Friday, November 06, 2015

History of Science trips up Matthew Ferguson.

Matthew Ferguson writes:

"Leave it to an apologist to call a pineapple smooth, an omniscient mind simple, and the discovery of science a Christian achievement." 

I don't know what pineapple Ferguson is referring to, but one doesn't need to "leave it to apologists" to credit Christians for inventing modern science, since one finds scientists like Paul Davies and historians like Allen Chapman (Oxford) and David Landes (Harvard, to name a couple off the top of my head) saying a fair deal along those lines, as well.  The modern inventors (or reinventors) of science were, in fact, mostly Christians, and to a large extent pious Christians, so at least in that sense, the comment above is uncontroversially true. 

"A growing slogan has emerged in apologetics attempting to salvage the need for ancient superstitions in a modern world:
“Belief in the rationality of God not only led to the inductive method but also led to the conclusion that the universe is governed rationally be discoverable laws. This assumption is vitally important to research because in a pagan or polytheistic world, which saw its gods often engaged in jealous, irrational behavior in a world that was nonrational, any systematic investigation would seem futile.”
-Alvin Schmidt, “Science: Its Christian Connections” (pg. 221)
"Specialist in ancient science, Richard Carrier, had only this to say at such a patently false statement:
“This is not only false in every conceivable detail but so egregiously false that anyone with even the slightest academic competence and responsibility should have known it was false. Which means it’s advocates, all of whom claim to be scholars, must either be embarrassingly incompetent, perversely dishonest, or wildly deluded.”
-The Christian Delusion (pg. 400-1)
What is Carrier talking about?  What does his first word, "this," refer to?  Is he rebutting Schmidt?  Is he even rebutting the argument Ferguson cites from Schmidt? 

No, the antecedent from Carrier is more general:

"As the story now goes, not only has Christianity never been at odds with science and never impeded it in any way, but it was actu­ally the savior of science, the only worldview that could ever make science possible. And that’s why the Scientific Revolution only ever sparked in one place: a thoroughly Christian society."

For the cause of defending "good scholarship," notice the seriousness of the sins Ferguson commits against scholarship here. 

It is remarkably sloppy "scholarship" to begin such a harsh critique with a pronoun that seems to be directed at one set of arguments from one writer, but is actually referring to a general criticism with which it is not  at all identical! 

Schmidt, in fact, does not say here that Christianity "never impeded science in any way."  On the contrary, he is making a specific positive historical claim.  The difference is like that between saying, "An apple aided Newton in discovering the nature of gravity," and saying "apples never hurt anyone."  The incoherence of Ferguson's critique grotesque. 

Furthermore, Carrier's generalized argument, the one Ferguson agrees was wrong, was specific about praising Christianity as a necessary cause of science.  But Schmidt merely says "belief in God," which would include Islam, Judaism, many forms of Hinduism or Confucianism or Taoism, at least potentially.  Whether Schmidt is right or wrong, anyone who fails to differentiate the two arguments, is a wretched scholar, at best.  (If we grant that dishonesty is worse than stupidity and carelessness.)

Either way, no one who plays this sort of a game should speak of someone else's "slight academic competence and responsibility.'  Those qualities appear less than slight, here. 

And the funny thing is, Ferguson later argues in precise contradiction to the article by Carrier that his post is largely written to praise:

"I also write this blog because I find one of the premises in this slogan to be so flawed that it needs to be addressed: apologists are often so imbued with a religio-centric worldview that they actually believe that the Pagan Greeks would have based their interest in science on their religion, as if one’s religion is their primary motivation for studying the natural world."

Yet in that very chapter of The Christian Delusion, Carrier also writes:

"Most intellectual polytheists believed in a Creator who had intelligently ordered the cosmos, that this order could be discovered by the human mind, and that such discovery honored God. Scientists like Galen and Ptolemy were thus motivated to pursue scientific inquiry by their religious piety . . . " (407)

How silly of those Christian apologists who think religion is so darn important that it might have actually inspired the ancient Greeks in how they explore and understand the world!   Read this chapter from Richard Carrier, an objective (heh) expert in the ancient history of science, and don't listen to what those unscholarly apologists have to say.   

Uh-oh.  Don't tell me Richard Carrier has gone native?

Some days I think defending Christianity against the sort of critics it faces these days is Just.   Too.   Darn.  Easy.  All one has to do, 90% of the time, is read their sources more carefully than they do themselves. 


Nick said...

Well done. I also find the part about simplicity to be quite humorous as well. Simplicity does not mean something is easy to understand. It means that it is not composed of parts and that is all that is being said of God. God is not a being put together and having many parts. He is simple in His essence. In fact, Aquinas after establishing God's existence in the Summa Theologica goes straight to God's simplicity.

But I suspect there will be no interaction with Thomists on this point. I find atheists online usually like to bring up something like that and they haven't bothered to understand it.

David B Marshall said...

