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A Medieval Moment

Two links:
A cute video with single caveat and a column in the Onion nostalgic for the 60s... the 960s. 


A Few Cutting Remarks

Don't mess with Teodorq or Conan
Teodorq sunna Nagarajan, a supporting character in Up Jim River and the protagonist in "The Journeyman: On the Shortgrass Prairie," now finds himself confronted with a duel in "The Journeyman: In the Stone House."  The duel is being fought with longswords, since the society he finds himself among is of a late medieval character.

Don't mess with the chicks, neither
Now, TOF has never dueled with longswords, nor indeed with any fell instrument, so for versimilitude, he consulted that Font of All Wisdom; viz., the Internet, to obtain nuggets of neepery with which to strew his narrative.  There is a veritable cornucopia of such info Out There, which TOF judges reliable since it does not involve God or Darwin.  Fighting with longswords is quite intricate, with a number of guards and thrusts, a three-fold division of the combat, and sundry other technologia.  Who knew.  Those Western oafs, unlike the refined Japanese samurai, were supposed to merely flail and hack at one another with big clumsy blades of sharp steel.  But it seems there was some art to it after all.

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A Blast From the Past

What Happens When a Pair of Irishmen
Visit France in the early 800s? 

The Monk of St. Gall (probably Notker the Stammerer) tells us:

Now it happened, when [the illustrious Charles] had begun to reign alone in the western parts of the world, and the pursuit of learning had been almost forgotten throughout all his realm, and the worship of the true Godhead was faint and weak, that two Scots came from Ireland to the coast of Gaul along with certain traders of Britain. These Scotchmen were unrivaled for their skill in sacred and secular learning: and day by day, when the crowd gathered round them for traffic, they exhibited no wares for sale, but cried out and said, "Ho, everyone that desires wisdom, let him draw near and take it at our hands; for it is wisdom that we have for sale."

and so on

Odds and Ends

Another Milestone Passed!

An anonymous Twitter notes that "Obama has launched more cruise missiles than all other Nobel Peace Prize winners combined."

The Curse of Hermes

Witchcraft and the Dark Ages

Although some folk apply the term "Dark Ages" to the entire medieval period, others apply it only to the early middle ages and refer to the High Middle Ages as the Early Renaissance.  This is done in service to belief, of course.  It is not how the historians generally view things.  (In fact, those have been abandoning such propaganda labels in favor of century labels.)  But in any case, one of the most cherished foundation myths of the Modern Ages is that of the West's struggle to free itself from the violence of religious intolerance.  This is almost as basic as the myth of Galileo springing pristine from the brow of Copernicus. 

One aspect of that violence was the witch mania. 

1. The Age of Faith

Now, belief in sorcery had been common enough among the Romans, who distinguished three classes of witches and prescribed death for the worst class.  It was common, too, among the Germans, though the details differed.  So it's no surprise if the folk of the Middle Ages, who were after all the descendants of those self-same Romans and Germans, also believed in such things. 

The Church however either ignored magic or treated it leniently; this for the very good reason that she taught that magic was a mere superstition.  St. Patrick's Synod in the 5th century anathematized anyone who believed that there really were witches with magical powers.  Charlemagne issued a Capitulary for Saxony that declared it criminal for anyone acting on a heathen belief in magic to burn or devour the flesh of accused sorcerers.  (This suggests that pagan Germans did not treat sorcerers very nicely.)  The Canon episcopi about the same time declares that women who believe they fly through the air in Diana's train are simply deluded and orders expelled from the congregation anyone who insists on the reality of it. 

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Beware the man of one book

The Feast of Thomas Aquinas

Today is the feast of Thomas Aquinas!  Do something reasonable in his honor!>

Some Thomistic Quotes:
(I've added sources where I know them, but did not chase them down.  If anyone knows the source text, let me know.)

1. Beware the man of one book.

2. It is better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.

3. By nature all men are equal in liberty, but not in other endowments.
(Not even Thomas Jefferson said it better....) 

4. If to provide itself with a king belongs to the right of a given multitude, it is not unjust that the king be deposed or have his power reduced by that same multitude if, becoming a tyrant, he abuses his royal power.
(On Kingship, I:6)  (Not even Thomas Jefferson said it better....) 

