My Review of Galileo Goes to Jail

In a couple of recent posts I have mentioned the book Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion edited by Ronald Numbers. Since I have now finished reading it, I figure it is time for a proper review.

Short review: Mixed. As a compendium of interesting facts about the history of science and religion the book works rather well. The myth/reality format, however, is not always successful.

Longer review below the fold.

Galileo Goes to Jail consists of twenty-five short essays, each centered around some “myth” related to science and religion. Some of the myths are of the sort that make religion look bad (so that by correcting them religion’s image is improved), while others are those that tend to make science look bad.

Some of the essays work very well. Myth 14 is, “That the Church Denounced Anesthesia in Childbirth on Biblical Grounds.” Historian Rennie Schoepflin makes a convincing case that hostility to anesthesia on Biblical grounds (as opposed to medical grounds, which had some merit at that time) was the province of a few fringe religious groups, and was never the position of any major religious authority. I had heard this myth before and was surprised to learn that it was not true. In this case the book served its purpose well.

Myth 15 is, “That the Theory of Organic Evolution is Based on Circular Reasoning.” I was expecting this to be about ye olde tautology objection to natural selection. Actually it is about homology (the alleged circular reasoning being that homology is used as evidence for evolution while being defined in a way that assumes evolution), and the use of index fossils in establishing the geologic column (the circularity this time being that fossils are used to date rocks, then those dates are used to justify interpreting the fossils as an evolutionary sequence). Historian Nicholas Rupke takes care of that one, pointing out that the basic facts of geology and homology used by Darwin in making his case were established long before evolution arrived on the scene.

Myth 9 is, “That Christianity Gave Birth to Modern Science.” Historian Noah Efron argues that such a view is far too simplistic, and that Modern Science was not born out of any one world view or philosophy. Quite right.

In several cases, though, the myth is just a very extreme statement of something which, if moderated somewhat, would be both true and significant. Myth 8 is, “That Galileo was Imprisoned and Tortured for Advocating Copernicanism.” As philosopher Maurice Finnochiaro tells the story, Galileo was only threatened with torture and imprisonment. He actually suffered nine years of house arrest, the forced recantation of his views, and seeing his book banned. Take that Church bashers!

Myth 7 is, “That Giordano Bruno Was the First Martyr of Modern Science.” Historian Joe Shackleford seems keen to remind us that Bruno was not tied to a post and set ablaze for his acceptance of heliocentrism. In reality it was his heretical religious views that earned him the Church’s wrath. A martyr to science? He was certainly a martyr to free thought, which is close enough for me.

Myth 18 is “That Darwin Destroyed Natural Theology.” According to historian Jon Roberts, Darwin merely dealt a serious blow to Paley-style design-arguments, but that the general enterprise of drawing inferences about the existence and nature of God (the main business of natural theology) continued apace, with theologians generally shifting their focus from the specifics of adaptation to the intelligibility of the universe as a whole. It seems to me that if you replace “Destroyed” with “Seriously Weakened” then you would have a perfectly accurate statement. Paley’s argument was not the entirety of natural theology, but it was surely among the crown jewels of the enterprise. In the decades following Darwin natural theology went from a thriving concern that strongly influenced the intellectual culture of the time, to something of marginal significance (especially among Protestant theologians, many of whom already did not like the idea of placing inferences drawn from nature in the forefront of religious thinking. This downplayed the more important emotional and experiential aspect of the religion, in their view.)

Myth 1 is, “That the Rise of Christianity Was Responsible for the Demise of Ancient Science.” The reality, according to historian David Lindberg, is that science was a low priority for early Christianity, and was something to be practiced within the strict confines of Church authority and the teachings of scripture. (Science became the “handmaiden” of religion, in Lindberg’s telling.) Those aspects of Greek science and philosophy congenial to a Christian point of view were absorbed into the thinking of Early Christianity. Fascinating, but the fact remains that the Greeks had produced an impressive body of scientific and mathematical work, which the early Christians had little interest in building upon. They may not have killed ancient science, but they certainly did not embrace it or advance it.

