You are viewing m_francis

Previous Entry | Next Entry

The Age of Unreason

Captive Dreams

My usual noodling around in re medieval science led me to an astonishing web-essay by someone calling himself Jim Walker on a religious belief site called for Freethinkers. 

Now my first reaction to "freethinker" is "well, you get what you pay for," and nothing in the essay caused me to alter that opinion.  Like everyone in the herd of independent minds, the author simply repeats myths and legends, cites no sources, makes vague appeals to authority, falls into confirmation bias, appeals to ignorance, and sundry other errors.  Based on some articles posted on the home page, it is apparently part and parcel of atheism to oppose the war in Afghanistan; i.e., to be de facto pro-Taliban and/or isolationist.  All this to the side, let's take a look as Master Walker's essay. 

The Myth of Christianity Founding Modern Science and Medicine

The subtitle is (And the Hole Left by the Christian Dark Ages).   

In general, he projects.  His essay appeals to ignorance of the history of science and the scholarship of the past couple of decades, indeed, of any scholarship at all.  He confuses correlation with causation.  That a Christian did something does not necessarily mean that he did it because of his Christianity.  He recognized this when the deed is a good one, but swallows it whole when the deed was a bad one. 

He also claims that Christians are guilty of "non sequiturs" when they write that various famous scientists were believers, commenting correctly that "it doesn't follow that just because a few scientists believed in God that science resulted from it."  Then among his "further sources" he includes two links to surveys citing all the scientists who do not believe in God.  But if it is a non sequitur in one direction then, under the gandersauce principle, it is a non sequitur in the other.  In either case, it is an invalid appeal to authority.(*)  Why should a scientist's beliefs about God matter any more than his beliefs about barbecue sauce or the coining of free silver?  Training in the sciences tends to be narrowly focused and does not usually confer expertise in theology, history, philosophy, or indeed much of anything outside his specialty.  (*) It is perfectly valid to appeal to an authority in a field; i.e., to cite an historian on a point of history; a cosmologist on a point of cosmology.  This is simply shorthand for research the reader has not  the time, inclination, equipment, or expertise to carry out himself. 

Inexplicably, Mr. Walker cites (as the bandwagon fallacy) an appeal to "the popular notion that Christianity began modern science."  But this is hardly a popular notion.  Most people undoubtedly buy into the cultural 'tude that Christianity was hostile to science.  However, he does invite by his rhetoric that we all get on the bandwagon of advanced thinking in this regard. 

Here is the primary thesis of this counter-essay.  Whether or not you believe in someone's God has nothing to do with whether they accomplished anything you consider worthwhile.  They may have been perfectly mistaken about God and still kicked off science.  But there is a certain kind of "free" thinker who seems bound to the notion that if you disbelieve in a religion then nothing that religion ever did could possibly be any good.  History is never quite this cardboard stereotype of White Hats and Black Hats. 

1. Walker writes, "When Constantine established orthodox Christianity in 325 CE (at the Council of Nicaea), scientific investigation virtually stopped." 

It is curious how many fundamentalist tropes show up in atheist writings.  In this case, the "Constantine founded Christianity" trope, which was originally proposed by fundamentalists of the "secret church" persuasion.  Their animus was directed against the Roman Catholic church, which was terribly unfair to the Eastern Orthodox.  At the time of Constantine, there was not yet any distinction.  Further, as Walker ought to know, the Constantinid dynasty tried to establish Arianism, not orthodoxy and famously included Julian the Apostate, who tried to gin up a pagan church in imitation of the Christians.  (We have many of his letters, so we know this was his purpose.) 

What evidence is there that "scientific investigation" stopped?  What evidence is there that it had ever started?  As Brian Stock commented in "Science, Technology, and Economic Progress in the Early Middle Ages," the Roman thought that nature could be imitated (via engineering), placated (via prayers and sacrifices), but not understood (via science).  Very little of Greek mathematics, for example, had been translated into Latin, beyond what was needed for accounting (of loot), surveying (of conquered lands), and architecture; and almost nothing of Archimedes or of Aristotle's natural philosophy.  Indeed, Roman technology in the late days of the Empire is not notably different from Roman technology in the late days of the Republic. 

