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Science In Islamic Countries 1289

biohack sends us to Physics Today for a thought-provoking article on the status of and prospects for science in Islamic countries. The author, a Pakistani physicist, posits that 'Internal causes led to the decline of Islam's scientific greatness long before the era of mercantile imperialism. To contribute once again, Muslims must be introspective and ask what went wrong.' The author makes a few strong conclusions, many of which are relevant to the general debate between science and religion. From the article: "Science finds every soil barren in which miracles are taken literally and seriously and revelation is considered to provide authentic knowledge of the physical world. If the scientific method is trashed, no amount of resources or loud declarations of intent to develop science can compensate. In those circumstances, scientific research becomes, at best, a kind of cataloging or 'butterfly-collecting' activity. It cannot be a creative process of genuine inquiry in which bold hypotheses are made and checked."
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Science In Islamic Countries

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  • by beckerist ( 985855 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:51PM (#20826833) Homepage
    While Charlemagne, [] an illiterate barbarian was converting the masses to Christianity (and brutally, I might add,) Middle Eastern doctors were actually successfully performing neurosurgery. [] Just thought I'd throw in my 2 least I learned something for the student loans I still owe!
  • Re:Economics (Score:4, Informative)

    by nuzak ( 959558 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:56PM (#20826895) Journal
    > Many good scientific have been religious in some form ot believe in god: Newton, Einstein, Bohr, etc.

    Newton also believed in alchemy. Newton was a freaky little nut.

    Einstein was a pantheist, and specifically rejected the idea of an anthropomorphic god that intervenes directly in the universe.

    No idea about Bohr.
  • Re:The Arab World... (Score:2, Informative)

    by goldspider ( 445116 ) <> on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:58PM (#20826937) Homepage
    I would not be surprised. However Spain was conquered only a short time after the founding of Islam, so one could argue that most (if not all) of the knowledge brought to Spain by the conquering Muslims was discovered before Muhammad's time.
  • by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:58PM (#20826941)
    I believe he is referring to the 17th and 18th century European pre Darwinian 'scientific' approach (there were of course no scientists then, the name didn't exist), which was to catalog and classify, but not to investigate how or why things were the way they were.

    (dates may not be perfect).
  • Re:The Arab World... (Score:4, Informative)

    by mikael ( 484 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:59PM (#20826947)
    Wikipedia has information on . []

    One reason for the scientific decline can be traced back to the 10th century, when the orthodox school of Ash'ari theology challenged the more rational school of Mu'tazili theology. Other reasons include conflicts between the Sunni and Shia Muslims, and invasions by Crusaders and Mongols on Islamic lands between the 11th and 13th centuries, especially the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. The Mongols destroyed Muslim libraries, observatories, hospitals, and universities, culminating in the destruction of Baghdad, the Abbasid capital and intellectual centre, in 1258, which marked end of the Islamic Golden Age.[20]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:01PM (#20826973)
    At my school, there is no shortage of Islamic scientists and engineers. As far as I can tell, they are as competent as anyone else.

    The problem seems to be the country the scientist is operating in rather than the religion of the individual scientists. In that respect, most other countries don't do as well as the US of A. So, the fact that Islamic countries don't do as well as us doesn't make them different than most other countries. We could just as well ask: Why don't the European countries produce the quantity and quality of research that America does?

    PS. I am in no way trying to defend certain countries that are way beyond defending. I have no axe to grind and am merely making an observation. Some of my best friends are Muslim, etc. etc.
  • by SengirV ( 203400 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:06PM (#20827045)
    Yeah, yeah, I know. But this is the most concise summary. FACTS can be found elsewhere - []

    The Incoherence also marked a turning point in Islamic philosophy in its vehement rejections of Aristotle and Plato. The book took aim at the falasifa, a loosely defined group of Islamic philosophers from the 8th through the 11th centuries (most notable among them Avicenna and Al-Farabi) who drew intellectually upon the Ancient Greeks. Ghazali bitterly denounced Aristotle, Socrates and other Greek writers as non-believers and labeled those who employed their methods and ideas as corrupters of the Islamic faith.

    Thanks to Al-Ghazali, REAL science has been anathema to Islam for almost a thousand years.
  • Re:freedom of speech (Score:3, Informative)

    by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:07PM (#20827055) Journal
    Both islamic and stalinist countries violently suppress free speech, consequently having almost no scientific breakthrough.