In other cases the authors just do not make a strong case against the myth. Myth 2 is, “That the Medieval Christian Church Suppressed the Growth of Science.” Historian Michael Shank bristles at the thought. Medieval Christians founded the first modern universities complete with science faculties, you see. That is not in dispute, but I wonder if Shank has ever visited Liberty University. If some future historian argues that YEC’s were not hostile to science because they did, after all, found a large university complete with a science faculty, then he will have missed something important. Likewise for the Church’s universities. By setting strict limits on acceptable knowledge based on scripture and authority they absolutely were suppressing the spirit of free inquiry that must exist for science to take off.

Nor were these limits just theoretical. On numerous occasions church authorities attempted to ban certain ideas and arguments from being disseminated. Shank gamely tries to downplay the significance of these incidents, but he is mostly unsuccessful.

For example, he writes:

Does the myth get a new lease on life if I reveal that lectures on Aristotle’s natural philosophy were forbidden at Paris in 1210 (under penalty of excommunication) and in 1215 (under no specified penalty). It does not. While churchmen acting in their official capacities did issue these condemnations, it is misleading to say that “the Church” did so, for this seems to imply that they were valid for all of Christendom. In each case, however, the condemnations were local, issued by the bishops in a province or by a cardinal legate in relation to Paris. Medieval hairsplitting, you say? Not at all: the point of this qualification is absolutely crucial. To make “the Church” the agent in cases where condemnation is local is technically correct but highly misleading, for such injunctions affected only a minuscule fraction of the population, and usually not for long. These condemnations did not pertain to students and masters elsewhere. Early-thirteenth-century Oxford, for example, saw no prohibitions of this sort (indeed, the reception of Arisottle at Oxford was very smooth.

Shank, it would seem, is unfamiliar with the notion of a “chilling effect.” To argue that the only people affected by a given condemnation were those specifically under the authority of some local prelate simply ignores the indirect effects such things have. Some eager young scholar, noting that church authorities are routinely in the habit of condemning certain modes of thought and argument, quickly learns not to step out of line. Shank is, indeed, engaging in medieval hairsplitting.

There is one essay in the book so bad that it reflects very badly on Numbers as an editor that he consented to publish it. It is Michael Ruse’s contribution. He addressed Myth 23, “That “Intelligent Deisgn” Represents a Scientific Challenge to Evolution.” Talk about being served up a softball! But it is hard to imagine that a more inept essay on this subject could be written.

I have been critical of Ruse in a number of recent posts. I think he goes beyond civil interactions with ID folks, which is fine, to the point of actively promoting them, which is not. I think his behavior in his e-mail exchange with Daniel Dennett was shameful, and more generally his anti-New-Atheist writing has been vapid and silly. But for all of that I have long felt that when it comes time to sit down and explain clearly what is wrong with ID, he does it as well as anyone.

Not so with this essay. I figured he would say something intelligent about methodological naturalism or demarcation criteria. Perhaps he would point out the flaws in notions of irreducible complexity or complex specified information. Instead he begins with this:

We need to answer two questions: What is intelligent design (ID), and is it science?

To answer the first question he recounts the basic facts of the history of ID. You have heard them a hundred times before. Johnson blah blah blah Behe blah blah Dembski blah blah. In presenting a rough outline of their scientific claims, Ruse never gives the slightest inkling of what is wrong with them. Nor does he ever really answer the second question (beyond simply implying that the answer is no.)

I kept waiting for him to explain what, exactly, is wrong with ID. He never does, though in places it seems as though he is about to. He mentions his own testimony in the 1981 creationism trial, and briefly mentions the idea of methodological naturalism. Then he is digressing about Alvin Plantinga and about the 2005 Kansas School Board hearings. Interesting stuff, but there is nothing here that helps to refute the myth he was assigned.