"The failure of Greece and Rome to increase productivity through innovation is as notorious as the inability of historians from Gibbon to the present to account for it."   
-- Brian Stock, "Science, Technology, and Progress in the Early Middle Ages," in Science in the Middle Ages (Lindberg, ed.)
 2. Walker writes, "the Christians tried to destroy every pagan and scientific literature including the great libraries of the world."          On the contrary, everything we know about the natural philosophy of the ancients comes from writings copied and preserved by the Christians.  After all, these folks were the Greeks and Romans.  They just got sprinkled, is all.  And we read again and again in the writings of the Christians about the importance of such learnings.  Granted, they had little use for Greek comedies and tragedies (they wrote their own, and had their own notions of what was tragic and comic) and they saw no need to imitate Greco-Roman architecture (again, they did their own thing), but they preserved and copied an enormous amount of Greek mathematics, technical writings, and natural philosophy.  For example, of the estimated ten million words of classical Greek that have come down to us, about two million comprise the medical works of Galen -- a full fifth of the entire surviving classical Greek corpus. Throw in Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy and the mathematical works and we realize that the Christians focused on preserving the scientific and medical writings. We know from epigraphical evidence (references in other fragments of writing) and from original papyruses found in Egypt, that these were not the best sellers in the Greek world itself.  IOW, we tend to think the Greeks were Very Rational because the Christians were most interested in their rational thoughts.  The large percentage of Greek science in the surviving writings tells us that the Christians who copied them were interested in science, not that the Greeks were. 
This was not true of the suriving Latin writings.  The Romans just weren't interested in science and math, and wrote almost nothing.  A third of the million or so words of preserved classical Latin consist of Cicero's wrtiings (and comprise 75% of what we know Cicero wrote).  However, there were several Roman encyclopediasts who wrote digest summaries of what was known.  Macrobius and Pliny were the two best-known.  These were used as school text books in the West in the early middle ages and provided a curriculum for the "Seven Liberal Arts."  The thing to remember is:

a) The Greek East never lost its heritage.  It was preserved unbroken; and Byzantium deserves its proud title of "The World's Librarian."
b) The Latin West never lost its Latin heritage.  Catalogs of private and monastic libraries that have come down to us list all the best known Roman writers.  
c) The Latin West never lost its Greek heritage because it never had it to begin with.  Most of it was never translated until the Christians, hearing that it was available in Toledo, swarmed there from every nation once the jihad had ebbed, eager to translate the Greek works.  (These had been earlier translated by Syriac Christians in Syria and Iraq from Greek to Syriac to Arabic.) 

"Free" thinkers also seem to subscribe to the Intelligent Design theory of history.  If certain writings were lost, why then it must have been "the aimed destruction," that is, intelligently designed.  But there are perfectly natural processes like mold, mice, fire, barbarian invasions, and so forth that account for the normal wear and tear.  In the age before printing, there were not many copies of many books to begin with. 
+ + +
3. Walker writes, "The destruction of the library of Alexandra (the greatest learning center in the world) and the murder of Hypatia by Christians in 415 CE, marked the beginning of the Dark Ages." 

Yet Plutarch, writing well before this time, states that it was a fire accidentally started by Julius Caesar's troops that destroyed the books; and Strabo, in his detailed description of Alexandria found in The Geography, makes no mention whatever of the Library.  In fact, there are no contemporary references to the Library after the reign of Ptolemy Psychon, when there was an anti-foreigner pogrom and the Greek scholars were driven from Egypt.  Strabo says in Book I,
Why, Erastosthenes takes all these matters actually established by the testimony of the men who had been in the regions, for he has read many historical works, with which he was well supplied if he had a library as large as Hippachus says it was
Erastosthenes was the fifth Librarian of Alexandria.  (The list of Librarians ends with Aristarchus of Samothrace, the eighth Librarian, during the reign of the Psycho.)  IOW, Strabo had heard of the Great Library and that Hippachus of Rhodes -- a contemporary and critic of Erastosthenes -- had said the library was pretty big.  Strabo's comment seems a bit skeptical, but it's hard to tell something like that.  Estimates of the size of the library tended to increase over time, much like the size of the fish that got away.  Alexandria however continued to be a great learning center until the Arab conquest, its last scholars being Eastern Christians like Simplicimus and John Philoponus. .


+ + +
4. Walker writes, "and the murder of Hypatia by Christians in 415 CE." 

The best historical assessment of the four fragments that mention the murder is that Hypatia was caught up in political rioting that was then the municipal sport of Alexandria.  The rumor had gone about that she was using her personal influence to prevent Orestes, the prefect of the city, from becoming reconciled with Cyril, the bishop.  Both the prefect and the bishop were Christian, as was one of Hypatia's devoted pupils (also a bishop).        
Her fate was pretty horrible.  But in Julian's reign some Christian virgins of Heliopolis refused to surrender themselves for a night of sacred prostitution before their nuptials.  Consequently, they were publicly stripped, mocked, and abused.  Then they were eviscerated and swine fodder mixed into their entrails, after which they were left to be finished off by pigs.  In another incident, Bishop Mark of Arethusa was beaten by a pagan mob, his beard torn out, his ears severed, and he was stabbed repeatedly with the iron styluses used by schoolboys.  Then he was smeared with a mixture of honey and suspended in a basket in the sun to be devoured by flies and wasps.  It was in this charming municipal atmosphere, in which pagan, Jewish, and Christian mobs would periodically go after one another, that the mob attack on Hypatia must be understood. 
And yet...  These bouts of rioting were not an everyday thing, and for most of the time period in question all three groups lived amicably side by side, as we know from the fact that Hypatia's students included a Christian bishop and that the account of her murder, written by a Christian, expressed the most severe disapproval of the deed.        
Mr. Walker here is guilty of what he calls "confirmation bias."  (It's not.  It's special pleading, but what the heck.)  That is, he adduces only those evidences that support his thesis, ignores (or is ignorant of) other evidences and/or the context.           

