It’s a sin to lie Mr Mann and you’ve been lying!”

At the moment I spend some of my time hanging around one of my favourite watering holes John Pieret’s Thoughts in a Haystack. Recently he posted a cynical piece on the publication of Stephen Meyer’s newest masterpiece, which then developed into a debate in the comment column with Daniel Mann a New Yorker bible instructor. When Mr Mann posted the following comment I felt obliged to intervene:

Please note, science arose within a Christian context.

My reply in my usual subtle art was as follows:

No it didn’t. This is one of the biggest lies that people like yourself propagate.

There is recognisable scientific activity in both the ancient Egyptian and Babylonian cultures as well as proto-scientific activities in much older cultures. As John has already pointed out the Greeks conducted science to a very high degree and outside of Europe the Chinese, Indian and Islamic cultures had very healthy scientific sub-cultures.

If you are going to pontificate on the origins and historical development of science then do yourself and us a favour and learn something about the subject before making ridiculous statements.

Now Mr Mann ignored my friendly advice and replied with what I can at best described as a load of old garbage and a tissue of lies that I shall now analyse:

The historical testimony in favor of the Christian role in the development of science is overwhelming. British scientist Robert Clark sums it up this way:

I love it when scientists pontificate on the history of science it’s like watching somebody take a pratfall on a banana skin in slow motion; usually the last people who know anything about the history of science are scientist. Secondly who the fuck is Robert Clark?

“However we may interpret the fact, scientific development has only occurred in Christian culture. The ancients had brains as good as ours. In all civilizations—Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, India, Rome, Persia, China and so on—science developed to a certain point and then stopped. It is easy to argue speculatively that, perhaps, science might have been able to develop in the absence of Christianity, but in fact, it never did. And no wonder. For the non-Christian world believed that there was something ethically wrong about science. In Greece, this conviction was enshrined in the legend of Prometheus, the fire-bearer and prototype scientist who stole fire from heaven, thus incurring the wrath of the gods.” (“Christian Belief and Science,” quoted by Henry F. Schaefer, 14)

The whole of the proceeding paragraph is a joke. To deny the status of science to the scientific activities of these cultures is simply rubbish and a cheap rhetorical trick that might function with the faithful on a slow Sunday in a Baptist church in the Deep South but will only provoke hysterical laughter from an informed public.

The development of science in the cultures listed above ceased because the cultures themselves declined and ceased to exist a normal historical process. We have difficulty imagining it but the culture in which we live today will also at some point in the future just be a historical memory. You don’t think so? My maternal grandparents were successful colonial tee planters in a distant corner of the vast world spanning British Empire. Today that empire is a fading memory condemned to the dustbin of history.

It should however be pointed out that Greek science, for example lasted from its inception to its final decline about 1200 years. Our current scientific culture, if you take, as I do, 1400 CE to mark its inception has only been in existence for 600 years! The claim that non-Christian cultures believed that there was something ethically wrong about science also fails any form of serious examination. To quote the myth of Prometheus, as justification for this claim is truly funny as an earlier generation of philosophers characterised the evolution of scientific thought in ancient Greece as the replacement of mythos by logos.

Why should this be the case? Is there anything endemic to Christianity that would incline Christians to engage meaningfully with the creation? When Johannes Kepler was asked why he engaged in science, he answered that his scientific research was an attempt “to obtain a sample test of the delight of the Divine Creator in His work and to partake of His joy” (Schaefer, 16).

I love religious fanatics who quote Kepler at me as proof that modern science is Christian. I love Kepler, I research Kepler, I write about Kepler and I lecture on Kepler. Oh! One last thing I have read Kepler, which Mr Mann obviously never has. Let us look at what the Christian scientist Kepler has to offer, for example he believed that the solar system was closed and finite because that was the way God designed it. He also designed it to have only six planets revolving around the sun, Kepler proved it; so no Uranus, no Neptune, no other galaxies and so on and so on. That’s the way God planned it and the good Christian Kepler proved it! When Kepler did the maths he produced brilliant science when he relied on his religious convictions he produced rubbish.

Other Christian scientists expressed similar thoughts. Isaac Newton stated, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being” (Schaefer, 17). What can imbue science with greater excitement than the understanding that we are actually discovering the mind of God
!

I also read Newton and I can tell you that everything that I have said about Kepler applies equally well to Isaac. Added to this Newton was a fanatical anti-trinitarian who thought that the Catholic Church had deliberately falsified the Bible to hide the truth of Jesus’ non-divinity. Do you really want this man as your witness Mr Mann? Just for the record he was also a convinced alchemist who spent twenty years searching for the secrets of the ancients.

