Cosmos Upsets the Courtiers

I’m greatly enjoying the new Cosmos, but there are those who are none too pleased by it. Some of the critics are too laughable to take seriously, like the creationists who’re whining about not getting equal time. Then there are the ones who represent an allegedly more sophisticated theology, like this post by Andrew Sullivan, in which he straightfacedly asserts that Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s popularization efforts are giving science a bad name. Why? His complaint stems largely from the first episode, which retells the infamous episode of Giordano Bruno. As is his style, Sullivan writes little himself, drawing mainly from other people’s quotations:

The segment previewed above is on the 16th century priest and philosopher Giordano Bruno, which includes deGrasse Tyson intoning that the Roman Catholic Church sought to “investigate and torment anyone who voiced views that differed from theirs”. Really?

Yes, really. That’s what that thing called the Inquisition was all about.

It wasn’t just Bruno who was targeted, of course. Although he and Galileo were the most historically notable subjects of church persecution, there are whole lists of others. As Andrew Sullivan no doubt knows quite well, the Catholic church had an entire Index of Forbidden Books, containing a wide variety of works by some of the era’s great scientists, philosophers and poets. The Vatican also sought to require all books to get a certification from a church censor that they contained nothing unorthodox before they were allowed to be printed.

[quote from David Sessions]
Bruno’s conflict with the Catholic Church was theological, not scientific, even if it did involve his wild — and occasionally correct — guesses about the universe.

It’s true that Bruno’s conflict with the church was fundamentally theological, not scientific, and that his belief in an infinity of populated worlds stemmed from his mystical, pantheist views, not evidence. (The first episode of Cosmos made this perfectly clear.) So what? Are we supposed to conclude that burning someone at the stake for their religious views is more acceptable than burning them at the stake for their scientific theories?

The obvious rejoinder is that when other people, such as Galileo, made claims that were rooted in scientific evidence and not heretical metaphysics, the church persecuted them just as viciously. In all likelihood, the only reason Galileo escaped Bruno’s fate is that he recanted under pressure and Bruno wouldn’t.

[quote from David Sessions]
The church didn’t even have a position on whether the Earth orbited the sun, and didn’t bring it up at Bruno’s trial.

The list of charges against Bruno included his belief in the plurality of worlds, according to the historian Luigi Firpo. As far as the church “not having a position” on the heliocentric solar system, its persecution of Galileo, as well as its placing Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium and Kepler’s Epitome astronomiae Copernicianae on the forbidden-books list argues rather strongly for the opposite.

While the early-modern religious persecution certainly can’t be denied, Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress all “freedom of thought.”

I’ve read that sentence at least a dozen times trying to figure out what its author thought the distinction between these two things is. I still don’t see it. If a church tortures and kills people who deny the tenets of its faith, I’m pretty sure that counts as religious authorities being out to suppress freedom of thought.

Cosmos‘ point in telling this story isn’t that Bruno was a martyr to science. The point is that the church sought to control people’s imaginations, to dictate which thoughts were mandatory and which forbidden, and that this violent repression stifled all kinds of contrary and creative ideas, including scientific research that ran counter to orthodoxy. I agree that the show turns history into parables, which is the only realistic way of presenting it in a 45-minute television show, and that some details are inevitably lost or glossed over in the process. But no matter. As with the Bruno story, the parts that most enrage religious apologists aren’t the things it gets wrong, but the things it gets right.

[quote from Walter Percy]
…it is no coincidence that science sprang, not from Ionian metaphysics, not from the Brahmin-Buddhist-Taoist East, not from the Egyptian-Mayan astrological South, but from the heart of the Christian West, that although Galileo fell out with the Church, he would hardly have taken so much trouble studying Jupiter and dropping objects from towers if the reality and value and order of things had not first been conferred by belief in the Incarnation.

And here we come to the heart of the matter. Cosmos isn’t explicitly atheist, but it also doesn’t bend over backwards to flatter religion. When the church persecuted freethinkers, when religion was a barrier to inquiry, when superstition held back humanity’s development, it says so. And that’s what’s gotten Sullivan so incensed.

The idea that science could only have arisen in a European, Christian context is as ludicrous as it is offensive. Every human culture of any significant complexity has shown glimmerings of advanced knowledge. And that’s just as we should expect, since we all live in the same world. All the truths we possess are out there, waiting to be discovered by anyone with a quick and curious mind.

The Muslims, despite their lack of “belief in the Incarnation”, achieved great things in science and mathematics while Europe was mired in the Dark Ages. Centuries before the spread of Christianity, the pagan Greeks studied nature and constructed clockwork devices of astonishing sophistication. Ancient Indian societies laid the foundations of modern mathematics and dreamed of an immense and inconceivably ancient cosmos. China invented the compass, gunpowder, the abacus and the printing press a thousand years before the West. American civilizations like the Maya were skilled astronomers. And we’re only just beginning to unearth the lost cosmopolitan empires of Africa.

