Clarifying some myths in the history of science

I want to deal here with some myths about religion and science. Specifically the religious apologetics claim that Christianity was a requirement for the scientific revolution. And the more widespread popular belief that blames early Christianity for the “dark ages.”

I have been reading about that early period lately. A couple of historical novels on the philosopher and mathematician Hypatia‘s murder by a Christian mob in 415 CE were interesting. These were Hypatia’s Feud by Nicholas Fourikis and Selene of Alexandria by Faith L. Justice. I recommend both, but especially Selene of Alexandria. Both authors have taken care with  known historical facts.

The religious mysticism of that early period is undeniable. But the causes may not be as  the popular concepts imply. Reality is, after all, never simple.

So I was pleased to read Richard Carrier’s comments on these myths. The science of the ancient Greeks and Romans is a research speciality of his.

Richard Carrier’s helpful analysis

Carrier attributes the retreat from science and the launch of the dark ages to the collapse of the Roman Empire “under the weight of constant civil war and disastrous economical policy”. The negative role of Christianity is that it was a one of the mystical worldviews. It did not cause the “dark ages” but did benefit from them. Consequently, when in came to power it did not restore scientific values. This took a millennium.

These scientific values were only reintroduced into the Christianised culture after several centuries of disinterest.  One must look outside religion to find reasons for their restoration.

Carrier’s critics

Richard Carrier covers these topics in the videos I embedded in my last post Early history of science. However, I thought it worth quoting an extract from his writings on these topics because I feel two of the critics of that post, and of Carrier, have misrepresented them. On Twitter, Rebekah Higgett (beckyfh) accused Carrier of being “ideologically-driven” (who isn’t?), that  “he works from particular agenda rather than evidence” and that he “misuses history.” Unfortunately she wouldn’t give any specific examples.

Thony Christie claimed on Twitter: “Richard Carrier has an agenda he claims that Christianity is responsible for the decline of culture in antiquity! It’s crap!” and commented on the post “what Carrier is selling is not history of science but warped propaganda for his own twisted prejudices.” He adds, “Carrier implies more that once in his statements that the adoption of Christianity by Constantine in the fourth century was responsible for the decline in scientific thought in antiquity.” He did not give any evidence for this claim despite my requesting it.

These claims conflict with my reading of Carrier. it’s probably just an example of the irrational hostility that sometimes develops between professionals. However, I have asked for evidence backing up these claims because I could well be wrong in my understanding. And also because if the claims are wrong they should be challenged. These sort of claims can lead to new myths – like the claim that an expert is peddling a myth when they aren’t.

So here is an extract from the Conclusion of Richard Carriers chapter in the book The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Failsedited by John Loftus and Dan Barker. The title of the chapter is “Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science.” I commented on this chapter in my review of the book (see Some pesky delusions).

What does Carrier actually say?

See what you think. After conceding these myths “are built on kernels of truth” he writes:

“Pagans did set the stage for the end of ancient science—just not for any of the reasons Christians now claim. By failing to develop a stable and effective constitutional government, the Roman Empire was doomed to collapse under the weight of constant civil war and disastrous economical policy; and in the third century BCE that’s exactly what it did – society responded to this collapse by retreating from the scientific values of its past and fleeing to increasingly mystical and fantastical ways of viewing the world and its wonders. Christianity was already one such worldview, and thus became increasingly popular at just that time. But as one could predict, when Christianity came to power it did not restore those scientific values, but instead sealed the fate of science by putting an end to all significant scientific progress for almost a thousand years. It did not do this by oppressing, or persecuting science, but simply by not promoting its progress and by promoting instead a deep and enduring suspicion against the very values necessary to produce it.
Likewise, modern science did develop in a Christian milieu, in the hands of scientists who were indeed Christians, and Christianity can be made compatible with science and scientific values. Christianity only had to adapt to embrace those old pagan values that once drove scientific progress. And it was Christians who adapted it, craftily inventing Christian arguments in favor of the change because only arguments in accord with Christian theology and the Bible would have succeeded in persuading their peers. But this was a development in spite of Christianity’s original values and ideals, returning the world back to where pagans, not Christians, had left it a thousand years before at the dawn of the third century. Only then did the Christian world take up that old pagan science and its core values once again. And only then did further progress ensue.”

