A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Olde Curmudgeon -- Chapter 4

...continued from Chapter 3.

Chapter 4. Three Kinds of Problems

"I would have thought," said Jack, "that there were thousands of different problems.  I mean in my plant alone we have dozens of processes -- manufacturing of a score of chemicals, administration of personnel, facilities, maintenance... You name it.  Last week alone we had a problem with reactor dumps on fluoropolymers, high costs on caustic, late deliveries from a supplier, a customer withholding payment, leaky valves on HF tank cars, a price increase on ammonia...  That's already more than three problems."

The old curmudgeon pursed his lips.  "I said three kinds of problems, but never mind for the moment.  Do you know what a problem is?"

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Olde Curmudgeon -- Chapter 3

...continued from Chapter 2.

Chapter 3. Three Problems

"Wait a minute!" Jack promised. "You said there were only three things I needed to know -- symptom to cause to solution -- and now you tell me there are three more things I have to know?"

"You should be so lucky.  I told you there were three things you had to know.  I never said there were only three things.  How stupid would that be?  I told you, it's useful to organize ideas into threes, as long as you don't force them."

Jack sighed an tucked into his salad.  The old man sure had a sour outlook on things. Get Off My Lawn his lapel button read.  Yeah, a grumpy old man, for sure.  And it wasn't like he had skin in the game, not as far as the storage tank problem went.

Of course, that might make him a perfect sounding board. He had no ego invested in anything that had been repeatedly booted around in interminable meetings. He remembered the 'first three' and suddenly realized that part of the trap lay in thinking about 'the storage tank problem' when the bigger storage tank was only a solution they had jumped to.  The problem was that he was paying too much demurrage to the railroad.

"But I don't see how that helps me very much," he said when he had voiced that thought to his companion.

Christmas is Coming

Time to celebrate.
h/t Mark Shea

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Olde Curmudgeon -- Chapter 2

...continued from Chapter 1.

Chapter 2. Three Things

The sour-faced old man settled into the booth across the table from Jack Heller, and Jack wondered fleetingly if he had made a mistake by inviting him.  The fellow had a battered black notebook in which he jotted a few notes, slapped his pen down, and slammed the cover. "There!" he said with some satisfaction. "That will show the Manichees!"

Jack shook his head. "What?"

"Private joke.  Sorry."

"You said you knew why our meetings were so ineffectual.  You said I had to know three things.  I really only have to know one thing.  How to get corporate to approve our capital request to build a new storage tank."

The old man bobbed his head while Jack spoke, but ended by shaking it sideways.  "I thought you said you had a problem."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

This is Kool

STEREO [Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory] is a pair of telescopes parked in the L4 and L5 solar Lagrange points.  These are along Earth orbit about 93 million miles ahead and behind us.

STEREO-A's Heliospheric Imager captured Comet ISON tracking left to right as it heads toward its close encounter of the hot kind: it will graze the sun on Thursday.

The video covers Nov. 20 to Nov. 22, 2013.

The smaller moving body seen in the middle ground is Comet Encke. The sun is off-stage right.  The instrument visualizes the solar wind, which is also kool.

BTW, Mercury is not farther from the Sun than Earth.  It's the perspective.  Here is the position of the two STEREO satelites as of 27 Nov 2013.  Put yourself at A (the one Ahead of the Earth and look back toward the Earth and you will see why Mercury looks farther from the Sun.

Ye Olde Psychopath

In an amusing article in Smithsonian Magazine, a brain scan researcher discovers that he is a psychopath:

[James] Fallon seeks to reconcile how he—a happily married family man—could demonstrate the same anatomical patterns that marked the minds of serial killers.

“I’ve never killed anybody, or raped anyone,” he says. “So the first thing I thought was that maybe my hypothesis was wrong, and that these brain areas are not reflective of psychopathy or murderous behavior.”
But no, a scientific theory is never discarded because of contrary evidence. 
[W]hen he underwent a series of genetic tests, he got more bad news. “I had all these high-risk alleles for aggression, violence and low empathy,” he says, such as a variant of the MAO-A gene that has been linked with aggressive behavior. Eventually, based on further neurological and behavioral research into psychopathy, he decided he was indeed a psychopath—just a relatively good kind
Doncha love it?  The theory can't be wrong.  The correlations can't be merely correlative.  He has to be a good psychopath.  This would be like discovering:
  • a study of ballet dancers reveal genetic markers for strong ankles
  • Joe has genetic markers for strong ankles
  • Therefore, Joe (who does not dance) is a new kind of ballet dancer: the non-dancing ballet dancer!
Is there nothing the New Phrenology can't discover?

The Olde Curmudgeon -- Chapter 1

Chapter 1. A Chance Meeting

Jack Heller was glad to get away from the plant and deliberately drove several blocks out of his way to stop at a restaurant he was not known to frequent. The meeting had not gone well and he was convinced that although at the end everyone was agreed on taking action there had not been a clear action plan regarding who was to do what and by when. Too many meetings ended that way, with the illusion of action. Meanwhile, cash was dripping out from the bottom line -- sometimes even gushing out.

The restaurant was a mid-level eatery with booths set between dark wood partitions, or partitions of something that was intended to resemble wood. They were much like the cubicles within which his office staff labored, or did something that was intended to resemble labor. A partition ran down the center of the room with booths on either side of it. More booths ran along the walls. Jack did not think the restaurant could fit any more tables in the room, yet it did not seem to be crowded. A good use of floor space, he judged.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Horde of Ravening Fen

TOF notices that somewhere along the line he has acquired 103 "followers" who no doubt hang on his very words and await TOFian commands to go forth and smite, or something. It would have been more portentous, or at least more centennial, had it been noticed at exactly 100 followers. But TOF will honor the occasion by noting statistically that he now has 100±3σ followers.

Let's shoot for 125, shall we?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Odds and Ends

Here are the minitopics for today's tab clearance:
  1. The Obamarama Roll-out
  2. There Are People Who Write Like This
  3. A Novel Proposition
  4. The New Phrenology
  5. Government of the zombies, by the zombies, for the zombies
  6. Ancient critters you never heard of
  7. Diversity in Your Fiction
  8. The Pope Reads Science Fiction

Slouching Toward Philadelphia

TOF was tied up for most of Philcon. Having committed himself to attending a symposium in Greenwich Village on Saturday, there was no point hustling down to Philly Town for Friday, especially inasmuch as TOF had not been scheduled for diddly squat at the con except for an autographing on Saturday morning when no one would be awake to request one, and a panel on Sunday morning, which he decided to attend just to see if anyone was awake. 

They were.

A few.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Summa origines scientiarum: Articulus 3

Article 1. Whether there was a Scientific Revolution.
Article 2. Whether the Scientific Revolution was Uniquely Western.

Article 3. Whether Christianity enabled the rise of science in the West

Proœmium. TOF apologizes for the sub-par statements of the objections in this Article, but they have been taken directly from the Jerry Coyne blogpost that initiated the Question,
He blogs: Here are some of my responses to the “science came from Christianity” canard.  A canard is "an unfounded rumor or story," which is a heckuva thing to say about scientists of the stature of Whitehead and Davies, let alone of historians of science like Grant, Lindberg, et al., who may indeed have had some foundation for their historical analyses. Well, it could have been worse. Coyne could have said it was a 'meme,' an invisible sky fairie in which many Late Moderns believe.  
Coyne's objections were:

Objection 1. Even were it true, it doesn’t in any way support the truth claims of Christianity or any other religion.

