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Yes, really

Yet another critic of Cosmos speaks out on Giordano Bruno. This time it’s Andrew Sullivan, who first complains about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “style”, calls him intrusive and silly, and then gets to the real complaint: he dissed the Catholic Church.

David Sessions pans it. The segment previewed above is on the 16th century priest and philosopher Giordano Bruno, which includes deGrasse Tyson intoning that the Roman Catholic Church sought to “investigate and torment anyone who voiced views that differed from theirs”. Really?

Yes, really. I call the Inquisition and the fact that they’re setting people on fire supportive evidence for that contention. Investigation, torment, and execution. That’s what the Inquisition did, enforced church dogma.

So he cites this Sessions fellow. It doesn’t really help his case.

Bruno’s conflict with the Catholic Church was theological, not scientific, even if it did involve his wild—and occasionally correct—guesses about the universe. As Discover magazine’s Corey Powell pointed out, the philosophers of the 16th century weren’t anything like scientists in the modern sense. Bruno, for instance, was a “pandeist,” which is the belief that God had transformed himself into all matter and ceased to exist as a distinct entity in himself. He believed in all sort of magic and spirits, and extrapolated those views far beyond his ideas about the infinity of the universe. In contrast to contemporaries who drew more modest conclusions from their similar ideas, Bruno agitated for an elaborate counter-theology, and was (unlike the poor, humble outcast portrayed in Cosmos) supported by powerful royal benefactors. The church didn’t even have a position on whether the Earth orbited the sun, and didn’t bring it up at Bruno’s trial. While the early-modern religious persecution certainly can’t be denied, Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress all “freedom of thought.”

How is killing someone for denying the faith not an attempt by religious authorities to suppress freedom of thought?

He then goes on to argue against treating Bruno as a martyr for science…despite the fact that Tyson never claimed he was a scientist, and clearly said he was not a scientist.

I guess facts and evidence are irrelevant when you’re busy Defending the Faith.

Comments

  1. A. Noyd says

    How is killing someone for denying the faith not an attempt by religious authorities to suppress freedom of thought?

    It’s a distinction like the one between “ex-Muslims” and “ex-Muslim extremists” that Ophelia was talking about a few days ago on B&W.

  2. jblumenfeld says

    Yeah, I like Andrew – but he has become almost unreadable when the topic strays anywhere near religion. When I read the post PZ is referencing my eyes rolled so hard I nearly went blind.

  3. CJO says

    The scare quotes say it all. There really is no such thing in his mind as freedom of thought.

  4. Nick Gotts says

    How is killing someone for denying the faith not an attempt by religious authorities to suppress freedom of thought? – PZM

    Ah, but it wasn’t suppression of all freedom of thought: you were free to think anything you liked, so long as it didn’t offend the Church!

  5. screechymonkey says

    “killing someone for denying the faith”

    Or, as Bill Donohue likes to call it, “the good old days.”

  6. consciousness razor says

    The segment previewed above is on the 16th century priest and philosopher Giordano Bruno, which includes deGrasse Tyson intoning that the Roman Catholic Church sought to “investigate and torment anyone who voiced views that differed from theirs”. Really?

    Looks like somebody has a case of not expecting the Inquisition.

  7. Michael says

    Does Sessions’s argument seem incoherent? That’s because what he claims to be arguing against (inaccuracies! such historical inaccuracies!) isn’t what he’s actually arguing against–he even admits that “misunderstanding the story of Bruno isn’t going to do a whole lot of harm”.

    He gives the game away in his last two sentences, where, he claims, the story of Bruno “reminds us … that our attempts to explain and master the world are always, at some level, an illusion. Cosmos is a grand tour of the amazing things we’ve figured out about the world, and it should also be a reminder of how many more remain unfathomable mysteries.” Note those “reminds/reminder”: Gosh, these are just simple truths of which we need to be reminded! Science’s ability to “explain and master” the world is illusory, and the point of Cosmos should be to tell us that some things we (meaning science) will never be able to explain!

    IOW, his problem is that a popular science entertainment has a scientific worldview.

  8. Menyambal says

    He was free to think anything he wanted, as long as he kept his damned mouth shut about it. It was denying that the Church was right that was wrong, he was free to just think it.

    Denying sounds like he just failed to agree quickly enough. The church asked him if it was right, and he must have said no. It doesn’t say that he claimed the church was wrong, he just denied it.

