Thursday, February 22, 2018

On Science: Against the Slanders of the Secularists

[In rebuttal to a recent comment at AC repeating the common tropes against Christianity re science, we present James Hannam, a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge and the author of The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (published in the UK as God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science).]

From a blog run by Nature magazine. Galileo is not the whole story, in fact not the story at all: Galileo was the exception, not the rule.




Science owes much to both Christianity and the Middle Ages

Few topics are as open to misunderstanding as the relationship between faith and reason. The ongoing clash of creationism with evolution obscures the fact that Christianity has actually had a far more positive role to play in the history of science than commonly believed. Indeed, many of the alleged examples of religion holding back scientific progress turn out to be bogus. For instance, the Church has never taught that the Earth is flat and, in the Middle Ages, no one thought so anyway. Popes haven’t tried to ban zero, human dissection or lightening rods, let alone excommunicate Halley’s Comet. No one, I am pleased to say, was ever burnt at the stake for scientific ideas. Yet, all these stories are still regularly trotted out as examples of clerical intransigence in the face of scientific progress.

That support took several forms. One was simply financial. Until the French Revolution, the Catholic Church was the leading sponsor of scientific research. Starting in the Middle Ages, it paid for priests, monks and friars to study at the universities. The church even insisted that science and mathematics should be a compulsory part of the syllabus. And after some debate, it accepted that Greek and Arabic natural philosophy were essential tools for defending the faith. By the seventeenth century, the Jesuit order had become the leading scientific organisation in Europe, publishing thousands of papers and spreading new discoveries around the world. The cathedrals themselves were designed to double up as astronomical observatories to allow ever more accurate determination of the calendar. And of course, modern genetics was founded by a future abbot growing peas in the monastic garden.

Admittedly, Galileo was put on trial for claiming it is a fact that the Earth goes around the sun, rather than just a hypothesis as the Catholic Church demanded. Still, historians have found that even his trial was as much a case of papal egotism as scientific conservatism. It hardly deserves to overshadow all the support that the Church has given to scientific investigation over the centuries.

As always, read the whole thing.

[NB: No actual scholars or scientists were harmed in the writing of this post.]

13 comments:

jimmiraybob said...

I got to attend an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting on evolution in St. Louis (2006) during which George V. Coyne, S.J. (Jesuit priest, astronomer, and then director of the Vatican Observatory and head of the observatory's research group which is based at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona) gave a talk in favor of the Theory of Evolution as a viable explanation of the universe without it saying anything about God. I have no quibble with the long history of Christian participation in early natural philosophy and the developing modern science.

My comments were not about whether Christian people and institutions aided science even though the history at ground level is variable and often rocky. As Renaissance Humanism and the new inflow of classical literature, theater, art, philosophical and scientific sources started flooding Europe in the 12th-15th centuries, a new metaphysical reality dawned that increasingly described empirical observations and inferred processes in natural and quantifiable terms.

My comments concerned some of Stark’s statements as quoted by Chuck Coulson, but mostly whether “Christian theology was necessary for the rise of science,” which is a different animal than whether science could flourish in an increasing humanistic Christian environment (I’m thinking Europe). It’s just as viable to make the same claims for Islamic theology during its flourishing period of mathematics and science or the Zoroastrian theology for the pre-Christian advancement of Persian astronomy and mathematics. And then it becomes a matter of teasing out whether it’s the theology or the privileges that come with being entrenched within the institutions of religion.

Regardless of how the details are parsed, the Vatican and it’s Holy Office (of the Inquisition) managed to insert itself into determining the conclusions of the natural history/science debate and managed to steer the discussion in a direction more in line with Church doctrine and tradition. The old Galileo may have escaped torture and death but younger practitioners couldn’t count on the same so you’d have to imagine the chilling effect of having to answer to the Inquisition. This is not being a “friend” to science, or at least the early endeavors of the developing field.

Overall, the church as an institution has a long history of adapting to and accommodating the inevitability of new knowledge and the intellectual flexing of its adherents. Often begrudgingly. And there’s the necessity of having to compete with the other nations in innovation and technology and trade. But then some people take it further and make claims like Stark’s in an attempt to appropriate all of science for the one theological realm (as if there’s a single Christian theology) apparently without any credit to the Pagan roots of the kind of metaphysical inquiry inherited from all of those preceding that theology or the concurrent contributions of non-Christians or “Christians” not so much into the theology.

Tom Van Dyke said...

no facts
just blather

The problem was that Galileo was an asshole.

But Galileo was intent on ramming Copernicus down the throat of Christendom. The irony is that when he started his campaign, he enjoyed almost universal good will among the Catholic hierarchy. But he managed to alienate almost everybody with his caustic manner and aggressive tactics. His position gave the Church authorities no room to maneuver: they either had to accept Copernicanism as a fact (even though it had not been proved) and reinterpret Scripture accordingly; or they had to condemn it. He refused the reasonable third position which the Church offered him: that Copernicanism might be considered a hypothesis, one even superior to the Ptolemaic system, until further proof could be adduced.

Such proof, however, was not forthcoming. Galileo's belligerence probably had much to do with the fact that he knew there was no direct proof of heliocentrism. He could not even answer the strongest argument against it, which was advanced by Aristotle. If the earth did orbit the sun, the philosopher wrote, then stellar parallaxes would be observable in the sky. In other words, there would be a shift in the position of a star observed from the earth on one side of the sun, and then six months later from the other side. Galileo was not able with the best of his telescopes to discern the slightest stellar parallax. This was a valid scientific objection, and it was not answered until 1838, when Friedrich Bessel succeeded in determining the parallax of star 61 Cygni.

