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The Dark Age Myth: An Atheist Reviews “God’s Philosophers”

God's PhilosophersMy interest in Medieval science was substantially sparked by one book. Way back in 1991, when I was an impoverished and often starving post-graduate student at the University of Tasmania, I found a copy of Robert T. Gunther's Astrolabes of the World - 598 folio pages of meticulously catalogued Islamic, Medieval and Renaissance astrolabes with photos, diagrams, star lists and a wealth of other information. I found it, appropriately and not coincidentally, in Michael Sprod's Astrolabe Books - up the stairs in one of the beautiful old sandstone warehouses that line Salamanca Place on Hobart's waterfront. Unfortunately the book cost $200, which at that stage was the equivalent to what I lived on for a month. But Michael was used to selling books to poverty-stricken students, so I went without lunch, put down a deposit of $10 and came back weekly for several months to pay off as much as I could afford and eventually got to take it home, wrapped in brown paper in a way that only Hobart bookshops seem to bother with anymore. There are few pleasures greater than finally getting your hands on a book you've been wanting to own and read for a long time.

I had another experience of that particular pleasure when I received my copy of James Hannam's God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science a couple of weeks ago. For years I've been toying with the idea of creating a website on Medieval science and technology to bring the recent research on the subject to a more general audience and to counter the biased myths about it being a Dark Age of irrational superstition. Thankfully I can now cross that off my to do list, because Hannam's superb book has done the job for me and in fine style.

The Christian Dark Age and Other Hysterical Myths

 
One of the occupational hazards of being an atheist and secular humanist who hangs around on discussion boards is to encounter a staggering level of historical illiteracy. I like to console myself that many of the people on such boards have come to their atheism via the study of science and so, even if they are quite learned in things like geology and biology, usually have a grasp of history stunted at about high school level. I generally do this because the alternative is to admit that the average person's grasp of history and how history is studied is so utterly feeble as to be totally depressing.

So, alongside the regular airings of the hoary old myth that the Bible was collated at the Council of Nicea, the tedious internet-based "Jesus never existed!" nonsense, or otherwise intelligent people spouting pseudo historical claims that would make even Dan Brown snort in derision, the myth that the Catholic Church caused the Dark Ages and the Medieval Period was a scientific wasteland is regularly wheeled, creaking, into the sunlight for another trundle around the arena.

The myth goes that the Greeks and Romans were wise and rational types who loved science and were on the brink of doing all kinds of marvelous things (inventing full-scale steam engines is one example that is usually, rather fancifully, invoked) until Christianity came along. Christianity then banned all learning and rational thought and ushered in the Dark Ages. Then an iron-fisted theocracy, backed by a Gestapo-style Inquisition, prevented any science or questioning inquiry from happening until Leonardo da Vinci invented intelligence and the wondrous Renaissance saved us all from Medieval darkness.

The online manifestations of this curiously quaint but seemingly indefatigable idea range from the touchingly clumsy to the utterly shocking, but it remains one of those things that "everybody knows" and permeates modern culture. A recent episode of Family Guy had Stewie and Brian enter a futuristic alternative world where, it was explained, things were so advanced because Christianity didn't destroy learning, usher in the Dark Ages and stifle science. The writers didn't see the need to explain what Stewie meant - they assumed everyone understood.

About once every 3-4 months on forums like RichardDawkins.net we get some discussion where someone invokes the old "Conflict Thesis". That evolves into the usual ritual kicking of the Middle Ages as a benighted intellectual wasteland where humanity was shackled to superstition and oppressed by cackling minions of the Evil Old Catholic Church. The hoary standards are brought out on cue. Giordiano Bruno is presented as a wise and noble martyr for science instead of the irritating mystical New Age kook he actually was. Hypatia is presented as another such martyr and the mythical Christian destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria is spoken of in hushed tones, despite both these ideas being totally untrue. The Galileo Affair is ushered in as evidence of a brave scientist standing up to the unscientific obscurantism of the Church, despite that case being as much about science as it was about Scripture.

And, almost without fail, someone digs up a graphic (see below), which I have come to dub "The Most Wrong Thing On the Internet Ever", and to flourish it triumphantly as though it is proof of something other than the fact that most people are utterly ignorant of history and unable to see that something called "Scientific Advancement" can't be measured, let alone plotted on a graph.

It's not hard to kick this nonsense to pieces, especially since the people presenting it know next to nothing about history and have simply picked up these strange ideas from websites and popular books. The assertions collapse as soon as you hit them with hard evidence. I love to totally stump these propagators by asking them to present me with the name of one - just one - scientist burned, persecuted, or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists - like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa - and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents usually scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong.

The Origin of the Myths

 
How the myths that led to the creation of "The Most Wrong Thing On the Internet Ever" is well documented in several recent books on the the history of science. But Hannam wisely tackles it in the opening pages of his book, since it would be likely to form the basis for many general readers to be suspicious of the idea of a Medieval foundation for modern science. A festering melange of Enlightenment bigotry, Protestant papism-bashing, French anti-clericism, and Classicist snobbery have all combined to make the Medieval period a by-word for backwardness, superstition and primitivism, and the opposite of everything the average person associates with science and reason.

Hannam sketches how polemicists like Thomas Huxley, John William Draper, and Andrew Dickson White, all with their own anti-Christian axes to grind, managed to shape the still current idea that the Middle Ages was devoid of science and reason. And how it was not until real historians bothered to question the polemicists through the work of early pioneers in the field like Pierre DuhemLynn Thorndike, and the author of my astrolabe book, Robert T. Gunther, that the distortions of the axe-grinders began to be corrected by proper, unbiased research. That work has now been completed by the current crop of modern historians of science like David C. Lindberg, Ronald Numbers, and Edward Grant.

In the academic sphere, at least, the "Conflict Thesis" of a historical war between science and theology has been long since overturned. It is very odd that so many of my fellow atheists cling so desperately to a long-dead position that was only ever upheld by amateur Nineteenth Century polemicists and not the careful research of recent, objective, peer-reviewed historians. This is strange behavior for people who like to label themselves "rationalists".

Speaking of rationalism, the critical factor that the myths obscure is precisely how rational intellectual inquiry in the Middle Ages was. While writers like Charles Freeman continue to lumber along, claiming that Christianity killed the use of reason, the fact is that thanks to Clement of Alexandria and Augustine's encouragement of the use of pagan philosophy, and Boethius' translations of works of logic by Aristotle and others, rational inquiry was one intellectual jewel that survived the catastrophic collapse of the Western Roman Empire and was preserved through the so-called Dark Ages. Edward Grant's superb God and Reason in the Middle Ages details this with characteristic vigor, but Hannam gives a good summary of this key element in his first four chapters.

What makes Hannam's version of the story more accessible than Grant's is the way he tells it though the lives of key people of the time - Gerbert of Aurillac, Anselm, Abelard, William of Conches, Adelard of Bath etc. Some reviewers of Hannam's book seem to have found this approach a little distracting, since the sheer volume of names and mini-biographies could make it feel like we are learning a small amount about a vast number of people. But given the breadth of Hannam's subject, this is fairly inevitable and the semi-biographical approach is certainly more accessible than a stodgy abstract analysis of the evolution of Medieval thought.

Hannam also gives an excellent precis of the Twelfth Century Renaissance which, contrary to popular perception and to "the Myth", was the real period in which ancient learning flooded back into western Europe. Far from being resisted by the Church, it was churchmen who sought this knowledge out among the Muslims and Jews of Spain and Sicily. And far from being resisted or banned by the Church, it was embraced and formed the basis of the syllabus in that other great Medieval contribution to the world: the universities that were starting to appear across Christendom.

God and Reason

 
The enshrining of reason at the heart of inquiry, combined with the influx of "new" Greek and Arabic learning, launched a veritable explosion of intellectual activity in Europe from the Twelfth Century onwards. It was as though the sudden stimulus of new perspectives and new ways of looking at the world fell on the fertile soil of a Europe that was, for the first time in centuries, relatively peaceful, prosperous, outward-looking, and genuinely curious.

This is not to say that more conservative and reactionary forces did not have misgivings about some of the new areas of inquiry, especially in relation to how philosophy and speculation about the natural world and the cosmos could affect accepted theology. Hannam is careful not to pretend that there was no resistance to the flowering of the new thinking and inquiry but, unlike the perpetuators of "the Myth", he gives that resistance due consideration rather than pretending it was the whole story. In fact, the conservatives and reactionaries' efforts were usually rear-guard actions and were in almost every case totally unsuccessful in curtailing the inevitable flood of ideas that began to flow from the universities. Once it began, it was effectively unstoppable.

In fact, some of the efforts by the theologians to put some limits on what could and could not be accepted via the "new learning" actually had the effect of stimulating inquiry rather than constricting it. The "Condemnations of 1277" attempted to assert certain things that could not be stated as "philosophically true", particularly things that put limits on divine omnipotence. This had the interesting effect of making it clear that Aristotle had, actually, got some things badly wrong - something Thomas Aquinas emphasized in his famous and highly influential Summa Theologiae:

"The condemnations and Thomas's Summa Theologiae had created a framework within which natural philosophers could safely pursue their studies. The framework .... laid down the the principle that God had decreed laws of nature but was not bound by them. Finally, it stated that Aristotle was sometimes wrong. The world was not 'eternal according to reason' and 'finite according to faith'. It was not eternal, full stop. And if Aristotle could be wrong about something that he regarded as completely certainly certain, that threw his whole philosophy into question. The way was clear for the natural philosophers of the Middle Ages to move decisively beyond the achievements of the Greeks." (Hannam, pp. 104-105)

Which is precisely what they proceeded to do. Far from being a stagnant dark age, as the first half of the Medieval Period (500-1000 AD) certainly was, the period from 1000 to 1500 AD actually saw the most impressive flowering of scientific inquiry and discovery since the time of the ancient Greeks, far eclipsing the Roman and Hellenic Eras in every respect. With Occam and Duns Scotus taking the critical approach to Aristotle further than Aquinas' more cautious approach, the way was open for the Medieval scientists of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries to question, examine, and test the perspectives the translators of the Twelfth Century had given them, with remarkable effects:

"[I]n the fourteenth century medieval thinkers began to notice that there was something seriously amiss with all aspects of Aristotle's natural philosophy, and not just those parts of it that directly contradicted the Christian faith. The time had come when medieval scholars could begin their own quest to advance knowledge .... striking out in new directions that neither the Greeks nor the Arabs ever explored. Their first breakthrough was to combine the two subjects of mathematics and physics in a way that had not been done before." (Hannam, p. 174)

The story of that breakthrough, and the remarkable Oxford scholars who achieved it and thus laid the foundations of true science - the "Merton Calculators" - probably deserves a book in itself. But Hannam's account certainly does them justice and forms a fascinating section of his work. The names of these pioneers of the scientific method - Thomas Bradwardine, Thomas Bradwardine, William Heytesbury, John Dumbleton and the delightfully named Richard Swineshead - deserve to be better known. Unfortunately, the obscuring shadow of "the Myth" means that they continue to be ignored or dismissed even in quite recent popular histories of science. Bradwardine's summary of the key insight these men uncovered is one of the great quotes of early science and deserves to be recognized as such:

"[Mathematics] is the revealer of every genuine truth ... whoever then has the effrontery to pursue physics while neglecting mathematics should know from the start that he will never make his entry through the portals of wisdom." (Quoted in Hannam, p. 176)

These men were not only the first to truly apply mathematics to physics but also developed logarithmic functions 300 years before John Napier, and the Mean Speed Theorem 200 years before Galileo. The fact that Napier and Galileo are credited with discovering things that Medieval scholars had already developed is yet another indication of how "the Myth" has warped our perceptions of the history of science.

Similarly, the physics and astronomy of Jean Buridan and Nicholas Oresme were radical and profound, but generally unknown to the average reader. Buridan was one of the first to compare the movements of the cosmos to those of another Medieval innovation - the clock. The image of a clockwork universe which was to serve scientists well into our own era began in the Middle Ages. And Oresme's speculations about a rotating Earth shows that Medieval scholars were happy to contemplate what were (to them) fairly outlandish ideas to see if they might work - Oresme found that this particular idea actually worked quite well. These men are hardly the products of a "dark age" and their careers are conspicuously free of any of the Inquisitors and threats of burning so fondly and luridly imagined by the fevered proponents of "the Myth".

Galileo, Inevitably

 
As mentioned above, no manifestation of "the Myth" is complete without the Galileo Affair being raised. The proponents of the idea that the Church stifled science and reason in the Middle Ages have to wheel him out, because without him they actually have absolutely zero examples of the Church persecuting anyone for anything to do with inquiries into the natural world. The common conception that Galileo was persecuted for being right about heliocentrism is a total oversimplification of a complex business, and one that ignores the fact that Galileo's main problem was not simply that his ideas disagreed with scriptural interpretation but also with the science of the time.

Contrary to the way the affair is usually depicted, the real sticking point was the fact that the scientific objections to heliocentrism at the time were still powerful enough to prevent its acceptance. Cardinal Bellarmine made it clear to Galileo in 1616 that if those scientific objections could be overcome then scripture could and would be reinterpreted. But while the objections still stood, the Church, understandably, was hardly going to overturn several centuries of exegesis for the sake of a flawed theory. Galileo agreed to only teach heliocentrism as a theoretical calculating device, then promptly turned around and, in typical style, taught it as fact. Thus his prosecution by the Inquistion in 1633.

Hannam gives the context for all this in suitable detail in a section of the book that also explains how the Humanism of the "Renaissance" led a new wave of scholars, who sought not only to idolize and emulate the ancients, but to turn their backs on the achievements of recent scholars like Duns Scotus, Bardwardine, Buridan, and Orseme. Thus many of their discoveries and advances were either ignored and forgotten (only to be rediscovered independently later) or scorned but quietly appropriated. The case for Galileo using the work of Medieval scholars without acknowledgement is fairly damning. In their eagerness to dump Medieval "dialectic" and ape the Greeks and Romans - which made the "Renaissance" a curiously conservative and rather retrograde movement in many ways - they discarded genuine developments and advancements by Medieval scholars. That a thinker of the calibre of Duns Scotus could become mainly known as the etymology of the word "dunce" is deeply ironic.

As good as the final part of the book is and as worthy as a fairly detailed analysis of the realities of the Galileo Affair clearly is, I must say the last four or five chapters of Hannam's book did feel as though they had bitten off a bit more than they could chew. I was able to follow his argument quite easily, but I am very familiar with the material and with the argument he is making. I suspect that those for whom this depiction of the "Renaissance," and the idea of Galileo as nothing more than a persecuted martyr to genius, might find that it gallops at too rapid a pace to really carry them along. Myths, after all, have a very weighty inertia.

At least one reviewer seems to have found the weight of that inertia too hard to resist, though perhaps she had some other baggage weighing her down. Nina Power, writing in New Humanist magazine, certainly seems to have had some trouble ditching the idea of the Church persecuting Medieval scientists:

Just because persecution wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and just because some thinkers weren’t always the nicest of people, doesn’t mean that interfering in their work and banning their ideas was justifiable then or is justifiable now."

Well, no-one said it was justifiable, and simply explaining how it came about and why it was not as extensive, or of the nature, that most people assume is not "justifying" it anyway - it is correcting a pseudo-historical misunderstanding. That said, Power does have something of a point when she notes "Hannam’s characterization of [Renaissance] thinkers as “incorrigible reactionaries” who “almost managed to destroy 300 years of progress in natural philosophy” is at odds with his more careful depiction of those that came before." This is not, however, because that characterization is wrong, but because the length and scope of the book really do not give him room to do this fairly complex and, to many, radical idea justice.

My only criticisms of the book are really quibbles. The sketch of the "agrarian revolution" of the Dark Ages described in Chapter One, which saw technology like the horse-collar and the mouldboard plough adopted and water and wind power harnessed to greatly increase production in previously unproductive parts of Europe is generally sound. But it does place too much emphasis on two elements in Lynn White's thesis in his seminal Medieval Technology and Social Change - the importance of the stirrup and the significance of the horse collar. As important and ground-breaking as White's thesis was in 1962, more recent analysis has found some of his central ideas dubious. The idea that the stirrup was as significant for the rise of shock-heavy cavalry as White claimed is now pretty much rejected by military historians. Also, his claims about how this cavalry itself caused the beginnings of the feudal system were dubious to begin with. Finally, the idea that Roman traction systems were as inefficient as White's sources make out has also been seriously questioned. Hannam seems to accept White's thesis wholesale, which is not really justified given it has been reassessed for over forty years now.

On a rather more personal note, as a humanist and atheist myself, there is a rather snippy little aside on page 212 where Hannam sneers that "non-believers have further muddied the waters by hijacking the word 'humanist' to mean a softer version of 'atheist'." Sorry, but just as not all humanists are atheists (as Hannam himself well knows) so not all atheists are humanists (as anyone hanging around on some of the more vitriolically anti-theist sites and forums will quickly realize). So there is no "non-believer" plot to "hijack" the word "humanist". Those of us who are humanists are humanists - end of story. And "atheism" does not need any "softening" anyway.

That aside, this is a marvelous book and a brilliant, readable, and accessible antidote to "the Myth". It should be on the Christmas wish-list of any Medievalist, science history buff, or anyone who has a misguided friend who still thinks the nights in the Middle Ages were lit by burning scientists.
 
 
Originally posted at Armarium Magnum. Used with permission.

Tim O'Neill

Written by

Tim O'Neill is an atheist blogger who specializes in reviews of books on ancient and medieval history as well as atheism and historiography. He holds a Master of Arts in Medieval Literature from the University of Tasmania and is a subscribing member of the Australian Atheist Foundation and the Australian Skeptics. He is also the author of the History versus The Da Vinci Code website and is currently working on a book with the working title History for Atheists: How Not to Use History in Debates About Religion. He finds the fact that he irritates many theists and atheists in equal measure a sign that he's probably doing some good. Follow his blog at Armarium Magnum.

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  • Peter Piper

    Duns Scotus was a smart guy, and an influential philosopher and theologian. But in what sense was he a scientist?

    • Kevin Aldrich
      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

        "Physics" doesn't seem to mean the same in that book as it does most places today. If I'm wrong, what experiments did he do, and what predictions did he make with his theories?

        • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

          I see, so when you ask about scientists in the middle ages, you undertsanding this in terms of practioners of modern science. That sort of begs the question, its a bit like asking if the middle ages had a military, after I I find no records of people practising using assault rifiles back then.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            So this is why, for contentious issues like these, sometimes an expanded vocabulary can be helpful, in order to keep things clear. I'd prefer to call what Scotus was doing "Natural Philosophy" instead of "Physics". But at least we should distinguish Scotus's science and Newton's science.

            And it's not simply a matter of present vs. past. I think what Albertus Magnus and Archimedes were doing is much more like physics today than what Scotus was doing.

          • Benoît Côté

            Newton was a Natural philosopher... His book is called just that, and his natural philosophy principles inspired several generations of other natural philosophers in the 18th and beginning of 19th centuries.
            We should definitely not judge the scientific worth of investigations of the natural order by the 21st century comprehension of what science is or is not. This will only feed the same type of prejudice that has portrayed the Middle Ages as scientifically retarded.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            No strong judgement. Just an observation. What Scotus was doing wasn't physics, as I use the term. What Newton was doing was. What Albert Magnus was doing was very close to physics.

            Just because something's not physics doesn't make it bad. Much of the Principia was about philosophy.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            What Newton was doing was mathematics.

          • fredx2

            Well, at least we can agree on this - what he WAS doing 1) advanced the common store of knowledge of the world, 2) attempted to explain natural phenomena in terms of rules of nature, and 3) he was definitely NOT relying on the bible for his explanations of natural phenomena. 4) He was using reason rather than authority.
            So even if you don't consider him a scientist according to some modern definition, he was moving things in a scientific direction, and away from a superstitious direction.

          • Hegesippus

            Are you equating the Bible and/or authority with superstition?

            What causes you to do this?

      • Peter Piper

        I don't have easy access to a copy of that book, but thankfully the abstracts of the chapters are available online. Sadly, these abstracts appear to be discussing philosophical rather than scientific issues. Here is an example:

        This chapter discusses Scotus's claim that both motion and time are continua. The first section examines his claim that any motion token is reducible to a succession of forms at the non-atomic structure of motion. The second section looks into his claim that the limits of any motion token are entities. It also examines his account of the relation between a motion token and its limiting entities. It cites some differences in what Scotus has to say about spatially extended continua that apply generally to motion and time. The third section gives Scotus's account on the structure of time. The fourth section defends the claim that Scotus reduces talk of time to talk of motion.

        Would you mind pointing out which chapter you feel discusses the most scientific aspects of Scotus' work, so that we can focus on just one obfuscated abstract rather than several?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I'm not a philosopher or a physicist so I could not say. I'm assuming if Scotus wrote a book on physics he is a physicist, even if not in the sense of physics now-a-days. It looks like he was thinking about the nature of space, time, a vacuum, motion, and so on.

          • Peter Piper

            I'm not a philosopher or physicist either, nor even a historian, but I don't think that stops me from seeing how far certain historical figures were from being scientists (see my reply to Tim O'Neill). Surely `thinking about the nature of space, time ...' is far too weak a criterion.

          • Adam Thompson

            Back then the term Physicist didn't really exist. Even Einstein was called a mathematician way back when. Physics was largely philosophical at that point in time.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

          The problem lies in us trying to use the modern terms "science" and "scientist" to discuss proto-scientific natural philosophy. The word "scientist" and the profession it describes is very recent - it was only coined in 1833, when William Whewell felt there needed to be a new term to describe a new kind of researcher. This was because, by the 1800s, what people like Whewell were practising was actual modern, empirical science and not the natural philosophy of earlier eras.

          So of course its hard for us to recognise modern "science" in the physics of Duns Scotus - because "science" as we know it didn't exist then. But what Scotus was doing was scientific in the sense that he was using rigorous rational analysis to examine the physical world, building on principles and axioms of those who went before him and applying the rules of logic to them to come to new conclusions about the world.

          It was this process that laid the foundations of what was to become true science. Hannam's book does a good job of making all this clear and apologises for using the word "science" as a short hand for "proto-scientific natural philosophy". Duns Scotus is as much a "scientist" in this sense as Archimedes or Ptolemy.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Except that it seems Archimedes did experiments. He tested his ideas by building things and putting things under water and making measurements and developing mathematically rigorous predictions. Maybe Scotus did this sort of thing too. Peter and I would be interested in what experiments he performed, what testable predictions he made, and where he wrote about them.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Actually Archimedes was probably not the best example to use, since he actually did do a few experiments (well, something a bit like them anyway) where most proto-scientists did not. Most physics in the Middle Ages was like the physics of Aristotle - thought experiments and induction about principles like motion, dynamics, mass, space and the nature of time. This laid the foundations for the later kind of physics, closer to what we know, where mathematics was used to describe these things. Which in turn laid the foundations for modern style of physics of experiments and testable predictions.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I'm still curious about other medieval proto-scientists. I thought Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus both did some experiments. Do you know where I can find out more about what sorts of experiments they did (besides the book you suggest, which I already plan on reading)? Did they try to come up with mathematical (or even qualitative) predictions before they performed their experiments? If not, do you know who first emphasized the importance of testability and predictability?

            Also, do you think that the Protestant Reformation had a positive or negative effect on the evolution of proto-science into science?

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Neither Bacon nor Albertus did experiments in anything like the modern sense. Like most proto-scientists, their "experiments" were of the thought experiment variety, working from logical induction. What does make the physicists of the Middle Ages distinctive is that, unlike the Greeks, they used mathematics to express their ideas. This established physics as a quantitative discipline rather than a branch of philosophy and that laid the foundation for the development of true empirical science in the early modern period.

            Grandiose claims are often made about the relationship between Protestantism and science, often in the form of claims like "the Inquisition stifled science in Catholic Europe but science flourished in Protestant countries". In fact, a list of Catholic scientists and advances from 1600 onwards shows this is actually nonsense.

          • Peter Piper

            Wikipedia says some intriguing things about Albertus and experiments, such as:
            He is credited with the discovery of the element arsenic and experimented with photosensitive chemicals, including silver nitrate. He did believe that stones had occult properties, as he related in his work De mineralibus. However, there is scant evidence that he personally performed alchemical experiments.

            This is tantalising, but I want more details. Do you know some of the background here?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Tim, Thanks for both your substantial review and your enlightening comments.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The belief was that a deliberate experiment would affect a thing's natural behavior by setting artificial constraints and therefore the results would not be generalizable. Essentially, they overestimated the Observer Effect. How many designed experiments did Darwin or Jane Goodall perform? But it is not quite true that they did only 'thought experiments,' like Einstein. They appealed to experience, not experiment; that is, to a close observation of nature. Bacon concluded that light was faster than sound because you could see a

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            They came up with the rationales that justified experiment. They developed the mathematical tools that could be used to model physics. But if math+experiment is the mark of science (and nor merely of a particular way of doing science) then you should be able to explain Darwin's Equations and how they were developed from his experiments.

            Big Al (Albertus Magnus) had a motto which he used in describing his results: Fui et vidi experiri. "I was there and saw for myself." They distrusted artificial experiments because the artificial conditions might interfere with the natural behavior of the body, so they much preferred carefully observed experience.

            Mathematics was applied to what were called "the exact sciences"; viz., astronomy, perspective (optics), music (acoustics), and weights (statics). In a way, these were more branches of mathematics than of physics. They were not applied to other parts of the physics for the simple reason that no one knew how to make measurements in those sciences. They did develop the theory that temperature, etc. were measurable, but lacked instruments capable of making those measurements. (For similar reasons, Galileo made no progress in electricity, radio, or nuclear fission.)

            Peter "Peregrinus" did however develop the basic laws of magnetism in the middle ages. Grosseteste formalized what we later called "the scientific method": resolution and composition. And the medievals developed the mathematics of fractions (which is why numerator and denominator are Latin words, not Greek), but mathematical notation was newly hatched. Oresme (who proved the Mean Speed Theorem using "analytical geometry") also applied the scribal abbreviation + (the t in "et", for "and") to arithmetical addition, and the generic fraction, with dots for the numerator and denominator, to division (÷). Afterward, mathematical calculations became easier.

            You gotta build the foundation before you decorate the penthouse. Lindberg's anthology: Medieval Science contains useful articles on the state of natural science in the middle ages.

          • fredx2

            Well here is a starter: Roger Bacon's "On Experimental Science, 1268"

            "Having laid down the main points of the wisdom of the Latins as regards language, mathematics and optics, I wish now to review the principles of wisdom from the point of view of experimental science, because without experiment it is impossible to know anything thoroughly.

            There are two ways of acquiring knowledge, one through reason, the other by experiment. Argument reaches a conclusion and compels us to admit it, but it neither makes us certain nor so annihilates doubt that the mind rests calm in the intuition of truth, unless it finds this certitude by way of experience."

            http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/bacon2.asp

            So he sort of gives you your answer about Scotus as well. Scotus used one of the two main branches of science - reason, and Bacon used both - reason and experimentation.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Archimedes did very few experiments and regarded them as unworthy of an Hellenic gentleman. The same went double for his engineering. (These were not experiments, but rather art, or application.) It was all manual labor, don't you know. Plutarch is very clear on this in The Life of Marcellus:

            "Archimedes possessed such a lofty spirit, so profound a soul, and such a wealth of scientific theory, that although his inventions had won for him a name and fame for superhuman sagacity, he would not consent to leave behind him any treatise on this subject, but regarding the work of an engineer and every art that ministers to the needs of life as ignoble and vulgar, he devoted his earnest efforts only to those studies the subtlety and charm of which are not affected by the claims of necessity."

            The famous buoyancy "experiment" was a inspiration entirely incidental to his taking a bath, in principle no different from Bacon determining that the speed of sound and speed of light were different because he could see a distant blacksmith strike a blow before he could hear the sound of the clang; or Buridan, upon observing the continued motion of a millstone after the crown gear was disengaged, concluding to a theory of "impetus" (which we now call "momentum.") Theodoric (bishop of Freiburg) did conduct genuine experiments with water-filled glass balls in determining the correct explanation of the rainbow.

            Criticizing the medievals for not accomplishing what the 19th century did, we would have to criticize Galileo, Descartes, and the rest of the 17th century dudes for a similar shortfall.

          • fredx2

            However, under your definition, theoretical physicists would not be scientists. Only experimental physicists would be. You are saying that Einstein was not really a scientist. I think you can say Scotus was a sort of theoretical physicist, in a way. Again - he definitely was moving things forward, relying on reason rather than the authority of the bible.
            I suppose you could say he did theoretical work, and it was up to others to do the experimentation.

          • Peter Piper

            I agree that the distinction between science, philosophy and theology were not yet delineated at the time when Duns Scotus was working. But that doesn't stop us, who do have these distinctions, from seeing to what extent they applied to his work.

            Now, I think of the heart of science as being the constraint of speculation by observation, and the idea that if you want to know certain things about the world then you have to go out and make certain measurements and tests. This was part of what Archimedes did, and not just Archimedes but a few others working in Greece within a few centuries of him. So I am happy to think of those people as proto-scientists.

            This is rather different from the process of reasoning about the world from first principles, which is (at best) philosophy. So I see no reason to think of Scotus as a proto-scientist in this sense, nor `as much of a "scientist" as Archimedes'. In fact, the idea sketched above is one of the key ideas which I see as having been mostly lost, in Europe, during the `dark ages', and recovered slowly over the last several hundred years.

            Perhaps Hannam makes all of this clear, but the OP does not. This is a pity, as I think that this point detracts from the main thesis of the OP and (apparently) the book.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Archimedes was a mathematician and geometer, not a physicist. And the "OP" is me - this article is a reproduction of my review of Hannam's book. I use the word "scientist" here, as I said, as a shorthand for "proto-scientific natural philosopher". Duns Scotus falls into that category in the same way that Aristotle or Ptolemy do. All use observation and induction to draw logical conclusions about the physical world. Few of them made anything we could call "measurements" and even fewer used "tests". And that includes the Greeks. To try to shoehorn (some) of these proto-scientists into an anachronistic definition of "science" so as to exclude others is a very weird enterprise.

          • Peter Piper

            You're right that Archimedes wasn't a physicist. All I meant to suggest is that because he sometimes relied on experiments he can be regarded as a proto-scientist in a way that Scotus cannot (as far as I know).