    Flamboyantly? Like in a satin robe, funny hat, and red Prada slippers?

  9. consciousness razor says

    Ah, but it wasn’t suppression of all freedom of thought: you were free to think anything you liked, so long as it didn’t offend the Church!

    And, presumably, as long as it isn’t done flamboyantly. So it’s totally true, PZ. You just have to remember to read it as the trivial, pedantic sophistry that it is — not as being about anything relevant.

  10. Al Dente says

    Bruno could think whatever he wanted. As long as he kept his thoughts private the Church couldn’t care less. It was expressing those thoughts to others which got him in trouble.

  11. says

    Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress all “freedom of thought.”

    How do you even argue with someone who says that with a straight face? He’s pretty much satirizing himself!

  12. scienceavenger says

    “You have the right
    to free speech
    So long as
    You’re not dumb enough to actually try it”

    – the Clash, 1983

  13. moarscienceplz says

    How is killing someone for denying the faith not an attempt by religious authorities to suppress freedom of thought?

    Oh, easy peasy: You have the right to think anything you want – as long as you never ever tell those thoughts to another person.

  14. Clemens Adolphs says

    It’s funny how their defense misses the emphasis. We complain that the church tortured and executed Giordani for xyz, and the apologists focus entirely on nitpicking over what exactly xyz was.

    It’s like when you say “The story of Jonah is so stupid, you can’t survive three days in the belly of a fish” and the apologists say “well it wasn’t a fish, it was a whale, they are mammals”.

  15. moarscienceplz says

    He [Bruno] believed in all sort of magic and spirits, and extrapolated those views far beyond his ideas about the infinity of the universe.

    As opposed to, say, Mr. Sullivan, who only believes things that are rationally supported. Right? Right?

  16. moarscienceplz says

    @#14 Clemens Adolphs

    Your point is valid, but in fact the Bible does say “fish”, not “whale”. (Jonah 1:17)

  17. says

    I’m starting to think the choice of Bruno was really brilliant. Like some kind of Judo where NDT put them off-balance without even touching them.

  18. says

    Sullivan’s a clear-headed chap and writes very well – but mention the Catholic Church and all of a sudden a blind spot appears, forcing him off the rails, through the Scary Door and into some twilight zone where even the Vatican’s greatest and most fucking obvious crimes against humanity are to be elided and minimised. When it comes to the faith he was marinated in he stumbles about with his arms full of clumsy apologetics – just like recent Pharyngutroll John A, except with a better grasp of how words actually work.

    Sullivan: religion – especially your religion – is your major weak spot when it comes to your writing. You’re better off avoiding the topic altogether if you can’t keep your shit together in response to people’s legitimate complaints.

  19. says

    [Bruno] believed in all sort of magic and spirits, and extrapolated those views far beyond his ideas about the infinity of the universe.

    What a nutter butter! Anyway, back to praying to Mary and the saints to intercede for me to Jesus, to ask him to give me insight into how God guided the Big Bang and the evolution of life on Earth. Y’know….serious stuff.

  20. zenlike says

    Hmm, seems like David Sessions, the guy getting quoted by Sullivan is getting push-back and is now spewing his idiocy on twitter:

    David Sessions ‏@davidsess 3 u

    Internet secularists are just the assholes who back up their fundamentalism with RationalWiki instead of the Bible.

    Because calling you out on your bullshit makes you a fundamentalist, apparently. But defending even the most dark parts of the churches history? All OK, a true moderate catholic position. That’s what I most hate about even the moderate catholics: when push comes to shove it’s closing the ranks and defending even the most vile stuff the church has done (‘it were different times’, ‘everyone was doing it’, ‘the alternative was worse’, ‘it was not the church itself’… blah blah blah).

  21. says

    That sentence part that you bolded is just unbelievable. Completely, utterly unbelievable. How can somebody write that and not say, wait, what did I just do there?

    Let me try a few others.

    Opposition activists were executed because they flamboyantly agitated for free elections, not because the junta was out to suppress all opposition.

    Indigenous people were displaced because they resisted the occupation of their land, not because the colonists wanted to get rid of them.

    Am I getting the hang of it?

  22. Rey Fox says

    Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress all “freedom of thought.”

