Historical Myths About Science

Scientists think they’re too objective to believe in something as folklore-ish as a myth. (Nicholas Spitzer)

The idea that being scientific simply means being irreligious is a particularly naive one. It has caused a lot of confusion and will get us nowhere.

(Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation: A Modern Myth and its Meaning)

Until about the 1970’s, the dominant narrative in the history of science had long been that of science triumphant, and science at war with religion. But a new generation of historians both of science and of the church began to examine episodes in the history of science and religion through the values and knowledge of the actors themselves. Now Ronald Numbers has recruited the leading scholars in this new history of science to puncture the myths, from Galileo’s incarceration to Darwin’s deathbed conversion to Einstein’s belief in a personal God who “didn’t play dice with the universe.” The picture of science and religion at each other’s throats persists in mainstream media and scholarly journals, but each chapter in Galileo Goes to Jail shows how much we have to gain by seeing beyond the myths. (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, edited by Ronald L. Numbers, Harvard University Press, 2010)

galileo goes to jail

  • Myth 1. That the Rise of Christianity Was Responsible for the Demise of Ancient Science [David C. Lindberg]
  • Myth 2. That the Medieval Christian Church Suppressed the Growth of Science [Michael H. Shank]
  • Myth 3. That Medieval Christians Taught That the Earth Was Flat [Lesley B. Cormack]
  • Myth 4. That Medieval Islamic Culture Was Inhospitable to Science [S. Nomanul Haq]
  • Myth 5. That the Medieval Church Prohibited Human Dissection [Katharine Park]
  • Myth 6. That the Copernican System Demoted Humans from the Center of the Cosmos [Dennis R. Danielson]
  • Myth 7. That Giordano Bruno Was the First Martyr of Modern Science [Jole Shackelford]
  • Myth 8. That Galileo Was Imprisoned and Tortured for Advocating Copernicanism [Maurice A. Finocchiaro]
  • Myth 9. That Christianity Gave Birth to Modern Science [Noah Efron]
  • Myth 10. That the Scientific Revolution Liberated Science from Religion [Margaret J. Osler]
  • Myth 11. That Catholics Did Not Contribute to the Scientific Revolution [Lawrence Principe]
  • Myth 12. That René Descartes Originated the Mind-Body Distinction [Peter Harrison]
  • Myth 13. That Isaac Newton’s Mechanistic Cosmology Eliminated the Need for God [Edward Davis]
  • Myth 14. That the Church Denounced Anesthesia in Childbirth on Biblical Grounds [Rennie B. Schoepflin]
  • Myth 15. That the Theory of Organic Evolution Is Based on Circular Reasoning [Nicolaas A. Rupke]
  • Myth 16. That Evolution Destroyed Charles Darwin’s Faith in Christianity—until He Reconverted on His Deathbed [James Moore]
  • Myth 17. That Huxley Defeated Wilberforce in Their Debate over Evolution and Religion [David N. Livingstone]
  • Myth 18. That Darwin Destroyed Natural Theology [Jon H. Roberts]
  • Myth 19. That Darwin and Haeckel Were Complicit in Nazi Biology [Robert J. Richards]
  • Myth 20. That the Scopes Trial Ended in Defeat for Antievolutionism [Edward J. Larson]
  • Myth 21. That Einstein Believed in a Personal God [Matthew Stanley]
  • Myth 22. That Quantum Physics Demonstrated the Doctrine of Free Will [Daniel P. Thurs]
  • Myth 23. That “Intelligent Design” Represents a Scientific Challenge to Evolution [Michael Ruse]
  • Myth 24. That Creationism Is a Uniquely American Phenomenon [Ronald L. Numbers]
  • Myth 25. That Modern Science Has Secularized Western Culture [John Hedley Brooke]

Newton's apple

A falling apple inspired Isaac Newton’s insight into the law of gravity—or so the story goes. Is it true? Perhaps not. But the more intriguing question is why such stories endure as explanations of how science happens. Newton’s Apple and Other Myths about Science brushes away popular misconceptions to provide a clearer picture of great scientific breakthroughs from ancient times to the present.

Among the myths refuted in this volume is the idea that no science was done in the Dark Ages, that alchemy and astrology were purely superstitious pursuits, that fear of public reaction alone led Darwin to delay publishing his theory of evolution, and that Gregor Mendel was far ahead of his time as a pioneer of genetics. Several twentieth-century myths about particle physics, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and more are discredited here as well. In addition, a number of broad generalizations about science go under the microscope of history: the notion that religion impeded science, that scientists typically adhere to a codified “scientific method,” and that a bright line can be drawn between legitimate science and pseudo-science. (Newton’s Apple and Other Myths about Science, edited by Ronald Numbers and Kostas Kampourakis, Harvard University Press, 2015)