            By OP I meant `original post', not `original poster', but I can see why you might have thought I was (rather oddly) talking about you in the third person. Sorry if you found that weird or offensive, but I only meant to refer to a particular piece of your writing rather than to you.

            You say that you have explained that "scientist" is a shorthand for "proto-scientific natural philosopher", and I assume that you are referring to what you have said in the comments. If you made any such clarification in the original post, then please point it out.

            I don't see the idea I mentioned above (that speculation should be constrained by observation) as anachronistic. Do you agree with my claim that this idea was around for a while in Greece, then generally forgotten in Europe during the `dark ages'?

            I have explained roughly my idea of what it means to be a proto-scientist. Would you mind doing the same for yours? As far as I am able to tell at the moment, it appears to be `philosopher who thought about questions relating to the structure of the physical world', which seems far too weak. Did you have anything more specific in mind?

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            The only "experiment" I know of associated with Archimedes is the story of crown of King Hero II and the bathtub. This is found nowhere in Archimedes own works and seems to be a folk-tale told later. Whether he actually did any experiment along these lines is not clear. The rest of his work was engineering, which is practical but not actually empirical, and geometry and mathematics.

            No I don't agree that the idea of speculation constrained by observation was "lost" - the proto-scientists of the Middle Ages got their method from those of the Hellenic world and practised it in much the same way. The primary difference was the later and very important medieval innovation of using mathematics as the language of physics, something the Greeks did not do.

            And why is the definition of a proto-scientist as a philosopher who thought logically about questions relating to the structure of the physical world "too weak"? Too weak for what, exactly? Actually, the definition should be more like "a philosopher who applied (some) observation and rigorous logical induction to develop consistent ideas about the physical world that could be built upon logically". That sums up *all* "science" from the Greeks until about the sixteenth century.

          • josh

            Engineering is not empirical? Are you talking about some kind of purely theoretical engineering? Building something to accomplish a practical task is thoroughly empirical, although ancient engineers may have done this without much in the way of formal theory or unifying principles that would link it to science per se.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            The second half of your last sentence hits what I was saying on the head.

          • josh

            I'm not sure you were saying what you now think you were saying. We seem to be in agreement now that ancient engineering was empirical but not formal. By contrast I would say ancient philosophy suffered from a lot of 'formal but not empirical', where 'formal' didn't really amount to 'rigorous'. Mathematics brings rigor to formal thinking, and the combination with empirical testing is roughly where I think the modern idea of science lies.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            That first sentence is very odd. I can assure you I'm absolutely sure what I was saying and I am pretty much the only person who would know. You, on the other hand, seem to have misunderstood me.

            And yes, ancient and medieval philosophy, including ancient and medieval natural philosophy, was not empirical. The Greeks laid the foundations for the medievals, who added the key element of mathematics which provided the quantitative basis for true empiricism. This was an important step, which is why the traditional denigration of the Middle Ages as a "dark age" when nothing happened and the Church suppressed rational analysis and stifled innovation is so ridiculous.

          • josh

            Well, I can read what you said so actually I know it at least as well as you, though only you know what you meant. :) You said engineering isn't empirical. I disagreed. But I agree with the first sentence of your second paragraph. And the spirit of the second sentence, if we substitute 'science' for 'true empiricism'. (And provided we are careful about as broad a term as 'the medievals'.)

          • fredx2

            Well, at least according to this, Scotus relied heavily on mathematics.

            "The philosophy of Duns Scotus is characterized by criticism and subtlety. Owing, perhaps, to his predilection for mathematical studies -- a predilection which is said to be due to the influence of Roger Bacon -- Scotus was too much inclined to reject as inconclusive the philosophical arguments of his predecessors.

          • Peter Piper

            Your argument that engineering can't count as proto-science (in your discussion with Josh) seems to be that it does not rely on formal theory or have unifying principles. However, a cursory glance at the work of Archimedes makes it clear that he made a lot of use of formal theory and developed some unifying principles. But he also designed practical devices based on these principles, thereby testing them against reality. In any case, the idea that formalism is the heart of science seems weird to me. On a related note: you claim that an important medieval innovation was the introduction of mathematical analysis into the language of physics. But Archimedes did that, too. (Statics rather than dynamics, but so what?)

            Regarding your second paragraph: could you point to some empirical investigation (engineering or not), or explanation of the principle that it is necessary to make constrained observations to discover truth, by Duns Scotus?

            By `too weak' I mean that your definition includes too many people. As you say, you include all "science". But you also include broad swathes of philosophy, which is too much.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            My point about engineering is that applying principles to make things is a long way from experimental science. I've already said that Duns Scotus didn't (to my knowledge) use empirical investigation, but used the kind of induction found in the physics of the ancient Greeks, so I have no idea why you're asking me to support something I've never claimed. Archimedes' expression of principles in statics (eg "Equal weights at equal distances are in equilibrium, and equal weights
            at unequal distances are not in equilibrium but incline towards the
            weight that is at the greater distance") is pretty close to what the medievals did, though not expressed numerically and algebraically as they did. And given that I've already said my use of "scientist" is a shorthand for "a philosopher who applied (some) observation and rigorous logical
            induction to develop consistent ideas about the physical world that
            could be built upon logically", exactly how is this "too much"? Too much for what?

          • Peter Piper

            My point about engineering is that applying principles to make things is a long way from experimental science.
            As you have already pointed out, experimental science is a recent phenomenon, so does not give an appropriate criterion here.

            I've already said that Duns Scotus didn't (to my knowledge) use empirical investigation
            Sorry, I hadn't noticed that you had been explicit about this, but I'm glad that you have now made it clear. So Duns Scotus cannot be counted as a preserver of the idea I said was lost. Since you put him in the top 20 `scientists' over a 500 year period, that suggests to me that this idea was indeed lost during that period.

            Archimedes' expression of principles in statics ... is pretty close to what the medievals did, though not expressed numerically and algebraically as they did.
            Archimedes did express things numerically, though his notation was of course different from modern notation. He even contributed to the development of new numerical notation. According to wikipedia, the Oxford Calculators did not use algebra: I don't completely trust wikipedia, but I would appreciate it if you could provide some evidence to the contrary.

            given that I've already said my use of "scientist" is a shorthand for "a philosopher who applied (some) observation and rigorous logical induction to develop consistent ideas about the physical world that could be built upon logically", exactly how is this "too much"? Too much for what?
            Too much for the rhetorical weight you want to rest on it. Consider the following context:
            Opponent: It was not easy to pursue science between 1000 and 1500 AD without molestation from the church.
            Tim: Yet Duns Scotus did exactly that!

            This only works rhetorically if either your opponent is ignorant about Duns Scotus or they also think of philosophy about the physical world as a kind of science. It may well be that a lot of your opponents are ignorant about Duns Scotus and are too lazy to do any research. But of course any rhetorical force you gain in this way is unrelated to the truth of your claims. On the other hand, I doubt that many of your opponents would be happy with the idea that such philosophy is science.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            So Duns Scotus cannot be counted as a preserver of the idea I said was lost.

            Yes, he can. As I said, he pursued physics the way Aristotle and the Greeks did - by building on observed principles by induction. You seem to be trying to make Archimedes closer to modern empiricism than he was and to pretend he was typical of the Greeks and that he was something like Greek physics, despite being a geometer. Then you seem to be saying that because Scotus wasn't doing what Archimedes did, he wasn't preserving what we're calling (as shorthand) "science". This is all rather tricksy.

            Again, Scotus pursued physics (not geometry, not engineering either) as Aristotle did. He was "a philosopher who applied (some) observation and rigorous logical induction to develop consistent ideas about the physical world that could be built upon logically", just as Aristotle and the Greek physicists were.If you've decided that is too broad a definition for "science" that's your business, but keep in mind that if it is, then most of the Greeks weren't doing "science" either.

            According to wikipedia, the Oxford Calculators did not use algebra

            My mistake - I was posting from memory. I was thinking of Bradwardine's use of logarithmic expressions of Aristotle's physics of motion. Not bad for a guy who died 268 years before Napier was born.

            I doubt that many of your opponents would be happy with the idea that such philosophy is science.

            Yet they merrily say that Aristotle and many others who pursued "philosophy about the physical world" in exactly the way Scotus et al did were doing science. You can't have it both ways I'm afraid.

          • josh

            Aristotle is in my experience usually thought of as a bad example of how to do physics, since his ideas of continuous action in moving objects and unchanging cosmos and natural tendencies based on essences are so unphysical.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            If Aristotle is not a physicist then none of the Greeks are. You guys keep getting yourself in this pickle: either you admit that the medieval scholars I listed are as much "scientists" as the Greeks were or you're forced to say they were not "scientists" either. You can't have it both ways.

          • josh

            Who's 'you guys'? I haven't said that 'the Greeks' were scientists. It doesn't follow that we either lump everyone together as 'scientists' or 'equally valid pre-scientists'. We usually remember people for what they got right. Maybe I'm ignorant here, but I don't know what Scotus contributed to science as we understand it today. He is remembered as a theologian.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Who's 'you guys'?

            Both you and Peter Piper seem to be trying very hard to exclude medieval scholars from the same category as Greek philosophers who examined the natural world via logical induction. If you accept that they fall into the same category as those Greek philosophers, who are regularly described as "scientists", then we have no argument.

            It doesn't follow that we either lump everyone together as 'scientists' or 'equally valid pre-scientists'.

            If they were doing the same thing by the same methods, that does follow. It follows quite naturally.

            I don't know what Scotus contributed to science as we understand it today.

            Shifting the goalposts again.

            He is remembered as a theologian.

            And a physicist in the Greek tradition. He was, like those Greeks, a "a philosopher who applied (some) observation and rigorous logical induction to develop consistent ideas about the physical world that could be built upon logically". If those Greeks who did this are regularly and quite reasonably described as "scientists" then so should Scotus. You keep trying very hard to squirm away from that logical conclusion, though for no rational motivation that I can see. It seems to be something more emotional.

          • josh

            Actually, I'm trying very hard to get you to acknowledge that maybe things are a bit more complicated than 'all Greek philosophers are either equivalent to all medieval philosophers or none of them have any connection to science.' I will happily include the Merton Calculators as contributors to science. I will happily agree that important Greek philosophers had many non-scientific ideas and practices. I think both ancient Greek and Medieval thinkers shouldn't be confused with the more rational and empirical approach taken today. But I'm not sure they should be lumped together as 'philosophers who applied observation and rigorous logical induction.' I'm not sure what Scotus is supposed to have done that he should count as a notable scientist.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            I'm not sure they should be lumped together as 'philosophers who applied observation and rigorous logical induction.'

            You keep expressing that uncertainty with some vigor. What you keep failing to do is back it up with anything substantial. Or even logical. Your desire to put the medieval scholars into a different caregory seems to be mainly emotional.

            I'm not sure what Scotus is supposed to have done that he should count as a notable scientist.

            Goalpost shifiting again. You keep trying to make the category something else - "empirical scientist, " or "scientist who has contributed to science as we understand it today" or "notable scientist" I've made it very clear what the parameters are - "a philosopher who applied (some) observation and rigorous logical induction to developconsistent ideas about the physical world that could be built upon logically". That includes both the medieval scholars and the Greek ones. It's amazing how hard you're having to work to desperately avoid that. Perhaps you should ask yourself why.

          • josh

            You keep failing to provide any substantial argument for your categorization. Doubting it with vigor is the skeptical thing to do. I'm not desperate to avoid anything, just looking for some content rather than repeated assertion. Your parameters aren't clear and their relevance is uncertain.

            I ask myself, 'who is important in the progress of science' and I say 'roughly, those who have contributed to science as we practice it today'. 'Is Duns Scotus on that list?' 'Not to my knowledge, but maybe I will learn something.' 'Maybe Tim will learn what goalpost shifting means.' 'We can hope.'

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            You keep failing to provide any substantial argument for your categorization.

            You now seem to have completely lost track of what is being discussed. People objected to my use of the word "scientist" in relation to these medieval scholars. So I clarified how I was using that (as Hannam notes) anachronistic shorthand term - "a philosopher who applied (some) observation and rigorous logical induction to develop consistent ideas about the physical world that could be built upon logically". My argument, Hannam's book and the consensus of modern historians of science all agree that the common idea that no such people existed in the Middle Ages due to this mythical Church repression of rational inquiry into the nature of the world is a myth.

            You seem to be trying to disagree with this for some emotionally-driven reason, but keep doing so by trying to cram "scientist" into some other much narrower category: eg "someone who is important in the progress of science" or "someone I consider 'notable'" or "someone who was doing physics which we now consider 'good'". But I've given you the sense in which I am using 'scientist" and you can only disagree with me by reference to that sense, not some other category which you've decided suits you better.

            This is goalpost shifting.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Your parameters aren't clear

            Parameters are dimensions of a population estimated by the statistics measured in a sample. Or are you using "parameters" in some sort of loosey-goosey way?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            That's not even correct. That's a parameter w/ re Sociology, maybe, but a parameter is not that.

            A parameter (from the Ancient Greek παρά, "para", meaning "beside, subsidiary" and μέτρον, "metron", meaning "measure"), in its common meaning, is a characteristic, feature, or measurable factor that can help in defining a particular system. A parameter is an important element to consider in evaluation or comprehension of an event, project, or situation. Parameter may have more specific interpretations in mathematics, logic, linguistics, environmental science,[1] or other disciplines.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            A Gaussian distribution has two parameters: the mean and the variance. A Poisson distribution has a single parameter, since the variance is a function of its mean. Alas, people unable to distinguish "parameter" from "perimeter" have in the waning of the Modern Ages adulterated its meaning. Some of us in the sciences will go down with the ship. Language changes that obscure meanings are to be eschewed.

            parameter (n.) 1650s in geometry, from Modern Latin parameter (1630s), from Greek para- "beside, subsidiary" (see para- (1)) + metron "measure"

            A geometry term until 1920s when it yielded sense of "measurable factor which helps to define a particular system" (1927). [e.g., mean and variance] Common modern meaning
            (influenced by perimeter) of "boundary, limit, characteristic factor" is from 1950s.

          • fredx2

            Once again, here is a book called "The Physics of Duns Scotus. For example, he discusses how many times something can be divided until it is no longer itself. This is an investigation into atoms, molecules and the like. It is a profound observation that something DOES begin to be something else if you keep dividing it. For example, a piece of iron divided ad infinitum evenutally is no longer iron, but becomes protons and neutrons and electrons. To have intuied that in the 12th century is a pretty big step.

            http://books.google.com/books?id=qJn5rgbAf7YC&pg=PA132&lpg=PA132&dq=duns+scotus+on+experimentation&source=bl&ots=i8MQpb_YtW&sig=aOQFnFlQebTP1WXIDc67uCyY_D8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=XrukUvX6BOXEyQHytYCQCQ&ved=0CFcQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=duns%20scotus%20on%20experimentation&f=false

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The medieval natural philosophers were rational and empirical. This was the criticism leveled against them: that they used sensory experience and reason to study the world, whereas the moderns used artificial experiments and considered the sensory world as largely subjective illusion. Even so it was Oresme who pointed out in the middle ages that the appearance of the motion of the sun could be due to the rotation of the earth and not the empirically-observed motions of the sun. This had been called "the principle of relativity" by Witelo in his Perspectiva, which Oresme dutifully credited. (Galileo, otoh, never mentioned he had ripped his proof of the Mean Speed Theorem from Oresme.)

            The idea that the medieval natural philosophers proceeded from "first principles" to the exclusion of observation is itself contrary to empirical fact. "Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses" was one of their mottoes. You will find -- if you ever actually were to read what they wrote -- that they started from experience/observation and reasoned from there.

            The Greeks never got there because those who taught the use of mathematics -- the Platonists -- eschewed the icky material world, while those who taught empiricism -- the Aristotelians -- believed that mathematics was static (arithmetic and geometry do not include time) while Nature was dynamic (motion/change). The Scholastic tradition was actually a blending of Aristotelian and Neoplatonic concepts that eventually blossomed as math+observation mediated by reason. (This, btw, was why Leibnitz and Newton's development of the calculus was such an important achievment: finally, a mathematics of motion! But if the medievals had not developed such concepts as "velocity," "acceleration," and "instantaneous velocity" it might not have blossomed when it did.)

          • Peter Piper

            What Scotus did was similar to some things that Aristotle did: this is because Aristotle was a polymath, both a proto-scientist and a philosopher, and Scotus' philosophy is in the same tradition as Aristotle's. The reason I think of Aristotle as a proto-scientist is because of stuff like this (found within ten minutes on wikipedia):

            His writings provide an account of many scientific observations, a mixture of precocious accuracy and curious errors. For example, in his History of Animals he claimed that human males have more teeth than females. In a similar vein, John Philoponus, and later Galileo, showed by simple experiments that Aristotle's theory that a heavier object falls faster than a lighter object is incorrect. On the other hand, Aristotle refuted Democritus's claim that the Milky Way was made up of "those stars which are shaded by the earth from the sun's rays," pointing out (correctly, even if such reasoning was bound to be dismissed for a long time) that, given "current astronomical demonstrations" that "the size of the sun is greater than that of the earth and the distance of the stars from the earth many times greater than that of the sun, then ... the sun shines on all the stars and the earth screens none of them."

            In Aristotelian science, especially in biology, things he saw himself have stood the test of time better than his retelling of the reports of others, which contain error and superstition. He dissected animals but not humans; his ideas on how the human body works have been almost entirely superseded.

            Another good example of his methods comes from the Generation of Animals in which Aristotle describes breaking open fertilized chicken eggs at intervals to observe when visible organs were generated.
            It is this sort of thing which I am saying was lost. If you can point to anything comparable to this done by Scotus, I might be prepared to concede the point. Until then, I will persist in my claim that `Aristotle and the Greeks' were proto-scientists in a way Scotus wasn't.

            I hope that you won't claim that by providing these quotes, which speak for themselves, I am being tricksy and trying to present Aristotle as closer to modern empiricism than he was. Not only would this be a comment directed against me rather than my arguments (which is discouraged on this site) but it would be just as inaccurate as your accusation above.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            My only claim about Scotus was that he did physics the way Aristotle did it. And that he was " "a philosopher who applied (some) observation and rigorous logical
            induction to develop consistent ideas about the physical world that
            could be built upon logically". The myth I am addressing and which Hannam's book shows to be nonsense is that no such people existed in the Middle Ages. I'm not aware of Scotus doing something like your example from Aristotle, but this was not "lost" at all - other medieval thinkers did similar proto-empirical things. If you or anyone you know wears glasses then you know of a result from medieval experiments in optics for example.

            Like that guy josh, you seem determined to find a definition of "scientist" that is narrow enough to exclude Scotus but retain Aristotle. That actually had very little to do with anything I'm saying.

          • Peter Piper

            My only claim about Scotus was that he did physics the way Aristotle did it.

            There is a subtle issue here. Aristotle wrote a book called physics, but the contents of this book are mostly nothing like what we would now call physics, being instead philosophy. Scotus carried on with the philosophy. The fact that the Aristotle's book was called physics and included some more proto-scientific parts does cloud the issue, but the meanings of words change over time.

            In any case, my last comment was not aimed at refuting your claims about Scotus, but your claims about `Aristotle and the Greeks', such as `If you've decided that is too broad a definition for "science" that's your business, but keep in mind that if it is, then most of the Greeks weren't doing "science" either'. After all, according to the definition I have suggested, Aristotle was doing proto-science and Scotus wasn't. By saying that I `seem determined' to find such a definition, you are subtly suggesting that I have not succeeded in doing so. But it would be more helpful if instead of making insinuations in this way you instead pointed to problems with the definition itself.

            You say that the existence or otherwise of such a definition has little to do with anything you are saying, but in fact I have already pointed out how it removes the rhetorical force of at least one of your arguments.

            I want to make one other thing clear: I do think of figures like Bradwardine and Grosseteste as proto-scientists. But the fact that your `laundry list' of just 14 proto-scientists over a 500 year period had to include such figures as Scotus is worrying.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            I can only repeat, with a degree of weariness, that I am talking about "philosophers who applied (some) observation and rigorous logical induction to develop consistent ideas about the physical world that could be built upon logically" and addressing the widespread myth that no such people existed in the Middle Ages due to supposed repression or persecution by the Church. It appears you have decided to talk about something else entirely which, as I said, is tangential to my article above or Hannam's book.

          • Peter Piper

            If that is the `myth' you are addressing, you can hardly claim it is widespread (because of your idiosyncratic definition of the sort of thing being suppressed). The more widespread idea is that there wasn't a lot of proto-science around, and that there might have been more but for certain policies of the church. The point I hope you will accept is that the meaning of proto-science in this widespread idea is somewhat different from the definition you have suggested.

            In any case, and regardless of whether or not it was your original point, are you now prepared to accept my claim that there was a kind of proto-science practised by Aristotle and the Greeks but largely forgotten between 1000 and 1500 and not practised at all by Scotus?

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Give me a succinct, one sentence definition of this "proto-science" and then let's see how "forgotten" it was.

          • Peter Piper

            I'll do my best, though because of the odd constraint that I can only use one sentence I can't explain it as well as I would like to. I'm grateful that you didn't also impose the constraint that I should use words of one syllable!

            The practise of making carefully chosen specific observations of material processes with a view to constraining the development of general theories.

            By the way, I hope that you will take into account that I'm not claiming this was totally lost. As I said a couple of comments back, I think of Bradwardine and Grosseteste, among others, as proto-scientists. So please address my specific claim: that this kind of proto-science was practised by the Greeks but largely forgotten (at least in Europe) between 1000 and 1500 and not practised at all by Scotus.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            There doesn't seem to be a great deal of difference between your definition and mine. Though can you clarify what exactly you mean by "carefully chosen specific observations"?

          • Peter Piper

            If there is so little difference between our definitions, then you should be easily able to point out examples of Scotus doing proto-science in the sense of my definition.

            I'm afraid I am unable to see the ambiguity in the phrase `carefully chosen specific observations'. If there are a couple of different things that you think I might mean, then you can help me out by explaining the alternatives so that I can clarify which one I meant.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            These "observations" are "specific" how, exactly? And "carefully chosen" from what and on what basis? You seem to be saying something or other by these terms but you don't actually make it clear what you're saying. On the whole you seem to be saying more or less what I said, but these ill-defined terms in the middle probably (deliberately) form some kind difference. They also have a whiff of the weasel about them.

          • Peter Piper

            Regarding the word `specific', I'm afraid I still don't see the ambiguity. I can only ask you to make clearer what it is about my use of this word that you don't understand. Is the problem that you don't think the word `specific' imposes any extra restriction at all? Or is it that you think there are multiple possible meanings? If the latter, as I said before, it would be helpful if you would distinguish a few different things I might mean by this word, so I can point to which one I do mean or provide further clarification.

            Regarding `carefully chosen', I mean chosen from the collection of possible specific observations. No basis is specified in the definition, but note that the observations must be made `with a view to constraining the development of general theories'. I hope that helps.

            You say that my definition is more or less the same as yours. An easy way to convince me of this would be to give examples of Scotus doing things that fit my definition. Please do so.

            I must ask you once more to refrain from making veiled personal attacks (in this case, the insinuation that I am deliberately using weasel words). Not only are they false and insulting, they also are discouraged on this website. They contribute no value to the discussion. Please stop.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "Specific" - as opposed to, say, "general" - tends to mean "of a particular type". So I'm asking of what type these "specific" observations are. And "chosen from the collection of possible specific observations" implies some are chosen and others aren't on some basis or other. But you don't say on what basis and haven't elaborated when asked. So I'm asking again - what exactly does this mean?

            I'll be happy to try to apply your definition once you've made it clear what it actually means.

            And the "weasel" reference was on observation on your argument, not a "personal attack". "You are a poopyhead" is a personal attack. "You seem to be choosing your words to give an impression of specificity when something vague and insubstantial is being said" isn't. Try not to be over-sensitive, we're all grown ups here.

          • Peter Piper

            The definition does not specify which particular type nor what the basis is. The reason I haven't elaborated on these points is that they are not intended to be restricted by the definition. Instead, the word `specific' is there to indicate that the observations shouldn't just be the sort of general observations all of us are making the whole time just by keeping our eyes open. The words `carefully chosen' are there to specify that some deliberative process should form part of the way the observations are selected to be made. Has that helped?

            What I called a veiled personal attack was the suggestion that I had deliberately chosen words to give a misleading impression of specificity. Your last sentence here is again a veiled personal attack, implying that I am over-sensitive and childish. On the contrary, in another context I would have simply ignored your comments. But I like the idea of fostering a community based around sensible discussion directed towards discovering truth, and I agree with the site founders that personal attacks are counterproductive for this purpose.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            The according to your definition, pretty much everyone on in the list in my review above was doing "proto-science" except Scotus. Then again, Scotus wasn't doing "proto-science" in the same way a reasonable number of the Greeks who are often claimed as "scientists" also weren't. So where does this leave your claim that this "proto-science" (so defined) was lost in the period in question? On the contrary - your definition just demonstrated that it was actually reborn in the later Middle Ages

          • Peter Piper

            Please back up your assertions by providing examples of how three or four of Peckham, Burley, Heytesbury, Swineshead and Dumbleton did things fitting my definition. Please also give three or four examples of Greek thinkers commonly claimed as scientists but who do not meet my definition.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Interesting. I listed fourteen medieval "scientists" (by my definition of that anachronistic word). I took out Scotus and you accepted Bradwardine and Grosseteste - which leaves eleven that I said fitted your slightly narrower definition of "proto-scientist". And you've only chosen to challenge me on five of the eleven. We seem to be getting somewhere.

            John Peckham's work on optics in his Perspectiva communis built on the work of Alhazen and Bacon. A full analysis can be found in David C. Lindberg, John Pecham and the Science of Optics: Perspectiva Communis (1970) but there is a shorter discussion in Lindberg's The Beginnings of Western Science pp. 313-315, including a plate with a facsimile of Nicholas of Cusa's copy of the Perspectiva complete with diagrammatic illustrations of Peckham's observations of the refraction of light and various observations of patterns of radiation.

            In his commentaries on Aristotle's Physics Burley examined and critiqued the debate on the nature of motion in the work of Avicenna and others, including the newer idea of "impetus". Of course "motion", like "physics", had broader, more metaphysical meanings in Aristotle and his medieval successors, which is part of the reason trying to impose a modern, semi-empiricist definition of "science" on the thinking of any of these people tends to be clumsy at best. But many of Burley's examples show that he was working from real world observations of dynamic "motion" in our sense of the word as well as its broader Aristotelian sense. So we find him using the example of a the influence of a bean thrown upwards on the motion of a millstone falling in the opposite direction, for instance.

            Heytesbury is now acknowleged as the key developer of the Mean Speed Theorum in kinematics, and analysis of motion in his Regulae solvendi sophismata. Edith D Sylla has written a number of excellent articles on Heytesbury and the other Merton Calculators and their place in the quantification of physics. Try “Medieval quantifications of
            qualities: the “Merton School”,” Archive for the
            History of the Exact Sciences
            8, 9-39 (1971) for starters.

            Which brings us to Swineshead, whose work on the quantification of physics is now widely acknowledged as a significant step toward truly empirical science. You'll find Marshall Clagett, "Richard Swineshead and Late Medieval Physics: I. The Intension and Remission of Qualities (1)" Osiris, Vol. 9, (1950), pp. 131-161 a useful treatment here.

            So we can add those four to the eight you've already had to acknowledge from my list of fourteen. So, where does that leave your claim that this kind of "proto-science" was "lost"?

          • Peter Piper

            You are right that I ignored five, though often only because of trivial facts which complicate the discussion (e.g. Wallingford made an astronomical clock). To be clear: I do not yet acknowledge all of them as proto-scientists in my sense, only Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon.

            I would like to thank you for going to the trouble of finding all that information for me. On the basis of what you have said, I accept that Peckham was a proto-scientist in my sense, but I'm afraid we will have to discuss the others further.

            It is clear that examining and critiquing a debate is not what my definition was about, and nor is quantification of existing theories (however important it might have been for other reasons).

            This leaves only one person beyond Peckham whom you might have made a case for accepting, namely Burley. Your key example of an observation performed by Burley (throwing a bean up against a millstone) is one that he probably never actually carried out. But perhaps the other examples you mention are more convincing: I am willing to be persuaded if you give better examples here.

            A reminder: I would still like a few examples of Greeks claimed as scientists but who don't fit my definition.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            This is getting ridiculous. Burley may never have carried out an experiement with a bean and a millstone, certainly. Then again, Aristotle never carried out an experiment with two weights of differing mass falling at the same time, otherwise he may have not got his conclusion about that wrong and have to be corrected by Philoponus (medieval!) and Burdian (medieval!). You've chosen an anachronistic and therefore totally artificial narrow criterion for "proto-science", while at the same time having to grudgingly admit that various of the people on my list fit it. So - "lost"? Pardon? What exactly was your point again?

          • Peter Piper

            In fact, if you drop a feather (paradigmatic light thing) and a rock (paradigmatic heavy thing) at the same time from the same height in air at room temperature and pressure then the rock will hit the ground first. Just try it yourself, or watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XJcZ-KoL9o

            Aristotle's problem was not that he made this (totally correct) observation, but that he thought it was due to the inherent propensity of heavier objects to fall faster rather than the fact that air resistance has less effect on heavy objects due to their greater inertia. As you point out, he could have discovered this mistake by means of further experiments and did not, but it would be silly for us to impose `carried out all the experiments which, in retrospect, obviously should have been carried out' as a condition on proto-scientists. That really would be anachronistic.

            You should also take another look at the other examples I provided of Aristotle doing proto-science, such as cutting open eggs to see how long it takes for organs to develop in birds.

            Burley, on the other hand, seems to have referred only to his mental model of the world: I am still willing to be convinced that he did more than that if you provide good examples. Although what he did is often a helpful thing to do (because our mental models are pretty good), it is not proto-science, which instead involves making observations of the world itself.

            You accuse me of being grudging in my admittance that various people on your list fit my definition, but in fact I first did so openly, without qualification, and without you suggesting that I should.

            Since you have begun to keep count, let me carry on. At the moment, there are 4 people on the list whom I have happily accepted as proto-scientists, 1 who you are no longer claiming is a proto-scientist, 3 more about whom I have not asked you to provide evidence, and 5 more about whom I have asked you to provide evidence, of which you have provided adequate evidence about only 1. For a list of top proto-scientists over a 500 year period, this isn't great.