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17 responses to “Clarifying some myths in the history of science

  1. People interested in this topic might also be interested in the following post on “why evoloution is true”. Some of these arguments sound very familiar.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/biologos-loves-me-this-i-know/

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  2. Interesting article Nick. I was interested to see one of the commenters on the Biologos blog Jerry critiques has a link to my post Philosophical sausages. They seem to suggest that a suitable response to somne of this rubbish might just be “that is a sausage!”

    Meanwhile it seems that Thony has gpot into a debate with others on this issue of misrepresentation of Carrier. See eg Obnoxious Git, Moi? « Geoff’s Blog.

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  3. I just read the blog article.
    So beautiful.
    (sniff)

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  4. Ken, I obviously misunderstood something that Carrier said and drew a wrong conclusion and as always in any academic debate I withdraw the comment and apologies, but in your efforts to prove me wrong on one, albeit fairly important, point you completely ignore the elephant standing in the middle of the room. He’s not only standing in plain view but is painted day glow pink and is playing God Save the Queen on a bright orange vuvuzela. I am of course referring to the central statement of the passage from Carrier’s writings that you have posted:

    But as one could predict, when Christianity came to power it did not restore those scientific values, but instead sealed the fate of science by putting an end to all significant scientific progress for almost a thousand years. It did not do this by oppressing, or persecuting science, but simply by not promoting its progress and by promoting instead a deep and enduring suspicion against the very values necessary to produce it.

    This statement is so completely and fundamental historically false that to even call it historical is an insult to every genuine historian that ever lived and if Carrier is seriously propagating this as the truth then he ought to hand back his doctorate.

    The first question one has to ask is when did Christianity come to power. Although Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century it can hardly be claimed that Christianity had come to power, there is even serious historical doubt that Constantine himself was a Christian. The earliest we come to being able to say that Christianity had come to power was when Karl the Great crowned himself Holy Roman Emperor in the eight century but even here Christianity was not really in power although as I have already pointed out Karl’s Christian advisors had already instigated an educational programme in his realm and were busy introducing those elements of science that had survived the Early Middle Ages. In reality one can only talk about Christianity coming to power in Europe at the earliest in the eleventh century and in truth even somewhat later. This would mean according to Carrier Christianity had put an end to all scientific progress up till now! Not really very historical or?

    But let us be generous and assume that what he really meant was when Christianity had consolidated itself and become established and reasonably widespread, which would be about the year four hundred at the very earliest. This would mean according to Carrier that Christianity had blocked all scientific progress up to the beginning of the fifteenth century. In reality, as I sketched in my original post here, by fourteen hundred Christian scholar had retrieved and revived almost all of the science of antiquity together with the science that the Arabs had added to this and had even made progress beyond both the Greeks and the Arabs in several areas including such an important area as the physics of mechanics. Progress on which Galileo, Stevin and others would build in the seventeenth century. Scarcely a hundred years later Christian Europe stood on the verge of becoming the most scientifically advance culture that had every existed on the earth. Real history makes a total mockery of Carries central claim and exposes it as the empty rhetoric of a propagandist and not the work of a serious historian.

    Another example out of the history of the Middle Ages demonstrates just how wrong Carrier is. Rome was sacked in four hundred and ten and the succeeding decades and centuries in Western Europe were not the atmosphere in which science could flourish and in fact what was left of the Greek tradition went rapidly down the tubes. However three scholars tried their best to stem the tide, Boetheus and Cassiodorus in the fifth century and Isidorus in the sixth century, all three wrote extensive compendia of as much knowledge as they could, which earned them the historical title of the encyclopaedists. Their works all though well below the level of Greek science at its high point helped to conserve at least some of that heritage and served as valuable textbooks as Europe began to emerge again as a literate culture in the High Middle ages. They also made people aware of the knowledge that had been lost and this awareness stimulated the translators of the eleventh and twelfth centuries who went in search of that lost knowledge. Boetheus also made a complete translation into Latin of the works of Aristotle, which however also got lost. Boetheus work is also the origin of the mediaeval system of education, which provided the roots of that prominent feature of the American tertiary education system the liberal arts college. We owe the seven liberal arts and everything that flows from them to him, he was like his pupil Cassiodorus and also the somewhat later Isidorus a Christian scholar, Isidorus was even a bishop.

