Friday, March 04, 2011

Carrier on Science and Medieval Christianity

HT: John Loftus 

This is Carrier's blog entry, from a few years back, on the negative role that Christianity has played in the development of science. The combox is worth reading, since he faces some challenging discussion from J. D. Walters and J. L. Hinman.

A couple of things off the top of my head. First, the major advances of modern science, when it became clear that science could really make a difference not only in the way we view the world, but also the way in which we live our lives, happened in Christian Europe, not Hindu India, or Buddhist Japan, or Islamic Arabia. To say that it would have arisen in Ancient Greece if things had been different strikes me as sheer speculation.

Second, it seems to me that a polytheistic view would have made it impossible to formulate, say, a law of universal gravitation. If Zeus is in control of the sky, but Poseidon is in control of the sea, then to me it just wouldn't make sense to say that the same law of gravity operates in both realms. I suppose if someone accepted modern naturalism, then you could just affirm that the laws of physics are just there and that's all, but even here I wonder if should expect stable laws of nature on naturalistic assumptions. It's always been my view that there is no reason to believe that the laws of nature will remain stable unless there's a God.

87 comments:

Papalinton said...

"First, the major advances of modern science, when it became clear that science could really make a difference not only in the way we view the world, but also the way in which we live our lives, happened in Christian Europe, not Hindu India, or Buddhist Japan, or Islamic Arabia. "

The holocaust also happened in christian Europe, and not in Hindu India,or Buddhist Japan, or Islamic Arabia.

Chris W said...

Uh, I think the philosophers in Ancient Greece interested in the natural world were already way behond the crude polytheism you describe, or had at least allegorized it away. Think Aristotle, not Homer.

GREV said...

The killing of millions by the Japanese in South East Asia and China a fact rather conveniently overlooked. In the 21st Century no less.

B. Prokop said...

Victor,

Unlike others, I will stay on topic here.

You wrote in the original posting: "but even here I wonder if should expect stable laws of nature on naturalistic assumptions."

You have hit the nail on the head, when it comes to the latest fad in theoretical physics: the Multiverse. Naturalist cosmologists, at a loss to account for the fine tuning of the universe that allows for our very existence, have resorted to imagining an infinite number of simultaneously existing universes (the "multiverse"), in which each separate universe would have its own unique laws of nature. Using the principle of an "Infinite Number of Monkeys on an Infinite Number of Typewriters", they can therefore dodge the whole issue by saying ours just happens to be rational and livable by random chance, whereas the overwhelming number of these theorized alternate universes would not be so.

Papalinton said...

Grev
"The killing of millions by the Japanese in South East Asia and China a fact rather conveniently overlooked. In the 21st Century no less."

The Japanese invasion did not single out specific, and particularly one specific ethnic group, for total extermination. Were the Chinese and South-East Asians 'christ killers'?

Papalinton said...

Bob Prokop
What's anything to do with multiverses have to do with staying on topic?

Sheesh

Victor Reppert said...

Papalinton: Fair enough, even though the teachings of Christianity proscribed the Holocaust, some ideas that became prevalent in the Christian community were helped to make the Holocaust possible, in particular Christian anti-Semitism. It's chapter of Christian history that I am not proud of but don't overlook.

So, by parity of argument, you should similarly acknowledge the role of Christian ideas in the advent of modern science. If you don't want me drawing this conclusion, it would have been better if you hadn't pointed out the Christ-killer business.

Papalinton said...

No amount of christian apologetics going into overdrive is going to change the perception and indeed the historical facts of the obtuse nature of the christianities to the advancement of science.
People simply understand that science developed despite, rather than because of christianity. This is as plain as the nose on one's face, if it is not turned up.

Apologetics is a dead letter.

Papalinton said...

Hi Victor
"Papalinton: Fair enough, even though the teachings of Christianity proscribed the Holocaust ...."

Just as the church proscribes homosexuality.

In respect of the 'christ killer' note, I retract that statement, but I am mindful of the long christian context in which such a circumstance as the holocaust might have arisen. I take as my referent point, the Albigensian [Cathar] incident, among others.

GREV said...

John Lennox's God's Undertaker:has Science Buried God -- does a wonderful genral audience level job of tracing the development of Science and rooting it firmly in the Christian worldview of a belief in a Rational Ordered Universe.

"Their belief in God, far from being a hindrance to their science, was often the main inspiration for it and they were not shy of saying so. The driving force behind Galileo's questing mind, for example, was his deep inner conviction that the Creator who had endowed us with senses, reason and intellect intended us not to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. Johannes Kepler described his motivation thus: “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.” Such discovery, for Kepler, amounted, in his famous phrase, “to thinking God's thoughts after him.”
-- page 21 – God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? John Lennox

He goes on to comment how even the distinguished historian of Science, Brooke, gives a qualified credit to the role of Christianity. Credit nonetheless.

And who can forget Northhead's famous 1927(?)lecture?

As a historian of WW II, ignorance of war aims and policy always makes me wonder about why people peddle what they peddle.

Clash of worldviews. I get it.

Victor Reppert said...

Christianity and science are opposed to one another, because it's just obvious?

GREV said...

The conflict myth between relgion and science is a myth still driven by people desparate to further their own ends.

I do not excuse the damage done by the Church but the idea of an ongoing conflict between religion and science is a myth.

Papalinton said...

GREV
John Lennox? Factual? Hardly.

I have read my copy of his book a number of times and the underlying thematic he pursues as that of apologetics.

Indeed his last two paragraphs are emblematic of that appeal to apologetics:

"In conclusion, I submit that, far from science having buried god, not only do the results of science point towards his existence [?], but the scientific enterprise itself is validated by his existence [?].

Inevitably of course, not only those of us who do science, but all of us have to choose the presupposition with which we start. There are not many options - essentially just two. Either human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to mindless matter [note the negative emotive connotation], or there is a Creator [?]. [Why only two? I understand Buddhism is somewhat different.] It is strange that some people claim that it is their intelligence that leads them to prefer the first to the second [again note the emotive inference in the decision]."

Those in [..] are my additions.

Nuff said.

GREV said...

Papalinton -- your right wing fundamentalism is truly sad to behold.

Enough said.

unkleE said...

"People simply understand that science developed despite, rather than because of christianity."

It is true that people simply understand this, but their understanding happens to be (mostly) historically wrong. The most respected historians of science (e.g. David Lindberg, Ronald Numbers, Edward Grant) don't understand that. There were many important natural philosophers (i.e. scientists) in the middle ages, many of them clerics, who worked away in universities, supported by the church, and quite unmolested by the church. And most of the stories of persecution of science by the church back then are myths or exaggerated. I refer you to this blog, by a strongly committed atheist and amateur historian, for more details on all this.