Objection 2.   Christianity was around for a millennium without much science being done; “modern” science really started as a going concern in the 17th century. Why did that take so long if Christianity was so important in fostering science?

Objection 3.  If you think of science as rational and empirical investigation of the natural world, it originated not with Christianity but with the ancient Greeks, and was also promulgated for a while by Islam.

Objection 4.  Carrier makes the point that there was no scientific revolution in the eastern half of the Christian world. Why was that?

Objection 5.  Another Carrier point: geometry was invented by polytheists (ancient Greeks); do we give polytheism credit for geometry, then?

Objection 6.  Religion has of course also repressed the search for knowledge. Not only do we have the cases of Galileo and Bruno, but also the active discouragement of the use of reason by many church fathers, especially Martin Luther...

Objection 7.  There was and still is, of course, opposition to science by Christians. The greatest opponent of biology’s greatest theory—evolution—has always been Christianity.

Objection 8.  If religion promulgated the search for knowledge, it also gave rise to erroneous, revelation-based “scientific” conclusions that surely impeded progress. Those include creation ex nihilo, the Great Flood, a geocentric universe, and so on.

Objection 9.  Early scientists were Christians, at least in the west [sic], because everyone was a Christian then.  You would have been an apostate, or burnt at the stake, had you denied that faith.  If you’re going to give Christianity credit for science, you have to give it credit for nearly everything, including art, architecture, music, and so on.

Objection 10.  Islam began as a science-supportive regime, but lost its impetus when the faith around the 16th century when religious authorities began repressing a “western” mode of inquiry. This anti-Western attitude may explain the minimal achievements of science in modern Islamic nations.

Objection 11.  At present nearly half of science are atheists, and the argument that religion motivates science can no longer stand. The major achievements of science, including relativity, evolution, and modern molecular biology, were achieved by non-theists. Indeed, Jim Watson told me that his and Crick’s drive to find the structure of DNA was largely motivated by a desire to show that the “secret of life”—the replicating molecule that serves as a recipe for bodies—was pure chemistry, with not a trace of the divine in it.

Objection 12.  All progress in science, whether ancient or modern, came from ignoring or rejecting the idea of divine intervention. Even if theories were inspired by thoughts of God, they were substantiated or disproven by tacitly assuming a godless universe—that is, by employing methodological naturalism. Religion has only impeded that kind of investigation and, in fact, has never come up with a theory on its own that had scientific credibility.  Newton, for instance, couldn’t explain regular planetary motion, and had to invoke divine intervention (so much for God helping science!) until Laplace came along and showed that orbital irregularities could be explained in a purely naturalistic way. (As Laplace supposedly replied to Napoleon, who had read Kepler’s book on celestial mechanics and inquired about the absence of God in that tome, “I have no need of that hypothesis.”)

On the contrary, the Book of Wisdom (7:17-22) reads:
For [God] gave me sound knowledge of what exists, that I might know:
the structure of the universe -- and the force of its elements,
The beginning and the end -- and the midpoint of times,

the changes in the sun’s course -- and the variations of the seasons,
Cycles of years -- positions of stars,
natures of living things -- tempers of beasts,

Powers of the winds -- and thoughts of human beings,
uses of plants -- and virtues of roots—
Whatever is hidden or plain I learned,
for Wisdom, the artisan of all, taught me
I answer that in Article 2, we saw several reasons why Science, as the Modern world understands it, arose only in the West, even though fits and starts could be seen in other, nearby cultures. The development of natural science is not an inevitable thing that can only be delayed or impeded.  It is something that no culture ever developed except one -- and almost another. It is also clear that:
  • during the medieval era, the West shot ahead of the House of Submission in science and technology alike, 
  • medieval culture was Christian to the bone. 
  • Therefore, it remains to be shown that this association was essential and not accidental (in Modern terms: a cause and not merely a correlation). 
To do this we must show that key elements of Christian belief were "enablers" of key foundations of science. Some of these elements were shared with other cultures, but not all.

The "enabling" was not the mere fact that early proto-scientists were Christian (or muslim!).  When everyone is a Christian (or a muslim!) there is no particular significance to the fact. Nor is it the case that individual scientists were "inspired" to do science, although a better case can be made for that in an era long before the field had proven itself. What is needed is a structural connection at the level of the history of ideas.

There are several interconnected elements:

1. The belief in linear time. 
The Christians believed that the World had a beginning and would have an end (i.e., time has direction). This contrasted with the belief in most other cultures that the World ran in endless, repeated cycles. Having observed the daily cycle of the sun, the monthly cycle of the moon, the annual cycle of the stars, and the various peculiar cycles of the wandering gods, the sages of Babylon, Egypt, Greece, India, China, and Mexico became enthralled with calculating the "Great Year" when all these cycles would finally match up and begin repeating. The concomitant belief was that events on earth were not due to immediate "causal" factors but simply due to the point in time on the great celestial cycle. That is, when the stars were once again aligned as they were in his day, Socrates will again be be born, will again be betrayed, and will again drink the hemlock. What meaning can natural laws have when instead of A causing B, A and B simply happen at their appointed times because it was time for them to happen, and that these times can be foretold by predicting the motions of the stars? Natural science would die for lack of oxygen.

Although individuals even in Christendom have always been susceptible to the allure of "the glory that was Greece" or the hermetic "mysteries of the Orient," the official teaching of the Church was dead set against fatalism and astrology, so when they translated the works of the ancient Greeks, they skimmed off the irrational parts and kept the rational. Even Aristotle, who was the most empirical of the lot, fell victim to the Great Year nonsense, which is why ancient Greek science never really got rolling.  This opened the door to the idea of linear time and causation. Thus Christendom aided the emergence of Science by removing the greatest obstacle to it.
A corollary to the belief that "In the beginning, God created..." is that God had created something. That is, the physical universe is not an illusion, or a "veil" between the mind and the really real reality, as has been the case in some cultures. Remember, no science can prove its own axioms, and physical science must assume a physical world a priori. Presenting empirical evidence of anything presupposes that the evidence actually is empirical. 
2. The belief in a rationally-ordered universe. 
"Thou hast disposed all things by measure and number and weight" (Wis. 11:20).  The Christians believed that God was a rational being, and that when man was created in His image, it meant that man was created with a rational soul (anima).  Adelard of Bath writes:
"It is through reason that we are human.  For if we turn our backs on the amazing rational beauty of the World we live in, we should indeed deserve to be driven therefrom, like a guest unappreciative of the house into which he has been received." 
-- Quaestiones naturales
Creation therefore must be rationally-ordered because a rational mind had conceived it.  Joseph Needham, a Marxist atheist, ascribed the failure of China to produce Science (in the modern sense) to her lack of belief in a singular rational creator:
It was not that there was no order in nature for the Chinese, but rather that it was not an order ordained by a rational personal being, and hence there was no conviction that rational personal beings would be able to spell out in their lesser earthly languages the divine code of laws which he had decreed aforetime. The Taoists, indeed, would have scorned such an idea as being too naïve for the subtlety and complexity of the universe as they intuited it.
--Needham, Joseph and Ling Wang. Science and Civilisation in China.
1 Introductory Orientations.
(Cambridge University Press, 1954)

3. The belief that this rational order is discernible by humans.
The Christian doctrine of synderesis (conscience) held that human reason was capable of reaching correct conclusions regarding natural and moral law. "Goddidit" was not an acceptable explanation in medieval Christian philosophy:
"[They say] 'We do not know how this is, but we know that God can do it.' You poor fools! God can make a cow out of a tree, but has He ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so." 
-- William of Conches, Dragmatikon

Historians have noted the manner in which Christian Europe went ape over reason. Edward Grant wrote:
The new emphasis on reason and rationality had emerged by the eleventh and twelfth centuries following a lengthy evolutionary transformation from the earlier centuries of the Roman Empire. They became permanent and characteristic features of the Latin Middle Ages. The wide-spread, conscious reliance on reason, and reasoned argument, in medieval Western society seems to have had no counterpart in any other civilization about which we have any knowledge. Why this occurred is simply unknown, and is perhaps ultimately inexplicable.