    I see nothing what so ever to justify Carrier’s very bizarre ahistorical claim.

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  5. Thony, a friend of mine often recommended that one should ignore everything after the word “but” (your 27th word) – especially in an apology.

    However, – let’s be clear. I was not trying to prove you wrong – simply asking for your evidence! On the evidence I had it seemed a clear misrepresentation – and you have now confirmed that.

    I suggest that rather than argue with me over details of a few sentences in Carrier’s book chapter concluding remarks you take it up with Carrier.

    But first – what about you reading the book chapter itself, or similar material of Carrier’s. (Personally, I found the chapter very informative and am looking forward to his book on that period.) Then you won’t be going off half cocked again. And please stay away from words like ‘crap” and “bizzare” – at least till you have properly researched Carrier’s work. After all – to claim of Carrier’s work: “to even call it historical is an insult to every genuine historian that ever lived and if Carrier is seriously propagating this as the truth then he ought to hand back his doctorate” is no better than your original claims about Carrier which you now admit were wrong.

    And some advice – before you make claims like “according to Carrier . . . Christianity had blocked all scientific progress up to the beginning of the fifteenth century” what about checking out his work on that period (probably not much as it isn’t his specialty). otherwise you will only be seen a misrepresenting him again.

    But I shouldn’t have to give that advice to a careful researching historian, should I?

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  6. Rebekah Higgitt

    My original comments regarding your post related to the fact that professional historians of science do not generally ignore the Ancient period, and that Carrier is absolutely not representative of those that do specifically work on it. I had in mind scholars like Serafina Cuomo (Birkbeck), Andrew Gregory (University College London) and Eleanor Robson (Cambridge), to pluck some names from the air. Where their work, and that of the best historians, differs from Carrier’s, as I understand it, is that they are not focused on proving an a priori thesis.

    Carrier appeals to you because he is motivated to argue against something you consider problematic: “the religious apologetics claim that Christianity was a requirement for the scientific revolution”. However, you cannot counter this kind of bad history by offering bad history in return, which merely makes the opposing claim that Christianity was bad for science. I agree with Thony that Carrier’s statement “as one could predict, when Christianity came to power it did not restore those scientific values, but instead sealed the fate of science by putting an end to all significant scientific progress for almost a thousand years” is factually wrong and fundamentally ahistorical.

    Carrier entirely ignores the basic point that history teaches us: the past is an unfamiliar place. He glosses over the central issue that both ‘science’ and ‘Christianity’ have meant very different things in different times and places and we just cannot attribute stable values to them over centuries and millennia. It is this, above all, that makes the conflict thesis flawed.

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  7. Rebekah, you are attributing things to Carrier without any evidence – again

    I refer to your claim that “He glosses over the central issue that both ‘science’ and ‘Christianity’ have meant very different things in different times and places and we just cannot attribute stable values to them over centuries and millennia.”

    I don’t get that from my reading of Carrier. His work is a lot more sophisticated than that. I may be simple minded but I do expect people to produce evidence for such claims – especially when they are dissing others.

    Similarly it is very noticeable that neither you or Thony have produced any evidence for your objections to Carrier’s work. Thony has admitted he was mistaken and had actually misrepresented Carrier. You quote only from something I have presented – from Carrier’s concluding remarks. Not from the body of the chapter where context and qualifications can be made.

    Where is the substance to justify your complaints?

    Personally I find the “conflict thesis” to be another myth of the apologists. To claim that anyone suggests that religion and science must necessarily always be in conflict is just demonstratably naive and not in accordance with obvious facts. I don’t know any credible scientist or historian making that claim.

    However, it is true that there is an inevitable and basic epistemological conflict between science and religion. That is why I referred to the fact about the need for science to break away from the old religious philosophy. This has happened and we are all the better for it.

    The apologists of course try to ignore or cover up the basic epistemological conflict. And when historians ignore the epistemological conflict I think their work suffers. For example, I am currently reviewing “Science and Religion Around the World” edited by Brooke and Numbers. None if the contributors seem willing to face up to this issue and I think their work comes across as time serving as a result.

    Carrier appeals to me, as do other historians of that period, because I have been able to learn from them. Carrier is particularly clear in his writing and presentation which is always helpful.

    I look forward to his upcoming book on this period – I believe it will be useful.