You can take your pick - what the best historians tell us, or what suits your polemic interest.

GREV said...

With that may everyone have a good one. As my biologist relative would remind me, dialogue with right wing fundamentalists on both sides of the religion and science divide is a questionable place to invest one's time.

Papalinton said...

GREV
Sorry to disappoint you GREV. I actually grew up, participated in and am an advocate for the union movement. My politics is left of centre, akin to Obama's, and would identify strongly with the Democrats if I was American or Labor of Canada.

Your branding is just nonsense, and typical of the frustration of impotence at trying to stamp the authority of scripture as truth. Well fewer and fewer are buying it these days and fewer still will be into the future. No amount of 'head-burying' is going to change the inexorable trend to secularism founded on humanism and humanitarian values. Whether christians come along for the ride or not will be up to them.

Victor Reppert said...

So that's your argument? Resistance to the Borg is futile!

Papalinton said...

UnkleE
"The most respected historians of science (e.g. David Lindberg, Ronald Numbers, Edward Grant) don't understand that."

The BIG question, unkleE, is, 'can theist scholars be objective'?

Each of those you mention are first and foremost, believing practicing christians, and in that context, they are singularly bound to the christian worldview. Why would they do anything to compromise that worldview? To resist shaping their scholarship on the play between science and religion, and applying objectivity, is simply ludicrous. They are not in the business of objectivity of science and religion. I suspect their motive is the antithesis to objectivity. It is about fitting science around the christian worldview. Innumerable examples exist today:

1. Creationism being inveigled into the high school science curriculum. Just look around the various States that are attempting to do this as we speak.
2. Wearing condoms is a sin and contributes to the spread of HIV-AIDS
3. Stem cell research is akin to 'playing god' - sheesh
4. The Creation Museum - kids riding dinosaurs in the 6,000 years of earth's existence.
5. 'Evolution is only a theory' - the christian mantra
6. The teleological interpretation of the fine-tuning of the universe - only god could have done it. [If so, which of the 30,000-plus gods was responsible?] Sheesh
7. God caused the Indonesian tsunami and the Haitian earthquake - need I say more
8. etc etc
7.

Papalinton said...

Victor
"So that's your argument? Resistance to the Borg is futile!"

Absolutely not. But the predominance of religion in society is rightfully being challenged as on so many fronts it has proven to be a rather dismal failure, not the least, in the chain-dragging attempts against science. No better place is this noted than at BioLogos and the catholic First Things websites. Indeed Loftus's DC website is a fair representation of the nonsense about science endemic in the christian community at large.

I do not have any objection to people believing in that which they wish to believe. It is a personal and private matter. It is the guiding principle by which people can conduct their own lives. However, religions, having a global positive community influence is simply nonsense. No better examples can be made than the Westboro Baptist Church on dead soldiers' funerals, the screaming against the Islamic cultural centre and Mosque near Ground Zero, Pat Robertson's outrageous outbursts, catholic obfuscation and cover-up of pedophile priest, the Benny Hinns of the megachurch circuits.

The only thing that bids humanity together Victor, is our commonality of being humans. We need to encourage secularism, we must strive for the best that humanitarian values can provide us as a basis for going forward. A resort to 1stC CE thinking, or 7thC CE thinking of the Koran, has on balance, more negatives than positives in today's multi-ethnic, multicultural and diverse populations that are increasingly living together in a smaller world.

That's the underlying driver of social changes occurring. Ancient thinking does not cut the mustard anymore.

Cheers

Anonymous said...

In other words, yeah, "resistance is futile!" is all that's left.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

The idea that our view is going to win and it is inevitable is sheer propaganda. History is full of the ebb and flow of various viewpoints, many of who claimed they were inevitable and it did not work out that way. Communism was once booked as the necessary wave of the future, but it does not seem to have worked out that way. Christianity has been around for 2000 years and we have been told over and over again that out defeat was certain. It has not happened yet. Resistance is not futile.

Joel said...

"Each of those you mention are first and foremost, believing practicing christians, and in that context, they are singularly bound to the christian worldview. Why would they do anything to compromise that worldview? To resist shaping their scholarship on the play between science and religion, and applying objectivity, is simply ludicrous. They are not in the business of objectivity of science and religion. I suspect their motive is the antithesis to objectivity. It is about fitting science around the christian worldview."

You've never heard of these people, have you? Everything you said here is wrong. These people are not Christian apologists - Numbers is not even a Christian. I'm not sure of Grant's and Lindberg's religious views, but they are recognized as top historians in their field, not "first and foremost Christians." If you're going to dismiss Edward Grant's writings on the history of science as worthless, you might as well trash the entire discipline of history. You sound just like the creationist who says that anyone who argues for evolution must be trying to destroy Christianity.

Crack open a medieval textbook written in the last decade or two. The idea that the church suppressed science in the middle ages is dead in academic circles. It hasn't filtered down to popular understanding, but there are plenty of things "known" at the popular level that are wrong (such as that heavy objects fall faster, or that Columbus somehow proved the earth isn't flat).

Papalinton said...

@ Anonymous and Mike Erich the Mad Theologian

It isn't about 'resistance'. If you think adherence to theism is about 'resistance', then you are simply displaying the logic of Don Quixote endlessly tilting at windmills.

My question, "Resistance to what?" To science? To Islam? To reason? To modernity? To Multiculturalism? To Nationalism? What is it that you refer to when you entreat 'resistance'?

And Mike, just as Communism disappeared, so will the christianities become a minority sectional rump in the community. You acclaim the 2,000 years of the christianities as though longevity is a defining factor. Perhaps one ought be reminded of the Egyptian religion, and its 'Book of the Dead', lived supreme for some 3.5-4,000 years before it faded into history's dust. Just as Roman polytheism has disappeared, as has the Greek panoply of gods.

It will be three steps forward and two steps back, but the established trend seems to suggest the christianities has peaked and is now waning. Pockets in Africa and in the old Soviet Union are not an indicator of the wider global trends.

Cheers

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

Papalinton,

Let not him who grids on his sword boast like him who takes it off again.

I could counter with an opinion that in my opinion faith in naturism is waning, but all such predictions are futile. History is full of failed predictions of people who thought they were the wave of the future. The Greek and Egyptian religions were superseded by Christianity. Whether you will supersede Christianity is yet to be determined.

Cheers

Papalinton said...

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian
" .... but all such predictions are futile."