5. We marvel at something when, seeing an effect, we do not know the cause.  And since one and the same cause is at times known to certain people and not to others, it happens that some marvel and some do not. 
(On the truth of the catholic faith against the gentiles)

6. Since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it, if it be proved with certainty to be false; lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing.
(Summa theologica, Part I, Q. 68, art. 1) 

7. Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship.
(Commentary on Physics II.8, lecture 14, no. 268) 

8. Sciences are differentiated according to the various means through which knowledge is obtained. For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion—that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e., abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself.
(Summa Theologiae, Part I, Q. 1, art. 1)

9. The suppositions that these astronomers have invented need not necessarily be true; for perhaps the phenomena of the stars are explicable on some other plan not yet discovered by men
llorum tamen suppositiones quas adinvenerunt, non est necessarium esse veras: licet enim, talibus suppositionibus factis, apparentia salvarentur, non tamen oportet dicere has suppositiones esse veras; quia forte secundum aliquem alium modum, nondum ab hominibus comprehensum, apparentia circa stellas salvantur.
(De coelo [On the heavens], II, lect. 17)

10. The theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established, because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this proof were sufficient, forasmuch as some other theory might explain them.
Sicut in astrologia ponitur ratio excentricorum et epicyclorum ex hoc quod, hac positione facta, possunt salvari apparentia sensibilia circa motus caelestes, non tamen ratio haec est sufficienter probans, quia etiam forte alia positione facta salvari possent.
(Summa theologica, I, Q.32, art.1)

11. Practical sciences proceed by building up; theoretical sciences by resolving into components.
Necessarium est enim in qualibet operativa scientia ut procedatur modo compositivo, e contrario autem in scientia speculativa necesse est ut procedatur modo resolutivo, resolvendo composita in principia simplicia.
(Sententia libri Ethicorum [Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics], Bk. I, chap. 3, no. 4)

A miscellany of quotes:
Some of the following seem a bit too colloquial, but the Internet cannot be wrong, can it? 

Good can exist without evil, whereas evil cannot exist without good.

A man has free choice to the extent that he is rational.

All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly.

If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.

Because of the diverse conditions of humans, it happens that some acts are virtuous to some people, as appropriate and suitable to them, while the same acts are immoral for others, as inappropriate to them.

Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.

How is it they live in such harmony the billions of stars - when most men can barely go a minute without declaring war in their minds about someone they know.

It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.

Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine.

To bear with patience wrongs done to oneself is a mark of perfection, but to bear with patience wrongs done to someone else is a mark of imperfection and even of actual sin.

It is possible to demonstrate God's existence, although not a priori, yet a posteriori from some work of His more surely known to us.

Which Brings Us to Today's Bonus Feature

The First Proof of the Existence of God
(The Cosmological Argument)
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How the Greeks Lost Their Groove

On the Origins of Science

An alert reader wrote privately with the following question:

My understanding of Greek thought was that it made real science impossible by attributing "essences" and "natures" to things which acted according to their own powers, rather than according to physical "laws." Hence, ...attempting to experiment on such an object under artificial conditions is useless, because the object will have its nature "disrupted," .... Also, since things (chairs, plants, planets, etc) moved according to their own inner principle, rather than due to some external physical law, there is no need to attempt to "reduce" objects to component parts (atoms, cells, molecules, etc) and therefore no need for subjects like chemistry.

My understanding of the Christian contribution to science was in mechanizing the universe, so that objects behave according to external laws and can be reduced down to its components.

However, ... Edward Feser's The Last Superstition ... argues that the mechanistic worldview of the Enlightenment eliminated formal and final causes ... on philosophical rather than scientific grounds, and that classical theism ... requires a belief in formal and final causes.

...what about Greek thought prevented it from developing science, if there is nothing anti-scientific about viewing the world in terms of essences, powers, final causes, etc.
I can only give my own amateur take on this. 