The only difference is that in all these other societies, the sparks of inquiry died out, either internally from the persecution of orthodoxy, or externally as civilizations collapsed from war or upheaval. Europe happened to be the first place where those sparks caught hold and flared into a lasting flame (thanks in part to the fortuitous rediscovery of Greek and Roman philosophy). If it had happened in another culture, no doubt it would have been through a different path of contingency. But I’m certainly not going to claim, as Sullivan does, that Europe was the only place where it could have happened. That arrogant, self-congratulatory mythology is ridiculous in light of the manifest fact that now, hundreds of years later, the church’s apologists are seeking to claim credit for an outcome that, at the time, the church fought with all its power to prevent.

Image: Statue of Giordano Bruno, via Wikimedia Commons

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Nathaniel

    The assertion about European scientific supremacy isn’t just wrong, its really fucking racist too. May as well cut to the chase and say, “Science was created by white people.”

  • ahermit

    “the Roman Catholic Church sought to “investigate and torment anyone who voiced views that differed from theirs”. Really?”

    Yes really Andrew. Sullivan’s beloved Catholic Church used to behead my Mennonite ancestors for believing that baptism should be something adults choose to do, not something done to infants.

    To be fair the Lutherans and the Calvinists did too…

  • Tracy Burgess

    Chauvinism of Europeans over the rest of the world is clearly at play. As is a defence of Roman Catholic church dogma. The RCs get primary billing as they were the top dog for a few hundred years.

    Religions stay in power by using laws against free speech and free thought. Heresy & blasphemy are two such crimes. Any variation from what the leader declared as holy can not be tolerated. Scientists kept bumping into the reality that those holy beliefs were wholly wrong. In order to maintain power & control church authorities had to both silence the offender and punish him/her in away so ad to terrify any others. That is what happened. We must learn from the past in order to not make the same mistakes.

  • tyler

    i got sidetracked while reading that post by the other posts in the sidebar and now i’m sad

    i do not recommend reading other posts on that blog

  • GubbaBumpkin

    The idea that science could only have arisen in a European, Christian context is as ludicrous as it is offensive…

    I would add that just because science began in a Christian context does not guarantee that currently science and Christianity are compatible. Science developed over the last ~ 500 years in ways that are not particularly friendly to religious faith. It would be like saying the chemistry could not possibly be incompatible with alchemy, that astronomy could not be incompatible with astrology, that Christianity could not be incompatible with Judaism.

  • Plutosdad

    I really think these people like Sullivan are missing the bigger picture. One of the most important parts of that episode was when Bruno said “your God is too small”. That was a big message to all the theists watching the show, and I believe was the main point.

    Certainly Bruno did not use science or reason to come to some of his conclusions, but that is far less important than the fact that the churches – just like the churches today and media pundits – have a narrow view of reality and fight against any threat to it. Telling the theists watching that “your God is too small” speaks to them in a way that saying “God does not define reality” does not. It may force them to confront their own beliefs – not because God is wrong, but because they are trying to define their own God and put him in a box and simply decide by fiat what truth is.

    Your God is too small is the real message to theists, and may get us farther. Certainly study after study has proven showing them the facts and reason doesn’t work when it comes to climate change or evolution.

  • Azkyroth

    Is it even fair to say science “began” in a Christian context? The current formulation o f science was largely *codified* in the predominantly Christian West, granted…

  • GCT

    No, it’s not fair. I’d even argue that it makes no sense. If you believe in an interventionist god that answers prayers and can alter the physical laws of the universe at a whim (and has according to your holy texts) then you don’t believe in a method that relies upon the idea that the universe is intelligible. The Xian faith is one that directly contradicts this by claiming that the universe can be and has been changed at the whims of their god.

  • Elizabeth

    It resonated with me, but I’m more of an agnostic/pantheist who felt like I entirely grokked the whole “infinite god = infinite universe” thing.

  • Jason K.

    The accomodationists I’ve read tend to dismiss New Atheists as boorish, un-serious thinkers who fail to discern the nuances and complexities of religion. This allows them to avoid having to directly deal with actual New Atheist arguments, which they never seem to address.

    So the narrative that New Atheists “fell for” Cosmos’ “false” retelling of history was too delicious to pass up. Never mind that Cosmos didn’t actually present anything which was untrue. Never mind that the show never held up the event as an instance of religion and science’s incompatibility, so there wasn’t anything to “fall for” in the first place. They need to keep believing New Atheists are boorish, un-serious thinkers so they can continue to avoid addressing our actual arguments. That’s always been their M.O.

  • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com/ Leo Buzalsky

    I’m pretty sure that counts as religious authorities being out to suppress freedom of thought.