Precisely. Just as all prophecies [read 'predictions'] in the collection of judea-christian mythology have come to naught. Of course, we know why that is the case, as each one of them was a retrojected forecast to make sense of the Jewish Tanakh, appropriated by the christians, to vicariously give some element of legitimacy to the New Testament and to the gullible.

Papalinton said...

Hi Mike Erich
"I could counter with an opinion that in my opinion faith in naturism [sic] is waning."

Better we keep to 'naturalism'. I have no need to visit a nudist colony.

Cheers

Patrick said...

One might argue that Christianity cannot have caused the Scientific Revolution, as the latter began a long time after the inception of Christianity. But as a matter of fact there are historical events, of which this is true as well, but which are nevertheless regarded as being caused by Christianity, e.g. the Crusades, beginning in the 11th century, the persecution of heretics, beginning in the 13th century, or the persecution of witches, beginning in the 15th century.

Joel said...

"Pockets in Africa and in the old Soviet Union are not an indicator of the wider global trends."

Wider global trends like Christianity massively increasing in China? The real trends are that many parts of the world (not just a few small pockets) outside Europe and the US are becoming more Christian. People who say that Christanity is dying (whether Christians mourning it or atheists celebrating) are looking at things from too Eurocentric a perspective. As Philip Jenkins said, the idea of a "White Christian" may one day become an oddity like a "Swedish Hindu." With current trends, Christianity is on track to eventually become primarily a nonwestern person's religion.

Doctor Logic said...

Victor,

This response drives me bananas because it's hard to believe it runs around in Christian heads unchallenged.

Induction, generally, is the idea that the past is a guide to the future. In practice, we cannot escape it because our brains function as induction machines, i.e., they learn from experience and predict the future. We can no easier give up induction than give up breathing.

Yet Christians keep trotting out this idiotic canard that no one would give induction a second thought if it weren't for Christianity or monotheism.

Every single concept with which we have any familiarity is the result of inductive thinking. We don't deduce the existence of rabbits. We have experiences, and learn to recognize rabbits in those experiences. The same goes for recognizing persons. Indeed, the same can be said for any abstract concept, like "flexibility" or "fruitiness" or "lawfulness".

Moreover, if I truly believed that past experiences were not guides to future experiences, I couldn't do any significant amount of deduction either. I can only hold one or two deductive steps in my mind at once, and I could not rely on any result of prior deduction, since deduction itself is also an experience.

In summary, Hume showed that you can't derive induction from deduction, but you can't do deduction without induction either. Without induction, you would have nothing to deduce, and no reason to trust your deductions had validity in the future.

Yet, here you go claiming that you have an argument for why induction is worthwhile that relies on very abstract conceptions like God, trustworthiness, science, etc., none of which you could rely upon unless you already accepted induction as valid for argumentation. But if induction is valid for argumentation before you begin, you don't need the extra circular and illegitimate step of postulating a God that justifies it.

Papalinton said...

Patrick
"But as a matter of fact there are historical events, of which this is true as well, but which are nevertheless regarded as being caused by Christianity, e.g. the Crusades, beginning in the 11th century, the persecution of heretics, beginning in the 13th century, or the persecution of witches, beginning in the 15th century."


True. But apologetics of Stark, and the takes of the Lindberg and Grant variety, implies that these instances are so minor in the scheme of things, as to render them inconsequential in the grand catholic plan [and god's plan of course which is synonymous to the catholic plan] for humankind, as equally they claim tutelage of science investigation under christian aegis, as the one and only true incubator. For Apologetics, resorting to such propagandizing in recent years, is both disingenuous and mendacious. It is a rearguard reactive knee-jerk response to the openly-public challenges now called to bring religion to account.

Apologetical treatises on religion and science are now no longer 'conventional wisdom', and with the world becoming ever smaller and smaller, enclaves of sectional, parochial thought can no longer find comfort in the oft tyrannies of distance and communication of past times.

The christianities will survive or perish on its capacity to deliver - a multicultural and diverse community of today is demanding more than sectarian and exclusivist club membership offered by individual theist worldviews.

Papalinton said...

Joel
"Wider global trends like Christianity massively increasing in China? "

The Eastern Church couldn't penetrate China a thousand years ago. What makes you think christianity has a chance now?

Read a little history for context might be in order.

Sheesh

Doctor Logic said...

Victor,

I suppose if someone accepted modern naturalism, then you could just affirm that the laws of physics are just there and that's all, but even here I wonder if should expect stable laws of nature on naturalistic assumptions.

Expectation assumes induction. If I give up induction as a principle of reason, I wouldn't expect anything at all. I certainly couldn't expect that God would keep things regular because that would involve induction somewhere along the line.

Papalinton said...

Joel

Re Christians in China; even Wiki notes:

Christianity in China is a growing minority religion that comprises Protestants (called 基督教 Jī dū jiào Christ Religion or 新教 Xīn jiào New Churches), Catholics (天主教 Tiān zhǔ jiào Lord of Heaven Religion), and a small number of Orthodox Christians.

"The growth of the faith has been particularly significant since the loosening of restrictions on religion by the People's Republic since the 1970s, though it has recently slowed down due to the grassroot return of people to the Chinese Ethnic Religion."

Not much there about "massive", and from a very small base I am led to understand.

Joel said...

There were at most 2 million Christians in China in 1970, probably less. It's impossible to definitively count how many there are today, but 40 million is a conservative low-end estimate, and there may well be 100 million or more. This is still a fairly small minority of China's population, but it is a very large amount of growth in a relatively little time.

Anonymous said...

Papa writes: The holocaust also happened in christian Europe, and not in Hindu India,or Buddhist Japan, or Islamic Arabia.

Anon: Then of course we have the overwhelmingly larger figures of people slaughtered under atheistic regimes.

Patrick said...

It could be that one of the roots of the Scientific Revolution was Christianity’s long lasting struggle against magic. A very informative scholarly contribution in this respect is a paper entitled “The Disenchantment of Magic: Spells, Charms, and Superstition in Early European Witchcraft Literature”, written by Michael D. Bailey. It can be read in the following link:

http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/111.2/pdf/bailey_ahr111.2.pdf

David B Marshall said...

There are about 60 million Christians in China today. This was pretty well settled by a massive study by the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor, between 2007 and 2010.

Christianity has been growing in China at a similiar rate to how it grew in the Roman Empire, and more recently in South Korea. Ideological barriers to continued growth seem fairly minimal: "Chinese Ethnic Religion" is a very loose term, which in many ways prepares for the Gospel, and is in any case not so important in China today. But of course no one knows the future.

Victor Reppert said...