+ + +
5. Walker writes: "As Ruth Hurmence Green once wrote,..."

I googled this Hurmence and see no reason to accept her expertise on the history of the fifth to fifteenth centuries.  This is an invalid appeal to authority.  According to Wikipedia her expertise stemmed from reading the Bible cover to cover and, in keeping with the fundamentalist mindset, intepreting it literally.  Historians have long ago dropped the silly sobriquet "The Dark Ages," save in part for the actual barbarian Volkerwanderungen.  .
+ + +
6. Walker writes: "The Priests of Christianity kept the public from education, including the study of their own Bible."  

The cathedral schools of the early middle ages were open to all.  So were the universities that were Christian Europe's greatest invention.  These universities were chartered, independent, and self-governing, had a standardized curriculum based on Aristotle, Galen, etc., degrees of attainment, etc..  Nearly two thirds of them carried Papal charters, and the bull Parens scientiarum [parent of the sciences], which ensured their independence, has been called the Magna Carta of the universities.  The students went through a curriculum that was almost exclusively composed of logic, reason, and natural philosophy.  To matriculate in the graduate schools of theology, law, or medicine, you first had to get this master of arts degree.  Consequently, nearly every medieval theologian was first educated as a scientist. 
How this prevented the public from getting an education is a mystery.  It seems to be merely an article of faith, believed credulously without evidence. 

+ + +
7. Walker writes: "When Christianity took over Europe, scientific and engineering advancement virtually stopped."

In no particular order: watermills, windmills, camshafts, toothed wheels, transmission shafts, mechanical clocks, pendant clocks, eye glasses, four-wheeled wagons, wheeled moldboard plows with shares and coulters, three-field crop rotation, blast furnaces, laws of magnetism, steam blowers, treadles, stirrups, armored cavalry, the elliptical arch, the fraction and arithmetic of fractions, the plus sign, preservation of antiquity, “Gresham’s” law, the mean speed theorem, “Newton’s” first law, distilled liquor, use of letters to indicate quantities in al jabr, discovery of the Canary Islands, the Vivaldi expedition, cranks, overhead springs, latitudo et longitudo, coiled springs, laws of war and non-combatants, modal logic, capital letters and punctuation marks, hydraulic hammers, definition of uniform motion, of uniformly accelerated motion, of instantaneous motion, explanation of the rainbow, counterpoint and harmony, screw-jacks, screw-presses, horse collars, gunpowder and pots de fer, that there may be a vacuum, that there may be other Worlds, that the earth may turn in a diurnal motion, that to overthrow a tyrant is the right of the multitude, the two-masted cog, infinitesimals, open and closed sets, verge-and-foliot escapements, magnetic compasses, portolan charts, the true keel, natural law, human rights, international law, universities, corporations, freedom of inquiry, separation of church and state, “Smith’s” law of marketplaces, fossilization, geological erosion and uplift, anaerobic salting of fatty fish (“pickled herring”), double entry bookkeeping, and... the printing press.  (Yeah, some of the innovations are political and economic.)  .

8. Walker writes: "During the Black Death in the 1300s, the masses turned to the Church instead of medicine. The Church explained that the plague came as an act of God, not nature, as a punishment for sins of not obeying Church authority. The Church banned Greek and Roman medicine to fight the plague and considered it heresy. After the plague, the Church banned any formal discipline of medicine."

