On Galileo

 

Most of us are familiar with the story of Galileo Galilei, the great astronomer and polymath, famous for advancing the idea expressed by Copernicus that the earth and other planets rotate around the sun  (heliocentrism).

The story goes that Galileo found proof of heliocentrism in his astronomical observations but was censured, threatened, and arrested by the Church because his ideas ran afoul of religious doctrine.  He was thus a great hero for the cause of science.

But the truth is more complicated.

Few people know that Galileo was sponsored and celebrated as a great scholar by the Church and that Pope Urban VIII was one of his fans.  For example, when Galileo announced that he had observed mountains on the moon the Church declared a three-day holiday to celebrate this advance in our understanding of nature.  His discovery of the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter were similarly celebrated.  He was favored and supported by many officials in the Church.  The attitude of many in the Church toward science was stated at the time by Cardinal Bernadetto, that is, if science shows that something is true that seems to contradict scripture then it is our understanding of the scripture that is at fault, not the science.  But this attitude was not shared by all.

Galileo’s later scrape with the Church was in the end more a matter of politics and personality than of science or religious doctrine.  Much of the trouble came from the fact that Galileo was, not to put too fine a point on it, such a jerk.  He had on many occasions gratuitously insulted and provoked the Jesuits,  an activist and scholarly wing of the Church that was especially sensitive to efforts to re-interpret scripture, which they saw as akin to Protestantism. On one occasion Galileo got into a dispute with a Jesuit priest over who had first discovered sunspots.  (As it turned out neither of them was first.)

Part of the problem when Galileo first began to advance his ideas about heliocentrism is that he did not yet have the goods.  He did not have enough data to prove his case.  There were problems with the idea that he had failed to resolve, and not even all his fellow scholars were convinced.

Galileo had not always been correct in his scientific ideas.  His theory on the tides was proved to be wildly off.  His theory, that the tides are caused by the rotational motion of the earth around the sun and its own axis, predicted that there would be one high tide a day at Venice, and, then as now, there are two. Incredibly, in the face of this contrary data, Galileo continued to insist that his theory was correct, which did not engender confidence in his judgment.  (The correct theory is that tides are caused by gravitational attraction of the sun and moon.  This concept of the force of gravity had not been realized in Galileo’s time. )

One example of Galileo’s problems is that if heliocentrism were true, as other scholars of the time pointed out, we should be able to observe an annual parallax of the stars.  That is, the stars should shift position in the sky as the earth moved around the sun.  The parallax was there, but it was too small for instruments of the day to see.   Astronomers at the time mistakenly thought that they could gauge the size of stars, and, knowing the size, the stars had to be close enough for a parallax to be easily visible.  It was not until decades later that they realized that the stars were too far away for the size to be visible, but this realization had to await the development of better instruments.

To be sure, clergy did advance religious objections to the idea of heliocentrism, but they did it along with the scientific arguments against heliocentrism put forth by their colleagues.

In contrast to Galileo’s stubbornness, the Church was being reasonable enough.  On the question of heliocentrism, it was going along with the scientific consensus of the day.  They told Galileo he was wrong and to shut up about it, and he did so for many years.

Pope Urban VIII, no longer Pope, had earlier urged Galileo to write a treatise on the issue and to lay out the arguments for and against heliocentrism in a fair and even-handed way.   So, Galileo wrote his famous Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.  But it was seen as anything but fair and even-handed, making the opponents of heliocentrism out to be fools, which might be supposed to be the case in hindsight.  Remember, though, that Galileo did not have the goods at the time, and his book glossed over scientific objections to his ideas.  The book was seen as an attack on Pope Paul V and other clergy.  Galileo had alienated his own supporters in the Church and given the Jesuits the upper hand.  Galileo’s arrest was inevitable.  The Church condemned him because his ideas were scientifically incorrect (“foolish and absurd in philosophy”) and formally heretical.

In the fullness of time, Galileo was proven correct, but this had to await more observations and data as provided by improved telescopes and other instruments.  As the science matured the attitude of the Church changed and, as before, it went along with the scientific consensus, that is, that heliocentrism is true.

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  1. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Nice summary, Roderic. Thank you.