            You have also still not even attempted to provide any supporting evidence for your claim that `a reasonable number of the Greeks who are often claimed as "scientists" also weren't'.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "Since you have begun to keep count, let me carry on. At the moment,
            there are 4 people on the list whom I have happily accepted as
            proto-scientists, 1 who you are no longer claiming is a proto-scientist,
            3 about whom I have not asked you to provide evidence, and 5 more about
            whom I have asked you to provide evidence, of which you have provided
            adequate evidence about only 1."

            I'm afraid I'm a bit lost and, since I'm replying on the run, perhaps you can help me out. Who are the four again? And who is the "proto-scientist" that you accept and I don't? And who is the one of the four that I support above and why have you rejected the other three? This is all getting rather mystifying and still feels a lot like tendentious goal-post shifting to fit your irrational biases.

            PS in 24 hours I will be on a plane to Paris and so replying will be difficult. It would be appreciated if you could clarify the things you say above before then so I can reply properly before I go.

          • Peter Piper

            Sorry for taking so long to reply: I did not realise that you were likely to have a time constraint, so I didn't check Strange Notions until a short time ago. Since you ask, I will list the names of those I referred to in my count above.

            4 people on the list who I have happily accepted as proto-scientists: Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, Thomas Bradwardine.

            1 who you are no longer claiming is a proto-scientist: Duns Scotus (you seem to have interpreted me as meaning `of which 1' rather than `and also 1': I apologise for my inadvertently ambiguous phrasing).

            4 about whom I have not asked you to provide evidence: Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan, Nicholas of Cusa. (I said 3 rather than 4. Again, sorry for this mistake.)

            5 about whom I have asked you to provide evidence: John Peckham, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton.

            Of which you have provided adequate evidence about only 1: John Peckham.

            Once more I must ask you to refrain from personal attacks. In this case, you claim that I have irrational biases. Please consider the following quote from http://www.strangenotions.com/commenting/

            The rhetorical assault known as ad hominem, Latin for "to the person," is one of the most common fallacies online. Instead of engaging actual arguments, the culprit criticizes, insults, belittles, judges, or mocks the person making the argument. He blasts the opponent's character, intelligence, education, background, motivations, or sometimes all of the above. Attacking persons is fallacious and uncharitable and will not be permitted here.

            I am reporting your comment as inappropriate and will leave the judgment of whether the claim that I have irrational biases breaches this guideline to the site owners.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Thanks for the clarifications. So, even by your anachronistic definition of "proto-science", we have Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, Thomas Bradwardine. But Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan, Nicholas of Cusa fit that definition as well. Then you've ruled out Philoponus on geographical grounds - though what they have to do with a question that revolves around a period of Christian history I have no idea. This seems to be another attempt at constructing highly artificial parameters (for reasons I am not allowed to speculate about for fear of being reported to the authorities for insufficient primness). Exactly why Heytesbury, Swineshead, and Dumbleton are excluded you haven't explained.

            So that's nine, even if I graciously exclude Burley, Heytesbury and co. Though my list was only a sample to begin with, so we could throw in quite a few more who fit your artificial definition, like Witelo (on optics and perspective), Theodoric of Freiberg (observations on the nature of the rainbow) or Giovanni di Casali (graphical analysis of accelerating bodies). Was Ptolemy a "proto-scientist"? Then why not also count Hermann of Reichenau or John Sacrobosco? Was Galen a "proto-scientist"? Then you also need to count Theodoric Borgognoni and Copho of Salerno and William of Saliceto and Lanfranci and Taddeo Alderotti and Bartolommeo de Varigana and Mondino de Luzzi.and Guy de Chauliac. And if Aristotle looking at eggs is proto-scientific then read Frederick II's De Arte Vernandi cum Avibus for meticulous examination.

            How a period which saw the revival of human dissection, long since religiously taboo in Greco-Roman times, thus forming the foundation of modern medicine can be said to be not "proto-scientific" is a complete mystery. How a period that had experiments with lenses and optics lead to the invention of eye glasses isn't "proto-scientific", likewise. And one that saw experiments with descending bodies lead to clocks and mechanical astronomical devices. And one that saw the observation of birds lead to the first experiment in manned flight (Ailmer of Malmesbury).

            Even by your artificial and anachronistic definition, the claim that this kind of observation of and speculation about the natural world was "lost" in this period is patent and unabashed nonsense. I let others ponder why you're making a claim that is so obviously wrong.

          • Peter Piper

            You have repeatedly claimed that my definition of proto-science is anachronistic without giving any arguments for this claim. I reject it.

            My reason for not mentioning Philoponus is that he was not on your list. My reason for mentioning earlier that he was not in Europe is that I had earlier explicitly mentioned Europe as the place where I thought empiricism was largely lost.

            I'm pleased to see that you have made your attempts to cast aspersions on my character vaguer and more indirect, but what I was really hoping was that they might stop completely.

            You still have not addressed my repeated requests for a few Greeks who are regularly claimed as scientists but who do not fit my definition. May I assume that you have given up on this claim?

            I have in fact explained why Heytesbury, Swineshead and Dumbleton are excluded: see my earlier comment, where I note that `It is clear that examining and critiquing a debate is not what my definition was about, and nor is quantification of existing theories (however important it might have been for other reasons).'

            It seems to me that we have a choice: one option is to continue to work with the list you originally provided, of which you are claiming an already none-too-impressive 9 out of 14. If you want to do that, though, it will be necessary for you to actually give some reasonable evidence about the 4 of those 9 people who we haven't discussed so far (Wallingford, Oresme, Buridan and Cusa). This is made necessary by the fact that you were only able to give adequate evidence about one of the five people I challenged.

            The other option is that you instead throw out this list as not appropriate to the definition we are currently working with and start over with new people, as you began to do in your most recent comment. That could be an interesting discussion, and I would be happy to proceed with it.

            Which option would you like to follow?

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Okay, back from Europe. Now, where were we?

            "You have repeatedly claimed that my definition of proto-science is anachronistic without giving any arguments for this claim. I reject it."

            It's anachronistic and artificial because it only covers some of what these ancient and medieval scholars were doing and because you're using it as a tool to try (for reasons I'm, apparently, forbidden to speculate about for fear of conniptions) to exclude as many medieval scholars as possible while including all the Greek ones. Duns Scotus doesn't fit it, but then again neither does Pythagorus. Yet I regularly see him and his followers referred to as "scientists". Of course, the Pythagorean world view sits on the scale of modern science somewhere between alchemy and crystal therapy.

            You still have not addressed my repeated requests for a few Greeks who are regularly claimed as scientists but who do not fit my definition.

            *Ahem*

            "one option is to continue to work with the list you originally provided, of which you are claiming an already none-too impressive 9 out of 14."

            A list that drawn up according to other criteria before you narrowed things. It's hard to be "impressive" on criteria that are going to be presented in future, given my lack of a crystal ball.

            The other option is that you instead throw out this list as not appropriate to the definition we are currently working with ... "

            Well, apart from the five you've been forced to admit to be "proto-scientists, through gritted teeth.

            " ... and start over with new people.

            To fit what is a different and new definition, sure.

            "That could be an interesting discussion, and I would be happy to proceed with it."

            Great. So how are you now going to nitpick at Theodoric of Freiberg, Giovanni di Casali, Hermann of Reichenau, John Sacrobosco, Theodoric Borgognoni, Copho of Salerno, William of Saliceto, Lanfranci, Taddeo Alderotti, Bartolommeo de Varigana, Mondino de Luzzi.and Guy de Chauliac? They all fit your criteria and that takes the total to 17. Which makes your claim that this way of looking at the world was "lost" in the Middle Ages ridiculous. Over to you.

          • Peter Piper

            I hope your trip to Europe went well. Thanks for remembering me now that you are back. To vary the order a bit, I'll begin by pointing out that you are still making groundless personal attacks: suggesting that I am liable to conniptions and that I only accepted the 5 admitted protoscientists `through gritted teeth'. Once more, I must ask that you stop.

            It isn't surprising that only part of the work of someone thousands of years ago would count as protoscience. In fact, it would be the opposite suggestion which would count as anachronistic. Your insinuations about my purposes are, of course, irrelevant to the question of whether my definition is anachronistic.

            Pythagoras is generally classified as a mathematician and philosopher rather than a scientist. Do you have any other examples?

            You point out that you were working with your own idiosyncratic definition of proto-scientist when you came up with the list, but you ignore that the list was intended to address a particular argumentative context and so you were not free to choose this definition arbitrarily. I have already mentioned this a couple of times.

            Let us now move to the list of 12 new claimed protoscientists.
            I suggest a policy of waiting to see my response before making the judgment of whether or not it is nit-picking.

            I accept the following as protoscientists: Theodoric of Freiberg, Theodoric Borgognoni, Copho of Salerno, Mondino de Luzzi and Guy de Chauliac. I also accept Frederick II, who you mentioned earlier.

            I would like to see more evidence regarding the following:
            Giovanni di Casali, Hermann of Reichenau, John Sacrobosco, William of Saliceto, Lanfranci, Taddeo Alderotti and Bartolomeo de Varigana.

            You speak as if 17 (or even 18, since I also accept Frederick II) people were a significant number, but when we consider that they are taken from the whole of Europe (rather than just Greece) over a period of 500 years, it becomes clear that they are few and far between. Rather than presenting a list of hundreds of names, though, perhaps a better approach would be to point to a figure whose protoscientific practice is comparable to that of Aristotle or Newton (who I choose as a representative of the later flowering of science). Alternatively, I would be convinced if you could point to a few popular and respected books of the period which devote a significant portion of their material to outlining and promoting an empirical approach to gathering knowledge.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Seriously, this feeble whining about “personal attacks” is getting beyond silly. Apparently you alerted the powers that be about these imaginary “personal attacks” and the fact I haven’t heard a squeak from them indicates that they can see calling an occasional mildly sardonic tone and a couple of wry asides “attacks” is ridiculous. Toughen up princess. If I can merrily endure your passive aggressive insinuations without batting an eyelid I’m sure you can handle my tone.

            Pythagoras is generally classified as a mathematician and philosopher rather than a scientist.

            You’d better tell Wiki.
            And Carl Sagan.

            Do you have any other examples?

            Thales. Anaximander. Democritus.
            They did “physics” and some “cosmology” and I’ve come across all being described as a “Greek scientists” (again, by Sagan). None of them fit your paradigm any more than Pythagorus does.

            You point out that you were working with your own idiosyncratic definition of proto-scientist when you came up with the list, but you ignore that the list was intended to address a particular argumentative context and so you were not free to choose this definition arbitrarily.

            Pardon? Yes, my list was in response to the widespread idea that no-one used reason to analyse and examine the physical world in a systematic way in the Middle Ages and that it was purely an age of superstition and unquestioned religious authority. I’ve already explained what I was using “scientist” as a short hand for and we both know that I was not talking about “proto-scientists” in your much narrower definition. So I can’t quite make out what you’re trying to say here. Where is the problem here exactly?

            I would like to see more evidence regarding the
            following:

            Giovanni di Casali, Hermann of Reichenau, John Sacrobosco, William of Saliceto, Lanfranci, Taddeo Alderotti and Bartolomeo de Varigana.

            At this point, given how much ground you've had to back-pedal over since you made your now fully-debunked claim that this way of examining the world was "lost", a less patient person would tell you to go do your own homework. But I'm a kindly, charitable soul:

            Giovanni di Casali - developed a geometrical method for representing the motion of accelerating bodies in a work that was likely later drawn on by Galileo.

            Hermann of Reichenau - his treatise on the astrolabe was the result of using the instrument for a range of astronomical observations and calculations, including checking Eratosthenes' calculation of the size of the earth.

            William of Saliceto - His Chirurgia represents the first study of anatomy based on human anatomy since the Hellenic period.

            Lanfranci - His Chirurgia Magna was a manual of surgery, again based on anatomical studies based on human dissection.

            Taddeo Alderotti - First developed fractional distillation. Thank him next time you fill up your car.

            Bartolomeo de Varigana - Another pioneer in the revival of anatomy based on actual human dissection rather than Galen's guesses based on examining pigs, dogs and apes.

            You speak as if 17 (or even 18, since I also accept Frederick II) people were a significant number, but when we consider that they are taken from the whole of Europe (rather than just Greece) over a period of 500 years, it becomes clear that they are few and far between.

            It is a “significant number” given that a few comments ago you were confidently asserting that “proto-science” by your narrower definition was “lost” in the Middle Ages. But with every response you’ve been forced to admit more and more examples that show it was not “lost” at all. We’re now up to 18. That’s a funny kind of “lost”.

            I'm reminded of the "what have the Romans ever done for us?" sequence in Python's Life of Brian.

            And most of my examples are actually from the period from the later twelfth century to the end of the relevant period (c. 1500 AD). So that’s 18 in a mere 300 years – not bad for a culture that was having to revive this stuff virtually from scratch after a 1000 year period of stagnation and then almost total collapse from the later second century to the twelfth century revival.

            That alone should tell you something.

            Try this, since you seem very fond of challenges: start with the first Pre-Socratics in the early sixth century BC and see how many “proto-scientists” you come up with from the following 300 years.

            That would be comparing apples to apples.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Seriously, this feeble whining about “personal attacks” is getting beyond silly. Apparently you alerted the powers that be about these imaginary “personal attacks” and the fact I haven’t heard a squeak from them indicates that they can see calling an occasional mildly sardonic tone and a couple of wry asides “attacks” is ridiculous. Toughen up princess. If I can merrily endure your passive aggressive insinuations without batting an eyelid I’m sure you can handle my dry tone.

            Pythagoras is generally classified as a mathematician and philosopher rather than a scientist.

            You’d better tell Wiki. And Carl Sagan.

            Do you have any other examples?

            Thales.
            Anaximander.

            Democritus.

            They did “physics” and some “cosmology” and I’ve come across all being described as a “Greek scientist” (again by Sagan). None of them fit your paradigm any more than Pythagorus does.

            You point out that you were working with your own idiosyncratic definition of proto-scientist when you came up with the list, but you ignore that the list was intended to address a particular argumentative context and so you were not free to choose this definition arbitrarily.

            Pardon?
            Yes, my list was in response to the widespread idea that no-one used reason to analyse and examine the physical world in a systematic way in the Middle Ages and that it was purely an age of superstition and unquestioned religious authority. I’ve already explained what I was using “scientist” as a short hand for and we both know that I was not talking about “proto-scientists” in your much narrower definition. So I can’t quite make out what you’re trying to say here. The problem here would be ... ?

            I
            would like to see more evidence regarding the following:

            Giovanni di Casali, Hermann of Reichenau, John Sacrobosco, William of Saliceto,
            Lanfranci, Taddeo Alderotti and Bartolomeo de Varigana.

            Given the comical amount of back-pedalling you've been forced to do, giving ground with every comment as you have to concede over and over again that your claim this way of examining the world gets debunked with every example you have to admit, some less patient people would, at about this point, tell you to go do your own homework. But I am a kindly, charitable soul:

            Giovanni di Casali - developed a geometric analysis of the motion of accelerating bodies, most likely later used by Galileo in his work on dynamics.

            Hermann of Reichenau - His work on the operation of the astrolabe drew on his use of it to make a number of innovative observations and calculations, including using it to check Eratosthenes' calculation of the circumference of the earth.

            William of Saliceto - His Chirurgia was the first work of anatomy based on actual human dissections since the Hellenic Period.

            Lanfranci - His surgical manual Chirurgia Magna also drew on his observations via human dissections, making a number of innovations as a result.

            Taddeo Alderotti - He discovered fractional distillation. Thank him next time you fill up your car.

            Bartolomeo de Varigana - Another medieval pioneer in the use of human dissection to inform anatomical studies rather than taking the word of Galen and his examination of pigs, dogs and monkeys.

            You speak as if 17 (or even 18, since I also accept Frederick II) people were a significant number, but when we consider that they are taken from the whole of Europe (rather than just Greece) over a period of 500 years, it becomes clear that they are few and far between.

            It is a “significant number” given that a few comments ago you were confidently asserting that “proto-science” by your narrower definition was “lost” in the Middle Ages. But with every response you’ve been forced to admit more and more examples that show it was not “lost” at all. We’re now up to 18. That’s a funny kind of “lost”.

            And I mean "funny" quite literally. As you are forced to back-pedal from your original assertion with every concession, I'm reminded of the "what have the Romans ever done for us?" sequence in Python's Life of Brian

            And most of my examples are actually from the period from the later twelfth century to the end of the relevant period (c. 1500 AD). So that’s 18 in a mere 300 years – not bad for a culture that was having to revive this stuff virtually from scratch after a 1000 year period of stagnation and then almost total collapse from the later second century to the twelfth century revival. That alone should tell you something.

            Try this, since you seem very fond of challenges: start with the first Pre-Socratics in the early sixth century BC and see how many “proto-scientists” you come up with from the following 300 years. That would be comparing apples to apples. And you don't have to limit things to Greece or the Aegean in this period - feel free to add all the "proto-scientists" from amongst, say, the Etruscans or Samnites as well.

          • Peter Piper

            First, a note on your personal attacks. My comments so far on those attacks have been limited to pointing out their existence, giving reasons why you should stop, and asking you to stop. It is therefore ridiculous to describe these comments as feeble whining.

            Your response here is, without even addressing the other reasons I have given why you should stop, to say that since you have not been reprimanded you can and will continue with impunity. But just because your remarks go unpunished doesn't mean it is good for you to make them, or even that they fit the comment policy here. As I understand it, a comment must be flagged as inappropriate by multiple users before the moderators examine it. I doubt anyone but me has flagged your comments as inappropriate, so I doubt they have been looked at by a moderator.

            If you want me to stop calling out your insults, you have two courses of action available to you. The first is to stop making personal attacks. The second is to contact a moderator and ask them to confirm to me your opinion that you have not violated the site policy. They could confirm this by making a comment to that effect here. I assume, since you wrote the OP, that you have ways to contact the moderators which would not work so well for me.

            You accuse me of making some passive aggressive insinuations about you. Please give 3 examples or retract this accusation.

            Pythagoras is mentioned on wiki as a scientist by virtue of the fact that he is a mathematician: look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Ancient_Greek_mathematicians and check the other links from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Ancient_Greek_scientists to see this. Now, it isn't unreasonable to classify mathematics under science, but I hope it is clear that the people claiming science stagnated in the middle ages aren't talking about mathematics. On Democritus, wiki says `He spent much of his life experimenting with and examining plants and minerals, and wrote at length on many scientific topics.' Sagan claims Anaximander as a scientist because, as wiki points out, `Carl Sagan claims that [Anaximander] conducted the earliest recorded scientific experiment.' As for Thales, he predicted an eclipse and `Hieronymus held that Thales was able to measure the height of the pyramids by a successful application of geometry (after gathering data by using his staff and comparing its shadow to those cast by the pyramids).' This relies on the principle that lengths of shadows are proportional to heights, which is based on specific observation of shadows. Thales is, to me, a borderline case, but I can see why he might be counted as a scientist.

            Your list was in response to the claim that science stagnated in the Middle Ages. Now you are trying to back-pedal by saying that you were just refuting the idea that reason was not used in a systematic way in the middle ages. Can you point to any source worthy of refutation which makes this claim?

            On the subject of back-pedalling, you say that I've been doing a lot of it. Please give 3 examples of claims I have made and later backed off from or else retract this accusation.

            As I already pointed out, `geometric analysis' detached from observation does not count at proto-science under our current definition. Nor is `fractional distillation' an observation. So di Casali and Alderotti are out. I'll accept the others, based on your word, although you haven't given any references to source material. We still don't have enough people to challenge my claim that proto-science was `largely forgotten' or `mostly lost'. I said `lost' in a couple of summary sentences later on, intended to point back to my actual claim that protoscience was mostly lost. I now regret that in my attempt to be concise I opened myself to your repeated mischaracterisations of my position as being that proto-science was entirely lost. In fact, as I said in an early comment in this discussion, `I hope that you will take into account that I'm not claiming this was totally lost.'

            If you want long lists of Greek proto-scientists, you can check out the wiki page I mentioned earlier. But this isn't comparing apples to apples at all, since as already mentioned they all come from Greece whereas you have the whole of Europe to choose from. It doesn't help to say I can choose people from other places too, since I never claimed that other parts of Europe had any proto-science going on at the time. Also, we have much better records of what people wrote and thought in the Middle Ages than we do for ancient Greece.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Stop making personal attacks.

            I never even started. Get a grip, please.

            Sometimes exchanges like this one can get to this stage and still be fruitful and engaged in good faith. Other times get to about this point and wonder why the hell I’m even bothering. I’ve presented multiple examples of medieval scholars who fit your definition of “proto-scientist” and you’ve been forced to agree on most of them (what are we up to now, 25? 28?). Many of the ones you’ve quibbled over have been on highly dubious grounds, though I’ve generally let that go. I’ll let others decide how the guys who came up with the Mean Speed Theorem could be ruled out as not being “proto scientists”. Or how the guy who came up with fractional distillation could have done so without your proto-scientific “observation” (how else could he have managed that – witchcraft? aliens?).

            Yet while you manage to use the weakest quibbles to rule these examples out, you rely on some flimsy sentences in Wiki to rule Democritus and Anaximander in. If you notice, that line in Wiki about Democritus has a footnote to Petronius. That’s Petronius the author of the comic Latin novel The Satyricon, which has a passing reference to Democritus’ pursuing the “curative properties … of stone and shrub”. That’s it. But on the basis of this fleeting reference in a comedy written centuries later we’re supposed to dub him a “proto-scientist”. For Anaximander you give Wiki citing Sagan. Now, as much as I have affectionate memories of Sagan’s 1980s TV show Cosmos, as a historian he made a great astronomer. Here they are referring to Sagan claiming Anximander was the first to use the shadow from a stick to determine the length of the year. But did he? This is based on another very brief mention, this time in Diogenes Laertius, who in turn cites the (lost) Favorinus claiming Anaximander was the first to use a gnomon on a sundial. Except we know this isn’t true, since the Babylonians and Egyptians had sundials. So what exactly did Anaximander do, sciencewise? Who knows.

            It seems we have a strange double standard here, whereby someone medieval who discovers a chemical process used to this day somehow isn’t a proto-scientist, whereas, on the basis of some dubious wiki references, two non-medieval people who did who-knows-what are. Very odd.

            Then you ask me to substantiate the idea that people regularly claim rational analysis of the world was suppressed or disdained in the Middle Ages, as though this commonplace idea is some kind of strawman that I’m making up! Barely a week goes by when I don’t find myself with some online ranter who burbles the usual hoary nineteenth century pseudo positivist crap about how the wicked old Church killed rational inquiry, plunging Europe into a 1000 year dark age of superstition, dogma and burning scientists until we were all saved by the dawning of the wonderful Reformation/Renaissance/Enlightenment.

            But you know all this, so you ask me to provide “any source worthy of refutation which makes this claim”. The fact that the majority of sources worthy of refutation generally wouldn’t make this claim is precisely the point – the fact remains that the claim gets made all the time anyway. Though occasionally we find it in one form or another in books which, worthy or unworthy, are popular, widely available and regularly cited to this effect. Two of the worst culprits are William Manchester A World Lit Only by Fire and Charles Freeman The Closing of the Western Mind, though they have recently been joined by the collection of howlers and nonsense about the period in Stephen Greenblatt’s recent best-selling Pulitzer Prize winner The Swerve. The fact that they give Pulitzer Prizes to books that still peddle this wheezing Whig crap should indicate to you that what I was refuting is still worth refuting.

            Finally, you direct me to Wiki (again) for a long list of more of your ancient proto-scientists, which is supposed to put the one even you have had to admit (what are we up to now? 25? 28?) in the shade. So I went over the Wiki lists, not just looking at Greek thinkers but any from the entire Mediterranean world from 600 BC to 300 BC, to see how many I could find in a 300 year period equivalent to the period from the twelfth century revival to the end of the Middle Ages.

            I went though every single Wiki article on each of those lists and, when the Wiki entry didn't give sufficient information I consulted various books on early science from my collection and googled the scholar in question. I was pretty generous - I counted both Democritus and Anaximander for example. In fact, I ruled in many whose fit to your definition was borderline or even dubious and who would never have passed the level you held my list to - merely being an astronomer who seems to have taken actual observations allowed them to pass muster. Though I excluded mathematicians and the Pythagoreans, unless they had some other reason to admit them (eg observation-based astronomy). So how many did I come up with, despite being as generous as I could?

            Well, I made it to 16.

            Remind me, how many medieval scholars did you admit, despite being ungenerous to a quite farcical degree?

            Apples to apples.

            You claim that even after your comical "what have the Romans ever done for us?" act we still "don't have enough" to counter your rubbery claim about this proto-scientific approach being "largely forgotten". Yet even by your miserly reckoning we have far more European medievals who took that approach in the target 300 year period than we have for the Mediterranean world in an equivalent 300 years beginning with the Pre-Socratics and ending c. 300 BC. So, "not enough"? I wonder what "enough" would look like.

            I suspect ... no, by now I know that it wouldn't matter how many more concessions I forced from you, your patent bias would never allow you to admit we had got to "enough". Your mind seems completely closed. I'll let others conclude why that is.

          • Peter Piper

            I'm afraid we must begin with a slightly subtle point. Discussing Democritus and Anaximander, you say I have `ruled them in' as proto-scientists on the basis of my last comment. You also rightly point out that the evidence is flimsy (as is a lot of the evidence about happenings in ancient Greece). But my aim was not to show that they were proto-scientists: it was subtly different. My aim was to support the claim you were challenging, namely that the criterion other observers were using to claim these people as proto-scientists was similar to my own criterion for who counts as a proto-scientist. Thus, for example, the wiki quote `Carl Sagan claims that [Anaximander] conducted the earliest recorded scientific experiment' demonstrates this even if Sagan's evidence for his claim was inadequate. I did consider explaining this in my comment, but I thought it was long enough already. Sorry if this caused any confusion.

            Also, sorry if you thought I intended an unreachably high standard by saying `any source worthy of refutation'. I just didn't want you to quote a rant on some nutter's blog. `The Swerve' got the Pulitzer Prize, so certainly counts as worthy of refutation. Would you mind giving a quote from `The Swerve' where it claims that reason was not used in a systematic way in Europe in the middle ages?

            Wiki says `the population of the entire Greek civilization (Greece, the Greek-speaking populations of Sicily, the coast of western Asia Minor, and the Black Sea) in the 4th century BC was recently estimated to be 8,000,000 to 10,000,000', though it also says `citation needed', and you may well have access to better figures. Meanwhile, the population of Europe in 1340 was 73.5 million, according to http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/pop-in-eur.asp

            Feel free to correct these population figures, I just made a quick web search and you may well know better.

            Calculating it out, I get the following figures:

            Greek proto-scientists/population in millions: 1.6

            European proto-scientists/population in millions: 23/73.5 = 0.31

            This a ratio of about 5 to 1. There are a few extra, harder to quantify, factors we need to take into account here. Weighing on your side is your generosity in choosing Greek proto-scientists versus my alleged stinginess (I don't think I've been stingy, but I went back over my reasons and decided that the rejection of Alderotti was borderline, so I included him as a proto-scientist for this calculation). But weighing against this is the fact that we have much better records of intellectual life in medieval Europe than in ancient Greece. For example, do you think we would have heard of di Casali if he had been in ancient Greece instead? There is also the fact that in each case we only really have evidence about the views of those with enough leisure to think and write: I'm not sure how this affects the ratios. Do you know whether the ratio of those with leisure to those without was higher in ancient Greece or medieval Europe?

            These factors are harder to weigh, but I think the numbers are still significantly against you here.

            By the way, I'm still waiting for you to retract your accusations that I have made passive-aggressive insinuations and backed off from previously made claims or else to give 3 examples in either case.

            Also, you hinted that you might be getting tired of this conversation and might prefer not to carry on. If so, I feel the same. If you decide that it isn't worth carrying on, then say so in your next comment and the conversation will be over. You can have the honour of the last word.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Dude, do you ever start to wonder how Tim can come up with a seemingly endless list of proto-scientists from an era in which you claim such things were "largely forgotten"? Could it be "largely forgotten" simply because Peter Piper "largely doe not know" anything ,much about the milieu in question?

          • Peter Piper

            I never claimed to know much about the era. As to the `seemingly endless' quip, see my comments below on why his list is not that impressive after all.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But if you do not know much about the era, how can you make the sorts of off-hand judgements you have been making?

            It would seem to behoove you, for the sake of your own credibility, to learn something of the subject matter on which you make such stunning declarations -- if only to learn why the weight of scholarly opinion in the history of science is so solidly against you.

          • Peter Piper

            Three examples of unwarranted off-hand judgements I have made or a retraction, please.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            #1-#3: Your exclusion of Dumbledon, the delightfully-named Swineshead, and Heytesbury from the ranks of ur-scientists based on no more (so far as can be told) than brief bios written by amateurs on Wikipedia. I recommend Edward Grant, The Foundations of Science in the Middle Ages for a brief overview.

            Bonus #4: Your rather eccentric version of what constitutes science prior to the 17th century revolution.

            Bonus #5: Your judgment that Tim was guilty of ad hoiminem when he did no more than hurt your feelings. (Hint: ad hom ≠ insult).

          • Peter Piper

            1-3: My non-acceptance of these folks was, in fact, based on what Tim said about them: it was a perfectly reasonably judgement that the evidence he provided about them was insufficient. Furthermore, had he gone on to provide evidence showing that they did after all meet my definition, I would have accepted them.

            4: Discussed ad nauseam already with Tim, but note that we were discussing proto-science rather than science and that I was well within my rights to make my own definition here since Tim said he was happy to work with a definition of my choice, under certain constraints.

            5: He did not, in fact, hurt my feelings (perhaps he tried to, but that is another matter). He did, however, spend a fair amount of time challenging my motivations rather than my arguments: this is what I was calling him out on.

            So, given that you have not been able to provide examples, please retract your earlier claim instead.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Do not confuse your ignorance of the period with whether or not the sporadic works of a few Greek philosophers was "largely forgotten."

