Richard Carrier on Science in Antiquity

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Richard Carrier on Science in Antiquity

Post by lpetrich » Wed May 17, 2017 8:21 am

The Mythical Stillbirth of Science in Greece - Richard Carrier
Illustrated with a reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient astronomical clock that is the subject of today's Google doodle.

Criticizing a common Xian apologetic that modern science owes its existence to Xianity.

He is writing The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire: Richard Carrier: 9781634311069: Books (current due date: 2017 August 31). From that page:
In this extensive sequel to Science Education in the Early Roman Empire, Dr. Richard Carrier explores the social history of scientists in the Roman era. Was science in decline or experiencing a revival under the Romans? What was an ancient scientist thought to be and do? Who were they, and who funded their research? And how did pagans differ from their Christian peers in their views toward science and scientists? Some have claimed Christianity valued them more than their pagan forebears. In fact the reverse is the case. And this difference in values had a catastrophic effect on the future of humanity. The Romans may have been just a century or two away from experiencing a scientific revolution. But once in power, Christianity kept that progress on hold for a thousand years—while forgetting most of what the pagans had achieved and discovered, from an empirical anatomy, physiology, and brain science to an experimental physics of water, gravity, and air. Thoroughly referenced and painstakingly researched, this volume is a must for anyone who wants to learn how far we once got, and why we took so long to get to where we are today.
RC has a chapter in the book The Christian Delusion criticizing that apologetic. He argues:
  • "Correlation is not causation. That the Scientific Revolution was finally completed when Christians ruled the West, was as much an irrelevant happenstance as that it occurred in England." To which I add that the science of antiquity is the same kind of evidence of the deities of Mt. Olympus.
  • "Pagan theology and even de facto atheism both inspired empirical-mathematical-mechanistic scientific thinking in antiquity. Christianity contributed nothing." The non-atheists were pretty much deists or pantheists.
  • "No cyclical theory of time had any effect on scientific thought or progress in antiquity. Christian expectations of the imminent end of the universe were actually far more antithetical to investment in science."
  • "Animism died out with Aristotle. It was never a significant component of any ancient science after him. And even he was not fond of it." RC has noted elsewhere that Aetna (Mt. Etna), a poem on volcanology, ridiculed animistic explanations.
  • "There was no head-hand divide. Scientists were both highly educated intellectuals and talented hands-on craftsman, and were respected by their peers and superiors for mastering both."
  • "Badly preserving a lost science treated as gospel and never improved on or even correctly understood (as defines the Medieval treatment of science) is not “doing science.” The Greeks and Romans were actually doing science."
  • "Everything distinctive of the Scientific Revolution existed in antiquity: They had systematic controlled experiments, careful observation, mathematically predictive descriptions of nature, mechanical theories and models, and continual progress toward correct conclusions about the laws, contents, and operations of nature. (And as I also show in Science Education, they even had the equivalent of universities and scientific societies.)"
  • "Science was only killed by the collapse of the civilization that supported it. Which was a political, not an intellectual failure. ..." It was the Crisis of the Third Century: economic slumping, galloping inflation, strife, civil wars, even some breakaway parts of the Empire -- the Empire of the Gauls and Zenobia's conquests.
  • "The only intellectual zeitgeist that put an end to science was Christianity. It did not wage any war on science (contrary to exaggerated myths); but it did scorn and dissuade everyone from the values necessary to a successful scientific enterprise: embracing curiosity as a moral virtue, assigning evidence the highest authority in debate, and believing in the value and possibility of progress in scientific and technical knowledge. The pagan elite had all three of those things. Medieval Christians held all three in suspicion or contempt."

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Post by lpetrich » Wed May 17, 2017 9:01 am

RC then mentions an article described by its author as "based on Fr. Stanley L. Jaki’s research." RC argues that many of SJ's assertions are just plain wrong.
Trasancos says “there is a long list of scholars who left behind writings that inspire intellectual endeavors to this day,” at which she lists only a handful of Presocratic philosophers and Aristotle—thereby excluding all the greatest scientists of the ancient world.
Aristotle refused and corrected the Presocratics, and Aristotle's Hellenistic and Roman successors likewise did that to him.

