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The Reactionary Renaissance (Part B)

The Reactionary Renaissance (Part B) July 25, 2018

 

BC's capital just after sundown
Victoria, British Columbia, by night     (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

 

A recurring trope among critics of religious belief is the claim that scientific inquiry was stifled by the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages and only began to flourish again when theology was dethroned in the Renaissance, thus restoring freedom of thought.  (The insinuation is that religion has always been an obstacle to science, and that, even today, if religion were to disappear, scientific progress would accelerate.)

 

James Hannam’s The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (Washington DC: Henry Regnery, 2011) argues that this picture of medieval and Renaissance science is simplistic and distorted, if not altogether false.  Here’s a passage from the book:

 

To add insult to injury, historians have long assumed that the frequent attacks on Aristotelians in the sixteenth and seventeenth century were aimed at the obduracy of medieval natural philosophy.  For instance, Galileo tells the following story in his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632) . . .  To understand the story, it is necessary to know that Aristotle believed that the nervous system centered on the heart and not the brain.  “One day,” Galileo tells us, speaking through a character in the dialogue, “I was at the home of a very famous doctor in Venice.”  While he was there, the doctor was carrying out an anatomical dissection.  Galileo continues:

He happened to be investigating the source and origin of the nerves.  The anatomist showed the great bundle of nerves leaving the brain and passing through the neck, extending down the spine and branching out through the whole body.  Only a single strand as fine as a thread arrived at the heart.  The anatomist has been exhibiting and demonstrating everything with unusual care because he knew one of those present was a follower of Aristotle.  Turning to him, the anatomist asked whether he was finally satisfied that nerves originated in the brain and not the heart.  The Aristotelian thought for a while before he said, “You have shown me this so clearly that I would be forced to admit that you were right, if only Aristotle himself did not contradict you.

Generations of historians believed that this story and Montaigne’s anecdote [dcp: see my previous entry in this series] were aimed at the natural philosophers of the Middle Ages.  Only recently has it become apparent that their targets were one-eyed Aristotelian humanists who had completely lost the medieval critical attitude towards the Philosopher.  (217)

 

***

 

Now this is interesting:

 

“Evidence detected of lake beneath the surface of Mars”

 

And here’s a (slightly) related piece from elsewhere in the solar system:

 

“Probing the mystery of Pluto’s glaciers: Glaciers seen on the dwarf planet appear to violate physics, prompting a search for explanation.”

 

Incidentally, according to exhibits in the Royal British Columbia Museum, which we visited a couple of days ago, views of Vancouver Island in the last ice age have been undergoing fairly radical revision lately.  It seems that the island wasn’t entirely under ice, but that flora and fauna were flourishing in certain areas.  Here’s a journalistic discussion of the subject:

 

“A mammoth shift in thinking on Vancouver Island’s Ice Age history”

 

Posted from Victoria, British Columbia

 

 

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