            Have you read Aristotle's "The Physics" or have you only read Wikipedia summaries of it? Do you realize that "physics" includes anything physical, as distinct from mathematical and metaphysical? Did you know that even today there are distinctions made between Theoretical Physics and Experimental Physics? Does String Theory count as physics? Does the NeoDarwinian Synthesis count? Be careful with your arguments and definitions, for in your anxiety to exclude the Hated Other, you may also include many of the Beloved.

          • Peter Piper

            I'm not really sure what you are trying to get at here. The meaning of the word `physics', and the way it has changed over time, are not really relevant to this discussion.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Only that in seeking to exclude that which you intend a priori to exclude you risk weaving a net of definitions that will exclude things like Darwin's theory (no experiments, no math) or string theory (untestable) from the rolls of Science!™

            The meanings of terms are always relevant when we are comparing what people did between eras or cultures. Otherwise we risk shoving people's work into categories that did not exist, or which cut at the diagonal across the categories they worked with.

            Physics once meant the study of the abstracted properties of material bodies -- frogs no less than photons. Now it excepts biology and chemistry, largely because that's how faculty departments are organized. (Although I heard of one physicist who told Richard Dawkins that he wasn't a real scientist, only a biologist. So go figure.)

          • Peter Piper

            Thanks, I think that gives me a better sense of what you were trying to say. To be fair, I think Darwin's work fits my definition of proto-science, since it was based on meticulous observation. On the other hand, you are correct that string theory does not. I personally am not too troubled by this, since I don't think of string theory as particularly scientific (precisely because it is so divorced from observation).

            Nevertheless, I am aware that string theory is generally classified as science, so the fact that it doesn't fit my definition will be a problem for some people. My main defence is that I only had one sentence in which to make the definition, so I had no hope of including all the stuff that is done in science departments these days and excluding all the nonsense that people sometimes try to call scientific. Nor was that my aim: instead, I was trying to get at a single fundamental method which lies at the heart of science.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Keep in mind that "science" is not so rigidly defined as you seem to think. See Feyerabend for details. There is more than one way of "doing" science because people may have different goals and intentions in doing it. The Scientific Revolution made a determined focus on metric and controllable efficient causes because their conscious intent was to extend man's dominion over the universe by the production of useful and profitable products. (In a sense, they subordinated science as such to engineering and industry.) This led ultimately to the leftist, feminist, and environmentalist critique of science in the Late- and Post-Modern periods.

            They 18th century began to emphasize deliberate experimentation (leaving biology pretty much in the cold) because it was the first era in which such experimentation became feasible for much of physics. For one thing, the medievals had to invent and then refine mechanical clocks to get a reasonable handle on time measurements. Likewise, the vernier calipers. No one could measure temperature, pressure, brightness, et al. First, someone had to lay the foundations.

            Experimentation in the middle ages was largely informal and based on common experience. Lynne White wrote that most scientific "progress" in that era took place unofficially through anonymous engineers and tinkerers, rather than in the universities. ("Progress" in quotes because the word did not exist with that meaning in that era.) The natural philosophers previously mentioned are more like the theoretical physicists of today than the experimentalists. We know a few by name: Giovanni de'Dondi, the clockmaker; Henry Bate, Ricardus ingeniator, vir artifiosus at Durham in 1170, etc. We don't know who invented the eyeglasses, the overhead spring, the compass rose, the crankshaft, and other technological innovations of the era.

            Also, they did not write up their work the way we have done in later eras. Now and then we get details, as when Theodoric determined the cause of the rainbow. But normally, they wrote of their conclusions and gave pithy, homey examples so the reader would grasp the point.

            Not only was there no scientific press, there was no press. All of it was manuscript, which meant the velocity of ideas was slower, damping the chain reactions of thought. A scribal error in Jordanus de Nemore's Elements of the science of weights reversed a ratio and mucked up the Work Principle he had formulated. The later Theory of Weights by an anonymous redactor corrected this and other errors. (The medievals also solved the problem of motion on an incline, which had baffled the ancient Greeks.)

          • Peter Piper

            I worked with a one-sentence definition of proto-science, under protest, because that was what Tim asked for. I agree with you that any such definition will necessarily be an oversimplification. If you would like to take over from Tim and try to convince me that greek-style science wasn't largely lost then feel free to do so. But note that it won't help you to point out the many hindrances faced by medieval proto-scientists but not by modern scientists, since all those hindrances were present (and to a greater extent) for the greeks.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I notice that your replies always slough over the substance to which you are replying and seize instead over some peripheral item related to Peter Piper.

            1. Greek style science could not have been "largely forgotten" for the reasons detailed and unreplied to. Tim could not off-handedly reel off a list of medieval natural philosophers unless there were such men at the time. Even Scotus, who was only a natural philosopher to the extent that every educated Latin was a natural philosopher (it being the sole curriculum for the master of arts). We're talking hundreds of thousands of Latins exposed to natural philosophy in the universities. I don't call that "largely forgotten."

            2. The Greeks did not have universities, nor anything like them. Knowledge of natural philosophy was not widespread in the culture, which was rather more irrtational than moderns like to think. (See Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational) Our impression is biased because the medievals preferentially translated and preserved Greek works on math, logic, medicine, and natural philosophy. Hence, the corporal's guard of natural philosophers in ancient Greece looms larger in our imagination than it did in ancient Greece. Even Aristotle conceived of the universe as a kind of immense organism that was alive, divine, and influential in human affairs, and believed that the ongoing cycles of moon, sun, planets, and stars could be interpreted, and if only we could once determine the Great Year, when all these cycles started to repeat, we would know the future, since everything that had ever happened would start to repeat. IOW, natural phenomena happened not by natural causes but by concatenations of the stars and planets. That and the multitude of gods (overruling one another) put the kabosh on the development of science as we know it.

            3. Your notional exclusions go against the scholarly consensus by fabricating a restrictive definition of "Science!™" as exclusively the 17th century way of doing natural science. A way which would exclude Darwin, inter alia, if applied outside physics the way you apply it to pre-17th century precursors. It's a long, continuous process, not something that stopped for a while and then magically started up again due to immaterial causes.

            4. Again, I recommend reading some of the books already mentioned; to which we might add Lynne White's Medieval Technology and Social Change.

          • Peter Piper

            I talk about me because you talk about me.

            1. By `unreplied to' you mean `replied to in a way I don't agree with'. You are still counting Scotus as a scientist, which even Tim gave up on (strictly speaking you say `natural philosopher', but if you don't intend something like `proto-scientist' by this then it is irrelevant).

            2. You point out that the greek proto-scientists had some extra obstacles, which only strengthens my case, and that they were preferentially preserved in the middle ages and got some things wrong, neither of which weakens my case.

            3. I already explained the reason for using such a simplified definition. I also already pointed out that Darwin nevertheless easily fits it. Your final clause is a straw man.

            4. Thanks for the recommendation!

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            1. No, by "unreplied to" I mean that the matter was consigned to the memory hole while you responded to some peripheral point.

            1a. Scotus was not a natural philosopher; but like every educated man in the middle ages, he had (as we would put it) a master's degree in natural philosophy. This is actually evidence that natural philosophy was not "largely forgotten." Even non-specialists had a working knowledge of natural philosophy in the Greek tradition.
            2. The "case" was that natural philosophy was "largely forgotten." It wasn't. Nor did it take root in ancient Hellas, where a few Greek natural philosophers comprised a thin soup. You can find such people anywhere. (Consider Chu Hsi, for example.) But modern science only sprouted in the garden planted by the medievals.
            3. That is because you weakened two of the pillars of the Scientific Revolution so you could squeeze Darwin in: viz., the use of deliberate experimentation and the privileging of mathematics as the means of scientific discourse. I got no problem with that. It's when you tighten up your personalistic definition to exclude the medievals and then loosen it up to allow the Darwins that one grows suspicious. Darwin was a natural philosopher in the school of Albertus Magnus and others: emprical, experienced observations.

            (Not coincidentally, the first application of deliberate experimentation and mathematics to biology was made by a physicist: Br. Gregor Mendel, O.S.A.)

          • Peter Piper

            1. Which points of Tim did I not respond to? Three examples or a retraction, please.

            1a. Since you insist on talking about natural philosophy rather than science I will once more point out the obvious problem: they are different things.

            2. No, the case consisted of certain arguments in favour of that position and refutations of arguments against it. See my comment on natural philosophy under 1a.

            3. Your opening sentence is evidently false, since I wasn't thinking about Darwin at all when I came up with my definition. I used the same definition for everyone: no double standards.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            1. You will have to go back and read the entirety of a comment, then the response. You will notice no reaction to any of the historical facts that were presented.

            1a. Yes, "science" means simply "knowledge," as in "political science," "military science," etc. Natural philosophy means "love of wisdom regarding nature." Wisdom is a higher order than knowledge and inclusive of it. Knowledge is the realization that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is the realization that you don't put tomatoes in fruit salad. Modern natural science is a particular subset of natural philosophy. Even so, the distinction between the technician's "natural science" and the philosopher's "natural philosophy does not establish that Greek natural philosophy was "largely forgotten" during the Latin middle ages. Quite the contrary: it establishes a continuity.

            2. And when your case was shown without merit, and reference was made to the established scholarship in the history of science, you blew it off.

            3. But when Darwin came up, you let him in, then slammed the door to exclude others who had done at least as much as that Victorian natural philosopher. Others were excluded because they did no experiments that you knew of or did not use mathematics as much as we do now. When it was pointed out that neither did Darwin, suddenly mere observation of nature in situ became sufficient.

            I do not understand your need to deny the mainstream scholarship on this matter.

          • Peter Piper

            1. Examples or retraction.

            1a. Etymology isn't meaning, and `science' hasn't meant simply `knowledge' for a long time. Natural philosophy includes science, but that doesn't mean that it all is science: in fact it isn't. I'm not claiming that natural philosophy was mostly lost, but that proto-scientific ideas were. So please stop raising the irrelevant issue of natural philosophy.

            2. Examples or retraction.

            3. The definition doesn't mention experimentation (and with good reason). I allowed some of the people on Tim's list, even though they clearly never performed an experiment in the modern sense. So I was not, and am not, applying a double standard.

            Since you have brought up the issue of mainstream scholarship: please give citations for a couple of survey articles supporting the claim that proto-scientific ideas (in roughly my sense) were pretty much as widespread in medieval Europe as in ancient Greece.

          • josh

            Does this schtick work on anyone?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Nah. People are often comfortable in their ignorance, and will not pick up a book to combat it. Still, it can be fun to remind them that they do not, and confuse (in this case) their own lack of knowledge of a period with the period's lack of knowledge.

          • josh

            I also find some people pick up books to entrench their ignorance unfortunately. You just have to take care which books you pick! But are you arguing against the claim that significant Greek works were lost to Europeans? Because that seems to go against Tim's version of events in the OP whereby the Islamic reintroduction of Aristotle and others prompted a sort of proto-Renaissance in Christendom. Is there any doubt that the Medievals (early, late or in-between) didn't lack all sorts of knowledge?

            That doesn't seem to be any evidence of 'ignorance' on Peter Piper's part, although he hasn't claimed to be an expert on the period. Whether or not he has read Aristotle's 'Physics' (in the original Greek I'm sure) seems rather beside the point. Is there any doubt that Aristotle got quite a number of things wrong in his 'Physics'?

            Piper's contention, which he seems willing to change his mind on given a compelling argument, is that, broadly speaking, Greek proto-science was different in character than that during the Middle Ages. That's a difficult question to conclusively decide, but dumping a load of rhetorical questions with no clear connection to the topic along with a lazy slur on his motivations is not a legitimate contribution to the discussion.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I also find some people pick up books to entrench their ignorance

            That's why I specified books by well-known scholars who are experts in the field, including books that changed my mind on this topic. But nice use of passive-aggression there. What I find is that, more and more, people are not reading books at all.

            are you arguing against the claim that significant Greek works were lost to Europeans?

            That's actually hard to tell because much of what was written in Late Antiquity in Latin Europe has been lost due to barbarian activities. We do know that a) unlike the Greeks, the Romans were not very curious about math and science, so very little of Greek science was translated into Latin during pagan times; b) Latins who did write on scientific topics (Livy, Macrobius, Martianus Capella) were encyclopediasts who simply tallied up short articles on "everything known"; c) the works of Macrobius, Livy, and Martianus were not lost and were used as textbooks in the cathedral schools of the Early Middle Ages; d) the old Roman aristocracy (who did know Greek) were largely replaced by Germans (who did not); e) but when Pepin le Bref asked the Pope for Greek texts "and men capable of translating them" his request was answered, so even in the 8th century whatever Greek had made it West before the jihad severed communications was still available. Because of the widespread loss of documentation to the flames of Saracens, Vikings, and Magyars we call that era "dark" because we can't "see" what they were up to.

            the Islamic reintroduction of Aristotle and others prompted a sort of proto-Renaissance in Christendom

            The muslims did not "reintroduce" Aristotle. His was among the books supplied to Pepin le Bref. He was also partly translated by Boethius before Gothic politics cut things short. Jacques de Venise secured copies from Byzantine sources (where knowledge of the Greek classics was never lost). The muslims had copies because they conquered Antioch and Alexandria, and the Christians had already translated much of the Greek into Syriac. (The House of Wisdom in Baghdad was staffed by Syriac Chrisitans: Hunayn ibn Ishaq and his nephews.) The handful of faylasuf in the House of Submission were always marginalized, and natural philosophy was never taught publicly in the schools (madrassas). Ibn Rushd and ibn Sinna and the rest had more readers in the Latin West than in the House of Submission. Their commentaries on the Greeks (plus their original works) became available in the West only after the jihad stalled and the Reconquista liberated Toledo and Salerno. Whereupon the Latins, their appetite whetted by the encyclopediasts, flocked there to translate works they had only read about in summaries.

            Is there any doubt that the Medievals (early, late or in-between) didn't lack all sorts of knowledge?

            Sure. Just lilke Galileo and Descartes "lacked all sorts of knowledge"; and Newton and Hooke; and Darwin and Einstein and all the rest. But the contention was not that they did or didn't know Everything, but that Greek "science" was "largely forgotten." It wasn't. Even in the Early Middle Ages, they knew about it, and took active steps to acquire what their pagan predecessors had neglected.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            That doesn't seem to be any evidence of 'ignorance' on Peter Piper's part, although he hasn't claimed to be an expert on the period.

            He claims to judge whether medieval natural philosophers were the true quill without knowing the first thing about them.

            Whether or not he has read Aristotle's 'Physics' (in the original Greek I'm sure) seems rather beside the point.

            He could read it in the Latin perhaps. But an English translation would be sufficient: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/physics.html

            Is there any doubt that Aristotle got quite a number of things wrong in his 'Physics'?

            Can't have it both ways. The medievals are first accused of being ignorant of Aristotle; then when it's shown that they were not, Aristotle is poo-poohed. But then, if that's so, the Greeks could not have been "doing science" either!

            Do you have any idea what the real accomplishments of Aristotle were, or is yours only a Whiggish understanding of the history of science? Why was he foundational, and where did he go wrong? (Hint: it is not in merely factual matters.) And why much of it is so curiously right in the post-Newtonian world?

            Greek proto-science was different in character than that during the Middle Ages.

            That is where he was wrong. The natural science acquired during the Middle Ages was precisely in the Aristotelian tradition. However, they began to go beyond this by:

            a) applying mathematics to the physics (distinct from astronomy, optics, music, and statics, which were regarded as specialized branches of mathematics).

            b) applying deliberate experimentation over and above in situ observation.

            c) regarding the world as a machine rather than an organic being.

            d) regarding time as linear rather than cyclic.

            e) devising "laws" for the common course of nature, rather than rules of thumb that happen to work.

            There were a number of other ways in which the Latins differed from the handful of Greek natural philosophers; but foremost of all was their doctrine of secondary causation:

            f) that God had endowed material bodies with powers that could act directly on other material bodies. God was still the primary cause, as author of the laws, but they regarded it as illegitimate to appeal to God for an explanation of material events.

            dumping a load of rhetorical questions with no clear connection to the topic

            That you do not see the connections is itself telling.

          • josh

            "He claims to judge whether medieval natural philosophers were the true quill without knowing the first thing about them."

            Again, this is your accusation which hasn't been backed up with relevant evidence. He does not have to read a random original source you pick to prove the legitimacy of his opinion. He might be wrong, and you are welcome to make an argument from said source against him, but this tactic of demanding arbitrary credentials isn't impressive.

            "Can't have it both ways. The medievals are first accused of being ignorant of Aristotle; then when it's shown that they were not, Aristotle is poo-poohed. But then, if that's so, the Greeks could not have been "doing science" either!"

            This is a bit confused. I'm not sure if you are attributing these opinions to me, Piper, or some general person and I don't speak for the latter two. 'The medievals' spans a long period of time in a diversity of political and social settings.

            The traditional view seems to be that although he was known of, Aristotle's works in the west were substantially incomplete, known through commentary, not widely available, etc. The spread and translation into Latin of his works in the 12th century is usually seen as an important point in European intellectual history, leading of course to his adoption by Aquinas and and the eventual incorporation of his views with Catholic doctrine. Although, this was not until after his teachings were first condemned a couple of times. Anyhow, his views became entrenched in their own right but began to be overturned, again with struggles and condemnations, in the late medieval period and renaissance. Thus, when we talk about the history of science he is often seen as an obstacle due to the dogmatic adherence to his theories of motion, the Ptolemaic cosmology, etc. But, you can argue that earlier his work played an important role in stimulating intellectual developments compared to the previous status quo, and planting the seeds for his own ousting.

            Now, when we speak of the Greeks or medievals 'doing science' we agree that they didn't really have the term or practice as we understand it today. But we can point to important developments in the history of science and math that they did accomplish. Euclid's geometry, the proof of irrational numbers, measurement of the Earth's circumfrence, engineering techniques, inventions, calculation of pi, hydrostatics... there are a lot of things accomplished by the Greeks which are still valid today. Then there is a lot of interesting speculation and hypothesizing including heliocentrism, relativistic ideas, atomism, the elements, the humors, etc. Some of this is remembered as a precursor to modern ideas that wouldn't really catch on until much later. Some of it, like the humors, is basically all wrong but it does reflect an ancient theorizing about the world that we can liken to science. Some, like the Ptolemaic system, is quite successful for it's time but ultimately flawed in fundamental ways.

            Anyhow, you probably know this, and there are certainly those in the medieval period who count equally as contributors to science. It doesn't follow though that 'Greek science' and 'medieval science' are entirely equivalent, much less that the Church played only a neutral or positive role. You assume for one thing that the 'Aristotelian' tradition, along with being a continuous development from Greek to Christian times, was the 'Greek' tradition. It's interesting to speculate on how history would have played out if the Leuccipian (sp?) tradition or others had had a larger influence. The argument would be that the Greek period gave rise to a wider range of interesting and fruitful ideas, and that the medieval period was more restricted and relatively unproductive, arguably due to the authoritarian and mystical influences of the Church. That idea requires such large counterfactual speculation that I don't have a strong opinion on it, but it can't be ruled out just by listing a few late medieval thinkers.

            "a)-e)" Yep, moving away from the Aristotelian picture was a good thing, as I've said.

            "f)" would be an improvement over the idea that nothing can be explained except by direct reference to God, but a serious set-back from not involving God at all.

            "That you do not see the connections is itself telling."

            That you resort to this kind of empty rhetoric is itself telling. [Ooooh burn!] Let's be better than this, shall we?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "He claims to judge whether medieval natural philosophers were the true quill without knowing the first thing about them."

            Again, this is your accusation which hasn't been backed up with
            relevant evidence. He does not have to read a random original source you
            pick to prove the legitimacy of his opinion.

            It's not his opinions at issue. It's his facts. He's entitled to the one, but not to the other. The recommended books are not random, but well-known books in the field. Add A.C.Crombie Medieval and Early Modern Science to the list. Knowledge of fact is generally preferable to belief in fable.

            The traditional view seems to be...

            That's not too bad a summary. It would be helpful to know what was in that condemnation of Aristotle, and why the propositions were condemned. Example: the bishop condemned the proposition that there could be only one world, the proposition that there could not be a vacuum, and so on. This nudged philosophers away from pure reason and toward empirical proofs.

            The Aristotelian natural philosophers hated the Ptolemaic astronomy because the latter was not consistent with the former. Late Moderns, who are generally unfamiliar with the rationales and proofs available often have a hard time grasping some of these points. I have a helpful, though long, chronological summary of the overthrow of the Ptolemaic mathematical model here: http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-great-ptolemaic-smackdown.html

            we can point to important developments in the history of science and math that they did accomplish.

            Math is not natural science. It uses different tools and proceeds toward different ends. All times and cultures have pursued mathematics, and have often regarded it as a religious thing (e.g., in Neoplatonism, Pythagoreanism, etc.) getting in touch with the mind of God. Likewise, engineering and tinkering are not natural science. Late Moderns confuse all three because in our era we have synthesized them in modern physics.

            Aristarchos' heliocentrism is uncertain, because we know nothing about it other than that according to Archimedes (in The Sand Reckoner) he placed the sun in the center. The Pythagoreans did so because the center was the nobler place and fire was the nobler element, ERGO fire should be in the center. There are many names for this sort of reasoning, but "scientific" is not one of them. Science is not "lucky guesses," otherwise we would credit Jonathon Swift with discovering the moons of Mars.

            Similarly, Democritos' "atoms" have yet to be discovered. Recall that the were "unbreakable" and did not consist of parts, whereas those objects we call "atoms" consist of parts and can be split. A passage in Aristotle referring to minima was seized upon and elaborated in the Middle Ages: below a certain quantity of matter, the form cannot be sustained. Chop up water finely enough and it becomes H2O molecules, break an H2O molecule and you cannot sustain the form of water any more and you have H and O. Break these up and you cannot sustain the form of hydrogen and get protons, etc. The proton in theory also consists of parts and can be broken into quarks. And since quarks come in different sorts, they two are in principle breakable. The is, the medieval-Scholastic notion of minima seems closer to what we actually have learned than the ancient Greek "atomoi."

            History is actually kind of fun. It is always particular and strenuously resists theory.

          • josh

            "The recommended books are not random, but well-known books in the field." I was referring more to your suggestion that he read Aristotle's Physics, which is the only book mentioned in your post which I criticized. But it comes back to the point that while you are welcome to recommend books, you don't get to dictate a reading list.

            "That's not too bad a summary." Thank you.

            "This nudged philosophers away from pure reason and toward empirical proofs." This seems to be Duhem's idea but it strikes me as rather contrived. The condemnations may have created space for criticism of Aristotle's received wisdom, but did so through appeal to religious authority. It's hard to see that as any direct move toward empiricism. Not to mention that earlier you were holding up Aristotle and his descendents as empiricists (as opposed to Platonists I think.)

            "The Aristotelian natural philosophers hated the Ptolemaic astronomy because the latter was not consistent with the former."

            Well, now we're getting into who is 'really' an Aristotelian natural philosopher and who isn't, whereas before the idea seemed to be that all European proto-scientists were an extension of the Aristotelian tradition. It's true that there are conflicts between a strict Aristotelian physics and the Ptolemaic system, but I was using the latter as an example of the common feature of geocentrism (and insistence on circular motions). Ideas which had to be overthrown by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and others. Your timeline is a reasonable outline of this.

            "Math is not natural science. It uses different tools and proceeds toward different ends."

            I could debate this all day, but it's a secondary point. Science definitely uses the tools of mathematics, and the development of mathematical techniques is key to the progress of science, as you yourself have pointed out elsewhere in regards to calculus. Mathematical milestones are clearly important in the history and development of science, which is the subject at hand. Likewise the history of engineering and tools are important to science and to any sense of intellectual progress. Perhaps the reason we moderns synthesize these things is that it is rather artificial and arbitrary to divide them, even if the ancients did not realize the relations between them.

            "Science is not "lucky guesses," otherwise we would credit Jonathon Swift with discovering the moons of Mars." We credit people with being the originators (to our knowledge) of interesting ideas, particularly when they turn out to be right in some sense. It's not the same as crediting proof or discovery of the idea. Peter Higgs got the Nobel prize for articulating the possibility of the particle that now bears his name, the discovery was made decades later by a collaboration of thousands and no prize has been awarded so far for that.

            So I'm not saying that Democritus advanced atomic theory as we know it today, or that Aristarchos's heliocentrism was some sort of 'pure' science. But they do get credit for originating (again, as far as we know) interesting ideas which it has been valuable to pursue. By the same token, Galileo's model is deficient in various ways, but it was an important step. As was Buridan's notion of impetus, as were the calculational techniques used on the Ptolemaic model.

            "A passage in Aristotle referring to minima was seized upon and elaborated in the Middle Ages: below a certain quantity of matter, the form cannot be sustained."

            That's hardly a modern understanding either. Of course, if something is composed of parts and those parts have a minimum size, the composite thing has a minimum size. (Well, that doesn't have to be strictly true either.) But that there is a part with minimum size is kind of an ad hoc addition from atomism and doesn't seem to follow from Aristotle's generalized notion of forms and matter.

            "And since quarks come in different sorts, they two are in principle breakable." This doesn't follow as far as I can see. Quarks, like electrons, are treated as fundamental particles in modern physics. (And the notion of size is rather fuzzy when applied to them.) It could be that they are composite particles, but the theory consistently treats them as though they are not and I know of no requirement that they be.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            your suggestion that he read Aristotle's Physics, which is the only book mentioned in your post which I criticized.

            If one is to critique Aristotelian physics, one ought to have read Aristotle's Physics, or at least a cogent explanation of it. This, written by a modern physicist is a useful summation:
            http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02001.htm#1
            The tabs to subsequent lectures are at the bottoms of each page, and look like this:
            <>
            The right-hand carats go to next.
            +++

            while you are welcome to recommend books, you don't get to dictate a reading list.

            If you want to discuss medieval science with any sort of credibility, it is helpful to have read some basic texts covering the field. Otherwise, you are arguing from Wikipedia, hearsay, or beloved myths.
            + + +
            The condemnations may have created space for criticism of Aristotle's received wisdom, but did so through appeal to religious authority. It's hard to see that as any direct move toward empiricism.

            Only that, historically, it was. The problem with theoretical history that focuses on what logically should have happened is that it comes to grief on the rocks of what did happen. This collision between empirical reality and beloved theory is what lies behind the objections to Tim's original book review -- and is at the heart of Bishop Tempier's intemperate intervention in a turf battle between the Arts faculty and Theology faculty at the University of Paris.

            For details, see Edward Grant, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages. (Cambridge University Press, 1996).
            + + +

            Not to mention that earlier you were holding up Aristotle and his descendents as empiricists (as opposed to Platonists I think.)

            Yep. Think of these things as steps toward a destination. The first steps don't get you all the way. Heinlein introduced strong female characters to SF-- and is regarded today as a chauvinist.
            + + +
            whereas before the idea seemed to be that all European proto-scientists were an extension of the Aristotelian tradition.

            "Extension" is a good choice of words. The trick was to get rid of the bathwater. The Scholastic tradition was not pure Aristotelianism straight-up, even from the get-go. But it is difficult for the Late Modern to grasp the stunning and mesmerizing effect that Aristotle had on the Arabs and Latins, and later on some receptive Chinese. No one had ever made a science of Nature, before or since.
            + + +
            It's true that there are conflicts between a strict Aristotelian physics and the Ptolemaic system,

            Difficult for Late Moderns to grasp is that astronomy was not regarded as a part of physics until the invention of the telescope revealed heavenly bodies to be physical places about which physical discoveries could be made. Previously, it was a branch of mathematics, and its epicycles, deferrants, and equants were not regarded as physically real. ("Mathematicus" was used interchangeably for "mathematician," "astronomer," and "astrologer.")
            + + +
            using the latter as an example of the common feature of geocentrism (and insistence on circular motions). Ideas which had to be overthrown by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and others.

            Galileo did not have a system. He simply championed Copernicus' system -- which had twenty-some epicycles, included a double epicycle for the Moon, and a wacky libration by Mercury across the face of his epicycle! This was because (for mystical, Renaissance, Neoplatonic reasons) Copernicus (and Galileo) insisted on pure Platonic circles. Kepler, who had the solution all along by a) using Tycho's new precise observational data and b) abandoning constant velocity and pure circles, consistently flew below the radar. This was largely because while Galileo wrote wittily and entertainingly for the masses, Kepler wrote in mathematics for the scientists.
            + + +

            Science definitely uses the tools of mathematics

            Except for Darwin, remember? Howver, while carpentry definitely uses hammers, that does not make hammer fabrication an act of carpentry.

            Natural science ("physics" in the broad sense of the science of anything physical) deals with the abstracted properties of physical bodies, specifically in the Modern Ages with those properties that are metric and controllable. It proceeds from empirical (sense) phenomena toward physical theories by means of inductive reasoning.

            Mathematics deals with the abstracted properties of ideal bodies. It proceeds from axioms toward theorems by deductive reasoning. It does not use empirical data or experimentation.

            They comprise two of the three great realms of knowledge.
            + + +

            Perhaps the reason we moderns synthesize these things is that it is rather artificial and arbitrary to divide them

            Or because it took physics that long to catch up with math and engineering. Think of it as an evolutionary process. You don't get rabbits in the Cambrian strata. When Francis Bacon wrote The Masculine Birth of Time and proposed that science be repurposed toward the production of useful products to further [Male] Man's Conquest of the Universe, he not only brought science and engineering together, he subordinated science to engineering. And when Descartes proposed that real science was mathematical, his idea was that scientific theories would be provable with the certainty of mathematical theorems. Alas, the Modern Project came to grief, and it is not yet clear what post-Modern science will look like.

            + + +

            That [quarks are divisible in principle] is hardly a modern understanding either. Of course, if something is composed of parts and those parts have a minimum size, the composite thing has a minimum size.

            That's not quite it. There are top quarks and bottom quarks, and up and down, and strange and color. Therefore, there must be distinguishing features or characteristics -- parts in the Aristotelian sense. Just as a pyramid has sides, and edges and angles, even if it is a solid body. (This was Aristotle's critique of Democritos' atoms, btw.)

            Also, btw, if you reverse the process and go from the lower layers to the upper, you get Aristotle's formal causes that are called by Late Moderns "emergent properties." If you put enough H2O molecules together, the aggregate becomes empirically "wet" even though none of the molecules are themselves "wet." That is, the whole has properties that the parts do not.