Whatever the cause of it, the emphasis on reason in the twelfth century is a phenomenon of the greatest importance. We must not view it as some sort of revival, or renaissance, of an earlier time when reason may have played a significant role in the West. There was really no such time. Reason as a self-conscious driving force in learning and in society had never occurred in the West until the twelfth century. Once established, however, reason came to play a large and significant role, and has remained a major driving force in the West to the present day.
"Why this occurred" is hinted at by Berenger of Tours who wrote that "he who does not avail himself of reason abandons his chief honor, since by virtue of reason he was made in the image of God." This religious belief that "the image of God" referred not to some physical shape but to the spark of reason meant that to abandon reason was in a real sense to abandon God.  Investigation of the natural world began to be seen as a religious duty.

4. The belief in a common course of nature. 
"The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all his works." (Psalm 145:13)  By  revealing His rational nature, wrote Anselm of Canterbury, and because He is faithful to His promises, God has bound Himself to act in a certain way.  Such beliefs disposed the Christians to conceive a consistent World, knowable by "measuring, numbering, and weighing." Hence, there were laws of nature. The muslims, although they shared many other beliefs with the Christians, regarded the course of nature as being only the "habits of God."  God was totally free and thus his habits are not the same as natural laws.

Alfred North Whitehead, the great mathematician and physicist, wrote:
I do not think that I have even yet brought out the greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation of the scientific movement. I mean the inexpungable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles. Without this belief the incredible labours of scientists would be without hope. It is this instinctive conviction, vividly poised before the imagination, which is the motive power of research: -- that there is a secret, a secret which can be unveiled.
-- Lowell lectures on Science and the Modern World (1925)
By the Middle Ages, the expression machina mundi, the machine of the world, had become commonplace. There were no nymphs in the wells, no dryads in the trees, the heavens were not "alive, divine, and influential in human affairs," but just another created thing. ("God created the heaven and the earth.") The ancients had conceived the world as a sort of organism possessing a kind of life and willfulness of its own, not as a sort of machine. Obviously, there can be no common course of Nature if Nature itself has a mind of its own.

5. The belief in secondary causation.
"Then God said: Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: tame animals, crawling things, and every kind of wild animal." (Gen.1:24)  Commenting on this text, Augustine of Hippo pointed out:  
It is therefore, causally that Scripture has said that earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that [earth] received the power of bringing them forth. 
-- On the literal meanings of Genesis, Book V Ch. 4:11
This meant that physical bodies possessed immanent powers that could act on other physical bodies directly, a doctrine known as Secondary Causation. Thus, the Christians believed that God had given fire the power to burn things and that fire could not burn unless God continued to will it.  Al-Ghazali, on the other hand, taught that God creates the heat in the flame and God creates the blackening and disintegration of the cloth directly, and it is only the habit of God that these two things occur together. (This doctrine of occasionalism was later picked up by Hume during the collapse of Western philosophy.)

As William of Conches wrote (in the Dragmatikon), "[God] is the author of all things, evil excepted.  But the natures with which He endowed His creatures accomplish a whole scheme of operations, and these too turn to His glory since it is He who created these very natures." And Alberus Magnus wrote:
"In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power; we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass."  
-- Albertus Magnus, De vegetabilibus et plantis
This meant that the common course of nature was due to natural laws.  That the reasons for material phenomena should be sought in the natures of things and not in the inscrutable Will of a transcendent Deity – and with the assurance that these secondary causes are both consistent and rationally accessible – was a uniquely Western worldview without which natural science could not have taken root.  This Christian approach is called "methodological naturalism."
I propose here… to show the causes of some effects which seem to be miracles and to show that the effects occur naturally…  There is no reason to take recourse to the heavens [astrology], the last refuge of the weak, or to demons, or to our glorious God, as if he would produce these effects directly… 
-- Nicole d’Oresme, De causa mirabilium

6. The study of Nature was embedded in the culture. 
Every culture has produced individuals interested in the workings of Nature, but nowhere else was that study embedded in the culture at large.  Instead, it was the preserve of scattered individuals. Thus, the Christian origin of Science is not a question of individual natural philosophers being motivated by their religious beliefs. Rather, those religious doctrines in which they believed shaped habits of mind that encouraged study of "the Book of Nature," as discussed above. 

The embedding took place because the universities, institutions unique to Christendom, provided a "home base" to natural philosophy relatively free of interference by political authorities. Of the 68 chartered universities, 53 carried either papal charters or joint papal-imperial charters. Thanks to the papal bull Parens scientiarum, the "Magna carta of the universities," the universities were free to choose their own courses and manners of instruction, with restrictions only in the graduate school of theology. The curriculum consisted almost entirely of logic, reason, and natural philosophy. These universities graduated hundreds of thousands of students, most of whom went into normal commercial life. Never before (or since!) has such a large percentage of the population been educated exclusively in science. In particular, every student matriculated in the graduate school of theology had first to earn a masters degree in natural philosophy. In modern terms: every theologian had been trained as a scientist.
In Greece, Rome, and elsewhere, religion had always been a department of the State.  Priests were government officials and temples were state-run. Charlemagne had modeled his empire on Rome, including imperial control of the Church.  But in the early Middle Ages, following Matthew 22:21 ("Render unto Caesar...") and Augustine's The City of God, the Church managed to strip the princes of their spiritual roles, creating something new in history: the secular state

Consequently, in the Middle Ages, there was always another authority to appeal to.  In the social space between Church and State, independent, self-governing institutions -- guilds, universities, free towns, professional societies -- could grow, which were elsewhere subordinate to emirs or bureaucrats.   
The universities themselves had for the most part originated in the cathedral schools of the early middle ages during the Carolingian renaissance.  And the texts that formed the curriculum had been meticulously copied by scholar-monks as part of their religious duties. The Greek texts they preferentially copied were those dealing with logic, math (incl. astronomy and optics), natural philosophy, and medicine -- texts which had been largely unavailable in Latin during imperial times.  This cherry-picking of ancient Greek texts by medieval copyists has given the Modern world an exaggerated impression of Greek rationality. 

The upshot was that education in natural philosophy was widespread, persistent, and standardized across Western Christendom in a way that it had never been elsewhere and elsewhen.