    Impressive compartmentalization. Did Poggy in the Thunderdome ever manage to contradict himself in a single sentence? He got it down to two, I know that.

  23. tussock says

    Guys like Newton and Darwin were still hesitant to publish centuries later, eventually only loaded with apologies to religion, because of things like that. Newton spent most of his life trying to find answers in the bible, having to figure out for himself from old sources and personal translation work that it didn’t contain any, specifically because no one had been allowed to say that in public.

    While a great many people were saying all truth and knowledge stems from God. The same church could read your mail, force testimony on punishment of death, torture confessions from the “guilty” without even telling them what they were accused of or who had accused them or what the evidence was, if any. Happily, all your property would forfeit to the church if they convicted you.

    Freedom of thought? Please. Private heresies were routinely punished by death, including for things like medical knowledge or just looking at the fucking stars and writing down what you saw.

  24. mikeyb says

    Too bad, Andrew Sullivan is one of the few sane Catholics and sane conservatives with a lot of good things to say most of the time. This time it seems, the Catholic part is getting the better of him.

  25. Menyambal says

    How could Bruno have even been a scientist back then, anyhow? He would have to have invented a way to confirm his ideas, and attempting that wasn’t even a thing, at that time.

    Me, I could see classing him with Einstein. He did some grand logical thinking, arrived at some seemingly wild conclusions, and had to wait for the rest of the world to catch up. Bruno would have to have lived a long time, and the church made damned sure that he didn’t.

    But leaving out the science, it still is the case that the church imprisoned him, tried him formally, pierced his mouth so that he could not talk, and set him on fire while he was still alive, publicly, as an example to others. It was not an accident, it was not casual, it was not private. Come to think, it was flamboyant as hell, and more like Hell than any other organization would have done to a human being.

    The church should be ashamed, and do penance, and disband.

    Did Bruno have any alternatives, besides keeping silent and dying horribly? Could he have renounced his Catholicism, then spoke his mind? No. He was trapped within the church, but still he spoke out. He was a martyr to truth, or freedom or human rights, count it how you will, and the church deliberately and publicly killed him horribly for opposing the church.

    He was made an example, and should be remembered as an example of just how much fear is part of the Catholic Church.

  26. Ichthyic says

    I guess facts and evidence are irrelevant when you’re busy Defending the Faith.

    It’s Sullivan’s most glaring weakness, and why I never end up recommending him as a writer to others, even though he in fact HAS had some very insightful posts from time to time. It’s just if his religion, or his sexual orientation, are even tangentially related to what he is writing about, you might as well just ignore it because it will be 90% drivel.

  27. davidchapman says

    While the early-modern religious persecution certainly can’t be denied, Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress all “freedom of thought.”

    And how right they were. I hate flamboyance.

    Sessions continues:

    Cosmos’ treatment of Bruno as a “martyr for science” is just a small example of a kind of cultural myth we tell ourselves about the development of modern society, one that’s almost completely divorced from the messy reality. It’s a story of an upward march from ignorance and darkness, where bold, rebel intellectuals like Bruno faced down the tyrannical dogma of religion and eventually gave us secularism, democracy, and prosperity. Iconoclastic individuals are our heroes, and big, bad institutions—monarchies, patriarchies, churches—are the villains. In the process, our fascinating, convoluted history gets flattened into a kind of secular Bible story to remind us why individual freedom and “separation of church and state” are the most important things for us to believe in.

    Beware geeks putting the most urgent & hard-won ideas in human thought in inverted commas.

    This stuff is pure poison.

  28. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress all “freedom of thought.”

    Bruno was convicted of denying basic tenets of the Catholic faith, but other people who did the same thing were not tried and convicted. He may have been killed for other reasons. John Bossy, in Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair argues that Bruno was “Henry Fagot”, an English spy and agent provocateur at the French embassy in London who betrayed catholic priests and other English catholics, who were tortured and executed, and who was involved in the Throckmorton Plot which led to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.
    There may well have been strong non-theological reasons for people involved in his trial to want Bruno dead and those reasons weren’t the sort of reasons they’d want to reveal in public.