          • josh

            "If one is to critique Aristotelian physics, one ought to have read Aristotle's Physics, or at least a cogent explanation of it..." What you have yet to do is point out an invalid critique of Aristotle's physics in this discussion. There is nothing wrong with arguing from Wikipedia for instance unless you get wrong information from it, but the same is true of any other source.

            "Only that, historically, it was. The problem with theoretical history that focuses on what logically should have happened is that it comes to grief on the rocks of what did happen." No, the problem is you are parroting a theoretical interpretation of history, which has been criticized by historians since it was introduced by Duhem. He also has his defenders, like Grant, but the Condemnations aren't a conflict between beloved theory and empirical reality, they are a clash between one dogma and another.

            "But it is difficult for the Late Modern to grasp the stunning and mesmerizing effect that Aristotle had on the Arabs and Latins, and later on some receptive Chinese." One has only to observe the mesmerizing effect he has on some Catholics today.

            "Galileo did not have a system..." Oh come on. I didn't say Galileo introduced his own brand new system, I said he was part of the Copernican revolution, along with Kepler and others. There seems to be a Catholic need to denigrate Galileo even after the Church officially apologized and admitted its errors. Where do you get the idea that Galileo and Copernicus still used circles because they were 'mystic' in some way that prior astronomers were not? Progress comes in steps, yes?

            "Except for Darwin, remember?" Evolutionary science certainly makes use of mathematics. That doesn't mean that every idea is first articulated in terms of equations. Your distinction between math and physics is a common, and simplistic, view, but as I said, irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Science uses math and technology.

            "Think of it as an evolutionary process." Evolutionary processes tell us about common ancestry, and point out that historically used distinctions are not as fundamental as was once thought.

            "That's not quite it. There are top quarks and bottom quarks, and up and down, and strange and color. Therefore, there must be distinguishing features or characteristics -- parts in the Aristotelian sense."

            What I said is correct. Incidentally, there are no 'color quarks'. All quarks have 'color' and also 'flavor'. Flavor includes the types up, down, charm, strange, bottom and top. That there is a distinction between two things doesn't prove that either is made up of parts. It certainly doesn't follow that they are 'in principle breakable'. If a distinguishing feature is enough to count as a 'part' then God would have to be made of parts since he is supposed to be distinct from his creation. Your claim is even more untenable when we look at color, which is an SU(3) symmetry: the distinguishing feature between red, blue and green quarks is only a matter of convention. One quark does not have intrinsic 'redness', it only has the property of being distinct from the other two colors.

            "Also, btw, if you reverse the process and go from the lower layers to the upper, you get Aristotle's formal causes that are called by Late Moderns "emergent properties." "

            'Emergent properties' is a buzzword that refers to systems where the collective behavior is unexpected/hard to predict from the microscopic description. But it isn't evidence that the microscopic description is incomplete. Obviously, there are descriptions that only make sense in the collective approximation, but this isn't because something has been added to the microscopic pieces. Rather, information has been lost, giving us a fuzzy but useful approximation. How many H2O molecules does it take to make something wet?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            josh: you are parroting a theoretical interpretation of history, which has been criticized by historians since it was introduced by Duhem.

            And yet, one examines the history and finds out what actually did happen subsequent to 1277 and discovers, lo!, a priori reasoning fading in importance; the use of counterfactuals increasing ("suppose God were to create a vacuum...") When I write "in fact" I mean that this is what observably happened.

            josh: I didn't say Galileo introduced his own brand new system, I said he was part of the Copernican revolution, along with Kepler and others.

            Interestingly, Kepler's system was seen at the time as being a competitor to the Copernican system. Neither one had empirical evidence that the Earth actually did move. (This is not as easy to prove as many Late Moderns seem to think.)

            josh: Where do you get the idea that Galileo and Copernicus still used circles because they were 'mystic' in some way that prior astronomers were not?

            Copernicus said so. He even cited Hermes Trismegistus, supposed author of the "hermetic books." Galileo went along with him and actively resisted the proposal to use ellipses.

            The Renaissance saw a re-emergence of Pythagorean and Neoplatonic thinking that began to displace the old empirical Aristotelianism with mathematics. People began to think that something was true if the math worked out.

            Ironically, Copernicus wound up with more epicycles than the then-current edition of Ptolemy! Doubly ironically, he made very few empirical observations; only new math on the old data. The reason his system gave faulty forecasts was because the old data from the Alphonsine tables had been corrupted by centuries of copyist errors. (One reason why Tycho threw his hands up and set out to get fresh new accurate data at Uraniborg.)

            josh: Your distinction between math and physics is a common, and simplistic, view.... Science uses math and technology.

            Carpenters use hammer; but hammer-making is not carpentry. You cannot do mathematics using the methods of natural science. You can (as you have noted) do natural science with the aid of mathematics; although a common Modern error is to confuse the mathematical elegance for the physical fact. The common view, to the contrary, is a muddled confusion between math and natural science, business, industry, and engineering; between deduction and induction, between pure reason and empiricism, between certainty and Popperism; so it is often useful to point out the distinctions. It is a simple view, but hardly "simplistic," since so many people don't get it.

            josh: That there is a distinction between two things doesn't prove that either is made up of parts. It certainly doesn't follow that they are 'in principle breakable'.

            You had asked earlier to point out an invalid critique of Aristotle's physics in this discussion. Ask no more.

            josh: 'Emergent properties' is a buzzword

            One certainly sees it used often enough by folks in your camp.

            josh: refers to systems where the collective behavior is unexpected/hard to predict from the microscopic description.

            No. It is a recognition that its not the parts (matter) that give a thing its powers but the arrangement (form) that does so. The behavior of an electron in a valance orbit cannot be predicted by the behavior of a free electron. Its behavior depends on the whole of which it is a part. Similarly, sodium and chlorine atoms are made of the same matter: protons, neutrons, electrons. What makes one a gas and the other a flammable metal is the number and arrangement of these parts: their different forms. The differing behavior of these atoms is not predicated on the behavior of free electrons, free protons (e.g., cosmic rays), or free neutrons (which are unstable and will split apart). Likewise, table salt has properties not predicated on the properties of the aforesaid flammable metal and poisonous gas.

            josh: Obviously, there are descriptions that only make sense in the collective approximation, but this isn't because something has been added to the microscopic pieces.

            Nothing has been "added." Do you add a sphere to rubber to get a basketball?

            josh: How many H2O molecules does it take to make something wet?

            Depends on how many numbers you need to get an average. Wetness stems from the electron interchanges among the various ions in the water: H2O, OH-, H3O+, etc. At least two, but this would be insensible to a human. Notice that it is not a property that a single atom can possibly have, since it is a relationship among atoms and it is only as what you are pleased to call a "collective" that it even makes sense to mention it.

            http://www.phil.upenn.edu/~weisberg/papers/waterfinal.pdf
            + + +

            It is still not clear to me why you object to the straightforward historical facts set forth by Hannam in his book and by O'Neill in his book review.

          • Andrew G.

            Aristotelians are so amusing when they try to do chemistry.

            Saying that the behaviour of an electron in an atom is affected by the form of the atom is a "mysterious answer"; it tells you nothing that you didn't already know, and gives you no way to find out more.

            If instead you say that the behaviour of the electron is affected by its interactions with the nucleus and the other electrons as mediated by the electromagnetic force and subject to the usual quantum mechanics laws, you have a basis on which to make predictions about the effects of those interactions. The fact that actually calculating closed-form solutions to the wavefunctions might be impractical in all but the most trivial cases does not imply that there are any extra causal factors in play.

            "Emergent properties" are nothing to do with forms, they are the result of interactions between the parts. (The word "emergent" is not actually very useful; on one level it describes almost everything, on another level it implies a false (and nonsensical) state of affairs; you can usually tell when someone using it has gone off the rails when they start talking about "downward causation" as if it were a real thing.)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            There's nothing "mysterious" about the whole influencing the actions of its parts. It happens all the time.

            they are the result of interactions between the parts.

            Of course, these interactions can only occur within the context of the whole. They are in fact part of the form of a thing. So to say that a close description of the form of a thing dispenses with the usefulness of formal causes sounds a bit oxymoronic.

            does not imply that there are any extra causal factors in play.

            This is only worrisome if you think of formal causes as some weird kind of efficient cause, a "downward cause," as it were. But formal causation is not efficient causation and, more to the point, it is not instead of efficient causation. Next, you'll be denying equilibrium states, attractor basins, and the like.

            For seizing control of Nature and wringing profitable new inventions out of her, there is nothing like a mastery of efficient causes, at least those efficient causes that are metric and controllable. But one often finds formal causation implicitly assumed -- without being named. But can one explain (and not merely predict and control) "without reference to the irreducible hierarchy and patterned structure actualizing natural things (what the old philosophers called formal causes)"?

            Heck, Watson and Crick received a Nobel Prize for uncovering the form of DNA.

            There is a useful discussion starting here:
            http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02003.htm#2
            although the lecturer is a physicist, not a chemist.

            Hope this helps.

          • Andrew G.

            To say "the whole influences the actions of the parts" is as nonsensical as to say "the course of the river marked on the map influences the flow of the water". Physical laws have no concept of "whole" (unless your definition is so vacuous as to include the entire past light-cone of all parts and all subsets thereof).

            "Wholes" and "parts" are concepts that come from our attempts to make maps of reality, rather than being part of the territory of reality. The map is not the territory, but neither can the territory be folded up and put in a pocket; mapping loses information, so it is useful to construct the map in ways which the most compression is achieved with the least loss.

            As an example of why "form" is a meaningless concept, imagine that I have two objects (A and B) and I bring them into contact. Accordingly, parts of A and parts of B interact; and they do so in ways that are subject to exactly the same laws that apply between parts of A alone and parts of B alone. So if the interactions between parts occur only in the context of a "form", then there must be another "form" involved besides A and B - and when you extend this to cover all kinds of interactions, you end up with a completely vacuous definition in which the set of "forms" is the powerset of the universe (and thus removable by Occam's Razor).

            But can one explain (and not merely predict and control) "without reference to the irreducible hierarchy and patterned structure actualizing natural things (what the old philosophers called formal causes)"?

            The only "irreducible hierarchy and patterned structure" in Nature is the Standard Model (or whatever underlies it or extends it that we have yet to discover); everything else is reducible. "Formal causes" are fake explanations; they do nothing except obscure the real explanations. One way to demonstrate this is to observe that there is nothing that cannot be "explained" by means of a form; an explanation that does not constrain or predict does not carry any information.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Andrew G.: To say "the whole influences the actions of the parts" is as nonsensical as to say "the course of the river marked on the map influences the flow of the water".

            But is a river a thing, that it might have a form? Of course, the form of the landscape certainly does influence the flow of the water.

            Andrew G.: Physical laws have no concept of "whole"

            Physical laws are mathematical abstractions formed by humans to approximate the behavior of nature. In a certain sense, such things as s=0.5gt² are simply descriptions of forms. Physical theories, a step above the laws, are stories we tell ourselves so that the laws can be derived and the physical behavior "makes sense." The laws themselves have no "concepts" whatsoever. Furthermore, a physical law, say the law of motion, cannot distinguish the motion of a baseball from the motion of a stone, but that does not mean that baseball does not exist.

            Andrew G.: "Wholes" and "parts" are concepts that come from our attempts to make maps of reality, rather than being part of the territory of reality.

            Whatever that means. You will have to explain your metaphysical commitments on that one. There are quite obviously wholes and not only heaps, otherwise natural science would have no objects from which to abstract maps of reality.
            A sandpile is not a whole, for example, although a grain of sand might be. Andrew G. is a whole; but the Andysun, the mereologicsal sum of Andrew G. and the Sun is not a whole. That is, one may ask what is the cause of Andrew G., but what fool would ask about the cause of the Andysun?

            Andrew G.: Accordingly, parts of A and parts of B interact; and they do so in ways that are subject to exactly the same laws that apply between parts of A alone and parts of B alone.

            And the laws of motion apply to an infield fly in exactly the same way as they apply any object tossed about by natural forces. That only means that efficient causes alone are insufficient to distinguish between fly balls and falling rocks.

            Andrew G.: So if the interactions between parts occur only in the context of a "form", then there must be another "form" involved besides A and B...

            Sure. Sodium has a form: eleven protons and electrons and (in its stable form) twelve neutrons. The electrons are arranged in "shells" (in the Bohr-Sommerfield "map") by 2, 8, 1. Its crystal has a cubic form. Likewise, Chlorine has a form: 17 protons and electrons and 18 neutrons, with the electrons arranged in the form 2, 8, 7. Its crystal has an orthorhombic form.. When they combine (as sodium is wont to do) they take on the form of a molecule of sodium chloride. Sodium chloride has properties that differ remarkably from both sodium and chlorine. That is, NaCl has another form involved besides the forms of sodium and chlorine.

            Andrew G.: a completely vacuous definition in which the set of "forms" is the powerset of the universe (and thus removable by Occam's Razor).

            Ockham's Razor is an epistemological rule thumb, not an ontological bound on reality. It can be useful to discuss forms independently. That is what natual science does. For that matter, we can talk about the form of the novel or the form of a Petrachian sonnet.

            Andrew G.: The only "irreducible hierarchy and patterned structure" in Nature is the Standard Model (or whatever underlies it or extends it that we have yet to discover); everything else is reducible.

            This is an act of faith, not a fact of life. "Begging the question" is the fallacy of asserting as a conclusion that which you have assumed a priori as an axiom. How does the standard model, assuming it survives, explain the hierarchy and patterned structure of biological species?

            Andrew G.: "Formal causes" are fake explanations; they do nothing except obscure the real explanations.

            So, discovering the form of the DNA molecule obscured the "real" explanation? Who knew?

            Andrew G.: One way to demonstrate this is to observe that there is nothing that cannot be "explained" by means of a form; an explanation that does not constrain or predict does not carry any information.

            I'll wait and see if you apply that criterion to evolution by natural selection.

            But if all you mean is that "every thing is some thing," then what's the big deal. Everything is composed of matter, too, but I don't see you claiming that matter is a useless concept.

            You seem to think that form cause is something opposed to efficient cause. But then so are material cause and final cause. The reason that Late Moderns tend to get confused is that they equate "cause" with "efficient cause" alone.

            There is an explanation of the shtick by a physicist here:
            http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02003.htm#2

          • josh

            "And yet, one examines the history and finds out what actually did happen
            subsequent to 1277 and discovers, lo!, a priori reasoning fading in
            importance;..."

            You're really not getting this. It is a fact that the condemnations of 1277 happened. And it is a fact that later thinkers placed more importance on empirical observation. It is a theoretical interpretation that one caused the other, or that 1277 marked 'the birth of modern science' as Duhem would have it. "God could make a vacuum" isn't empirical. As I said at the beginning, one can argue that the clash between Aristotle and dogma forced a crisis which eventually unseated both, but not that the assertion of dogma is itself a move towards empiricism.

            "The Renaissance saw a re-emergence of Pythagorean and Neoplatonic thinking that began to displace the old empirical Aristotelianism with mathematics."

            You haven't addressed the question. Why is Galileo's belief in ideal circles more mystical than the Aristotelian system which heliocentrism opposed? Galileo was certainly no head-in-the-clouds pure theorist since his empirical observations are such a major part of his legacy.

            "You had asked earlier to point out an invalid critique of Aristotle's physics in this discussion. Ask no more." Well, that's one way to not have an answer. I critiqued your claim. Whether or not Aristotle would have made the same claim is yours to show. But either make your argument or admit your mistake.

            "One certainly sees it used often enough by folks in your camp." That's what makes it a buzzword, that people use it a lot. It's your understanding of it that is the problem here.

            "No. It is a recognition that its not the parts (matter) that give a thing its powers but the arrangement (form) that does so."

            I did not say the arrangement of parts doesn't matter in a collective when speaking of the collective behavior. (Although many details of that arrangement in fact don't matter.) The parts of course still matter. A gas of electrons has a charge and a gas of neutrons does not. But the claim is that a thing is more than the sum of its parts, the claim is that you are going to add something non-trivial to the modern understanding. The behavior of an electron, e.g., depends on how it relates to everything else in the universe. You cannot describe what an electron is without stating the rules for those relations. So of course the 'whole' matters in that sense. But the whole behavior is just the sum of the individual behaviors, determined by the relations between individual parts. The whole behavior doesn't determine the individual parts' behaviors, it is the other way around. An individual electron does not 'know' that it is part of a whole or not. It only 'sees' its local environment.

            "Do you add a sphere to rubber to get a basketball?" That seemed to be your earlier contention. Didn't you say that the sphere could be 'purified' of the rubber, gaining perfection? Isn't the Catholic doctrine that a soul had to be added to the physical arrangement of some proto-human to make a 'real-true' human?

            "Depends on how many numbers you need to get an average." You can always take an average, even with just one number.

            "Notice that it is not a property that a single atom can possibly have, since it is a relationship among atoms and it is only as what you are pleased to call a "collective" that it even makes sense to mention it."

            Notice that I already said this in the comment you are replying to. The question, as before, is what you think you will add to a modern description that has been neglected. It seems to me you need some behavior of the composite thing that can't be explained by the behavior of its parts. That is exactly what you don't have.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            josh: It is a theoretical interpretation that one caused the other

            So said al-Ghazali and Hume. Causation is an illusion, only correlation exists. And then came Kant, who said that we can have no true knowledge of reality, only of what is in our minds. The several centuries of philosophical squid ink is one reason Late Moderns are so confused once they try to look beneath the flooboards. No wonder they take so much on faith.

            The complex set of motivations we find in history is one for which the word "cause" can be misleading. We can however trace the history of ideas in the writings of people who had them. So again, feel free to read in the pre-19th century world.

            josh: "God could make a vacuum" isn't empirical.

            A vacuum is not empirical. No such thing had ever been seen or experienced up until "very low pressure" regimes were investigated by Torriceli and others. The fact is that if God could make a vacuum if he wanted, then we cannot rely on pure reason to conclude that nature abhors a vacuum; we must rely on empirical evidence to determine whether on not God did make a vacuum. The common phrase was "secundum imaginationem."

            josh: one can argue that the clash between Aristotle and dogma forced a crisis which eventually unseated both, but not that the assertion of dogma is itself a move towards empiricism.

            What clash? The medievals absorbed Aristotle, then started discarding parts of it. As Albertus Magnus put it, if Aristotle were wrong on matters of doctrine, then he may well be wrong on matters of physics as well. As just mentioned, the assertion of dogma was precisely that certain Aristotelian statements could not be taken as absolute, but had to be demonstrated. God might have willed a vacuum or he might not. The natural philosopher must try to discover which he did. Empiricism is a necessary consequence of the assumption. Or, as William of Conches put it a couple centuries earlier:

            [They say] 'We do not know how this is, but we know that God can do it.' You poor fools! God can make a cow out of a tree, but has He ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so.

            josh: Why is Galileo's belief in ideal circles more mystical than the Aristotelian system which heliocentrism opposed?

            Aristotle based his concentric spheres on empirical observation of the motions of the heavens. The sun circled the earth each day; the moon circled the earth each month; the sphere of the stars likewise moved around the earth in a yearly pattern. D'uh, as he more or less said. You can see empirically that the heavens moved in circles.

            Plato believed in perfect circles because he believed mathematics ruled physics. The circle was the perfect shape, and the heavens were a perfect realm, and therefore the heavens moved in circles. Neoplatonists believed that the perfection of mathematics (especially geometry) was touching the mind of God. Neoplatonism (and Pythagoreanism) enjoyed a revival in the Renaissance. Copernicus was explicit in this belief, and Galileo followed him, refusing to give credence to elliptical orbits.

            Both Aristotle and Plato thought that these cycles would one day "zero out" and all the cycles would begin repeating themselves. This was called the Babylonian "Great Year." When this happened, because he believed in strict determinism and not in free will, everything that had ever happened would happen again, once the stars had returned to the same configuration. With the revival of Neoplatonism, astrology enjoyed a rebirth in the Renaissance and Early Modern ages.

            Ptolemy was puzzled by the fact that the planets seemed to speed up and slow down, and to grow larger and smaller, and so he devised a theory of equants and epicycles for his deferants so that uniformly moving stars would exhibit the empirical behavior. Worked, too. Uniform motion on an epicycle around an equant was mathematically equivalent to motion on an ellipse!

            josh: Galileo was certainly no head-in-the-clouds pure theorist since his empirical observations are such a major part of his legacy.

            Marius discovered the moons of Jupiter one day later than Galileo, but spent more time observing them and calculating their motions more precisely. And it was his names for the moons that finally stuck. Scheiner observed the sunspots before Galileo and made more meticulous observations. It is his notation for recording sunspots that has stuck, and his theory that the sun's hemispheres rotate differently is still thought to be the cause of sunspots. (Harriott and the Fabricii saw the spots even earlier.) Harriot, Lembo and Marius also observed the phases of Venus during the same month that Galileo did. Like the track of the sunspote, these phases were consistent with the Tychonic model as well as the Copernican math. (The Tychonic model is computationally equivalent to the Copernican, and there is no way to tell which is truer by observing the motion of the stars.)

            OTOH, Galileo also claimed that the ocean tides were caused by the earth's motions, even though, empirically, they rise and fall twice a day, not once as Galileo's theory claimed. Likewise, he claimed that comets were emanations within the earth's atmosphere and not bodies in non-circular orbits coming from somewhere beyond the moon, despite having made no empirical observations of the three comets of 1618. So it's a mixed bag.

            "You had asked earlier to point out an invalid critique of Aristotle's physics in this discussion. Ask no more."
            josh: Well, that's one way to not have an answer.
            This statement:

            josh: That there is a distinction between two things doesn't prove that either is made up of parts. It certainly doesn't follow that they are 'in principle breakable'.

            was the example asked for.

            josh: It's your understanding of "emergent properties" that is the problem here.

            cf. John C.Holland. Hidden Order. (Helix Books, 1995).

            josh: I did not say the arrangement of parts doesn't matter in a collective when speaking of the collective behavior. ... A gas of electrons has a charge and a gas of neutrons does not.

            Not talking about "collectives" (whatever they are outside socialist theory). Two notes:
            1) a "gas" of electrons has a negative charge because all the electrons have negative chages. It is not an emergent property of the "gas."
            2) a "gas" of electrons is not a "thing" but a "heap." That is, it has no identity in itself. Each electron is a "thing." (Maybe. The ontological status of the electron is still up in the air.) But a bunch of electrons is no more a "thing" than the joshmoon, which is the mereological sum of josh and the moon. A thing is not a "collective" but something with an identity over and above the identity of its parts.

            josh: the whole behavior is just the sum of the individual behaviors, determined by the relations between individual parts.

            Let's repeat: determined by the relations between individual parts. Which of the parts is the "relations between" supposed to be? Ans. the "relations between" is not itself a part, but is the form of the thing of whose parts we speak. A DNA molecule, for example, does not function as a DNA molecule except as part of a whole organism.

            josh: An individual electron does not 'know' that it is part of a whole

            Why do you think it should "know" any such thing? Or for that matter that because it is part of a whole that its efficient causes no longer matter?

            josh: Isn't the Catholic doctrine that a soul had to be added to the physical arrangement of some proto-human to make a 'real-true' human?

            All living beings have soul. The word for soul (anima) simply means "alive."

            The soul is whatever a living being has while living, and what it lacks when it is dead. That’s it. If this is brain activity, then brain activity is soul; if this is some kind of organization, then organization is soul; if this is some spirit in the body, then that’s soul. If it is some combination of these things, then soul is whatever is first and most causal among them. Regardless of whether you think that a a human body is nothing but so much meat and matter or whether you think we are only spirits caged in a body, it is ridiculous to ask whether the soul exists. It manifests a failure to understand what one is talking about. If you think that speaking about “the human soul” is too prejudicial toward the “spiritual” idea of man, too bad. You can’t hold a conversation hostage because of your inability to understand a term.
            James Chastek, "The mode of analysis proper to the discussion of the soul"
            http://thomism.wordpress.com/page/2/?s=whatever+a+living+body

            +++

            But these antiphons and responses are becoming too long and are drifting off the topic that the consensus of historians of science is that the "conflict thesis" was bogus, and that there was continuity of development across even such barren periods as the Renaissance.

            All this apparently transgresses some a priori commitments of yours, but it is not clear what emotional foundations those are.

          • josh

            "So said al-Ghazali and Hume. Causation is an illusion, only correlation exists. And then came Kant..."

            Ye Olde, you have this bizarre habit of ignoring a reply that shows the faults in your last over-the-top claim and reeling off an irrelevant commentary with superfluous (and sometimes inaccurate) facts, perhaps in an attempt to appear educated. It's like arguing with Cliff Clavin. On the narrow point of the condemnations of 1277, rather than admit that you have a theory and not a fact, which was your earlier point of contention, you now presume to lecture us that a theory can be supported by evidence, without any argument for your particular claim, and ignoring the fact that actual historians don't all agree with your interpretation.

            Me: "God could make a vacuum" isn't empirical.

            You: "A vacuum is not empirical."
            What a non sequitur! God isn't empirical and talking about what God could do isn't empirical. Secundum imaginationem refers to reasoning from counterfactuals. This is not by itself empirical. And it has no particular connection to the Condemnations of 1277.

            "What clash? The medievals absorbed Aristotle, then started discarding parts of it."
            The one we are talking about. The clash between Aristotle's 'theoretical' conclusion and the Church's doctrine that God could do anything. The kind of clash that results in condemnations and attempted bans.

            "D'uh, as he more or less said. You can see empirically that the heavens moved in circles." Except that Aristotle also said that the heavens were the realm of perfect substances, which took the natural perfect motion of perfect unchanging circles. Galileo was equally capable of seeing that the heavens looked like they moved in circles. The leap to ellipses was conceptually a big one, and one Galileo, like Ptolemy, didn't make. Nonetheless, his observations did undermine the Aristotelian idea of unchanging perfect heavenly bodies with the discovery of sunspots and the topography of the moon.

            "Marius discovered the moons of Jupiter one day later than Galileo,..." Again, more irrelevant details. Concluding with "...So it's a mixed bag." Which doesn't contradict anything I said.

            "This statement:... was the example asked for."
            That's weird, since I asked long before I made that statement. But you still haven't actually made a point. You haven't explained what was wrong with my statement, or how yours was correct. Maybe because, being an actual physicist, I know that quarks and leptons are fundamental particles in our theory and can't be split into parts in the current theory. (Future observations could always prompt us to modify the theory, but an argument from your metaphysics cannot logically demonstrate that the theory has to be wrong.)

            "cf. John C.Holland. Hidden Order. (Helix Books, 1995)."
            Gee thanks, but this also isn't an argument for your views. It appears to be a book on complexity theory. Maybe it uses the phrase "emergent properties". You still aren't understanding what they are and aren't. I think I'll rely on my own judgment for now, rather than the unsupported opinion of a dilettante.

            "Two notes:
            1) a "gas" of electrons has a negative charge because all the electrons have negative chages. It is not an emergent property of the "gas."
            2) a "gas" of electrons is not a "thing" but a "heap." "

            1)That's what I said. Your reading comprehension hasn't been entirely up to par so far. My example shows that the properties of the gas depend, at least in part, on the properties of the parts, contrary to your claim that "it's not the parts that give a thing its powers".

            2) Now we're getting to the heart of your confusion. Some things are 'things' and some things are 'heaps'. 'Cause you say so. So a heap doesn't have parts? Or it has no form? And how do we tell that a thing is really a 'thing'? Now you want a 'thing' to have 'an identity over and above the sum of it's parts'. It's too bad we've never found such a thing. But at least you won't make the mistake of arguing in future that a relation between individual parts is enough to get you to an Aristotelian form.

            "Let's repeat: determined by the relations between individual parts." Oh. Well that didn't work.

            "A DNA molecule, for example, does not function as a DNA molecule except as part of a whole organism." Well, we take DNA molecules out of organisms and we still call them DNA molecules. It's trivial that if you take a piece out of something you are treating as a whole, the piece will not have its consequences on the whole that it would have were it still integrated with the whole. The thing is, it's not trying to be a DNA molecule in an organism. It's just part of the heap you call an organism. And the organism is just a heap you have somewhat arbitrarily disconnected from the larger universe. The sum of the parts is just the sum of the parts. The parts are affected by other parts around them. No mumbo-jumbo about metaphysical identities, teleologies, souls coming and going. Just testable, amendable, useful science.

            "Why do you think it should "know" any such thing?" In order for it's behavior to be distinguishable from just being part of a 'heap' as you put it. It is your task, left unfulfilled so far, to show that you need more than 'efficient' causes to explain the behaviors we observe. And no going back to 'affected by other parts' as evidence for 'form'. You need a distinct function for that supposed cause, not the efficient effect of those other parts.

            "The word for soul (anima) simply means "alive." "
            It's silly to argue a words meaning from it's etymology. It's the connotations and understanding of the word that matter. The mistake is to think that there is a singular thing that has to be put in or out of a body to make it alive or dead. But this definition of 'soul' is disingenuous to start with. No one who thinks the mind is just electro-chemical impulses would use the word soul. "My soul finds rest in God alone,..." says the Psalmist. I'm sure he meant 'whatever is making me alive, even if it is just chemistry.'
            “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Matthew 10:28 By which Jesus no doubt meant, 'figuratively kill the concept of a singular distinction between life and death, but yeah, your gonna die and be gone either way.'

            "But these antiphons and responses are becoming too long and are drifting off the topic that the consensus of historians of science is that the "conflict thesis" was bogus, and that there was continuity of development across even such barren periods as the Renaissance."

            Hey we agree on one thing! This is becoming too long. Personally, I feel you've dragged us all over topical creation, and now, having failed to make the case for any of the topics you raised (that weren't superfluous in the first place), you attempt to return to a topic I left off months ago with another commenter, misconstruing my position in the act.

            The 'conflict thesis' that religion and science were perpetually at war is too gross and simplistic and I've never said otherwise. The question of the Church's overall impact on science is extremely complex and not settled. The fact that it had some negative effects is hard to deny, and that various Church actions and habits of thought were anti-scientific and detrimental in character even more so. The thesis that there is an inherent conflict between religious thought and a rational approach to the world stands untouched.