    Alas, the famous quotation “Eppur si muove!” (“And yet it moves!”) is probably apocryphal as well. But it’s makes a nice conclusion to the story.

    • #1
  2. CorbinGlassauer Inactive
    CorbinGlassauer
    @CorbinGlassauer

    Are you saying that global warming is a fact and that we are waiting for improved  measurement tools to prove it?  You’re being very provocative.

    • #2
  3. Roderic Reagan
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    CorbinGlassauer (View Comment):

    Are you saying that global warming is a fact and that we are waiting for improved measurement tools to prove it? You’re being very provocative.

    I don’t know how you get global warming out of my essay. 

    My opinion of climate change is that I agree with the report of the first working group of the IPCC.  The report, not the executive summary.  It it you will find that there are a wide range of possible future outcomes in global warming, and the scientists offer no opinion as to which is most likely.  The more extreme outcomes assume conditions that we’ve never seen in nature and rely on unproven assumptions.   This is in contrast to what is reported in the media, which usually only discusses the more extreme possible outcomes.

    Obviously we have to wait to see what happens.  At that point we’ll know what to do. 

    Besides which, with regard to CO2 emissions, the ball is in China’s court because they emit more CO2 than the rest of the developed world combined.  It literally makes no difference what we in the US do.  Adjustment to whatever happens is our only recourse.

    • #3
  4. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    That was quite a good summary. Good post.

    I would like to believe that there were cogent arguments at the time that were based on the Thomistic doctrine of “unity of truth” (nothing that is true contradicts any other truth), a call to intellectual humility and honesty. But that may be a charitable hindsight characterization of some of those discussions.

    I had a philosophy of science prof at Georgetown who said that Cardinal Bellarmine had offered a very modern solution to the controversy that went over the heads of all involved: If Galileo were only offering a hypothesis, a way to organize the data from observation (“saving appearances”) then he was not making an affirmative statement of the kind that are matters of dogma thus there could be no contradiction.

    Galileo was a jerk and the well-connected families he offended at dinner parties and senior clerics he insulted were not inclined to back down so lose-lose was the order of the day for everybody.

    • #4
  5. CorbinGlassauer Inactive
    CorbinGlassauer
    @CorbinGlassauer

    Roderic (View Comment):

    CorbinGlassauer (View Comment):

    Are you saying that global warming is a fact and that we are waiting for improved measurement tools to prove it? You’re being very provocative.

    I don’t know how you get global warming out of my essay.

    My opinion of climate change is that I agree with the report of the first working group of the IPCC. The report, not the executive summary. It it you will find that there are a wide range of possible future outcomes in global warming, and the scientists offer no opinion as to which is most likely. The more extreme outcomes assume conditions that we’ve never seen in nature and rely on unproven assumptions. This is in contrast to what is reported in the media, which usually only discusses the more extreme possible outcomes.

    Obviously we have to wait to see what happens. At that point we’ll know what to do.

    Besides which, with regard to CO2 emissions, the ball is in China’s court because they emit more CO2 than the rest of the developed world combined. It literally makes no difference what we in the US do. Adjustment to whatever happens is our only recourse.

    I really need a “humorously intended” emoji.  But thank you for the explanation. It was worth the misunderstanding.

    • #5
  6. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    This controversy was covered in a very entertaining and informative article by Michael F. Flynn in a “Science Fact” article in the January/February 2013 edition of Analog(a science fiction and fact periodical). To give you an idea of how much fun a read it is(at least for me), the title of the article is:  “The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown And Down-And-Dirty Mud Wrassle”.

    The article is definitely worth your time if you can find it!🙂🙂🙂

    • #6
  7. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    The Catholic Church has almost always supported scientific study, it’s a canard that other religions like to mock the Catholic church for the treatment of Galileo.  

    There were many reasons for Galileo’s treatment, most of which you cover here, but also this:  The church was not against the ideas Galileo promoted, but it wanted time to integrate the discoveries with theological concepts.  Science and theology were interlaced.  There was a fear that if the two were not reconciled properly, then it would upset the issue of faith.  The pace of change in society that we are accustomed to today was unthinkable back then.  Taking a brief interval to work on that astrological/theological nexus didn’t seem unreasonable at the time.  In other words, they merely wanted Galileo to be a little patient.  There was no intent to deny truth, only a short delay to study the matter.  The whole thing was over blown.