You'll notice he cites no examples and so does not show that these non-examples were exceptions or typical.  What is it about "free" thinkers that they do not bother with empirical evidence?  A good dose of the scientific method seems in order.  Oh, well. 
First of all, Galen's medicine was no particular help -- the four humours aren't exactly a reliable guide to antibiotics -- but there was no attempt to "ban" it.  The pest was call a "malady" meaning "bad air" and was supposed by the medical professionals to be a body of "stiffened air" that was blown by the winds from country to country.  Sounds silly to us, but it was the only natural means they could think of that would explain how the pest could cover such vast distances so quickly.  Consequently, the ringing of church bells was recommended not for some mystical reason, but for sound scientific reasons: the sounds of the bells would create waves in the air that would break up the mass of stiffened air.  It didn't work, of course; but then science doesn't always get things right.  Among those fighting the plague was the great Guy de Chauliac, who was also the Pope's physician.  After he contracted the plague, Guy heroically and meticulously recorded his obervations of his own illness; and it is to him that we owe our knowledge of the course of the disease. 
Sure, they also held prayers and processions of relics; but they never supposed these were treatments for a disease.  And we know today that a patient's state of mind can influence the body's natural defenses, so it may have done a marginal amount of good. 
We should keep in mind that it was in medieval Europe that the first medical schools were founded.  (Elsewhere, medicine was learned by apprenticing to someone who was practicing as a doctor.  In the muslim lands, these were regulated by the Inspector of the Marketplace.  In Europe, they were regulated by self-governing "medical societies" with jurisdiction and charter.)  It was also in Christian Europe that the first anatomical dissections were done, ever.  They quickly became mandatory at the medical universities.  (In China, there were occasional dissections for forensic purposes in criminal investigations, but they were conducted by magistrates, not doctors.  In Islam, dissenction was not allowed, period.)  
Mondino de Luzzi published Anatomia, the first manual on dissection, in 1316.  Hugh of Lucca used wine to clean wounds and founded a school of surgery at Bologna in 1204.  John of Arderne used hemlock as an anesthesia; and “soporific sponges” for knocking out surgery patients date from XI century.  Henri de Mondeville pioneered aseptic treatment of wounds and the use of sutures. 

+ + +

10 Walker writes,
"Not until the 1530s (during the Renaissance when people began to question religious authority) did the physician Andreas Vesalius translate Galen's texts to Latin."  

This is either an argument from ignorance or a flat-out lie.  Gerard of Cremona not only translated Galen's Medical Art at Toledo in the 12th century, but he also translated ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine, al-Razi’s Book of Divisions, and twenty-four other texts on medicine.
What Vesalius gave us (which was a genuine advance) was the Renaissance invention of perspective in art applied to anatomical drawings.  De Luzzi, de Chauliac, and others had "done anatomies" before -- which is why they had begun to doubt Galen -- but Vesalius's drawings are masterful, especially when put up against the anatomical drawings in Chinese and muslin texts. 

+ + +
11. Walker writes: "Christians love to believe that Christianity invented the first hospitals in the name of Christian charity, but the history of medical care betrays this belief. ...  The first Christian hospitals, on the other hand, did not aim to cure the sick through scientific medicine at all, but rather to condemn or to save the sick through religious practices. They used these hospitals more as asylums to put away sinners, lepers, and the diseased to isolate them from the rest of the populace. Medieval Christian hospitals represented religious institutions, run by monks and nuns, not by trained physicians.

And of course, "monks and nuns" could not be trained physicians.  But recall that the temples of Asklepios were not hospitals where you went to be cared for by nursing sisters.  They were religious temples where you went in the hope of getting a vision from the god in your sleep.  Naturally, too, there have always been repair shops for soldiers and gladiators.  But a hospital, in the sense of taking all comers, no matter how poor, no matter what their state in life, was a new thing.  It cannot have been a known pagan practice or else the Emperor Julian the Apostate would not have been trying to convince the pagan priesthoods to set up something similar.  And of course, practices in the muslim world were not without religious overtones themselves.  The muslims of the sixth and seventh centuries had the Byzantine hospitals before them as examples.  Ashoka's hospital (it was also a vetarinary hospital) did not outlast Ashoka; but it, too, was based on religious motives. .
+ + +
12. Walker writes, "As for the scientists, Christians burned the priest Giordano Bruno to death for the charge of holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith." 

Execution for treason are not unknown.  But what has the execution of Bruno for heresy got to do with scientists?  Bruno was no scientist, but a mystic of the Pythagorean sort.  The translator of his Ash Wednesday Supper commented wryly that, if they had ever bothered to read it, the Copernicans would have burned Bruno.  Time and again he shows that he did not understand astronomy, but rather tried to fit it into his wacky worldview.  Even so, keep in mind that for seven years the inquisitors and his brother Dominicans argued and debated with him to get him to change his mind.  He was the L.Ron Hubbard of his day.  Of course, nowadays, we don't like to execute people even if they were spying for Stalin; but treason, both secular and religious were once capital crimes.

+ + +
13. Walker writes: "They imprisoned Galileo for his heretical ideas of heliocentric solar system, and rejected his science (by the way, The Greek thinker, Aristarchus, developed the first heliocentric theory in 270 BCE, not Copernicus as many Christians falsely believe)."  