            "All this apparently transgresses some a priori commitments of yours, but it is not clear what emotional foundations those are."
            Ah, the last refuge of the defeated. Disparage my motives with no evidence.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "So said al-Ghazali and Hume. Causation is an illusion, only correlation exists. And then came Kant..."

            josh: Ye Olde, you have this bizarre habit of ignoring a reply

            But you had said:

            josh: It is a theoretical interpretation that one caused the other

            And
            I replied directly to it. A physical theory is
            always a "theoretical interpretation," so how should
            an historical observation differ? What survives "the shipwrecks of
            time" do not even constitute a statistical sample! History is a bunch
            of dots, and the historian's job is to connect them.

            josh: Me: "God could make a vacuum" isn't empirical.
            You: "A vacuum is not empirical."
            What a non sequitur! God isn't empirical and talking about what God could do isn't empirical.

            So
            what? Ockham's Razor is not empirical, either. Natural science is
            underpinned by non-empirical assumptions. (Since no
            scientia can examine her own assumptions, that task
            for the physics is left for the metaphysics.) You seem to assume that
            everyone (including the historians who started this off) is "really"
            trying to do natural science, as defined by the 19th century.

            josh: the Church's doctrine that God could do anything.

            Actually,
            the doctrine was that God could will anything that was not a
            logical contradiction.
            Bishop Tempier graciously pointed out
            that the existence of a vacuum was not a logical contradiction, so
            natural philosophers ought not run around as if no other possibilities
            existed. And of course when multiple possibilities exist, what is the
            method for deciding among them? That very empiricism that flourished
            after he made the point. (Granted, he made the point only in the context
            of a faculty dispute at the University of Paris, and his condemnation
            had no authority outside the university.)

            Since you like Wikipedia as a reference, Wikipedia has this to say about the effect of the condemnations:

            What
            historians do agree is that the condemnations allowed science "to
            consider possibilities that the great philosopher never envisioned."[17]
            According to the historian of science Richard Dales, they "seem
            definitely to have promoted a freer and more imaginative way of doing
            science."[18] Others point out that in philosophy, a critical and
            skeptical reaction followed on from the Condemnations 1277.[19]

            josh:
            Except that Aristotle also said that the heavens were the
            realm of perfect substances, which took the natural perfect motion of
            perfect unchanging circles.

            That was his theoretical
            explanation of the empirical facts, much as one may examine the facts of
            marine fossils in the mountains and conclude, as Xenophanes did, that a
            flood had once covered the mountaintops. Or one may examine the facts
            of species diversity-and-resemblance and come up with a theoretical
            explanation based on random mutation and natural selection. It's the old
            positivist layer cake (Facts→Laws→Theories) once derided as the
            imagining of philosophers by the puissant P.Z.Meyers, but in fact
            devised by such lesser lights as Poincare, Mach, and Einstein.

            josh:
            Galileo was equally capable of seeing that the heavens
            looked like they moved in circles. The leap to ellipses was conceptually
            a big one, and one Galileo, like Ptolemy, didn't make.

            You
            do know that Kepler's elliptical model preceeded the
            invention of the telescope, right? It wasn't that Galileo did not make
            the leap, but that he refused to make the leap,
            precisely because of his commitment to pure Copernican-Platonic
            circles. Even though Prince Cesi urged him to consider them. (There is
            an amusing exchange of letters among Kepler, D. Fabricius, and
            Longomontanus regarding "the spirals" and "the ovals.") See "10. The
            Last Hurrah of Eyeball Astronomy" here:
            http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-great-ptolemaic-smackdown.html
            (Note that the other focus of the ellipse looks an awful lot like
            Ptolemy's equant.) The whole Ptolemaic model, with its @#$% equants and
            epicycles consisted in goosing circles to act like ellipses. It was
            Kepler who showed that uniform motion along an epicycle around the
            deferrant was mathematically equivalent to motion along an ellipse. This
            is why Ptolemaic astronomy -- i.e., mathematics -- worked so well until
            the day it died for the only job that a mathematical model was required
            to do.

            josh: Nonetheless, his
            observations did undermine the Aristotelian idea of unchanging perfect
            heavenly bodies with the discovery of sunspots and the topography of the
            moon.

            Which upset the neo-pagan Aristotelians of
            that century; but following the condemnation of 1277, Aristotle's
            physics was no longer taken as inerrant by others. Sure, everyone
            supposed the heavens incorruptible, because up to recently they had had
            no empirical evidence to the contrary. But even Aristotle had cautioned
            that this was only because all records available to him, from Egypt,
            Babylon, Persia, showed an unchanging heaven.

            The observations
            you mention were made by numerous people: Harriot, Fabricius, Scheiner,
            Mersenne, Marius, etc. Galileo gets credit for the lunar mountains
            because his training in chiaroscuro as an artist enabled him to "see"
            the light and dark greenish spots as 3D relief. (Late Moderns don't
            realize how fuzzy and limited these early telescopic images were. A lot
            of people looked -- and saw nothing. You had to
            learn to look through a telescope!)

            Galileo
            then used a technique known as "demonstrative regress" that had been
            developed by Bishop Grosseteste in the Middle Ages (when all this was
            supposedly "largely forgotten"). IOW, to paraphrase josh, Galileo had to
            infer as a "theoretical interpretatiom" that the
            [disputed] facts of light and darkpatches were caused by mountains and
            valleys. Alas, not all astronomers agreed.

            These observations did nothing to further heliocentrism.

            josh:
            "Marius discovered the moons of Jupiter one day later than
            Galileo,..." Again, more irrelevant details. Concluding with "...So it's
            a mixed bag." Which doesn't contradict anything I said.

            You
            will notice that were Galileo removed, the progress of the sciences
            would be unimpeded because other people were making the same
            discoveries. But since they wrote mathematical-scientific works rather
            than popularizations, Kepler, Marius, Scheiner, and the others are less
            well known to the lay public. You will also notice that none of them
            were hassled by religious authorities.

            josh: being an actual physicist,

            Thus explaining the less expert grasp of history. But Wallace is a physicist, too; so is Barr; so too was Jaki.

            josh:
            I know that quarks and leptons are fundamental particles
            in our theory and can't be split into parts
            in the current theory. (Future observations could
            always prompt us to modify the theory, but an argument from your
            metaphysics cannot logically demonstrate that the theory has to be
            wrong.)

            Metaphysics deals with the assumptions of the
            physics, which by nature cannot be dealt with by the
            scientia that assumes them. For example, it deals
            with Being, as such, where natural science must simply assume being in
            order to carry out its procedures. (You cannot prove the universe exists
            using empirical evidence. To treat the evidence as empirical is to
            assume implicitely that the universe
            does exist, which makes the reasoning circular.)
            (BTW, logical reasoning is another of those things that are not
            empirical.)

            Since facts have no meaning in themselves, they must
            be assembled into a theory in order to acquire meaning. (And any finite
            set of facts can always support more than one theory.) But this
            assemblage of facts into a theoretic structure is what gives form to
            science. Theories are thus formal causes of scientific knowledge. Recall
            what Poincare once said: a pile of facts is not a science any more than
            a pile of bricks is a house. (Poincare gives us a clue here regarding
            "things" versus "heaps.") That is, every time you invoke a theory, you
            are invoking formality.

            "cf. John C.Holland. Hidden Order. (Helix Books, 1995)."
            josh:
            Gee thanks, but this ... appears to be a book on complexity
            theory. Maybe it uses the phrase "emergent properties".

            The concept of "emergent properties" comes from complexity theory. Math rules.

            +++++

            "1)
            a "gas" of electrons has a negative charge because all the electrons
            have negative chages. It is not an emergent property of the "gas."

            josh: 1)That's what I said.

            But
            you presented it as if it were an argument against emergent
            properties. Not all properties are emergent. What is so difficult? Yet
            even for heaps we find things like the angle of repose on a sandpile,
            which is not a property of any of the sand grains in it. That's why some
            statements like yours are category errors while other similar
            statements are not. (I.e., that "category error" is a
            material error in logic and not a
            formal error. Oops. There's that matter+form thingie
            again.)
            + + +
            "2) a "gas" of electrons is not a "thing" but a "heap." "

            josh:
            2) Now we're getting to the heart of your confusion. Some
            things are 'things' and some things are 'heaps'. 'Cause you say
            so.

            No. Things are "objectively
            delineated, identifiable and countable." Things are
            not mere mereological sums, like the joshmoon. The sum of {josh+the
            moon} is not a thing, so there is no reason to explain what "caused"
            it. A sand pile is not a thing. A "gas" of electrons is not a thing.
            (How many electrons are needed to make a "gas." How many grains of sand
            are needed to make a sand pile? If I take one away, do I no longer have a
            pile or a gas? Recently, we have seen in the tragedy of Pluto that a
            "planet" may not be an objectively delineated thing. A quark, so far as
            I can tell, is a mathematical term in an equation. Things work if you
            assume them; but then astronomy worked if you assumed epicycles, too.
            But as Feynman once said, that a term exists in an equation does not
            compel a physical thing to exist. (Especially now, in the era of Big
            Data and the generation of models by automated stepwise regression.)

            Perhaps you prefer οὐσία or substantia to "thing"?

            josh:
            Now you want a 'thing' to have 'an identity over and above
            the sum of it's parts'. It's too bad we've never found such a
            thing.

            How about a "dog"? Or a sodium atom? The latter
            is not just a heap of protons, neutrons, and electrons, it is a
            specified number of protons and electrons (and a select number of
            neutrons) arranged in a particular form. It is in
            virtue of this arrangement that they "act" as a sodium atom and not as a
            gas of electrons and alpha particles, and not as a chlorine atom
            composed of identical parts.

            "A DNA molecule, for example, does not function as a DNA molecule except as part of a whole organism."
            josh:
            Well, we take DNA molecules out of organisms and we still
            call them DNA molecules. It's trivial that if you take a piece out of
            something you are treating as a whole, the piece will not have its
            consequences on the whole that it would have were it still integrated
            with the whole.

            You are gradually coming around. But
            it is mere nominalism to fall back on "we still call them..." The
            statement was that it does not function as a DNA
            molecule any more than the carcass of a dog functions as a dog.

            josh: it's not trying to be a DNA molecule in an organism.

            Molecules cannot "try" any more than a gene can be "selfish."

            josh:
            It's just part of the heap you call an organism. And the
            organism is just a heap you have somewhat arbitrarily disconnected from
            the larger universe.

            An organism is not a heap, but an
            "objectively delineated, identifiable and countable" thing. A horse is a
            horse (of course, of course). Its identity is not "arbitrary," and it
            is not "disconnected" from "the universe," though I understand it is
            traditional for physicists to disparage biologists.

            "The word for soul (anima) simply means "alive." "
            josh:
            It's silly to argue a words meaning from it's etymology. It's
            the connotations and understanding of the word that matter.

            Have you ever tried to discuss evolution with a creationist?
            Technical discussion require that we stick to the technical definitions,
            not to any (mis)understanding of Joe Blow. In particular, the
            definition of "soul" used by the folks who started the conversation (and
            maintained it during the era under discussion) rather than the inchoate
            understanding of amateurs. It is still the definition of soul used in
            the Orthodox and Catholic churches. (And AFAIK in the Coptic and Syriac
            churches as well.)

            josh: The fact
            that [the Church] had some negative effects [on natural science] is hard
            to deny, and that various Church actions and habits of thought were
            anti-scientific and detrimental in character even more so. The thesis
            that there is an inherent conflict between religious thought and a
            rational approach to the world stands untouched.

            Whatever
            these unnamed negative effects were. And yet we have natural science
            emerging, sprouting, and blooming in a milieu
            informed by this Churchly thought, and nowhere else.
            Mathematics bloomed everywhere. (It is rather
            mystical.) Engineering and tinkering bloomed everywhere. But only one
            place that saw the appearance of natural science as we know it -- the
            one place that applied rational thought to its own beliefs, that devised
            from its own religious convictions the approach that we call
            "methodological naturalism," that held in fact that material bodies
            did have natures and hence there could be
            natural laws.

            Are you confusing "rational approach" with "empirical approach"? You're not one of those humanism-deniers, are you?

            "All this apparently transgresses some a priori commitments of yours, but it is not clear what emotional foundations those are."
            josh: Ah, the last refuge of the defeated. Disparage my motives with no evidence

            No
            evidence beyond your own utterances. But I did not disparage them. I
            simply do not know what they are. Your continued misconstrual of
            Aristotelian and Scholastic thought and your denial of plain historical
            fact surely indicate filters of some sort.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            josh:
            Except that Aristotle also said that the heavens were the
            realm of perfect substances, which took the natural perfect motion of perfect unchanging circles.

            That was his theoretical explanation of the empirical facts, much as one may examine the facts of marine fossils in the mountains and conclude, as Xenophanes did, that a flood had once covered the mountaintops. Aristotle himself cautioned that it was merely he best theory that accounted for the facts then available, and pointed out that we had very few empirical (sensory) facts about the heavens.

            josh:
            Galileo was equally capable of seeing that the heavens
            looked like they moved in circles. The leap to ellipses was conceptually a big one, and one Galileo, like Ptolemy, didn't make.

            Ptolemy's use of deferents, equants, and epicycles were goosing circles to act like ellipses. Kepler showed that motion on an ellipse was mathematically equivalent to motion on an epicycles and equant.

            You do know that Kepler's elliptical model preceded Galileo's work, right? It wasn't that Galileo did not make the leap, but that he refused to make the leap -- precisely because of his commitment to pure Copernican-Platonic circles.

            josh: Nonetheless, his observations did undermine the Aristotelian idea of unchanging perfect heavenly bodies with the discovery of sunspots and the topography of the moon.

            Which upset the neo-pagan Aristotelians of that century; but following the condemnation of 1277, Aristotle's physics was no longer taken as inerrant by others. Sure, everyone supposed the heavens incorruptible, because up to recently they had had no empirical evidence to the contrary. (cf. Tycho's nova.) But even Aristotle had cautioned that this was only because all records then available to him showed an unchanging heaven.

            Galileo inferred lunar mountains from fuzzy light and dark spots because of his artistic training in chiaroscuro. He then used a technique known as "demonstrative regress" that had been developed by Bishop Grosseteste in the Middle Ages (when all this was supposedly "largely forgotten"). Galileo had to infer mountains as a "theoretical interpretation" of the facts. Alas, not all astronomers agreed.

            These observations did nothing to further heliocentrism. (Don't forget Aristotelian physicists did not like Ptolemaic astronomy.)

            josh: being an actual physicist,

            Thus explaining the less-expert grasp of history. But Wallace is a physicist, too; so is Barr; so too was Jaki.

            josh:
            I know that quarks and leptons are fundamental particles in our theory and can't be split into parts in the current theory. (Future observations could always prompt us to modify the theory, but an argument from your metaphysics cannot logically demonstrate that the theory has to be wrong.)

            Metaphysics deals with the assumptions of the physics. For example, it deals with Being, as such, where natural science must simply assume being in order to carry out its procedures.

            Since facts have no meaning in themselves, they must
            be assembled into a theory in order to acquire meaning. (And any finite set of facts can always support more than one theory.) But this assemblage of facts into a theoretic structure is what gives form to science. Theories are thus formal causes of scientific knowledge. Recall what Poincare once said: A pile of facts is not a science any more than a pile of bricks is a house. (Poincare thus gives us a clue here regarding "things" versus "heaps.") That is, every time you invoke a theory, you unwittingly invoke formality.

            "cf. John C.Holland. Hidden Order. (Helix Books, 1995)."
            josh:
            Gee thanks, but this ... appears to be a book on complexity theory. Maybe it uses the phrase "emergent properties".

            The concept of "emergent properties" comes from complexity theory.

            +++++

            "1) a "gas" of electrons has a negative charge because all the electrons have negative charges. It is not an emergent property of the "gas."

            josh: 1)That's what I said.

            But you presented it as if it rebutted emergent properties. Not all properties are emergent. What is so difficult? That's why some statements like yours are category errors while others are not. (I.e., "category error" is a material error in logic and not a formal error. Oops. There's that matter+form thingie again.)
            + + +
            "2) a "gas" of electrons is not a "thing" but a "heap." "

            josh:
            2) Now we're getting to the heart of your confusion. Some things are 'things' and some things are 'heaps'. 'Cause you say so.

            No, because things are "objectively delineated, identifiable and countable." (https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/papers/Forms.html#_ednref5) A sand pile is not a thing. A "gas" of electrons is not a thing. (How many electrons are needed to make a "gas." How many grains of sand are needed to make a sand pile? If I take one away, do I no longer have a pile or a gas? Recently, we have seen in the tragic fate of Pluto that even a "planet" may not be an objectively delineated thing.

            Perhaps you prefer οὐσία or substantia to "thing"?

            josh:
            Now you want a 'thing' to have 'an identity over and above the sum of it's parts'. It's too bad we've never found such a thing.

            How about a "dog"? Or a "sodium atom"? The latter is not just a heap of protons, neutrons, and electrons, it is a specified number of protons and electrons (and one a select number of neutrons) arranged in a particular form. It is in virtue of this arrangement that they "act" as a sodium atom and not as a gas of electrons and alpha particles, and not as a chlorine atom otherwise composed of identical parts.

            josh: it's not trying to be a DNA molecule in an organism.

            Molecules cannot "try" any more than genes can be "selfish."

            josh:
            It's [DNA molecule] just part of the heap you call an organism. And the organism is just a heap you have somewhat arbitrarily disconnected from the larger universe.

            An organism is not a heap, but an "objectively delineated, identifiable and countable" thing. A horse is a horse (of course, of course). Its identity is neither "arbitrary," nor is it "disconnected" from "the universe," though I understand it is
            traditional for physicists to disparage biologists.

            "The word for soul (anima) simply means "alive." "
            josh:
            It's silly to argue a words meaning from it's etymology. It's the connotations and understanding of the word that matter.

            Have you ever tried to discuss evolution with a creationist -- using his connotations and understandings?
            Technical discussions require that we stick to the technical definitions. In this case, the definition of "soul" used by the folks who started the conversation (and maintained it during the era under discussion). It is still the definition of soul used in the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

            josh: The fact that [the Church] had some negative effects [on natural science] is hard to deny, and that various Church actions and habits of thought were anti-scientific and detrimental in character even more so. The thesis that there is an inherent conflict between religious thought and a rational approach to the world stands untouched.

            Whatever these unnamed negative effects were. And yet we have natural science emerging, sprouting, and blooming in a milieu informed by this Churchly thought, and nowhere else. Mathematics bloomed everywhere. (It is rather mystical.) Engineering and tinkering bloomed everywhere. But only one place saw the appearance of natural science as we know it -- the place that applied rational thought to its own beliefs, that made a fetish of reason, that devised from its own religious convictions the approach that we call "methodological naturalism," that held in fact that material bodies did have natures and hence there could be natural laws.
            +++
            "All this apparently transgresses some a priori commitments of yours, but it is not clear what emotional foundations those are."
            josh: Ah, the last refuge of the defeated. Disparage my motives with no evidence

            Well, no evidence beyond your own utterances. But I did not disparage them. I simply do not know what they are. Your continued misconstrual of Aristotelian and Scholastic thought and your denial of plain historical fact must have some basis.

          • joe

            The seems to me that Peter Piper is simply pointing out that Aristotle did engage in some degree of empirical, physical experimentation (e.g. breaking open eggs at different stages of development) and Scotus did not, which would seem to be a valid point. You counter that Peter Piper is nevertheless wrong to claim that this sort of "proto-science" was lost in the Middle Ages because, for instance, similarly proto-scientific experiments were done in the realm of optics. But if it Scotus himself didn't perform any such proto-scientific experiments, while your point that such was not lost to the Middle Ages stands, Peter Piper appears justified in saying that Scotus wasn't proto-scientific in the sense Aristotle was.

            You seem to be intent on seeing Peter Piper as hell bent on defending "The Myth" of a science squashing medieval church when in fact he seems to me to have no strong objection to your position on "The Myth" in general but rather is having a hard time - understandably I think - understanding how you can say that medieval persons like Scotus, who apparently performed no proto-scientific experiments such as Aristotle did, can be said to be scientific on the same sense.

            I think it is reasonable to say that Scotus was not "proto-scientific" in the same way Aristotle was, even if it is wrong to say that the sort of proto-scientific experimentation Aristotle did was lost to or unheard of in the Middle Ages.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            " ... which would seem to be a valid point.

            Once he clarified his definition of "proto-science", I conceded that, by his definition, Scotus was not a "proto-scientist" in his newly defined sense. But Aritotle's physics was every bit as metaphysical (to us) as that of Scotus. Aristotle's breaking open eggs was not part of his physics, which was what was being discussed. To bring Aristotle into the fold of his "proto-science" Peter had to find an example from outside of Aristotle's physics - ie his work in early biology.

            "Peter Piper appears justified in saying that Scotus wasn't proto-scientific in the sense Aristotle was.

            Read the thread again - I conceded that Scotus fits my broader definition but not his later defined narrower one many comments ago.

            "he seems to me to have no strong objection to your position on "The Myth" in general"

            He seems to be labouring mightily to find a way to exclude the Middle Ages from a new, narrower definition of it. And even with my list he's been forced to admit five of the scholars listed were proto-scientists. Which scuppers his claim this kind of thinking was "lost" in this period right there. Since then, working from his new, narrower definition, I've been able to raise the total to 17 without breaking a sweat.

            "I think it is reasonable to say that Scotus was not "proto-scientific" in the same way Aristotle was",/i>

            So you keep saying. If you read over the thread again, you'll find no-one is arguing with anyone on that point.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Shoot, I wouldn't have counted Scotus as a proto-scientist, either; so it is no great mystery that Mr. Piper has glommed onto him to the virtual exclusion of Theodoric of Freiburg or Albertus Magnus. Remember, his thesis was that empirical investigation of the natural world was "largely forgotten," and most of the other names would not have been useful to advance his claim. Heck, Thomas Aquinas wrote on a number of occasions on the Physics and other natural scientific topics, and even anticipated the Duhem-Quine thesis as well as distinguishing between qualitative forms (like heat) and their quantitative extensions (like temperature). Of course, no one could measure temperature back then, but we mustn't consider a lack of technology for a lack of technique, let alone a lack of interest.

            Further, opening eggs at intervals is not experimentation, but observation, and the medievals did that rather often.

            Part of the confusion may stem from the fact that the medievals invented the University and that the curriculum for the Master of Arts was almost exclusively logic, reason, and natural philosophy. This degree was required for anyone matriculating in the doctoral programs for Theology, Law, and Medicine. One consequence was that every single educated person in the Middle Ages -- hundreds of thousands of students, a quarter million in the German universities alone from 1350 on - had at least a university understanding of natural science. This is why natural science matured and blossomed in Latin Europe, and nowhere else. Nowhere else was natural philosophy so firmly embedded in the culture. Most Philosophers and Theologians generally wrote something on the natural world, even if it were not their primary focus. Scotus was one of them.

            Now the very fact that Scotus could write knowledgeably about natural philosophy even though not qualifying as a Piperian "scientist" is in itself proof that the tradition of scientific investigation of nature was not "largely forgotten." Rather, it was widely known even to non-practitioners. This was very much unlike ancient Hellas or the House of Submission, where the knowledge and practice was very much restricted to the select few (and was in fact considered "occult" [hidden] knowledge, not meant for the masses).

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            in his History of Animals [Aristotle] claimed that human males have more teeth than females.

            Women lost calcium from their bones due to childbirth. The rule of thumb was "one child = one tooth." Since women would begin to get pregnant at young ages, as early as 12, any woman who opened her mouth for Aristotle likely did have fewer teeth on display.

            Aristotle's theory that a heavier object falls faster than a lighter object is incorrect.

            Ironically, it's not. It's simply not as big a difference as Aristotle thought, especially in one of those vacuums that Aristotle had never empirically experienced.

          • fredx2

            And if you want to count engineering as science, then the great cathedrals are ample evidence of science in the middle ages.

        • vintermann

          The boundary between mathematics and philosophy is a bit harder to draw back in a time where mathematics itself was mostly in a rhetorical style rather than symbolic.

          It may sound like gibberish to us, but we don't know (you and me that is, probably some scholars know) just how consistently Scotus treated terms like motion tokens, limiting entities and spatially extended continua.

  • Octavo

    Good article. It definitely makes me want to learn more about the medieval era.

  • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

    I do accept the argument that the Galileo affair was by no means a simple matter, and Galileo may have been too big for his britches. But putting Galileo's work on the Index of Forbidden Books for almost two hundred years, until the early decades of the 19th century, is a matter which, from our perspective today, is difficult to think kindly of. In fact, the very idea of the Index of Forbidden books, from our perspective today, is difficult to think well of. And the fact that the list continued to be updated until 1948, and was not abolished until 1966, is not a part of the history of the Catholic Church that anyone should be proud of. The list of banned authors reads like a Who's Who of philosophy and literature. Of course, as I have said, this is as seen from our perspective today. But I am not willing to say, "Oh, well, that was then and this is now. It's water under the bridge." It did have its effect, not least of all on Catholic scholarship (particularly biblical scholarship), and it did real damage.

    • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

      There is no doubt that the conservative reaction to Galileo was a clear example of religion trying to constrict science. The point to remember, however, is that the modern proponents of the Conflict Thesis always have to fall back on the Galileo Affair largely because it's pretty much all they have - it was the *exception*, but it gets presented as the rule.

      As for the inclusion of his works on the Index, this is put into historical context by historian of science Thony Christie in a useful article here:

      http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/an-interesting-question/

      In brief, this kind of attempted control of publishing was the norm in early modern Europe as rulers tried to work out how to put a cap on the implications of printing technology (Christie's analogy with current struggles by governments to do the same with the internet is a useful one). What is also clear is that the claim that is often made that putting Galileo and Copernicus' works on the Index retarded science is hard to sustain. As Christie notes, it was only uncorrected copies of Copernicus which were banned, and the ban was largely ignored especially outside Italy. As for Galileo, his works were also widely available despite the ban and were taken off the Index in 1718, once Newton's "Principia" had effectively answered the last substantial problems with heliocentrism.

      Whether the Index was a "good" or "bad" thing I will leave to those who like their history served with value judgements. I find Presentist judgements of the past by the values of the present have little or no purpose and prefer to simply examine what happened as objectively as possible.

      • Ignorant Amos

        I don't see any mention of Giordano Bruno, a contemporary of Galileo. He was burned at the stake for heresy. A heresy that at least in part was due to his philosophical and cosmological views. Is there a reason why he is omitted other than strictly speaking, like Galileo, his case falls outside the chronology of the medieval period?

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

          Bruno was not condemned for anything to do with astronomy or even cosmology. He didn't need to be - the guy believed that Jesus wasn't God, that Mary wasn't a virgin and that transubstantiation was a lie and that the Trinity didn't exist. In 1600, that was enough to get you burned about four times over. Bruno was not an astronomer - he was a Heremetical mystic who heard about Copernicus' cosmology second hand and incorporated it into his mystical neo-Pythagorean fantasies. He was the sixteenth century equivalent of a New Age guru who makes vague waffling references to quantum mechanics to try to sound scientific and learned, which makes his status in pseudo historical folklore as a "martyr for science" deeply ironic. The guy was a kook.

          • Ignorant Amos

            He didn't need to be - the guy believed that Jesus wasn't God, that Mary wasn't a virgin and that transubstantiation was a lie and that the Trinity didn't exist. In 1600, that was enough to get you burned about four times over.

            That is fair enough, but it could be said, and has been, that it was through epistemolgical thinking that he came to those heresies. Which as an atheist I can respect. For those times he could also be called a rational thinker.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            No-one who has actually read any of his work would find much there that a modern atheist would recognise as "rational thinking". Then again, I've yet to come across anyone who tries to shoehorn Bruno into anything like science who has actually read any of his work. He's a "martyr" by third or fourth hand reputation.

            The fact is that he was not an astronomer and he was not condemned or executed for his odd mystical cosmology. He was executed for his religious ideas and was not even remotely a "martyr for science".

          • josh

            Bruno is a 'martyr' to free thought. He was burned for advocating ideas the Church didn't like. It is irrelevant whether or not we think Bruno's ideas were 'good' by modern standards. It's still not okay to burn Medieval Hippies.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            That's why they didn't do it too often. This was after he fled Rome ahead of a murder warrant, got himself excommunicated by the Calvinists, excommunicated by the Lutherans, kicked out of Oxford, and tried to scam a patron in the Republic (who then ratted him out to the Venetian Inquisition.) The Roman Inquisition then asserted prior jurisdiction and spent seven years trying to talk Bruno 'down off the ledge.'

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Did someone say it was "okay"? I just said that it wasn't relevant to any discussion about the Church suppressing science.

          • fredx2

            The guy was a profound kook. He had to move from patron to patron because he inevitably made whoever he was with want to hate him. He enjoyed being outrageous, and people generally kicked him out after a while because they just could not stand the guy.
            But, when Protestants needed a stick to beat the Roman church with, they found out about Bruno and suddenly he was the heroic scientist.

      • Sergio Méndez

        "Whether the Index was a "good" or "bad" thing I will leave to those who
        like their history served with value judgements. I find Presentist
        judgements of the past by the values of the present have little or no
        purpose and prefer to simply examine what happened as objectively as
        possible."

        Will you apply the same rule to slavery or things like the Holocaust? Yes, historical analisis should be based on what happened and must be objective, but then I fail to see why that is incompatible with having moral judgments of things that certainly deserve one.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

          Both slavery and the Holocaust can be and were condemned according to the morality of the time. Condemning early modern polities (ie all governments and religious institutions, not just the Catholic Church) for not upholding a principle of unfettered freedom of expression that didn't exist at that stage makes about as much sense as condemning them for not having driving licences.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            for not upholding a principle of unfettered freedom of expression that didn't exist at that stage . . .

            I think that is somewhat of a "straw man." (It is obligatory on this site to accuse people of setting up straw men at least once!) I don't think one would have needed to uphold the principle of unfettered freedom of expression at the time of Galileo to argue that he had been treated unjustly.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            The point seems to be drifting. I noted that condemning the common early modern practice of restricting the propagation of ideas by reference to a contemporary principle of freedom of expression that didn't exist makes no sense. Now you're saying that it would be possible to argue Galileo "had been treated unjustly". If you mean "treated unjustly" by the standards of his time and society, then I'd have no problem with that. If you mean "treated unjustly" by our standards that were alien to his time then that would be a nonsensical thing to do - like condemning the Inquisition for its inability to use Excel spreadsheets.