7. The belief in the nobility of labor.
Christianity had been founded by a carpenter and spread by fishermen, tent-makers, and other "blue-collar" types. Thus, the Christians could not disdain work with the hands as the pagans had.
"Archimedes possessed such a lofty spirit, so profound a soul, and such a wealth of scientific theory, that although his inventions had won for him a name and fame for superhuman sagacity, he would not consent to leave behind him any treatise on this subject, but regarding the work of an engineer and every art that ministers to the needs of life as ignoble and vulgar, he devoted his earnest efforts only to those studies the subtlety and charm of which are not affected by the claims of necessity."
-- Plutarch, Life of Marcellus, 17.
But the advancement of science requires deliberate experimentation, which is to say manual labor. Archimedes had to be compelled by King Hiero to invent things for the defense of Syracuse because he considered it unworthy. But in the Middle Ages, people bragged about things they had done with their hands. Great clockmakers like Henry Bate and Giovanni de'Dondi boasted of building their clocks "manu complevi propria" (completed with [my] own hand).  A new term appeared: ingeniator, earliest citation: 1170, at Durham: Ricardus ingeniator, vir artifiosus (Richard the Engineer, man of artifacts). 

The medieval Christians began to envision novelties and attempted systematically to achieve them.  Some efforts were successful – the mechanical clock – other, less so – perpetual motion machines.  But the idea of deliberate innovation became embedded in Western thought. 
Robert the Englishman noted this deliberateness in 1271, when he wrote that clockmakers were “trying to invent an escapement which will move exactly as the equinoctial circle does; but they can’t quite manage the job.  If they could, they would have a really accurate time-piece.”  By the mid-14th century, Europeans were raising intricate clocks in their public squares.  By the 15th century, they had invented spring-driven portable clocks.  By the end of the era, pendant clocks dangled on lanyards from the necks of the wealthy. 
Ingeniators were not ashamed of manual labor. They gave the world eyeglasses, escapements, camshafts and gearing, windmills, etc.  Even some natural philosophers engaged in experimentation. Theodoric of Freiburg conducted an experiment using water-fill glass balls by which he explained the optics of the rainbow. 

8. Christianity was a proselytizing religion. 
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations..." (Matt.28:19).  As mentioned in Article 2, ancient philosophers did not believe that wisdom was fit for the masses
alluding to certain doctrines only symbolically; scattering or suppressing the premises of an argument; dealing with subjects outside their proper context; speaking enigmatically...; transposing words and letters [!]; deliberately using equivocal terms; introducing contradictory premises...; employing extreme brevity ...; refraining from drawing obvious conclusions; ...
-- Barry Kogan, Averroes, quoted in (Huff, 2003)
Gnosticism inner-circle knowledge affected Jews, pagans, Christians, and muslims.  Jews and pagans were not interested in proselytizing. Their religions were essentially ethnic.  Muslims would accept converts, but did no go out and preach to infidels in hopes of winning them over.*  But the Christians, in preaching to all nations, were compelled to make their message clear and concise, and it is clear, concise language that natural science requires, not enigmas and equivocation. This led to the dialectic form of argument.
(*) Military conquest and the dhimmi tax usually worked; but it was not until the 10th-11th centuries that Islam became a majority religion in the Middle East.  At the time of the First Crusade, Antioch was still Greek and Orthodox and Egypt was 50% Coptic Orthodox.

The dialectic was a format in which the best arguments for and against a question were laid out, debated, and resolved.  It emerged from the Sic et non of Peter Abelard and developed through the Sentences of Peter Lombard and the Summae of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas.  Even in the theology schools, scholars debated against the doctrines as well as in favor, and had to give reasons why a doctrine should be held. It is difficult to imagine this "culture of poking around" in schools teaching Holy Qur'an or the Confucian texts. Natural science could not arise in a milieu that did not encourage such inquiry.
"Assertions… concerning natural philosophy, which do not pertain to theology, should not be solemnly condemned or forbidden to anyone, since in such matters everyone should be free to say freely whatever he pleases."
-- William of Ockham 
without, we assume, being condemned as "denialists."

You can't grow an oak without an acorn, and the natural philosophy of Aristotle was certainly the material cause of the emergence of Science. No society ever came close to developing a science of Nature without some exposure to Aristotle. But Aristotle was not a sufficient cause and in some regards (use of mathematics in physics, use of deliberate experimentation) he exerted a retarding influence.  So while some Greeks and some muslims worked in natural philosophy, little ultimately came of it because some aspects of their cultures were hostile, indifferent, or simply incompatible with it. The Greeks were hampered by astrological beliefs in an organic universe governed by multiple gods.  The muslims, who came closer than anyone else, were hampered by a doctrine of occasionalism that got in the way of secondary causation.  Christian beliefs that a rational God had endowed matter with natures having the ability to act developed a theory of consistent natural laws. Their belief in synderesis led to the belief that the rational order of the world was accessible to human reason -- and not simply to the inner circle of Really Smart People.  Their belief that Church and State were separate things led to self-governing universities. Along with a spirit of free inquiry into nature and a willingness to perform manual labor, these proved decisive in nurturing natural science. 

Regarding the Objections:

Reply to Objection 1.  Even were it true, it doesn’t in any way support the truth claims of Christianity or any other religion.
So what? The argument is that Christianity gave birth to science, not that the "truth claims" of Christianity are true. It doesn't matter if it is true that physical bodies can act directly on other physical bodies as the Christians believed.  It only matters that they believed it.

But it is significant that this seems to be the first response that comes to Coyne's mind.

Reply to Objection 2.   Christianity was around for a millennium without much science being done; “modern” science really started as a going concern in the 17th century. Why did that take so long if Christianity was so important in fostering science?

It is hard to know if Coyne is serious about this, but he may be no more familiar with history than he is with philosophy. Has he not heard of the barbarian Volkerwanderungen? The collapse of the Latin economy after the jihad cut the West off from the East? The consequent withering of the towns? As fast as the Europeans wrote things down, the Saracens, Vikings, and Magyars would burn them up. For that matter, does an evolutionary biologist not appreciate the fact that in history nothing happens overnight?

Perhaps he is thinking that not much engineering was being done, since many people believe that technology is science.  But really, you have to embed reason and causation in the common consciousness before you can build CERN.  Cultural influences are not magic.

Modern science began in the 17th century because the Renaissance was a dead zone for science. The Revolution consisted of subordinating science to engineering and industry.  (Read Bacon, Descartes, Boyle, et al.) That is, science was to be judged by how useful it was for extending Man's dominion over the universe, not for how it might enlighten our understanding of it. The widespread technological innovation of the Middle Ages was done independently of natural philosophy -- by engineers rather than scientists. Even so, we can mark such things as Albertus Magnus' work on botany and his identification of the chemical arsenic; Albert of Saxony's idea of uplift as a counter force to erosion; Buridan's theory of impetus (momentum) and his formulation of "Newton's" first law. Bradwardine's proof of the mean speed theorem and Oresme's use of geometry to demonstrate it graphically. Grosseteste's development of the archetypal scientific method and his suggestion that light was the first form to come to matter, starting as a pinpoint and expanding to make the universe. Peter Maricourt's laws of magnetism; a whole cartload of work on optics, Jordanus' solution to motion on an inclined plane, the invention of fractions (admittedly mathematics, not science). More information can be found in Lindberg (15).

The 14th century was poised to kick things off, but the Black Death kicked things off first and dropped the number of natural philosophers below critical mass. Not until the 17th century did Europe's population equal that of the 14th century. By then, the printing press (the medieval world's last great invention) had increased the velocity of ideas. Think of it like a nuclear pile.

Reply to Objection 3.  If you think of science as rational and empirical investigation of the natural world, it originated not with Christianity but with the ancient Greeks, and was also promulgated for a while by Islam.