    I was about to give a counterexample, but you did it for me. The Soviet Union -- a Stalinist society, had several significant scientific breathroughs: independent discovery of the atom bomb, first orbital probe, first pictures of the far side of the moon, etc.

    Anti-free speech societies can have technological progress, as long as they "cut it out, when the truth starts to matter"[1]. The Soviet Union gives an excellect contrast for "selective rationality": while the public could be kept from revolting, even with Lysenko-driven [] agriculture, getting the a-bomb and into space was "too important" to let adherence to Marxist ideas about quantum theory or the superiority of communist organizational methods get in the way.

    (Great discussion of this in the recent release, The Myth of the Rational Voter by Bryan Caplan, btw.)

    [1]This is great advice too: "What do you believe, when being wrong has consequences? Why don't you believe that now?"
  • by aneeshm ( 862723 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:08PM (#20827079)
    When the author mentions the "extreme Hindu group", he misquotes its name as the "Vishnu Hindu Parishad". It's correct name is the "Vishwa Hindu Parishad".

    Also, as far as I am aware, it has not asked for the ethnic cleansing of anybody, though many of its members are of a very extreme bent, and may well hold such opinions.

    Thirdly, they have also not, to my knowledge, ever acted to block any piece of scientific research. It's an organisation concerned mostly with the social aspects of religion, and they don't bother with what goes on in the laboratories.

    Probably the only thing they care about in regard to science and research is that we have bigger and better nukes than the Pakistanis.
  • Re:Economics (Score:5, Informative)

    by Beetle B. ( 516615 ) <> on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:10PM (#20827107)
    Yes, but if you actually read the article, the author dispels the "lack of resources" argument. To address your specific point, the average person in the oil rich countries is well enough off to afford a good education. Yet those countries' output pales in comparison to much poorer places around the world.

    Frankly, I think the author is tackling too much at once. Life in Malaysia is very different from that in Pakistan, which is very different from that in Iran, which is very different from that in Saudi Arabia, which is very different from that in Turkey. It'll be hard to find unifying reasons that apply well to all those countries. Each country has different reasons for their lack of scientific output.
  • by Beetle B. ( 516615 ) <> on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:12PM (#20827151)
    And Charlemagne lived when? And the article is talking about when? (Hint: 20th and 21st what?).
  • Re:freedom of speech (Score:5, Informative)

    by gowen ( 141411 ) <> on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:12PM (#20827155) Homepage Journal
    Really? Stalin's Soviet Union launched the first satellite, and put the first man in space. Under Stalin's rule, Cerenkov and Tamm won the 1958 Nobel Prize for Physics, as did Landau in 1962 for work carried out under Stalin, and Basov and Prokhorov in 1964.

    Stalin was an evil murdering bastard, but to suggest that Soviet physical scientists were prevented from doing good work under his reign is just claptrap. Even under Stalin, scientific free thought was encouraged, it was economic and political free thought that was curtailed. You'll notice they didn't win many Nobel prizes for Economics over that time, and their most notable literary laureate (Pasternak) turned it down out of fear of his government.

    Communists have dogma that infringes artistic and economic thought, but it requires a fundamentalist theist to have dogma that infringes scientific thought.
  • Re:The Arab World... (Score:4, Informative)

    by ianare ( 1132971 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:13PM (#20827157)
    False. Islam was already well established when the arabic world was more advanced then the europeans. When the christians were burning roman and greek science (philosophy, medicine, etc) books, the muslims were preserving them in great libraries. Similarly for greek and roman art, the christians destroyed countless statues, the muslims decorated their palaces with them. They also created their own art, music, poetry, architecture, some of the most beautiful things ever created by man. They made advancedments in medicine, mathematics (we get our number system from them), philosophy, even early forms of robotics. Later, the ottomans were one of the most powerful and technologically advanced empires the world has ever seen, yet they allowed their people to keep their local customs and religions.

    further reading []

    BTW, I am a staunch supporter of atheism, and while I do think all religions in essence, are bullshit, it doesn't mean that great things can't come from them, or at the very least, despite them.
  • Re:freedom of speech (Score:5, Informative)

    by cartman ( 18204 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:17PM (#20827215)

    independent discovery of the atom bomb, first orbital probe, first pictures of the far side of the moon, etc.