    But obviously I don’t ignore others who make valuable contributions by any means.

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  8. Rebekah Higgitt

    The sentence I have quoted from Carrier is a piece of evidence, and it just not something that most historians would ever say. He says “as one could predict”. Based on what? Why should one be able to *predict* this? It’s that *expectation* that makes his work doubtful. And that’s separate to the point that scientific progress came to a halt for 1000 years, which is wrong, and as far as I am aware he offers no form of proof that any stagnation that occurred during this period was due to Christianity or the church (both of which change hugely over the period) rather than to other social, economic and cultural changes.

    His main argument in his chapter in ‘The Christian Delusion’ is that Greek science was really onto something that approached ‘modern science’, and that Christianity did not inevitably cause the rise of modern science. I am not at all sure about the legitimacy of the first (his main) claim, but quite agree with the latter, except for the fact that he states his case merely in opposition to the apologists and not in dialogue with better historians. It is also not at all the same thing as to say that Christianity inevitably had a negative impact on science. It patently, obviously, did not.

    I am more easily able to comment on Carrier’s general approach and attitude than on the detail in his books, as it is outside my own field. You could, though, take a look at this commentary on Carrier’s ancient science.

    I am somewhat confused that you can say that you disagree with the conflict thesis (good!) but that “it is true that there is an inevitable and basic epistemological conflict between science and religion”. I don’t see the different, frankly, and I don’t see how you can account for the huge amount of science done within religious societies, by religious people, and how these apparently obvious epistemological issues were not apparent to some extremely good philosophers at least up to the 19th century. The historians included in the book edited by Brooke and Numbers are in the business of describing and understanding what actually happened in the past and how it was intepreted by the people who lived then, rather than ahistorically testing their ideas against a more modern conception of “basic epistemological conflict”.

    However, if eminent scholars like John Brooke, Ronald Numbers, and David Lindberg don’t convince you of the legitimacy of their approach, I am not quite sure how I ever can.

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  9. Ken, I would never dream of lecturing you on your chosen mode of expression but as you seem to find mine unacceptable and to use this fact in order to ignore what I say I shall repeat my central message avoiding any terms that you might find objectionable.

    You have chosen a passage from Carrier’s writings and posted it on your blog claiming that this represents the views of the author. I have carefully read this passage and come to the conclusion that the following statement appears to be the central message that Carrier is trying to get across.

    …when Christianity came to power it did not restore those scientific values, but instead sealed the fate of science by putting an end to all significant scientific progress for almost a thousand years. It did not do this by oppressing, or persecuting science, but simply by not promoting its progress and by promoting instead a deep and enduring suspicion against the very values necessary to produce it.

    Now these are Carrier’s own words in no way changed or altered by me. This statement is fundamentally wrong and historically totally indefensible. The reasons for this I have spelt out in my other posts on this blog and I do not wish to bore you by repeating them now. Given this fact, and I can assure that it is a fact, I see absolutely no reason why I or anyone else should waste their time reading anymore of Carrier’s writings. Perhaps you would be so kind and enlighten me why one should read a historian who is so totally wrong in his principle statements?

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  10. Rebekah, you refer to the “Holy science” approach as being “bad history”. I agree. Why then don’t you take Thony to task for exactly that approach. In response to a query on his attitude towards examples where religion has “actively suppress[ed] various lines of scientific enquiry over the past two thousand years” Thony responded that he knows:
    “of no case where the Church succeeded in suppressing a line of scientific inquiry.”
    And, in another comment he claims: “Christianity was 100% responsible for the revival of science between the 8th and 17th centuries.”

    That is an extremely naïve approach to history – if you are going to criticise Carrier for his more balanced description then you must criticise Thony – surely.

    Rebekah, I find that you misrepresent the quote I have supplied you with (I haven’t missed the fact than neither you or Thony could provide any evidence against Carrier until I quoted that section of his conclusion. Why is that?).

    You say of Carrier and that quote “as far as I am aware he offers no form of proof that any stagnation that occurred during this period was due to Christianity or the church.” Read the quote – he was saying that the church did not suppress science – just that it didn’t restore science. You have misinterpreted him.

