About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Ken Miller responds to Massimo (and vice versa)

Below is a detailed response to my latest post, which Ken graciously sent me for publication here. After that, you will find a few additional notes from yours truly.

Dear Massimo,

Thanks, of course, for the very kind comments about my presentation at Brown. At your invitation, I’m writing a few comments to clarify and correct what I think are some mistaken impressions and also to point out a few areas of genuine disagreement. You wrote:

"Ken … quickly summarized the reasons why intelligent design is not science, why it is no threat to the theory of evolution, and why therefore the latter but not the former should be taught in public schools. But then he changed pace -- just like in the book -- and proposed a muddied concept of evolution as an intrinsic property of the universe, bound to produce beings like us."

Massimo, evolution is a natural process, and as such it emerges from the laws of chemistry and physics. Since you embrace naturalism as philosophy yourself (as well as science), why would you claim that this is a “muddled concept,” unless you regard scientific naturalism itself as muddled?

No, I did not argue that it was “bound to produce beings like us,” but it is obviously true that in our one and only run through natural history, evolution, in fact, did produce “beings like us.” Why? Well, neither you nor I can be sure. But the way in which evolution explores adaptive space (as evidenced by scores of examples of convergent evolution — of which you are well aware) suggests to me that intelligence would eventually have evolved somewhere, even if primates (or even vertebrates) did not. If you’d like to disagree, and argue — as creationists do — that the evolution of our species was so improbable that it could never happen again (they argue, of course, that it didn’t even happen the first time), go ahead. But in scientific terms, there is no hard support for that view. In terms of the actual experiment, we’ve got exactly one example of biological evolution, and one case of self-reflective intelligence.

You said I claimed that creationists and other evolution deniers:

"… don't want to be the result of an accident of history, from which they derive the (non-sequitur) conclusion that there would be no meaning in their life."

Sorry, but that is not what I said. What I actually said and typed on a slide was that people object to human existence being seen as a “mistake” of nature. Well, we are not “mistakes” of nature — we are features of nature, since we were brought into existence as a species by natural processes. That’s not a mistake.

"But how is this view different from intelligent design, I asked Ken?"

You’ve got to be kidding. The essence of ID is that natural processes are NOT sufficient to account for the emergence of biological complexity and new species, including our own. The core of my argument is that natural processes are FULLY sufficient to do exactly that. And you don’t see a difference? C’mom, Massimo. The difference couldn’t be greater — except, of course, for one thing, which you then reveal in your blog entry:

"... I had the distinct impression that he forcefully, and effectively, refuted Michael Behe-like arguments from 'irreducible complexity' only to look a few levels down, to the quantum world and the basic laws of physics, to find the same God that Behe (a Catholic, like Miller) is content to find at the level of biomolecules."

Ah, now we see the real problem. It’s not that you object to ID itself at all. It’s that you object to the concept of God — and therefore to you the real problem with ID is that it finds a place for God. To me, quite honestly, the real problem with ID is that it is bad science, and I had thought you agreed. But after our dinner discussion, in which you repeatedly raised objections to faith itself, rather than to my views of science, it was clear that for you the real issue is indeed religious.

"After quite a bit of engaging back and forth (at dinner) I got the following response from Ken: well, the arguments may be similar..."

No, the arguments are NOT similar at all. If they were, Massimo, then why was I so effective is dismantling Behe’s arguments at Dover?

"...but it is the intention that is different. According to him, Behe tries to prove the existence of a designer through (alleged) irreducible complexity, while Miller contents himself with deploying what he admitted to be a form of the anthropic principle to merely show that the existence of God is not logically incompatible with science. This comes perilously closed to drawing a distinction without a difference, but I do see the subtle difference (again, in intention, not argument) that Ken is attempting to make."

It’s a distinction without a difference only if your intention in countering ID is primarily motivated by resistance to religion. Then, any scientist who is religious (like about 40% of the members of AAAS) becomes a threat who must be dismissed with scorn as not a true scientist — or, worse, as a creationist whose views are no different from the sycophants of the Discovery Institute.

"Since there is no empirical way to discriminate among the three (or four) possibilities [of how our universe came to be], Ken said, he feels justified in picking the one that has more meaning for him."

No, not any more than you feel justified in rejecting the one that you object to the most — which you clearly do. Rather, I simply pointed out that to a person of faith, there is indeed a way (even if it is one among many) to understand our universe that is perfectly consistent with science. And so there is, as you yourself admit. It’s just that you feel compelled to pick one that is not compatible with faith — a choice with no greater scientific justification than mine.

You then, of course, ridicule the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus — confirming, as you did repeatedly, that your primary concern lies in rejecting faith itself. Yes, Christianity may indeed be illogical and unjustified (as you believe) — but that does not address the issue at hand, namely whether there is a way that Christians can understand our evolutionary and cosmic history that is consistent with their faith. I think there is. But by spending so much time attacking that faith instead of addressing the issue, as you did in our conversation, you essentially ceded the issue of compatibility without realizing it. I’m afraid that your further comments confirm that:

"But, I pointed out, those alternatives -- even though empirically indistinguishable (at least at the moment) -- are not, so to speak, created equal. The latter two (or three, if you include string theory) are naturalistic and they do not pose anything other than nature to be operating in the universe. The first one, on the contrary, immediately begs the question of where the designer came from, how s/he operates and what his intentions are."

Oh, but your completely naturalistic explanations beg exactly the same question — it’s just that you don’t realize it. Specifically, they beg the question of where the mechanisms that generate multiverses or define the rules of string theory come from. You must either postulate another set of unknown causes, as any good naturalistic philosopher would, or chain yourself to an infinite regression of natural causes without end. The difference between us is that in scientific terms I am perfectly willing to admit that one cannot chose between these alternatives, at least today. You, however, are forced to reject one of them to confirm your own world view — and not for any scientific reason.

"…Ken presented evolution as a beautiful mechanism that produces stunningly compelling outcomes, to which I retorted that he was then facing the well known problem from evolutionary evil: natural selection is wasteful, it kills, it causes extinction, and it does so with the huge suffering of many parties involved. Isn't the designer responsible for these outcomes of his "beautiful" mechanism as well?"

This is a common — and logically flawed — argument against a creator. What you suggest is that a gracious God would have design a world in which there was no death, no pain, no suffering, no “waste,” and no extinction. Fair enough. But in that world, there would also be no room for a new species (since nothing would die to make room for it), no reason for evolutionary novelty (none of the competition that leads to natural selection), and no beauty (why produce beautiful flowers, plumage, or natural ornaments if survival is assured for every individual?). Furthermore, in the world you envision as ideal, there is no place for human courage, since there is nothing to fear, no place for virtue, since good is universal, and no reason to invent, discover, and create. Why bother to heal when there is no sickness, why help the poor and sick and disabled when they do not exist, and why face difficulties with courage when there are no such difficulties?

Like you, I do not endorse Steve Gould’s NOMA, and I made that clear. I think that science and faith have a lot to say to each other, and I made the point that any faith that cannot fully embrace science is not worth having. But (and here is where I think you completely misunderstand me and other religious scientists) that does not mean that one must then enlist — or distort — science in the service of faith. I don’t, and I would defy you to find a single example to the contrary.

Like you, I support the approach of Eugenie Scott, herself an atheist, but fully cognizant of the important role that scientists who are people of faith can and must play in the struggle for the integrity of science and science education. I would hope that you and I would stand shoulder to shoulder in that effort in the future, as we always have in the past.

You ended by quoting Feynman:

"I do believe that there is a conflict between science and religion ... the spirit or attitude toward the facts is different in religion from what it is in science. The uncertainty that is necessary in order to appreciate nature is not easily correlated with the feeling of certainty in faith."

Respecting Feynman, whom I admire and regard as a role model for our profession, yes, there is a difference between science and faith. But the “certainty” he attributes to faith is that of an outsider who has rejected it. In reality, humility is the beginning of faith, a humility that sees the capacity to reason, from which we construct science, as a gift to be treasured and defended. A scientist like me doesn’t approach the world with certainty, as Feynman assumed, but with an understanding of the frailties and limitations of the human intellect, always imperfect, but always with the capacity to learn and strive.

Unlike you, I don’t regard my “alliance” to defend science with the likes of Eugenie Scott, Kevin Padian, Sean Carroll, Neil Shubin or other non-religious scientists as “uncomfortable.” Heck, I am very comfortable. The reason, perhaps, is paradoxically because I place rational scientific concerns above sectarian religious ones, and happily partner with anyone who values the scientific enterprise. I do very much wish that all of my secular colleagues could see things the same way. We’re going to end up going different directions on Sunday morning, but we can and should unite on the value of scientific reason. Amen.

Thanks for the opportunity to address your concerns.

Sincerely,
Ken


Additional thoughts by Massimo:

Ken does not seem to make up his mind between which version of the anthropic principle he feels comfortable with. In his response he leans toward the weak version: since we are here, obviously the laws of the universe must have been compatible with our evolution. Yes, but this is rather trivial, and it does nothing to purchase the existence of a creator of any kind. Only the stronger version of the principle does, and I reiterate that that has to be considered a form of intelligent design.

However, I do agree with Ken that there is a significant difference between his version (the designer put together the laws of the universe, science explains everything except the designer) and Behe-like arguments (science is not sufficient to explain the universe as we observe it, miracles -- in the form of the occasional direct intervention of the designer -- are necessary).

Ken's distinction between my characterization of what the creationists have a problem with (they don't want to be the result of an accident of nature) and Ken's own (they don't want to be a mistake) seems truly to be without a difference. The bottom line is that many people are deeply uncomfortable with entirely naturalistic explanations of their existence because they don't feel special enough.

As for objecting to bad science (in the guise of intelligent design creationism) vs. to faith itself, I object to both. To the first, on scientific ground; to the second on philosophical grounds. I know Ken is a religious person, so he has to reconcile his science with his faith. But that isn't the only possible approach, obviously, and -- I maintain -- it isn't the most rational either.

That said, I have repeatedly pointed out that I don't belong to the Dawkins school of vilifying scientists who are religious (nor religious people in general). I think the primary objective is the defense of sound science education, on which Ken and I obviously stand shoulder to shoulder. Criticism of religion and promotion of atheism are also important issues (to me), but they are philosophical in nature, and ought to be pursued separately from the science.

I do think, however, that Ken is on extremely shaky philosophical ground when he insists that naturalistic accounts of the origin of the universe are on the same level as deistic or theistic ones. Exactly, how is it that answering "nature" begs the same sort of question as answering "nature + an intelligent designer"? We know that nature exists and that it has laws, regardless of our limited ability to understand or explain them. To postulate an intelligent designer on top of that leads one to a whole different order of metaphysical assumptions.

As for Ken's counter to the argument from evolutionary evil, it seems to me that one has to engage in quite a bit of mental gymnastics to claim that a better universe (as in more fair and just, to reflect the Christian god's alleged traits) has to include suffering and death because otherwise there would be no evolutionary novelty or beauty. That god is all-powerful, so s/he could produce whatever beauty and novelty s/he likes without having to bring in cancer and earthquakes to make it possible.

