ape the Greeks.” [Where is the evidence to support your claim? Have you read Aquinas to see how deeply he criticized Aristotle and his own colleagues?]

And what were Aquinas' contributions to science, may I ask? At best, he was a pro-church philosopher who represented no significant threat to church power.

Are you not trying to indoctrinate the studio audience to your views by spouting nothing more than unsubstantiated slogans? Is your approach and example of “critical thinking”?

Hey! Studio audience! Don't take my word for it! Replicate the science and logical inferences. Verify that science is as transparent as it claims to be. Don't trust the words of philosophers on their authority alone. Let experience be your guide, not the authority of antiquity and revelation.

Holopupenko said...

DL:

Thank you for your comments and references. I've read and thought about them.

I consider you as having had the last word, and I grant you this for I will not comment. Your positions on the topics discussed and the antecedents which bouy them are clear.

Lawrence Gage said...

Hi guys,

I go away for a few days to host my brother's visit, and a discussion breaks out on the blog!

Fabulous! Some good ideas being exchanged here.

I do however ask of Doctor Logic that he try to make the tone of his comments more respectful. Calling a post "bilge" and equating (or analogizing) the Catholic Church with the Nazis is not (shall we say) the best way to win friends and influence people. Even if you don't value the other person's perspective, you can at least show that you respect his person.

Dr. L, since I do value your contribution, I would hate to have to filter your comments; nevertheless I will do so if pressed.

More in a bit....

LG

Lawrence Gage said...

To begin to try to sort through Dr. Logic's points:

And Aristotle, who died in 322BCE, postdates the destruction of the library in Alexandria in a Christian pogrom in 391CE?

Please forgive me, I should have given some context. These paragraphs are from a footnote in the book, already obviously quite extended, which Dr. Percy was understandably trying to keep short.

Given the abbreviated form of the points, perhaps you can find the generosity to give the statement the benefit of the doubt: he is alluding to non-believers' repudiation of Aristotle's philosophy in reaction to the Church's adoption of broad swaths of it.

More to come....

LG

Lawrence Gage said...

Doctor Logic,

Is there any particular reason that of your two references, neither is more recent than 96 years ago?

Stanley Jaki and Edward Grant, for example, are still writing today; A.C. Crombie and Herbert Butterfield wrote in the latter half of last century. Modern scholarship has repudiated the Enlightenment denigration of the middle ages as "dark" and shown them to be ages of great intellectual ferment. I encourage you to read chapter 5 of Thomas E. Woods's How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (Regnery, 2005). If you have any ability to read points of view different from your own, you'll find Dr. Woods a clear and thoroughly documented read.

Here's an interesting paragraph: "As Father Jaki explains, the Thomistic Catholic view was that it was important to find out precisely what kind of universe God created and so avoid abstract thinking about how the universe must be. God's complete creative freedom means it did not have to be any particular way. It is by means of experience--a key ingredient to the scientific method--that we come to know the nature of the universe that God chose to create. And we come to know it because it is rational, predictable, and intelligible." (p. 80)

Woods and Jaki (following Duhem) trace the lineage of Galileo's innovation of inertia to Jean Buridan's impetus theory; the latter grew directly from a confrontation of Judeo-Christian belief in a created universe with Aristotle's notion of an eternal universe (p. 83). An as you know, there would be no modern science without the concept of inertia.

Woods also quotes Galileo scholar Jerome Langford on the tenuous historical situation of Galileo's claims:

Galileo was convinced that he had the truth. But objectively he had no proof with which to win the allegiance even of open-minded men. Many influential Churchmen believed that Galileo might be right, but they had to wait for more proof. Galileo was asked by his friends wisely to be cautious. To beat the University philosophers at philosophy was one thing: to challenge theologians in theology was quite another. Bellarmine had given him an opening, however narrow it might seem to us, "Prove your theory and we will change our exegesis, otherwise teach it as a hypothesis, which saves the appearances”. (p. 71, also here)

Woods quotes Cardinal Bellarmine's remark: "If there were real proof that the sun is in the center of the universe, that the earth is in the third heaven, and that the sun does not go around the earth but the earth around the sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true. But as for myself, I shall not believe that there are such proofs until they are shown to me." (72)

Also, I confess that I don't know much about the library of Alexandria. Why was its destruction so catastrophic for Greek science? What was the stated reason for its destruction? Why weren't there other comparable libraries?