Once again, the one and only scientists ever hassled over a point of natural philosophy is trotted out to do his star turn.  Mr. Walker evidently has no idea of the issues of the trial, the particulars of the charges, and all those things that Galileo himself said in a letter to Pieresc hid behind the "mask of religion."  There was the flame war with Grassi, for example, in which Grassi's meticulous observation of the Comets of 1618 were pooh-poohed by Galileo, who had not observed them at all.  (He was ill.)  Grassi said their orbits put them on a hyperbolic trajecotry from the outer reaches of the solar system; Galileo said the comets were emanations of the earth's atmosphere.  Guess who was right. 
Galileo was not convicted of heresy, nor was heliocentrism declared heretical.  (The terms "vehement suspicion of heresy" and "formally heretical" were terms of art.  It meant that the one motion wasn't heretical "but we think it might be because we don't like you" and the other was heretical in its form, i.e., the way it was phrased.)  And the Pope never signed off on it, anyway.  The two propositions had been studied by the scientists of the day and found to be false.  In particular, if the earth revolved around the sun, there should have been parallax among the fixed stars.  None could be detected.  That was why Aristotle, Archimedes, and everyone else rejected the notion.  (The reason turned out to be that the stars were much farther away than the Greeks, Arabs, and Latins had estimated from their apparent size and brightness, and so the predicted parallax was much smaller.  But you cannot save one unproven hypothesis with a second unproven hypothesis.)  If the earth rotated, then objects dropped from a tower should fall to the east of the drop point.  Galileo himself suggested the experiment, but never carried it out.  (Or else he did, and it showed no deflection, and so he kept mum.) 
Bellarmine told him that since the science seemed settled his denialist stance was at odds with the consensus.  Okay, they didn't talk that way back then.  But he wrote that there was no problem in teaching Copernicanism as a mathematical model.  After all, the Ptolemaic model did not claim to be an actual representation of
physical reality, why should this model?  (Astronomy  was then a branch of mathematics, not of physics.  Moving astronomy under physics was the real revolution.)  And, Bellarmine added, there would be no problem teaching it as fact provided empirical proof could be found.  The Church was accustomed to regarding Biblical passages as poetical or allegorical.  The Protestant revolution had made them gun-shy so they didn't want to do that without solid evidence. 
And Galileo never found the solid evidence.  When he published the Dialogues, his Big Fat Proof of the earth's rotation was the ocean tides.  They were caused by sloshing from the earth's spinning.  This answer was not only incoherent -- it contradicted an earlier argument in the book against the objection of the wind (why don't we feel a constand east wind?) but it was pretty well known that the tides had something to do with the Moon. 
Walker also does not understand Aristarchus of Samothrace, the last Librarian of Alexandria.  He did not have a heliocentric system.  At least the fragments of his writing preserved epigraphically do not in the least describe such a theory, any more than we can credit Jonathan Swift with discovering the moons of Mars.  The Pythagoreans believed that there was an eternal fire (not the sun) at the center of the World (i.e., the "solar" system) and the sun went around this fire while the earth went around the sun.  Aristarchus does not mention the other planets at all in the fragment quoted.  The reason the Eternal Fire and then the Sun were near the center of the World was that fire is nobler than earth and a central position is more worthy than the borders.  Therefore, fires ought to be in the center and earths ought to be at the edges. There are many names for this sort of mystic woo-woo, but "science" is not one of them. 

+ + +
14. Walker wrote: "Recently, scholars found an ancient text written by Archimedes that revealed that the Greeks knew about the concept of infinity and calculus long before the advent of Christianity. Ironically a monk had ... washed out the Archimedes text and wrote supernatural nonsense in its place. ... Without religion hiding and destroying ancient scientific texts, imagine how different the world would look today if the Church had not suppressed, just calculus alone, hundreds of centuries before Isaac Newton published the idea in 1693."  

Archimedes did not invent calculus.  The method revealed in the lost text was a refinement of the method of exhaustion that he had already written about.  You cannot invent calculus using nothing but geometry.  You need algebra, and that had not been invented yet.  (The two combined produce "analytical" geometry, the threshold of the calculus.)  You also need the theory of limits and that was not introduced until the Calculators of Merton in the 14th century began to reason on "first and last moments" and the nature of "beginning to be."  cf. William of Heytesbury.  
Secondly, the use of palimpsests was routine.  The scratch paper was routinely scraped off (not "washed") using a razor.  (A quo, Ockham's razor; a quo "eraser.")  Paper was cheap (once its production was automated with waterwheels and camshafts) but perishable.  So was papyrus in the East.  Parchment was longer-lasting, but not so cheap that it wasn't re-used on every occasion.  Those same monks (a monastery in the Sinai) who overwrote the Archimedes palimpsest were the ones who had copied the Archimedes in the first place.  It was not an original from the Hellenistic era.  At the time that parchment was reused, as we know from references, the complete works of Archimedes were in circulation and so there was no big deal in re-using a scratch copy.  Most of the monastic palimpsests we have are overwritings of Christian works.  The oldest copy of the Bible we have was erased and overwritten with the sermons of Ephraem the Syrian.  Hand-made manuscripts are necessarily rare; and time and chance happened to knock off this one particular work of Achimedes.  Walker cannot claim that the Orthodox monks living under muslim rule were trying to "suppress calculus" when at the same time they and others were busily copying all the other works of Archimedes (and everyone else!)
+ + +
15. Walker wrote: "To say that a few successful scientists happen to believe in the tenants of Christianity says nothing at all about religion supplying the fuel for science."  