    Devil’s advocate: No, you’re missing the all part of the statement! See? They’re just suppressing some freedom of thought. But not all!

    That really doesn’t make it any better, though. Some suppression of freedom of thought should be viewed as too much. Once again, it would seem we’re supposed to conclude this is more acceptable. It’s not.

  • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

    The accomodationists I’ve read tend to dismiss New Atheists as boorish, un-serious thinkers who fail to discern the nuances and complexities of religion. This allows them to avoid having to directly deal with actual New Atheist arguments, which they never seem to address.

    I’m an atheist, and I definitely think the New Atheists are pretty unsophisticated in their critiques. Is calling religion a “delusion” or stating that “religion poisons everything” supposed to show what subtle, reasonable, original thinkers we atheists are?

    Personally, I didn’t have much problem with the Cosmos version of the Bruno story. It’s pop science, after all, and it didn’t seem to be portraying modern-day Christians as murderers. And not for nothing, but it’s bad enough that the Church executed people for being heretics and witches, folks.

  • Science Avenger

    “Is calling religion a ‘delusion’ or stating that ‘religion poisons everything’ supposed to show what subtle, reasonable, original thinkers we atheists are?

    No. It’s supposed to sell books (and push the Overton Window), which it did far more successfully than alternative titles like “The Socially-Influenced historically-significant God narrative tends to intellectually and morally diminish that which it contacts” would have.

  • Science Avenger

    Interesting point, since many buying the science-Christinaity compatibility meme insist that belief in an intelligible universe with laws to be discovered was born of belief in a creator.

  • Joel Barnes

    Excellent post!

  • NeeDanke

    “Is calling religion a “delusion” or stating that “religion poisons
    everything” supposed to show what subtle, reasonable, original thinkers we atheists are?”

    Calling a delusion a delusion shows that “we atheists” are people who call things like they are.

  • Kevin Sagan

    >I’ve read that sentence at least a dozen times trying to figure out what its author thought the distinction between these two things is.

    Yea…reading that sentence, I feel like I now know what a skipping record feels like. Nobody EVER let Lewis Black read or hear it.

  • Pupienus

    When I read “That arrogant, self-congratulatory” and saw “ridiculous” ahead I filled in “Sullivan” where “mythology” stands. But that’s probably because I’ve been paying attention to Andrew’s sophistry for a long time now.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Is it even fair to say science “began” in a Christian context?…

    My point is that even if you grant that, even if you grant that ad arguendo, it doesn’t take the Christian to where he wants to be.

  • Alex SL

    it is no coincidence that science sprang … from the heart of the Christian West

    I have never seen a good argument for that assertion. To me, it is indeed a complete coincidence.

    Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the
    Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress
    all “freedom of thought.”

    As I have already written in a similar thread on Pharyngula, this is one of the most bizarre sentences I have ever seen. People who can write something like that and not turn red with shame just cannot be taken seriously.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    It’s pretty simple: they’re not trying to suppress all freedom of thought, only free thoughts that violate the basic tenets of their faith.

    Or as Henry Ford allegedly said, “You can get it in any color you like, so long as its black.”

  • Omnicrom

    How should the New Atheists express themselves then?

  • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James Jarvis

    The most bizarre argument that some fundies, both Catholic and Protestant, are making is that Bruno was burned alive not for the reasons stated in Cosmos but for other heresies such as universalism, denying the virgin birth, denying the existence of hell, and being a jerk face. This is supposed to make it better somehow and prove that the church was not anti-science. But no matter how you look at it burning someone alive is a terrible thing to do.

  • Jason K.

    Is calling religion a “delusion” or stating that “religion poisons everything” supposed to show what subtle, reasonable, original thinkers we atheists are?

    So you didn’t even make it past the book titles. See what I mean? Sneering without substance.

  • Mimmoth

    White Christians.

  • Loren Petrich

    Richard Carrier has pointed out some interesting things. The classical Greco-Roman world got close to the modern scientific revolution, but they could proceed no further because of the Crisis of the Third Century, some decades of strife and civil war that interfered with such pursuits as science. After that, many philosophers preferred mystical experience and revelation, like the Neoplatonists. Christianity was much like that, and Constantine supported the Christian Church because he hoped that its hierarchical infrastructure would help keep the Empire together.

    If Xianity was the only religion that could support science, then it was *very* remiss in doing so for over a millennium, and even then, the Scientific Revolution only happened in some Xian areas. It most likely happened as a result of Western and Central Europeans discovering the works of Greco-Roman proto-scientists and philosophers like Aristotle, and then building on their work.

    I think that it’s revealing that nowhere in the Bible does anyone complain about shoddy reasoning, despite its authors condemning numerous other things. By comparison, Aristotle wrote a whole book on fallacies, his Sophistical Refutations.