Finally, my issue with faith doesn't have anything to do with humility or lack thereof. The problem that Feynman (and I) finds with faith is that it means that one believes in something regardless or even despite the evidence. This attitude is not only profoundly irrational (by definition), but also embodies one of the worst values we can possibly promote in our society. At the very least it leads to poor thinking, and at the worst it brings about the sort of uncritical acceptance of doctrines (religious or secular) that too often has had tragic consequences for humanity.

50 comments:

  1. Am I the only one who immediately had Dr. Pangloss pop into my head when I read Dr. Millers answer to evolutionary evil?

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  2. There really are two separate battles here. One is for science, and for that atheists like Massimo and believers like Ken should put aside their differences and unite. The other is indeed philosophical, where Massimo is waging battle for atheism.

    The way I see it, atheists are an oppressed minority in this country, and that is the biggest thing to fight about. But I don't think evangelising that atheism is the most rational philosophical position helps advance the cause of acceptance of atheists in American society. Evangelism really isn't a great way to win friends and influence people, and we all hate evangelists promoting a position with which we disagree. I feel that a tolerant, nondiscriminatory society should be the important religious goal here, and take precedence. Overall, Christians need to become tolerant of atheists, but as they fight for this, atheists should be careful to remain tolerant of Christians, or at least those who accept science.

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  3. God seems to be the central concept in the "Theory" of Intelligent Design, much like natural selection is a central concept of evolution. I think it is unavoidable when dismantling ID to take at least a swipe at God. After all, many of the ID proponents have admitted that their idea of the designer is the Christian god and although they do mention space aliens as possible designers none of the leaders of ID will seriously admitt that they believe it. After all, god is untestable and isn't it a fair criticism in science to say one's theory is untestable (e.g. String theory).

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  4. Joanna,

    wow, this may be the first time I *completely* agree with one of your comments! :)

    Seriously, I think your distinction about the two issues (science/philosophy) and then the one between achieving a tolerant society vs promoting atheism per se are crucial.

    I care about the science and about having a tolerant society. Atheism per se, I think, would thrive on its own (with no need for evangelism) in that sort of society. Which is, by the way, why Ken and I actually find ourselves on the same side of the barricade.

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  5. Like many folks, I guess, I've been paying less attention lately to religious-philosophical debates and more to political-economic debates (particularly as they relate to the current financial crisis). I mention this because I get a similar feeling from them both, whatever that means.

    Anyway, great posts and comments. I'll just add this: if this debate were only about how best to approach science, it might be a relatively tractable one. But it also bears on so many other aspects of life (and not merely reproductive politics) that it's no wonder that it's so hard for us to ignore in the spirit of tolerance (even though I ultimately agree that religious-philosophical tolerance is the best legal policy).

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  6. I have long been annoyed that when an atheist suggests that an omni-benevolent god could not have created this world filled with the suffering of humans and animals, they claim that God would then make a boring world where nothing can change and nothing can be achieved.

    There are 2 major flaws with this argument, the first is - isn't that exactly what Heaven is supposed to be? Why is Heaven so desirable for after we die but would be a terrible thing to have in this world, here and now? If this is the best God can do then wouldn't Heaven be just like this world?

    The second is that there are many degrees in between this world and one with no suffering at all. Imagine a world with no illness, where humans healed as quickly as Wolverine, no earthquakes either. Humans would still be capable of good and evil, cowardice and courage, and the seeking and creation of beauty and science. It would just eliminate the very worst things that can happen in life.

    And an all powerful god could easily create such a universe, or any one of an infinite number of such universes that are better than this one, including ones that no human mind could ever think of.

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  7. Just picking some nits:

    Massimo said:
    Only the stronger version of the principle does, and I reiterate that that has to be considered a form of intelligent design.

    No, that's false. Strong interpretations do not necessarily require an ID.

    Massimo said:
    Ken's distinction between my characterization of what the creationists have a problem with (they don't want to be the result of an accident of nature)

    It is a totally bogus assumption among people on both sides of the debate to automatically assume that a non-accidental occurrence that brings us into existence must necessitate an ID.

    You don't know how badly you hurt plausible science when both sides make this unfounded leap of faith.

    I really get tired of having to point this out.

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  8. Massimo, Joanna,

    "I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity & Theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds, which follows from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. I may, however, have been unduly biased by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion" --Charles Darwin

    It seems that Darwin would toast his glass in agreement as well!

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  9. island,

    well, sorry you got irritated reading my post, but you do not put forth any argument for how, exactly, one gets a strong version of the anthropic principle without implying some form of ID. Would you care to elaborate?

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  10. Sure, Massimo, and I didn't mean to pick on you:

    For starters, Brandon Carter and Steven Hawking have a rather bizarre version of the SAP that Hawking talks about in his paper; "Quantum cosmology, M-theory and the anthropic principle":

    According to the strong Anthropic Principle, there are millions of dierent universes, each with dierent values of the physical constants. Only those universes with suitable physical constants will contain intelligent life.
    With the weak Anthropic Principle, there is only a single universe. But the effective couplings are supposed to vary with position, and intelligent life occurs only in those regions, in which the couplings have the right values.


    Any scenario that must have those properties which allow life to develop within it at a specific stage in its history is a strong interpretation.

    Barrow and Tipler include all of the following interpretations as SAPs, and only the first example reflects your position:

    1) There exists one possible Universe 'designed' with the goal of generating and sustaining 'observers.' " This can be seen as simply the classic design argument dressed in the garb of contemporary cosmology. It implies that the purpose of the universe is to give rise to intelligent life, with the laws of nature and their fundamental constants set to ensure that life as we know it will emerge and evolve.

    2) Observers are necessary to bring the Universe into being." Barrow and Tipler believe that this can be validly inferred from quantum mechanics, as has long been suggested by John Archibald Wheeler in his "participatory universe" and Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP).

    3) An ensemble of other different universes is necessary for the existence of our Universe." Contrast this with Carter, who merely says that an ensemble of universes is necessary for the SAP to count as an explanation.

    Environmental biologists, James Kay and Eric Schneider, as well as Dorion Sagan and Scott Sampson think that we are here for the soul purpose of increasing entropy, per the second law of thermodynamics.

    http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2004/09/30/2003204990

    They don't even have to be correct to illustrate the validity of my point.

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  11. I should have pointed out that *necessity* also fills the bill of example number one, without an ID, which is also in line with Schneider and Kay's entropic observation:

    1) There exists one possible Universe 'designed' with the goal of generating and sustaining 'observers.' " This can be seen as simply the classic design argument dressed in the garb of contemporary cosmology. It implies that the purpose of the universe is to give rise to intelligent life, with the laws of nature and their fundamental constants set to ensure that life as we know it will emerge and evolve.

    If, for example, we are a necessary feature of the bio-oriented cosmological structure principle that these scientists go to incredible lengths to avoid, then we are here for a "higher" purpose, that has absolutely nothing to do with god.

    I wrote this to the theorists who frequent this experimentalists blog, as an in your face challenge to them to get over their unfounded "copernicanism" already, and the answer that they so desperately seek is right in front of their ideologically pre-disposed noses.

    http://dorigo.wordpress.com/2008/06/23/guest-post-rick-ryals-the-anthropic-principle/

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  12. If I understand island's nit correctly, then Massimo's mistake was to limit "the stronger version of the [anthropic] principle" to Dr. Miller's first account of the universe, (i.e. as he characterized it: "it is the result of a willful creator"), when in fact there are multiple "strong" versions and none of them is particularly theistic. If so, then I think it's only fair to say that any theory that "implies that the purpose of the universe is to give rise to intelligent life..." at least sits better with theism than those based largely on chance - even if one argues for an even higher-order purpose than intelligent life (e.g. as a more efficient means of entropy or black hole creation).

    That is not to suggest that I am persuaded by any version of the anthropic principle. We know that the universe now includes us (even though it did not for billions of years), so possibility seems a lot more secure than necessity. But even if necessity were soundly established, we would be wrong to equate necessity with centrality, let alone "purpose" in its normal sense of personal goals or intentions.

    That aside, count me in among those who are turned off (to put it mildly) by Dr. Miller's apologies for evil in the world. To turn his theodical questions on their head: Why help the poor and sick and disabled if God, in His infinite wisdom, made them that way? Why face difficulties with courage when God, in his infinite wisdom, created such difficulties? Would a benevolent deity create such evils just as a means to some end that He, the Omnipotent One, could easily have attained Himself without no suffering whatsoever? It seems that one must compromise one or more of the classical divine attributes (as some liberal theologians have done) in order to preserve some sense and goodness in the concept - not that its problems end there (i.e. even before we factor in the miraculous claims we find in Scripture).

    Having said that, I am happy that scientists of different philosophical backgrounds can work together (just as I am happy that I can get along with religious colleagues in my own non-scientific work). But, at least in my opinion, bad philosophy deserves criticism as much as bad science does, and I salute Massimo for doing so.

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  13. Mufi said:
    If I understand island's nit correctly, then Massimo's mistake was to limit "the stronger version of the [anthropic] principle" to Dr. Miller's first account of the universe, (i.e. as he characterized it: "it is the result of a willful creator"), when in fact there are multiple "strong" versions and none of them is particularly theistic. If so, then I think it's only fair to say that any theory that "implies that the purpose of the universe is to give rise to intelligent life..." at least sits better with theism than those based largely on chance - even if one argues for an even higher-order purpose than intelligent life (e.g. as a more efficient means of entropy or black hole creation).

    You are correct, and I agree with this last part too, but, unlike yourself, I do so because of the highly pointed nature of the physics which isn't even strictly "anthropic" that you don't seem to be aware of, (see your comment below). As the strong atheist theorist, Lenny Susskind says:

    If the "landscape" fails to be consistent - then as things stand now we will be in a very awkward position. Without any explanation of nature's fine-tunings we will be hard pressed to answer the ID critics.

    Mufi says:
    That is not to suggest that I am persuaded by any version of the anthropic principle. We know that the universe now includes us (even though it did not for billions of years), so possibility seems a lot more secure than necessity.

    The Goldilocks Enigma tells us that the evolving physics that define the vast array of coincidentally balanced, "just-right" conditions that make up the Goldilocks Enigma, ranges dramatically in magnitude and time, from the near-"flat", balanced structuring of the universe, itself, all the way down to our own local self-regulating ecobalance, whose chaotic cycles we directly contribute to enhance over time. These "ecospheres" began unfolding at the moment of the big bang, but it took most of 14 billion years to bring them all to "fruition", so claims that this structure defining physics isn't **necessarily** pointed directly at carbon based life, are, at least *apparently* absurd, and must be justified with something more than "somewhat" established cutting-edge physics speculations.

    Mufi said:
    But even if necessity were soundly established, we would be wrong to equate necessity with centrality, let alone "purpose" in its normal sense of personal goals or intentions.

