Roots of Science

Read any good books lately?
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Roots of Science

Post by Lausten » Wed Apr 03, 2013 4:59 pm

I’m not quite done, but I want to make another book recommendation before I go off for vacation. This one is Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. Like Nietzsche he combines the explanation of philosophy and philosophers with their impact on culture. Unlike Nietzsche, he does it with finesse. His knowledge of the history of the world and his ability to absorb a theology and describe it with flair, yet not be consumed or overly fascinated by it is extraordinary. He is Joseph Campbell without the woo-woo.

Particularly useful in “Letting Go of God” debates are the sections on science. This was a sticking point for me back in my believer days. I didn’t have a problem with science. I just didn’t understand what it was or where it came from. Without that knowledge, it was not obvious how religion held it back. Simple stories of Galileo being shown the gallows were not satisfying and stories of early pre-science mathematicians accepting circular planetary orbits as axiomatic further complicate the picture. It is not as simple as blaming the Catholic institution for everything.

Russell does spend a few chapters on the influence of the Church in the Middle Ages. I found them difficult to follow with Popes arguing with Kings and philosophers popping up then being forgotten and ignored. The 12th and 13th centuries are fascinating however and I hope to review those sections.

It gets easier when he gets to the 16th century and more familiar names, like Copernicus. He commends Copernicus for being bold enough to question Ptolemy and dedicated enough to collect the data and do the math to explain himself. Copernicus was not the first to do this, but his influences are difficult to trace directly, so he makes a legitimate starting point. These two traits combined are at the heart of science; being innovative and demonstrating truth. They also resonate with a Protestant ethic and progressive thinking and don’t get bogged down in language like “hypothesis” and “empiricism”.

History of Philosophy is not for everybody, but if either of those topics interest you, and you are not the intellectual equal of Bertrand Russell, you’ll find something here you like. If you are just starting out, you will have to work through it much slower, perhaps stopping to read something that is footnoted, but it is not so scholarly that you couldn’t eventually digest it.

FYI: I found this as free audio on the internet somewhere, but I don't have the link handy right now.
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