RC then states that "Catholics Have Always Been Disturbingly Obsessed with Aristotle" Something Bertrand Russell also noted in his History of Western Philosophy, though it was published in 1945.
True, in the Middle Ages, when Aristotle was rediscovered after the Dark Ages, most scholars had lost almost all the scientific treatises and knowledge available in the Roman era, and mistakenly thought Aristotle’s was the best and latest in everything.
They even called him ille philosophus, *the* philosopher.

Repeating Cycles of Bullshit

Trasancos, again echoing Jaki, claims “the Greeks were steeped in the perspective of eternal cycles of birth-life-death-rebirth for all things, a theme common to all the great religions and cultures that experienced a stillbirth of science.” In fact no educated intellectuals among the Greeks and Romans were steeped in any such perspective. Even insofar as any even entertained such notions, their “cycles” were tens of thousands of years long, and thus wholly irrelevant to their stalwart and ubiquitous belief in scientific progress. In other words, this claim of impediment is just more bullshit from Jaki, based on no evidence whatever.

Likewise, she says “the Greeks also put a strong emphasis on…the comparison of the cosmos to animals.” Nope.
RC then pointed out that Aristotle and his successors often used mechanistic explanations of biological systems. He then notes these scientific advances by Aristotle's successors:
  • Herophilus showed that the seat of thought was the brain and not the heart, he identified the functions of brain regions with experiments, and he even distinguished sensory and motor nerves.
  • Eratosthenes did mathematical cartography and measured the Earth's diameter to within 10% of its true value.
  • Archimedes described hydrostatics and lever action.
  • Seleucus, student of Aristarchus, developed a correct lunisolar tide theory.
  • Hipparchus compiled a star catalog, he discovered the precession of the equinoxes, and he worked out a model of planetary motion.
  • Hero worked out how the principle of least action explains reflection, and he showed that air can be compressed or expanded by force or temperature.
  • Menelaus developed spherical trigonometry, and he expanded on Archimedes's hydrostatics work.
  • Ptolemy worked out refraction and also lines of latitude and longitude.
  • Galen worked out what kidneys do and mapped the nerves of the tongue, face, and vocal cords.
And that’s just a sample. A sample, even, of just what survives. We know at least a hundred times more science was done in antiquity, than survives for us to read about it. And I’ve only listed a few accomplishments for each scientist in this sample; they accomplished a great deal more. So did others.
He concludes:
The Romans were arguably just another couple of centuries away from the innovations of Kepler and Newton. Science wasn’t stillborn under their watch. It was murdered. And not by Christians. Or by animism or cyclical theories of time. But simply by the failures of politicians to develop a stable system for the peaceful succession of power, a failure having not one whit to do with science. But when the Christians took the reins, they did nothing to fix that, either. They didn’t resurrect science. They entombed its corpse. And had neither the ideas nor the intellectual resources to continue it or even desire its revival.
Not just a good system of succession, but also economic sustainability. Part of that was having to defend a long frontier that went from Britain to the Black Sea. When the Empire split in two, the eastern part was much easier to defend than the western part, and the eastern part lasted for a thousand years after the fall of the western part.
Most important, though, was that push to demarcate the methods that actually work from the ones that don’t. And a push to do that was indeed begun in the Roman era (we see it in Hero, Ptolemy, and Galen). But then it was forgotten for 1,400 years under the Christian watch. It was resumed only after a few Christians more than a thousand years later read their advice on the matter and enough of their peers actually started to listen. And even they had to fight against their majority and higher ranking Christian peers to do that. It took hundreds of years of struggling against the opposition to scientific values inherent in Christian ideology to finally break through and catch back up to where the Romans had reached, and finally move beyond. The values of curiosity, empiricism, and progressivism were never popular in Christian thought, even from the dawn of the religion, but even more so as it became more fascistic and arrogant. Only when that Christian fascism and arrogance were beaten down enough to allow a new pagan bud to grow again in spite of it, did science return to the world.

And that’s what really happened to science.
The article that RC responded to: Stacy Trasancos on The Stillbirth of Science in Greece

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Post by lpetrich » Wed May 17, 2017 9:30 am

ST has a series: Search Results Stillbirth of Science : Strange Notions in these places:

Arabia, Greece, Babylon, India, China, Ancient Egypt

All based on Stanley Jaki's work. Why "stillbirth"? Why not "abortion"? We all know how much Catholic girls love abortion. :D

Also, "abortion" describes very well Richard Carrier's theory that it was the Crisis of the Third Century that crippled ancient Roman science.

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