Doctor Logic: Expectation assumes induction. If I give up induction as a principle of reason, I wouldn't expect anything at all. I certainly couldn't expect that God would keep things regular because that would involve induction somewhere along the line.

VR: My expectation that God would keep things regular is a direct inference from the immediate knowledge I have of my own mind (about the only thing, perhaps, that I have immediate knowledge about). I know what it is to have a mind. And a mind that prefers disorder to order is simply not a mind. Hence there is something incoherent about the idea of a disordered and chaotic universe that was made by a mind, but there is nothing incoherent about the idea of a chaotic universe that was not made by a mind.

unkleE said...

"Each of those you mention are first and foremost, believing practicing christians, and in that context, they are singularly bound to the christian worldview"

Interesting response, Papalinton, but I wonder whether it is factual?

I spent some time Googling these three historians, and I found no indication of active christian faith. This website makes it clear the both Lindberg and Numbers grew up in a christian environment but have since seriously questioned their faith, and Wikipedia says Numbers " now describes himself as agnostic". I could find nothing either way on Grant.

So, was your statement based on facts or evidence, or did you just make it up?

Papalinton said...

UnkleE
Mea culpa, UnkleE, and thanks for the 'heads-up' on Lindberg and Numbers.

One should check their sources, Twice, and countercheck.

They are not christians first and foremost as I say. The worst I can claim is that they are accommodationists, or they're honest. Either way, they have seen the errors of past-times and at least have had the courage to declare agnosticism .

As John Loftus says: If Nothing Else Look at the Trend, From Conservative to Moderate to Liberal to Agnostic to Atheist. Both are 80% through their coming out 'rite of passage'.

Cheers

unkleE said...

Thanks Papalinton. Two further comments ....

1. Not only are they not obviously christian, but they are clearly eminent and respected for their scholarship.

Wikipedia says: 'Grant is Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Indiana University .... He has received many honors and awards, including the George Sarton Medal in 1992, the most prestigious award given by the History of Science Society that "recognizes those whose entire careers have been devoted to the field and whose scholarship is exceptional."'

And Wikipedia says of Ronald Numbers: "Ronald L. Numbers ... was awarded the 2008 George Sarton Medal by the History of Science Society for "a lifetime of exceptional scholarly achievement by a distinguished scholar".

So getting back to your original comment ("People simply understand that science developed despite, rather than because of christianity."), if these guys say you are mistaken, we can assume they are right.

2. Your comment about the trend is curious. It's like you were wrong about the history of christianity and science, so you changed the subject. But this is just irrelevant. So these guys changed their view, but how do you know they are still on a journey as you infer? This is just another evidence-free assumption. And so what? People are changing positions all the time, and the statistics show that (1) the numbers going each way are almost equal, and (2) the ones converting to theism are actually more educated than the ones going the other way. So your comment is irrelevant and at best the inference is only minimally correct.

Maybe you should quit and stick to facts???

Anonymous said...

Papa writes: Precisely. Just as all prophecies [read 'predictions'] in the collection of judea-christian mythology have come to naught. Of course, we know why that is the case, as each one of them was a retrojected forecast to make sense of the Jewish Tanakh, appropriated by the christians, to vicariously give some element of legitimacy to the New Testament and to the gullible.

Anon: Can you give some examples of some retrojected forecasts in the NT that were intended to Make sense of a Christianized Tanakh?

Doctor Logic said...

Victor:

My expectation that God would keep things regular is a direct inference from the immediate knowledge I have of my own mind (about the only thing, perhaps, that I have immediate knowledge about). I know what it is to have a mind.

Again, this is circular.

First, there's no such thing as immediate knowledge. We certainly have self-knowledge of the order in our minds, but we don't get that instantly. We learn to recognize that order over time. We need memory for order, and we compare our state of mind 5 minutes ago (or 5 days ago) to what it is now.

Moreover, when I say something like "I'm worried about my brother's health, just like I was yesterday", it's implicit that I could recognize my brother and his state of health. And there would be no way I could recognize my brother or a state of health unless those things were regular such that past experiences of "brother" have implications for future experiences of "brother", etc.

Your argument above relies upon the inductive inferences I describe above, and then compounds it with one more inductive inference. Since, in your past experience of minds, minds prefer order, you expect that your future experiences of minds will be of minds that prefer order.

So you are already assuming the cosmos will be sufficiently orderly to make inferences about the future from the past, even before you get to considering God's existence. Hence, God is not the reason you make inductive inferences.

And, finally, your argument doesn't work, even after you accept inductive inferences because physical laws have inherent order as much as minds do. That is, a mind of God isn't necessary (based on the argument you gave), and there's no great advantage in your argument to having an invisible primordial mental order to explain a primordial physical order.

Patrick said...

Another informative scholarly contribution with respect to the relationship between Christianity and Science is the following book:

Brian Easlea, Witch Hunting, Magic and the New Philosophy: An Introduction to Debates of the Scientific Revolution 1450-1750, Atlantic Highlands 1980.

GREV said...

"...and there's no great advantage in your argument to having an invisible primordial mental order to explain a primordial physical order."

Just a question; but aren't we touching here the issue of differences between mechanism and causation?

And having one, an explanation of the physical -- the mechanism -- in no way negates the causation idea of a designer? Each requiring the use of reason/rational thought to deal with the evidence.

Tony Hoffman said...

"It's always been my view that there is no reason to believe that the laws of nature will remain stable unless there's a God."

This seems absurd on two levels: The perception of order must precede the inference of an order-maker. One cannot get to the second part without going through the first.

And a God who controls the laws of nature, and can and does change them at will, is the opposite of a stability. I would reason that science is impossible were those who developed it to think that a god existed who acted thusly. One would be better off studying the mind of God, and not the laws of nature, if one thought that the second was contingent upon the other.

This argument reads like Newspeak to me. Always has.

Patrick said...

The attitude expressed in the following statement made by Thomas Aquinas may have been supportive of the pursuit of Science in the Middle Ages (source: http://www.josephkenny.joyeurs.com/CDtexts/OperatOccult.htm):

“... one finds in the operations of Nature that they proceed along fixed paths to determined ends, with order and in a most fitting way, like those things which are made by human skill; so that the whole work of Nature seems to be the achievement of a wise agent. Thus Nature is said to act with wisdom. Now the work of a wise man ought be well-ordered; for we say rightly that this is characteristic of the sage, that he disposes of all things harmoniously.”

Patrick said...

Such an attitude can also be found in the Bible, as can be seen from passages such as Psalm 104,19-24, 148,3-6, Jeremiah 31,35-36, and 33,25-26.

GREV said...

"And a God who controls the laws of nature, and can and does change them at will, is the opposite of a stability. I would reason that science is impossible were those who developed it to think that a god existed who acted thusly. One would be better off studying the mind of God, and not the laws of nature, if one thought that the second was contingent upon the other.

This argument reads like Newspeak to me. Always has."

Have you read any historians of Science at all? Who do credit the establishment of science in the Christian West with the foundational idea of a rational universe that reflects the rational mind that is God. And they do it to different degrees. But they do it.

Tony Hoffman said...

GREV: “Have you read any historians of Science at all?”

Yupper. I was a history major at an Ivy League University, and my Junior year independent study was in the history of science, so I’ve read my Kuhn, etc. Read a lot of history written by secular historians, have you?

“Who do [you?] credit [with?] the establishment of science in the Christian West with the foundational idea of a rational universe that reflects the rational mind that is God[?] And [those who established science with the foundational idea of a rational universe?] do it to different degrees. But they do it.”

I think the paragraph above was pretty hard to read -- I have shown how I understand it, but correct me if I have misunderstood you.

I find Carrier’s observation that if Christianity caused science, then why did it take more than a 1,000 years to do so? to be a devastating criticism of you the apologetic claim that Christianity caused science.

Inherent in your claim is the premise that Christians alone considered the world regular and capable of supporting induction. This seems preposterous, but feel free to support the claim.

You also appear, as you ask me about how familiar I am with the field, blissfully unaware of other causes that may have led to science coming to fruition first in the West. Can you name any other (more historically mainstream) theories? Because if you can’t, I’m guessing you have limited your reading on this topic to (surprise) apologist authors.

Patrick said...

In my view the Scientific Revolution is one result of the process that the famous sociologist Max Weber called the “disenchantment of the world”. This process seems to have been supported by Christianity’s long lasting struggle against magic. This struggle was on the one hand aimed at the magical practices of the common people, which were deemed as either “superstition” or “diabolical witchcraft”. Michael D. Bailey’s paper mentioned above explains this struggle in more detail. A second object was the concept of magic held by learned men, usually called “natural magic”. Natural magic is treated on pages 90-110 of Easlea’s book mentioned above. That this concept, which includes astrology, is incompatible with Christianity can be seen from the following quote from page 109:

“Natural magic, despite the undoubted piety of (most) natural magicians, posed a threat to Christianity. If nature is occult and extraordinary phenomena have a natural (planetary-stellar, vis imaginativa) explanation, then the miracles of Christ may either have been natural phenomena or the work of an exceptional magician, not necessarily the Son of God. The response of orthodox Christians, it must be emphasized, was to declare natural magic inefficacious and all so-called magical feats either illusions or the work of demons.”

As far as I can see the struggle against magic is a unique feature of Christianity, and this might also be the reason why Modern Science arose in Christian Europe and nowhere else. Another feature supporting of the rise of it may be the theological view I mentioned in my two previous comments.

GREV said...

"You also appear, as you ask me about how familiar I am with the field, blissfully unaware of other causes that may have led to science coming to fruition first in the West. Can you name any other (more historically mainstream) theories? Because if you can’t, I’m guessing you have limited your reading on this topic to (surprise) apologist authors."

Sorry to disappoint you but I have in my library works by historians of science and philosophers of science and a new one by a physicist.

And the historians, while naming other factors and theories, credit Christianity -- Again sorry to Disappoint You -- with laying the vital groundwork for the development of Science. That is the Mainstream Historical Theory for those who fairly weigh the evidence.

Carrier's devastating criticism? I know that in today's culture we think everything should hapopen yesterday. The progress of life and development of ideas. Carrier's criticism means little. I do not argue that the Church impeded progress. So did the secular establishment, enraged at the questioning of dominant paradigms.

I know, you operate out of your worldview as I do. Which one more fairly represents the world is another story. The physicist work I reference above is a fascinating one for many reasons, not the least is the staking of a claim for the redeification of the universe. Or a pantheistic turn on things that everything is God and we are just part of God living the physical life to find out what it is like. It is very well reviewed by other mainstream scientists lending credence to the point that all theories are religious in nature.

A point poorly understood by many.

Joel said...

Atheists seem to think any historian that reaches a conclusion favorable to Christianity is some of kind of apologist, but that's not true. While "Christianity caused science" is a vast oversimplification, Christianity did help make its development possible. The church did not hold science back in the Middle Age or persecute Medieval scientists. This is the mainstream view, including among "secular historians."

It's strange how atheists will dismiss people like Edward Grant, one of the leading authorities in the field, as "biased Christian apologists" (I'm not even sure if he's a Christian) and then cite Richard Carrier as an authority. Carrier is first and foremost an atheist apologist, and he is certainly not a seen as a giant in his field. But of course Christians are the only ones who can be biased.

One basic example of how he is far Carrier is outside of the mainstream is that he says the fourteenth century is "early renaissance." This is rather convenient for his ideological axe-grinding, since it lets him push a lot of medieval achievements out of the Middle Ages. Not only that, he has said that it's dishonest for people to put the fourteenth century in the Middle Ages and that they're just trying to make Christianity look good! It's rather disingenuous of him, however - the basic mainstream dating and overwhelming consensus is that the Middle Ages end at 1500, or 1450 at the earliest.

Also, it's worth pointing out that the mainstream consensus is that ancient Greco-Roman science had been stagnant for a long time well before Christianity became the dominant religion.

Tony Hoffman said...

Joel: “Atheists seem to think any historian that reaches a conclusion favorable to Christianity is some of kind of apologist, but that's not true. While "Christianity caused science" is a vast oversimplification, Christianity did help make its development possible.”

We may seem to think that, but I don’t think that is true. I believe we both agree with what you say above.

Joel: “The church did not hold science back in the Middle Age…”

But on this I think we disagree. If the monasteries of the Middle Ages were to make copies of religious tracts, at the expense of failing to preserve or even destroy technical knowledge from the past, would you agree that this was holding science back?

Joel: “It's strange how atheists will dismiss people like Edward Grant, one of the leading authorities in the field, as "biased Christian apologists" (I'm not even sure if he's a Christian) and then cite Richard Carrier as an authority.”

I don’t dismiss Grant as an apologist. Can you cite any atheists who do?

Joel: “Also, it's worth pointing out that the mainstream consensus is that ancient Greco-Roman science had been stagnant for a long time well before Christianity became the dominant religion.”

I disagree. Have you heard or read Carrier’s list of achievements in Greek and Roman science that pre-date Christianity? Can you cite some historians who argue that Greco-Roman science had been stagnant for a long time well before Christianity?

Patrick said...

On page 349 of his book “The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution” (Washington, DC 2011) James Hannam points to the importance of the belief in God as a motivation for the pursuit of Science:

“The metaphysical cornerstone of modern science is often overlooked. We take it for granted and we do not worry about why people began studying nature in the first place. Today you can enhance the credentials of any outlandish theory you like by labelling it “scientific”, as advertisers and quacks well appreciate. But back in the Middle Ages, science did not enjoy the automatic authority that it has today.

To understand why science was attractive even before it could demonstrate its remarkable success in explaining the universe, it is necessary to look at things from a medieval point of view. The starting point for all natural philosophy in the Middle Ages was that nature had been created by God. This made it a legitimate area of study because through nature man could learn about its creator. Medieval scholars thought that nature followed the rules that God had ordained for it. Because God was consistent and not capricious, these natural laws were constant and worth scrutinizing. However, these scholars rejected Aristotle’s contention that the laws of nature were bound by necessity. God was not constrained by what Aristotle thought. The only way to find out which laws God had decided on was by the use of experience and observation. The motivations and justification of medieval natural philosophers were carried over almost unchanged by the pioneers of modern science. Sir Isaac Newton explicitely stated that he was investigating God’s creation, which was a religious duty because nature reflects the creativity of its maker.”

Tony Hoffman said...

Patrick: "On page 349 of his book “The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution” (Washington, DC 2011) James Hannam points to the importance of the belief in God as a motivation for the pursuit of Science:"

Sigh. Go on James Hannam's website. Look up Regnery publishing, the publisher of the book. This is yet another apologist. The claim being made here is that Carrier is contradicted by the mainstreamm when in fact it appears that all anyone can find are instances of Carrier being contradicted by apologists.

Seriously, do you guys ever read history books from secular historians? Would any of you be open to suggestion about good books on this topic, ones that aren't written by Carrier or an apologist?

BenYachov said...

Tony Hoffman,

I hate to break it to you but on the forum of James Hannam's website one of the heavy hitters is a poster by the name of Tim O'Nell a historian and a self-described "Australian Atheist basdard".

He is a strong & effective critic Carrier's "fun" historic views. He is also thinking of starting a Webstite called Jesus Mythbusters to debunk Jesus Mythers like Carrier.

Maybe you should look more closely before you dismiss out of hand?

Just a suggestion.

Patrick said...

Tony Hoffman

Whether or not James Hannam is a Christian is irrelevant here. Being a trained historian he must be ready to lay himself open to the criticism of fellow historians. The same applies to Brian Easlea and Michael D. Bailey. The former was at the time of the publication of his contribution lecturer in History and Social Studies of Science at the University of Sussex, the latter Assistant Professor of History at Iowa State University.

Joel said...

Hannam's book has been out in Britain for well over a year, and the British publisher (Icon Books) hardly publishes any religious books at all. He has a PhD in the History of Science, and his book has also gotten positive reviews from experts such as Edward Grant and Patricia Fara.

I have read Carrier's chapter in The Christian Delusion, and he mainly interacts with popular apologists such as Rodney Stark (who Hannam is also somewhat critical of) who make crude overstatements like "Christianity caused science."

Joel said...

Tony Hoffman: I do have to admit that after a look at Regnery's site, I can see why you would react that way - they are pretty out-there and they publish those awful "politically incorrect guides", which contain some terrible history.

However, I've read a lot from Hannam and I know him to be balanced, charitable, and fair-minded, not at all like "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War" or "365 Ways to Drive a Liberal Crazy." I've heard of instances where authors have limited control over foreign publishing, perhaps this is one of them. Icon Books' catalog is more representative of what Hannam's book is like than Regnery's.

Patrick said...

Richard Carrier rejects the idea that Christianity is responsible for the Scientific Revolution by saying “You can't propose a cause that failed to have an effect despite being constantly in place for a thousand years”. But as a matter of fact it is not unusual among historians to propose Christianity as the cause of relatively late historical developments. A good example is the codification of the basic individual rights in the late 18th century, of which the German historian Heinrich August Winkler in his article “Still a Community of Values? Historical Thoughts on the Normative Basis of the West” sees the root in the Judeo-Christian view of man.

Patrick said...

In his book “The Ancient Greeks: An Introduction to Their Life and Thought” (London 1963) classical scholar M. I. Finley states that after some remarkable scientific achievements there was a lack of scientific progress in the Greek culture and that this stagnation set in at the end of the 2nd century BC. He puts it down to an “aristocratic” attitude among the intellectual elite, according to which dealing with practical matters was regarded as something inferior.

Tony Hoffman said...

My last few comments here have been deleted -- they show up on posting, but aren't there when I come back.

This is a test to see if I can make a post stick.

If I can get this to hold, I'll respond.

Tony Hoffman said...

Okay, so James Hannam is to b be taken seriously as an impartial historian of the period, and we should all accept his take on how Christianity brought us the scientific revolution?

It appears to me that any Christian here who thinks this must seriously question the extent to which they are subject to their own confirmation bias.Why? To find out, you should read here:

http://newhumanist.org.uk/2416/why-gods-philosophers-did-not-deserve-to-be-shortlisted-for-the-royal-society-prize

I seriously now think that most Christians do not understand the field of history, and are not sufficiently trained to understand who to approach thsi field. Which is shocking to me, because it's about as hard as falling off a tree.

Patrick said...

Charles Freeman’s reference to the Italian city-states from 1200 onwards, to which the city-states in other parts of Western Europe may be added, could provide an indication of the cause of the Scientific Revolution. The political and economic elites of these city-states often consisted of merchants or craftsmen. Unlike the elites in ancient Greek and Roman societies, who, as I pointed out in my previous post, valued practical labour little, they were engaged in such activities and may have been interested in improvements in this respect. So, these men’s practical-mindedness together with the theological attitude I mentioned earlier may have provided a fertile ground for the Scientific Revolution. Freeman might also be right when he states that the universities played a minor role in this process.

Tony Hoffman said...

Patrick: "So, these men’s practical-mindedness together with the theological attitude I mentioned earlier may have provided a fertile ground for the Scientific Revolution."

I believe that the theological attitude which permits frequent, miraculous intervention is contrary to scientific study. Freeman is equally exasperated by this contention. So if that is the theological attitude you speak of I disagree.

It seems to me that the scholastics may have created a theological rationale that permitted Christians to study the natural world. (And kudos to them for that.) But permission to study regularities in the natural world is hardly a Christian invention.

BenYachov said...

>Okay, so James Hannam is to b be taken seriously as an impartial historian of the period, and we should all accept his take on how Christianity brought us the scientific revolution?

Here is what I don't get Tony. Why is it so inconceivable that you could possibly accept James Hannam's thesis and yet still believe God does not exist and reject the metaphysical and doctrinal claims of Christianity?

I don't get it?

Joel said...

Yes, I am aware of Charles Freeman's negative review of Hannam's book. I am currently reading through the book, and I think Freeman is uncharitable and misrepresents Hannam at some points.

Additionally, Freeman's contention that historians have not noticed God's Philosophers is simply wrong. He quotes Edward Grant as if Grant would disagree with Hannam, but Grant did in fact give the book a very positive review. So did other historians such as Patricia Fara of Cambridge. You would think that if this were just Catholic apologetics masquerading as history, these professors would be smart enough to the figure it out. The fact that recognized experts endorse the book does not prove Hannam is right on everything, but it does mean it deserves to be taken seriously as a work of popular history.

Also, Freeman is not immune to confirmation bias just because he is a humanist. As long as we're linking to negative reviews, Charles Freeman's own books on the subject have come under criticism, and not only from Christians.
http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/2009/06/closing-of-western-mind-by-charles.html
http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/2009/07/reply-from-charles-freeman-of-sorts.html

Joel said...

"I seriously now think that most Christians do not understand the field of history, and are not sufficiently trained to understand who to approach thsi field."

I majored in Computer Science and History (not at a Christian university) and I still read history books in my spare time, so I think I understand it better than most. I don't like propaganda revisionist history, whether it's Noam Chomsky's hysterical Marxist screeds or far-right stuff eulogizing the founding fathers as super-devout evangelicals or assertions that the Crusades were mostly defensive wars (usually to justify current American policy). Hannam's book does not fall into this category, despite Freeman's protesting.

Also, on your side a growing number of atheists believe that Jesus never existed. I hope you will agree that this is not good history at all.

I feel like this discussion has run its course, so I will let you have the last word.

Tony Hoffman said...

Ben: "Here is what I don't get Tony. Why is it so inconceivable that you could possibly accept James Hannam's thesis and yet still believe God does not exist and reject the metaphysical and doctrinal claims of Christianity?"

I'm not sure if I've parsed the above correctly (could you maybe separate them into three sentences?).

For the first part of the question, it is not inconceivable, and should never be, that I accept Hannam's thesis. (Questions like this are why I wonder if you understand the study of history.)

What I have been trying to argue is that books like Hannam's are outside the historical consensus (not books like Carrier’s), and that is because b) Hannam's thesis is not well-supported by the historical evidence.

So I’m not really sure what you mean by the second and third parts of your question above. (Is it inconceivable that I believe God does not exist? Or is it that I believe God does not exist? I just can’t make out what it is you’re asking me.)

Tony Hoffman said...

Joel: “I am currently reading through the book, and I think Freeman is uncharitable and misrepresents Hannam at some points.”

Okay. Fine, that could very well be true. Please cite some examples so I can see what you’re talking about.

Joel: “The fact that recognized experts endorse the book does not prove Hannam is right on everything, but it does mean it deserves to be taken seriously as a work of popular history.”

I would think that any historical work that is popular should be taken seriously. (A popular historical work that made a case that the aliens helped the Egyptians should be taken seriously if, for instance, it sold a million copies, only because it sold a million copies. We’d all be negligent, at some point, if we ignored the fact that historical revisionists are receiving credibility not for their arguments but by the number of audience members they serve.) The question isn’t whether or not Hannam’s work is popular or whether or not it should be taken seriously in its genre, but whether or not its thesis is supported by the historical evidence. One good way to examine this is to see what other historians have concluded when they undertook a similar examination of the same materials.

Joel: “Also, Freeman is not immune to confirmation bias just because he is a humanist. As long as we're linking to negative reviews, Charles Freeman's own books on the subject have come under criticism, and not only from Christians.”

Of course all historians are subject to their own biases. And my point wasn’t that Hannam’s work was badly reviewed, but the arguments in the review for why Hannam’s work was an example of poor history.

Joel said...

The most glaring example is in the follow-up article where Freeman that Hannam believes "the Church is justified in burning those who disagree with it." In fact, Hannam says clearly that "There is no defense for subjecting people to an agonizing death over religious disagreements."

Freeman says Hannam is "obsessed" with Giordano Bruno, but Hannam only spends four pages on him. He basically says that Hannam thinks Giordano Burno deserved what he got, but while Hannam is negative on Bruno in some ways, he says in the end "with incredible bravery, he stuck to his guns...nobody deserves this terrible fate [of being burnt by the Inquisition]."

He mines a couple of quotes to say that Hannam promotes the idea of "uninterrupted advance" during the early Middle Ages. But while Hannam argues that it wasn't a period of complete darkness (which shouldn't be controversial), he acknowledges that western Europe suffered many setbacks during this time and that it remained relatively backward as late as 1000 AD. He might not treat this in as much detail as Freeman would like, but the Early Middle Age chapter is mostly just to set the context for the rest of the book.

It seems like Freeman wants to read Hannam in the most uncharitable light possible (and there is a little bit of negative personal history between them).

Tony Hoffman said...

Joel, okay, thanks. That makes more sense to me. I appreciate your taking the time to list some of the instances that support your claim.

I think that Freeman is critical of Hannam not being consistent with what he says. I'm not sure it's quote mining to find instances where Hannam says one thing and then says something contrary later. (But, yeah, I do get the sense that Freeman doesn't like Hannam.)

BenYachov said...

>For the first part of the question, it is not inconceivable, and should never be, that I accept Hannam's thesis.

That answers my question. Thank you.

Patrick said...

I have pointed to the importance of the economic life in Medieval city-states, based on trade, with respect to the Scientific Revolution. As a matter of fact, there were pioneers of modern science coming from such cities: Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was from Pisa, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) from Weil der Stadt and Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647) from Faenza.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) was from Brussels in Flanders. In the Wikipedia article about Flanders we can read:

“During the late Middle Ages Flanders' trading towns (notably Ghent, Bruges and Ypres) made it one of the richest and most urbanized parts of Europe, weaving the wool of neighbouring lands into cloth for both domestic use and export. As a consequence, a very sophisticated culture developed, with impressive achievements in the arts and architecture, rivaling those of Northern Italy.”

Trade was also the central economic activity in the Hanseatic cities in Northern Europe. To these belonged the city of Thorn, where Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) came from. Maybe not accidentally he was the son of a merchant.

Another Hanseatic city was Magdeburg. It was the hometown of another pioneer of modern science, Otto von Guericke (1602-1686).

Patrick said...

Tony Hoffman

In his article ‘Miracles’ in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Timothy McGrew points out that famous scientists such as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton were defenders of the Christian miracle claims. Obviously in the early days of modern science belief in miracles and the pursuit of science were not regarded as being incompatible with each other.

Tony Hoffman said...

“Obviously in the early days of modern science belief in miracles and the pursuit of science were not regarded as being incompatible with each other.”

The point is that theists can’t have it both ways – theists can’t claim that theism alone provides the underpinnings of an ordered world while allowing that theism also subjects the world to arbitrary interventions that disorder that world. There’s a disjunction there.

Here’s the question: do you think that the world of the naturalist, where nature always behaves predictably according to laws that can be discovered (Euclid on forward), or the world of the theist, where nature behaves according to the direction of a law-giver who sometimes changes those rules, is the more conducive to the study of nature we now call science?

If you think the second, you’ll have to make an argument of why you think this would be so. Because it seems much more likely to me that men like Newton and Boyle made their contributions despite their belief in miracles, as opposed to because of it.

Also, you can’t just look at, say, Newton’s belief in miracles and his contributions and say that the first is a cause of the second. In fact, there is some evidence that Newton’s belief in the supernatural diverted his mind from making greater contributions:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton's_occult_studies

Tony Hoffman said...

Sorry, link got cut off:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton's_occult_studies

Patrick said...

Tony Hoffman

I think when evaluating Newton’s “occult” beliefs, one has to make a distinction between false and irrational beliefs. Much of what alchemists believed has turned out to be false, such as the idea that there is a material that can turn base metals into gold. But nevertheless I don’t regard this view as irrational or superstitious, but just as obsolete. We simply cannot blame people for having false ideas due to the fact that the relevant data were not available to them.

This certainly also applies to Newton’s views about the history of various ancient kingdoms. We cannot blame him for relying on classical historians concerning this matter.

Obviously there were magical elements in Newton’s views. This can be seen from the fact that he was very much influenced by Rosicrucianism, which was deeply rooted in Hermetic magic. In the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era Hermetic magic, natural magic and Cabalist magic fascinated many learned men. This bothered many Christian theologians because they regarded magical phenomena as demonic illusions. Very informative in this respect is the following quote from pages 109-110 of Brian Easlea’s book mentioned earlier:

“[T]he extreme heterodoxy of Giordano Bruno’s magic brought home to the Church the dangers inherent in the natural magical and Hermetic tradition. By the time the Rosicrucian manifestos had appeared in print naming the Pope as the Antichrist and calling on all Christians to prepare for the coming Spiritual and Social Restoration, a Christian counterattack on all aspects of magical thought and practice was well under way.

The thrust of this attack was the familiar one of declaring terrestrial matter to be devoid of all occult properties peculiar to natural magic, the stars and planets to be natural bodies that in no way emitted influences that could be tapped by natural magicians, that God alone knew the names of the objects, that Hebrew was the language of Adam not of God, and that therefore use of the Hebrew language gave the Cabalist magician no magical power over objects in the natural world. If incantations were efficacious in any way, this was through the agency of demons and not through the power of words over things or through the force of the magician’s vis imaginativa. Christians in general did not wish to deny the reality of marvellous phenomena, only to deny them non-demonic natural magical explanations based on the ascription to matter of very remarkable properties.”

Patrick said...

As Michael D. Bailey in his paper mentioned earlier points out, the idea that magical phenomena are demonic illusions can be regarded as a disenchantment of magic, and this view of magic was deeply rooted in Christian thought, going back to Antiquity.

Patrick said...

Tony Hoffman

What is of interest here is whether or not people up to Newton’s time could believe in miracles and at the same time assume lawful regularity in nature. Looking at Newton or at Thomas Aquinas in his contribution mentioned earlier it was certainly possible. Therefore the belief in miracles obviously didn’t prevent people from studying nature, especially if we assume that even people who believe in miracles are aware of regularities in nature and if we furthermore assume that even for such people mundane events were much more common than miraculous ones, if they had experienced miracle-like events at all.

Tony Hoffman said...

Patrick, not sure what you were addressing with your last comments. I asked, "Here’s the question: do you think that the world of the naturalist, where nature always behaves predictably according to laws that can be discovered (Euclid on forward), or the world of the theist, where nature behaves according to the direction of a law-giver who sometimes changes those rules, is the more conducive to the study of nature we now call science?"

Tony Hoffman said...

I agree with this, btw:

"Therefore the belief in miracles obviously didn’t prevent people from studying nature, especially if we assume that even people who believe in miracles are aware of regularities in nature and if we furthermore assume that even for such people mundane events were much more common than miraculous ones..."

Patrick said...

Tony Hoffman

I think your characterization of the theist doesn’t apply to the medieval natural philosophers. This can be seen from what Thomas Aquinas wrote in the text mentioned above, entitled “De operationibus occultis naturae ad quendam militem ultramontanum”.

Aquinas makes a distinction between natural phenomena showing lawful regularity, hereby accepting the concept of natural laws, and those lacking this quality. The former are charaterized by “form and power imparted by a superior agent” and by “an intrinsic principle”. As examples he presents the illumination of the moon through light received from the sun and the fact that the magnet attracts iron.

To the latter category belong miracles. He mentions “the fact that sick people were cured at the shadow of Peter the Apostle or that some illness is dispelled upon contact with a saint’s relics”. But such phenomena are “not attributable to a form implanted in these bodies, but only to the divine power which uses the bodies for these results” and that’s why “not every bone nor all the relics of the saint heal upon touch, but those of some at some times”. Therefore the objects involved act “only through the power of the superior agent, without receiving a form for acting“.

Patrick said...

Another indication that Christian theologians were not hostile towards scientific endeavour to detect lawful regularity in nature can be found in the following quote, taken from St. Augustine’s “Confessions” (source: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2006/11/science-and-medieval-christianity.html):

“I had read a great many scientific books which were still alive in my memory. When I compared them with the tedious tales of the Manichees it seemed to me that, of the two, the theories of the scientists were the more likely to be true … The reason and understanding by which they investigate these things are gifts they have from you. By means of them they have discovered much and foretold eclipses of the sun and moon many years before they happened. These powers are a source of wonder and astonishment to men who do not know the secrets.”

Moreover, as I pointed out earlier, in the Bible there are passages suggesting lawful regularity in nature.

Patrick said...

The following link contains some interesting thoughts with respect to the issue discussed here.

http://www.telektronikk.com/volumes/pdf/2.2004/Page_005-025.pdf