The same point occurred to me as well, but neither being a Thomist nor having the slightest idea of the "internal nature of God" -- if that means anything, I let that one pass.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Marshall says Christianity provided the “intellectual matrix” for science. That is the dependency thesis. And there are light and heavy dependency theses, as well as non-dependency theses. Read up Marshall, read up… Here are some resources and quotations, including some from theistic and even Christian scholars, that Marshall apparently missed.

David B Marshall said...

Ed: What are you talking about? Who are you quoting? Where do you find the word "matrix" in this article?

As for what I "missed" or didn't read, what evidence do you have that I overlooked anything? What am I supposed to have gotten wrong in this article? Focus, Ed.

Loren said...

Edward T. Babinski, that was an excellent link on the science-religion question.

I also find Richard Carrier very enlightening. He notes that Christianity cannot be the cause of modern science because of a gap of over 1000 years. He also notes that doing science requires having these three values:

* Curiosity -- learning new things is a good thing

* Empiricism -- observation and experiment are the final court of appeal

* Progress -- it is possible for humanity to learn things that it has not known before

Richard Carrier makes a strong case that many pagans had supported all three values, and that early Christians had opposed all three of them. If God had not revealed something, then one had no right to know it, they often stated. Progress they considered dangerous, because of a risk of believing in heresy.

As to why science got nipped in the bud in antiquity, RC proposes that it was the Crisis of the Third Century, with strife and conspiracies and economic downturn and galloping inflation. When it ended, the Big Thing in philosophy was mystical revelation, like Neoplatonism. Scientific inquiry was effectively killed for the next millennium.

David B Marshall said...

Loren: Ed and I have probably both read Carrier's chapter. I refuted it, which was easy enough to do.

First, the logic is awful for an historian who fancies himself a philosopher. "Some say A caused B. But A does not always cause B, therefore it can never cause, or help cause, B. For instance, if you say the windstorm blew down this pine, that is refuted by the fact that the pine had weathered many windstorms. So the pine must have had a heart attack, or something." Bad logic. Of course the fact that Christianity did not create science where other circumstances were unhelpful (say, they were having lots of invasions), in no, way, or form shows that it did not contribute greatly to the rise of modern science in Europe.

Carrier makes no such "strong case" about early Christianity. And on his own account, science had faded 150 years before Christianity rose. (Actually, I don't think the Romans did all that much for science -- the real stars seem to have been mostly Greeks. And there were Christian and Muslim scientists in the early centuries, too. But invasions from all directions will take the wind out of your civilizational sails.)

I have been reading early Christians for many years, and never once come across the saying that "If God did not reveal it, you have no right to know it" -- still less "often."

Ferguson mis-cites him, but Carrier is not a reliable guide to history, to begin with. Better on this is Alan Chapman, Oxford historian of science, or James Hannam.

Loren said...

"Richard Carrier on Early Christian Hostility to Science" should be easy to find on YouTube.

Christianity had been in existence for at least a century when the Crisis of the Third Century happened. Early Christian theologians had abundant opportunity to beat the pagan philosophers at their own game, but they didn't.

As to Richard Carrier stating "Most intellectual polytheists believed in a Creator who had intelligently ordered the cosmos, that this order could be discovered by the human mind, and that such discovery honored God. Scientists like Galen and Ptolemy were thus motivated to pursue scientific inquiry by their religious piety . . . " these philosophers were deists and/or pantheists. None of them thought that Jesus Christ was anything special, let alone the Son of God or the Second Person in the Trinity. They also believed in reason and experience and not revelation.

Here's my favorite statement of deism: Thomas Paine's book Age of Reason. He states early in it that "I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy."

You might be saying "What a great Christian he was. He believes in the God that I believe in.", but he soon states that "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church."

David B Marshall said...

Loren: Thomas Paine's mind was his own church? Well that limits the possibilities for choral anthems. But of course his description of "religious duties" is two-thirds a quote from the prophet Micah, which reminds us that Paine, too, was a creature of his religious culture.

Certainly Christianity "beat the philosophers at their own game:" one can see this victory in Acts 17, in Justin Martyr, Origen, then in Augustine's City of God, and most of all in the conversion of the Roman Empire.

Of course scientists in the Golden Age of Greek science mostly didn't believe in Jesus: he hadn't been born, yet. Nor was Christianity yet very large and well-known in the 2nd Century, when Galen and Ptolemy worked. But if you can tell me what they said about Jesus, I'll be interested to read it. If you can't, then you appear to be outpacing your information with your claims.

And of course there is no necessary conflict between believing in reason, experience, and revelation -- as I explained 15 years ago in Jesus and the Religions of Man. Might do you good to read that book. Again, if you have any evidence that Galen and Ptolemy thought otherwise, please offer it.

I don't need to hear more from that crackpot, Carrier, on the subject: listen to my interview of Allan Chapman, Oxford historian of science, on the subject, read it in Faith Seeking Understanding, or read his full book on Christianity and science, for one. You should get more of your information from established and intellectually balanced scholars.

David B Marshall said...

Heck, I've probably read some 1500 pages of Carrier, already, and ground much of it into dust, some in this forum.