Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Great Courses: Science and Religion, by Prof. Lawrence Principe.

This is a 12 lecture series that I am listening to with a noon-time group at work.  I have only listened to three lectures, so I may need to revise my impressions later as I get a more complete picture of his views.

Prof. Principe starts well, although he immediately qualifies "religion" as "Christianity".  This is problematic, since classical views permeate much of what the west believed(s), so that this truncates a lot of important discussions.  Ignoring that for the moment, he does well to note that we can't view the mental processes of medieval monks through modernist stereotypes and categories and hope to understand much.  This is true on multiple levels.  Instead, we need to try to enter into the word view of the various actors.  The second lecture discusses the dishonest scholarship of the 19th century intellectuals, John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White.  I must really commend him for facing some ugly facts, like how a professor of history and founder of Cornell should be instrumental in getting the flat earth hoax accepted around the world - and this continuing more than a century after White's death.  That these two acted out of malice is also noted.  He also read some slightly extended quotes from Augustine to show some of the dishonest ways that Augustine's words were twisted and exploited by White.

The third lecture begins on Augustine, and has much to recommend.  He does a good job at first presenting the key aspects of Augustine's career.  Where things go badly wrong is the well known quote from Augustine that Christians need to know something about science so that they won't get laughed at in discussions.  The quote is fine, but the context is what is missing:  This is part of a book where Augustine takes on the supposed proofs of old earth supporters.  More importantly, the works of Augustine are infused throughout with an anti-intellectualloid mindset that every reader of the American Spectator would be completely at home with.  Augustine would simply note that Draper and White were fairly typical of the way intellectualloids have always been - going back to the time of the ancient Egyptians -  thus, it is not surprising that their (Draper and White) nonsense was preached for more than a century in the halls of academia and with the financial support of governments around the world - and with the conscious support of countless academics.

The second half of the lecture on Augustine is dedicated to a recent document from the Catholic Church regarding faith and science.  I am not going to trace the document down, but it dates from 1998 according to Prof. Principe.  The extensive quote strikes me as the usual post-modern hooey that travels around the halls of mainline seminaries.  It is neither sensible Christianity, nor coherent philosophy, nor responsible science, but it sounds, um, intellectualloid.  I will go out on a limb here and make a guess that Prof. Principe is a Catholic - in the Papist sense of the term.  This is mainly because Augustine is deemed to be the exclusive property of the Catholic church, yet the views that don't conform with modern polite Catholic intellectuals are skipped. As such, I am guessing that he will continue and offer us up a proper Catholic intellectual viewpoint.

I should still offer up some praise for Prof. Principe risking getting shot for what he has said so far, but must note some more glaring holes:  For one, the second lecture on the warfare between science and Christianity metanarrative fails to mention that this was invented by the Roman emperor Julian, and that there were plenty of intellectuals in the 18th century who embraced the same rhetoric.  The other is the failure to link the flat earth discussion to Aristotle's story of the beliefs of Democritus et. al.  Admittedly, I just learned this myself, but I am not a science history professor and Prof. Principe has two lectures on Galileo coming up for which Aristotle's teachings were the center of the controversy.


Delirious said...

I have to admit that I think Christians should have some knowledge of science. In my mind, in the hereafter we will find that there really is no discrepancy between true science and religion. But of course we don't always have correct teachings in science today. We don't have all the data in some cases. But one example I have is that I was watching the show "19 kids and counting" (or however many kids there are now. lol) They took their family to a museum, and looked at the palenotology exhibit. The Dad said, "See, a bunch of scientist found a bunch of bones and just imagined that they made a dinosaur, but this is just their imagination, dinosaurs didn't exist." I think that's a pretty naive view of the world. I think you can study things like dinosaurs and evolution and keep an objective mind, and realize that we don't have all the data, but at least be educated on the matter. I'll get off my soap box...for now. ;)

Looney said...

My main starting point for this topic is to note that science has a vast number of definitions, and no known scientific one! There is a true science, and there the modernist intellectualloid who never had an opinion that he didn't deem to be science, even though his opinions are invariably wrong. These are all deliberately mixed up in our education, so it is quite a challenge to sort the mess out.