    Although the Soviet Union had many important scientific discoveries, the independent discovery of the atom bomb wasn't among them. The soviets made their first atom bomb by stealing US designs through espionage. The earliest soviet bombs closely resembled early US bombs.

  • Bernard Lewis (Score:4, Informative)

    by Saint Stephen ( 19450 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:20PM (#20827251) Homepage Journal
    Bernard Lewis wrote a book "What Went Wrong?" which described precisely (in his opinion) how Islam became the backward group when during the Dark Ages they were the advanced group and Europeans were the backwards ones.

    After the Muslims started to lose battles to Vienna, one of the caliphates ordered his advisors to come up with a report on why they were losing. The two reasons given were (1) The Mullahs refused to allow "new" science to be researched, Muslim science was pretty much based on Greek science and they considered all the major problems solved and (2) not using 50% of their resources (women).
  • by TheNarrator ( 200498 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:38PM (#20827551)
    Baghdad was the center of Islamic learning and sciences. It was utterly destroyed by Ghenghis Kahn []

    Many historical accounts detailed the cruelties of the Mongol conquerors.

            * The Grand Library of Baghdad, containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects ranging from medicine to astronomy, was destroyed. Survivors said that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river.

            * The Mongols looted and then destroyed mosques, palaces, libraries, and hospitals--grand buildings that had been the work of generations--were burned to the ground.

    Baghdad was a depopulated, ruined city for several centuries and only gradually recovered some of its former glory.

    "Iraq in 1258 was very different from present day Iraq. Its agriculture was supported by a canal network thousands of years old. Baghdad was one of the most brilliant intellectual centers in the world. The Mongol destruction of Baghdad was a psychological blow from which Islam never recovered. Already Islam was turning inward, becoming more suspicious of conflicts between faith and reason and more conservative. With the sack of Baghdad, the intellectual flowering of Islam was snuffed out. Imagining the Athens of Pericles and Aristotle obliterated by a nuclear weapon begins to suggest the enormity of the blow. The Mongols filled in the irrigation canals and left Iraq too depopulated to restore them." (Steven Dutch)
  • by apparently ( 756613 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:46PM (#20827655)
    No, they just blow up abortion clinics, but somehow, that's not labeled "terrorism".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:13PM (#20828113)

    "(we get our number system from them)"

    According to your same source:
    Wikipedia on Arabic Numerals []

    "These numeral glyphs ultimately derive from the Brahmi numerals, which arose in Maurya period India.[1][2] They were transmitted first to West Asia, where they find mention in the 9th century, and eventually to Europe in the 10th century.[1] Since knowledge of the numerals reached Europe through the work of Arab and Persian mathematicians and astronomers, the numerals came to be called "Arabic numerals." In the Arabic language itself, the Eastern Arabic numerals are called "Indian numerals," , (arqam hindiyyah) and a different set of symbols are used as numerals."

  • by TemporalBeing ( 803363 ) <> on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:15PM (#20828149) Homepage Journal

    I believe he is referring to the 17th and 18th century European pre Darwinian 'scientific' approach (there were of course no scientists then, the name didn't exist), which was to catalog and classify, but not to investigate how or why things were the way they were.
    You mean the scientific method [] pioneered by 5th Century B.C. Ancient Greece, and others []?

    The same on used and improved by Galileo [], Copernicus [], Francis Bacon [], or even Da Vinci []?

    (Yes, some of them lived into the 1600's, and those that did were about 40 yrs old in 1600 at that - all were born before the 1600's, if not earlier.)
  • Re:The Arab World... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Fulcrum of Evil ( 560260 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:31PM (#20828393)
    Funny, what I've heard is that the rennaissance was started by the rulers in italy allowing people to keep most of the fruits of their labor.
  • by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:32PM (#20828405) Journal

    I haven't read al-Ghazali, but I have read quite a bit of al-Farabi. He seems to have made a valiant, though ultimately doomed, effort to justify philosophical inquiry in the face of Islam. If you're interested in reading some of his more accessible work, the "Book of Religion" (Kitaab al-Milla) is a good place to start. Very little of the literature from this time period is widely read, yet some of it is fascinating - I have several books in a (as yet unpublished, I believe) series on the origins of cryptology in the medieval Arabic world.

    Interestingly, ibn Rushd, known as Averroes in the West, wrote a reply to al-Ghazali's "Incoherence of the Philosophers" entitled "Incoherence of the Incoherence."