Many folks, like the estimable Mr. Carrier or the less estimable Mr. Walker, would claim that the Greeks did develop science.  But this is based on equivocation on the term science.  It has multiple meanings.  Depending on which meaning you use, you could make Otto Benz or Thomas Edison into scientists.  But in numerous discussions with creationists, partisans of science have time and again emphasized that science is not merely an accumulation of factoids.  A pile of bricks is not a house.  Nor is it a bunch of lucky guesses or rules of thumb worked out by tinkering and by trial-and-error.  Nor is it technology, a point obscured in our day by the fact that science and engineering really are now conflated in many ways.  Whereas previously the ur-scientist sought to explain why what an engineer had done worked, nowadays the engineer often realizes that something might work because the science predicts it. 

One of the genuine contributions of the positivists, although one now strongly objected to by such luminaries as P.Z.Meyers, is what is sometimes called the Layer Cake, but which I will render as a triangle. 

Start from the bottom, at which we find Empirical Experiences.  Things that we see, hear, feel, etc.  Both science and philosophy start here. 
1. Facts.  When these experiences can be operationally measured, they become facts.  In fact, factum est being the participle of "to make," a fact is something made, a "feat."  Measurement creates facts because the same thing measured in two different ways will often produce two different results.  But the experiment is the premier fact-producing machine.  Fact is also used as a courtesy for meticulously described qualitative observations, such as those Darwin made. 
2. Laws.  Regularities or patterns in the facts are called laws, especially when they can be expressed in mathematical terms.  But they can also be expressed verbally.  Newton did so.  The equations associated with his three laws came later - and don't quite correspond to the three laws.  There is no math at all in Darwin. 
3. Physical Theories.  These are stories or narratives in the context of which a specified body of facts "makes sense."  Newton's theory of gravitation "made sense" of all those astronomical observations and, more importantly, made sense of Copernicanism, which until then had been merely ad hoc.  (Ironically, the empirical evidence for Copernicanism was not found until around 1800.)  Given a physical theory, the natural laws may be deduced and the facts predicted.  When facts are predicted beyond those originally used to develop the theory and then are subsequently found, the theory is supported.  The Third Wave positivists regarded theories as neither true nor false, but only useful. 

Now, if we regard the laws as simply the interface between Fact and Theory, we are ready to commence. 

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Bride of the Age of Unreason

The Archimedes Palimpsest

I have not forgotten my promise to explain the topology of function spaces.  Part II is coming soon!  Meanwhile....

Some may remember our friend Mr. Walker and his marvelously reductive and tendentious rendering of something he called "The Christian Dark Ages," by which he meant what regular historians call the Middle Ages.  In a curmudgeonly mood, I commented on it with The Age of Unreason.  Eventually, someone kindly informed him of this -- his own site makes no provision for contrary voices thinking freely contrary to his dogma -- and he responded with Mike Flynn Discovers the Dark Ages, where he declared that he he was "not a Middle Age scholar" and then he set about proving it.  This led to a riposte of my own Return of the Age of Unreason Part I and II, before I got bored.  This sort of thing is like goat barbecue.  The more you chew it, the bigger it gets.  Walker makes a one sentence ejaculation of faith; the response is a paragraph or two; but then Walker's next antiphon is a series of paragraphs to each statement, sometimes even to a word or two, each of which garners another paragraph in the harvest, and soon we have something very much like the expansion of the early universe a la Alan Guth's gloss on the Big Bing.  There is a lot of dark energy here, if there is any at all. 

In any case, in the True Spirit of the Web, some dude named Richard Carrier has now weighed in with Flynns Pile of Boners.  Now, first, I am astonished that anyone still uses the term "boner," but aside from that Mr. Carrier really is an historian - at least he has a Ph.D., which is no small potatoes - but he is no less tendentious.  His degree is in ancient history, and so he owns a lot more factoids from that era; but not necessarily of the medieval period.  His tendentiousness takes a novel twist.  He agrees that Walker was full of it.  The Christians, he admits, did not deliberately destroy ancient learning etc.  They simply neglected it because they did not care.  Presumably, they were busy thumping their Bibles and shouting "Do Jesus!" or something. 
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But we digress.  Let's get to the topic of tonight's symposium.  Namely

The Archimedes Palimpsest

Carrier writes:
[The Christians] just showed little to no interest in [ancient writings], and thus let them rot and vanish, sometimes even scraping them off and writing over them with hymns to God, as happened to the Archimedes Codex. This was not because of any hatred at Archimedes or desire to suppress his work. It was just because of a complete disinterest in that work, and a greater preference for preserving hymns to God instead. Such represents the pervasive attitude of medieval Christianity, even in the East, where this terrible "deliberate" destruction of the work of Archimedes occurred.