This was addressed in Article 2.  We overestimate the role of rational and empirical investigation of  Nature in ancient Greece precisely because the medievals preferentially translated and copied ancient Greek writings in logic, mathematics, and natural philosophy (at the expense of ancient Greek liturgical texts, literature, etc.) Of course, a number of individual Greek philosophers studied nature, but science as we understand it is not the haphazard accumulation of factoids.

Science was not "promulgated ... by Islam." There were some muslim faylasuf -- typically from Spain or Persia -- who were enchanted by Aristotle, but their efforts were individual, tolerated by some rulers, repressed by others. The investigation of nature was never "institutionalized in the culture" as it was in the Latin West; it was never taught in the madrassas. Al-Kindi, ibn Rushd, and others loom larger in the Western imagination than in the House of Submission, where they were largely forgotten until modern times. As ibn Khaldûn wrote:
"The problems of physics are of no importance for us in our religious affairs or our livelihoods; therefore we must leave them alone."
Reply to Objection 4.  There was no scientific revolution in the eastern half of the Christian world. Why was that?

Because by the 17th century Byzantium was ruled by muslim Turks. Duh?

Again, this is magical thinking on Coyne's part.  Necessary conditions and not always sufficient conditions.  Does he expect Science!™ to spring from a baptized forehead as Athena from the brow of Zeus?  This is the Intelligent Design Theory of History.  No, it is more an evolutionary process.

The oriental orthodox churches in Syria and Egypt had been swallowed up by the jihad right from the get-go, though they still supplied the scholars that translated the Greek corpus from Syriac into Arabic. As for the eastern orthodox, the Byzantine Empire was engaged in a centuries-long existential war against the jihad and may have had other things on her mind.  By the 13th century she was exhausted and broken. The loss of much of the Byzantine heritage during the Turkish conquest means we do not have a clear picture of what took place there in natural philosophy; though we do know that the Neoplatonic-Aristotelian synthesis was followed with its Christian modifications. (E.g., John Philoponus conducted Galileo's experiments with the inclined plane.) 

Reply to Objection 5.  geometry was invented by polytheists (ancient Greeks); do we give polytheism credit for geometry, then?

Not unless Coyne can show which aspects of Greek paganism informed the invention of geometry.  Besides, geometry is mathematics, not natural science. (No one proves a geometric theorem by collecting and measuring empirical data.) 

Reply to Objection 6.  Religion has of course also repressed the search for knowledge. Not only do we have the cases of Galileo and Bruno, but also the active discouragement of the use of reason by many church fathers, especially Martin Luther...

Sigh.  The case of Galileo has become one of those dumb-shows played by cardboard stereotypes after the actual facts have passed across the rolling horizon. The search for knowledge was not repressed, given that it proceeded apace and even accelerated. Even Galileo was not repressed, since he wrote his best book after the infamous trial. Basically (and ironically, given Dr. Coyne's concerns) he had been asked politely to not reinterpret Scriptures without empirical evidence that the Copernican hypothesis was factually true.  There is a reason why the Galileo case is the only one ever cited. 

Bruno was not a scientist. He was a hermetic mystic who, for woo-woo reasons adopted the Copernican hypothesis in much the same way as literary deconstructionists today have adopted quantum mechanics. Read Bruno's books and you'll find he had not a clue regarding astronomy, let alone natural science. It does no good to say he should not have been executed. They tried for seven years not to execute him, but the term "suicide by cop" hadn't been invented. His tragedy had nothing to do with science.

Martin Luther was not a Church Father, and the place of reason in Latin Christendom had been settled long before he kicked over the traces.  Both Renaissance humanists and Protestant reformers disparaged the medieval reliance on logic and reason, though for different reasons. 

It is not clear why Galileo is always trotted out.  You would think there would be more victims than one. Surely, listing a half dozen repressed scientists would be more effective.  After all, Lavoisier was guillotined by the rationalists of the French Revolution, so one may always find the odd case here and there without committing the genitive fallacy.   

Reply to Objection 7.  There was and still is, of course, opposition to science by Christians. The greatest opponent of biology’s greatest theory—evolution—has always been Christianity.

This is a prize example of the fallacy of reifying an abstraction. Coyne leaps from opposition "by Christians" to opposition by "Christianity." By the same reasoning one can leap from the commission of crimes by black men to citing "blacks" as the greatest opponent to law and order.  There ought to be a name for this condemnation of millions based on the actions of some. Oh wait. There is.

Two-thirds of the world's Christians are members of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, not of Bill and Ted's Excellent Bible Shack, and neither traditional Church has a problem with the scientific theory of evolution. However, like aluminum, evolution is always found in intellectual compounds with non-scientific propositions: atheism, class warfare, eugenics, and the like. These annexes are often objectionable even if the scientific theory to which they cling is not. Earlier in the 20th century, Christian objections to eugenics was often characterized as being against evolution simply because so many Darwinians were also into eugenics.

The greatest opponent of evolution by natural selection was the Soviet Union, which officially endorsed an alternative theory because Darwinism was too much like free enterprise capitalism.

Reply to Objection 8.  If religion promulgated the search for knowledge, it also gave rise to erroneous, revelation-based “scientific” conclusions that surely impeded progress. Those include creation ex nihilo, the Great Flood, a geocentric universe, and so on.

The geocentric model constructed and taught by the likes of Aristotle, Archimedes, Ptolemy, et al. was so well-supported by empirical evidence that the religious folks took it for granted in their commentaries on what were actually poetic and common-sense references. Now it's denounced as religion getting in the way of science, when it was really more like science getting in the way of religion. That's what those exegetes get for relying on "settled science" and "the consensus of the scientists." 

The great world flood was a scientific conclusion reached by those ancient Greek natural philosophers whom Coyne has earlier praised. The Greek philosopher Xenophanes observed marine fossils in the hills of Greece and believed them to be actual fish and shellfish somehow turned to stone.  The only natural process he knew of that could deposit marine life in the high hills was a flood -- a really, really big flood.  Like a cover-the-whole-world flood. This bit of wisdom entered common culture and showed up in the legends of a great many cultures. (Other peoples than the Greeks could spot fossil shells.) 
Creation is not a scientific proposition at all and has nothing to do with the transformation of Stuff from one form to another. This is an ignorance shared (as usual) by atheists and fundamentalists alike.  But if one is going to say "creatio ex nihilo," one really ought to understand what was meant by the dudes who were writing about it.

Reply to Objection 9.  Early scientists were Christians, at least in the west, because everyone was a Christian then.  You would have been an apostate, or burnt at the stake, had you denied that faith.   

The argument was not that "early scientists were Christians" but that Christian beliefs and culture facilitated the emergence of natural science. We might even say that certain Christian "memes" were crucial to the cultural evolution of natural science. Or we would if "memes" were not a fantasy made up by Dawkins doing bad metaphysics. 

However, we know from their own writings that those folks were not scientists (or proto-scientists) who just happened to be Christian but were Christians who conducted science from their deeply held beliefs. One need only consider the number who were themselves clerics: from Bishop Robert Grosseteste to Fr. Georges Lemaitre. Someone might be a pewsitter solely from social pressure, but it's more difficult to make that assertion regarding a bishop. Besides, it was not that easy to get burned. Basically, you had to be an heresiarch, not simply mouthing off. Most penalties imposed were far less than capital crimes. 