    Similar you change his “as one could predict” – to “should.” Completely different meaning. “Could” implies a naïve first glance – after all we look at our current society and nowhere do we see religion actively investing in and doing science. Why should it – it’s not that sort of organisation, any more than a knitting club is.

    Carrier refers to the active encouragement of science that came later, despite the epistemological problems. It’s outside his area but others have written convincingly on that. For example Noah J. Efron looks at the myth “THAT CHRISTIANITY GAVE BIRTH TO MODERN SCIENCE” in his chapter of Numbers’ book “Galileo goes to Jail.” He enumerates a number of social, economic, and exploration factors as well as ideological and philosophical ones (I commented on his article in Christianity gave birth to science – a myth?). No simple analysis like Thony’s “Holy science” approach can ever explain a complex history.

    And what’s with your trust in the Catholic apologist Hannam’s critique of Carrier above actually reading Carrier himself? (mind you his critique does actually deal with some real issues and one could follow up Carrier’s responses – it’s what I expect from an academic discussion – not the unsubstantiated dissing you and Thony have presented).

    OK – you don’t seen any difference between religious and scientific epistemology. OK it’s not your speciality. But before drawing the conclusions you have, I suggest you investigate further because the philosophy certainly helps put this whole thing into context. “The huge amount of science done within religious societies, by religious people,” is clearly not done by people applying religious epistemology. But by the application of the same scientific methodology and epistemology used by the non-believing scientists they work alongside.

    As a researcher I have worked alongside other scientists who were Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic and probably many other outlooks. (One was even a member of the NZ ACT Party!) We all used the same methodology and no gods were involved. It would be bad perception, let alone history, to claim that there are/were therefore no basic epistemological conflicts between religion and science.

    I don’t think in terms of “legitimacy” when I read Carrier, Lindsay, Brooke, Hannam or Numbers. I approach them as I approach all authors – critically. Consequently I never find an author who I have absolutely no difference with. Surely that is normal for an intelligent reader.

    But I am not going to get into a blanket dissing of any of these authors. And if I do criticise them it will be on specific facts (as for example Hannam’s somewhat biased description of Galileo’s “Two World Systems.”

    All I have asked of you and Thony is to back up your dissing with some actual evidence. Your inability to do so (except by mining the quote I provided) suggests this is an issue more of academic hostility/jealousy (which I know occurs everywhere and we are all susceptible to) rather than honest analysis.

    I am certainly not going to take your and Thony’s advice to avoid reading Carrier. As I said I have found him informative, a clear writer and presenter, and I look forward to his new book on early Greek and Roman science.

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  11. Thony, I can appreciate that you do not accept Carrier’s statement in the context of the quote I provided you (bloody hell, why must you rely on me to provide you with the evidence you can mine!?). After all you have made clear your support for a “Holy science” agenda.

    We will obviously just have to agree to disagree on this. I am not taking your advice to avoid Carrier in my reading.

    I am funny that way – I make my own choices. And I am learmning something from Carrier.

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  12. Rebekah Higgitt

    Ken – I haven’t the time or energy to go through all the points you raise, especially as I don’t find any of them troubling to the points I have put forward. Suffice to say that it is one thing to say that Christianity was not a necessary condition to the rise of modern science and quite another to say that it was very largely responsible for the way science *did* develop in Western Europe up to the 17th century. (And if you want to see what Thony really thinks and knows about these topics I suggest you read his blog.)

    On the issue of epistemology: I see differences between religious and scientific epistemology, but I disagree that these have been static over time. Philosophy of science is often profoundly ahistorical, so I say let’s interrogate the actors themselves about what they thought they were doing (and they would, of course, by and large vigoriously disagree with you).

    I will admit that much of this area is not my expertise, but of course many scientists and science writers feel happy to talk about the scientific consensus in areas outside their real knowledge, and to attack bad science when they see it. I have been talking here on the back of the history of science consensus: Brooke, Numbers et al are mainstream in my field and Carrier is not.

    You are welcome to read them all and make your own conclusions, but remember that when you talk about history of science, what is can and should do and who speaks for it, remember that you are standing outside the professional consensus.

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  13. In response to a query on his attitude towards examples where religion has “actively suppress[ed] various lines of scientific enquiry over the past two thousand years” Thony responded that he knows:
    “of no case where the Church succeeded in suppressing a line of scientific inquiry.”