  • by Trifthen ( 40989 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:45PM (#20828637) Homepage
    Who modded this insightful?

    The whole God Damn point of the article and the scientist's questioning, is that Islam once contributed to a golden age of human progress, and now actively campaigns against such endeavors. The scientist wonders—as well he should—why this is the case. It's even in the first stanza, for Christ's sake. From TFA:

    Internal causes led to the decline of Islam's scientific greatness long before the era of mercantile imperialism. To contribute once again, Muslims must be introspective and ask what went wrong.

    Directly to the grandparent's point, it only proves just how far Islam has fallen from greatness, and how ahead everyone could have been, save for the whim of religious interpretation. From neurosurgery way back in the 13th century to outright intellectual intolerance and xenophobia currently? That's pretty damning, especially if you're an Islamic scientist trying to reverse the trend. In order to understand how to affect a renaissance, one must learn the history of the opposition, and in this case, seven hundred years of strict interpretation of Islam is significant, even now.

    God Damn lazy mods.
  • Re:The Arab World... (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:47PM (#20828667)
    Check your facts. The Muslims acquired most of their scientific knowledge from prior cultures in the region, and through trade. For example, "arabic" numerals originated in India (see []), but were referred to as "arabic" since that's where the Europeans learned about them. The Muslims selectively translated ancient and contemporary texts into arabic. Here's a good article about science under Islam: [].

    It's not surprising that Muslims have not contributed much to science. You see, the Quran says that independent thought is not allowed:

    It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision." Quran [33:36]

    If you want to know the truth about Islam, find out for yourself: [].
  • by toddhisattva ( 127032 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:50PM (#20828713) Homepage

    No, they just blow up abortion clinics, but somehow, that's not labeled "terrorism".

    It most certainly is terrorism, and is treated as such, even by President Bush's FBI []:

    "A Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested and charged a 27-year-old for allegedly planting a bomb at a women's health clinic in South Austin that performs abortion procedures."

    There's no telling who he could have hurt or killed with his bomb. The mailman. The utility meter reader. Someone on the bomb squad cleaning up his mess. I-35 was partially closed, increasing traffic danger.

    It is for jackasses like this that the death penalty must remain.

  • by metlin ( 258108 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:53PM (#20828759) Journal
    Actually, that numeric system was not invented by the Arabs.

    They originally evolved in India as the Hindu-Arabic Numeral system [] and were borrowed and spread by the Arabs.

    They are derived from the decimal Indian numeral [] system.
  • Re:freedom of speech (Score:4, Informative)

    by alan_dershowitz ( 586542 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:55PM (#20828821)
    Even under Stalin, scientific free thought was encouraged[...]

    This is TOTALLY FALSE. First of all, you need to look up Lysenkoism [].

    but to suggest that Soviet physical scientists were prevented from doing good work under his reign is just claptrap.

    Scientists were hated by politicians and because of their advanced knowledge were by default suspected of being a dangerous spy risk. It was almost impossible to do most tasks because work was broken up for security reasons so that no one could know fully what they were working on. Scientists working on secret projects were kept in distant Siberian outposts and treated nearly identically to political and criminal exiles. Scientists were routinely prevented from travelling overseas to important scientific conferences and as a matter of course were obligated to deny all politically inconvenient scientific discoveries made by state enemies.

    That any science was accomplished at all during the majority of the Soviet era is a testament to the amazing people actually doing it, the Soviet system was actively against them.
  • Re:interesting (Score:1, Informative)

    by lumber_13 ( 937323 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:55PM (#20828823)
    Top 10 islamic countries by population 1 Indonesia 207,000,105 (Good educational system, republic) 2 Pakistan 159,799,666 (OK educational system, islamic state) 3 India 151,402,065 (Good educational system, republic) 4 Bangladesh 124,872,121(OK educational system, islamic state) 5 Egypt 70,530,237 (OK educational system, islamic state) 6 Turkey 68,963,953 (Good educational system, republic) 7 Nigeria 64,385,994 (OK educational system, republic) 8 Iran 64,089,571 (good educational system, republic ??) 9 Algeria 32,999,883 (OK educational system, republic) 10 Morocco 32,300,410 (OK educational system, ??) If you are talking about Saudi/Afgan, then they are not major islamic states, population wise. where "clerics, mullahs, and religious scholars" are in charge
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @05:07PM (#20829047)
    >Also, no mainstream Christian church exists in the harsh climate--
    > both social and environmental--of the middle east.