Reply to Objection 9a.  If you’re going to give Christianity credit for science, you have to give it credit for nearly everything, including art, architecture, music, and so on.

Well, yes.  But scientists are often unclear on the history of "art, architecture, music, and so on."  Perhaps Coyne is not familiar with the origins of polyphony, musical notation, flying buttresses, or the art of Giotto.

Reply to Objection 10.  Islam began as a science-supportive regime, but lost its impetus when the faith [sic] around the 16th century when religious authorities began repressing a “western” mode of inquiry. This anti-Western attitude may explain the minimal achievements of science in modern Islamic nations.

That's nice, but irrelevant to the proposition that Christian beliefs and culture facilitated the emergence of natural science.  We have also seen that "Islam" was not a "science-supporting" "regime."

Reply to Objection 11.  At present nearly half of science [sic] are atheists, and the argument that religion motivates science can no longer stand. The major achievements of science, including relativity, evolution, and modern molecular biology, were achieved by non-theists. Indeed, Jim Watson told me that his and Crick’s drive to find the structure of DNA was largely motivated by a desire to show that the “secret of life”—the replicating molecule that serves as a recipe for bodies—was pure chemistry, with not a trace of the divine in it.

Notice that these objections are getting wordier and more off the point. The argument was not that "religion motivates science."  It was that Christian beliefs and culture facilitated the emergence of natural science. This would be the case if those immersed in that culture were atheists. They still believe that the world exists, it is rationally-ordered, that human reason can learn something of that order, that there are natural laws, that nature acts directly, and so forth. It is not yet clear whether they are "coasting on the fumes" of the old Western civilization or whether they can now proceed without the incubator.

Coyne's calumny against Watson -- that he was not motivated by a search for truth and knowledge, but by a desire to push an ideological agenda -- is staggering. It reminds one of Yuri Gagarin's announcement that after going into orbit he did not see God anywhere up there. Undoubtedly, we await the breathless announcement that the helical structure of a wood screw means that screwing is entirely mechanical with not a trace of a carpenter in it.

Ironically, Watson has had personal experience with what happens to people who utter heresy.

Reply to Objection 12.  All progress in science, whether ancient or modern, came from ignoring or rejecting the idea of divine intervention. Even if theories were inspired by thoughts of God, they were substantiated or disproven by tacitly assuming a godless universe—that is, by employing methodological naturalism. Religion has only impeded that kind of investigation and, in fact, has never come up with a theory on its own that had scientific credibility.  Newton, for instance, couldn’t explain regular planetary motion, and had to invoke divine intervention (so much for God helping science!) until Laplace came along and showed that orbital irregularities could be explained in a purely naturalistic way. (As Laplace supposedly replied to Napoleon, who had read Kepler’s book on celestial mechanics and inquired about the absence of God in that tome, “I have no need of that hypothesis.”)

Oy!  Growing even more bloviated. Aquinas was so much more concise in stating this objection. It seems to be a mash-up of several consecutive stream-of-consiousness thoughts.

First of all the medieval Christians likewise rejected the idea of divine intervention to account for the common course of nature, so Coyne is simply parroting Catholic doctrine here. We don't say that Hamlet killed Polonius because of Shakespearean intervention. In fact, if an author "intervenes" in a work, it is considered bad art.

It is not the business of religion to provide scientifically credible theories about natural phenomena. As Augustine said:
In the Gospel we do not read that the Lord said: ‘I send you the Holy Spirit so that He might teach you all about the course of the sun and the moon.’  The Lord wanted to make Christians, not astronomers.  You learn at school all the useful things you need to know about nature.”
-- Contra Faustum manichaeum 

Theories may or may not be inspired by thoughts of God, but that was not the proposition being raised.

Methodological naturalism does not assume a godless universe. It simply does not call upon God for an explanation. The universe may or may not be godless. An analogy may help.  My auto mechanic has no need of Darwin's theory in order to explain how my transmission works. But that doesn't mean he assumes a Darwinless universe.  As Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn put it in First Things magazine:
Scientists are most welcome to "explain everything they need to without appeal to God;" indeed, I hope all the readers of First Things would join me in strenuously objecting if God is ever invoked in the course of normal scientific explanation! 
which echoes the comments of William of Conches, Nicole Oresme, Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, and all the rest. The Christian belief that physical bodies have natures capable of acting directly upon one another is held to this day -- even by atheists. 

Which helps explain what Laplace actually meant.  He had not learned to do without God; he had simply learned to mind his own business. The equations for a jet engine do not include a term for "Frank Whittle," either.

Napoleon was not asking because he had read Kepler.  Kepler is notoriously difficult to read for a non-mathematician. He was asking because Newton had postulated divine intervention to account for the fact that the solar system had not yet flown apart.  (Newtonian dynamics is not analytically solvable and produces an unstable system.)  However, two generations after Laplace, Poincare blew the whole tight little Laplacian determinism out of the water, a tale for another time. (Ekeland, pp.12-48)
+ + + 


Coyne goes on:  And of course there’s a contradiction, too: if religion and science are separate magisteria, as Gould maintained, then the [sic] are completely separate and can only harm each other by overstepping their bounds.  But if you claim that religion inspired scientific theories and scientific progress, that’s a NOMA boundary violation.

Lets call the NOMA police.  Let's see, if cooking and police detection are separate magisteria, what harm results from catering a police meeting?  The part of Coyne's statement after "can only harm each other..." simply does not logically follow. A good meal may actually improve a detective's crime-solving.

There are in addition, several noteworthy comments from the Amen corner in the comm box, but TOF has not the heart to deal with them after all this. They are the same old, tired reflexive ejaculations of faith.


  1. Bacon, Roger.  On experimental science. (Oxford, 1268) 
  2. Dear, Peter. Disciplining Experience: The Mathematical Way in the Scientific Revolution.  (University of Chicago Press, 1995)
  3. Duhem, Pierre.  Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science, tr. Roger Ariew and Peter Barker.  (Hackett, 1996).  
  4. Ekeland, Ivar.  Mathematics and the Unexpected.  (University of Chicago Press, 1988)
  5. Gies, Frances & Joseph Gies.  Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel.  (HarperPerennial, 1995).  
  6. Gimpel, Jean.  The Medieval Machine.  (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976)  
  7. Grant, Edward.  The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages.  (Cambridge University Press, 1996).  
  8. Grant, Edward.  God and Reason in the Middle Ages.  (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
  9. Gregory IX.  Parens scientiarum.  (Vatican, 1231)  
  10. Grosseteste, Robert.  De iride, et al.:
  11. Huff, Toby E. The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West. (Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  12. Jaki, Stanley L. The Savior of Science. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1988)
  13. Jaki, Stanley.  The Limits of a Limitless Science.  (ISI Books, 2000)
  14. Kadhim, Najah.  “Between Text and History: Re-establishing the Intellectual Link,”
  15. Kibre, Pearl & Nancy Siraisi.  “The Institutional Setting: The Universities,” in (15)
  16. Lindberg, David C., ed.  Science in the Middle Ages.  (University of Chicago Press, 1978).  
  17. Lindberg, David C.  The Beginnings of Western Science.  (University of Chicago Press, 1992).  
  18. Mahoney, Michael S.  “Mathematics,” contained in (15).
  19. Oresme, Nicholas.  “On the diurnal motion of the earth,” from Livre du ciel et du monde.  (Paris, 1377)  
  20. Sivin, Nathan.  “Why the Scientific Revolution Did Not Take Place in China – Or Didn't It?” 
  21. Stock, Brian.  “Science, Technology, and Economic Progress in the Early Middle Ages,” contained in (15).  
  22. Wallace, William.  “The Philosophical Setting of Medieval Science,” in (15).
  23. Wallace, William.  The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis.  (Scholarly Book Services, 1997) 
  24. White, Lynne.  Medieval Technology and Social Change.  (Oxford University Press, 1964).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sandra Fluke was wrong?