    If you think that my statement is false then name one! But before you do I will give you a little clue, ‘there aren’t any!’

    And, in another comment he claims: “Christianity was 100% responsible for the revival of science between the 8th and 17th centuries.”

    “In Western Europe” the subject of discussion and as I have pointed out on the previous post a true statement apart from the forgotten maybe 1% of Jewish scientists active in Western European science in the Middle Ages.

    No simple analysis like Thony’s “Holy science” approach can ever explain a complex history.

    I do not and never have had a ‘Holy Science’ approach, what ever that may mean, and I specifically rejected the thesis that “Christianity gave birth to modern science”, I said that Christianity was responsible for the revival of classical and Islamic science in Western Europe in the Middle Ages a completely different claim and one that is 100% percent supported by the historical facts that I have outlined in the couse of this discussion. A thesis that completely contradicts a very central claim made by Carrier a fact that you have blissfully ignored throughout this discussion.

    And what’s with your trust in the Catholic apologist Hannam’s critique of Carrier above actually reading Carrier himself?

    Ken your prejudices are showing! High profile public propagandist for atheism Carrier is a reliable historian whereas Catholic Hannam is unreliable. Does that mean that all Catholic historians of science are unreliable? Will I have to throw away all my books and articles by Owen Gingerich, Mario Biagioli, Ugo Baldini…?

    And if I do criticise them it will be on specific facts (as for example Hannam’s somewhat biased description of Galileo’s “Two World Systems.”

    There is absolutely nothing biased in Hannam’s description of the “Dialogo” in fact it is a wondefully succinct and very accurate summary of the book. Put even more succinctly the “Dialogo” is “brilliant polemic but lousy science”, a statement that I predict will send you to the barracades but none the less true. Now the “Discorsi” is a whole different picture, brilliant polemic and brilliant science, it really is a shame that everybody concentrates on the first and ignores the second.

    However, it is true that there is an inevitable and basic epistemological conflict between science and religion.

    Is it? None of the scientists in the Middle Ages or the Early Modern Period thought so and did their science quite happily whilst believing the two to be compatible. I should point out this includes some of the greatest European philosophers and logicians who have every lived so this belief can not have rested on a lack of an ability to reason. Even today in a predominantly secular western society there are still large numbers of scientists who have no problems reconciling their scientific and religious epistemologies so I am more than somewhat puzzled as to where you derive your categorical certainty in this matter.

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  14. Richard Christie

    None of the scientists in the Middle Ages or the Early Modern Period thought so and did their science quite happily whilst believing the two to be compatible.

    Thony, I think you have a tendency to conflate arguments without justification.
    I haven’t read argument in here that scientists in the Middle Ages or the Early Modern Period did not do science at all.
    The fact that science was practised to some degree does not preclude that faith or prevailing dogma discouraged investigation into certain areas, especially areas that lead away from or challenged the viewpoint that mankind and our environment (our planet and place in solar system etc) held a “special” place in “creation”.

    On the related subject of suppression I have yet to have comment from you in the other thread.

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  15. The answer to your previous enquiry is in the process of being written and should appear in the intertubes sometime tomorrow I hope.
    Strictly speaking there was no science in the Middle Ages or the Early Modern Period as the word in the sense that we use it was first coined in the 19th century. However there were scholars who speculated upon and investigated nature in a way that we would now recognise as scientific.
    I have never come across a scientist in the period from 800 CE and 1700 CE, with perhaps the exception of Blaise Pascal, who thought his religious belief prevented him from following a particular line of enquiry in his investigation of the world.
    Certainly many scholars did not ask some questions of their world that we might ask today because those question just seemed within their knowledge environment to be irrational or even meaningless. Heliocentricity, which was discussed surprisingly often before Copernicus, never really got off the ground because it just seemed to contradict the available empirical evidence. It still does or are you really aware of the fact that we are racing through space at several thousand kilometres an hour? I’m not, my senses tell me that the world I’m standing/sitting on is still. Not asking questions is not necessarily a result of religious inhibitions.
    I can of course not be sure but I think you will find that most people today including many who work in the sciences still think that humanity occupies a special place in creation.

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  16. I am glad, Rebekah, you accept the difference between religious and scientific epistemology. Why the hell you should imply that I suggest “that these have been static over time” I don’t know. Perhaps that how misrepresentations occur – we all interpret what we read and hear according to an internal list of biases.