I respond:

One of the oldest Bibles we have is a ghost text on a palimpsest overwritten with perfectly ordinary sermons.  Unless Carrier is prepared to argue that they had a complete disinterest in the Bible, it may well be that their motives in overwriting a text were not what he wants them to have been. 

Of course, over-writing was what "scratch paper" was for.  You rough-drafted it on the parchment, then fine-copied it to the paper, then "scratched" off the parchment for re-use.  Remember, this stuff was expensive, and you re-used it as much as possible.  That's why scholars - including Ockham - had razors.  From which, our word "eraser." 

+ + +
Now, I had written in response to Walker that
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.

To which Carrier responded:
There is actually no good evidence for this assertion. The evidence we have actually suggests the contrary. As discussed in The Archimedes Codex, at the time this palimpsest was made (in the 13th century), his works were so rare there may have been only two other codices in the world with Archimedean works in them, neither of which contained all the works erased in this one (much less all the works of Archimedes).

...the text wasn't erased by an attempt to 'suppress calculus', but neither was it erased in the belief that the text wouldn't be lost. It was erased quite simply because no one cared anymore.

I was unclear. At the time of the erasure in the 13th century, the Archimedian corpus was copied and translated, probably in Sicily; that means there was at least one Greek copy which resulted in at least one Latin copy.  Some of the Greek mss avaialable at the time are no longer extant, and we have only the Latin translations.  We now know that at least two Greek mss were not available in Sicily; but that was far more likely due to Bacon's "shipwrecks of time" than because "no one cared anymore."  If no one cared, why did Billy Moerbeke copy all the Archimedian treatises he could find?  In Sicily.
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In sum: if the Christians were so indifferent to Archimedes-the-mathematician, then why did Leo the Geometer, cousin of the Patriarch, copy it?  Why did Bishop William try to translate into Latin the entire Archimedian corpus in the same era when the famous palimpsest was overwritten?  (BTW, Billy Moerbeke's translations are still there in the Vatican library!  Unless some of them have been lost.  Rome has been sacked a time or two in the interim.) 
(*) Domitian and the burnt libraries (pl.)  The complete passage in Suetonius' Domitianus 20 reads:
Liberalia studia imperii initio neglexit, quanquam bibliothecas incendio absumptas impensissime reparare curasset, exemplaribus undique petitis missisque Alexandream qui describerent emendarentque. 


Bride of the Middle Ages

Return of the Age of Unreason - Part II

This is a continuation of this:

In this part, we will take up two questions rather than pick over this or that misconception in Mr. Walker's essay.  Instead, we will make the positive case.  And because the case is medieval and I just plain feel like it, I will cast them in the form of the medieval Question genre.  The format runs as follows: 
  1. The Question to be answered; sometimes broken down into separate articles. 
  2. The principles Objections (Antitheses) or arguments against the questions.  (It would seem not, because...)
  3. The principle argument in favor of the question (the Thesis)   (On the contrary...)
  4. The determination of the question (Synthesis)  (I answer that...)
  5. The specific rebuttals of the Antitheses. 

The arguments are typically in abbreviated form, as writing materials were expensive and the medieval student was assumed to be familiar with the required readings and would recognize an entire argument from a "key phrase."  To the modern ear, Questions seem oddly verbose -and- curt.  In those days, texts did not have standard pagination, so the "key" phrases were the way they "referenced" or "footnoted."  The necessary texts are listed at the end of the Questions. 

Question I.  The nature of the Scientific Revolution. 
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