(h/t MarkShea)
a collaboration between the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado Education

These ads are a collaboration between the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado Education. Denver television station KDVR reported that the Colorado healthcare exchange launched the new "Thanks, Obamacare" ad campaign on 12 November 2013 to encourage millennials and other social media users to get insured. (

This is necessary because the legislative attempt to repeal actuarial statistics creates an unsustainable money pit, much like the New Jersey auto insurance pool a number of years back, and we must get young, healthy people to buy health insurance in order to subsidize everyone else. Everyone will be happy, especially insurance company executives.

But at least we now know why they were so anxious to make sure birth control for women was covered that they threatened the Catholic Church and others to provide it. It is the carrot to get young bucks to sign up for untroubled access to wimmin.
UPDATE: The second ad vanished and was replaced by a yucky-face both here and at Snopes.  Let's see if it happens again.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

TOF in the Big Apple

L. Statistician to the Stars; C. yr.obt. svt.; R. Philosophical rock star

TOF wandered into NYC on this past Saturday to attend a free symposium about Thomas Aquinas & Philosophical Realism, the price being within his range.  One of the featured speakers was the estimable philosopher Ed Feser.  TOF's Faithful Reader may recall that that the good Doctor provided philosophical review of TOF's soon-to-be-beloved-classic "Places Where the Roads Don't Go," which features a philosopher as one of its characters. (A computer scientist and a topologist round out the major characters.) Dr. Ed allowed as how TOF did not screw up the philosophy stuff too badly.

Also present in the audience was Wm. M. Briggs, the famed Statistician to the Stars, who has left an account of the symposium on his own blog at the link just given. The esteemed Dr. Briggs, whose name is William but calls himself Matt, is a post-Bayesian who delights in skewering various statistical studies in what are puckishly called the social "sciences."  TOF, in his secret identity, exercises his way kool mind powers as Ye Olde Statistician when in puckish mood, but is merely a poor, simple-minded quality engineer.

Thus the blogging mojo concentrated in one spot nearly reached critical mass. Curiously, two guys who comment on Ed's blog were also present, and both were named Matt. What is the probability of that, you may ask. Don't ask, since there ain't such a thing absent a model.

As Faithful Reader can discern from the photograph above, both Matt and Ed have the height on TOF.  But, aha!, TOF has them beat on the other two dimensions.

The symposium was held in the Catholic Center at New York University hard by Washington Square and Greenwich Village. The Center is run by Dominicans. TOF is more accustomed to Franciscans in brown robes, so all those white robes made him nervous wondering where the torture chambers were hidden.  Or perhaps the albino assassins...?  But no, the albino assassins are run out of another Order.

Dr. Briggs has a more detailed review of the proceedings and interested readers are referred there, but a few observations follow.

The first speaker was James Brent, O.P. (Order of Preachers), from The Catholic University of America, who spoke on “The Principle of Non-Contradiction Yesterday, Today, and Forever.”  He was in favor of it, which was a relief. But it is astonishing how many Late Moderns buy into the ancient Greek and medieval muslim notion that humans are in general incapable of knowing Truth. This is only one of the many mice nibbling at the foundations of Western Civilization these days. Fr. Brent's talk was given in the form of a dialectic Question, a joy of clarity and logic.

The second speaker, Dr. Candace Vogler, made a case that notions of natural teleology have been creeping back into late modern discourse. Not the true quill, of course, and philosophers always have to give things a new name to prove they are not just repeating the ancients, but it has been coming up more and more in various guises. Of course, in the sciences one finds teleology constantly denied and constantly relied upon: attractor basins, equilibrium states, completion, adaptation, and so on. Dr. Vogler didn't mention such things, but they came irresistibly to the mind of TOF.

Dr. Ed Feser gave a marvelous presentation on what sounded like an all-purpose cosmological argument. The part where the divine attributes clicked into place one after the other was mathematically elegant.  Afterward, TOF went up and got Ed's autograph on two of his books that TOF just happened to have brought with him. (He also gave Matt and Ed autographed copies of The January Dancer.) 

Dr. John Haldane was the final speaker and addressed the question of philosophical realism per se, distinguishing several cases and raising the possibility that Thomas was not a realist in the pure sense. Then he looked up and said, Don't worry.  Derrida has not just slouched into the room.  

In between, TOF and the Incomparable Marge had lunch with the impeccably dressed Statistician to the Stars and his Number One son.  Three-piece suit, pocket square, fedora.  He lacked only a silver-headed walking stick and kid gloves. Sure and it was enough to make TOF wish he had dressed up, or at least brought his shillelagh. We repaired to a nearby pub which, ominously, was empty at lunch time. Fortunately, the food was good, and the place filled up as time went on. TOF ordered a Guinness, which started a stampede for the black gold.

After the symposium, TOF and the Marge went over to St. Joseph for mass. Good organ, real pipes as far as TOF could tell, and not a single Marty Haugen ditty to be heard. The cantor (a Dominican) was in good voice. 

After the mass we connected with Julio, a friend we have not seen in a while, and hunted up dinner at a place called McCoy at the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal streets.  Can't get more Village than that. Along the way there, the Marge saved TOF's life again, for he twisted his ankle on one of those curb cuts designed to aid wheelchairs and a staggering step allowed TOF to grab hold of the Marge and not fall to the pavement and perhaps damage the concrete.  

The place was also empty when we arrived, but the food turned out to be both outstanding and sufficient and again we were simply ahead of the curve. TOF had the yellow-fin tuna. Julio used to get us tickets to the opera, but he thinks the Met has gone downhill in the past few years. They have not run a Gilbert and Sullivan play in a while.

A long drive back to Rath UaFhloinn and enough time to rise early the next day and head to Cherry Hill for a brief appearance at Philcon. But that is a tale for another day.

Soul Care Reform

This cracked me up, sorry:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Summa origines scientiarum: Articulus 2

Article 2. Whether the Scientific Revolution was uniquely Western. 

Objection 1.  It would seem otherwise, because Western science grew out off the natural philosophy of ancient Greece, especially from Aristotle, Euclid, Galen, and Ptolemy.  Also, Demokritos proposed a theory of atoms and Aristarchos proposed a heliocentrism, so in many ways Greek science was far ahead of medieval and early modern Europe.  Therefore, the Scientific Revolution started in ancient Greece.

Objection 2.  Furthermore, Western science was backward compared to Islamic science, and the West learned of Greek natural philosophy through Arab intermediaries.  Therefore, the Scientific Revolution began in the House of Submission and not in the House of War.

Objection 3.  Also, China anticipated many of the advances and discoveries of Western natural philosophy.  For example, the 11th century accomplishments of Shen Kua  included: the first discussion of magnetic declination, the application of permutations in traditional Chinese mathematics, a proposal to maintain daily records of lunar and planetary positions, the first suggestion in East Asia of a purely solar calendar, and an explanation of the process of land formation by both deposition of silt and erosion.  Thus, China also had a Scientific Revolution.