Though he never provides an argument in defense of his demarcation criteria, and never gives any indication of the scientific flaws of ID claims, he does manage to quote conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer and Judge Jones from the Dover trial. If you regard dismissive quotes from those two authorities as definitive, then Ruse’s argument, such as it is, will seem compelling to you. Otherwise it is a disaster.

Ruse also includes close to page cautioning us that ID is not YEC, since “many if not most of the leaders subscribe to, or at least are open to, some form of evolution.” I agree that there are important differences between YEC and ID, but this is not one of them. Michael Behe is an outlier among ID folks in accepting common descent. Nearly all of the others accept nothing more than microevolution, just as do the YEC’s. And some, like Paul Nelson, are themselves YEC’s. To include this long and misguided digression, which serves more to boost the ID folks than it does to refute the myth, at the expense of making an actual argument was very poor judgment.

Wrapping this up, I did enjoy reading the book and I found myself learning a lot from it. Read as an introduction to some major topics in the history of science and religion, the book is successful. But the myth/reality format was not a good idea.

Comments

  1. #1 Duke York
    February 4, 2010

    Great post! Thanks!

  2. #2 Pierce R. Butler
    February 4, 2010

    I got the impression from the bloggingheads.tv debacle that Numbers feels a strong need to cultivate his connections among US creationists (his area of specialty, after all) – and that requires, at least to him, not criticizing their precious little brainchildren.

    Which may explain why Ruse, instead of Coyne or Scott or Myers or Moran or Elsberry or Rosenau or you or … was chosen to address that issue.

  3. #3 Tyler DiPietro
    February 5, 2010

    One problem that I often see with Ruse and other philosophers who criticize IDC is that they try to reduce the whole issue so one principle or another. For Ruse, the principle that renders IDC untenable is that it’s unscientific in some incredibly abstract sense, i.e., doesn’t yield to methodological naturalism. But the real reason IDC is unscientific is too varied to be encapsulated by something that simple. My own short version is that most of the claims of IDC are things we know to be false, for various reasons, and the rest is blatantly untestable.

  4. #4 Richard Wein
    February 5, 2010

    My own short version is that ID is not science because it’s not a valid rational inference. Moreover, the main arguments made by ID advocates range from bad to nonsensical mumbo jumbo. The only demarcation criterion I invoke (if you can even call it that) is that science must be rational.

    Of course, a full exposition requires an account of where ID falls (far) short of rationality.

  5. #5 Chris Bell
    February 5, 2010

    Jason, where’s your review of Under the Dome? Your excitement about the book caused me to pick it up.

  6. #6 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 5, 2010

    Chris –

    I probably will do a review of Under the Dome at some point. I’m afraid I’m somewhat less excited about it now that I have read it than I was in my anticipation of it. It is an enjoyable story and definitely one of King’s best novels in years, but at the same time there just is not enough substance there to justify a thousand page novel. Compared to his other big books like The Stand and It it falls pretty far short. :(

  7. #7 RickK
    February 5, 2010

    How is ID not science? Let me count the ways:

    – ID offers no mechanism;
    – ID is not falsifiable;
    – ID is not testable;
    – ID makes no predictions;
    – ID never drops a failed idea;
    – ID literature is directed at the public, not at other scientists;
    – ID ignores contradictory evidence;
    – ID is funded and motivated by religious conservatives promoting an interventionist god; and
    – ID fills a gap in our knowledge with a supernatural cause – an approach that has a 100% failure rate throughout history.

    I’m sure there are many many more.

  8. #8 SLC
    February 5, 2010

    Re RickK

    Another problem with ID and supernatural explanations is that they are science stoppers. Thus, as Ken Miller and Neil Tyson argue, acceptance of supernatural explanations leads to no longer looking for natural explanations.