  • Jason K.

    Excellent points.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Yep, I’ve seen that too: apologists who assert that Bruno was abrasive and argumentative, as if that were a mitigating factor in the church’s decision to tie him to a stake, drive an iron spike through his cheeks and set him on fire. I’ve also heard Catholic apologists argue that Galileo was persecuted only because one of his books parodied the pope, because of course everyone knows you should never do that.

  • Jonas

    #While the early-modern religious persecution certainly can’t be denied,
    Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the
    Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress
    all “freedom of thought.”#

    BWAHAHAHAHA! I’m with you here. I really want to know what the difference between those are in the authors mind.

  • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

    Oh, during my years as a New Atheist crusader, I read ‘em all. I preferred Unweaving the Rainbow and still do, because it’s a positive celebration of the naturalistic perspective. Dawkins is better known for his anti-religion screed, which was as unsophisticated as his pop-science books were challenging.

    But hey, if you’re convinced that no one can find fault with the New Atheists, I guess that shows what a big ol’ open mind you’ve got.

  • Jonas

    Why is it racist? Not trying to be a dick here, but if Europe (and us colonials working from the same basis) didn’t have scientific supremacy the past few hundred years, who did? Every one else I can think of made a few big marks then stagnated while Europe blew past them. Hence, in the realm of 5 minute history lectures, Europe gave the last big noticeable effort in creating a culture of scientific pursuit, so gets the big accolades. Likely because Europe was both rich and thickly populated with states, so if stagnation set in, someone else was in position to take advantage.

  • Azkyroth

    What’s racist is the assumption that it was both unique and inevitable due to some special quality of European culture or Europeans, not that it happened on a recent timescale due to historical contingencies including those you named. Also ignoring the extent to which other cultures both contributed, and flourished both less recently and very recently.

  • Azkyroth

    We aren’t “convinced” of that. We have this thing called “pattern recognition.”

  • Azkyroth

    Tone trolling has a rich and vaunted history, I see.

  • J-D

    Maybe, having read _The God Delusion_ and _God Is Not Great_, you are capable of a sophisticated critique of the arguments presented in those books.

    But you haven’t demonstrated it here. You’ve told us that you can do it, but you haven’t actually done it. All you’ve actually done here is dismiss the book titles, which doesn’t count as a sophisticated critique.

  • Jonas

    Except that isn’t what Nathanial said. He said claiming European scientific supremacy is racist, and I countered that it’s history. Europe is where it took hold and stayed. If it wasn’t Europe, it might have been China. Without European imperialism, hell, it might have been Africa. Except it *was* Europe. Ergo, it’s not racist to say science was essentially from Europe. As the article points out, you have plenty of advances from plenty of places, but Europe is where the magic happened, so to speak, and advancement came home to roost. Everyone else either stagnated or died for various reasons.

    As for the claims that science couldn’t happen without Christianity, I can’t foresee every possibility, so it may very well be true that without Christianity the scientific revolution wouldn’t have happened when and where it did. However, it would have still happened somewhere and somewhen.

    Though, I’m really curious. Anyone with an solid background in World History care to weigh in on where the Scientific Revolution would have began if Europe backslid or stagnated?

  • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

    Gosh, J-D, I didn’t know it was my job to deliver a sophisticated critique of the New Atheist canon. I praised Dawkins’ work in Unweaving the Rainbow, and I really appreciated Daniel Dennett’s examination in Breaking the Spell of the way the meme-complex of religion perpetuates itself by coercing behavior from the faithful that doesn’t always benefit them as individuals or our society.

    As an atheist, I think Hitchens had a point in that religion is something mankind is supposed to outgrow as it develops better methods of inquiry and more humanistic forms of morality. But the litany of religion’s crimes gets tiresome as Hitchens deals himself a winning hand on every page. Though he mentions “reason” repeatedly, I was wondering exactly what he meant; are we supposed to think religious people have no faculty of reason? And if as Hitchens claims, human decency preceded religion, then how did religion corrupt humans despite themselves?

    I appreciate Dawkins when he’s writing about nature’s wonders. He has a great facility for describing the way small changes can add up to seemingly impossible transitions; how countless iterations of mindless processes can imitate intentional design; and the way the truth about the universe is so much more impressive than the myths we make up in our ignorance. But when he’s talking about religion, Dawkins loses his imagination; he and Sam Harris preach to the choir by defining religion as nothing more than a series of faulty arguments, false beliefs, and dubious claims about reality. Even to an atheist, this just seems really facile and simplistic.

  • Nathaniel

    Here’s a bit of food for thought:

    Why do we say our numbers system is based on Arabic numerals?

  • JH

    Brahmin-Buddhist-Taoist makes sense, sure, they’re not the same thing but there’s some clear historical influence. On the other hand, I’d really like to learn more about this Egyptian-Mayan cultural sphere.