  29. unclefrogy says

    I get the feeling that what they really want to deny is the Inquisition itself so they quibble about Bruno was not a scientist and any other reason they can use to distract attention.
    It looks especially bad these days as there is little real difference between what the christians have done historically and what the fundy Muslims are doing right now which the christians have branded as evil.
    uncle frogy

  30. Greta Christina says

    Oh, sweet merciful non-existent Jebus. Right. Because the important issue with the history of Giordano Bruno isn’t that the Catholic Church imprisoned him for years, then marched him through the streets, stuck a spike through his cheeks pinning his tongue so he couldn’t speak even on his way to his execution, tied him up, piled fuel under his feet, set fire to him, and burned him alive — all in public, as a spectacle and a lesson to others.

    The important issue is why they did it. The important issue is that they did it to suppress his blasphemous religious ideas — not his blasphemous scientific ideas. That totally makes it no big deal, and those of us who love science and freedom of thought should quit kvetching about it.

    /sarcasm

    Are you fucking kidding me, Sullivan?

  31. robro says

    Every time someone points out that Bruno was persecuted for theological reasons, not science, they should be reminded that Galileo was also persecuted for theological reasons, not science. Nobody cared that he used a telescope to actually see what’s out there. What they did care about is that he published evidence that contravened church dogma, not church science, which is a most amusing oxymoron. Plus, he had the unfortunate audacity to depict the Pope in an unflattering way. I suspect the only reason he did not end up BBQ was because he had powerful friends and he acquiesced.

  32. fmitchell says

    The Catholic Church wasn’t suppressing freedom of thought. Giordano Bruno was perfectly free to think anything the Church had approved and read anything the Church hadn’t banned, just like anyone else. Bruno just wanted special rights. (Sound familiar?)

    Also, the Church didn’t execute him. The Church turned him over to secular authorities, who executed him. (Also sound familiar?)

  33. says

    I’m sure there are people upset with the new Cosmos series because they are interested in defending the faith or the Catholic church; but, FYI, there are others who simply object to the many historical inaccuracies in the Tyson cartoon version of history. Reducing every issue to the Warfare of Science and Theology is a lousy way to do history because it projects (retrojects?) modern obsessions into the past when people were fighting over other issues. Crudely put, the Catholics hated the Protestants and vice versa and the kings exploited the struggle to increase their own power. Meanwhile, nobody got that excited about astronomy. Whether you thought the sun was in the middle or not wasn’t the kind of thing that got you burnt at the stake. Denying the Trinity could, as Michael Servetus found out. And part of the reason Bruno was burnt to a cinder was that the powers that be thought he was a double agent for the Lutherans or Calvinists or, alternatively, England or France. The era had a lot in common with the Cold War. Imagine a John La Carre novel.

    If you want a run down on what is actually known about what occurred, follow Thony Charles blog Renaissance Mathematicus for a while. The historical record isn’t what either Christian apologists or new atheists want it to be. History has an irritating tendency not to match the favorite narratives of ideologues;

  34. Suido says

    @jimharrison:

    From PZ’s last post on this subject, the list of reasons given for Bruno’s execution:

    1 – The statement of “two real and eternal principles of existence: the soul of the world and the original matter from which beings are derived”.
    2 – The doctrine of the infinite universe and infinite worlds in conflict with the idea of Creation: “He who denies the infinite effect denies the infinite power”.
    3 – The idea that every reality resides in the eternal and infinite soul of the world, including the body: “There is no reality that is not accompanied by a spirit and an intelligence”.
    4 – The argument according to which “there is no transformation in the substance”, since the substance is eternal and generates nothing, but transforms.
    5 – The idea of terrestrial movement, which according to Bruno, did not oppose the Holy Scriptures, which were popularised for the faithful and did not apply to scientists.
    6 – The designation of stars as “messengers and interpreters of the ways of God”.
    7 – The allocation of a “both sensory and intellectual” soul to earth.
    8 – The opposition to the doctrine of St Thomas on the soul, the spiritual reality held captive in the body and not considered as the form of the human body.

    That list doesn’t jive with your explanation of why Bruno was executed. Note number 5, for example.

  35. fmitchell says

    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d @ 31

    Other authors claim that Shakespeare was really Sir Francis Bacon, Kit Marlowe, or a space alien. So what? (According to this New York Times article, “Mr. Bossy admits that the evidence is wholly circumstantial, and in places even contradictory.”)