    You are not only an idiot but a clueless moron who has to share his stupidity with the world.

    >Then the Catholic Church happened

    I would suggest you maybe looking into 'how it happened', the origins of christianity, the power play by Rome which resulted in the pillages of the crusades which by the way destroyed more christian cities than muslim (see all the loot the romans took pillaging Constantinople and the subsequent reasoning by Pope Innocent for attacking christians).

    Rome was a part of an open source organization, didnt want to have to deal with community debates and decided to fork their own way into the proprietary world. Later, they tried to destroy their competition.

    Its really like tech.
  • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @05:19PM (#20829269)
    So? There have been atheists who have killed because someone [] proclaimed belief in God. Big deal, they were isolated incidents. Individual loonies don't reflect upon the group as a whole, so quit slinging the strawmen. When I see a large, organized group attacking abortion clinics, then you'll have a point.
    And who, might I ask, doesn't consider bombing abortion clinics terrorism or some other temr along those lines?
  • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @05:22PM (#20829299) Homepage
    > Really, it's interesting to watch judeochristians begrudge the muslim world one good crusade.

    They had at least "one good crusade".

    That's why North Africa and Asia Minor is muslim to begin with.

    Islam started out by trying to convert the rest of the world at the end of a sword. This aspect of Islam tends to be conveniently forgotten. There's a REASON that there's historical animosity between the east and west.
  • by ejtttje ( 673126 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @05:37PM (#20829529) Homepage

    it led those who believed in it to survival where those who believed differently are no longer with us
    Oh, I'd say quite the opposite is often true. Religious and superstitious people tend to believe in all kinds of crazy notions, such as refusing medical care, or "honor" killings, which tend to reduce their fertility. On the other hand, (successful) religions tend to preach for large families and against birth control, which can balance this evolutionary pressure. So it's far from clear which way the species might be evolving on the whole.

    But regardless of the direction our species is heading, animals have been shown to form superstitions [1]. You are correct this is a characteristic of learning systems, as we are all born ignorant and must learn about the world, but it's essentially a primitive bug of overfitting random data, far from a "survival mechanism".

    At best religion is a coping and approximation technique, at worst it's simply lazy and weak minded. As people become affluent, religion becomes more and more an indication of the latter.

    [1] []
  • by Gruuk ( 18480 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @05:44PM (#20829619)
    In the same wikipedia article about Charlemagne, there is this gem in the Education reforms [] section:

    "His reign and the era it ushered in are often referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance because of the flowering of scholarship, literature, art, and architecture which characterise it"

    True, while he was hardly what anyone in this day and age would call "nice" ("brutal" would probably be more accurate), he seems to have done a lot with regards to knowledge, culture and art while he reigned. Not bad for an illiterate barbarian.

    Ooops, did I say illiterate? (from the same article):

    "Charlemagne took a serious interest in his and others' scholarship and had learned to read in his adulthood, although he never quite learned how to write, he used to keep a slate and stylus underneath his pillow, according to Einhard. His handwriting was bad, from which grew the legend that he could not write. Even learning to read was quite an achievement for kings at this time, most of whom were illiterate."

  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @06:11PM (#20830029)

    Q: Why did the Catholic church accept the divinity of Mary in the middle of the 20th century?
    A: Catholicism wasn't taking hold in Latin America, where people were unwilling to give up their earth mother goddess.

    Is this an attempt to respond in kind to misconceptions? First, the Catholic Church has never accepted a doctrine of "the divinity of Mary". There are several Catholic dogmas regarding Mary, none of which originated in the 20th Century. What did happen in the middle of the 20th Century was that the existing doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary [] was declared to be a dogma of the Church, as the Immaculate Conception [] had been in 1854. Neither of these was new to general acceptance in the Church when declared as dogma.

    I think the Christian leaders aren't too keen on proper education, given their stance on evolution.

    "Christian leaders" don't have anything like a general "stance on evolution". Modern American Protestant Fundamentalist leaders of the political Right might, but that's a far different and narrower group than "Christian leaders".

  • by Eli Gottlieb ( 917758 ) <> on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @06:46PM (#20830471) Homepage Journal
    To confirm his words, Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians used the word "Allah" to refer to their own gods. It's just like saying "God" in English -- it can refer to whoever you speak of.
  • Nonsense. (Score:5, Informative)

    by jotaeleemeese ( 303437 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @08:35PM (#20831637) Homepage Journal
    Mexico (the country from which most immigrants to the US come) has separated church and state for 140 years.