Going back to the other civilisation that you deny the status of science I would just like to remark that the general solution of the quadratic equation that plagues all school children worldwide was bequeathed by the mathematicians of the Old Babylonian period about 1700 BCE. The same people who gave us the seven day week, the sixty minute hour, the sixty second minute and quite a few other things as well. The Egyptians gave us the 24-hour day, the 360 degree circle and together with the Babylonians the basics of our astronomy. The trigonometry that plagues the same school kids come from the Indians who also gave us the place value decimal number system of which Laplace, a scientist who had no need for god, said;

“It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by means of ten symbols, each symbol receiving a value of position as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit. But its very simplicity and the great ease which it has lent to computations put our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions; and we shall appreciate the grandeur of the achievement the more when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Apollonius, two of the greatest men produced by antiquity.”

The Chinese gave us gunpowder, the compass and the paper on which you write your religious propaganda plus a large quantity of other things that enrich our lives. The Islamic culture plagues those poor school kids with their algebra and delivered the West with so much science and technology that it would take me all night to list them here.

Mr Mann I can only repeat what I wrote in my original comment:

If you are going to pontificate on the origins and historical development of science then do yourself and us a favour and learn something about the subject before making ridiculous statements.

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14 Comments

Filed under Myths of Science

14 responses to “It’s a sin to lie Mr Mann and you’ve been lying!”

  1. Thanks for doing such a good job countering that babble.

  2. Thony C.

    Although you quoted me correctly—“Science arose within a Christian context”—none of your arguments came close to contradicting this claim. You succeeded in pointing out that Kepler and Newton had their foibles and also that other cultures had also done science. However, you’ve entirely failed to show that science didn’t arise in the “Christian context.”

    Clearly, you can’t! It’s just so patently obvious that modern science did not spring forth out of Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism, Islam or Polytheism. And there is good reason for this. Some religions regard this physical world as illusory and therefore attempt to transcend it, rather than explore it. Others have deities who don’t want to be known or investigated. Some have deities who are capricious and therefore don’t employ laws.

    Perhaps more importantly, you claimed that I was “lying,” but you failed to show where or how I was lying. Making such unfounded libelous charges is a serious thing. It makes me wonder about what limits you have and what morals you live by. You owe me an apology. And you will find that I will receive it most graciously!

    • Definition: to lie: to make an intentionally false statement.

      “Please note, science arose within a Christian context” is a false statement.

      “The historical testimony in favor of the Christian role in the development of science is overwhelming” is a false statement.

      “However we may interpret the fact, scientific development has only occurred in Christian culture” is a false statement.

      “It is easy to argue speculatively that, perhaps, science might have been able to develop in the absence of Christianity, but in fact, it never did” is a false statement.

      “For the non-Christian world believed that there was something ethically wrong about science” is a false statement.

      “In Greece, this conviction was enshrined in the legend of Prometheus, the fire-bearer and prototype scientist who stole fire from heaven, thus incurring the wrath of the gods” is a false statement.

      Now that is six false statements made by you and there are two possibilities. Either you made them intentionally and are therefore a liar or you are completely ignorant, don’t know what you are talking about and are therefore a fool. If the second should be the case I would apologies for calling you a liar and call you a fool instead. However despite the fact that you have been clearly informed that the statement is false you continue to claim that “science arose in a Christian context” so you are in fact a liar so no apology is necessary.

      As you appear to be somewhat renitent I will explain in somewhat more detail why the statement “science arose in a Christian context” is false. Of course the truth or falsity of this statement is dependent on how one defines science but there is a general consensus that science arose in ancient Greece. One could argue that there was in fact science earlier than this in Babylon but if your definition of science requires systematic presentation and proof then it is clear that this form of science in a product of the eastern and northern shores of the Mediterranean Basin between the 600 and 200 BCE in a culture that was under Greek hegemony. Christian culture came into existence at the earliest in the 4th century CE and was in no way scientific so to claim that science arose in a Christian context is not only false it is ridiculous.

      As you quoted Kepler and Newton as your supposed witnesses I assume that you are probably referring to the rise of the erroneously named modern science. I say erroneously named because science has experienced at least two major reorientations since the time of Kepler and Newton, in the 19th and 20th centuries. I would prefer to call it the science of the early modern period. Now it is formally correct to say that this development in the already existing science took place in a Christian context but it also took place in a mercantile context, in a political context, in a military context and in several other contexts as well all of which are considerably more significant to this particular period of scientific development than the Christian context. In fact it is a commonly held view under historians and philosophers of science that the extreme development that science underwent in the 16th and 17th centuries was actually to a large extent the result of science freeing itself from the constrictions and limits imposed upon it by the religious scholastic culture of the mediaeval period. Far from the Christian context being in anyway responsible for the rise of so-called modern science it was the weakening and partial removal of that context that made this rise possible.

  3. Thony C,

    My quotations were taken from “Science and Christianity” written by Henry F. Schaefer. About him, the “U.S. News and World Report” cover story (12/23/91) speculated that he is a “five time nominee for the Nobel Prize.” He has received four of the most prestigious awards of the American Chemical Society, as well as the most highly esteemed award (the Centenary Medal) given to a non-British subject by London’s Royal Society of Chemistry. However, according to you he is a “liar.” Why? Because his view of the history of science is at variance with your own highly exalted and dogmatic position! Why should anyone regard your dogmatic denunciations any more highly than his reasoning? Against him and anyone else who disagrees with you, you show no reservations about thoroughly degrading them with your insults. You need not worry about me visiting your blog anymore.