    This is another variation on the “theological, not scientific” argument: it’s political, not scientific. Even if the impetus was political, not theological, it doesn’t erase the official record that cites heresy. It doesn’t erase the other people killed for heresy, no matter what the “hidden motives” were (e.g. Jacques de Molay or Jean d’Arc). It doesn’t erase the fact that heresy was a capital offense.

  36. davidchapman says

    36
    jimharrison
    Meanwhile, nobody got that excited about astronomy. Whether you thought the sun was in the middle or not wasn’t the kind of thing that got you burnt at the stake. [.............]The historical record isn’t what either Christian apologists or new atheists want it to be. History has an irritating tendency not to match the favorite narratives of ideologues;

    Luther’s collaborator Philipp Melanchthon also took issue with Copernicanism. After receiving the first pages of Narratio Prima from Rheticus himself, Melanchthon wrote to Mithobius (physician and mathematician Burkard Mithob of Feldkirch) on 16 October 1541 condemning the theory and calling for it to be repressed by governmental force, writing “certain people believe it is a marvelous achievement to extol so crazy a thing, like that Polish astronomer who makes the earth move and the sun stand still. Really, wise governments ought to repress impudence of mind.”
    — From Wikipedia; Nicolaus Copernicus

  37. dukeofomnium says

    The other thing is that the distinction between theology and other forms of thought simply did not exist when Bruno was the guest of honor at the barbecue. Aristotle and his followers, which included the RCC in this context, believed that all science and metaphysics were intimately connected. Unfortunately, the science in question was solely Ptolemaic.

    The idea of separate, much less overlapping, magisteria only arose when church “science” was disproved wholesale, not only by Galileo, but even by Newton.

  38. consciousness razor says

    I’m sure there are people upset with the new Cosmos series because they are interested in defending the faith or the Catholic church; but, FYI, there are others who simply object to the many historical inaccuracies in the Tyson cartoon version of history.

    Which historical inaccuracies? What were they?

    Is distilling lots and lots of information down to only the stuff that will fit in one sequence of a television episode “inaccurate”? If it doesn’t tell you every fact there is to know about those events or that period in history, does that mean it was in some way false? Were there any statements or depictions which were false? And if so, what were they?

    The historical record isn’t what either Christian apologists or new atheists want it to be.

    What do you think atheists want it to be? Could you give us even a single detail that would help us figure out what the hell you’re trying to say?

    And I want to ask again: is lack of detail enough to render something “inaccurate”?

  39. Snoof says

    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d @ 31

    So he wasn’t killed for denying the Catholic faith but instead the Church’s persecution of heretics was co-opted for political reasons?

    Is that supposed to make it better or worse?

  40. atheistblog says

    Andrew Sullivan is one of a leading Christian fanatic moron. Ok, Bruno was pandeist or who cares ? Hey at that time and still Eastern part of the world is polytheistic, pantheism, and totally antithesis to Catholic and Christians belief, so should Catholic Church should have waged war against the rest of the world ?
    When these Catholic morons are taking advantage of poverty and other regions old divisions and keep proselytize people, should rest of the world wage war against Vatican ?
    What a frigging moron ? And this guy is openly gay and without any hypocrisy, or shame defending Catholicism. Absolute frigging moron.

  41. chrislawson says

    jimharrison, you really need to read more widely than your current Catholic apologetics. Suido has given a good grounding in the Bruno case, but when we turn to the persecution of Galileo there is no question about it: the trial was 100% about his scientific findings. Galileo did not dispute any point of standard Catholic theology. He was a faithful Catholic himself, a believer in the Trinity, and his persecution was purely because he found evidence against the official church view of geocentrism.

  42. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    fmitchell:
    Jacques de Molay and Jeanne d’Arc were killed a few hundred years before Bruno and there were also other non-theological reasons for killing them too. Many victims of witch-trials- the most common form of heresy trial- were denounced by enemies. How far was heresy a useful accusation in cases of “Bring me the man and I will find you the law”?
    Burning people alive is a horrible thing to do, whatever the motives, but given the number of people who could have been burned alive as heretics it’s worth looking at why the ones who were burned alive were picked out. In Bruno’s case there are a great many possible reasons- he’s been put forward as an early gay activist as well and didn’t hide his contempt for the church- but it does look as if people were burned alive usually when there were specific reasons to want that person dead.

