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October 18th, 2009

Those Terrible Middle Ages

A Faithful, if anonymous Correspondent asks regarding the Capclave presentation:
Subject: "Those Terrible Middle Ages!"
Outstanding presentation! Even better than your panels on alternate history and Darwin's bicentennial.

Please post a list of the books you cited so everyone can find them. Also please turn your presentation into a book or, at the very least, a slide show posted here.

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Okay, Anonymous, you got it.  The following are from my personal library, saving only that some of the editions shown are more recent than the ones I have.  The Heer, Goetz, Pirenne, Gimpel, Pernoud, and Huizinga are translations (from German, French, and Dutch, resp.) 

I did not mention all of these by name in the presentation.  Those named were the Huff, Pernoud, White, and the first Grant book listed below.  I did not get to the crusades or inquisitions in the alloted time. 

1. Toby Huff: The Rise of Early Modern Science.  2. Regine Pernoud: Those Terrible Middle Ages!  

3. Lynn White: Medieval Technology and Social Change.  4. Edward Grant: The Foundations of Science in the Middle Ages. 

5. Edward Grant: Science & Religion 400 BC-1550 AD.  6. Edward Grant: God and Reason in the Middle Ages.  Grant is the go-to guy for medieval science.  Also, any book by David Lindberg. 

7. David Lindberg, ed. Science in the Middle Ages (articles on all the sciences).  8. Lindberg: The Beginnings of Western Science. 

9. Jean Gimpel: The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages.  10. Hans-Werner Goetz: Life in the Middle Ages. 

11. Friedrich Heer: The Medieval World.  12. Thomas Madden: The New Concise History of the Crusades. 

Popular book on the medieval by Gies & Gies:  13. Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages.  14. Life in a Medieval Village. 

15. Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages   16. Edward Peters: Inquisition. 

17. Henri Pirenne: Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe.  18. Johan Huizinga: The Autumn of the Middle Ages

19. Norman Cantor: In the Wake of the Plague.  20. Eileen Power: Medieval People. 

21. H.A.Guerber: Middle Ages Myths and Legends

Most of the titles are self-explanatory. 
#2 is sweetly sarcastic and covers most aspects of the middle ages from art and architecture to serfdom to seignorialism etc., focusing on the common legends.  Pernoud also wrote Women in the Days of Cathedrals; Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses; The Templars; The Crusaders; Blanche of Castile; Hildegarde of Bingen; Eleanor of Aquitaine; and other biographies. 
#10 focuses on the Early Middle Ages and mostly in Germany.
#12 is an overview at a very high level, essentially an introduction. 
#16 covers the history of inquisition, the myth of the history, and the history of the myth. 
#18 is primarily interested in the art and literature of the Court of Burgundy in the 15th century and has sometimes been titled "The Waning of the Middle Ages" in an abridged version. 
#19 consists of sketches of reconstructed lives of actual individuals at different times and places. 
#20 are the legends that were popular back then, like Charlemagne, Arthur, Holger Dansk, etc. 


The Age of Unreason


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 NoBeliefs.com 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." 

I got carried away and rambled on. Sheesh. Read at own riskCollapse )

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

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

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6. Walker writes: "The Priests of Christianity kept the public from education, including the study of their own Bible."  

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

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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."

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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."  

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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.

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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." 

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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)."  

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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."  
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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."  

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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]." 

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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.)

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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.

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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).

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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.   
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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. 
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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: m-francis.livejournal.com/101659.html



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