    I think that this depends very much on which cosmological model ends up being the correct one, and if the Large Hadron Collider continues the recent trend of coming up empty in energy ranges where this should not be the case, then I like Einstein's *vindicated* cosmological model, which is strictly deterministic, so there is a valid teleological translation that manifests into every single facet of our existence:

    http://www.lns.cornell.edu/spr/2006-02/msg0073320.html

    In greater detail:

    http://dorigo.wordpress.com/2007/10/18/

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  14. Massimo,
    It seems to me that you have let Ken Miller get away with an important contradiction with respect to his claim that his creator set the universe in motion and then allowed natural selection, evolution, etc. work their wonders to produce the world we see around us today.

    If, in fact, Ken is a true Catholic, then he MUST believe and hold as true the central tenet of the faith, that being the Resurrection. This, by definition, implies that his creator actively tinkers with his creation. One who sets aside the laws of life and physics to accomplish the re-animation of the dead and the physical transportation of bodies into the sky without any means of support.

    You might want to point out to Ken that he cannot have it both ways.
    Either his creator gave the universe a kick start and then left it to its own devices or s/he is a tinkerer who medals in our affairs but not both.

    Lastly, even if intelligent observers such as ourselves are the inevitable outcome of the universe's evolution, lets not forget that we will also, some day, join the ranks of the 99% of all species that have gone extinct. What then? What purpose does that serve the "creator".
    Even if we somehow use our intellects to outwit the evolutionary processes and manage to avoid extinction, in the very long run, we are still doomed, what with the slow but inexorable heat death of the universe given its expansion.
    It's time for Ken to leave his childish beliefs behind and to grow up. It is time for him to have the courage to live with the fact that we do not yet know what sparked the big bang and, for now, to live with this uncertainty rather than to take delusional comfort in positing a supernatural first cause.

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  15. Why bother to heal when there is no sickness, why help the poor and sick and disabled when they do not exist, and why face difficulties with courage when there are no such difficulties?

    Wow, sounds pretty dreadful. Talk about yer lame apologetics...

    And then there's the other brilliant one about how god would be "cheating" if god "tinkered" with evolution. How, exactly, would that be cheating?

    Brilliant apologetics. Yaaahhhhh....

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  16. johnfruh,

    I did point out -- at dinner -- to Ken that his theology gets him in a hell of a lot more trouble than our discussion on the anthropic principle. I hinted at that also in my post when I ask (obviously, rhetorically) why he believes in the Christian god rather than, say, the Olympian ones (which are a lot more fun).

    As you can see from his response, he simply took offense to the fact that I was making fun of his religion, but did not actually address the argument.

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  17. island,

    thanks for the clarification, but I have a few objections to your point. So, to recap, there are three versions of the (strong) anthropic principle:

    "1) There exists one possible Universe 'designed' with the goal of generating and sustaining 'observers.' " This can be seen as simply the classic design argument dressed in the garb of contemporary cosmology. It implies that the purpose of the universe is to give rise to intelligent life, with the laws of nature and their fundamental constants set to ensure that life as we know it will emerge and evolve."

    This one is definitely ID-like, despite your further comments in your follow-up post. Any time one speaks about "design" and especially "purpose" one is implying an intelligent designer. And certainly Miller was, otherwise his whole argument would be futile.

    "2) Observers are necessary to bring the Universe into being." Barrow and Tipler believe that this can be validly inferred from quantum mechanics, as has long been suggested by John Archibald Wheeler in his "participatory universe" and Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP)."

    Frankly, I consider this to be sheer nonsense. I don't think even the strangeness of quantum mechanics licenses that sort of backward causation extending over macroscopic objects and a span of billion of years. Not to mention that psychologically this is a huge (and unjustified) ego trip!

    "3) An ensemble of other different universes is necessary for the existence of our Universe." Contrast this with Carter, who merely says that an ensemble of universes is necessary for the SAP to count as an explanation."

    This isn't anthropic at all, it's a variant of the multiverse idea, and I have no problem with it (except of course that there is no way to test it empirically...).

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  18. Massimo,
    Thank you for your response to my suggestion.

    You said: As you can see from his response, he simply took offense to the fact that I was making fun of his religion, but did not actually address the argument.

    So typical of a religious apologist. I'm so disappointing in Ken in this regard. Please continue to ask the question until you get a real answer. Everyone of his obfuscations must be challenged. Moving the goal posts is one of the apologist's favourite tricks and cannot be allowed.

    And, while you are at it, ask Ken how often he recites the Nicene Creed and whether or not he takes it seriously. His defense of the contradictions involved in answering you should prove interesting.

    Lastly, I suggest the you and we continue to emphasize the cognitive dissonance involved in holding contradictory views. Such dissonance is bound to eat away at anyone who honestly seeks an understanding of the universe and its workings. I believe that this stratagem will work on Ken as I perceive him to be honest and yet under the delusional spell of the belief system he was raised in.

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  19. Honestly, Millers just using a form of the "god of the gaps" argument. I can clearly see why, you Mossimo, can equate Millers view to that of ID, minus the outright ineptitude of the ID proponents. Although Miller does not propose ideas that are clearly against known scientific principles and facts as do many ID proponents openly do. Miller still has to hide in places where the science... is still in its infancy just so that he can still have a place at the "table".

    A major problem that I have with such arguments is that they always are evidence for a deistic point of view, but what we tend to find is that the proponent of the argument is not a deist, but a full blown christian/muslim/(insert any specific religion). IMO, it takes vast amounts of intellectual dishonesty and mental gymnastics in order to justify a world religion view instead of simply calling oneself a deist.

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  20. I ask ... why he believes in the Christian god rather than, say, the Olympian ones (which are a lot more fun).

    That's fairly obvious. The Olympian pantheon comprised a multitude of gods, each with the power to act autonomously. Each was able to overrule or thwart the will of another. Aphrodite thwarting Ares; Hera thwarting Zeus. Zeus-pitar was the big dog, but he did not have the power to set his colleagues in order. Even trees, streams, and planets were envisioned as having wills of their own. Given this milieu there could not be consistent "laws of nature." No s=0.5at^2 or E=mc^2 because there is not one will to set matters in order.

    Since there are laws of nature, there cannot be multiple gods as envisioned in the Greek pantheon.

    We ought not make the error of thinking that the category of {Everything I don't believe in} forms a scientific genus. In fact, the Olympic crew was conceived in an entirely different way than the Jewish God.
    + + +

    I did not read Miller as giving a "god of the gaps" argument. Quite the contrary. Recall that none of Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God cited rare or inexplicable events as "proof." Aquinas took it for granted that God had endowed natures with the ability to act directly upon one another "by their own natures." He did cite the lawfulness and ordering of nature. From that point of view, Darwin's theory, which postulates such lawful behavior in evolution, is a better argument for a God's existence than complicated cellular structures for which we don't yet know the explanation. Heck, Aquinas himself made that argument: "since the cause may be unknown to one man but known to another" or learned at a later time, "some marvel and some do not."
    + + +
    Either his creator gave the universe a kick start and then left it to its own devices or s/he is a tinkerer who medals in our affairs but not both.

    The short answer is "none of the above."

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  21. Mike,

    that wasn't my point when I asked Ken if he believed in the Olympian gods. I simply wanted to underscore that he picked an arbitrary cultural tradition over another -- which, by the way, he refused to admit, speaking of "historical evidence" in favor of Christianity.

    Besides, whoever said that the laws of the universe weren't the result of a committee? That would explain a lot about the imperfection of the world, wouldn't it? :)

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  22. Mike's points are spot on. I blogged briefly about this, and Siris picked up on the interesting point that the whole "it's designed" versus "no, it wasn't designed" schtick has quite a history, and amounts to two sides of the same...dubious coin.

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  23. that wasn't my point when I asked Ken if he believed in the Olympian gods. I simply wanted to underscore that he picked an arbitrary cultural tradition over another

    Actually, it doesn't seem to be arbitrary at all. First, it's the only cultural tradition that led to science (as opposed to the mere accumulation of facts, lore, and rules of thumb), so it makes sense that one steeped in science would also be steeped in that tradition, whether to accept or reject it. Second, while the old pagans did many things, the last thing they did was to get baptized. One supposes they had some reason for doing that. Other contemporary traditions are derivative of this one, or suppose an infinitely enduring universe that is, at least for now, contraindicated by physics. Why cite a tradition in which matter has always existed and always will?
    + + +
    whoever said that the laws of the universe weren't the result of a committee? That would explain a lot about the imperfection of the world, wouldn't it? :)

    Alas, the Olympian gods did not even function as a committee. Read Homer or Hesiod. I'm not sure what "imperfections" you mean, since an imperfection is undefined in the absence of the perfect. Are Newton's formulas imperfect simply because they are analytically unsolvable for multiple bodies? Are they imperfect because they do not apply to the very small or the very fast? Are the imperfections in the world or in our understanding of the world?

    For the benefit of those of your correspondents who operate on cherished stereotypes of the Other, it would be instructive to read Aristotle's Metaphysics (984b): "Nor again was it satisfactory to commit so important a matter [as the generation of the actual world] to spontaneity and chance. Hence when someone said that there is Mind in nature, just as in animals, and that this is the cause of all order and arrangement, he seemed like a sane man in contrast with the haphazard statements of his predecessors."

    Aristotle's intelligent designer was not the Jewish God. So to object to the proposition that "the order of the world is due to design (intention)" on the basis that the proposer has a particular designer in mind is not a rational objection.

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  24. Mike,

    I insist, you are missing the point of my Olympian gods question. I could have used any other arbitrary cultural tradition, and yes, Christianity is just as arbitrary as any other (science did not come out of Christianity, it traces its roots to ancient Greek philosophy, and it eventually emerged *despite* Christianity).

    I read Homer, it's required reading in Italian high schools. I don't see the difference between the dysfunctionality of the Olympian gods and that of most committees I've been on: big egos clashing, backstabbing, personal agendas and all the rest.

    "Aristotle's intelligent designer was not the Jewish God. So to object to the proposition that "the order of the world is due to design (intention)" on the basis that the proposer has a particular designer in mind is not a rational objection."

    I don't object to it on those grounds, I object to it on the ground that to me the invocation of *any* intelligent designer puts one on highly shaky philosophical ground.

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  25. AC: "Honestly, Millers just using a form of the "god of the gaps" argument."

    But you're, otoh, using MAN in the gaps...
    Men, it is quite clear , change their minds ALL THE TIME. And since the general principles that run the universe seem to be pretty doggone consistent,(and NO ONE is responsible for this phenom, OF COURSE, LOL!!!) I'd suggest that it is clearly the designer, GOD Who does not change His mind and is the 'reliable' gap filler.

    A Creator filling an explanation for a mystery is FAR more credible then than MAN in every (justifiable reason for humanism) gap.

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  26. Caliana:
    A Creator filling an explanation for a mystery is FAR more credible then than MAN in every (justifiable reason for humanism) gap.

    There are no gaps in the universe; only gaps in our understanding. Since understanding increases over time, you assign your God an ever-shrinking role. The God of the traditional churches didn't fill in gaps; he filled in everything. Their God was not a material cause, like some scientific theory for a physical phenomenon; not a feature of the universe. He was supposed to be the source of the universe. Hence, the "I AM" self-appellation. He was the source of existence for evolving species and atomic nuclei, whether we understood atoms or evolution or not.
    + + +

    Massimo
    I object to [intelligent design] on the ground that to me the invocation of *any* intelligent designer puts one on highly shaky philosophical ground.