    I’m not excusing the church because there is no reasonable need to reconcile mythology with facts, but Galileo also hadn’t firmly established his theory.

    • #7
  8. Tedley Member
    Tedley
    @Tedley

    CorbinGlassauer (View Comment):

    Roderic (View Comment):

    CorbinGlassauer (View Comment):

    Are you saying that global warming is a fact and that we are waiting for improved measurement tools to prove it? You’re being very provocative.

    I don’t know how you get global warming out of my essay.

    My opinion of climate change is that I agree with the report of the first working group of the IPCC. The report, not the executive summary. It it you will find that there are a wide range of possible future outcomes in global warming, and the scientists offer no opinion as to which is most likely. The more extreme outcomes assume conditions that we’ve never seen in nature and rely on unproven assumptions. This is in contrast to what is reported in the media, which usually only discusses the more extreme possible outcomes.

    Obviously we have to wait to see what happens. At that point we’ll know what to do.

    Besides which, with regard to CO2 emissions, the ball is in China’s court because they emit more CO2 than the rest of the developed world combined. It literally makes no difference what we in the US do. Adjustment to whatever happens is our only recourse.

    I really need a “humorously intended” emoji. But thank you for the explanation. It was worth the misunderstanding.

    Since environmentos tend to think of everything from their perspective, I kind of figured that’s where you were going, @corbinglassauer.  Regarding indicating something as sarcasm, I’ve noticed that people use “/sarc/” in cases like this, to make the intent clear.

    • #8
  9. Boney Cole Member
    Boney Cole
    @BoneyCole

    Thanks so much.  This needs saying often and in widely read venues.  

    Please correct me if this succinct statement is wrong.  Galileo’s scientific evidence and arguments for his thesis were incorrect, but the thesis was basically correct. 

    • #9
  10. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Skyler (View Comment):

    I’m not excusing the church because there is no reasonable need to reconcile mythology with facts, but Galileo also hadn’t firmly established his theory.

    I’ve long wondered about the distinction between facts and mythology, which we seem to take for granted in the modern world. We tend to think there are unvarnished, raw, objective  “facts” on the one hand and then “mythology” or fabulous stories on the other. This is supposed to be the great advantage we have over the ancients or medievals, who didn’t understand the distinction.

    But it seems to me mythology consists of the stories we use to make sense of the facts, and those facts never exist entirely independently of some story that gives them context. I chuckle when I see the Darwin Fish bumper stickers created as rivals to the Jesus Fish bumper stickers, which generated a sort of arms race in bumper stickers. The Darwinists didn’t seem to realize that their bumper sticker by its very existence concedes that Darwinism is, whatever else it is, a rival mythology to Christianity. Natural selection, the variations of finch’s beaks, etc., whatever their truth as facts, were immediately swept into an evolutionary mythology by the likes of Herbert Spencer. This isn’t a criticism, because such an evolutionary mythology was inevitable and indeed necessary. It is only through stories that man can make sense of the facts or have some idea which facts are important and which trivial. It’s why scientists can’t resist writing books with obviously anthropomorphic or mythological titles like The Selfish Gene or The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

    The same was true of the astronomical discoveries of the early modern age. The Church was wise, not unreasonable, in understanding that the new astronomical discoveries would never be simply “facts” floating  independently, awaiting measured and prudent interpretation. Or, at least, that was what the Church advocated: Avoid drawing broad and potentially socially revolutionary philosophical and mythological conclusions from the facts in haste. But that is what happened in the early modern era and has not stopped since. The modern era thought it was putting behind it the myth making era of mankind, but since myth making is a necessity for man, all it actually did was lose the self-consciousness in myth making and mistake its own myths for facts rather than the interpretation of facts. And so we have the modern era of myth displacing myth, occasionally culminating in bloody climaxes like “scientific” Marxism battling “historical” Nazism.

    Man will always reconcile myth with facts, it’s what we do. The only question is what are the myths and what are the facts. The medieval Church had the self-consciousness to understand this; the tragedy of the modern world is the loss of that self-consciousness.