    In Mexico, unlike in the US, you don't pray in public schools where religious symbols are forbidden, all public servants swear their charges using the Mexican constitution, not the Bible, and many women ignore advice from the Pope regarding contraception (the Pope will not provide for my unwanted children - they say wisely).

    Most Mexicans are catholic alright, but we have learned to live and let live, so your fears are unfounded (if anything, the exaggerated religiosity in the US may erode such healthy attitudes towards religion from Hispanic immigrants).

  • Re:The Arab World... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @08:49PM (#20831733)
    Wrong. Algebra was incorrectly attributed to Muslim scholars. The Hindus contributed to math and our number system. The so-called Arabic numerals were derived from Brahmi numerals. A Persian mathematician known as Al-Khwarizmi wrote a book called On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals. A lot of great Muslim scholars were actually thought of as heretics (that means, they actually contribute something in spite of Islam).

    Muslims also consider depictions of people and animals haram. They destroyed the pagan statues in Kabaa when they took over.

    Letting people keep their local custom and religion? Sure, only if they agree to pay jizyah and live as third class citizens (Muslim males first, muslimahs second and then us infidels). Have you ever heard of the Armenian Genocide? Yupe, over a million Armenians were slaughtered by the Ottoman Empire that you admire so much. That was a blueprint used by Hitler to massacre Jews.
  • by krycheq ( 836359 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @09:21PM (#20831947)
    That's a pretty interesting viewpoint, but really... the Church didn't move to Europe... it got moved by the Roman Empire. The spread of Christianity became continental because the Romans thought that through suppression on the continent, they could keep Christianity at arms-length, in the provinces. So they rounded up the ring-leaders, dragged them off to Rome, and killed them. Along the way, they converted more followers (Roman citizens like Paul were entitled to due-process so they got busy while they were in prison), and the religion ended up spreading on the continent in-spite of their efforts.

    I will agree with you that the conquering of the Americas was horrific, but come on... if you really believe the conquering of North and South America was exclusively about religion, you're wearing a really dark pair of rose-colored glasses and you've chosen to completely ignore lots of facts that have little or nothing to do with Christianity outside of European's political leaders' leveraging of the Church as a way to hold and grow their political power as they systematically conquered the native peoples of America. Thus:

    1. Temporal power in Europe was often linked to spiritual power. Ecclesiastical careers for lesser sons from powerful families was very prevalent... this was done pragmatically to ensure multiple success factors for these family's well-being and economic growth. So as these families became involved in the economic affairs of the colonies, their ecclesiastic children followed along to ensure the family business, as well as perform their evangelical duties.

    2. The English colonial movement was driven mainly by the Hudson Bay and other English mercantile-based trading companies, not by the Church of England, "the pilgrims" or any other non-secular organization. That's not to say that these folks weren't God-fearing, church-going, people, but rather that the Church was not out to convert the native peoples of America as far as the English were concerned.

    3. Spanish efforts to colonize the Americas were driven by Evangelical Catholics like Queen Isabella, but also by the tremendous desire to unify Spain and consolidate her power through the acquisition of wealth and territories. This was at least as much a Spanish national movement as it was a Catholic church movement and was critical to Spain's economic and national survival.

    4. French and Portuguese efforts were also minimally based in religious motives, but that was mainly seconded by their own rabid designs on colonial expansion as well as continental motives (such as support of the American rebellion in 1776 against England... their loss was France's gain, even as an Monarchical power, before the French Revolution) to grow control and influence over European affairs... expanding the Catholic church was not primary on the agenda, and at best, a side-benefit.

    In summary, the conquering of the Americas was about big money, imperialism, and economic colonialism, and at best (worst) the Church was along for the ride. Just because some of the imperial families of Europe decided to wrap up parts of it in religion didn't make it a religious action in any way. To suggest that is totally revisionist and has little basis in fact outside of some really sorry events that are mostly sensationalized and out of context with regards to the political climate and the church's real role in the whole affair.