More to come....

LG

Doctor Logic said...

LG,

Nothing you have said counters my claim that science erupted in Europe in spite of church interference.

Science was opposed by the church because, among other things, it represented a threat to church authority, because scripture was regarded as all that one needed to know, and because the church had no tolerance for other faiths and ideas.

My references argue that it was the tolerance of polytheism that contributed to Greek advances.

Where we agree is that there could be interpretations of Christianity that are somewhat compatible with science. However, this is only true where the inerrancy of the Bible is not held to invalidate scientific claims (e.g., evolution, the Big Bang, heliocentrism, etc.). Alas, such interpretations were heretical for a thousand years or more. To many, they are heretical to this day.

Why weren't there other comparable libraries?

My guess is that this was because printing had not been invented. I expect few places during that era would have maintained a staff or community of scribes and librarians. Scientific knowledge was fragile to begin with.

As I recall, the library was also a temple of some kind. Tolerance of free thinking ceased to be a Roman virtue after the conversion to Christianity.

Holopupenko said...

LG:

I hesitate to say this... but only a tiny bit.

This discussion is going nowhere: we're faced with sheer, emotionally-laden will, not reason. Better to stand silent before the irrational: let it hear only its own voice.

I've just responded to the caricatured defense of Logical Positivism on DL's site. He's lectured us to read Ayer "if you want to know more," yet ignores the later, more mature Ayer's criticism and abandonment of Logical Positivism as it relates to empiricism.

I'm sorry this discussion turned out the way it did...

Lawrence Gage said...

Dear Master Logician,

I thank you for your civil tone, but you have yet to show you can actually engage in discussion.

Nothing you have said counters my claim that science erupted in Europe in spite of church interference.

Please. Are you trying to prove your inability to read something that varies with your preferred conclusion?

I've shown that the Church wasn't opposed to heliocentrism per se, but to teaching heliocentrism as an established fact when no proof was available. Recall that Galieo's "proof" via the tides was completely bogus. Or perhaps you can point to a definitive proof Galileo had in hand that none of the rest of us know?

The least you can do is acknowledge the points I've made and respond in some fashion.

Pagan tolerance? Perhaps throwing people to large, hungry predators counts as tolerance in your book... so long as the victims are Christians.

The reason I asked about comparable libraries is that the middle ages (before the moveable type) famously saw an explosion of libraries, painstakingly duplicated by devoted Christian monks. I submit to you that the reason Christians would take such pains is that Christianity democratized knowledge: no longer was it only for the elite, as in pagan societies. But again, you can read all about it in chapter 3 of Dr. Woods's How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (preserving knowledge is only one facet of the debt we owe the monks). BTW chapter 4 is on the Church's founding of the universities; chapter 5 includes a catalog of the scientific achievements of the Jesuits (i.e., Catholic priests). Here's an interesting quotation:

When Charles Bossut, one of the first historians of mathematics, compiled a list of the most eminent mathematicians from 900 B.C. through 1800 A.D., 16 of the 303 people he listed were Jesuits. That figure--amounting to a full 5 percent of the greatest mathematicians over a span of 2,700 years--becomes still more impressive when we recall that the Jesuits existed for only two of those twenty-seven centuries! (101)

More to the subject at hand:

But was Kepler's system correct? the Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini, a student of the [aforementioned] Jesuits [and friends of Kepler] Riccioli and Grimaldi, used the observatory at the splendid Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna to lend support to Kepler's model. Here we see an important way the Church contributed to astronomy that is all but unknown today: Cathedrals in Bologna, Florence, Paris, and Rome were designed inthe seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to function as world-class solar observatories. (111-112)

I have to say that based on your response so far, I'm rather disappointed in you. In failing to engage, you're not exactly modelling your claimed pagan tolerance for open and honest discussion. I thought that given the chance, you could discuss honestly, but you seem to be determined to prove me wrong--and to give logical positivists a bad name.

LG

Doctor Logic said...

It's all very well for you to quote this book, but historians aren't enamored with it.

Serious reviews show it to be misleading, incomplete at best.

As it happens, Woods is a serial revisionist.

Want to convince me that this isn't some piece of revisionist propaganda? Find reviews from secular historical experts who think this is a legitimate piece of historical research.