     

     

    • #10
  11. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    I’m not excusing the church because there is no reasonable need to reconcile mythology with facts, but Galileo also hadn’t firmly established his theory.

    I’ve long wondered about the distinction between facts and mythology, which we seem to take for granted in the modern world. We tend to think there are unvarnished, raw, objective “facts” on the one hand and then “mythology” or fabulous stories on the other. This is supposed to be the great advantage we have over the ancients or medievals, who didn’t understand the distinction.

    But it seems to me mythology consists of the stories we use to make sense of the facts, and those facts never exist entirely independently of some story that gives them context. I chuckle when I see the Darwin Fish bumper stickers created as rivals to the Jesus Fish bumper stickers, which generated a sort of arms race in bumper stickers. The Darwinists didn’t seem to realize that their bumper sticker by its very existence concedes that Darwinism is, whatever else it is, a rival mythology to Christianity. Natural selection, the variations of finch’s beaks, etc., whatever their truth as facts, were immediately swept into an evolutionary mythology by the likes of Herbert Spencer. This isn’t a criticism, because such an evolutionary mythology was inevitable and indeed necessary. It is only through stories that man can make sense of the facts or have some idea which facts are important and which trivial. It’s why scientists can’t resist writing books with obviously anthropomorphic or mythological titles like The Selfish Gene or The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

    The same was true of the astronomical discoveries of the early modern age. The Church was wise, not unreasonable, in understanding that the new astronomical discoveries would never be simply “facts” floating independently, awaiting measured and prudent interpretation. Or, at least, that was what the Church advocated: Avoid drawing broad and potentially socially revolutionary philosophical and mythological conclusions from the facts in haste. But that is what happened in the early modern era and has not stopped since. The modern era thought it was putting behind it the myth making era of mankind, but since myth making is a necessity for man, all it actually did was lose the self-consciousness in myth making and mistake its own myths for facts rather than the interpretation of facts. And so we have the modern era of myth displacing myth, occasionally culminating in bloody climaxes like “scientific” Marxism battling “historical” Nazism.

    Man will always reconcile myth with facts, it’s what we do. The only question is what are the myths and what are the facts. The medieval Church had the self-consciousness to understand this; the tragedy of the modern world is the loss of that self-consciousness.

     

     

    Eloquently stated. It does seem worth noting that an important distinction between traditional myth and modern, scientific myth, is that the scientific myth is supposed to be testable. I think the tragic errors of modern myth occur when we forget that.

    • #11
  12. Roderic Reagan
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    Boney Cole (View Comment):

    Thanks so much. This needs saying often and in widely read venues.

    Please correct me if this succinct statement is wrong. Galileo’s scientific evidence and arguments for his thesis were incorrect, but the thesis was basically correct.

    The data Galileo collected was correct as far as it went, but it didn’t go far enough.  It didn’t fully prove his case regardless of how much he insisted it did.  But once he had set his mind on a theory he refused to consider anything contrary to it, and he had a sharp  wit and tongue with which to defend his position.

    Galileo’s theory about what causes the tides is instructive in this regard.  The theory was wrong, and some pretty glaring facts demonstrated that it was wrong at the time, but he tied himself into knots trying to finesse this.  The possibility that he was just as wrong about heliocentrism must have loomed large in the scholarly minds of the day.

    (Many scholars of the day knew that the moon caused tides.  But Galileo refused to consider this, apparently thinking of the idea as some sort of mysticism.  It has echoes in Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance” and the Descartian objections to Newton’s force of gravity.)

    • #12
  13. Boney Cole Member
    Boney Cole
    @BoneyCole

    Roderic (View Comment):

    Boney Cole (View Comment):

    Thanks so much. This needs saying often and in widely read venues.

    Please correct me if this succinct statement is wrong. Galileo’s scientific evidence and arguments for his thesis were incorrect, but the thesis was basically correct.

    The data Galileo collected was correct as far as it went, but it didn’t go far enough. It didn’t fully prove his case regardless of how much he insisted it did. But once he had set his mind on a theory he refused to consider anything contrary to it, and he had a sharp wit and tongue with which to defend his position.

