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The beginnings of Western science vs the Galileo myth

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A reader writes to draw our attention to The Beginnings of Western Science (2nd Ed, 2007) by David Lindberg. He offers a couple of paragraphs’ excerpt from the book:

But the first order of business is to do battle with centuries of entrenched opinion among those who denigrate medieval science, viewing the Middle Ages as a period of unrelieved scientific ignorance and superstition. Such opinions have received ample (if seriously misinformed) scholarly support, and in the mass media the adjective “medieval” has become a synonym for all that is deplorable. An early advocate of this negative opinion was Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who wrote in his New Organon (1620) that the ages between antiquity and his own era were “unprosperous” for the sciences, “for neither the Arabians nor the Schoolmen need be mentioned, who in the intermediate times rather crushed the sciences with a multitude of treatises, than increased their weight.” A century later, Voltaire (1694-1778) elevated the level of anti-medieval rhetoric, writing of the “general decay and degeneracy” that characterized the Middle Ages, and of the “cunning and simplicity … brutality and artifice,” of the medieval mind.2 The views of Bacon and Voltaire were sharpened and widely disseminated in the second half of the nineteenth century by the distinguished Swiss historian of the Renaissance, Jacob Burckhardt (1818-97), who argued in his The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860) that “the Middle Ages . . . spared themselves the trouble of induction and free inquiry.” And in its most influential manifestation, Andrew Dickson White used the supposed ignorance and futility of medieval science as a weapon in his widely influential diatribe (1896) against the evils of a Christianity that, in his opinion, interfered with the development of the natural sciences: “The establishment of Christianity,” he wrote, “arrested the normal development of the physical sciences for over fifteen hundred years…. There was created an atmosphere in which the germs of physical sciences could hardly grow—an atmosphere in which all seeking in Nature for truth as truth was regarded as futile.” Finally, to demonstrate that such views are still alive and well, I quote Charles Freeman, in his The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason (2003): By the fifth century of the Christian era, he argues, “not only has rational thought been suppressed, but there has been a substitution for it of ‘mystery, magic, and authority.’ ” It is little wonder, given this kind of scholarly backing, that the ignorance and degradation of the Middle Ages has become an article of faith among the general public, achieving the status of invulnerability merely by virtue of endless repetition.” – 14. The Continuity Question

And Bimbette Fluffarelli, talk show hostess, learned it sixteenth-hand at school…


See also: Galileo’s contemporary science opponents made a lot of sense. Christopher Graney: “… seen from Earth, stars appear as dots of certain sizes or magnitudes. The only way stars could be so incredibly distant and have such sizes was if they were all incredibly huge, every last one dwarfing the Sun. Tycho Brahe, the most prominent astronomer of the era and a favourite of the Establishment, thought this was absurd, … ” The true history is a warning to thoughtful people to avoid popular science written by the village atheist; he knows just enough to get it all wrong.

and

How Christianity aided modern science. The troubling part is that many sources won’t talk about this stuff because it is “religious” but they don’t mind parroting some flapdoodle from a village atheist, of whom it might be sai that to call him merely ill-informed would be to shower him with unearned praise.

One Reply to “The beginnings of Western science vs the Galileo myth

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    News, the first thing that jumps out at me is failure to address implications of civilisational collapse through misgovernment, inflation, invasion and settlement by barbarians, collapse of tax base and plagues leading to depopulation. The blatant post hoc fallacy targetting the Christian faith speaks volumes also. Compound the ignorance of the history of reasoning and the gradual restorarion of scholarship, including science. If we had seen an attempt at responsible balance, where the church was respected for its ability to survive as an institution that preserved a good bit of learning and helped with rebirth of civilisation including the sciences, that would have been one thing. That’s not what we see. Funny how, where significant revision of scholarship is needed, it tends to be missing in action. KF

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