  • Jonas

    Pretty sure that point has been addressed when I point out that other cultures made their mark then stagnated. Whoop dee doo. Scientific Revolution was still centered in Europe. Get over it. Had Europe followed the middle east and fizzled out, it would have happened elsewhere.

  • Jonas

    By not existing apparently. At least, that’s the vibe I keep getting :(

  • J-D

    Well, gosh! Gosh! Gosh, Shem the Penman, gosh!

    Gosh, I know it’s not your job to deliver sophisticated critiques! It’s not even your job to respond to comments made here, by me or anybody else. Just like me, you have the choice, to respond or not to.

    I still think my comment was true, and also relevant, and I can expand on why I think that if you want me to. If you think anything I wrote was untrue, or true but irrelevant, I would like to see you explain why, but of course that’s up to you.

  • J-D

    Nathanial did not write ‘claiming European scientific supremacy is racist’. ‘The assertion about European scientific supremacy’ that Nathanial refers to is probably one of the specific assertions cited or referred to in Adam’s original post, to the general effect, like ‘Europe was the _only_ place where it could have happened’, an assertion which I have to agree does appear racist.

    In answer to your final question, you might find interesting Kim Stanley Robinson’s _The Years Of Rice And Salt_.

  • Azkyroth

    Not your job? Of course it isn’t. Did anyone offer to pay you? I sure didn’t.

    Now, back to the matter at hand…

  • Azkyroth

    The classical Greco-Roman world got close to the modern scientific revolution, but they could proceed no further because of the Crisis of the Third Century, some decades of strife and civil war that interfered with such pursuits as science.

    Being heavily invested in slave labor didn’t help either.

  • Azkyroth

    ….do you understand what the word “supremacy” means? Do you understand anything about the context in which this discussion is happening?

  • cipher

    I consider Sullivan “too laughable to take seriously” as well.

  • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

    Hey, I’ve learned my lesson. When you jump through hoops for J-D, you get more than probing dialogue. You get a friend for life.

  • GCT

    I’m an atheist, and I definitely think the New Atheists are pretty unsophisticated in their critiques.

    The only difference between Gnu Atheist critiques and Old Atheist critiques is that Gnu Atheists don’t act like they’re ashamed to make them. I’m not sorry that bothers you so much and your religious privilege bothers the hell out of me.

  • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

    The only difference between Gnu Atheist critiques and Old Atheist critiques is that Gnu Atheists don’t act like they’re ashamed to make them.

    I don’t recall any of the Old Atheists being ashamed, either. There are legitimate differences between the old & new approaches: New Atheists like to pretend that it’s their prerogative to be as insulting as possible; they like to pretend that their views are supported by scientific research; and they like to pretend that they can eradicate religion by making people give up their false beliefs and think exactly like New Atheists.

    your religious privilege bothers the hell out of me.

    I see you still have your head up your ass.

  • Flex

    While we are on the subject, can we get Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism out of the business schools?

    I know. It seems like a bit of a non-sequitur, but I think much of the belief that European culture was destined to develop technologically faster than the rest of the world comes from this rather short essay.

    When working on my MBA (I have sworn to only use the knowledge gained from those courses for good, which probably explains why it hasn’t helped me advance in my career), Weber’s little essay suggesting that protestant religious beliefs encouraged technological development and capitalism (take that Catholics!) cropped up all the time.

    So I decided to get a copy and read it. When the volume finally arrived I was surprised to find that most of the book was commentary on the text. Commentary which praised it as one of the founding books of modern capitalism, economic theory, and one of the most important books about sociology ever written. “Great!”, I thought, “I always look forward to reading a much-lauded book.”

    It is an impressive essay. Weber speculates, without really showing strong evidence, that: protestantism encouraged people to work harder than other religions, protestantism discouraged charity (as encouraging beggars and thus laziness), and that this led to an accumulation of capital which encouraged investment. (Where have we heard these ideas recently?)

    It’s amusing, in a self-centered, sophomoric way. The sort of speculation I’ve enjoyed when solving the world’s problems over a beer in a bar.

    However, history belies his premises. Many civilizations, innovations, and cultural development occurred outside of the christian protestant world. Maybe Weber didn’t really know better? He was a man of his times, and maybe he honestly believed that the technological innovations of northern Europe were unique.

    But we know better now. We should stop quoting his poorly-supported speculation as gospel in business schools.

  • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

    This is supposed to make it better somehow and prove that the church was not anti-science.

    As far as Galileo goes, he wasn’t exactly being strictly scientific either. Even his supporters in the Church warned him that he didn’t have enough evidence to declare heliocentrism a scientific fact.

    What happened to expecting evidence for claims?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Which does not, of course, justify threatening him with torture, imprisoning him, banning his books or forbidding him to advocate heliocentrism ever again.

  • GCT

    I don’t recall any of the Old Atheists being ashamed, either.

    They were seen as such. They were also seen as giving the “proper” deference to religion. Something that you seem rather keen on doing.

    New Atheists like to pretend that it’s their prerogative to be as insulting as possible…

    Only if being critical of religion and not apologizing for it is insulting. If we grant a heckler’s veto to the religious as you seem to want to suggest, then no criticism will be allowed. Also, you’ve taken the religious apologists’ (read religiously privileged) line and simply repeated it. This is a charge born of stereotypes leveled at atheists. That you would repeat such charges here, completely unaware of the stereotypes and how they are used to brutalize and demonize atheists is not shocking, given your previous posting history, but it is saddening.

    …they like to pretend that their views are supported by scientific research…

    Another charge that is made by the religiously privileged without backing.

    …and they like to pretend that they can eradicate religion by making people give up their false beliefs and think exactly like New Atheists.

    If people did give up their false beliefs (i.e. in religion) then religious would not exist. Duh. I fail to see what’s wrong with that idea. Are you seriously contesting that if people gave up their religions that there would still be religion? Why are you so worried that people might start to think rationally and give up their religion? Why is it so bad to want people to give up their religions? Religion is a harmful force, it uses a faulty methodology, and it leads to strife and division. People would be better off basing decisions on reason and evidence. Yet, here you are worried about the sky falling if that were to happen. And, you wonder why I see so much religious privilege in you.

    I see you still have your head up your ass.

    My head is up my ass? Why? Because I see you upholding religious privilege and am bothered by it? A supposed atheist is attacking other atheists and using religiously privileged arguments based on ugly and demonizing stereotypes to do it, yet I’m the one with my head up my ass?

  • GCT

    What happened to expecting evidence for claims?

    Galileo was presenting evidence…he got in trouble for it…Shem comes along to excuse what happened to him…Shem continues to claim that he doesn’t understand why we say he’s upholding religious privilege…

  • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

    Did I say it did justify any of those things?

    All I meant is that the notion that the anti-Science Church persecuted poor Galileo because of his noble, disinterested quest for Truth seems like an urban legend.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    So you’re asserting that the Inquisition was really a campaign to protect scientific integrity via the thumbscrew?

  • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

    Adam, you’ve been putting words in my mouth all morning, but I’ve already had breakfast. So, see ya.

  • Science Avenger

    “…he and Sam Harris preach to the choir by defining religion as nothing more than a series of faulty arguments, false beliefs, and dubious claims about reality. ”

    As opposed to what?

  • Science Avenger

    I’m convinced that no one can find legitimate fault with what the New Atheists say simply because their critics invariably attack claims the NAs do not make. I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve seen it claimed that Dawkins believes all religious people are stupid, or that he’s 100% sure there is no god, despite the fact that he says otherwise in the freaking title of one of his chapters.

  • Science Avenger

    “All I meant is that the notion that the anti-Science Church persecuted poor Galileo because of his noble, disinterested quest for Truth seems like an urban legend.”

    Then stop spreading it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Well, I guess you’ll have to clarify, then, because I don’t see what point you’re trying to make. Galileo made some scientific claims about the solar system. The Inquisition threatened him with torture to make him recant. Do you have any facts to present that alter this basic picture, that make Galileo the culpable one, or that mitigate the Inquisition’s actions?

  • Azkyroth

    Even his supporters in the Church warned him that he didn’t have enough evidence to declare heliocentrism a scientific fact.

    Granted, religious putative authorities say that about evolutionary biology now….

  • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

    Only in Galileo’s day, there actually wasn’t enough evidence. He was jumping the gun. Not so with evolutionary theory in 2014.

  • Darren

    White _men_ thank you very much…

    White + Christian + Penis = Science!

  • Science Avenger

    So what? If you aren’t claiming the church’s actions against Galileo would have been different had the quality of his data been better, than why do you keep bringing this up? It seems on the level of a spelling correction otherwise.

  • Tommykey69

    Jonas, that is one of the reasons why I think Western Europe surpassed China. Because Europe was filled with a number of smaller states that were competitive with each other, it spurred on technological advancement. China, on the other hand, because it was the undisputed big kid on its block in East Asia, became complacent. Until about 1800, the only existential threat it faced was from nomadic tribesmen. Also, around the time the British tried to open China to trade, the emperor was a very old man and the empire reflected that conservative mindset of relying on tried and true ways and rejecting innovation. It doesn’t explain everything, of course, but I think it is a part of it.

  • Science Avenger

    “Because Europe was filled with a number of smaller states that were competitive with each other, it spurred on technological advancement.”

    Those small states also had lots and lots of ports. Nothing spurs advancement like trade.

  • J-D

    Wrong lesson.

  • Mike De Fleuriot

    Someone once said that if you get rid of all religion, the scriptures and the followers, and start again, something will grow again in it’s place, but it will most likely not have any resemblance to the old religions.

    Now science on the other hand will always be the same.

  • Tommykey69

    Yeah, that too!
    I also did a post on by blog last year about how at the time Europeans were first becoming established in Asian waters in the late 16th and early 17th century, China was ruled by the Wanli emperor. He ruled between roughly 1580 and 1620, and after initially showing some signs of being a potentially good ruler, he basically stopped doing anything and become a glutton and a drunkard. That also had the effect of paralyzing China at a crucial time, because government posts went unfilled, the tax collection structure all but collapsed, and nobody was in charge. If China at the time was ruled by someone like Peter the Great, maybe Chinese history would have turned out different.

  • jemand2

    He says “the assertion” which I assumed to be in reference to the comments in the post, comments that are nearly identical to those taught at my religiously affiliated undergraduate university,… in fact in MULTIPLE classes, both in the science departments AND humanities, we used literature and class discussions to further the idea that ONLY Europe could have developed the scientific revolution, because ONLY Christianity was suitable for such thought development.

    This assertion is racist and offensive, the mere historical observation that for several centuries in the last thousand years, much technological and scientific advancement happened in Europe, is not.

    Also at that university, the same claims regarding Bruno were brought forward, the point being that because he was killed *for theology* it was not *science* the church was attempting to repress. SCIENCE was totally fine (and as above, ONLY possible in christianity), however, killing for heresy was a different matter, and completely logical and justifiable and did not contradict the advancement of science at all.

    It’s an interesting thing, I’m a huge fan of Stargate, and got into it while attending that school, and in many episodes much dialogue hinges on not killing others for their beliefs, that holy war & killing those who won’t convert is wrong, “Killing innocent people because they don’t believe in your god is horrible!” and… while I did understand the logic, just emotionally…. it didn’t make sense.

    Innocent? But if they didn’t agree religiously, how COULD they be innocent? Such a statement just had trouble resonating, on a base, emotional level, because just at that time in my life, even though the religions portrayed weren’t any that actually are worshipped here and now… it wasn’t that hard to port it over, and wonder about this “innocent” descriptor…

    At that time I was already losing my faith, leaving things behind, but I was regularly finding bits and pieces on a deeper level than logic, emotional triggers, that I was having to dismantle to move forward. So I really did analyze these feelings as they were fading… and thus I do think I understand the kind of thing at work EVEN TODAY in the apologetics regarding Bruno’s death, etc.

  • Lucid

    Hmm. I seem to recall that Copernicus had the heliocentric theory the previous century and Galileo help confirm with his observations. Also I seem to recall that Galileo was able to point out the fact that the moon was not perfect because of the craters and jagged edges he was able to see. Didnt the church symbolize the perfectness of the moon as having something to do with the Virgin Mary? I dont feel like googling to verify my aging memory so excuse me if my details are a bit off.

  • Jonas

    I can honestly say I’ve never heard the assertion that ONLY Europe could have brought the scientific revolution until reading this page. Maybe I’m just awful at reading between the lines. Or probably because such an assertion is so laughable I never remembered it.

    The reason I took exception to Nathanial’s comment is because the way he worded it made it sound like he thought it was offensive and racist to acknowledge that the scientific revolution took place in Europe, and was generally driven by a bunch of white people.

  • Jonas

    Supremacy: the state or condition of being superior to all others in authority, power, or status.

    Yea, the scientific revolution gave Europe technological and logistical supremacy compared to the rest of the world. Sorry folks, like it or hate it, white people in Europe had supremacy. My objection stands. To deny European scientific supremacy with the scientific revolution is foolish, to accept it is reality.

  • Jonas

    Well it may have helped if he said that instead of calling me a racist for accepting the fact that the scientific revolution happened in Europe. If that isn’t scientific supremacy, then I don’t know what the hell is.

    Perhaps if he didn’t try to hide some sort of thesis behind the word “assertion” that somehow changed the meaning of every following word, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  • J-D

    Galileo didn’t formulate his claims independently of the evidence, or with disregard of it. He was genuinely seeking the best explanation for the available evidence (you don’t have any evidence to suggest he was doing otherwise, do you?). That’s the scientific approach.

    You suggest that his conclusions went beyond what was established by the evidence. I don’t know that you’re right about that, but even if you are, what that would show is that he was fallible, not that he was unscientific. Humans make mistakes, sometimes even when they are being scientific.

    And the Inquisition didn’t come after him saying that he had made scientific errors that invalidated his conclusions. The Inquisition came after him saying that his conclusions were wrong and that it was wrong even to entertain the possibility that his conclusions might be right, no matter what the evidence. It was the Inquisition that was being anti-scientific, not Galileo.

  • Nathaniel

    Such comments about European Historical Superiority never are made without underlying context about people being superior. Much as saying that America is a “Christian Nation” is never merely an assertion of population proportions.

  • J-D

    Nathaniel didn’t call you a racist. Nathaniel also didn’t say that anybody who accepts the fact that the scientific revolution happened in Europe is a racist. I can’t see anybody here disputing the assertion that the scientific revolution happened in Europe.

    Nathaniel didn’t try to _hide_ any thesis behind the word ‘assertion’. What Nathaniel did do was use that word in a way that was not as specific and explicit as it could have been. It was sufficiently clear to other people, including me, what sort of assertion was meant, but it wasn’t sufficiently clear to you, which is fair enough and not your fault. I hope, however, that Nathaniel’s meaning is sufficiently clear to you now.

  • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

    The Arabs call them Indian numerals, as they got them from there. So it was third-hand by the time it reached Europe.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    I read Ian Morris’ Why the West Rules (For Now) a few months ago, which was a fascinating exploration of this same issue.

    The really interesting thing is that, for a while, China was well ahead of the West in technological and scientific prowess. The most striking example is that, a hundred years before Columbus set out in three leaky boats, the Chinese admiral Zheng He was exploring the Indian Ocean in a fleet of dozens of ships, including dedicated freshwater tanker ships, troop transports and hospital ships, all carrying magnetic compasses and maps far superior to anything available in Europe at the time.

    Part of Morris’ argument was the stagnation and inward-looking attitude that took over the Chinese empire at the time, partially because the Chinese were too successful at unifying all the surrounding territory and wound up lacking competition to goad them. He also argues that, geographically speaking, it was much easier to discover the Americas from Europe than from China, and that this fact and the subsequent race to colonize kicked off an arms race that ultimately resulted in European societies pulling ahead on the scale of development.

  • Anathema

    I just want to know why two civilizations from the northern hemisphere qualify as “the astrological south.” If you’re going to talk about the astrological south, wouldn’t it make more sense to illustrate this by using a civilization from the southern hemisphere, like the Inca?

  • Azkyroth

    Well, I hope this lesson in the effects of spouting off without understanding the background or context of statements has been helpful.

  • Tommykey69

    Not only that, but the one other East Asian nation that could have spurred China on, Japan, also turned inward in the 17th century. During the 19th century, the differing reactions of China and Japan to European encroachment make for an interesting case study. After the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese devoted themselves to learning as much as they could from the Europeans and Americans to achieve rapid modernization, whereas China still tried to resist change. Consequently, when China and Japan fought a war in the 1890′s, the Chinese got their asses kicked by a nation they had previously looked down upon.

  • eyelessgame

    Every human
    culture of any significant complexity has shown glimmerings of advanced
    knowledge.

    The bit that has stuck with me and most impressed me, related to this, was on one of my visits to Hawaii, where I learned that the native Hawaiian world-creation mythology had the volcano goddess creating Niihau, then Kauai, then Oahu, then Maui and its satellites, then the Big Island, where she still sleeps (or is buried where she died).

    From a modern plate-tectonics/volcanism perspective this may seem a trivial or obvious insight, but the natives wrote a creation myth that, given understandable anthropomorphization of the hot spot under the islands, was exactly correct (as far as it went) — meaning that they could notice the increased apparent age of the islands as you went west, extrapolate extinct volcanoes as having once been the same as active volcanoes, observe the behavior of volcanism on Kilauea, conceptualize that volcanoes could have an underlying cause, and conclude that that “cause” could move beneath the ocean floor to create volcanoes and islands one after another.

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    The idea that science could only have arisen in a European, Christian context is as ludicrous as it is offensive.

    And it fails to make sense given that Christianized Europe existed for give or take one millennium before anything that we might call a scientific revolution occurred. What were they doing all that time before? Procrastinating?

  • GeorgeLocke

    although Galileo fell out with the Church, he would hardly have taken so much trouble studying Jupiter and dropping objects from towers if the reality and value and order of things had not first been conferred by belief in the Incarnation

    We know this is true because contemporary atheists care not a lick about “reality and value and order of things” and never ever do science. I mean, it would be kind of embarassing for Sullivan/Percy if they did.

  • axelbeingcivil

    But, you see, all those people are just piggybacking off of values instilled in them by their Christian society, and those values were exported by colonialism, so, you see, everything good and wonderful can be attributed to Christianity!

    I wish, I wish, I wish I hadn’t heard someone actually make this exact argument.

  • GeorgeLocke

    From there you can fall back to the arguments Adam presents about the history of science outside Europe.

    But yes, I’ve heard that one too. :’(


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