    The most poignant example in the history of science is the case of Issac Newton, arguably the most important scientist who ever lived. After he developed his laws of motion and the inverse square law of gravity and showed that they explained the motion of the six planets then known, he became concerned that the interplanetary two body interactions might cause the solar system to become unstable over time. Instead of investigating the possibility of actually calculating the effect of these interactions, he was content to posit that, every once in a while, god intervened to give the planets a nudge as required to maintain stability. As Neil Tyson puts it, this is intelligent design and it stopped Newton for pursuing the matter further. About one hundred years later, the French mathematician Laplace sat down and computed the interplanetary interactions, using a technique known as perturbation theory. His computations demonstrated that the solar system was stable over long periods of time. Famously, he provided a copy of his treatise on the subject to Napoleon who, after scanning through it, asked Laplace what role god might play (he was evidently familiar with Newtons proposal). Laplace replied that he had no need of that hypothesis.

  9. #9 Richard Wein
    February 6, 2010

    @SLC
    The fact that people have often allowed supernatural explanations to stop them doing science doesn’t show that supernatural explanations are necessarily science stoppers.

    In your example, what stopped Newton doing science was (a) his failure to subject his God hypothesis to critical examination, and (b) his excessive satisfaction with his God hypothesis. These failings are seen in all sorts of pseudoscience (and other crank theories), not just those with supernatural elements. Newton could have been stopped just as badly by the natural hypothesis “ET did it”.

    What makes ID not science (among other things) is the IDiots’ refusal to consider the merits (or lack of them) of their hypothesis. An ET-of-the-gaps argument is just as invalid as a God-of-the-gaps argument.

  10. #10 SLC
    February 6, 2010

    Re Richard Wein

    1. Actually, at the time, Newton had other things to worry about as he was appointed director of the mint and was busy chasing after counterfeiters.

    2. I think that there is a distinction between pseudoscience and the hypothesis that god did it, which is not falsifiable (without proving that god doesn’t exist, it is hard to see how religious claims can be falsified). The notion that god did it is not science at all. On the other hand, pseudoscientific hypotheses such as homeopathy, astrology, etc. are at least in principle, falsifiable (e.g. they make testable claims).

  11. #11 Zach
    February 6, 2010

    @4:

    That leads us to trouble where the term `rationality’ is concerned. Reasoning requires certain axioms, assumptions, givens, or whatever else, as well as a framework of accepted rules with their own axioms, i.e. logic. Hence, the `irrationality’ of ID is demonstrable within a (uncontroversial) framework of logic and empirical data, as well as conclusions about our own status as intelligent observers. These are usually very basic things, like `the natural world exists’, `we observe and interact with/within the natural world’, `the natural world operates with enough regularity over long periods of time to make definitive statements about how it works’.

    I’ll admit that this point appears to be overly broad and far-removed from everyday reasoning and how we use `rationality’ on a daily basis. However, it is precisely at this level that ID attempts to overthrow scientific methodology in general and common descent specifically. Of course, your demarcation criterion, though vague and rather broad, is generally acceptable given the usual usage of the word.

    At the ID level of denial, however, we might easily find ourselves drifting into the territory of solipsism. In the spirit of throwing out `everything that disagrees with my theory’, reality itself often finds itself kicked to the curb (that doesn’t really exist). See, not only must contradictory facts be ignored (see AiG statement of faith), but objective methodology itself must be dispensed with. I am reminded of similar remarks about homeopathy (somewhere quoted at Orac’s blog), where a homeopath states that since placebo controlled double-blind trials do not demonstrate the effectiveness of homeopathy, the process of controlled trials itself is unsuitable for testing it. Elsewhere, it is common to hear that clearly, given the inability of medical science to explain how homeopathy works, presupposing of course that it does, we must invoke cracked interpretations of Heisenberg to tide us over (perhaps we can’t see Homeopathy work since it’s at the `quantum level’). That’s the level that pseudoscience quickly descends to, usually with a strong dose of factual relativism (Evolution is just a `worldview’, we have a `Biblical worldview’. It’s the `same facts, different interpretation’ kind of garbage).