    The Catholic church just acted as another focal point of power and politics during the whole sorry situation and ended up being blamed for implementation of policies built by the rulers that enabled the subjugation of the native peoples. It was primarily being driven by mercantile motives and mercantile-based people/families behind the scenes.
  • by jstott ( 212041 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @10:08PM (#20832299)

    Q: Why did the Catholic church accept the divinity of Mary in the middle of the 20th century? A: Catholicism wasn't taking hold in Latin America, where people were unwilling to give up their earth mother goddess.

    The Catholic church, does not, has not, and never will accept the divinity of Mary. According to the Catholic Church, Mary is a human being []. Period. Full stop.

    The most (only?) significant statement about Mary the Church made in the middle of the 20th century was the declaration by Pope Pius XII that, at the end of her life, Mary was bodily assumed into heaven [] by the grace of God. This, BTW, was the second of only two ex cathedra [] statements ever made by a pope and reflected a Christian tradition going back more than 1500 years. It also has absolutely nothing to do with a supposed divinity of Mary.


  • Re:No surprise (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @02:29AM (#20833849)
    I highly doubt that Christianity was the catalyst. Something or other propelled the men (mostly clergy men since mostly they were the literate ones) of Europe at the time to scientific inquiries, and couching it in pious manner such that the Church (at least initially) encouraged it, cuz, you know, good chunk of them are practically useful knowledge. Likely the similar social phenomenon during Islam's heyday. I mean, the Christianity didn't do squat for European science during the middle age, did it.
  • Re:Challenge this (Score:3, Informative)

    by sasami ( 158671 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:48PM (#20839271)

    I've heard this argument from my Christian friends, that at the bottom of rational thought lies some faith, but it's really messy, slippery-slope argument. Pretty soon you invoke Nietzsche, and then ultimately, Hume.

    Not necessarily. Only certain premises degenerate into Nietzsche and Hume. Perhaps the argument wasn't presented well. In fact, I hesitate even call it an argument, since it's really just elementary epistemology. It's more like a clarification of terms, particularly the English word "faith," which carries too many conflicting definitions to be of any use in a proper argument. Here's the way I usually formulate it:

    Let's start with the term "axiom" instead.

    I think it would be hard to disagree that "at the bottom of rational thought" lies a set of axioms. The very laws of reason obviously form part of this axiom system, for instance, as well as certain axioms of mathematics. Axioms may be either unproven or unprovable, but that doesn't prevent them from being true. The best nontrivial example is the axiom that the Universe exists. Does that sound silly? Let us rephrase it, then: the Universe, rather than the Matrix, exists. This is a rigorously unprovable proposition, yet nobody would be considered irrational for believing it.

    How, then, should we choose between axiom systems? There are a good number of plausible axiom systems, yet we know that only one (or zero) of them can be correct. Humean skepticism would have us regard this whole exercise as either subjective or contingent, but I see no reason to agree since we're dealing with propositions that are quite capable of being known. As philosopher Dallas Willard has remarked: you can't just believe your doubts and doubt your beliefs, sometimes you have to doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs. In other words,

    • Faith is the choice between plausible axioms.

    This is not blind faith, but a rational commitment to an unprovable truth -- it begins as judgment call and ends as confident principle. Incidentally, this is exactly the definition used in the Bible -- and not any of the other outrageously irrational definitions that are attached to the word "faith." Frankly, I'd rather get rid of the word entirely and use, say, "conviction" instead. (Note that this definition cuts two ways: (1) it exposes the countless polemics against "faith" [] as strawmen of the highly-uninformed variety, and (2) it exposes countless Christians as being of the highly-uninformed variety also.)

    Indeed, we can expand the definition to be even more useful:

    • Conviction is the choice between plausible alternatives.

    Such beliefs are therefore entirely rational, even in the face of significant uncertainty. For instance, consider the proposition "P != NP" []. There are many good reasons to think this is true, along with some good reasons to think it isn't. Someday we may find out, but for now, I choose to believe that P != NP, and therefore trust RSA encryption. This is not a strong conviction, but it is nevertheless a conviction. Others may choose to believe that P == NP, and therefore RSA could be devastated at any moment.

    Of course, you can probably see where this is going:

    • God is an axiom.

    I happen to think it is rather baldly obvious that this is a valid position. The stereotype of a "rational," "intelligent," "educated" person is one who is committed to certain axioms, such as the reliability of logic and the existence of the universe -- but not other axioms, such as the existence of God. This is an arbitrary cultural bias, and has nothing to do with being rational, intelligent, or educated.

    We can develop this part more technically, if you are interest

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