    Neither Plato nor Aristotle thought the ground so shaky, and I've heard rumor that they were considered philosophers of no mean repute. Go figure. That doesn't mean they were right, of course; but it may mean that they were not obviously wrong.

    Perhaps that is due to the modern reading of "design" as "specifying parameters" (as in "product design") rather than the older meaning of "plan or intention." So moderns figure God-at-the-drafting-table, like an engineer, rather than God-as-author conceiving a novel.

    In a good novel, the characters act from their own motivations. When a character acts simply to further the plot, the author's hand shows and it is considered bad art.

    + + +

    science did not come out of Christianity, it traces its roots to ancient Greek philosophy, and it eventually emerged *despite* Christianity

    That science emerged *despite* Christianity is an unexamined assumption of many moderns, accepted without much thought, certainly without skepticism; but it does not hold up to the empirical facts.

    A useful starting point is Toby Huff's excellent comparison study, The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West, but Grant and Lindberg are also worth reading and accessible to the layman.

    One wonders why science did not emerge in any other culture, where they did not have the impediment of Christianity. Lindberg, in The Beginnings of Western Science, gave eight definitions of what is meant by "science," so part of the reason may be an equivocation on the term.

    Did the Greeks get something started? Of course. But Aristotle and Archimedes loom larger in our imaginations than they did in ancient Greece. No civilization has ever come close to inventing science without Aristotle; but Aristotle, while necessary, was not sufficient. We don't credit the David to the quarryman who cut out the marble block.

    Check Peter Dear's list of the six elements of the Scientific Revolution (in "Mersenne and the Learning of the Schools") and ask how many were in effect in ancient Greece.

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  27. Massimo, if I were just a truly ignorant person, there would be no reason to put the delete op on my comments. Had no idea that my WILD, uniformed rants meant so much. I'm touched tho...lol!

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  28. Mike,

    "Neither Plato nor Aristotle thought the ground so shaky, and I've heard rumor that they were considered philosophers of no mean repute. Go figure."

    Yes, but they also wrote 2500 years ago. You know, Ptolemy was a great scientist in his day, but today his positions are rather indefensible...

    "That science emerged *despite* Christianity is an unexamined assumption of many moderns, accepted without much thought, certainly without skepticism; but it does not hold up to the empirical facts."

    I think that's largely the result of politically correct historical revisionism. I did read Lindberg, and I didn't get that impression at all from his book. Indeed, Lindberg documents how long it took to get out of the idea of science (and philosophy) as handmaidens to theology, with the latter playing the primary role as depository of Truth.

    "Aristotle and Archimedes loom larger in our imaginations than they did in ancient Greece. No civilization has ever come close to inventing science without Aristotle; but Aristotle, while necessary, was not sufficient. We don't credit the David to the quarryman who cut out the marble block."

    Hardly a fair comparison, my friend. The impact of the Greek was fundamental, regardless of how well known Aristotle was in his own time. As you pointed out, modern science would not have gotten off the ground easily without the rediscovery of his works, and their subsequent criticism at the hand of Bacon and Galileo.

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  29. That philosophy was a handmaid to theology was a crucial step forward in science, because it meant that there could not be two kinds of truth, philosophical and religious, as ibn Sinna had proposed. If the two seemed to contradict each other, Western theologians said, then one or the other was not yet properly understood. In particular, it meant that philosophy [logic and reason] could be used to study questions in theology, thus subjecting religious beliefs to rational analysis. Those who do this today are doing a very Christian thing.

    Compare this to Islam, where philosophy was *not* a handmaiden to religion, but an outcast. The application of reason in religion - kalam - was viewed with suspicion compared to traditional ijtihad. The West has Aquinas and the Summa theologica; Islam had al-Ghazali and the Tahafut al-falasifa [Incoherence of philosophy]. (Had the mu'tazilites won out over the ash'arites it might have been a different story. But they didn't and it wasn't.)

    In the medieval university (another creation of old Christendom), anyone matriculating in the graduate schools of theology, law, or medicine had first to master an undergraduate curriculum devoted almost entirely to logic, reason, and natural philosophy. [In modern terms, every medieval theologian had been first educated as a scientist.] This created an atmosphere that, far from being hostile, was positively well-disposed toward science. Aquinas stated that while it was legitimate to apply reason to questions of theology, it was illegitimate to apply revelation to questions of philosophy. Those today who push this notion are pushing a Christian notion.

    In Islam, only one madrassa was endowed for anything other than Holy Qur'an. Maghara was endowed to study astronomy, a branch of mathematics. It flourished for about 70 years. Other observatories were not madrassas, were often sacked by mobs, or were subordinated to the muwaqqit [timekeeper] of the local mosque. No madrassas ever taught natural philosophy. [As for China, there was never anything like the Western university or the Islamic madrassa. There was a government agency for training bureacrats and private "cram schools" to prepare for the Exams. An exam for astronomy was briefly included, but Shu Hsi complained that because the questions were so badly posed, the examiners gave everyone a passing grade. None of the exams covered natural philosophy.]

    The natural philosophers of the Latin West - who were often theologians as well - took the first steps toward transforming natural philosophy into modern science. This meant that they conceptualized the world as a sort of machine [machina mundi], began moving toward deliberate and recordable experimentation and privileging mathematics as the discourse of science [the latter two being contrary to Aristotle], conceptualizing natural philosophy as a research enterprise rather than a potpourri of factoids, etc. In addition, they developed the terms and definitions of science and laid out the subject matter to be addressed, conceptualized the measurement of qualities [even if they lacked instruments to make the measurements] and worked out the problems associated with the continuum.

    So, "handmaid" was a pretty good position to be in, all things considered. If China never developed science because she never had an Aristotle, Islam fell short because she never had an Aquinas.
    + + +
    The impact of the Greek was fundamental, regardless of how well known Aristotle was in his own time. As you pointed out, modern science would not have gotten off the ground easily without the rediscovery of his works, and their subsequent criticism at the hand of Bacon and Galileo.

    This illustrates the vision problems of the modern. The works of Aristotle were not only rediscovered, they were actively sought out. [The Romans had never bothered to translate him into Latin.] But they were translated by the likes of Gerard of Cremona and William of Moerbeke in the High Middle Ages, and commented upon and critiqued by the Bradwardine and Grosseteste, et al. well before the second Bacon or Galileo came along.

    Moderns can easily spot Aristotle in the far distance and Francis Bacon close up, but somehow Oresme, Buridan, Grosseteste, Albert of Saxony, Bradwardine, Roger Bacon, Heytesbury, or any number of others are invisible.

    IOW, it was not Christendom that held back science. Quite the contrary. In Christendom, the natural philosophy of Aristotle flourished as it did not in Islam or even in ancient Greece itself, and it was brought to the very threshold of the scientific revolution. The real impediments were either non-religious concepts (such as Aristotle's too-scrupulous regard for the observer effect, which inhibited deliberate experimentation) or technological (the inability to measure most variables other than extension and weight). If there was a period of scientific quietus needing explanation, it is the long Roman period between the first few Aristotelians of ancient Greece and their sudden flourishing in the Middle Ages.

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  30. Mike,

    I don't think we are going to agree on this one. Of course early natural philosophers were associated with the Church, there was no other way to get an education, as you point out. This a far cry from the contention that Christianity helped science.

    Your argument and examples, to my view, simply point to the fact that Christendom was less strict and slightly more tolerant than the Islamic world, which helped science by comparison. But this doesn't amount to an argument for the lack of conflict between science and religion, as the former still had to fight every inch of the way out of the control of the latter.

    Notice, for instance, that Aquinas had a hell of hard time having his views accepted, and his books were initially banned. Book banning truly is the Christian thing to do, it seems.

    As for the Romans, they didn't do much in this area because they were practically oriented: physics or biology didn't interest them, but they were pretty good in medicine and especially engineering.

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  31. If there was a period of scientific quietus needing explanation, it is the long Roman period between the first few Aristotelians of ancient Greece and their sudden flourishing in the Middle Ages.

    But we have the explanation in the history of Christianity: Early Christian factions saw the early philosophers as a threat to be exterminated (along with all the other religions and factions of Christianity). Philosophers (natural and otherwise) did not go away because people were not interested in them; they were expelled.

    Paul of Tarsus condemned the Greek philosophers in no uncertain terms. The early Christian writers often echoed Paul ("What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?"). The Christian emperors who came to power supported their own faction of Christianity by condemning and often criminalizing everything outside of it.

    The Academy was closed by Emperor Justinian. All non-Christian ideas and learning were censored, and often burned.

    Early Christianity suppressed and destroyed all non-Christian learning so effectively that it required nearly a thousand years to pass before the natural philosophy that became science was permissible — and even there, it was a sometimes chancy thing.

    What more explanation is necessary?

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  32. owlmirror36 wrote:
    Early Christian factions saw the early philosophers as a threat to be exterminated (along with all the other religions and factions of Christianity). Philosophers (natural and otherwise) did not go away because people were not interested in them; they were expelled.

    That is a common fundamentalist trope in their attacks on the Orthodox and Catholic churches. I don't see why non-fundamentalists should buy into it. When the complexity of history is there to see, why accept a reductionist, monist explanation?

    Which philosophers were exterminated, expelled? [You will find that the Arian Constantinids mostly expelled Orthodox bishops.] It surely would be useful for those of us with an empirical cast of mind to cite the actual examples. Plato's Academy ended in 83 BC. What Justinian closed [if it was he] was a Neoplatonic academy. [There is a single primary source on this, and it is not clear that the decree about the philosophers of Athens was connected with the "Smith Act" barring pagans from holding imperial office.] The neoPlatonic tradition was mystical and anti-empiricist and whatever reason the emperor may have had for his action, it's closing was not a loss to science. It was in fact, not lost, as neoPlatonism was an important idea-stream in Christian philosophy. (Far from rejecting it, they adopted it.) OTOH, Aristotle's Lyceum, where natural philosophy was taught was sacked by L. Cornelius Sulla in 86 BC and if it was revived for a time, it is lost to history.

    The imperial project was to subordinate religion to the state. In Roman tradition, all religious offices had been elected political offices. [While conquering Gaul, Caesar was also the pontifex maximus, and was not allowed to look on human blood. (So much for the devout beliefs of rulers.) When ruthless ruling class Romans found it expedient to get themselves sprinkled, they did not suddenly cease to be ruthless ruling class Romans. Whereas, they had once required incense to Romania Aeterna and the deified emperors as a sign of political loyalty, they now required adherence to the new state cult of Christus. But it was and remained primarily a sign of political loyalty. In the East, the Ecumenical Patriarch remained an appointee of the emperor constantly struggling for independence. The West found a solution in the Separation of Church from State in the Hildebrandine Revolution. It lasted for half a thousand years before the kings brought the churches once more to heel with the Age of Reason, Absolute Monarchs, and the totalizing state.

    What we often see in the early days of the Church was not the expulsion of other philosophers, but the engagement of other philosophers in the form of letters and rebuttals, a vigorous dialog.