  • I. Medieval and Early Modern Science
    • Myth 1. That There Was No Scientific Activity between Greek Antiquity and the Scientific Revolution [Michael H. Shank]
    • Myth 2. That before Columbus, Geographers and Other Educated People Thought the Earth Was Flat [Lesley B. Cormack]
    • Myth 3. That the Copernican Revolution Demoted the Status of the Earth [Michael N. Keas]
    • Myth 4. That Alchemy and Astrology Were Superstitious Pursuits That Did Not Contribute to Science and Scientific Understanding [Lawrence M. Principe]
    • Myth 5. That Galileo Publicly Refuted Aristotle’s Conclusions about Motion by Repeated Experiments Made from the Campanile of Pisa [John L. Heilbron]
    • Myth 6. That the Apple Fell and Newton Invented the Law of Gravity, Thus Removing God from the Cosmos [Patricia Fara]
  • II. Nineteenth Century
    • Myth 7. That Friedrich Wöhler’s Synthesis of Urea in 1828 Destroyed Vitalism and Gave Rise to Organic Chemistry [Peter J. Ramberg]
    • Myth 8. That William Paley Raised Scientific Questions about Biological Origins That Were Eventually Answered by Charles Darwin [Adam R. Shapiro]
    • Myth 9. That Nineteenth-Century Geologists Were Divided into Opposing Camps of Catastrophists and Uniformitarians [Julie Newell]
    • Myth 10. That Lamarckian Evolution Relied Largely on Use and Disuse and That Darwin Rejected Lamarckian Mechanisms [Richard W. Burkhardt Jr.]
    • Myth 11. That Darwin Worked on His Theory in Secret for Twenty Years, His Fears Causing Him to Delay Publication [Robert J. Richards]
    • Myth 12. That Wallace’s and Darwin’s Explanations of Evolution Were Virtually the Same [Michael Ruse]
    • Myth 13. That Darwinian Natural Selection Has Been “the Only Game in Town” [Nicolaas Rupke]
    • Myth 14. That after Darwin (1871), Sexual Selection Was Largely Ignored until Robert Trivers (1972) Resurrected the Theory [Erika Lorraine Milam]
    • Myth 15. That Louis Pasteur Disproved Spontaneous Generation on the Basis of Scientific Objectivity [Garland E. Allen]
    • Myth 16. That Gregor Mendel Was a Lonely Pioneer of Genetics, Being Ahead of His Time [Kostas Kampourakis]
    • Myth 17. That Social Darwinism Has Had a Profound Influence on Social Thought and Policy, Especially in the United States of America [Ronald L. Numbers]
  • III. Twentieth Century
    • Myth 18. That the Michelson-Morley Experiment Paved the Way for the Special Theory of Relativity [Theodore Arabatzis and Kostas Gavroglu]
    • Myth 19. That the Millikan Oil-Drop Experiment Was Simple and Straightforward [Mansoor Niaz]
    • Myth 20. That Neo-Darwinism Defines Evolution as Random Mutation Plus Natural Selection [David J. Depew]
    • Myth 21. That Melanism in Peppered Moths Is Not a Genuine Example of Evolution by Natural Selection [David W. Rudge]
    • Myth 22. That Linus Pauling’s Discovery of the Molecular Basis of Sickle-Cell Anemia Revolutionized Medical Practice [Bruno J. Strasser]
    • Myth 23. That the Soviet Launch of Sputnik Caused the Revamping of American Science Education [John L. Rudolph]
  • IV. Generalizations
    • Myth 24. That Religion Has Typically Impeded the Progress of Science [Peter Harrison]
    • Myth 25. That Science Has Been Largely a Solitary Enterprise [Kathryn M. Olesko]
    • Myth 26. That the Scientific Method Accurately Reflects What Scientists Actually Do [Daniel P. Thurs]
    • Myth 27. That a Clear Line of Demarcation Has Separated Science from Pseudoscience [Michael D. Gordin]

 

 

Un exercițiu de ”hermeneutică subversivă”

În fața unui status quo care înregimentează spiritele ”libere” în tipare ironic de stâmte și ciudat de identice, este o adevărată boemie azi să faci genealogia genealogiei, deconstrucția deconstrucției, să desfaci fundițele de pe șantierul arheologiilor de tot felul și să exersezi un audit celor care sunt obișnuiți doar să controleze pe alții. Desigur, trăim într-o epocă când probitatea și seriozitatea academică sunt persiflate de marii guralivi ai adevărurilor minuscule. Dar o dovadă de dragoste este să îngădui libertatea oricărui nebunii dar și să o pui la punct atunci când ai argumente. Depinde însă dacă urechile sunt dornice să asculte și altceva decât propriile micronarațiuni convenabile!

HGBJ-Cover

Un astfel de exercițiu de hermeneutică subversivă (sau să o punem în termenii ”ereziei ortodoxiei” ai lui Andreas J. Köstenberger, un teolog care îmi place din ce în ce mai mult în ultimul timp) este cartea How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature. A Response to Bart Ehrman scrisă de Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, Chris Tilling, Zondervan, 2014).

Iată doar o pre-gustare din conținutul acestei cărți.