    To paraphrase a local NZ model: The scientific revolution didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. That’s been my understanding all along.

    I can only draw my own conclusions for your hostility to Carrier as you have not provided supporting factual information. However, I thank you for your reference to Hannam’s discussion with Carrier as I did find something of value in that.

    Obviously I don’t have the detailed knowledge to take issue with either his or Carrier’s description of the facts of the science of the period and am sure there are a lot of works which can help one make up their own mind.(Carrier himself refers to and recommends a large number) However, Hannam did make the charge that Richard argues “that Greece was on the point of a scientific revolution when the third century collapse cut off progress.” That may be a slight misrepresentation as Richard actually suggested that if the interuption of the “intellectual advance of mankind” had not put “the progress of science on hold for a thousand years. The Scientific Revolution might have occurred as thousand years ago.” Not quite as strong as Hannam’s claim.

    However, Hannam’s point did resonate with me because it reminded me of my disagreement with an answer to a question in one of Richard’s lectures. He did sort of imply that the scientific revolution could have occurred then.

    I disagree with that. I don’t think there is any doubt that if the early science had not been halted by economic and social factors, and that the Christian and other mysticism of the “dark ages” had not occurred we would be in a far better position. However, I strongly believe that there were other factors, such as trade, exploration and institutions which came together to enable the scientific revolution. (I certainly don’t see Christianity as being a necessary factor at all – as you say that is “bad history”).Those factors probably would not have occurred in that early period.

    But I like Hannam’s ability to concede that Carrier had proven one of his points and his willingness to accept that he must await Carriers publication of his forthcoming book to really discuss the evidence. It’s the sort of thing I expect from an academic discussion. Not simple unsubstantiated dissing.

    I reject completely your charge that I am “standing outside the professional consensus” – just because I am inclusive in my reading! Bloody hell, it’s the first time in my career that I have been asked to restrict my reading. Reminds me very much of what happened with Galileo, etc.

    I also think it is disingenuous of you to attempt to excuse Thony’s obvious agenda driven rant, while dissing someone who is producing useful research. Thony’s extreme claims should be criticised – and they certainly don’t encourage me to peruse his/her blog for more of the same. He/she has proven himself/herself to be mistaken in several of his/her claims – and admitted to at least one of the mistakes. So it is rather incongruous for you to be recommending I read him/her further while telling me that I stand outside the professional consensus unless I stop reading Carrier!

    It’s not going to happen.

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  17. Perhaps Thony you should reread the second para of my quote from Carrier’s chapter:

    “Likewise, modern science did develop in a Christian milieu, in the hands of scientists who were indeed Christians, and Christianity can be made compatible with science and scientific values. Christianity only had to adapt to embrace those old pagan values that once drove scientific progress. And it was Christians who adapted it, craftily inventing Christian arguments in favor of the change because only arguments in accord with Christian theology and the Bible would have succeeded in persuading their peers. But this was a development in spite of Christianity’s original values and ideals, returning the world back to where pagans, not Christians, had left it a thousand years before at the dawn of the third century. Only then did the Christian world take up that old pagan science and its core values once again. And only then did further progress ensue.”

    Far more reasonable than you imply and certainly a lot better than your alternatives.

    You don’t seem to understand the antrure of scientific or relgious epistemology to get them so confused. You seem to want to ingore the nature of the conflict in the Galileo affair – a conflict which was not uncommon amongst natural pholosophers and church officials.

    As for “still large numbers of scientists who have no problems reconciling their scientific and religious epistemologies.” I described my career experience. perhaps I should add I even knew scientists who believed in astrology (as if the ACT party wasn’t bad enough!).

    The point is humans have no problem reconciling contradictory philosophies and epistemologies. We are not a rational species – more a rationalising one.

    But not one of those scientist used relgious epistemology in their scientific work. They would have been laughed out of their job if they had. We are a long way from the days of Kepler and Newton. We would not be where we are today if religious epistemology had dominated science. If science had remained as the “handmaiden” of the church. This break was a necessary condition for the scientific revolution.

    Where do I derive my “certainty in this matter” – 40 year career in scientific research and familiarity with the work of many scientists (who held quite diverse religious beliefs).

    Like

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