    And while Paul might have been correct that charting the motions of planets is less important than feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, Christians did not thereby reject secular learning per se. So while Augustine wrote [and he still wrote within the fading classical tradition] that "the Lord wanted to make Christians, not astronomers," he goes on in the very next sentence to say, "you learn at school all the useful things you need to know about nature." Similarly, Bernard Silvester, in the Early Middle Age, cited a grounding in secular knowledge as one of the fundamentals of a Christian education (along with the lawfulness of nature and the taxonomy of sciences). His contemporary Bernard of Chartres coined the comment that they were dwarfs standing on the should of giants which Newton later riffed on. If religious types thought charity and love more important, it is at least understandable.

    Early Christianity suppressed and destroyed all non-Christian learning so effectively that it required nearly a thousand years to pass before the natural philosophy that became science was permissible — and even there, it was a sometimes chancy thing.

    That does not square with empirical facts. It was never "not permissible." a) Classical learning was never lost in the Byzantine Christian East and b) it was "lost" in the West because the pagan Romans had never bothered translating it into Latin, not because it was somehow suppressed. [Think: what would have been required to pull that off?]

    For a period of time, it must be admitted, the Latin West was preoccupied with viking, magyar, and saracen warbands. (There was a jihadi castle in the Alps as late as the 9th century. The settlement of Genoa was obliterated and left uninhabited for a generation following an Arab sack. etc.) Yet, they soldiered on using the "Old Logic" of Boethius and the late Roman encyclopediasts. The main textbook was The Marriage of Philology and Mercury by Martianus Capella, which was organized around the seven liberal arts. And the first thing they did as the jihad ebbed was to run off eager and hungry to Cordova (and later to Sicily) to get copies of the works they only knew of by name from references in the books they did know.
    + + +
    What more explanation is necessary?

    One that accounts for the known facts of history, rather than the folklore credulously believed by so many. We need reason, not simply faith.

    "The Christian emperors" theory does not explain the lack of Roman science prior to the appearance of Christian emperors. The effect cannot precede the cause. The Roman Republic and Empire was always a science-free zone, even when it was pagan.

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  33. Massimo, it was not my intention to engage in an extended dialog, but the faith-based responses of some of your correspondents seemed at odds with the blog's theme of the blog of rationality. Surely, a comic book understanding of history does not qualify.

    Whether the Christian belief in a God is reasonable or not is irrelevant to whether it played a positive role in the development of science. But too many folks who simply dislike the religion extrapolate their dislike into a stereotyped and tendentious reading of history and the daring ignition of straw men, based [whether they know it or not] on fundamentalist tracts of the mid 19th cent. Hang them if you wish, but at least hang them for the crimes of which they were actually guilty. The "suppression of science" was not one of them.

    A few actual examples of church suppression of science would do wonders to advance the claim. "Name three."

    I believe you exaggerate Aquinas' difficulties. The practice in the Middle Ages was that books on theological topics had to be peer-reviewed. The review panel might condemn a number of propositions and require changes before letting the ms. be copied further. If the errors were fundamental to the book, the entire book would be trashed. I understand that science has taken up this "peer review" process, also; often with the same impact on non-paradigm science. Medieval theologians were a lively bunch, and there was constant debate and back-and-forthing among them. The church was told from the get-go that the weeds would grow up along with the wheat, so it is no great surprise if you find academic back-biting and jealousies. Ockham refused to rewrite his doctoral dissertation because Durandus, on his review committee, questioned some of the propositions. But Durandus had gone through the same thing earlier in his career.

    Books solely about natural philosophy were not subject to this peer review process, and there were no cases in the Middle Ages of a philosopher being reviewed or tried for matters of natural philosophy.

    I did not point out that "there was no other way to get an education" in the Middle Ages than through the church because it was not true. While the early cathedral schools were associated with cathedrals, the Universities were chartered self-governing secular corporations. [Another unique invention of Western Christendom.] The papal bull, Parens scientiarum, sometimes called the Magna Carta of the universities, declared that university curricula was entirely within the control of the university itself, excepting only theology. This was in response to efforts by the City Provost to take control of the University of Paris.

    As for Christian beliefs that informed the development of science, one key was synderesis from Paul's letter to the Romans and from Plato's Timaeus. This was the belief that human reason was capable of reaching true conclusions about moral questions (and by extension about the natural world). This was explicitly rejected in Islam and was never even considered in China.

    A second important Christian belief was the belief in secondary causation. They believed that God had endowed material bodies with "natures" that had the ability to act directly on one another. (The "seminal virtues of corporeal matter," as Aquinas put it.) Islam rejected secondary causation. In the Tahafut, al-Ghazali wrote that fire does not burn cloth but God causes the fire and God causes the blackening of the cloth and it is only the "habit of God" that the two occur together. The medieval Christian philosopher, otoh, believed that there was a principle in the nature of fire that directly acted upon a potency in the nature of cloth. The Christian was thus disposed to look for what he called "natural" causes. Call me crazy, but this would seem important to the development of natural science.

    There were other elements of Christian belief that were crucial to preparing the ground; for example, that the world was not an illusion, that the world was lawful (and therefore there actually were natural laws to be found), etc. Even that the study of the natural world was a worthy occupation for a grown up (e.g., Wis.7:15-22).
    + + +
    I did not say that the Romans had no "engineers" or no [Greek!] physicians. [Although the term "engineer" [ingeneator] did not appear in Latin until +XI cent.] I said they did not pursue science. This can be rebutted by facts, but not by ejaculations of faith.

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  34. Mike,

    I wish I had the time to keep this particular discussion going, though I appreciate your thoughtful contribution. Still, can't resist the following opening you gave me:

    "A few actual examples of church suppression of science would do wonders to advance the claim. Name three."

    Copernicus, Bruno and Galilei.

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  35. "A few actual examples of church suppression of science would do wonders to advance the claim. Name three."

    Copernicus, Bruno and Galilei."

    Apart from the RCC, and I realize the problems and confusion that it causes, I'm positive these three men have been proved to be believers. This was a matter of one so-called believing(if one thinks that joining "The Church" makes you a Christian) faction disagreeing with the principles and ideals of another.


    And because the Bible does not say ANYWHERE that joining the Roman Catholic Church is a prerequisite to being saved, I'd say that the RCC is in fact the pseudo faith and the three scientists to which you refer were likely the true Christians.

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  36. "A few actual examples of church suppression of science would do wonders to advance the claim. Name three."

    Massimo
    Copernicus, Bruno and Galilei

    a) Copernicus was not suppressed. He was himself a church official (canon of Frauenberg, diocesan administrator, Doctor of Canon Law) and he was encouraged to publish his monograph by Cardinal Schonberg, Bishop Giese, and others. He hesitated because according to the "scientific consensus" of the day, "the science was settled" and he feared ridicule by the professors. He was eventually persuaded and dedicated the work to the then-Pope Paul III, who received it with great interest. The work then circulated for some seventy years without hindrance. The Jesuits began teaching it at the Roman College. Then it got tangled up in politics and the work was withdrawn, nine sentences altered, and the work re-issued. The nine sentences were those that represented the system as a proven fact.

    b) Bruno was not suppressed because of science, nor was he himself a scientist. The bill of indictment in the Summary of his trial lists eight charges, none of which had anything to do with astronomy. Bruno, a monk, had first fled Rome one step ahead of a murder charge. He joined the Calvinists and was excommunicated by them; joined the Lutherans and was excommunicated by them; joined the scholars of Oxford and was expelled by them. This was some feat! Finally, he wound up in Venice, which spent seven years trying to talk him out of his heresies regarding Christ, the Virgin Mary, etc. before giving up. The translator of his Ash Wednesday Supper made the mordant comment that, if they had only bothered to read it, the Copernicans would have burned Bruno. An analysis of the book shows that Bruno had no real knowledge of current astronomy and was contemptuous of Copernicus. His advocacy of Copernicanism was purely in the interests of advancing his own heresies, much as "evolution" was adopted by the French Revolution. And just as Darwin avoided the term "evolution" in the Origin because of its association with the Terror, neither Kepler nor Galileo wanted Bruno's name mentioned in connection with their theories.
    c) Galileo is the single example in 2000 years for which a case may be made. In fact, when I posed the challenge I pretty much knew the only response would be this hardy perennial. However, history is always more complicated than mythic story-telling. The situation was complex, and we must suppose that Darwin's Bulldog, Huxley, had good reason for saying, "The Church had the better case." Bellarmine had told Galileo him that it was permissible to teach Copernicanism as a mathematical tool, but it must not be taught as a proven physical fact until there was empirical evidence.(*) It was of violating this instruction that Galileo was convicted. He never did find the empirical evidence he needed: His "convincing evidence" was that the ocean tides were caused by the earth spinning, which is false and was unconvincing even to his friends. (Everyone knew the Moon was somehow involved, though no one knew how.) In doing this, he needlessly (and probably unwittingly) insulted and ridiculed his old friend and protector, Pope Urban VIII, who got really honked off. He had earlier alienated his Jesuit supporters by getting in a flame war over the Comets of 1618. Fr. Grassi had meticulously observed them and correctly placed them between the moon and the sun, but Galileo, who, being ill, had not observed them, said the comets were emanations within the earth's atmosphere -- and proceeded to heap scorn and ridicule on Grassi. The business got out of hand, and when the chips were down, the Jesuits sat on the sidelines. Galileo reported in a letter to Diodati that Fr. Grienberger had said that had he only known how to retain the favor of the Jesuits, he could have published anything he wanted about the motions of the earth. Peiresc wrote to Gassendi that Frs. Clavius and Malapertius themselves "did not really disapprove of the opinion of Copernicus; in fact... they were not far from it themselves." After the trial, Galileo went to the palace of Cardinal Piccolomini in Siena, where Piccolomini and Cardinal Barberini (the Pope's nephew) entertained him and discussed plans for his next book. Galileo himself wrote [to Peiresc] about the "true motives" that lay behind the "mask of religion." Perhaps he knew something we do not.

    In any case, we find churchmen on both sides of the controversy and astronomers on both sides. The physicists were very much against him, especially delle Colombe and his circle. (There were professors at Perugia who refused even to look through the telescope. The Jesuits were building their own. Fr. Scheiner may have seen sunspots before Galileo.)

    Scientifically, heliocentricity had been falsified by the data. One objection, known to Aristotle and Archimedes, was that there was no observable parallax among the fixed stars. The Copernican answer was that the sphere of the fixed stars were much farther away than supposed. The Aristotelian rejoinder was that you cannot save one unproven hypothesis with a second unproven hypothesis. They had a point. Beside, the relative brightness of the stars showed that they were 70 million miles away! Parallax should have been visible.

    The second falsification was that if the earth were spinning, objects at the tops of towers would have higher eastward velocity than at the base and would therefore strike the ground slightly to the east of their drop point. Galileo himself proposed the experiment, but (despite legends) never carried it out. (Or perhaps he did, failed to find the deflection, and kept his mouth shut.)

