Aristotle's Children

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Lausten
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Aristotle's Children

Post by Lausten » Mon Dec 19, 2011 4:36 pm

Aristotle’s Children
How Christians, Muslims and Jews rediscovered ancient wisdom and illuminated the Dark Ages
by Richard Rubenstein , 2003

Despite the title, this is a decidedly Christian book. The history is fairly sound, although it is not a scholarly book. Similarly for the philosophy. The details of the interaction of politics and thought in the centuries preceding the Enlightenment can be a lot to digest. This book makes them a good read. This makes this book a rare find, but I’m still searching for one that tells the full story without the Western bias. If you are not already familiar with the contributions of the Muslims Averroes and Avicenna, you could easily miss them in this one. It also would have been to include more discussion about Aristotle in a book with his name in the title. Mostly what you get is discussion of what High Middle Age philosophers tried to make of Aristotle.

What he does cover well are the details of the full integration of Greek philosophy into the European Universities in the 13th century. Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, Meister Eckhart, Duns Scotus, Abelard of Barth and the less famous, but critically important Siger de Brabant are covered. The Codemnations of 1277 are not merely mentioned as a strike by religion against reason, they are put in a more complete context. Still, I was left wanting. The author was unquestionably sympathetic to the musings of Aquinas and although he was not shy about listing tortures or burnings at the stake, he seemed to miss their significance. He makes claims that Roman Catholic leadership was interested a pursuit of truth, even if it meant changes to doctrine, but he did a poor job of supporting those claims.

The book begins when a friend of Aristotle’s hides his manuscripts in a cellar. Probably apocryphal, but a fun story of how the writings moved around while Rome was burning. Only some light is shed on how the Jews and Muslims did the work of translating and extending the ideas. Then there are a few mentions of a conservative turn in the Muslim world. Seeking knowledge that could threaten Islam became dangerous. Nothing is said of the sacking of Baghad in 1260, which seems a huge oversight. Once Aristotle gets into the Universities, the cat is essentially out of the bag. Although no documents state it directly, the Catholics seem to know that if they suppress this too hard, they will marginalize themselves. The philosophers will split off with no need for the teachings of the church.

The Dominican monks were sure that religion would eventually defeat philosophy, but to anyone who could reason, that was obviously just a statement of faith. Aquinas’ idea that natural philosophy could be used to prove the omnipotence of God was really not going so well. Duns Scotus built on that and used Aristotle’s logic against Aristotle. He said everything is “contingent” on God, anything that we can know is only provisional, for God could change it all at any moment. This allows us to be actors with free will, but only within a world of God’s making. Aquinas tried to integrate science and faith, but it was William of Ockham that separated them in a way that allowed the universities to continue teaching and satisfied the church that they still had plenty of control.

According to Ockham, God creates the universe and can do whatever he wants. We discover patterns in that creation, but reason is not inherent in nature, it is only in our minds. We can explain nature, but we can’t explain God. This answers Euthyphro’s dilemma with good is what God declares good. The Church is the only authority to say why or to determine what is evil and who should be punished for it. Science is left to discover patterns all it wants, but has no say about miracles.

The author ends with an essay about the need to return to this idea of integrating science and faith. I don’t think I need to quote it in this forum to make the case that it is drivel. Despite that, this book does help us understand that the current common understanding of the line between faith and reason came about from political machinations of a powerful Empire that was starting lose its grip. Siger de Brabant taught that it is not reasonable to believe people came back from the dead or that a man could rise bodily to heaven, although he was smart enough to not comment on these miracles directly or make the next logical inference that these teachings led to. Even so, he was prevented from teaching, harassed and conveniently, while travelling to defend himself, died, probably of illness in an unknown location.

With some of the recent comments from fundamentalists on the death of Christopher Hitchens, I fear we have not come very far since then.
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rickoshay85
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Re: Aristotle's Children

Post by rickoshay85 » Sun Jan 01, 2012 7:44 pm

Lausten wrote:Aristotle’s Children
How Christians, Muslims and Jews rediscovered ancient wisdom and illuminated the Dark Ages
by Richard Rubenstein , 2003

Despite the title, this is a decidedly Christian book. The history is fairly sound, although it is not a scholarly book. Similarly for the philosophy. The details of the interaction of politics and thought in the centuries preceding the Enlightenment can be a lot to digest. This book makes them a good read. This makes this book a rare find, but I’m still searching for one that tells the full story without the Western bias. If you are not already familiar with the contributions of the Muslims Averroes and Avicenna, you could easily miss them in this one. It also would have been to include more discussion about Aristotle in a book with his name in the title. Mostly what you get is discussion of what High Middle Age philosophers tried to make of Aristotle.

What he does cover well are the details of the full integration of Greek philosophy into the European Universities in the 13th century. Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, Meister Eckhart, Duns Scotus, Abelard of Barth and the less famous, but critically important Siger de Brabant are covered. The Codemnations of 1277 are not merely mentioned as a strike by religion against reason, they are put in a more complete context. Still, I was left wanting. The author was unquestionably sympathetic to the musings of Aquinas and although he was not shy about listing tortures or burnings at the stake, he seemed to miss their significance. He makes claims that Roman Catholic leadership was interested a pursuit of truth, even if it meant changes to doctrine, but he did a poor job of supporting those claims.