    Hence `theistic realism’ to replace methodological rationalism with no definite reason besides the ability to label creationism (or demonology) as science. Without the presumption of God, God fails to be empirically demonstrable. At best, God is invoked as the other end of a false dichotomy. See `It would be very unlikely for this thing to have evolved, so it makes more sense to say it was magic,’ which is ID in a nutshell.

  12. #12 Zach
    February 6, 2010

    I forgot to summarize for tl;dr purposes, this is the `reason’ at work:

    “Any methodology which produces results that disagree with my beliefs is by definition faulty and must be discarded.”

    This includes what we call rationality itself. Not only do they practice crackpot science, they also practice crackpot philosophy.

  13. #13 Pseudonym
    February 6, 2010

    The more I read of history, the more I get annoyed when people pretend that it justifies their own pet views on the way things should be today. When you get down and investigate, it almost always doesn’t.

    As Simon Schama once famously pointed out, the lesson of history is that there is no lesson of history.

  14. #14 Richard Wein
    February 7, 2010

    @SLC

    2. I think that there is a distinction between pseudoscience and the hypothesis that god did it, which is not falsifiable (without proving that god doesn’t exist, it is hard to see how religious claims can be falsified). The notion that god did it is not science at all.

    I was addressing your use of “supernatural” as a demarcation criterion. Now you’ve switched to a different demarcation criterion, “falsifiable”. I don’t think that’s quite as bad, but it’s still problematic. Philosophers of science have (I believe) mostly abandoned simplistic demarcation criteria like these.

  15. #15 SLC
    February 8, 2010

    Re Richard Wein @ #14

    1. I would have to disagree with Mr. Wein in that the notion that god did it is unfalsifiable on its face because god as defined by Christians, Jews, and Muslims is all powerful and can do anything.

    2. I think that most modern philosophers concur that Karl Popper went too far in his notion of falsifiability as a criterion for a scientific theory. However, I think they would agree that it is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition. My own view is that a scientific theory must do three things. It must explain observed phenomena. It must make predictions as to what new phenomena will be observed if the theory is true. It must be possible to predict what new phenomena will not be observed if the theory is true, e.g. it must be falsifiable. By the way, it is not true that failure to observe predictions made by a theory is necessarily equivalent to falsification because there may be other unknown reasons why a prediction may not be observed. Case in point, the Higgs boson.

  16. #16 Richard Wein
    February 9, 2010

    @SLC

    1. I agree that “God did it” is unfalsifiable. But you were originally making a more general claim about “supernatural” hypotheses. Not all supernatural hypotheses are unfalsifiable. “God makes people twice as likely to recover from illness if they are prayed for” is falsifiable. On the other hand, “ET did it” (which is not a supernatural hypothesis) is unfalsifiable. So it’s not specifically the supernatural aspect of “God did it” that makes it unfalsifiable.

    2.

    It must be possible to predict what new phenomena will not be observed if the theory is true, e.g. it must be falsifiable.

    Yes, I know that’s what you claim. But do you have an argument to support that view?

    Let me give you a counterexample. Some physicists argue for the existence of multiple universes. It is generally agreed (or so I understand) that such hypotheses make no observable predictions, because we will never be able to observe other universes, and so are unfalsifiable. But the arguments for the existence of other universes are based on physical theory, so why shouldn’t we consider them a matter of science?

  17. #17 SLC
    February 9, 2010

    Re Richard Wein

    Let me give you a counterexample. Some physicists argue for the existence of multiple universes. It is generally agreed (or so I understand) that such hypotheses make no observable predictions, because we will never be able to observe other universes, and so are unfalsifiable. But the arguments for the existence of other universes are based on physical theory, so why shouldn’t we consider them a matter of science?