    In the face of these scientific objections, it was not evident to contemporaries that the Copernican system was correct; and the Church, challenged by Protestant literalism was reluctant to re-interpret anything unless it was known for certain to the contrary. [Oresme had shown 300 years earlier how to do this, and made all of Copernicus' arguments, save the Tusi couple.]

    After Guglielmini performed the falling weight tests (1789-92) and Callendrielli observed (or thought he observed) parallax in a-Lyrae (1806), Settele included them in his new textbook, presented it to the authorities, who noodled over it and said, Yup, here's the empirical proof that Bellarmine asked for, and lifted the injunction. It is a fine point who was more careful of demanding empirical proof in this case.

    There is no doubt that the Galileo case was a scandal and that he was badly treated; but it does not rise to some sort of institutional hostility to science. If that were the case, a search of 2000 years of history ought to have found more instances than this disagreement among scientists as well as among churchmen.

    Had Galileo not been a flame warrior, had he been more cautious of claiming factual status for an hypothesis that seemed to be falsified, had he not trespassed [in the Letter to Castelli] in trying to tell the theologians how they ought to interpret scriptures [philosophers weren't supposed to mess around in theology], for that matter if Bellarmine had lived, none of it need have happened.

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  37. When the complexity of history is there to see, why accept a reductionist, monist explanation?

    I acknowledge that my summation was overly terse and simplistic... but I find your rebuttal to be lacking a certain something.

    Which philosophers were exterminated, expelled?

    I did not originally *write* that the philosophers were exterminated, but rather that they were seen as a *threat* to be exterminated. This was a hyperbolic usage of the word, meant to convey that a variety of methods might be used against them, including exile and various other legalistic means, rather than necessarily death.

    However, you reminded me of the death of Hypatia, most famously, as an individual exterminated specifically by Christians.

    And I already mentioned the philosophers of the Academy. See below.

    You will find that the Arian Constantinids mostly expelled Orthodox bishops.

    I myself did say that Christian factions were fighting with and expelling each other as well; they too saw each other as threats to be exterminated. We are certainly not in disagreement over that.

    What Justinian closed [if it was he] was a Neoplatonic academy. [There is a single primary source on this, and it is not clear that the decree about the philosophers of Athens was connected with the "Smith Act" barring pagans from holding imperial office.]

    Why is there doubt about this? Does it matter what the exact wording of the legalistic decree was, given that the results were expulsion of the philosophers, and Justinian did nothing to prevent this, and presumably approved of it?

    I suppose it might give greater detail to explain that philosophy and paganism were seen as united, and thus Christianity rejected philosophy and philosophers as pagan.
    Again, this does not contradict the thesis that it was Christianity that was opposed to philosophy.

    The neoPlatonic tradition was mystical and anti-empiricist and whatever reason the emperor may have had for his action, it's closing was not a loss to science. It was in fact, not lost, as neoPlatonism was an important idea-stream in Christian philosophy. (Far from rejecting it, they adopted it.)

    Indeed, except that the Neoplatonic Academy had, by that time, accepted and taught the works of Aristotle. Thus, while I grant that Neoplatonism itself was mystical, it had a tradition of intellectual pluralism and freedom of learning and scholarship, and accepted that naturalistic philosophy was also of interest and use (for all that they did not expand on Aristotle's work by making their own naturalistic observations (at least as far as I can tell)).

    The absorption of Neoplatonic mysticism into Christianity does not contradict my main point: Christianity *took* the mystical ideas about God and *rejected* the natural philosophy of Aristotle. And I seem to recall that more than a few early Christian writers disliked the Neoplatonic ideas being mixed in...

    ("Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. " (Tertullian again, of course))


    So while Augustine wrote [and he still wrote within the fading classical tradition] that "the Lord wanted to make Christians, not astronomers," he goes on in the very next sentence to say, "you learn at school all the useful things you need to know about nature."

    I would suggest that Augustine was an arguable example; even in your sentence, he seems to be arguing that astronomy was superfluous (and did he say "astronomers" or "astrologers"?), yet even granting that Augustine thought that natural philosophy was not entirely useless, it seems to me, given that your next examples are from centuries later, that the advocating of learning about the natural world was something that was *not* accepted from his writings.

    [Re my perhaps overly-broad claim that "Early Christianity suppressed and destroyed all non-Christian learning" ]
    That does not square with empirical facts. It was never "not permissible." a) Classical learning was never lost in the Byzantine Christian East

    A claim that I don't have the expertise to refute at this point in time... but perhaps you could explain who was in fact teaching Aristotle's works after the Academy was closed?

    and b) it was "lost" in the West because the pagan Romans had never bothered translating it into Latin, not because it was somehow suppressed.

    Hm.

    Greek, of course, was the language of scholarship of ancient Rome, just as Latin became the language of scholarship of later Rome. Were many original Greek works translated, or would it have been expected that a scholar would learn the original language that they were written in?

    And what happened to native Latin naturalist writers, such as Lucretius?

    [Think: what would have been required to pull that off?]

    Can you affirm with certainty that the works of Aristotle had not been translated and then later burned and destroyed?

    "The Christian emperors" theory does not explain the lack of Roman science prior to the appearance of Christian emperors. The effect cannot precede the cause. The Roman Republic and Empire was always a science-free zone, even when it was pagan.

    I think this could be argued against, but perhaps not by me right now.


    -----------

    As for Christian beliefs that informed the development of science, one key was synderesis from Paul's letter to the Romans

    Please expand on this, if you can. I have seen this hinted at, but never seen a full and comprehensive explanation.


    In the Tahafut, al-Ghazali wrote that fire does not burn cloth but God causes the fire and God causes the blackening of the cloth and it is only the "habit of God" that the two occur together.

    *snort*. You explicitly cite an incoherent argument from a work titled "Incoherence of the Philosophers" by someone trying to insist that philosophy was incoherent? Please. How many Christian mystics are you ignoring with that particular selection, many of whom I am fairly sure would have agreed with al-Ghazali that cause and effect only existed because of God; it's a very Neoplatonic idea.

    And you skip over ibn-Rushd's refutation of al-Ghazali because... why exactly?

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  38. owlmirror36
    *snort*. You explicitly cite an incoherent argument from a work titled "Incoherence of the Philosophers" by someone trying to insist that philosophy was incoherent? Please. How many Christian mystics are you ignoring with that particular selection, many of whom I am fairly sure would have agreed with al-Ghazali that cause and effect only existed because of God; it's a very Neoplatonic idea.

    "Many of whom I am fairly sure..." Meaning, you don't know any but take it on faith, not reason that it "must" have been so because you don't believe in their God.

    Al-Ghazali was "selected" because he was a central figure in the development of Islam. It can be argued that Islam became a popular religion (rather than solely of the ruling class) largely because of him. It was because of him that "the gates of ijtihad" were declared closed, which some people have described as the death blow to natural philosophy in Islam.

    He did not argue that a causal universe was the consequence of a rational God. He argued that there were no "natural" causes at all. He denied that it was any property of the fire that burned the cloth.

    No one in Christendom of a similar stature said anything quite like al-Ghazali. Bernard of Clairvaux famously opposed the use of reason in religion, i.e., theology; but he did not oppose its use elsewhere.

    Even Ockham, who, like Hume, argued against causation, took the argument in a different direction. The influential Christian theologians came down in overwhelming numbers in favor of reason and natural philosophy.

    In the 13th century, Islam was still wrangling over whether the study of logic, reason, and natural philosophy - known since the 9th century - were haram. Ibn Khaldun denounced philosophy in his history of the world. As-Salah issued a fatwa against it. These were the big mainstream voices. Nothing remotely resembling this happened in the West.

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    owlmirror36
    And you skip over ibn-Rushd's refutation of al-Ghazali because... why exactly?

    Simple. Ibn Rushd lost. He was stripped of all offices and forced to flee town for his safety. He was virtually forgotten in Islam, and regarded as a heretic by those who knew. His works were more popular and circulated to greater enthusiasm in the Christian West than in the House of Submission itself. In the West, "Averroes" was often called "The Commentator," the Number 2 guy to the pagan Aristotle (called simply "The Philosopher.") Virtually every prominent faylasuf in Islam at some point suffered from official or mob persecution. Al Kindi, for example, was publicly flogged under al-Mutawwakil.
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    owlmirror36
    Please expand on [synderesis], if you can. I have seen this hinted at, but never seen a full and comprehensive explanation.

    I'd suggest Toby Huff's book The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West for a good explanation of the significance and weaves it into the development of Western law and thence Western science and medicine.
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    owlmirror36
    Can you affirm with certainty that the works of Aristotle had not been translated and then later burned and destroyed?

    Not a single historian who discusses the topic has ever suggested such a thing. A certain devotion to reason would suggest that perhaps it is a folk legend. The Romans simply had not been interested. They did translate his political works, and these were known to the Latins because they were not "burned" by your imaginary fanatics. Also, Boethius, "the last of the Romans and first of the medievals," had set himself the task of translating the remainder of Aristotle but had not finished before he was executed by the Goths for suspected treason. His Consolation of Philosophy is one of the seminal works of Western Civilization, which means that most moderns are unfamiliar with it. His partial translation of Aristotle was immensely popular and "The Old Logic" was used along with the late Roman encyclopedias and digests (like The Marriage of Philology and Mercury) as the basic texts in the cathedral schools. Once the rest of Aristotle was translated the enthusiasm swept Europe.

    Excellent treatments of Western attitudes toward ancient learning can be found in Edward Grant's God and Reason in the Middle Ages in Lindberg's "The Transmission of Greek and Arabic Learning to the West" contained in Lindberg (ed.) Science in the Middle Ages. Michael Mahoney's contribution "Mathematics" in the same volume is also instructive.
    + + +
    owlmirror36
    I would suggest that Augustine was an arguable example; even in your sentence, he seems to be arguing that astronomy was superfluous (and did he say "astronomers" or "astrologers"?), yet even granting that Augustine thought that natural philosophy was not entirely useless, it seems to me, given that your next examples are from centuries later, that the advocating of learning about the natural world was something that was *not* accepted from his writings.

    Between Augustine and my "next examples" lay a little thing called the Western Dark Age, when muslim jihadis were building castles in the Alps, beseiging Rome, obliterating Genoa, etc. while vikings attacked Paris, England and Ireland and Magyars swept in from the steppes. Even so, we have such figures as Boethius, John Scotus Eriugena, Gerbert of Aurillac, Hugh of St. Victor, Adalberon of Laon, John of Auxerre, Thierry of Chartres, Fulbert of Chartres, Peter Abelard, William of Conches, John of Salisbury, Adelard of Bath, etc.


    Augustine was seminal to Western civilization and was so acknowledged early on. The Roman world he came from had little interest in natural philosophy, and the Latin West a-borning was pre-occupied for several centuries with surviving jihadis, vikings, and magyars. So there was certainly a period of low activity (or at least little activity that we know of). It was during this period that the monks of the West were meticulously copying and preserving all they could of the very writings you claim they were destroying.
    + + +
    Hypatia

    Ja doch. Rioting was the favorite sport of the Alexandrians from the time the city was founded. That didn't change because some of the City turned Christian. Peter the Lector led the mob that killed her. But Bishop Synesius of Cyrene was her worshipful pupil; and the Christian historian Socrates Scholasticus wrote critically of the events. The question is not whether there was mob violence in Alexandria, but whether it was part and parcel of a Church hostility to science. The account of John of Nikiu mentions an earlier riot in which pagans and Jews had lured the Christians out of their homes with cries that the church was on fire and then began to stone them. Hypatia was accused of being implicated in it. But this is a late account from a Coptic source.
    + + +
    perhaps you could explain who was in fact teaching Aristotle's works after the Academy was closed?