The book begins when a friend of Aristotle’s hides his manuscripts in a cellar. Probably apocryphal, but a fun story of how the writings moved around while Rome was burning. Only some light is shed on how the Jews and Muslims did the work of translating and extending the ideas. Then there are a few mentions of a conservative turn in the Muslim world. Seeking knowledge that could threaten Islam became dangerous. Nothing is said of the sacking of Baghad in 1260, which seems a huge oversight. Once Aristotle gets into the Universities, the cat is essentially out of the bag. Although no documents state it directly, the Catholics seem to know that if they suppress this too hard, they will marginalize themselves. The philosophers will split off with no need for the teachings of the church.

The Dominican monks were sure that religion would eventually defeat philosophy, but to anyone who could reason, that was obviously just a statement of faith. Aquinas’ idea that natural philosophy could be used to prove the omnipotence of God was really not going so well. Duns Scotus built on that and used Aristotle’s logic against Aristotle. He said everything is “contingent” on God, anything that we can know is only provisional, for God could change it all at any moment. This allows us to be actors with free will, but only within a world of God’s making. Aquinas tried to integrate science and faith, but it was William of Ockham that separated them in a way that allowed the universities to continue teaching and satisfied the church that they still had plenty of control.

According to Ockham, God creates the universe and can do whatever he wants. We discover patterns in that creation, but reason is not inherent in nature, it is only in our minds. We can explain nature, but we can’t explain God. This answers Euthyphro’s dilemma with good is what God declares good. The Church is the only authority to say why or to determine what is evil and who should be punished for it. Science is left to discover patterns all it wants, but has no say about miracles.

The author ends with an essay about the need to return to this idea of integrating science and faith. I don’t think I need to quote it in this forum to make the case that it is drivel. Despite that, this book does help us understand that the current common understanding of the line between faith and reason came about from political machinations of a powerful Empire that was starting lose its grip. Siger de Brabant taught that it is not reasonable to believe people came back from the dead or that a man could rise bodily to heaven, although he was smart enough to not comment on these miracles directly or make the next logical inference that these teachings led to. Even so, he was prevented from teaching, harassed and conveniently, while travelling to defend himself, died, probably of illness in an unknown location.

With some of the recent comments from fundamentalists on the death of Christopher Hitchens, I fear we have not come very far since then.
Religion and science have always had an uneasy relationship, with one side or the other usually in the ascendancy.

Recent developments have started to drive a wedge between the two, even if most people see no problem with accepting the beliefs of the other side. Pseudoscience and junk science are increasingly portrayed as fact, with the extremists upon both sides drowning out reasoned debate.

Unfortunately, most of this is fueled by politicians rather than scientists and theologians, ensuring that the vast majority of the media is filled with sensationalist tripe.

Perhaps the most balanced view is from `Abdu'l-Bahá, son of the founder of the Baha’i faith:

“Religion without science is superstition and science without religion is materialism.”

http://www.experiment-resources.com/rel ... ience.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is WHAT WE DO. John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)

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Lausten
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Re: Aristotle's Children

Post by Lausten » Sun Jan 01, 2012 11:45 pm

ricko wrote:Perhaps the most balanced view is from `Abdu'l-Bahá, son of the founder of the Baha’i faith:

“Religion without science is superstition and science without religion is materialism.”

http://www.experiment-resources.com/rel" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; ... ience.html
It is a myth that scientists do not have a sense of wonder. You should see the movie that this forum is named for. True, we need to protect against science being used to exploit people or nature, but religion does not have a great track record in that regard.

Nice website. It admits to not being academic or peer-reviewed, although I’m sure most people who use it don’t notice that. Just a couple fun facts that make the article you linked highly suspect:

1) Giordano Bruno did not expand on Copernicus, he made stuff up. Even using the standards of his day, he was a pseudo intellectual, extrapolating from valid conclusions into pure speculation, then calling it truth.

2) There is no such thing as a “religious scientist”. Mendel, Faraday and Plank were scientists who practiced religion because that was the culture they were born into. If they were questioning their beliefs, they were smart enough to not mention it publicly or put anything in writing because their funding came from institutions supported by religion.

3) The glossing over of Greek history is laughable. Do you know why Socrates was sentenced to death? There was no science vs religion debate before Alhazen’s work on optics, because there was no such thing that could be called modern science.

If you are only looking at philosophers who were asking questions about the natural world, you would find what appears to be inquiry that pushes at the edges of dogmatic belief. But that inquiry was done in educational systems closely monitored by the ruling class with the help of religious elites. There are many good examinations of how progress was held back by the ruling elite, with the help of the priestly class.

To name a couple: Lenski and Lenski, Introduction to macrosociology, 1982 or Power and Privilege, A Theory of Social Stratification 1966. Also Peter Berger’s work on religion as “world-maintainer”
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