I've shown that the Church wasn't opposed to heliocentrism per se, but to teaching heliocentrism as an established fact when no proof was available

Well, that justifies house arrest or dismemberment then. Please!

Even if I did buy Woods' claim (which I most certainly do not), why was it any of the church's business what Galileo said? All of a sudden the church is the arbiter of sound experimental techniques? This is revisionism. The cherry-picking of convenient historical facts, and the glossing-over or suppression of the nasty ones.

The leaders of the church for most of its history couldn't give a monkeys about heliocentrism. The church was an authoritarian political organization. Teaching heliocentrism (or any other doctrine not approved by the church) was simply a convenient excuse for the church to put you away. All totalitarian regimes establish laws of which almost anyone could be found guilty.

That there were individuals within that power structure who made contributions to science and mathematics is undeniable. However, studying the individual scientists who emerged from Christian Europe is quite different from studying the effect of the church as a whole on scientific advancement. Advances in science came to a virtual standstill for a millenium. You cannot pump up the cherries of Bacon and Grosseteste to be the equal of the preceding millenium of classical antiquity.

Let me ask you a question. How would you approach holocaust revisionism? Should you take as authoritative a book by a sympathizer who cherry picks his facts? What kind of proof would you demand before you took such a book seriously?

And don't accuse me of ad hominem attacks for attacking a military dictatorship that is directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions around the globe. Unless you want to claim that everything the church did was Christian? Even Woods doesn't say that. Christianity and the church are not one and the same.

So you had better have extraordinary evidence before you try convincing me of the extraordinary claim that the church was science's ally. Too many lives have been lost at the hands of the church for me to buy that claim.

Holopupenko said...

LG:

Don’t buy into it: he’s baiting you with hatred and irrationality. He relishes the role of scientistic Grand Inquisitor -- trying to impose control and demanding adherence to a self-stultifying world view. No one else will have their responses considered because he’s set up the rules, as well as what counts as rules and evidence.

He uses information and knowledge not for good, for edification and to strive for truth, but for evil: to denigrate human dignity by destroying rational discourse. He answers questions with red-herring questions, and applies “logic” so long as it meets his pre-judged positions and conclusions. He worships his own methodological and epistemological monsters, who hound him on to seek victims at this and other blogs… not realizing they’re destroying him.

He argues for moral relativism (see his blog), yet is the first one to scream “foul!” against anyone or anything that challenges his infallible, pre-conceived notions. He’s obsessed with haunting and lurking around blogs of philosophy and faith (for which he has no bona fides) – demanding of those that don’t share his warped and stunted notions that they must question their views, but he never, ever questions his own. (If you doubt my word, scan the past six or so months of his blog in which he seems obsessed with hatred, biased political-polemics, and sex-without-bounds issues.)

He will be the first to flag any blogger comments that oppose him, while demanding his words be heard and not censored. He plays precisely the role of a strawman, caricatured Inquisition and the Church he oh so desperately hates. He exists in a small, stale, tired, pitifully-dystopian world of self-proclaimed authority.

There! How did I do? I was trying to mimic his modus operandi. Did I come close, or do I still need more work before gunning for the Oscars?

;-)

Lawrence Gage said...

You only know one song it seems. I've raised several points that aren't refuted by casting doubt on a single book. But of course, it's much easier to google a couple critical reviews than it is to actually engage in an exchange of ideas.... The latter might entail transcending the walls of your ego.

c matt said...

Want to convince me that this isn't some piece of revisionist propaganda? Find reviews from secular historical experts who think this is a legitimate piece of historical research.

And what makes you think secular historical experts are immune from creating revisionist propaganda? Didn't secular soviet historians excel in this particular practice?

Himself said...

Browsing through on a google on another topic, ran across this thread, and was struck by "Dr. Logic's" almost total lack of historical knowledge. He writes:

"...the destruction of the library in Alexandria in a Christian pogrom in 391CE?"

Yet anyone familiar with Plutarch knows that the Library of Alexandria was destroyed (by accident) when the Egyptians besieged Julius Caesar's force in the palace precincts and the buildings were set afire.

One wonders, too, at the ubiquity of Galileo as the Poster Boy. Is there no other example in all of history?

Yet what more can one expect of anyone who takes Draper's and White's polemics as serious historical fact. Professional historians have not done so.