    What makes you think everything hinged on a single school? John Philoponus and Simplicius come to mind. If fact, the Byzantines were if anything too enamored of ancient learning and seldom went beyond what they had said. Philoponus was an exception. It's a bit off my orbit, but a friend of mine was a Byzantine scholar before he turned to writing, and I could drop him a line, if you like.
    + + +
    given that the results were expulsion of the philosophers

    That's the part that was in doubt. The "expelled" scholars returned. Simplicius (above) was one of them. There was a lively traffic in neoPlatonic scholars visiting Persia and entertaining the shah-an-shah. Khrosroe went so far as to declare his willingness to abdicate and become a philosopher himself, although his ministers talked him out of it. IOW, the question is whether they went to Persia because they were expelled or because they were the latest in a long line of "visiting professors." We know of the closing of the Academy from one preserved sentence in an ancient ms. For all we know, it simply meant that the court would no longer fund it because Justinian was depaganizing the government.
    + + +
    "[T]he natural order does not exist confusedly and without rational arrangement, and human reason should be listened to concerning those things it treats of. But when it completely fails, then the matter should be referred to God. Therefore, since we have not yet completely lost the use of our minds, let us return to reason."
    -- Adelard of Bath, to his nephew in Quaestiones naturales

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  39. Why is Heaven so desirable for after we die but would be a terrible thing to have in this world, here and now? If this is the best God can do then wouldn't Heaven be just like this world?

    My thoughts exactly. Is there evolution in Miller's heaven?

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  40. Toby Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West

    Edward Grant God and Reason in the Middle Ages

    Lindberg (ed.) Science in the Middle Ages

    Well, this is plenty of food for thought, and no mistake. I will have to follow up on the various references.

    Still:

    Between Augustine and my "next examples" lay a little thing called the Western Dark Age, when muslim jihadis were building castles in the Alps, beseiging Rome, obliterating Genoa, etc. while vikings attacked Paris, England and Ireland and Magyars swept in from the steppes.

    What, all at the same time? Or one damn thing after the other?

    I can see how that would be a bit distracting, but the Dark Age was called that, not because of all the attacks and whatnot (there were plenty of conflicts between the time of Aristotle and Justinian), but because of a perceived lack of *cultural* brightness.

    This is the second time you've mention Muslims building castles in the Alps — when and where was this, and by whom, exactly?

    Even so, we have such figures as Boethius, John Scotus Eriugena, Gerbert of Aurillac, Hugh of St. Victor, Adalberon of Laon, John of Auxerre, Thierry of Chartres, Fulbert of Chartres, Peter Abelard, William of Conches, John of Salisbury, Adelard of Bath.

    Granted, I suppose. Hm. I note that Boethius' Christianity is alleged to have been nominal.

    Augustine was seminal to Western civilization and was so acknowledged early on. The Roman world he came from had little interest in natural philosophy

    Or rather, the Roman and Christian world(s) had little interest in natural philosophy.

    and the Latin West a-borning was pre-occupied for several centuries with surviving jihadis, vikings, and magyars.

    Yes, those Muslims, Norse, and Hungarians were just *too distracting* for anyone to carry on with natural philosophy. Funny, I seem to recall reading that interest in Aristotle was aroused by the the works of ibn-Rushd reaching the west, and some of his works were first found in the west translated from Arabic...

    It was during this period that the monks of the West were meticulously copying and preserving all they could of the very writings you claim they were destroying.

    Then why would a monk take the works of Archimedes and a commentary on Aristotle (among others), and make a prayer-book out of them?

    What makes you think everything hinged on a single school? John Philoponus and Simplicius come to mind.

    Interesting characters. I see that they are characterized as adversaries.

    We know of the closing of the Academy from one preserved sentence in an ancient ms. For all we know, it simply meant that the court would no longer fund it because Justinian was depaganizing the government.

    Yet that amounts to the same thing, does it not?

    Look. Justinian was establishing a Christian religious monopoly. Even assuming that the philosophers of the school were not forced into exile by the government, what else were they supposed to do?

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  41. Then why would a monk take the works of Archimedes and a commentary on Aristotle (among others), and make a prayer-book out of them?

    Owl, come on, man. For all we know, the monk's library already had 5 sets of Archimedes (since lost) and Aristotle and he decided he could recycle one. Do we have evidence he did it because he thought science is evil?

    The 'dark age' is generally the convenient talking point of 19th century schoolmasters, who didn't know nearly what we know of the period now.

    To Mike's list of books, I'd like to suggest adding D.S.L. Cardwell's old chestnut, Turning Points in Western Technology.

    I've been enjoying the discussion. Look, I'm sure we can admit that the religious mentality in general has always had a strain that looks with suspicion on 'prying into nature'. Bernard of Clairvaux, as Mike points out, is one example. He couldn't stand Peter Lombard, and likewise, Albertus Magnus and Aquinas had their detractors as well.

    But I think it's hard not to notice, starting from about the 11th century onwards, the rapid expansion of technological and philosophical progress in Europe. I realize you can't say the medieval's natural philsophy was science as we understand it today. But I think is fair to say in isn't an accident science emerged from it.

    And, btw, I think it would have emerged even sooner had it not been for the Black Death smack in the middle of the 14th century. It took Europe almost 3 centuries to completely recover.

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  42. Actually, I meant Peter Abelard, not Lombard. (I always confuse them.)

    ReplyDelete
  43. John Farrell
    I think it would have emerged even sooner had it not been for the Black Death smack in the middle of the 14th century. It took Europe almost 3 centuries to completely recover.

    Good point. According to Colin McEvedy's Atlas of World Population History, Western European population levels did not reach 14th century levels until the 17th century. Supposing scientific interest in nature to be a fixed proportion, there would not be as many "scientists" as there were in the days of Buridan, Albert, Oresme, and the "Calculators of Merton" until the generation of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo. Perhaps a "critical mass" of inter-communicating scientists is needed.

    I always wonder why folks don't consider such materialistic causes when discussing this topic. The lack of measurement instruments, the lack of compact mathematical notation, the manuscript culture, etc. [When everything was written by hand, knowledge had lower velocity and higher error content.]
    + + +
    owlsmirror36
    I can see how that would be a bit distracting, but the Dark Age was called that, not because of all the attacks and whatnot (there were plenty of conflicts between the time of Aristotle and Justinian), but because of a perceived lack of *cultural* brightness.

    You are correct that much of it is due to perception rather than reality. Indeed, some of it, esp. in the early modern period, was deliberate propaganda. Those who called themselves "enlightened" had a vested interest in portraying their predecessors as "dark." Norman Cantor once wrote that the writings of the early moderns about the middle ages tell us more about the concerns and interests of the early modern age than they do about the medievals.

    But the "Dark Age" collapse of the economic and political infrastructure under the barbarian assaults was a very real thing. By comaprison, the Franks had been respectful and the Goths gentlemen. Peasants fled to fortified manors and gave off part of their production to support a knight and men-at-arms and a castle for refuge. Towns emptied and many became little more than bishops' seats. (The Church preserved a bit of town life north of the Alps.) Christendom lost not only its Near Eastern heartland and its North African breadbasket, but most of Spain, parts of southern Italy, and all the islands from the Balerics to Cyprus. [Ibn Khaldun boasted that "the Christians cannot float a plank on the Mediterranean."] This cut the connection with te monetary economy of Byzantium threw the West on its own cash-poor resources. The imperial gold solidus ceased to circulate. It was a long time before a stable Northern trade developed. That any intellectual life continued was a tribute to the Latins' dedication to learning. The Carolinigian Renaissance occurred in the midst of it all.

    Useful books covering this period:
    Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, by Henri Pirenne
    Medieval Technology and Social Change, by Lynn White, Jr.
    + + +

    This is the second time you've mention Muslims building castles in the Alps — when and where was this, and by whom, exactly?

    At Garde Frainet, from which Saracens would attack trade caravans and pilgrims crossing between France and Italy. It was active in the tenth century. Southern France, even after Tours, was open to Saracen razzias coming over the Pyrenees, or to corsairs sailing from the Barbary Coast. They never ceased to raid in the Gulf of Lyons, or along the shores of Tuscany and Catalonia. Tunisian corsairs pillaged Pisa in 935 and 1004, destroyed Barcelona in 985. They sacked Genoa so thoroughly that the site was uninhabited for the better part of two generations. Arabs besieged castle Sant'Angelo outside Rome in 846.

    [As the Recovery got underway, the Byzantines re-took Cyprus, the Normans re-conquered Sicily, the Reconquista of Spain began, the Pisans attacked Tunis, and a Franco-Byzantine expedition counterattacked in Anatolia, and re-took Antioch, Edessa, and even Jerusalem. But this proved only a temporary respite in the "Thousand Year Siege."]
    + + +
    Augustine was seminal to Western civilization and was so acknowledged early on. The Roman world he came from had little interest in natural philosophy

    owlsmirror36
    Or rather, the Roman and Christian world(s) had little interest in natural philosophy.

    While it is true that the Western Christians had once been Romans, and carried a lot of Roman baggage, a great many of them were Celts and Germans and had a different tude. That Western Christendom was very much interested in natural philosophy is empirical, historical fact. I'm sorry if this contradicts your faith.
    + + +
    owlsmirror36
    Funny, I seem to recall reading that interest in Aristotle was aroused by the the works of ibn-Rushd reaching the west, and some of his works were first found in the west translated from Arabic.

    The Latins knew about Aristotle and had some of his texts in Latin, thanks to Boethius and the fragments found in the Ecyclopediasts. Don't suppose that Martianus Capella or Pliny the Younger had no natural philosophy at all. That the Roman encyclopediasts did nothing new does not mean that they failed to copy some things that were old. [The text of "On the happy marriage of Philology and Mercury" can be found here: http://www.chmtl.indiana.edu/tml/3rd-5th/MARDEN9_TEXT.html ]

    The Westerners went out looking. As soon as it was safe, they flocked to Cordova, where Archbishop Raymundo II and the great Gundisalvo ran a translation school, searching for copies of the books of which they had read only references and excerpts. They did not find Aristotle, per se; but they found commentaries on Aristotle by ibn Sinna, ibn Rushd and others. Commentaries were written in text-comment-text-comment-... style. From these commentaries, they teased out the original Aristotelian text. Later, when they had free access to Byzantine texts in Sicily, they found the Arabic texts to be rife with errors and mixed in with neoPlatonic woo-woo. Remember: the texts were written in Greek, then translated into Syriac, and then from Syriac into Arabic at the old House of Wisdom in Old Baghdad. It was a wonder anything made it through that bramble. Recall, too, that the House of Wisdom, funded by the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, was actually run by the ibn Ishaq family of Nestorian Christians. Islam per se had little interest in what they called "Greek studies." But for several centuries, the population of the East was still overwhelmingly Greco-Syriac Christian, and only gradually did they forget who they once had been.