    Galileo’s theory about what causes the tides is instructive in this regard. The theory was wrong, and some pretty glaring facts demonstrated that it was wrong at the time, but he tied himself into knots trying to finesse this. The possibility that he was just as wrong about heliocentrism must have loomed large in the scholarly minds of the day.

    (Many scholars of the day knew that the moon caused tides. But Galileo refused to consider this, apparently thinking of the idea as some sort of mysticism. It has echoes in Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance” and the Descartian objections to Newton’s force of gravity.)

    Thanks

    • #13
  14. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Good post, thank you.

    Click on the link for info on the Vatican Advanced Telescope Technology, and their partnership with the University of Arizona.

    Try sending an email that insults the CEO of a company that employs you, and CC that message to all your fellow employees, call it the Galileo effect.

    • #14
  15. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    J Climacus (View Comment):.

    I’ve long wondered about the distinction between facts and mythology, which we seem to take for granted in the modern world. We tend to think there are unvarnished, raw, objective “facts” on the one hand and then “mythology” or fabulous stories on the other. This is supposed to be the great advantage we have over the ancients or medievals, who didn’t understand the distinction.

    But it seems to me mythology consists of the stories we use to make sense of the facts, and those facts never exist entirely independently of some story that gives them context. I chuckle when I see the Darwin Fish bumper stickers created as rivals to the Jesus Fish bumper stickers, which generated a sort of arms race in bumper stickers. The Darwinists didn’t seem to realize that their bumper sticker by its very existence concedes that Darwinism is, whatever else it is, a rival mythology to Christianity.

    I was raised Catholic and I never met a single Catholic that had a problem with Darwin or evolution. 

    However, despite it being the fad (Jordan Peterson and that other guy the leftists love so much), pursuing science is not a religion. Pursuing truth is not another mythology. Those are opposites despite the efforts of theists to equate them. 

    • #15
  16. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Skyler (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):.

    I’ve long wondered about the distinction between facts and mythology, which we seem to take for granted in the modern world. We tend to think there are unvarnished, raw, objective “facts” on the one hand and then “mythology” or fabulous stories on the other. This is supposed to be the great advantage we have over the ancients or medievals, who didn’t understand the distinction.

    But it seems to me mythology consists of the stories we use to make sense of the facts, and those facts never exist entirely independently of some story that gives them context. I chuckle when I see the Darwin Fish bumper stickers created as rivals to the Jesus Fish bumper stickers, which generated a sort of arms race in bumper stickers. The Darwinists didn’t seem to realize that their bumper sticker by its very existence concedes that Darwinism is, whatever else it is, a rival mythology to Christianity.

    I was raised Catholic and I never met a single Catholic that had a problem with Darwin or evolution.

    Neither have I. I’m not sure what that has to do with anything I wrote. 

    However, despite it being the fad (Jordan Peterson and that other guy the leftists love so much), pursuing science is not a religion. Pursuing truth is not another mythology. Those are opposites despite the efforts of theists to equate them.

    I agree that pursuing science is not a religion. I don’t know many people – in fact, anyone – who thinks that. Including Jordan Peterson. 

     

    • #16
  17. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):.

    I’ve long wondered about the distinction between facts and mythology, which we seem to take for granted in the modern world. We tend to think there are unvarnished, raw, objective “facts” on the one hand and then “mythology” or fabulous stories on the other. This is supposed to be the great advantage we have over the ancients or medievals, who didn’t understand the distinction.

    But it seems to me mythology consists of the stories we use to make sense of the facts, and those facts never exist entirely independently of some story that gives them context. I chuckle when I see the Darwin Fish bumper stickers created as rivals to the Jesus Fish bumper stickers, which generated a sort of arms race in bumper stickers. The Darwinists didn’t seem to realize that their bumper sticker by its very existence concedes that Darwinism is, whatever else it is, a rival mythology to Christianity.

    I was raised Catholic and I never met a single Catholic that had a problem with Darwin or evolution.

    Neither have I. I’m not sure what that has to do with anything I wrote.

    However, despite it being the fad (Jordan Peterson and that other guy the leftists love so much), pursuing science is not a religion. Pursuing truth is not another mythology. Those are opposites despite the efforts of theists to equate them.