For once he is correct!  Let us pause in awe at the accuracy of the Stopped Clock.  Now of course except for Mr. Walker's opposite numbers, this is not the argument made by the historians of science.  The reasons run deeper than that and to sample them he should read some of the books mentioned in the previous post.     Those Terrible Middle Ages     It even has color pictures of the book covers.         


+ + +
16. Walker wrote: "Interestingly, every one of the the scientists that Christians love to cite, lived during the Renaissance or the Age of Enlightenment when the Church began to lose its power and the populace began to wake up from its religious stupor. None of them lived during the Dark Ages [sic]." 

Jean Buridan de Bethune.  Nicole d'Oresme.  Albrecht of Saxony, WIlliam of Heytesbury, Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Thomas Bradwardine, Theodoric of Fribourg, Roger Bacon, Thierry of Chartres, Gerbert of Aurillac, William of Conches, Nicholas Cusa, John Philoponus, etc. etc.  (William of Ockham showed little interest in natural philosophy.).
+ + +
17. Walker wrote: "I suspect that [The Vatican Observatory] comes mainly as a propaganda ploy to say in effect: "See, we support science too," when in fact, it still opposes many scientific truths, or utilities [sic] god-of-the-gaps thinking to justify only the most obvious scientific facts (such as planets, heliocentricity, etc.)

We could observe that "Walker's suspicions" do not actually rise to the status of "empirical facts."  He evidently believes that the Roman church supports a "god-of-the-gaps" argument.  Although the syntax is somewhat garbled, he seems to claim that the Church "opposes many scientific truths," but as usual provides no factual evidence, nor even an example of a scientific truth that she opposes.  He doesn't seem to realize that the Church is not interested in scientific truths per se..
+ + +
18. Walker wrote: It also bears importance to reveal the fact that throughout the history of science, not one scientific formula contains the variable of god or any supernatural agent.

Nor do any of them have variables for love, honor, truth, beauty, elan, or Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.  I'm not sure what that is supposed to prove.  Science, in the sense of physical science, would not contain any metaphysical parts any more than it would contain political variables.  The theory of evolution makes no mention of auto mechanics, either.

+ + + 
20. Walker wrote: "It also bears importance to realize that [sic] Christianity never accepts science on scientific facts alone but always with the condition that an invented theological explanation must accompany a scientific fact. Thus theists can only accept evolution by hypothesizing that god uses evolution as his creation method. The Big Bang theory can only earn acceptance when it accords with the belief of a Creator invented universe (although many quantum physicists today think that the Big Bang didn't serve as an absolute beginning and probably never had one).

Evolution has nothing to do with creation.  Neither does Fr. Lemaitre's Big Bang.  I agree that it is deplorable that some scientists try to hypothesize an eternal universe motivated by their animus against "theism" and "creation," but they needn't worry.  Lemaitre himself cautioned against such lazy thinking.     
Walker does not understand that the Christians believe that God is "existence itself," that he called himself "I AM."  To say that evolution cannot happen unless it has existence or that the Big Bang cannot happen unless it exists does not seem totally outrageous.  He really ought to disabuse himself of the images of an old man with a long white beard sitting at a drafting table.  It's a useful image in some ways, but it is only an analogy.  The way to think of creation is not the engineer designing a new species at a cosmic drafting table, but the minnesinger singing a new song.  If the troubadour stops singing, the song stops.  Christian theologians say that creation is something that is happening right now, baby, not only at the Big Bang, not only when one species evolved into another.  In fact, Aquinas set his arguments without regard to a finite universe.  See his text, De aeternitates mundi ("On the eternity of the world.")  Even if unnamed quantum physicists and Aristotle are right and the world is eternal, that is no bar against the world being created.   
The alternative answer to the question Why is there Something rather than Nothing? is IT JUST IS!  This has the interesting consequence of placing the limits to rational thought inside the natural universe.  At least by placing the first cause outside the natural universe and daring to reason about Him, the Christians included all of material existence within the boundaries of the rational.  

+ + +
22. Walker wrote: "Christian political leaders today, continue to place barriers against science. .... Many deny global warming, birth control, stem cell research and other scientific advances that could save millions of people, if not the entire human race.