    So, as I had said previously, ibn Rushd was honored in the Christian West as The Commentator -- and nearly forgotten in the House of Submission. So, it's not so much where the Latins got their raw material. It's what they wound up doing with it that made the difference.
    + + +
    Yes, those Muslims, Norse, and Hungarians were just *too distracting*

    Hmm. Do you know what the 'blood eagle' was? It can be very distracting.

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  44. Archimedes Palimpsest is worth its own comment, in addition to what Mr. Farrell said:

    owlsmirror36
    Q: why would a monk take the works of Archimedes and a commentary on Aristotle (among others), and make a prayer-book out of them?

    A: Because parchment was very expensive. However, it could be re-used, so when it became rubbed and scuffed by use over time, it could be washed, scraped by a razor, and overwritten. Such documents are called palimpsests. There are palimpsests in which the razored-out text was religious. Does that mean the clerk had anti-religious motives?

    The Archimedes Palimpsest includes a collection of political speeches, a commentary on a widely-copied work by Aristotle, plus a few odds and ends. IOW, it was apparently a stack of scratch pads for a variety of texts being recycled.

    Archimedes was an interesting case. His mathematical works were virtually forgotten already in Hellenistic times. The first compilation of his works was not made until 530 AD, by the Greek Orthodox, Isidore of Miletus [who designed the famed Byzantine Church of Hagia Sophia]. The Archimedean articles in the Palimpsest were copied in the 10th century. That means we owe it to the Byzantine Christians that the texts were preserved at all. (Another beautiful theory of religious hostility bludgeoned to death by a brutal empirical fact.)

    The parchment remained at the monastery of Mar Saba in Palestine until the 12th century when it was re-used for the prayer text. (So none of the foregoing tells us about the attitudes of Latin Christendom, anyway.)

    Like most Greek math texts, Archimedes never made it into Latin in Roman times. The Arabs did not translate much Archimedes either. But two books did make it through to the West: "The Measurement of the Circle" and a paraphrased version of "Sphere and Cylinder." (Both are also on the Palimpsest.)

    In 1269 - about the time the Palimpsest was overwritten in Palestine - the great translator, William of Moerbeke translated virtually the entire Archimdean corpus into Latin in Sicily. This implies that a substantial number of copies of Archimedes works were then in circulation, which is why the Palestinian monk likely thought little of overwriting the one worn-out 200-year old copy he had.

    Alas, while four of the works remained known in the West, in the 800 years since, all other copies of two of the works and all other Greek copies of one of them were lost to the fire-flood-and-mice of time. See the Mahoney article on "Mathematics" in the Lindberg collection previously mentioned for details about Western knowledge of Archimedes.

    It is better to base one's conclusions of history on empirical facts and reasoned analysis than on an a priori, faith-based ideology and theories about what Those Religious Fanatics Must Have Done.

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  45. (going more and more OT, but)
    "This is the second time you've mention Muslims building castles in the Alps — when and where was this, and by whom, exactly?"
    At Garde Frainet, from which Saracens would attack trade caravans and pilgrims crossing between France and Italy. It was active in the tenth century.

    Interesting. This page suggests that the Muslim 'jihadi' presence in France could also benefit from a more balanced look.

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  46. More references for my list:

    Cardwell, Turning Points in Western Technology

    Colin McEvedy, Atlas of World Population History

    Henri Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe

    Lynn White, Jr, Medieval Technology and Social Change



    Most of my questions were answered in the above posts, but: Consider the following more nuanced reformulation about the Archimedes palimpsest:

    Since the very beginnings of Christianity, natural philosophy was seen as ever less important. Whenever there was a conflict between theology and natural philosophy, theology won out, and natural philosophy lost. This attitude might well have thus influenced the decision that the monks made about which books to recycle when it was decided that a new prayer-book was desirable. And that same attitude might thus have also influenced later monks, in deciding which books were to be preserved and/or accepted for their library.

    Hm. Here's a thought-experiment: a library is on fire, and there is only time to grab one of two books: A bible, and a text on geometry. You know that the bible is common, and there are many copies around; you do not know the same about the text on geometry. Which one do you choose?

    Which one do you think most religious people will choose?

    The point about some palimpsests being religious works does not necessarily invalidate this: Were the religious works scraped off for re-use orthodox, or heretical? If they were orthodox, which works were they?

    The 'dark age' is generally the convenient talking point of 19th century schoolmasters, who didn't know nearly what we know of the period now.

    Granted, but I was not the one who first used the term... and the term was not coined in the 19th century either.

    Look, I'm sure we can admit that the religious mentality in general has always had a strain that looks with suspicion on 'prying into nature'.

    But I think it could be argued that that strain was there in the beginning, and led, directly or indirectly, to the general turning-away from the pursuit of natural philosophy in the early Eastern and Western Roman Empires.

    Certainly there were philosophers who had no problem with combining theology and natural philosophy. But certainly some of the examples offered earlier had theologies that would now definitely be recognized as heretical and/or pagan. The entries on Boethius and John Philoponus (to pick two examples from above) in the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy are quite interesting, in that regard.

    [possibly more later]

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  47. owlsmirror36
    Consider the following more nuanced reformulation about the Archimedes palimpsest:

    Since the very beginnings of Christianity, natural philosophy was seen as ever less important. Whenever there was a conflict between theology and natural philosophy, theology won out, and natural philosophy lost. etc.


    It's not really nuanced. It starts with the theory that your beliefs are True and then imagines a history in which they are true. Rationalists and students of history are at a disadvantage here. They must deal with facts and draw reasonable inferences from them.

    You assume that natural philosophy was seen as important before Christianity. But pretty much everyone saw natural philosophy as less important, including other schools of philosophy. Even the Aristotelians would likely have said that Ethics, Metaphysics, and other topics were more important. (In fact, it was only in Latin Christendom that it began to be seen as important. It was disregarded pretty much entirely in China, and was regarded as impious in Islam.)

    As a first stab, provide an actual example from early Christendom in which "there was a conflict between theology and natural philosophy," and "theology won out."

    Remember, you cannot make one up. It must be an actual historical event, understood in context.

    To help you out, here is an actual example, though it is from the middle ages. Natural philosophers believed the universe had always existed and always would. Theologians believed that the universe had had a beginning and would have an end. This was definitely a conflict. Aquinas decided that it was impossible to tell from reason alone which one was true (and, further, that even an eternal universe would be a created one).

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  48. On "The problem that Feynman (and I) finds with faith is that it means that one believes in something regardless or even despite the evidence. This attitude is not only profoundly irrational (by definition), but also embodies one of the worst values we can possibly promote in our society. At the very least it leads to poor thinking, and at the worst it brings about the sort of uncritical acceptance of doctrines (religious or secular) that too often has had tragic consequences for humanity."

    This reminded me of an interesting line at the end of Terry Pratchett's The Hog Father where the character of Death is Talking to his grand daughter.

    To Paraphrase;

    Why Grand Father do humans have to believe in things that don't exist ? She asks, to which he replies-

    "Take all of the universe and grind it into a fine powder and then run it through the finest sifter and then show me one molecule of mercy, or justice, one atom of compassion, love, or virtue. If humans didn't believe in things that clearly don't exist how else would these things come to exist."

    While I agree that examples of this harmful religion abound (no ones reports on the good aspects of morals and charity as they are not good for ratings or a very interesting read). I guess taken to the extreme the very notion of tragedy it self could be dismissed as a belief. I have actually heard individuals disturbingly justify all kinds of ill behavior with the argument that those weaker who might be preyed upon by those stronger have merely been subject to de selection and thus those who commit in justice are but behaving in accordance with the natural function of evolution as is their right by the very nature of the universe. They are helping eliminate those weaker than them and seeking material gains or genetic supremacy.

    Yet even though I find no logical reason why one animal should not just destroy another I still know certain things are wrong and want to point out humans are not animals. To which I am told oh but they are science tells us so and explains away everything you base those opinions on. Anything is acceptable slavery , murder, rape (males spread their genes) , adultery, it's just evolution benefiting a stronger organism over that which should have had better genes. Then I'm accused of having subjective morals and told who am I to decide what's right and wrong. Sadly science gives no reason why the world should not be governed by brute force and violence.

    Of course they say social punishment is a deterrent which leads to a probability of risk and severity of punishment vs reward calculation. Of course through out history societies have also existed which condoned such ill behaviors (at least for some arbitrary individuals of so called Nobel birth, or who had bigger armies) and if one can can remain uncaught or convince society to over look their behavior, or be nonpunishable through shear power all the better. In this view though guilt and remorse are completely irrational except as insincere deceptions to ease punishment if caught and morals are an act to fool the stupid less evolved of their fellow primates.

    When I hear this kind of talk I almost would prefer these people had been raised going to church thinking a God was watching them all the time judging. I'm not religious but some times I wonder hey if it keeps some lunatic from shooting me maybe I can tolerate it. I can never present any good argument against materialistic view based on science and have to fall back on illogical beliefs in things people just decided through consensus and empathy arguably just a trick of the brain as far as many are concerned.

    Then their are the ignorant people. Try to explain social evolution and long term anthropological arguments against their behavior that are more complicated then "survival of the fittest" and they have already stolen your wallet, they blink as if confused saying "I don't understand all those big words but I know there ain't no God or no hell" and they just start shooting at you. Maybe this was the original intent of religion ?

    The question is would ignorant people on the whole do more or less bad things with out religion ? We better come up with robots to do the menial work of the poor in our society and throw out all obstacles to education and any incentives for crime or class division. Harvard for anyone with good grades! I know the only socioeconomic model to make due with no religion was communism.

    I often wonder why freedom of religion increases in the most capitalistic and wealthy of nations and aren't wealthy conservatives more often destined to be the fundamentalists of the religious right as well.

    Unfortunately their are a lot of social factors to consider when you seek to dismantlement religion and we better have all the loose ends tied up as that happens, and be able to fill the vacuum such would create. Religion must have evolved and survived socially for thousands upon thousands of years for some reason other than just pure ignorance of the individual about the certain aspects of the material world.

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  49. Correlation is not causation.

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  50. I find myself vacillating between being "accomodationalist" and taking a more stringent view.

    Ken Miller is clearly a good person to have in your corner in the fight against ID, and it would be both rude and unstrategic to alienate him and other religious scientists by harping on differences. Massimo, you were right in your recent podcast, that methodological naturalism is sufficient for good scientific work.

    BUT. Science is not just a 9-to-5 profession. What are we trying to do, fundamentally? We are trying to build a model that is as close to reality as we can possibly get it. If there is a cliff in reality, there should be a cliff in the model; if a beach, a beach. That's what science *is*. I cannot escape the feeling that Miller et al. don't understand/agree with this on a basic level. If you can add, but the only thing you can add is apples, you don't *really* understand addition. If you test ideas via experiment and observation, but only until you "clock off" at 5, you don't really understand science.

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