    I agree that pursuing science is not a religion. I don’t know many people – in fact, anyone – who thinks that. Including Jordan Peterson.

     

    I think Steven Hawking did. His theological speculations were sophomoric and not all that unusual. His main premise was that religion was just a primitive attempt to explain natural phenomena and is no longer needed now that science has matured. The notion that religion involves a search for answers to issues other than thunderstorms or volcanoes seems to have escaped him. To believe that no questions should be asked unless they are susceptible to existing scientific methods is itself a religious position. A pathetic corrupt offshoot is to dress up ideological values as scientific conclusions.

    • #17
  18. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    His main premise was that religion was just a primitive attempt to explain natural phenomena and is no longer needed now that science has matured.

    Yeah, and how is that wrong?

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    The notion that religion involves a search for answers to issues other than thunderstorms or volcanoes seems to have escaped him. To believe that no questions should be asked unless they are susceptible to existing scientific methods is itself a religious position. A pathetic corrupt offshoot is to dress up ideological values as scientific conclusions.

    Or maybe a rejection of plain silliness.

    • #18
  19. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    aardo vozz (View Comment):

    This controversy was covered in a very entertaining and informative article by Michael F. Flynn in a “Science Fact” article in the January/February 2013 edition of Analog(a science fiction and fact periodical). To give you an idea of how much fun a read it is(at least for me), the title of the article is: “The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown And Down-And-Dirty Mud Wrassle”.

    The article is definitely worth your time if you can find it!🙂🙂🙂

    I have not read that article, but many years ago I was at a science fiction convention where Michael F. Flynn had a lecture that I think was titled “How to Lie With Statistics.”  It was very enjoyable.

    • #19
  20. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    I think Steven Hawking did. His theological speculations were sophomoric and not all that unusual. His main premise was that religion was just a primitive attempt to explain natural phenomena and is no longer needed now that science has matured. The notion that religion involves a search for answers to issues other than thunderstorms or volcanoes seems to have escaped him. 

    Science is a human activity, and all human activity exists in a philosophical/mythological context that gives it meaning and justification. I’m using “myth” in the broad sense as a “story of the world” that we all necessarily use to understand ourselves. Man is a “story-telling animal” whether he is a scientist or not. Hawking’s problem wasn’t that he used a story to understand himself – he must as we all must – but, as you point out, that his story is patently false.

    A casual reading of the New Testament, for example, shows that Christianity did not start through some effort to understand natural phenomena through recourse to gods. Just the opposite. When Christ changed water into wine, it was a miracle precisely because it was understood to be the act of God superseding the ordinary course of nature. In other words, it presupposes that nature is a regular, more or less self-sustaining network of causes and effects. When God created the heavens and the earth, He “rested” on the seventh day, yet nature rolled right along. The ancient Hebrews were adamant in their refusal to allow in lesser gods as somehow responsible for thunder, lightning and the rain.

    The early modern scientists all accepted this story, and in fact understood themselves through it, and it gave meaning and purpose to their scientific investigations. They all thought of themselves as decoding the Book of Nature as it had been written by God. I remember my freshman physics book had a note in passing that Newton spent more time on his theological investigations than he did his scientific ones. 

    This began to change in the Enlightenment, which displaced it with the now familiar story of religion as a web of superstitions and myths (in the bad sense) that was finally overcome by the heroic skepticism of scientists. The power of that story is evidenced by the likes of Hawking still holding on to it despite its manifest falsehood.

    Lately the Enlightenment myth has been displaced by wokeism and similar myths, which holds that science as it is practiced is but a method by which white men exploit and dominate  the rest of the world. That story is obviously false, but no more false than the original Enlightenment myth itself. To defend science, it won’t be enough to reassert the Enlightenment story, which has lost its power, but to reassert the original Story that animated scientists in the first place before it was forgotten.

     

    • #20
  21. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    J Climacus (View Comment):

     (snip)  Hawking’s problem wasn’t that he used a story to understand himself – he must as we all must – but, as you point out, that his story is patently false.