On the contrary, physicist Stanley Jaki has written that “the Scientific Revolution was stillborn in every other civilization.”

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Eleventh Hour

of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

We interrupt the Summa for the annual Armistice Day post:

Harry Singley, TOF's grandfather
A letter written by Sgt. Harry Singley, 304th Engineers, Rainbow Division, AEF, my mother's father. 

First day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive
26 Sept. 1918
"It was on Sept. 26 when the big drive started in the Argonne Forest and I saw all kinds of things that I never witnessed before.  We started out on the night of the 25th.  At 9 o'clock we commenced a tank road and worked our way almost to the German's front line trenches.  At 2:30 one of the greatest of all barrages was opened.  It was said that between 3500 and 4000 guns, some of them of very large calibre, went off at that hour just like clock work.  We worked on this road under shell fire until about 3:45 and then went back until the infantry went over the top at 5 oclock.  We followed with the tanks.  That is the way the Americans started and kept pounding and pushing ahead until the great day on Nov. 11.  ...

Harry Singley, 304th Engineers,
Rainbow Division
It was some life.  I am proud that I went through it, for nobody on the Hill will have anything on me...  I was a little with sneezing or tear gas.  It made me sick but I remained with the company for I did not like to leave my detachment at any time for if something would happen, I thought, there would be plenty of help.  I felt much better in a few days.  A small piece of shrapnel splinter hit me below the knee.  Otherwise I was lucky. ..."

"Somebody will wake up soon when the boys get back to the States..."

General Order General Headquarters, A. E. F.
No. 203 France, November 12, 1918

The enemy has capitulated. It is fitting that I address myself in thanks directly to the officers and soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces, who by their heroic efforts have made possible this glorious result.

Our Armies, hurriedly raised and hastily trained, met a veteran enemy, and by courage, discipline and skill always defeated him. Without complaint you have endured incessant toil, privation and danger. You have seen many of your comrades make the Supreme Sacrifice that freedom may live.

I thank you for your patience and courage with which you have endured. I congratulate you upon the splendid fruits of victory, which your heroism and the blood of our gallant dead are now presenting to our nation. Your deeds will live forever on the most glorious pages of America's history.

Those things you have done. There remains now a harder task which will test your soldierly qualities to the utmost. Success in this and little note will be taken and few praises sung; fail, and the light of your glorious achievements of the past will be sadly dimmed.

But you will not fail. Every natural tendency may urge towards relaxation in discipline, in conduct, in appearance, in everything that marks the soldier. Yet you will remember that each officer and EACH SOLDIER IS THE REPRESENTATIVE IN EUROPE OF HIS PEOPLE and that his brilliant deeds of yesterday permit no action of today to pass unnoticed by friend or foe.

You will meet this test as gallantly as you met the test of the battlefield. Sustained by your high ideals and inspired by the heroic part you have played, you will carry back to your people the proud consciousness of a new Americanism born of sacrifice.


John J. Pershing,
General, Commander-in-Chief. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Summa origines scientiarum: Articulus 1

Question I. Whether Christianity promoted the rise of science

 Article 1. Whether there was a Scientific Revolution

Objection 1.  It would seem otherwise, because the term science is not well-defined. Lindberg (1992), for example, provides no less than seven different definitions.  Therefore, there was no Scientific Revolution because there is no one thing called science.  

Objection 2.  It would seem otherwise, because the term science means "knowledge" and mankind has always accumulated knowledge.  Therefore, there was never a scientific revolution.   

Objection 3.  It would seem otherwise, because, as Charles Homer Haskins wrote, "The continuity of history rejects such sharp and violent contrasts between successive periods" of history.  Therefore, Science emerged gradually and not through a “revolution.”

Objection 4.  It would seem otherwise, because a revolution consists of definitive points of change, and is carried out during a short time according to a plan.  But the development of science took place over an extended time and was unplanned.

On the contrary, British historian Herbert Butterfield wrote that the Scientific Revolution “outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces the Renaissance and Reformation to the rank of mere episodes… within the system of medieval Christendom.”

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Summa origines scientiarum: Proœmium


In a fictional quote attributed to a fictional character, Jack McDevitt has Gregory MacAllister write:
Faith is conviction without evidence, and sometimes even in the face of contrary evidence. In some quarters, this quality is perceived as a virtue.
-- Jack McDevitt, Odyssey (2006) Ch. 12 
The McAllister character is being deliberately provocative here, but this version of "faith" is one widely bruited, mostly by people who don't think they have one.  A contrary view comes from Christoph Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna, who stated in one of his lectures:
A blind faith, one that would simply demand a leap into the utter void of uncertainty, would be no human faith. If belief in the Creator were totally without insight, without any understanding of what such entails, then it would likewise be inhuman. Quite rightly, the Church has always rejected "fideism" -- that very sort of blind faith.
-- Christoph Cardinal Schönborn,
"Creation and Evolution: To the Debate as It Stands"
(First Catechetical Lecture for 2005/2006: Oct. 2, 2005, St. Stephan's Cathedral, Vienna)
But faith, of course, is simply the latinate version of "trust" or "truth." To keep faith simply means to trust someone or something. To trust the "evidence," for example. Usually, evidence gathered by someone else far away and reported by some third party medium. Unless we have our own particle accelerator in the basement -- TOF does not -- we must have faith in the folks at CERN or some other lab when they report, not the facts, but their interpretation of those facts. Even for first-hand facts, we must have faith that our senses are for the most part trustworthy. Of course, the extreme skeptic, perhaps fearing that You Know Who is lurking at the end of a syllogism, will quickly point out that there are cases where this is not the case. There are. But if it is usually not the case, the whole basis for our faith in natural science collapses; so these folks ought to be more cautious regarding the arguments they deploy.

Conviction in the face of evidence has many noble, historical examples:
  • Galileo maintained his belief in heliocentrism despite the lack of stellar parallax, headwinds, Coriolis effects, etc. 
  • Maxwell and his followers maintained their faith that magnetism was caused by electricity despite the falsifying existence of permanent (i.e., non-electro-) magnets.
  • Darwin stood true to his belief in natural selection even though any new beneficial trait would be diluted out of the population within a few generations.  Most of the blending of paternal and maternal traits in the first few generations would be with individuals that did not have the trait.
In the end, their faiths were justified because it turned out that the evidences did not mean what their contemporaries thought they meant. A fact is not self-demonstrating; it must be interpreted in the light of a theory.  "Theory determines what can be observed," Einstein told Heisenberg, who said the remark changed his life. The lack of stellar parallax falsified the distance to the stars estimated from their apparent disk sizes, not heliocentrism as such. The electron gave permanent magnets a hidden electrical aspect. Gregor Mendel's genetics saved the Darwinian bacon when it was rediscovered: inheritance is digital, not analog.

So much for 'falsification.' 


Did Wellington win at Waterloo?  Or did Blücher?
Or did Napoleon lose, which is not the same thing?
It is odd how often those who preach the supremacy of empirical "facts" abandon that stance when they stray beyond the confines of their own particular training, and rely instead on fables and ideologies. Biologists may talk nonsense about physics; medical doctors may bollix up the law. History is especially prone to this. The non-professional will approach matters historical often with a preconceived theory involving stereotypes and reified abstractions. He is prone to generalize from specific anecdotes -- and at times even the anecdote isn't what he thinks it is.

Whoa, What's This?

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