    The many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics has been posited as an explanation for certain, apparently counter-intuitive features of quantum mechanics, such as the two slit conundrum and quantum entanglement. This is in lieu of the conventional wave function collapsing explanation which appears to be rather a hand waving argument based on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

    In my opinion, this appears to be more a matter of philosophy, rather then science at this point. In my view, what these conundrums really say is that quantum mechanics, as it currently exists, is probably not the final theory of everything as related to the explanation of sub-microscopic phenomena.

    Let me provide three quotations from prominent physicists on the subject of quantum mechanics.

    Richard Feynman: If you thing you understand quantum mechanics, then you don’t understand quantum mechanics.

    Steven Weinberg: Quantum mechanics is a totally preposterous theory which, unfortunately, appears to be correct.

    Lawrence Krauss: Nobody understands quantum mechanics.

    The lesson to be learned from these quotations is that it is probably a bad idea to apply conventional notions of what a scientific theory is to the theory of quantum mechanics as we currently understand it.

  18. #18 Richard Wein
    February 9, 2010

    @SLC

    Um… I can’t see any mention of falsifiability in your last post. You started by making assertions about supernatural explanations. When I challenged those, you switched to making assertions about falsifiable explanations. When I challenged those, you switched to something else again.

    My work here is done.

  19. #19 SLC
    February 9, 2010

    Re Richard Wein

    Since I am making the claim that the many worlds explanation for certain quantum mechanical phenomena is a philosophical argument, the issue of falsifiability doesn’t come into the picture at all.

  20. #20 James Hannam
    February 22, 2010

    Jason,

    We’re talking about this post here:

    http://bedejournal.blogspot.com/2010/02/chilling-effect.html

    On medieval science, you can get a fuller picture from my “God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science.” It explains in a bit more detail than Shank how the Church generally supported science and also how medieval scholars provided Galileo with a fair bit of his material.

    US edition later this year, but for the moment the UK edition is easily available.

  21. #21 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 22, 2010

    James –

    Thanks for providing the link.

  22. #22 Charles Freeman
    February 23, 2010

    Can we get away from the old myth of the church founding the universities.?The case might be made for Paris but not for the Italian city states that were essentially the enterprises of city communes.. There is an excellent study of this, Philip Jones’ The Italian City-State – see my review on Amazon.co.uk.
    The communes had their problems but by taking education and welfare into their own hands they achieved far higher levels of literacy than in the rest of Europe and far higher levels of craft skills. I like Peter Burke’s contention in his A Social History of Knowledge (pp.14-15)that the ‘intellectual revolutions of early modern Europe were no more than the surfacing into visibility of certain kinds of popular and practical knowledge and their legitimation by some academic establishments’. For progress in ‘science’, technology and even logic ( the calculations needed to run a business and debates in the courts) we need to look at northern Italy.
    The key moment is Brunelleschi’s raising of the dome on Florence’s cathedral. The fact that an individual could have the confidence to take on a task that seemed impossible and get it right was the moment when the Middle Ages ended.

  23. #23 Humphrey Clarke
    February 23, 2010

    Hi Charles

    I think you go too far in seeing Brunelleschi’s dome as a decisive break with the Middle Ages (if that is your intention). For a start the structure of the dome is gothic. The Romans would have developed a hemisphere whereas Brunelleschi’s is that of a lanterned vault with ribs of stone. I would prefer to see Brunelleschi’s achievement as the moment that the Middle Ages felt the growing confidence to create a synthesis of classical and medieval culture. Even if you look at the Foundling Hospital you will see it’s language is classical but it is also derived from monastic architecture.

  24. #24 James Hannam
    February 23, 2010

    I fear Charles is getting confused between science and wider cultural achievements.

    The important scientific achievements in the Middle Ages took place at the universities of Paris and Oxford – clerical establishments with big theology faculties. The Italian schools, where law and later medicine were dominant, made much less of a contribution. In part, this was because they remained beholden to stagnant Averroism of the sort that the 1277 condemnations outlawed from Paris. It is a pretty good case study as to why the condemnations had the opposite of the chilling effect that Jason appears to assume.