     (snip)

    The early modern scientists all accepted this story, and in fact understood themselves through it, and it gave meaning and purpose to their scientific investigations.  (snip)

    Why “must” we all “understand” ourselves?  What makes you think that we can “understand” ourselves?  What does it mean to “understand” ourselves?  It’s a meaningless phrase.

    The entire problem is that people are trying to “understand” themselves rather than “defining” themselves. If we have an evolution that makes us tend to want to practice mysticism and have constructed mystical systems that are complex and mysterious and false, that doesn’t mean we should sink to that level of believing what is false. We also have an evolution that doesn’t encourage us to fly or to go to the moon.  We should rise above shamans and priests and other nonsense and instead make ourselves into what we want to be, transform our physical world into how we want it to be.  

    Trying to “understand” ourselves causes a lot of problems and encourages weak minded depressed people to meander like Holden Caulfield, searching for what is irrelevant and isn’t there.

     

     

    • #21
  22. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Skyler (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

     

    Why “must” we all “understand” ourselves? What makes you think that we can “understand” ourselves? What does it mean to “understand” ourselves? It’s a meaningless phrase.

    I gave some examples of understanding ourselves. It doesn’t involve mysticism. Steven Hawking, for instance, understood himself as a scientist dispelling the myths of religion and superstition. Isaac Newton, on the other hand, understood himself as decoding the Book of Nature written by God, in terms of the natural laws God inscribed in nature.  I find nothing particularly mystical in either interpretation.  I’m not sure why you find it meaningless. It seems straightforward, and interpreting ourselves like this seems natural. 

    The entire problem is that people are trying to “understand” themselves rather than “defining” themselves. If we have an evolution that makes us tend to want to practice mysticism and have constructed mystical systems that are complex and mysterious and false, that doesn’t mean we should sink to that level of believing what is false. We also have an evolution that doesn’t encourage us to fly or to go to the moon. We should rise above shamans and priests and other nonsense and instead make ourselves into what we want to be, transform our physical world into how we want it to be.

    I think the problem is exactly the opposite. Instead of understanding themselves, people are defining themselves and the world in ways they wish it to be, and demanding the world conform to it.  But their visions have no basis in human nature or human history, and so will only result in disaster. “Equity” is the big thing now, and people wish to transform the world so that all outcomes are perfectly equal across races and sexes. Why not, if we can simply make ourselves into what we want to be? If they instead made more of a thoroughgoing attempt to understand themselves through history, philosophy, and even religion, they would understand how historically dangerous the idea is of “making ourselves into what we want to be”.  The “equity” people I’m sure have never heard of the New Soviet Man. 

    Trying to “understand” ourselves causes a lot of problems and encourages weak minded depressed people to meander like Holden Caulfield, searching for what is irrelevant and isn’t there.

    Civilizational advances happen when people discover things that were not thought to be there, or were thought irrelevant, or began to think of themselves in new and different ways. Not by “defining” themselves in an arbitrary manner, but by an increasing understanding of themselves through philosophy, religion and, yes, science.  I look to Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, and others as inspiration for this, not angst-ridden fictional teens. 

     

     

     

     

    • #22
  23. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    His main premise was that religion was just a primitive attempt to explain natural phenomena and is no longer needed now that science has matured.

    Yeah, and how is that wrong?

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    The notion that religion involves a search for answers to issues other than thunderstorms or volcanoes seems to have escaped him. To believe that no questions should be asked unless they are susceptible to existing scientific methods is itself a religious position. A pathetic corrupt offshoot is to dress up ideological values as scientific conclusions.

    Or maybe a rejection of plain silliness.

    Rarely does a Ricochet response miss the point so completely and somewhat ironically.

    • #23
  24. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    His main premise was that religion was just a primitive attempt to explain natural phenomena and is no longer needed now that science has matured.

    Yeah, and how is that wrong?

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    The notion that religion involves a search for answers to issues other than thunderstorms or volcanoes seems to have escaped him. To believe that no questions should be asked unless they are susceptible to existing scientific methods is itself a religious position. A pathetic corrupt offshoot is to dress up ideological values as scientific conclusions.

    Or maybe a rejection of plain silliness.

    Rarely does a Ricochet response miss the point so completely and somewhat ironically.

    Yours or mine?

    • #24