Hawking vs. Einstein about Philosophy

How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of  of reality? where did all this come from? Did the universe need a Creator? (…) Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. It has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly in physics. As a result scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. (Stephen Hawking, Leornard Mlodinow, The Grand Design, Bantam Press, London, 2010, p. 5)

I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today, and even professional scientists, seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of hi generation from which most scientists are suffering. This  independence created by philosophical insight is, in my opinion, the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth. ( A. Einstein to R. A. Thornton, unpublished letter dated 7 December 1944 (EA 6-574), Einstein Archive, Hebrew University, Jerusalem cited by Don Howard, “Albert Einstein as Philosopher of Science”, Physics Today, December 2005, p. 34.)

Când religia e o otravă plină de ură …

People of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poison everything. (Ch. Hitchens, God is not Great. How Religion Poisons Everything, Twelve, first edition, 2007, p. 13)

La fel ca și sforăiturile dulcegi-amărui ale lui Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Russell, etc., discursul ideologic al lui Ch. Hitchens dă bine în semantica scriiturii, sucește mințile necoapte și instabile, acoperă stilistic ceva găuri existențiale – nu prea comfortabile, dar stă mai prost la evidențele empirice. Iată o dovadă de ”ură” a unor creștini egipteni care îi protejează pe conaționalii lor mulsumani la rugăciunea de seară, o poză ce umblă pe rețelele de socializare (nu știu însă dacă această poză e  luată din revoltele din februarie sau din noiembrie 2011).

Edwin Stratton’s photo of christians protecting muslims at prayer in Tahrir Square, Cairo

Viitorul demografic al religiei vs. al secularismului

Cei care citesc literatura secularismului radical cu siguranță că au auzit de expresia ”religia ca virus al minții”. Fiind un produs cognitiv evolutiv, religia are comportamentul unui virus, replicându-se, adaptându-se biologic asemenea virușilor, în beneficiul propriu și în detrimentul gazdei, al oamenilor infectați. Judecând dinamica religioasă în termenii bio-sociologiei evoluționiste, Michael Blume a constatat în  “The reproductive advantage of religion” avantajul demografic al multiplicării celor cu preferințe religioase (cu o medie de 2.5 copii pe familie) față de regresul demografic al celor ce nu au nicio religie (1.7 copii pe familie, sub rata de înnoire demografică).

Spre deosebire de îngrijorările unor experți ce vedeau configurându-se Eurabia în următorii 20 ani, în Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century (Profile Books, 2011) canadianul Eric Kaufmann vede pericolul pentru viitor nu neapărat în rata demografică a mulsumanilor, cât în cea a fundamentaliștilor religioși, net superioară față de regresul numeric al seculariștilor liberali și al ateilor (a căror credință va fi perpetuată – hm, sună a libertate și emancipare? – de doar 1,5 copii pe familie).  Despre criza secularismului triumfant am mai vorbit cu alte ocazii, invocând răzgândirile lui Peter Berger (Desecularizarea lumii) și Jürgen Habermas (Către o societate postseculară?)

”Managerialismul”, radicalismul secular și slăbiciunea relativismului epocii post-ideologice a Vestului sunt cauze care determină nevoile de identificare religioasă și de coagulare în jurul unui scop, sens, aceste nevoi fiind din ce în ce mai evidente și chiar radicalizate. Autorul avertizează că dincolo de lupta ideilor, s-ar părea că viitorul aparține demografiei.

(să trecem cu vederea naivități și simplificări generoase ale autorului precum ”liberals are simply too committed to the ideal of presentist individualism for themselves and tolerance for others”, xxii)

În acest context, putem să ne întrebăm dacă nu putem face o deviație de sens, operând cu meme religioase care sunt mai degrabă adaptative decât virale (un alt studiu arată că persoanele religioase sunt mai fericite și posibil chiar mai sănătoase decât seculariștii)? Alți psihologi evoluționiști au adunat destul de multe date experimentale pentru a explica succesul păstrării credințelor religioase datorită faptului că fac oamenii mai cooperativi și generoși unii cu alții (a se vedea de exemplul studiul The Birth of High Gods: How the cultural evolution of supernatural policing agents influenced the emergence of complex, cooperative human societies, paving the way for civilization. din M. Schaller, A. Norenzayan, S. Heine, T. Yamagishi, & T. Kameda (Eds.), Evolution, culture and the human mind (pp.117-136). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates) sau studiul Implicit influences of Christian religious representations on dictator and prisoner’s dilemma game decisions (Ali M. Ahmeda, Osvaldo Salasc, The Journal of Socio-Economics 40 (2011) 242-246).

S-ar părea că pe măsură ce tot mai multe date experimentale sunt culese (un punct de pornire îl reprezintă studiile de la Centre For Anthropology and Mind de la Universitatea Oxford sau Scilogs. Biology of Religion) vom avea o cunoaștere mai diferențiată, nuanțată, diferită de simplificările grosiere și dogmatice ale lui Dawkins, Harris sau Hitchens. Chiar și atunci când privim religia doar ca un fenomen pur socio-biologico-cognitiv, s-ar părea că ea prevalează în lupta de supraviețuire cu alte mecanisme cognitive  cam … impotente.