    Best wishes

    James

  25. #25 charles Freeman
    February 23, 2010

    Humphrey- the last thing I was thinking about was architectural style – it is the technical ingenuity of the dome that is so astounding – Brunelleschi knew the Pantheon ,of course, but no one in the Middle Ages knew about concrete – it was one of those lost skills of the ancients- so he had to use brick instead and the famous double shell solution. The other point, that matters even more, is it shows the confidence of the INDIVIDUAL returning to Europe. Possibly you find it in someone like Abbot Suger at St. Denis but the combination of self- confidence, the ability ( cliche!) to think outside the box , the technical ingenuity and the extraordinary level of craft skills required is what for me makes this a new moment in European history – it is a breaking free of restriction and convention in 1436.
    Ross King’s Brunelleschi’s Dome provides a full introduction. Best wishes, Charles.

  26. #26 charles Freeman
    February 23, 2010

    James, I suppose where i disagree with you on a fundamental level is that I find your work much too based on texts rather than on the practical know-how that is needed for science to provide beneficial effects on society -somebody has to have the skills to grind the lenses- as the spectacle makers of Florence could!. I note , for instance, that your comments on classical humanism in your recent book treat it as if purely involved with the study of classical texts and you don’t address the change of consciousness that went with it. This is why I quoted Peter Burke above as he is much more sensitive to this side of things.
    I also feel that you restrict your study of intellectual life far too much to the university when there is so much going on, in Italy,for instance, outside the universities.
    Best wishes, Charles.

  27. #27 James Hannam
    February 23, 2010

    Charles,

    On practical know-how, I thought I’d said quite a lot on technology and inventions, including the invention of specticles and how they could have inspired Roger Bacon if he’d seen them.

    But I think we do have a fundamental difference on questions like whether there was a “change of consciousness”. I’ve no idea what this might mean or how it could ever happen. Many historians have postulated mentalities as causes and suggested that the mindset of the medieval man was different to a renaissance man. I find this sort of thing totally unconvincing. Human beings are essentially the same then as they are now and it is unclear to me what a change of consciousness might be – were their brains wired differently? Did evolution give rise to a mental saltation? I think my science background just rebels when it sees such arm waving dressed up as an explanation.

    So no, I don’t buy all the stuff about the Renaissance representing individuality. And with all due respect to Peter Burke, he is kind of notorious as a proponant of this sort of thing.

    Best wishes

    James

  28. #28 charles Freeman
    February 23, 2010

    James- my point is that it was no good conceiving of something like spectacles unless one has the means to actually mass produce them- and that is where the craft economies of Italy scored over Paris which was a very conservative city so far as innovation was concerned. A study of the date of the first printing of a Bible showed that Paris was number ten on the list. Much of the Paris natural philosophy was left rather stranded -perhaps one reason why the humanists in Italy were not very sympathetic to it.
    The Origin of the Species changed the consciousness of the educated public and set in place major rethinking of many different issues.So did the return of the classical texts to the core of education in the fifteenth century. The concepts of the city, the nature of public life, the way a city is managed and displayed, the writing of accurate history, the idea of the individual all changed as a result of classical humanism. Then came the Counter-Reformation that diverted so much wealth into church opulence and relic cults and it is hardly surprising that Italy began to drop out of the picture as the Atlantic economies took over.
    Brunelleschi is symbolic of a different consciousness – it is hard to think of any medieval figure who acted, or who could have acted, in this way. We tend to have a rather simplified picture of the Renaissance as essentially cultural but as someone recently remarked we tend to look only at the beauty of a Renaissance fountain but not at the technical innovations that made it spout. Science and technology are interrelated.
    I think you need to build up your own scholarly reputation first before you dismiss Peter Burke so easily!! Charles.

  29. #29 sevgin
    March 19, 2010

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