Galileo's other problem was that he insisted, despite the discoveries of Kepler, that the planets orbit the sun in perfect circles. The Jesuit astronomers could plainly see that this was untenable. Galileo nonetheless launched his campaign with a series of pamphlets and letters which were circulated all over Europe. Along the way, he picked fights with a number of Churchmen on peripheral issues which helped to stack the deck against him. And, despite the warnings of his friends in Rome, he insisted on moving the debate onto theological grounds.

There is no question that if the debate over heliocentrism had remained purely scientific, it would have been shrugged off by the Church authorities. But in 1614, Galileo felt that he had to answer the objection that the new science contradicted certain passages of Scripture...


https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/controversy/common-misconceptions/the-galileo-affair.html

jimmiraybob said...

Galileo, using the latest in observational technology – the telescope, presented evidence and stood by his evidence. Wow. What an asshole. How many trips around the sun were made before the Church had to admit he'd been right and then apologized? You can round to years.

Why don't you give us a primer on the evidence that he presented that was such a remarkable feat for his time.

Tom Van Dyke said...

They preferred Tycho Brahe's interpretations of the natural world. They did not argue non-science against science.

You skipped over the part where Galileo was unable to defend his guesses on a scientific basis. For example, he was wrong about orbits being circular.


Such proof, however, was not forthcoming. Galileo's belligerence probably had much to do with the fact that he knew there was no direct proof of heliocentrism. He could not even answer the strongest argument against it, which was advanced by Aristotle. If the earth did orbit the sun, the philosopher wrote, then stellar parallaxes would be observable in the sky. In other words, there would be a shift in the position of a star observed from the earth on one side of the sun, and then six months later from the other side. Galileo was not able with the best of his telescopes to discern the slightest stellar parallax. This was a valid scientific objection, and it was not answered until 1838, when Friedrich Bessel succeeded in determining the parallax of star 61 Cygni.

jimmiraybob said...

Your position is that Galileo was just throwing out guesses?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Can you not read?

Such proof, however, was not forthcoming. Galileo's belligerence probably had much to do with the fact that he knew there was no direct proof of heliocentrism

It was a guess, a good guess, an educated guess, a right guess, but a guess nonetheless.

jimmiraybob said...

"Can you not read?"

I just wanted to make sure.

Have you ever read any other sources on Galileo's work? The one that you're hanging your hat on is weak and slanted toward defending the Church rather than exposing relevant facts or offering fair and informed assessment. Go ahead. Take a few months or years and study the issue and maybe take a couple of university science courses to get a feel for how it works - maybe a combo of physics and astronomy. I'll check back and we can have an informed discussion. I suspect, however, that you'll just stick with the apologetics.

As an aside, I love the irony of slandering Galileo while railing against slander. Well played. An asshole guesser. Right. That's what get's you into all the best science books.

Tom Van Dyke said...

so you don't like what the source says so you impugn it

the usual nonsense while saying nothing to contradict it

what a bore

jimmiraybob said...

There is nothing further that I could say or do or write that would get you to care about anything that I say or do or write. You, grasshopper, have the power to seek the facts.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You don't say or do or write anything of substance. You argue but do not have an argument.

jimmiraybob said...

You agreed that you believe that Galileo was an asshole just tossing out guesses - that is your position....that's why I asked. There's no substance or argument that can help. At least not in the comments section of a blog. You should have studied harder in high school. On the bight side, there are lots of resources available outside of Catholic apologetics that can help round things out. It's never too late.

We were given a republic with the hopes that enough citizens would do a bit of work to be informed. Go forth and prosper.

Steve Lee said...

https://ischristianitytrue.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/science-series-the-myth-that-the-church-hindered-the-development-of-science/

Steve Lee said...

“Between 1150 and 1500, more literate Europeans had had access to scientific materials than any of their predecessors in earlier cultures, thanks largely to the emergence, rapid growth, and naturalistic arts curricula of the medieval universities. If the medieval church had intended to suppress the inquiry into nature, it must have been completely powerless, for it utterly failed to reach its goal.” (Michael H. Shank, “Myth 2: The Medieval Church’s Suppression of Science,” in Galileo Goes to Jail, p. 27)

“Theological assumptions unique to Christianity explain why science was born only in Christian Europe. Contrary to the received wisdom, religion and science not only were compatible; they were inseparable.” (Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, p. 3)

“It must be emphatically stated that within this educational system the medieval master had a great deal of freedom. The stereotype of the Middle Ages pictures the professor as spineless and subservient, a slavish follower of Aristotle and the church fathers. . . . there was almost no doctrine, philosophical or theological, that was not submitted to minute scrutiny and criticism by scholars in the medieval university. Certainly the master who specialized in the natural sciences would not have considered himself restricted or oppressed by either ancient or religious authority.” (David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science p. 224, nook edition)

“The fundamental paradigm of science; its invariable stillbirths in all ancient cultures and its only viable birth in a Europe which Christian faith in the Creator had helped to form.” (Stanley L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God, p. 243)

Galileo Goes to Jail: and Other Myths About Science and Religion, ed. Ronald L. Numbers (Harvard UP, 2009)

Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century by Amos Funkenstein (Princeton University Press, 1989)

“Science and the Church in the Middle Ages” by James Hannam, Medieval Science and Philosophy (website for the book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution)

“The Mythical Conflict Between Science and Religion” James Hannam, Medieval Science and Philosophy (website for the book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution)