Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fight stereotypes!

Since we’ve been talking about stereotypes (at least by implication), here’s some weekend reading that clears up some of the more pernicious urban legends concerning the history of Christian civilization. Start with two older pieces from James Franklin:

“Myths about the Middle Ages”

“The Renaissance Myth”

And continue with two from Thomas Madden:

“The Real History of the Crusades”

“The Truth about the Spanish Inquisition”

There’s a lot more that could be said about these and related topics (e.g. Columbus) but that should suffice for whatever dinner party you might attend this evening, where the sensitive “progressive” types present will be extremely gratified to hear you expose some false stereotypes about an unpopular religious tradition.

19 comments:

Matthew said...

While we are at it, there's also this blog:

http://bedejournal.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

HI, Jonathan Speke Laudly here,

I agree that the scholastics did hone and teach the skeptical skills later crucial to rigorous inquiry concerning the operations of nature.
But art and natural science and experiment as we know it arose first during the Renaissance.
I think there is no doubt that the Renaissance was at the heart of a freeing up of the human imagination and new spirit of inquiry ---coming with the loosening of the church's stranglehold on thought---that enabled science to rise. The art, freedom of inquiry and interest in the world and human life shown by the ancients, became the ideal.
Machiavelli studied directly from life.
Da vinci defied the church and dissected corpses to learn about anatomy--the first to do so in the west since Galen, some 1300 years earlier. Vesalius' work followed and this was the beginning of modern medicine.
Nudes on the walls of the Sistine Chapel--no nudes in medieval church decor.
Studying and inquiring about life directly and depicting it directly is at the center of Renaissance innovation.
Perspective was just a formalization of the artist's intuitive sense---it was unproven as anything else until photography
provided objective evidence.
Copernicus' innovation, Tycho Brahe's observations and Kepler's laws of planetary motion, Galileo's physics were all ultimately products of the Renaissance.
I don't think the writer makes his case. The Renaissance was fundamental.

The Phantom Blogger said...

"Da vinci defied the church and dissected corpses to learn about anatomy--the first to do so in the west since Galen, some 1300 years earlier. Vesalius' work followed and this was the beginning of modern medicine."

I 'm guessing you didn't look at James Franklin's links.

http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hsdept/bios/park-secrets-women.html

"Katharine Park explodes the myth that medieval religious prohibitions hindered the practice of human dissection in medieval and Renaissance Italy, arguing that female bodies, real and imagined, played a central role in the history of anatomy during that time."

"Park challenges well-established opinions about religious prohibitions against dissection, the transgressive nature of physician’s desire to understand women’s secrets, the misogynous motivation of Renaissance doctors’s critique of vernacular midwives’s knowledge, and the “one-sex” model of the human body previously assumed to characterize anatomical understanding from Galen to the Enlightenment."

Contrary to the work of the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt who argued that the Italian Renaissance was a separate phase, Lynn Thorndike believed that most of the political, social, moral and religious phenomena which are commonly defined as Renaissance seemed to be almost equally characteristic of Italy at any time from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries.

George Sarton (who's considered by many to be the "father" of the history of science, having established the history of science as a discipline, of its own right) and Lynn Thorndike have both argued that scientific progress was perhaps less original than has traditionally been supposed, and that progress actually slowed during the Renaissance.

A link to some papers covering the topic of the originailty of the Renaissance.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/2261358/Some-Remarks-On-The-Question-Of-Originality-Of-The-Renaissance

From Ernst Cassirer:

"It became clear that by the sixteenth century Aristotle's theory of motion no longer enjoyed the undisputed authority which had often been ascribed to it. We now know that long before Galileo there was a new theory of "impetus" which in many ways prepared the ground for Galileo's dynamics. The antecedents of Galileo's theory of method have also been thoroughly and intensively examined, I clearly remember how surprised I was when in studying Zabarella's works I came upon an explicit statement of the difference between the "compositive" and the "resolutive method" which seemed to show a very marked analogy to Galileo's conception. In my examination of the problem of knowledge I laid great emphasis on this circumstance, which seemed to me very significant historically. That Zabarella was here only one link in a great chain, that he was following a century-old tradition that extends through the whole history of the School of Padua."

Just another mad Catholic said...

"where the sensitive “progressive” types present will be extremely gratified to hear you expose some false stereotypes about an unpopular religious tradition"

Hard to tell if your being serious or not Ed :), I'm also not sure if you got the email saying that 'sensative progressives' are always right no matter how wrong they are :)

Michele Arpaia said...

while we are at it, there's also this website:

http://www.storialibera.it/index_en.php

It is thorough and accurate.

The Perplexed One said...

I heartily recommend the Quodlibeta blog Matthew linked to for commentary on medieval Christianity and science, and I'm not even a Christian! Other common historical myths also get a thrashing there too.

At the risk of going off-topic (I didn't know where else to post this), I was wondering if anyone had caught wind of the much-publicised "synthetic cell" publication by Craig Venter and colleagues. Apparently some people, as ignorant about the history of science as they are about religion, think that this has finally(!) disproved vitalism and (somehow) shown the soul does not exist.

It strikes me that this controversy might be an excellent starting point for some discussion about hylemorphism and modern biology...

Matthew said...

@ The Perplexed One
I heard about scientists crating synthetic DNA that, when you "put it" into a cell, will reproduce.

I do think this might be a good setup for a good discussion on hylemorphic dualism in this context. I think we can all agree that synthetic cells make no statement about aristotelian forms, but it might still be interesting.

The Phantom Blogger said...

Perplexed One,

There's heres an article that discusses the implications of synthetic life:

http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/05/testtube_life.html

and here's a link to the story itself:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/science_and_environment/10132762.stm

Matthew said...

Having read the descriptions of what was actually achieved, it sounds kinda underwhelming.

The Phantom Blogger said...

Matthew,

Here's another short piece on it at National Review:

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NGUzZGQxZGFkMDRiOWMwMjYxODJkZmM0MWViZmQ3NzM=

The Phantom Blogger said...

The last article that I posted a link to, was created as a response to this piece by John Derbyshire in which he claims that this achievement is yet more proof that there is no such thing as a Soul.

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=M2Y3YWI2ZWI0ODI0NTg3YjcwZTM5YWI2NDEzNzYzYjI=

The Perplexed One said...

@ Matthew:

I agree. And believe me, "underwhelming" is putting it mildly compared to some of the reactions I got when I showed this round the molecular biology lab where I work. Then again, perhaps we're all just jealous because Venter is richer and more famous than us...

@ Phantom Blogger:

Who is this Derbyshire guy anyway? I'm not sure I've heard of him before (then again, I am European). I find his argument bizarre, and it suggests he has a poor understanding of cell biology. A genome is not a complete bacterium waiting to happen, much like a brain isn't a person once you scoop it out of a body. Sure, a functioning bacterium requires a genome, much like a human needs a brain, but this experiment, however, is equivalent to painstakingly piecing together a brain out of individual neurons, swapping it with a human's own brain, then claiming you have created the world's first synthetic human.

In any case, what exactly is he trying to argue here (if we're going to be charitable and even call it an argument)? A famous scientist has done something that's never been done before (which is what science [i]is[/i] apparently) and that somehow... proves life is chemical? Talk about a non-sequitur!

Also, has anyone over the age of 12 [i]ever[/i] seriously believed that "life" is some kind of supernatural goo that clings onto chemicals and makes them live? Surely not even Idealists deny living things are made of chemicals, they just dispute what those chemicals ontologically consist of...

The Phantom Blogger said...

John Derbyshire is a writer at National Review who writes frequently on science topics for the Magazine. He has become famous in the past number of years for his advocacy of Neo-Darwinism as a way to explain all human emotions and characteristics.

He has published a number of books on mathematics as well.

Here is a link to a collection of articles at Lawrence Auster's website criticising him and his views:

http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/008661.html

The Perplexed One said...

Is this Derbyshire guy for real? He's a conservative how exactly? Surely Mr. Auster must be misrepresenting him!

Nevertheless, I grow weary of all this popular Evolutionary Psychology (EP) woo-woo, and have little sympathy for people who uncritically propagate it. EP is to evolutionary biology what 6-day Creation literalists are to natural theology. It seems to me to represent an ill-concieved merger between respectable neoDarwinism and freakish strands of discredited Freudian/Neitzchean will-to-power psychologising.

Surely genes must affect behaviour somehow via the body structures they encode, otherwise behaviour could not be heritable, but I have yet to see any EP research that doesn't rely on scientifically illegitimate and often bizarre teleological bedtime stories about adaptation. I'm not saying good examples of EP don't exist, merely that I see no evidence of them existing.

The Phantom Blogger said...

If you go to Derbyshire's Wikipedia page it leads you to cited references were he makes the claims the Auster criticizes him for. (You could even look through National Review itself if your desperate.)

I agree that Genes must have some effects on our personality and so on, but its the Genetic determinism mixed in with Darwinian just-so-stories, that's espoused by these people that causes the problems.

(Derbyshire is a big admirer of Steven Pinker and his work. His ideas seem to be influenced by Pinker more than anyone else.)

The Perplexed One said...

Ah yes. I suspected that if I dug deep enough I would uncover the hand of Pinker behind all this. I have mixed feelings about the man myself, as his writing is a mixture of sensible attacks on risible doctrines like the Noble Savage and that intelligence has no genetic component, but he then invariably descends into Dawkins-esque gene worship.

I think the real problem with the Pinkers of this world is that they seem to be using the wod "determinism" in a highly non-standard sense when they say something is "genetically determined". At least as I understood it, in philosophy determinism is interchangeable with fatalism, the belief that there is only one state in which the universe can exist at any moment. In biology, however, determinism often just seems to be taken to mean "caused" in the weaker, Humean sense.

Genetics popularisers like Pinker and Dawkins (significantly, neither are geneticists themselves) equivocate between the two senses, often unconsciously (if we're going to be charitable). To avoid any ambiguity they really should use a more precise term like "genetic causality".

Matthew said...

Also, has anyone over the age of 12 ever seriously believed that "life" is some kind of supernatural goo that clings onto chemicals and makes them live? Surely not even Idealists deny living things are made of chemicals, they just dispute what those chemicals ontologically consist of...

I think vitalism (which says the particles of living things are fundamentally different from non-living things) was disproven in the second half of the 18th century by some german chemist who wrote he doesn't need kidneys or men to make urea, because urea is just ammonium cyanata. Pretty big name in organic chemistry but I found that topic to boring that I forgot almost all of it. I only remembber this because I read it in a schoolbook once.

Matthew said...

At least as I understood it, in philosophy determinism is interchangeable with fatalism, the belief that there is only one state in which the universe can exist at any moment.

Determinism is the theory that every possible world has exactly one possible future. Whether or not that is the same as fatalism (that there is just one possible world) depends on whether or not you're a compatibilist and whether or not you think the initial state of the world (if there was one) could have been different.

The Perplexed One said...

Thanks Matthew. That's a subtle distinction, one which I suspect would be lost on most people who brandish the term "determinism" about in biology.