Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Humphrey Clarke is not impressed with Jason Rosenhouse's recent review of Galileo Goes to Jail.
Rosenhouse’s reaction to the book demonstrates the difficulties of refuting the set of comfortable myths that people on both side of the science-religion debate tend to subscribe to. Although you might succeed in denting them, you will commonly find that a smaller, yet no less weaker myth is erected next to them and asserted with just as much force. Our view of late antiquity –through the lens of Edward Gibbon – used to be that of a book-burning free for all with fanatical Christians running around destroying the fruits of the Greco-Roman world and replacing the rational thought of Hellenistic culture with obscure discussions about how three people could fit plausibility into one person and what angels get up to at weekends. This is such an appealing image that it’s a hard one to let go of. Eventually the view Rosenhouse goes for (which is similar to Richard Carrier’s) is that the early Christians did not kill science, they merely lost interest in it (although I don’t know what a figure like John Philoponus or Boethius would have made of that). This is in many ways as powerful a myth as the previous one. A concerted effort by Christians to kill all science for a thousand years is, well, kind of cool. Simply losing interest is just lame.
Well said.

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