          • Sergio Méndez

            The slavery existed for many thousends of years in human history. It was condemed more recently, specially in the last centuries. So are you saying we cannot condem slavery in the time nobody condemed it morally? I think your example with driving liceces pressuposes issues of morality are some sort of relative technological development, and not philosophical principles that stand beyond time.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            I'm saying condemning people in the distant past for not thinking the way we do makes no sense. I can say "I find ancient slavery repugnant and distasteful". But to say "They were evil for enslaving others" is nonsensical. "Evil" according to who? This kind of thinking not only assumes some kind of universal objective morality but also assumes it just happens to be embodied in us.

          • http://shackra.bitbucket.org/ shackra sislock

            Oh, you was so charming, @Thiudareiks:disqus , but now this comment reminded me that you are an atheist...

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Slavery arose as an alternative to massacring a defeated enemy. As such, it was a step up. Further, it was common for people in financial straits to sell themselves into slavery, exchanging their labor for security. There were social means for manumission and for the advancement of freemen. Slavery faded away in medieval Europe, though one can find pockets along the Mediterranean coast, where a clandestine slave trade with the muslim countries was carried on. The idea that human beings could be held =as property= was revived by the Age of Reason, first on the sugar plantations of the Canaries, later in Brazil and southern North America. =Chattel= slavery with no way out, based on "scientific" assessments of natural-born slave races, was indeed evil, no matter how rational or economically advantageous it seemed.

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        I find Presentist judgements of the past by the values of the present have little or no purpose and prefer to simply examine what happened as objectively as possible.

        I don't entirely disagree with what you are saying, but there is one important fact that I think you are somewhat glossing over, and that is the fact that the Catholic Church is still around and it has not—and in fact instists that it has not—changed. At least not fundamentally. Many of the Catholics who post here will insist, for example, science must be adjusted to accommodate the biblical "fact" that the human race descended from two and only two "parents."

        Thony Christie's article is very informative, but there is something I found strange, which is the the idea that the Church was perfectly willing to come up with a rationale explaining how heliocentrism could be compatible with the Bible, but only after science proved heliocentrism to be true. But the pope's condemnation of Galileo reads in part:

        We say, pronounce, sentence, and declare that you, the said Galileo, by reason of the matters adduced in trial, and by you confessed as above, have rendered yourself in the judgment of this Holy Office vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of having believed and held the doctrine—which is false and contrary to the sacred and divine Scriptures—that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west and that the Earth moves and is not the center of the world; and that an opinion may be held and defended as probably after it has been declared and defined to be contrary to the Holy Scripture . . . .

        It really doesn't sound to me like the words of a Church on the verge of accepting heliocentrism if there were just a little more evidence.

        What's interesting is that not only was Galileo correct about the science, he was correct about the interpretation of the Bible! And yet up until quite recently, Catholics have made one argument after another that the conflict between the Church and Galileo was really all Galileo's fault. Note then-Cardinal Ratzinger's remarks of 1990 on the issue. It is true that Pope John Paul II attributed error to the theologians of Galileo's time, but many Catholics believe he was wrong to do so or was speaking personally and not for the Church.

        Thankfully, the Catholic Church really has changed in many ways since the Galileo affair (partly because of the Galileo affair), but when the Church today says there can be no true conflict between science and Catholicism, but I believe it is still the position of the Church that if scientific findings and Catholicism appear to conflict, it is science that must be wrong, since the Church considers itself infallible. To be sure, the number of issues it claims infallibility on are limited. But if science concerns itself with those areas (which include the origins of the universe, life, and humankind), the Church will not hesitate to declare science wrong.

        So I don't think it is "presentism" to make the point that by today's standards, we would judge the Church not only to have been wrong on the astronomy and wrong on the theology in the Galileo case, but by today's standards, we would find the actions of the Church in arresting and imprisoning Galilo and censoring his work to be contrary to a whole host of principles we believe in today (academic freedom, freedom of though, freedom of conscience, determination of truth by authority rather than reason, and so on), but there are those today who are the intellectual heirs of the ideas and methods of the 17th-century Church who still must be resisted. It is not "presentism" to judge the present by the standards of the present.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

          The claim that the Church has never changed and is the centre of all truth etc is certainly undermined, at least potentially, by pointing to the many historical examples of the Church behaving as badly as any other human institution. If I was debating a Catholic who makes that claim I could well use that argument. But that's only tangentially related to the Presentist claim that "they did x which we consider 'bad' now so they were 'bad' then".

          As for whether the Church was on the verge of accepting heliocentrism given enough evidence, here's Cardinal Bellarmine addressing the issue of Galilo's claims in 1616:

          "If there were a true demonstration that the sun is at the centre of the world and the earth in the third heaven, and that the sun does not circle the earth but the earth circles the sun, then one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not understand them than that what is demonstrated is false. But this is not a thing to be done in haste, and as for myself I shall not believe that there are such proofs until they are shown to me."

          Keep in mind that when he wrote this, there was a grand total of just TEN astronomers and scholars who accepted Copernicus' cosmology, with all the others rejecting it on scientific grounds, given that there were serious scientific objections to it that Galileo could not answer. And the Copernican model was just one of seven competing cosmological models being debated at the time. In that context, Bellarmine's position is not exactly unreasonable.

          As for your last comments I have no problems with condemning those today who try to apply the standards of the seventeenth century to intellectual expression today. But condemning seventeenth century people for not thinking like twenty-first century people makes zero sense.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        Not to mention, it was only in the late 18th century and early 19th century that there was empirical proof of the dual motion of the earth; viz., the work of Guglielmini and Callendrelli in discovering the eastward deflection of falling bodies (which empirically proved earth's rotation well before Foucault's pendulum) and the parallax among fixed stars (which empirically proved the earth's revolution before Bessel's similar observation). Newton gave a theoretical reason why Kepler's model (not Copernicus' model) ought to be true; but it was a proof by Euclidean geometry, a mathematical elegance sometimes mistaken for empirical demonstration. Newton knew. That's why he titled his book Principia mathematica...

  • http://wmbriggs.com/ William M. Briggs

    Doesn't seem as if book is in print here in the States. The publisher's site lists the e-book for 8 pounds. http://www.iconbooks.net/book/gods-philosophers-how-the-medieval-world-laid-the-foundations-of-modern-science-ebookpdf-443/

  • 42Oolon

    Ok, but my understanding of the Dark Ages was that they ran from the fall of Rome to around 1000, which I understood to be the early medieval period. The bright lights discussed here all seem to be occurring 500 to 1000 years after ther advent of Christendom.

    How did the light of faith lead to advancements in the first 500 years after the fall of Rome? Where is its art, architecture, literature? It took Christians 400 years to get to real power, then they waited another 500 to advance society?

    • Peter Piper

      From the OP:

      Far from being a stagnant dark age, as the first half of the Medieval Period (500-1000 AD) certainly was, the period from 1000 to 1500 AD actually saw the most impressive flowering of scientific inquiry and discovery since the time of the ancient Greeks, far eclipsing the Roman and Hellenic Eras in every respect.

      So the OP seems to agree that not much happened before 1000 AD.

      • josh

        As does the dreaded 'Scientific Advancement' graphic. It starts the Renaissance in 1300 and if one actually checks the dates on a lot of the 'proto-scientists' mentioned in the article like Bradwardine, Buridan, Oresme, etc. you find they are late Thirteenth and Fourteenth century.

        Obviously that doesn't give us an objective measure of scientific progress or how much it fell at the onset of the 'Dark Ages'. But too much of this article seems to be an attack on a curiously narrow 'Myth' with no clear proponents.

        It's a gross oversimplification at best to say that Rome was a haven of intellectual advancement that collapsed due to the rise of Christianity. But the Church wasn't some bright spot of open inquiry and careful thought. They were an authoritarian institution devoted to maintaining power and traditional dogma, and yeah, that's not conducive to developing science or rational thought. There really was a flourishing of culture and intellectual advancement during the Renaissance proceeding into the Enlightenment and beyond. A lot of this involved throwing off the received dogmas of an earlier age and the gradual development of true science. This was not the Church's doing, although some churchmen played a role.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

          By indicating that "advancement" began again in 1300, the idiotic graphic gets it wrong by about two centuries. Morte importantly, what it gets totally wrong is *why* intellectual life in the period before this had flatlined - by claiming it was due to some imaginary suppression by the wicked ol' Chuch. This is fantasy. The stagnation in western European proto-science actually began in the second century AD (ie two centuries BEFORE Christianity gained any cultural dominance) and ended in the late eleventh century (ie when Christian dominance in western Europe was nearing its peak). So the claim of the stupid graphic is total gibberish.

          Your claim the Myth has no proponents is also total nonsense. I come across them all the time. And in the next breath you proceed to parrot several of their claims, such as saying that the authoritarian Church stifled science and rational thought. Got any actual examples from the period in question, or is just waving this assertion around good enough for you? Or that there was no flourishing of intellectual advancement until "the Renaissance" and "the Enlightenment", when this is patently wrong as well.

          • josh

            Next time please reply to what I said and not to the ignorant opponent in your head. I already agreed the graphic is arbitrary and mistaken in several ways. I'm not sure why you think 1100 is the magic date for renewal in intellectual life, but I was pointing out that a lot of your examples come a lot closer to 1300 or after. The graphic doesn't actually claim it was due to active suppression, but I agree, the implication that Christianity was the primary cause is not well supported.

            I made no claim that your Myth had no proponents, only that it wasn't clear who they were. I'm sure you're smarter than many random people you've found on the internet, but I don't know anyone who claims that there was no intellectual activity in Europe before 1500 or any other arbitrary date, a 'claim' which a lot of your article seems to be devoted to debunking. Certainly, I'm not claiming that nothing happened before the Renaissance, since I'm not even picking an arbitrary date to start that period.

            Going back to what I did say, yes, I'm of the opinion that the Church is not particularly conducive to rational thought. That doesn't mean that pre-Church culture was, or that nothing happened while the Church had major power. But Aquinas and Duns Scotus and many others were theologians, not scientists. They were concerned with systematizing or reconciling received 'truths', not with questioning those 'truths'. They were careful to justify their opinions in terms of accepted authorities: Aristotle, earlier Church fathers, and scripture. That's what I call authoritarian and irrational. You yourself give the examples of the Condemnations of 1277 (and 1210), the Galileo affair, the burning of Bruno. These things really do stifle open inquiry and rational thought. They don't kill it, obviously, but that has never been the argument.

            The reality is that science and actual rational thought (to the extent that we have it) emerged gradually. For any important figure in that progression we can point to precursors in an earlier time. But that doesn't mean the Renaissance or the Enlightenment are fictions. They were approximate periods of rapid development which, not coincidentally I think, also involved movement away from scholastic tradition and Church authority. You are pointing out that there were precursors that set the stage for the later movement. That's not news. There is lots of interesting history here but you seem to have an axe to grind.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "[Y]es, I'm of the opinion that the Church is not particularly conducive to rational thought...Aquinas and Duns Scotus and many others were theologians, not scientists. They were concerned with systematizing or reconciling received 'truths', not with questioning those 'truths'. "

            Aquinas' major work, the 3,000+ page Summa Theologiae, was essentially *nothing but* him questioning the truths he believed. For every argument he gave, he himself proposed several strong refutations before answering them. What modern scientist has produced such a disputatio?

            Also, the etymology of the word "scientist" suggests "someone who studies what is known, or acquires knowledge (of something) by study." More recently the word has been constricted to the study of the natural, physical world but in Thomas' days, he would certainly qualify as a philosopher.

            Besides being a gifted theologian, concerned with divine revelation, he remains one of history's most influential philosophers--and thus a major "scientist" in the classical sense.

          • josh

            Don't kid yourself Brandon. The Summa is a rhetorical device in which Aquinas introduces his positions with an objection and then gives his contrary answer. He wasn't questioning his own beliefs, he was trying to show up his opponents. I could write a takedown of Christianity in the same style, but the style itself doesn't tell you about the quality of the arguments. A lot of his answers don't adequately address even the preemptive objections raised.

            Trying to change the modern meaning of a word based on it's etymology is just silly. It's like arguing that Aquinas is an atheist because he doesn't support the Greek pantheon. Now I don't hold that Aquinas wasn't influential, it's just that his influence was largely bad, which is why you don't find any of his ideas bandied about or taught in modern science. Unlike Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Pythagoras, al-Khwarizmi, Euclid, Kepler, Copernicas, Galileo, Newton, Leibniz and many others. These people are proto-scientists or scientists because they contributed something lasting, even though they may have had very unmodern ideas as well. Aquinas isn't in that league at all.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Don't kid yourself Brandon. The Summa is a rhetorical device in which Aquinas introduces his positions with an objection and then gives his contrary answer. He wasn't questioning his own beliefs, he was trying to show up his opponents. I could write a takedown of Christianity in the same style, but the style itself doesn't tell you about the quality of the arguments."

            I obviously don't agree the Summa was simply "a rhetorical device." That's like calling Beethoven's 9th symphony "a noise device."

            Yet still, while Thomas' aim *was* to argue for the validity of Catholicism, he did question his own beliefs--literally. His magnum opus is a book of questions. He carefully proposed and engaged the very best arguments against his own positions, often formulating them far stronger than their original proponents did, and then he answers them.

            I only invited you to propose a modern scientist--particularly a modern atheist writing on religion--who engages alternative opinions with the same depth. When you examine the way Aquinas treated his opponents' questions to the way someone like Richard Dawkins or Lawrence Krauss does, I think it's clear who is most afraid of questioning their own beliefs.

          • josh

            The style is a rhetorical device which says nothing about the content. I should have been clearer. I don't think he addresses the best arguments against him and his answers don't hold up. He is content to give a reply while sweeping aside the meat of pertinent arguments.

            Most of modern science is written in a style to build a case for a particular claim and to argue why alternatives don't work. Since modern scientists are more honest/less naive they are usually very cautious to state where there arguments might break down. They also aren't usually trying to build up an entire system of thought but are working in a well established one. To understand the system I suggest you look through a comprehensive, well regarded textbook in any scientific field. You'll find a thorough discussion of the theories being discussed and the exceptions that might apply, as well as the evidence backing those theories.

            It's not a question of being afraid. It's a question of actually holding ones own beliefs up to scrutiny. If you want the atheist case for this then pick up a philosophical work on atheism. Dawkins is writing for a popular audience.

          • Breezeyguy

            Wow - I couldn't let this go. Aquinas was an absolute master at stating the strongest arguments on both sides of any question. You obviously don't know this subject.

          • David Nickol

            Aquinas was an absolute master at stating the strongest arguments on both sides of any question.

            Yes, but isn't it a little suspicious that no matter how many arguments he brings up against his own position, he always wins?

          • Breezeyguy

            It's not about "how many", but rather that he answers each objection individually.

          • Imp the Vladaler

            You're surprised that someone agrees with his own opinion?

          • David Nickol

            You're surprised that someone agrees with his own opinion?

            Not all jokes begin, "A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar . . . . "

          • Imp the Vladaler

            There's a lot of stupid in these comments. "Can't tell if trolling or just stupid" is in full effect.

          • JamesonC

            "but the style itself doesn't tell you about the quality of the arguments. A lot of his answers don't adequately address even the preemptive objections raised."

            You are right. If only he'd turn down the literary flourishes, seriously! He just insists on dragging on about arguments, distinctions, and details necessary for logical deductions and inferences. Its his damned determination for consistency, clarity and that thing so misunderstood these days, truth. Obviously the work of a master rhetorician, reaching for the low hanging fruit and seeking the cheap thrill in lambasting his intellectual foes. If only he'd have had a telescope the Summa would have been much better...

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Thomas made the distinction between a quality and its quantitative extension; e.g., between heat and temperature. In his day, there were no instruments that could measure most of these quantities, but one must first recognize that something =is= measurable before setting out to try to measure it. He also noted when discussing astronomy that:
            The suppositions that these astronomers have invented [epicycles, etc.] need not necessarily be true; for perhaps the phenomena of the stars are explicable on some other plan not yet discovered by men. -- De coelo, II, lect. 17

            And in passing while discussing another matter he mentioned
            Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning. -- Summa theologica, I.73.1 adv.3

            The most important advance [if one must think Whiggishly] was the notion that God has endowed material being with natures capable of acting directly upon one another. Thomas compared this to a shipwright who could give his lumber the power to form itself into a ship. [Commentary on Physics II.8, lecture 14, no. 268].

            This idea of secondary causation is a sine qua non of natural science, and the rejection of this notion in the House of Submission is what stifled natural science there.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            I'm not sure why you think 1100 is the magic date for renewal in intellectual life

            Probably something to do with the Twelfth Century revival acknowledged by historians of western thought since Charles Homer Haskins' seminal work on the subject back in 1927.

            I don't know anyone who claims that there was no intellectual activity in Europe before 1500 or any other arbitrary date ... a 'claim' which a lot of your article seems to be devoted to debunking.

            I know plenty who claim there was no rational examination of the physical and natural world of the kind done by the Greeks in this period. And I know of plenty of them who also claim that this was due to some kind of suppression of ideas by the Church. Anyone can see that this is what my article is actually debunking. Are you seriously telling me that no-one makes this claim (as opposed to the broader strawman version you proposed)?

            Aquinas and Duns Scotus and many others were theologians, not scientists

            Did I claim Aquinas was a "scientist"? Where? Scotus, however, most certainly was. At least, he was a "scientst" in the shorthand sense of "a philosopher who applied (some) observation and rigorous logical induction to develop consistent ideas about the physical world that
            could be built upon logically", in the Greek tradition. As I said to Peter Piper above, if Scotus and the others I listed are not scientists then neither were Aristotle and the other Greek philosophers who are reguarly presented as scientists. You can't have it both ways.

            They were concerned with systematizing or reconciling received 'truths', not with questioning those 'truths'.

            Really? So what was Nicholas of Cusa doing when he proposed a multiplitiy of worlds in the cosmos, extraterrestrial life on those worlds and the idea that the earth was not the centre of the universe? Sounds pretty "questioning" to me.

            You yourself give the examples of the Condemnations of 1277 (and 1210), the Galileo affair, the burning of Bruno.

            What free inquiry about actual astronomy or physics did burning the mystic Bruno "stifle" again? And the condemnations you mention applied to Paris only and were pretty much ignored (why do you think they had to keep repeating them until eventually they gave up?). As "stifling" goes this is pretty weak stuff. Which leaves you with Galileo - the post-medieval exception that people who try to make this "stifling" argument always have to pretend represented the much earlier rule. Why can't you find a medieval Galileo?

            PS They didn't haul NIcholas of Cusa before the Inquisition, they made him a cardinal. ;>

          • josh

            Aren't you now ignoring the Carolingian Renaissance? Your argument would be much better if you didn't imply that we have to take some graphic super literally but not you.

            "I know plenty who..." Could you find them and argue with them please? Your debunking of a monolithic myth that someone somewhere holds goes too far in the other direction, IMO. We can agree that history isn't really composed of straight lines and linear functions without whitewashing the real problems with scholarly authoritarian thinking and Church influence at the time.

            Aquinas also followed in Aristotle's footsteps so I'm not sure what the basis for your distinction is. See above about 'scientists'.

            "So what was Nicholas of Cusa doing when..." Living in the 15th century not being Aquinas or Scotus, to whom I was referring.

            "What free inquiry about actual astronomy or physics did burning the mystic Bruno "stifle" again?" From what I can tell, among the charges were refusing to recant ideas of terrestrial movement and multiple worlds. But I actually think it's a problem to burn people for purely theological reasons as well.

            "As "stifling" goes this is pretty weak stuff." Now what you are actually arguing is that the Church didn't have the complete power or uniformity of doctrine to enforce its decrees, which is true. Depending on time and place the Church could be relatively liberal or impotent. I don't see why we should ignore the negative effects when it was conservative and active, though. I can't say how science would have progressed in the absence of the Church; but I can say that burning people, banning books, imprisoning, torturing, denouncing heretics, declaring infallible dogma based on revelation and authority, and threatening all of the above didn't help.

            Pointing to one person who was persecuted and another who made out all right doesn't negate persecution or its chilling effect.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Aren't you now ignoring the Carolingian Renaissance?

            Unless you can show me some Greek natural philosophy/proto-science that was revived in the Carolingian period, I'm not counting the Carolingian revival of literacy and education for good reason.

            Could you find them and argue with them please?

            You said that I was arguing with people who claimed there was "no intellectual activity in Europe". I was correcting you about who I was actually arguing with and assuring you that they do indeed exist.

            Aquinas also followed in Aristotle's footsteps so I'm not sure what the basis for your distinction is.

            Aquinas followed in Aristotle's footsteps on metaphysics. Not physics. Or anything else do with the the physical, natural world. Scotus, on the other hand, did physics, in the tradition of Aristotle.

            ... not being Aquinas or Scotus, to whom I was referring.

            Okay. Then Scotus was still examining the physical world via "(some) observation and rigorous logical induction to develop consistent ideas about the physical world that
            could be built upon logically" I keep coming back to my definition of what both the Greek and the medieval scholars were doing.

            among the charges were refusing to recant ideas of terrestrial movement and multiple worlds

            I've just given you the example of Nicholas of Cusa who posited inhabited multiple worlds and was made a cardinal. So clearly this was not a problem. In fact, the possibility of a plurality of worlds was a commonplace. The charges against Bruno said nothing about terrestrial movement (also hypothesised by Cusanus) and were focused purely on his views on the incarnation, transubstantiation and the virgin birth. Nothing to do with science.

            I actually think it's a problem to burn people for purely theological reasons as well.

            That's understandable but totally irrelevant.

            Now what you are actually arguing is that the Church didn't have the complete power or uniformity of doctrine to enforce its decrees

            Partially. But what I'm saying more pertinently is that the parameters for what was allowable for scholars to inquire about were actually remarkably wide, as the example of Cusanus and many others show. The caricature of the medieval Church as rigidly and narrowly restricting speculation is simply nonsense. This is why you have to resort to broad generalisations about "infallible dogma" but can't actually come up with a single example from the period where this restricted inquiry about the natural world. .

          • josh

            As pointed out above, Aristotle isn't considered a good direction for 'physics' to go (nor metaphysics), the usual story is that deference to him held physics in Europe back. So saying that Scotus did physics in his tradition doesn't incline me to see that as an advancement of science. You've given your definition but I really can't see how you mean it to be applied.

            Again, pointing to Nicholas of Cusa doesn't somehow disprove the effect of Catholic doctrine and decrees on other people in other places and times. Burning people for holding unorthodox ideas is not irrelevant. Of course the Church didn't ban inquiry into the natural world generally, they attempted to ban conclusions about the natural world when they thought it contradicted sacredly revealed truths. Given the diversity of European and Church politics this was never going to be completely successful. What would count for you as restricting inquiry, since bans, denunciations, censorship, imprisonment and death apparently don't qualify?

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Aristotle isn't considered a good direction for 'physics' to go

            Goalpost shifting again - the issue isn't whether Aristotle's physics as "good", it's whether Scotus (and the medievals) physics was done the same way as that of Aristotle (and the Greeks). And it was. So if we can call the Greeks "scientists" (in our already qualified definition of that word) then we can do the same with the medievals.

            Burning people for holding unorthodox ideas is not irrelevant.

            Unless you can finally give me an example of anyone being burned, imprisoned or otherwise sanctioned for speculating about the physical world, it's totally irrelevant. Cusanus is an example of how wide medieval speculation ranged because the parameters for such speculation was wide. The parameters for speculation on theology were not, but we aren't discussing theology here. You keep muddling things up.

            What would count for you as restricting inquiry, since bans, denunciations, censorship, imprisonment and death apparently don't qualify?

            Show me bans, denunciations, censorship, imprisonment and death imposed for speculation about the physical world. Anything else is irrelevant hand-flapping as a substitute for relevant evidence.

          • josh

            I don't agree that we can call the Greeks scientists, or at least I not by adopting your standards, and the original question to me seems to be about progress in science, not an abstract definition of 'scientist'.

            I actually am discussing theological speculation as well, since I've been talking about rational and open inquiry, and, as stated, the issue is when theological premises intersect with ideas about the natural world.

            "Show me bans, denunciations, censorship..."

            Condemnations of 1210: forbids Aristotle's natural philosophy.
            Condemnations of 1270: bans the proposition that the world is eternal and that there was never a first human.
            1277:more of same.

            So now we can go back to arguing that those don't count because they weren't Europe-wide, or they didn't effectively end all science. Or why Galileo and Copernicus don't count because reasons.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Josh,

            It seems to me as though the condemnations you list are not clearly pro-science or anti-science (although they seem pretty anti-free-thought). After all, if what you say about the Condemnation of 1270 is correct, they got it right! The observable universe isn't eternal and there were first humans. It's an accident that the condemnations were right, but hey, what a convenient accident!

            Duhem thought that the condemnations ultimately helped science along. Maybe other historians and philosophers of science think the same ( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/condemnation/ ). The condemnations of 1277 seemed to Duhem exceptionally important since they challenged Aristotelianism and proposed a two-truths idea about philosophy and theology, effectively secularizing philosophy (esp. natural philosophy). This would seem to have the effect of protecting scientific speculation from accusations of heresy, although it didn't seem to help Galileo much. A sign that the 1277 condemnations might have been good for the enlightenment is that the Church later threw them out (they were hard to square with Thomistic philosophy).

            I agree with you that Tim's answer to the Galileo affair is very hand-wavy. Maybe Tim's right and Galileo didn't have solid evidence that the earth goes around the sun and not t'other way 'round. I've defended scientific hypotheses without having solid evidence, and no one's placed me under house arrest yet.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "I've defended scientific hypotheses without having solid evidence, and no one's placed me under house arrest yet."

            But you also haven't--at least to my knowledge--paraded around with new theological ideas derived from your unproven hypotheses.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            And if I did I still wouldn't be under house arrest. Because the Church doesn't have that sort of power anymore. And that's a very very good thing.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Perhaps. But disciplining theologians for propagating heresy is far different than the punishing scientists for new scientific theories.

            Your original quote insinuated the Church put people under house arrest merely for unproven scientific hypotheses. This is not true.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Contrary to the way the affair is usually depicted, the real sticking point was the fact that the scientific objections to heliocentrism at the time were still powerful enough to prevent its acceptance. Cardinal Bellarmine made it clear to Galileo in 1616 that if those scientific objections could be overcome then scripture could and would be reinterpreted. But while the objections still stood, the Church, understandably, was hardly going to overturn several centuries of exegesis for the sake of a flawed theory.

            Tim says here that if the scientific evidence were stronger then the scripture would have been reinterpreted and Galileo wouldn't have been in trouble. If Tim's right, then Galileo's being under house arrest was a result of his supporting a poorly evidenced theory. But you disagree with Tim, it seems.

            If, on the other hand, you are right and Tim is wrong, then it's still bad for science. Scientists have all sorts of strange ideas about God and the universe, and restricting the range of scientific expression because of theological beliefs will harm science.

          • fredx2

            Also remember that in the time of Galileo, the Pope was the leader of a nation state. So where the interest of the nation state interfered with that of the church is not clear. After all, it is alleged that nothing would have happened to Galileo if he had not insulted the Pope in one of his books.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It was a plea bargain, dude. Galileo had bad rheumatism and hardly ever left his villa or his townhouse even before he was sentenced to stick around his villa and his townhouse. Machiavellian Italy was all into face-saving symbolic gestures.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            1. The geomobile hypothesis had been falsified by the Greeks since: a) if the earth rotated there would be Coriolis effects and b) if the earth revolved there would be parallax among the fixed stars. There wasn't.* Thus:

            2. Geostationary theories were what you might call "settled science" or "the scientific consensus." Because of this

            3. The ancient Church Fathers had read certain Biblical passages as scientifically literal rather than phenomenologically.

            4. Astronomy was not physics. It was a specialized branch of mathematics, along with perspectiva and music. Aristotelian physics had no provision for deferants, equants, epicycles, and the like. Therefore, such mechanisms were presented simply as mathematical devices to "save the appearances." There was no supposition that they be physically real.

            5. Copernicus, a canon of Frauenburg Cathedral once short-listed for the bishop's chair, recalculated the math under the assumption that the sun was near the center of the world and produced the Prutenic Tables. He had no physical or empirical evidence for this assumption; nor did he do a lot of star-gazing to "discover" it.

            6. The Copernican math model contained more epicycles than the then-current edition of Ptolemy's Almagestum. Each planet had a separate orbit of revolution, and none of them were the Sun, per se. (Rather, the center of the Earth's orbit was the privileged reference frame.

            7. Dissatisfied, Tycho Brahe made new, precise observations using modern, calibrated instruments. His tables proved more accurate than either the Alphonsine Tables used by the Ptolemaics or the Prutenic Tables used by the Copernicans, since both were based on old data that had been corrupted by many centuries of accumulated copyist errors.

            8. Tycho proposed an updated Heracledian model: all the planets but the Moon orbited the Sun, and the Sun and Moon orbited the Earth. The Earth might or might not rotate, but the lack of parallax ruled out her revolution around the Sun. Mathematically, the Tychonic model was equivalent to the Copernican model. The only difference is which inertial reference frame was taken as absolute.

            9. Galileo, who was a Platonist, believed that the Copernican model was physically fact and not merely mathematically true. He believed this before he acquired a telescope or made any discoveries.

            10. Copernicanism had been circulating for 70+ years with nary a peep. Everyone assumed that like all astronomy, it was simply a mathematical model. Because of 1a) and 1b), above, the physicists of the day thought the Earth's revolution was b) "absurd in philosophy" and her rotation was at least a) "suspect in philosophy." Because of this:

            11. Theologians, relying on settled science and the fact that the Church Fathers had relied upon and employed the imagery, when finally pressed, decided that b) was "formally heretical" (meaning it had the form of heresy) and a) was "vehemently suspect of heresy" (meaning it might be). However, a board of eleven theologians cannot authoritatively declare anything to be a heresy. Late Moderns might not know this, but Early Moderns did.

            12. Even this might not have happened, but that the Protestant Revolution had everyone gun-shy about scriptural exegesis. The Church had always held the scriptures were primarily moral teachings and that other readings (literal, historical) should be abandoned when there was certain knowledge to the contrary.