Yes, and a hundred years ago they "denied" eugenics, which was also urgently needed to "save the human race."  Notice that Walker has segued from science to policy and politics.  Birth control is not a "scientific truth," but a public policy by which poor people should not have children.  But you cannot deduce a public law from a scientific theory.   
+ + +
23. Walker wrote: "During the 1800s and after, scientists no longer had to fear religious persecution in any form. As never before in the history of mankind, scientists began to reject theocracy entirely. And what happened as a result of the freedom from Christian influence? Science literally exploded

Quite literally exploded at Hiroshima.  Machine guns, mustard gas, eugenics, Nazi medical experiments, concentration camps, gulags, Tuskegee experiments, intercontinental missiles, tailored plagues.  Shall we apply the came criterion to "science" as has been applied to "religion"?  It might could be that science ought to operate within ethical bounds. 
+ + +
24. Further sources. 

I just love the further sources.  Are any of them factual?  No.  (Burn 'em, said Hume!)  Are any of them histories of science?  Serious investigations of the Middle Ages?  Nope.  We have two links to surveys in an appeal to the bandwagon effect and the non sequitur.  A couple of smear jobs on Mother Theresa.  An Islamic site(!) pushing the Islamic doctrine that the non-muslims have corrupted their scriptures.  Some video clips so we can see people deeply trained in measuring physical bodies give their opinions about stuff that does not involve careful measuring of physical bodies.  And a digital re-imagination of the city of Rome that somehow proves... well, something.  (Apparently that there was no trash in the streets...?) 

My sources can be found here:


( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 19th, 2009 09:45 am (UTC)
Proof that the Church banned education!!!!

From the Monks' Rule of St. Columbanus, the 6th century Irish missionary:

"He who advises a relative when learning some skill or anything enjoined by the seniors, that he should rather learn reading, with three impositions."

Which would seem rather to indicate (1) the Irish even back then were waaay too interested in literature (2) they had more than plenty of guys who could read, thanks very much, we need more swineherds and carpenters instead (3) if you wanted to learn to read, go to a monastery.

Just for pigiron, does Mr. Walker give anything by way of an estimate of literacy in pre-Christian Europe? Non-Christian countries? Anything like facts at all?

Oct. 19th, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Proof that the Church banned education!!!!
Facts do not seem his long suit.
Oct. 20th, 2009 05:33 am (UTC)
Ah, yes: the infamous Nuremburg brain-scoops in action
Before Christianity came into power, the peasantry of Europe were discussing Catullus and Euripides as they dunged the fields; as soon as the Evil Church came along, it forcibly scooped out their brains so they couldn't even write their own names.

It's all there in Gibbon somewhere :-)
Aug. 19th, 2010 12:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Proof that the Church banned education!!!!
That's because during the Dark Ages the Christian Church owned a lot of land which needs to be worked and since slavery was banned by the officials the Church had to find a way to produce some extra money from all that land. So, they started to “educate” their own swine herders. I think Hell was really invented (or reinvented) during that period too.
christian based drug rehab
Aug. 19th, 2010 03:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Proof that the Church banned education!!!!
It is become an unexamined assumption in Marxian thought that all things are in origin economic. Thus, we spin economic "just-so" stories that, because no proof is ever required, acquire the seeming of authenticity.
Oct. 19th, 2009 04:09 pm (UTC)
I just finished listening to "Science and Religion", by Prof Lawrence M. Principe from Johns Hopkins University. It is a series of lectures from The Teaching Company. He exploded a lot of the Science vs Religion nonsense going on.

I must admit a bit of admiration to Mr Flynn for wading through Mr Walker's, um, information.
Oct. 19th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)
I had just come back from Capclave, where I gave a talk on the Middle Ages. So I was sort of up on the topic and in that peculiar state where I was feeling curmudgeonly and tired, yet not sleepy. I fear I went on rather too long. But that is the fate of all responsorials: one sentence of unsupported assertion gets a paragraph or two of rebuttal. I could have just said unh-unh or yerfulluvit or some other Bright thought.
Oct. 19th, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC)
I'd love to hear this talk.
Don't suppose you get out to Iowa?
Oct. 19th, 2009 10:54 pm (UTC)
Not less'n someone invites me, like a client or someting.
Oct. 19th, 2009 08:36 pm (UTC)
Yet another copy error..
... that drives me up a wall: a few successful scientists happen to believe in the tenants of Christianity.

Tenets! Ten-ETS! No wingless eusocial insects were harmed in the coining of this word.

Who are these "tenants" of Christianity that a few successful scientists believe in, anyhow? How much rent do they pay? What church properties do they occupy?

Flipping illiterate. Nothing says "18-year-old iconoclast" like word substitutions that aren't even homonyms.
Oct. 19th, 2009 09:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Yet another copy error..
In all mercy, I did not address spelling and grammar. There's such a thing as piling on.

However, I notice an increase in a particular kind of error: the "audio error." Ynglings are so accustomed to television and i-pods and the like that they very seldom see anything in writing. They encounter the world aurally, not intellectually. So there's a lot more of "their/they're" and "its/it's" and as you note "tenet/tenant". If it sounds close enough, they go with it.