    • Schaefer is […] a prominent proponent of intelligent design. He is a Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, the hub of the intelligent design movement, and the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design,and a signer of the Discovery Institute’s anti-evolution letter, A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism.

      Schaefer is often cited as an example of the Discovery Institute inflating the academic credentials and affiliations of prominent intelligent design advocates. The institute prominently and frequently mentions the Nobel Prize in connection with Schaefer, referring to him as a “five-time nominee for the Nobel Prize” despite the fact that Nobel Prize nominations remain confidential for fifty years. Intelligent Design critic Barbara Forrest, Glenn Branch and Reed Cartwright allege that in elevating mere speculation to a fact, the Discovery Institute is inflating his reputation. The original source of the estimate that Schaefer has been nominated 5 times for a Nobel Prize is a December 23, 1991 cover article in U.S. News and World Report.

      Source Wikipedia

      Need one say more?

  4. Great post.

    The resulting discussion, however, is starting to look like King Arthur vs The Black Knight.

  5. thonyc

    This is a follow up comment posted by me at Thoughts in a Haystack but not here:

    Mr Mann wrote:

    As far as the roots of modern science, I’d be glad to provide additional quotations pointing back to the Christian soil from which it sprang forth.

    I replied:

    “Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, earnestly.

    “I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone: “so I can’t take more.”

    You haven’t produced any quotes up till now that point back to the Christian soil from which modern science sprang forth so how can you bring more?

    The quotes that you have brought are a collection of totally unsubstantiated claims several of which are outright lies. Also your quotes from Kepler and Newton only show that they were both deeply religious; they were scientists who were Christians (although in Newton’s case the main stream churches would probably deny him the status of a Christian) that does not make their science Christian. Your implicit argument is a logical fallacy.

  6. thonyc

    Another followup comment posted at Thoughts in a Haystack but not here:

    Schaefer is in fact a very good and highly honoured physical chemist but what worries me is the fact that this in no way qualifies him as a historian of science.

    The claim that a scientist is automatically qualified to express views on the history of science is like saying that a professional soldier is qualified to write about the Thirty Years War!

    In fact some of the very worst history of science in circulation was written by scientists who simply don’t recognise that being a scientist and being a historian are two completely different things.

  7. Unfortunately, grad school and moving have kept me from keeping up with the discussion and I’m somewhat pissed off I missed out on this discussion here and over at Thoughts in a Haystack.

    Overall, what saddens me most about Mann is the fact that no matter what evidence is presented to him there is no way he will ever change his mind. He is a man who has devoted his entire life to a single book and there is absolutely nothing that will ever change his mind about what he thinks that book says about the world. Just like my mother…

    (And no, I’m not being hypocritical, I’m more than willing to drop evolution in favor of a different theory in light of new evidence. However, evidence must first be supplied.)

  8. Ian H Spedding FCD

    I’m sorry that I, too, have come late to the fray. The original post was excellent and, in the idiom of the sadly now defunct British Empire, administered a well-deserved thrashing to the sort of cant we see all too often from members of h cdesign proponentsis at the Discovery Institute and elsewhere. Would that someone would provide the same service for Richard Weikart.

    As an aside, the discussion reminded me of a point made by anthropologist Robin Dunbar in his excellent popular science book The Trouble With Science. If I remember correctly, he argued that science, in its broadest sense, is a human activity even at the the smallest social scales. Yes, science has flourished around the world in various great civilizations but it can also be seen in much smaller tribal cultures. He points out that African peoples have developed such detailed knowledge and understandings of the environments in which they live that they qualify as science, at least in a primitive form.

    It is just hubris, to put it politely, for Western European Christians to claim that, of all the world, only they had cultivated science.

    • “He points out that African peoples have developed such detailed knowledge and understandings of the environments in which they live that they qualify as science, at least in a primitive form.”

      I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that human activities such as agriculture on the one end of the productivity scale and war on t’other have very much been driven by empirical processes, albeit less refined and well-defined than the current model (although maybe that’s not entirely fair to those early thinkers?).

      Are we to say that humans only started milling corn and beating each other up with sophisticated weaponry since Jesus? Or even Moses?

      I think the absurdity of that idea should be self-evident.

  9. Mann: “It’s just so patently obvious that modern science did not spring forth out of Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism, Islam or Polytheism. And there is good reason for this. Some religions regard this physical world as illusory and therefore attempt to transcend it, rather than explore it. Others have deities who don’t want to be known or investigated. Some have deities who are capricious and therefore don’t employ laws.”

    Are you mocking yourself, Mr. Mann? All of those are a pretty good description of the Abrahamic god.

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