            13. Galileo was writing to people telling them how scriptures ought to be interpreted. He had sprinkled the draft of Letters on Sunspots with religious imagery and references and had accused his enemies of being unGodly, but the censors had forced him to remove such things. Scripture was not supposed to be reinterpreted a) by amateurs on b) a mere unproven hypothesis.

            14. Galileo had no evidence that the Earth was in motion -- and here you might pause and think (without googling) how you personally might go about proving that she is with the instruments available in 1600-1630 -- he was admonished teach Copernicanism only as useful mathematics (as the Jesuits were already doing) and not as physical fact. He agreed and received a certificate to that effect.

            15. Galileo spent the rest of his life looking for empirical evidence of the Earth's dual motion and never found it. His various proofs -- the track of the sunspots, the diurnal tides -- were bogus. In fact, in most places, the tides are semi-diurnal, but he would rather believe his theory than what sailors told him. We know from his notebooks that he had actually tried his own experiment of finding parallax in close optical doubles of one bright and one dim star, found none, falsifying his own theory, and simply kept mum about the contrary results.

            16. Nothing that happened to Galileo impeded the advance of science for the excellent reason that Galileo discovered nothing that was not also discovered by others, sometimes before Galileo. In particular, Kepler, who abandoned the Copernican model of pure Platonic circles and tried ellipses instead, thus coming up with the correct model -- which Galileo adamantly ignored -- championed a geomobile theory without being bothered by the religious authorities, even though he was a deviant Lutheran working in a Catholic Austria -- he was at the time the Imperial Mathematician.

            17. Theories of history, especially those that insist on the malign or beneficent effects of this or that institution -- perhaps from magical emanations from their penumbras -- are usually wrong. History is always particular and local. That is why it is always helpful to study what actually happened. Rely on empirical data rather than on stereotypes of how you think people ought to have behaved.

            18. Empirical evidence that the Earth moved was discovered in 1725. When this became known in Italian, the books were removed from the Index. But the evidence was hard to detect and required specialized knowledge.

            19. Guglielmini discovered Coriolis effects in falling bodies in the 1790s, providing a direct empirical answer to 1b).

            20. Callendrielli discovered parallax in a-Lyrae in 1803, providing a direct empirical answer to 1a).

            21. Newton had already provided a theory of universal gravitation that gave rational grounds for supposing that Kepler's model ought to be true (and Tycho's and Copernicus' models were false). Ptolemy's model had been dropped like a hot rock when the phases of Venus were discovered back in 1610 by Galileo, Marius, Harriot, and Lembo.

            22. Settele incorporated this results in the second edition of his Elements of Optics and Astronomy, presented it to the Holy Office and said here's the empirical evidence that Bellarmine asked for in 1616. The Office agreed, and lifted the ban on teaching geomobility as empirical fact in 1820. That's a long time to hold out for empirical evidence!

            Hope this helps.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            I don't agree that we can call the Greeks scientists

            That's your prerogative I suppose. Whatever you want to call them, they were certainly "philosophers who applied (some) observation and rigorous logical induction to develop consistent ideas about the physical world that could be built upon logically. As were the medieval scholars I mentioned. Unless you are disagreeing with me on that you aren't disagreeing with me at all.

            the issue is when theological premises intersect with ideas about the natural world

            And your problem is that the parameters of what was acceptable to inquire about in the natural world before anything theological was encroached upon was extremely wide. Which is why you can't give me a single example of a medieval thinker's inquiry about the natural world being suppressed, and why I can give you examples just as NIcholas of Cusa where his speculation ran as far as a moving earth, a centreless cosmos and extraterrestrials.

            Condemnations of 1210: forbids Aristotle's natural philosophy.

            Yes, a ban so broad that everyone simply ignored it. Which is why the theologians had to try again with more specific restrictions on particular ideas. Which also go ignored.

            bans the proposition that the world is eternal and that there was never a first human.

            Which are the only two that even touch on anything to do with the physical world. I'm not sure what scientific idea the first one would restrict before the invention of radio telescopes. They were ignored anyway. And only promulgated in one university out of hundreds. This is the best you can come up with for science-stifling oppression? Thanks for making my case for me.

            Or why Galileo and Copernicus don't count because reasons.

            Reasons like the fact that was long after the Middle Ages and we are talking about the Middle Ages. Reasons like that.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Pierre Duhem regarded the Condemnation of 1277 as "the birth year of science" because it essentially scuttled the Aristotelian tendency to argue from first principles. Afterward, scientific investigations had to rely more and more on empirical observation. So the Condemnations said there might be a Big Bang or there was a Y-chromosome Adam. They also condemned the Aristotelian claims that there could not be other worlds, that there could not be a vacuum, etc.

            The immediate cause was a jurisdictional dispute in the University of Paris between the Arts Faculty and the Theological Faculty, with the former trespassing on the latter's turf.

          • fredx2

            I think you are missing the forest for the trees. In the early middle ages, we have a flowering of intellectual inquiry. This comes from church institutions, and was partly theological, partly not. Rigorous argumentation about theology led to a similar rigorous, reason-based exploration of the natural world by the scholastics.
            True, along the way, there were bans, and condemnations. But like today, often the Pope is completely ignored (as on abortion). The church has never been the all powerful institution that some claim. You fail to ask how effective were these bans. Sometimes effective, sometimes entirely not.
            But none of that contradicts the notion that the church really was the driver behind much of scientific inquiry. The fact that it went overboard, or did some things wrong is to be expected in any institution.
            Also, it must be realized that at least some of the criticism arose only after the break off of the Protestants. They needed to justify their actions, and anything they could find to bash the Catholics was used - the black legends, etc.
            In addition, some of the problems took, place at the time of the "bad popes". Didn't you ever wonder why the Medici family was appointing Popes? Why Henry II of England could appoint his close friend, Thomas More to be head of the church in England? At times, the government of the day had control of the Church. Same with Charles V - he was appointing many bishops in the new world.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Burning people for holding unorthodox ideas is not irrelevant.

            They sometimes burned them for heresy; but not for merely "unorthodox ideas." This is simply a non-threatening way of referring to people who in the context of the times were subversives and revolutionaries, often literally so, since heresy was frequently a sublimation of some nationalist or class movement. E.g., the Armleder of the early 14th century espoused heresy while they roamed the Rhineland burning manor houses and hanging Jews. Their ideas were unorthodox indeed.

          • Breezeyguy

            Persistent formal teaching of rejected ideas was considered anti-societal behavior. The Church might judge the ideas, but it was the State that judged the persistence and carried out any punishments.

          • fredx2

            Wait. So when the church follows Aristotle's ideas, it "held society back".
            But when the Greeks followed Aristotle, it pushed them forward? So Aristotle is really a bad influence?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Actually, the Aristotelian idea that there could NOT be a multiplicity of worlds was one of the propositions condemned in 1277. Another was that there could NOT be a vacuum, and so on. Another was that something could be true in philosophy while remaining false in religion. The Bishop (who was rector of the University of Paris, iirc) declared that God could have created a multiplicity of worlds or a vacuum, etc. if he had wanted, and that Truth was one and undivided. If something in philosophy appeared to contradict something in theology, then either the philosophy or the theology (or both) were misunderstood.

            This led to an increased emphasis on observation and experiment in natural philosophy. The notion that Aristotle might have been wrong about some things wriggled its way into the Western mind.

          • JoFro

            I'm sure I read somewhere that the Condemnations of 1277 actually helped scientific inquiry in the long run because they specifically condemned certain Aristotelian aspects that were not conductive to rational thought. it made many scientists of the day to end their fascination with Aristotle as the perfect teacher and historians seem to agree that the condemnations allowed science "to consider possibilities that the great philosopher never envisioned." According to the historian of science Richard Dales, they "seem definitely to have promoted a freer and more imaginative way of doing science." So, not really sure why the condemnations are attacked as anti-science, when they were anti-some of aristotle's belief systems!

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The Renaissance was decadence, declared Henri Matisse. It was a slavish imitation of Greek and Roman art and architecture of the Periclean and Augustinian eras, resp. They thought the cathedral of Chartres was ugly because it did not conform to the norms of a dead civilization. The period saw a movement away from Aristotelian empiricism and toward Platonic idealism, and a revival of interest in astrology and hermetic mysticism.

            In any case, the Renaissance did not begin in 1300, but much later (depending on country: the Renaissance was a What, not a When). Mr. Walker (the chartmaker) reacting to the criticism moved the start back to 1300. Oddly, during the real Renaissance, very little scientific advancement occurred. Anyone reading the works of Galileo and Nicholas d'Oresme would suppose the former to have been a student of the latter rather than two hundred years later.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          So on the one hand they were not scientificalistic like good old Aristotle; and then they were not scientificalistic because they didn't throw off the received dogmas of an earlier age; viz., Aristotle. Cute.

          Of course, the middle ages was infamous for its devotion to rational thought, even daring to apply it to their own religious doctrines. See the Summa theologica for details. And the dialectic illustrated by the structure of the Summa was the basic pattern for the university training in natural philosophy, which was based on logical disputation and what Edward Grant called "a culture of poking around" and Asking Questions. Do not criticize the foundations because they don't look like a penthouse.

        • fredx2

          'But the Church wasn't some bright spot of open inquiry and careful thought. They were an authoritarian institution devoted to maintaining power and traditional dogma, and yeah, that's not conducive to developing science or rational thought."
          Actually, in an odd way, the church's need for theology brought about a bout of critical and rigorous thinking. After all, those theologians had to win their arguments about what the bible meant, and to win those arguments, they had to prove to the rest of the world that their argument was the best.
          As a result of this burst of critical rationalizing and argument, the bleed over into natural philosopy was obvious and inevitable. So - Christians basically become dominant in Europe in 900-1000, and shortly thereafter, perhaps due to the need to do theology, rigorous thinking began and exploded into non-theological topics.

    • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

      I think Eastern Christendom was involved at least in some high culture and philosophy during the time, with impressive art, architecture and literature.

      I wonder also about what has happened with Islam. Medieval Islam was connected to many advancements in optics, astronomy, medicine, literature and philosophy. They helped preserve the writings of the great Greek humanists. What brought them where they are now?

      • 42Oolon

        World War I

        • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

          Would you elaborate, or could you provide some references for me to read? I don't know much about the effect of WWI on Islam. Thanks :)

          • fredx2

            Thanks to World War I, the Ottoman Turkish empire was defeated and destroyed. It shattered. It was the last Caliphate, from then on, Islam was not under one leader.

          • JoFro

            Islam was only under one leader for a short time after Muhammad. It broke off into two parts Shia and Sunni within a few years after his death. The Ottoman Empire was the last Sunni Caliphate and the idea of one Caliph over all the others died with it, when the President of the newly created Turkish Republic, Ataturk, decided to disband the Islamic Caliphate itself!

      • ziad

        In my opinion (based on mild study of Islamic History when I was in Iraq - I am from there), the reason why medieval Islam flourished because their governing body was secularist, not Islamist. They were loosely tide to Islam, and were more open to other religions. In fact, many of their doctors and scientists were Christian Arabs and Chaldeans (or neo-Aramaic people). Baghdad had one of the biggest Libraries in the world at the time, but few invasions occurred that affected the strength of the central government, and eventually fell to the hands of the mongols. The mongols destroyed the library and threw all books into the Tigris river.
        After that, the Ottomans were the main strong force that took control over the Islamic land. They were not as secular. So the advancements stopped during their reign.

        • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

          Thanks, ziad. The answer I heard before, from a Turkish physicist, was very close to your own. He also mentioned an Islamic theology that emphasized predestination, and thought that this philosophy was detrimental to scientific progress in Muslim countries.

      • fredx2

        Global Warming.
        No, seriously.
        If you check out the Medieval warming period, it appears to have extinguished the Muslims - simply because not enough food could be grown to support a large, vigorous culture. And that same warming gave Europe more growing time, etc. so they flourished.

        • JoFro

          Huh? Wasn't there a mini-ice age in the Middle Ages that caused the downfall of the Renaissance of the 12th and 13th centuries and the horrors of the 14th century like the Black Plague and the ruin of fields?

    • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

      The pejorative term "the Dark Ages" gets used in various ways, often being used to refer to the Middle Ages as a whole (500-1500 AD). It is slowly coming to be used more carefully to refer to the early Middle Ages, though even then its value-laden aspect means many historians avoid it altogether.

      As for people "waiting" to "advance society" - the whole of civilisation collapsed, vast amounts of learning was lost (apart from what the Church was able to preserve) and then there were centuries of fragmentation, invasion, disruption, economic decline and general chaos. Do you really think not much was happening in intellectual life because people were just "waiting"?

      When the invasions slowed, economic life revived, politics stablised and educational infrastructure began to rebuild we get the explosion of intellectual and cultural vigor that is the Twelfth Century revival. In other words, the revival came as soon as it could. They weren't "waiting" - they were busy trying to survive and trying to protect what fragments they had saved from the collapse from the storm around them.

      • 42Oolon

        I can accept that. But as far as the myth was concerned, I understood it was more about the centuries following the fall of Rome. I certainly agree that we can't pin the fall of Rome or say the decline in aqueduct building on the church.

        But the Pope has recently said that faith is the light of illumination or some such. One might expect a flourishing of arts and science in the years after Jesus. We don't.at best we find no influence. At worse we find a barrier. I,make no causal argument but compared to the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Persians, and others Western Christian society didn't have much to show until 1000 years after it all began. I would say that something other than Christ's message is responsible for the development.

        I do have some insight into the church's influence on the arts and this was negative. The reason so much art was religious in the medieval period was that that was all that was allowed. Only around 1500 does theatre re-emerge.

        • D Minor

          It's been about 30 years since I took an art history class so I'm going out on a limb here, but I wonder at your assertion that religious art was "all that was allowed." Certainly the Church was a major art patron; if you were an enterprising young artist it made sense to get a religious art job. But plenty of examples of secular art remain from the Middle Ages. Quite a few illuminated manuscripts include battle scenes, historical scenes, landscapes, animals realistic and fantastic, and scenes from Arthurian and other romances. The Bayeux tapestry was probably begun within a few years of the Norman conquest. And although they weren't universally popular with churchmen, the exteriors of medieval churches and cathedrals were frequently decorated with gargoyles or shiela-na-gigs, which weren't exactly religious motifs and may have been holdovers from earlier pagan cultures.
          There were occasional prohibitions on certain artistic pursuits, and a couple of Islamic-induced bouts of Iconoclasm in the East, but that hardly amounts to a general ban on secular art. If you can point me in the direction of evidence of same, I'd welcome the education.
          --cminor (too lazy to get my own google sign-in)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The gargoyles were run-off gutters for rain and snow; but the medievals, while eminently practical, could not place a gutter without playing with it. There is a famous example on the Dear Lady Church in Freiburg-i-Br, where the gargoyle stretches his arse out over the market square and the rain runs out his butt. Locally, it is known as "The Shitter."

          • D Minor

            :-) Earthy folks, those medievals. I had to explain sheelas to the husband, which prompted him to channel his inner medieval stonecutter: "Father, oy've got just the thing for that bare spot over the door."
            --Cminor

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Say after me:
      Goths, Franks, Saxons, Vandals, Lombards, Saracens, Vikings, Magyars.
      Goths, Franks, Saxons, Vandals, Lombards, Saracens, Vikings, Magyars.

      Repeat until the significance of the Battle of Lechfeld in AD 1000 soaks in. Folks may have had other things on their minds before then. Burgundy, in the center of Western Europe, was ravaged by all of the above [except maybe by the Lombards] at one time or another. The Saracens maintained a jihadi castle in the Alps into the 9th century, choking commerce between Francia and Italia. (Ditto, their stranglehold on the Med islands.) As fast as the monks would write things down, the Vikings would come and burn things up. The site of Genoa was uninhabited for two generations after the Tunisians sacked it. Paris was besieged by Vikings (and saved by Roderick the Beardless) and Rome was besieged by Arabs. The collapse of civil administration led to depopulation of the Western towns, as citizens sold themselves into serfdom for the protection of the local count or [later] earl. Even so, the age is called 'dark' more because their writings have not survived the shipwrecks of time, not because everyone suddenly turned stupid. That is, it is dark =to us.= They could see just fine. Think about how much of our high acid paper and electronic records will still be readable in 500 years. We're living a 'dark ages', too!

    • fredx2

      Europe was mostly pagan until about the year 900-1000. (Remember Beowulf, the Daneland, the Vikings, etc?)
      So Christians took over in about the year 1000 and promplty thereafter, science started in europe. Not much science under the Goths, the Franks, the Celts, the Saxons, or the Huns.

  • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

    Bravo!!! Excellent review.

  • MattyTheD

    Wow, heck of a review, Tim. Outstanding.

  • Thomas W

    Thanks for a very good review and discussion of the dogmatists on both sides of the religious argument "interpreting" the facts to fit their views.

  • Alden Smith

    I congratulate Tim on a well written article. If you are going piss someone off better to piss everyone off then just one group its only fair

  • Dave Appleby

    I am much less knowledgeable about mediaeval learning than you are but for the general reader such as myself God's Philosophers was brilliant. Here is my review http://bit.ly/17q57gS

    I think the key thing is to acknowledge that the political instability following the end of the Roman Empire in Western Europe probably did lead to a stagnation in learning. The great advances were being made for a while by the Moslem world: it was richer and so more able to afford people doing not immediately productive work such as learning; it was more stable so these people were more able to communicate and travel and meet one another; it was probably more literate; it was more confident so it could tolerate potentially subversive ideas. Nevertheless, advances were made in Christian Western Europe although some of these were inevitably reinventing wheels because earlier knowledge was not easily accessible.

    What staggers me is how brilliant so many of these thinkers were. It must be much more difficult to develop ideas from virtually scratch than to do a Newton and stand on the shoulders of giants. When you encounter an exchange of letters between two people reading Euclid for the first time and trying to work out what he is going on about because the only book they have is not the first book so there are foundational concepts they don't understand you realise how tough a job some of them had. People in the Dark Ages weren't stupid but they were challenged by their political and economic circunmstances.

  • ftidus12

    Interesting as always, Mr. O'Neill.

  • domy

    "Just because persecution wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and just
    because some thinkers weren’t always the nicest of people, doesn’t mean
    that interfering in their work and banning their ideas was justifiable
    then or is justifiable now."

    Michael J. Behe and Stephen C. Meyer would completely agree with Nina Power...

  • http://shackra.bitbucket.org/ shackra sislock

    This blog post may sound like an heresy for the atheists, specially coming from a scholar atheist on this topic.

    That´s the funny part, thought xd.

  • David Marshall

    An excellent review. I had posted "the most wrong thing on the Internet ever" on my own blog, and had some fun with it, at one point. It is reassuring to find an atheist with such good historical sense: I have grown tired of correcting elementary errors.

    At what point in time do you suppose the critical mass of scientific thought in western Europe surpassed that of the ancient Greeks?

  • tildeb

    Tim, you say the most extraordinary thing here:

    "Cardinal Bellarmine made it clear to Galileo in 1616 that if those
    scientific objections could be overcome then scripture could and would
    be reinterpreted."

    As someone who has read quite a bit of Ballarmine about the Galileo Affair, I have not come across this. Would you be so kind as to tell me where you came across this idea and source it for me?

    Thanks.

    • Rick DeLano

      Bellarmine to Foscarini, April 12, 1615:

      "Thirdly I say that whenever a true
      demonstration would be produced that
      the sun stands in the center of the world
      and the earth in the third heaven, and that
      the sun does not rotate around the earth but
      the earth around the sun, then at that time
      it would be necessary to proceed with
      great caution in interpreting the Scriptures
      which seem to be contrary and it would
      be better to say that we do not understand
      them than to say that what has been
      demonstrated is false. But I will not
      believe that there is such a demonstration,
      until it is shown to me. To demonstrate
      that the assumption that the sun is located
      in the center and the earth in the heavens
      saves the appearances is not the same thing
      as to demonstrate that in truth the sun is
      located in the center and the earth in the
      heavens. The first demonstration, I believe,
      can be given; but I have the greatest doubts
      about the second. And in case of doubt one
      should not abandon the Sacred Scriptures..."

      ------as translated by Richard Blackwell in Galileo,
      Bellarmine and the Bible, pp. 265-267, cited in "Galileo Was Wrong", Robert Sungenis and Robert Bennett, Volume II, p. 173-175

      • Rick DeLano

        "The first demonstration, I believe,
        can be given; but I have the greatest doubts
        about the second. And in case of doubt one
        should not abandon the Sacred Scriptures..."

        The state of play remains exactly here, 400 years later.

        • tildeb

          That's what I thought. This is a very far cry from asserting an influential Cardinal would state categorically that he would be willing to grant greater respect for scientific methodology than holding fast to scriptural authority; he's really explaining how to get around accepting reality's contrary and conflicting arbitration of it!

          • Rick DeLano

            Exactly. Bellarmine's position was right then, and it remains right now. Science has failed to demonstrate the foundational assertion which lies at the beginning of the scientific era, and its own experimental failures in this regard have led it to assert that the question can never be answered by any application of the experimental method.

            If this is true, the Bellarmine's position remains unassailable to this day.

            If this is false, then Relativity is wrong, and all of our physics will have to be reformulated- again.

            Personally, I'll go all in on Door Number Two ;-)

          • tildeb

            I'll join you!

    • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

      From Bellarmine's letter of April 12 1615 to the Carmelite
      provincial Paolo Foscarin:

      "I say that if there were a true demonstration that the sun was in the centre of the universe and the earth in the third sphere, and that the sun did not travel around the earth but the earth circled the sun, then it would be necessary to proceed with great caution in explaining the passages of Scripture which seemed contrary, and we would rather have to say that we did not understand them than to say that something was false which has been demonstrated."

      Bellarmine is aligning himself with the overwhelming majority of astronomers of his time by saying that the heliocentric model had not been demonstrated (and it hadn't). But the key point here is that he acknowledges that if it could be demonstrated, the interpretation of scripture would have to be revised. Bellarmine was not a fundamentalist Biblical literalist, but he - quite reasonably - says he is not going to be revising Biblical interpretations until the science is clear. And in 1615 it most certainly wasn't.

  • http://brianniemeier.com/ Brian Niemeier

    Marvelous article. Thank you, Mr. O'Neill!

  • James S.

    The really was a Dark Age, a formative period for Western Civilization, but it was not the historical period under discussion here. The Dark Ages and the Middle Ages are not the same thing. They are different periods, but it should be easy to remember that they were both of roughly the same duration, about 500 years each. The Dark Ages was the period from the collapse of the Western Empire in about the 5th century, which was marked by several sacks of Rome, to the rise of city life in Europe about AD 950. The Dark Ages was distinguished by the collapse of public order, declining population, the transfer of loyalty from the state to a private lord, declining learning, the rise of rural life, declining commerce, barbarian invasions and migrations, etc. Perhaps its greatest contribution to the West was the historical experience that state and society were not the same things. The state had collapsed, but society lived on. This was a revolutionary development. It was unprecedented. In Classical Antiquity, society equaled the polis or the state. Note also that the centuries-long separation of state and society during the Dark Ages never had a historical counterpart in the Islamic World, which was expanding during the Dark Age in the West. Today the confusion of state and society still bedevils the Islamic world, because Islam had never experienced a Dark Age as we have in the West. After the rise of city life and the early stirrings of Italian city states in the period after AD 950 there began the Middle Ages, which, like the Dark Ages, lasted about 500 years to, say, the middle of the 15th century, with the advent of printing and the early phase of the Renaissance. That's why this period is called the MIDDLE Ages; it stands in the middle between the Modern period (beginning with the Renaissance) and the Dark Age.

    • erin

      Actually, the term "middle ages" is a Christian reference to being in the between times, between the birth of Jesus Christ and his second coming.

  • James Patton

    I look forward to your future endeavors, Mr. O'Neill.

  • http://bookhaven.stanford.edu Cynthia Haven

    The English writer Colin Wilson, who died last week, has an interesting chapter on the Galileo conflict in a book called "Starseekers," describing it as a conflict between two difficult personalities: "The trial of Galileo is usually presented as the ordeal of an unworldly scientist at the hands of a pack of sadistic bigots. We have seen that this view is something like an inversion of the truth. Galileo was not tried for believing in Copernicus. He was really tried for dishonesty, trickery and for breaking his word. And had the Pope framed the indictment, he would no doubt have added: for ingratitude. For Galileo had been treated with the utmost warmth, confidence and consideration. There had been no question of bullying or threats."

  • one comment

    It is good to seek the Truth, for in so doing diligently you will find Him. When I think about how misconceived by "history" the last 50 years has been (and I was there!), it is no wonder there are misconceptions about thousands of years. But there will be those who know it all, anyway. As for "religion" it boils down to one word: Faith. It is not anything else in Truth but Faith. There are many evidences though if one dares to peek over those inked in blinders and take a look.

  • Erasmite

    I studied Medieval History as an undergrad. There is no other subject where the popular understanding is so different from the what specialists know.

    • Andre Boillot

      Though unless you're a specialist in all subjects...you could be wrong ;)

      • Erasmite

        True. :)

  • John Barba

    Nicely done - Thank you

  • Patrick

    "It is very odd that so many of my fellow atheists cling so desperately to a long-dead position that was only ever upheld by amateur Nineteenth Century polemicists and not the careful research of recent, objective, peer-reviewed historians. This is strange behavior for people who like to label themselves "rationalists"."

    Well said. Are you equally flummoxed by the call of your fellow atheists to answer theists with sneering and ad hominems? I think it is very odd that this is an openly advertised tactic of those wishing to demonstrate their superior reasoning ability. If the theists errors are so childishly obvious, they should easily be defeated by rational discourse. Sneering merely looks like there is no argument to field.

  • Gary

    "Far from being a stagnant dark age, as the first half of the Medieval Period (500-1000 AD) certainly was..."

    This is far from a fair or accurate assessment. I would suggest you read the "Annales Ecclesiastici" of Caesar Baronius. Lord Acton called it, 400 years later, the "greatest history of the Church ever written." Baronius, who coined the term "dark age" for the period of 888 thru 1046, did so only because of the lack of writers during the period.

    • Gary

      Editing to retract my statement. Thanks to comments from YOS and others, I now understand why the period 500-1000 AD could rightly be assessed as "stagnant and dark": in a nutshell, Goths, Franks, Saxons, Vandals, Lombards, Saracens, Vikings, Magyars. I have memorized that list, and am reading up on the Battle of Lechfeld.

  • cminca

    A couple of thoughts for the commenters--

    The Author's remark "the fact is that thanks to Clement of Alexandria and Augustine's encouragement of the use of pagan philosophy, and Boethius' translations of works of logic by Aristotle and others, rational inquiry was one intellectual jewel that survived the catastrophic collapse of the Western Roman Empire and was preserved through the so-called Dark Ages" indicates that, although the medieval personages associated with the study of philosophy, logic, and rational inquiry were associate with the CC, what they were actually studying was Classical, not medieval. And not Catholic.

    Much of the rest of the article does seem to prove that the time period being discussed was neither the cultural nor scientific wasteland that it may be commonly considered. (I will bow to others who are critiquing the history.)

    My remarks are about how the post is being perceived by the Catholics who are commenting.

    What I am NOT seeing in the article is any indication that this hitherto unrevealed knowledge owes anything TO the Catholic Church. Many of you Catholic posters here are crowing in delight at the idea that the Atheists got it all wrong and this someone vindicates the (as far as I've read unsubstantiated) view by some Catholics that modern science owes its lifeblood to the Catholic Church.

    Yes, the article also indicates that there was a particular flowering at Oxford, which was founded as a religious academy. But there does not seem to be any proof that the religious founding of that academy had any part to play in the flowering of the science that ensued. Charles Darwin attended Cambridge to study theology. While there he learned entomology under Fox, and botany under Henslow. I doubt even the most fervent Catholic would claim that Charles Darwin became Charles Darwin because he studied theology at Cambridge.

    So perhaps the Dark Ages weren't so Dark. It does not, however, correlate that it was less gloomy due to a shining beacon of science and reason stemming from the CC. But then, the article never said it did. No matter how commenters have interpreted it.

    • Gary

      How do you know which posters are Catholic? And what examples can you give of "Catholics crowing" in the comments?

  • Rcta

    http://www.rcta.com.au/RCTAApologetics-Mar2008-Galileo.html
    Try this link for more info on Galileo subject

  • FatBallet

    Tim, I looked up Council of Nicea on your site and got bupkus. Have you written in short form on it anywhere? Thanks.

  • Philip

    Your examples of men in pursuit of science are mostly dated from the 11th-13th centuries and the graph clearly shows they are starting before 500CE and going up to the Renaissance. I guess you didn't defend Europe's scientific advancements in the 5th-9th centuries because the Saxons and Norsemen had them busy, since they had better technology in boats and weaponry at the time.

    Some recent claims put literacy rates in Rome higher than those of poor people in the US in the 20th century, while literacy during Catholic rule of Europe was almost strictly limited to the rich and the clergy. While there may not be a great deal of written examples of the church wiping out libraries (other than perhaps the first Catholic king of Spain or Athanasius of Alexandria), the church spent plenty of time to oppress the mind of man.

  • Matt Stone

    Great review. I'll be putting this book on my wish list

  • stray_bullett

    Boethius was from the middle ages?? That's stretching the facts, or at least what period is conventionally accepted as the middle ages.

  • unimackpass

    Tim, thanks for this. I wasn't sure if this book might be bit of a "cleaned up version" of history to make things look a bit better than they actually were concerning Christianity. Seeing the title of your review gave me confidence that you wouldn't necessarily give it any quarter :) and that I can read this with a lot more confidence in its accuracy. Besides that if I run into a protestant that thinks its revisionists propaganda I can always tell them to read your review.

  • cireader

    Your review of Hannam's book was refreshingly objective. Did anyone mention that the BSHS (British Society for the History of Science) included Hannam's book in the topic 4 finalists for the 2011 Dingle prize? So the top scholars among Historians of Science agree that it is an excellent treatment.

    For the most recent Bruno-ha-ha, see the lambasting of the Bruno errors made by Neil DeGrasse Tyson in the new COSMOS TV series.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/outthere/2014/03/16/battle-cosmos-round-3/#.UzNeQs52p8E

    Corey S. Powell, Discovery Magazine Editor, of all people, comes down hard on COSMOS writer Steven Soter for making the conflict thesis a centerpiece of the whole series. Soter lost the chance to make the series something special for science.