And of course, in parallel with this is the webscuse that "nitpicking on spelling and grammar is Triple Plus Ungood and a mark of OldThink. And besides "I'm dyslexic." Apparently, the Web is a magnet for dyslexics, a diagnosis that provides such excellent cover for sloppiness that the genuine dyslexics get lost in the rush.
Oct. 19th, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Yet another copy error..
Since our host's reply isn't showing up yet, I did notice that he supplied one [sic].

But it's true that, in such a farrago, dinging the spelling and grammar is piling on.
Oct. 20th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
Wow Mike. I'm blown away. Simply tremendous response, one that stands on its own.
Oct. 20th, 2009 05:25 pm (UTC)
You didn't mention St. Macrina and automata.
I love St. Macrina. As she was on her deathbed, she cheered up her little brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, by holding a Socratic dialogue with him. He later recorded this as "On the Soul and the Resurrection", as well as in The Life of St. Macrina.

Anyway, in the middle of all this, St. Greg points to how atheists of his day said automata proved there wasn't God or a soul, and St. Mac went into how automata indicated there was. Awesome moment in girl geek history.

You really can't read patristics without running into state of the art Greco-Roman science/natural philosophy. Early Christian theologians loved science, and constantly used it to explain God's design principles in other areas. This was in stark contrast to most philosophers and religions of the day, who thought the natural world was kind of haphazard, filthy, and stupid.
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC)
Re: You didn't mention St. Macrina and automata.
Especially the gnostics and cathars and such. Bad, material world, bad.

It has been said that Darwin's theory is better evidence of God's existence than all of Behe's alleged exceptions. So St. Macrina is right there in the mainstream.
Oct. 20th, 2009 06:19 pm (UTC)

You might be interested in this though, as an aside:
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much for this long post! I've learned many interesting things today.
Oct. 23rd, 2009 02:09 am (UTC)
Nice article, Mr. Flynn! You might want to check the numbering of the items, though. Item numbers 9, 19, and 21 are missing.
Oct. 23rd, 2009 03:22 am (UTC)
Actually, I deleted them as 'piling on' and did not bother going back to renumber.
Oct. 23rd, 2009 03:17 am (UTC)
Great Stuff!
Thanks for posting this! I have it bookmarked for future reference.
--CMinor (
Oct. 23rd, 2009 10:40 am (UTC)
This is really good. I found it from a link someone left on my own site, on a guest post by James Hannam who unearths similar myths.

Guest Post: Dan Brown’s History of Science (

Loved the Constantine invented Christianity thing - we were at my mother in law's funeral and some idiot came up and had a go at our faith and lead with Constantine wrote the bible (he got it from the DaVinci code so it was really authoritative... NOT)

Madeleine from MandM :-)
Nov. 3rd, 2009 12:38 pm (UTC)
I applaud you sir.
Dec. 22nd, 2009 08:47 pm (UTC)
I think you got taken by Walkers reply to you.
Dec. 23rd, 2009 01:51 am (UTC)
Did he?
Dec. 23rd, 2009 03:15 am (UTC)
Mr. Walker has responded to your criticisms. please see his response.
Dec. 23rd, 2009 04:49 am (UTC)
Dec. 23rd, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
Feb. 8th, 2010 09:43 am (UTC)
where can i find...
well hey there guys, i've been looking all over the internet for a GOOD black hat SEO forum.. I was looking for some suggestions
from you guys to point me in the right direction.

Thanks a bunch, this place is great btw.
Feb. 13th, 2010 11:03 pm (UTC)
Well said.

I think the essay would be the better for footnotes for the statements made, by the way.

All the best,

Roger Pearse
May. 20th, 2010 03:39 am (UTC)
atheist myths
I am a graduate of history, for some time i am involved in debates, with the militant
What brought me to debate, it is the ignorant of the young militant atheists in historical problems, as „Dark Ages brought by Christianity” ( LoL), Hypatia killed by Christians, the Library of Alexandria "destroyed by Christianity", Constantine the Great „established Catholicism”
There are over 100 myths, or even more.
See link below
Video 2
Video 3

The Myth of Christianity Founding Modern Science and Medicine

The Age of Unreason

Mike Flynn Discovers the Dark Ages

I was very amused by this problem and I know that was your finale answer?
Jan. 28th, 2011 06:38 am (UTC)
The Ultimate MIND READING Trick. SUPERR!
Hi) i could not find the best category for my unusual post, so i'm sorry for (may be) inaccuracy) but i'm sure that i must write about my discovery..))

ONLY SEE what i had found several days ago

This site can show you the Ultimate Mind Reading Trick.
I was so surprised..
When i found out how easy it is, I was shocked. and now I'm really want that you try to perform this amazing trick, too)))
good luck
and Greetings from Spain)))
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )


Captive Dreams

Latest Month

September 2014


Powered by
Designed by Taylor Savvy