  43. says

    I’m fascinated and perplexed at these apologists for the Catholic Church going out of their way to call attention to the Inquisition by dwelling on the discussion of this one case in a science education show. The Inquisition spanned 700 years, killed tens of thousands of people – Jews (and “conversos”), Muslims, women, people of the Americas (as far north as what’s now New Mexico in the US), “heretics” of all sorts – persecuted, harassed, tortured, banned and destroyed books,… I can’t imagine that they want people to start looking into it, reading books like Cullen Murphy’s God’s Jury, and thinking about how this institution set the stage for contemporary authoritarianism.* If people like Sullivan want to make their stand on the case of Giordano Bruno, I’m sure others will be happy to take that opportunity to discuss the full and terrible extent of Catholicism’s crimes against thought and humanity. I know I will.

    * Murphy’s connections in this context…aren’t great, but it’s easy enough to draw them yourself after reading the history.

  44. says

    Burning people alive is a horrible thing to do, whatever the motives, but given the number of people who could have been burned alive as heretics it’s worth looking at why the ones who were burned alive were picked out.

    LOL

    he’s been put forward as an early gay activist

    Ah – I neglected to include gay people in my list of categories of victims.

  45. says

    I am not a fan of the Inquisition, and I am enjoying the new ‘Cosmos’. I find the attempts to make excuses for the past excesses of religion tiresome.

    That being said, I have a simple question: if Bruno is not a scientist, why is his life story being used as a cautionary example in a science documentary? The casual viewer with no knowledge of Bruno’s life is not going to give as much attention to the brief disclaimer that he was not a scientist. They are not going to know the details of Bruno’s thought. They are likely to infer, incorrectly, that even if Bruno was not a scientist, that he was a martyr for science and rational thought, rather than a mystic charged with heresy on largely theological grounds. Seems like a flawed choice to me.

  46. says

    While the early-modern religious persecution certainly can’t be denied, Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress all “freedom of thought.”

    To complement your clearly extensive knowledge of the Bruno case, Sullivan, I recommend Danilo Kiš’ “Dogs and Jews,” in A Tomb For Boris Davidovich.

  47. mikeyb says

    @38 you had to bring up the Shakespeare controversy didn’t ya. I’m forced to post a quick succinct video summarizing this whole nonsense so beautifully….

  48. Holms says

    In contrast to contemporaries who drew more modest conclusions from their similar ideas, Bruno agitated for an elaborate counter-theology, and was (unlike the poor, humble outcast portrayed in Cosmos) supported by powerful royal benefactors.

    Yes, he had such powerful supporters that… he was still executed on a bonfire.

  49. consciousness razor says

    They are likely to infer, incorrectly, that even if Bruno was not a scientist, that he was a martyr for science and rational thought, rather than a mystic charged with heresy on largely theological grounds.

    I think this is a confused way of thinking about it. It doesn’t matter whether someone wants to call their reasons for killing him “theological.” It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t a scientist. Nobody at that time was a “scientist” because the term hadn’t even been invented. And science isn’t something fundamentally different from philosophical metaphysics anyway. It is simply a better way of doing lots of metaphysics.

    Even though he appealed to things like a god’s omnipotence to try to accommodate it to Christianity, the point remains that he was making an empirical claim about the physical world: the universe is infinite. That was the subject of the episode: how big the universe is, in space and time. Bruno was one of the first and most vocal people to adopt some of these old Epicurean views, when De Rerum Natura was unearthed during the Renaissance. That itself is a very influential part of our history which barely ever gets mentioned even in passing, and it makes no difference at all that it’s not a “scientific” document. (“The Swerve” is an interesting book on the subject, if you just don’t get how much of an effect it had.)

    Anyway, getting a sense of how that ball got rolling (even the not-so-savory parts of the history) is very useful. Maybe a science show just shouldn’t talk about history at all, but then you’re going to be losing a whole lot of content for no particularly good reason — people need some context to understand why and how people were discovering these things (which might seem really obvious to us now), why it mattered to them at all, and what they thought they were accomplishing. I’d complain that it didn’t spend a whole lot more time talking about this stuff, not that it was somehow misguided to spend any time on it at all.

  50. says

    That being said, I have a simple question: if Bruno is not a scientist, why is his life story being used as a cautionary example in a science documentary? … Seems like a flawed choice to me.

    Fill in the blanks: Bruno shared his ideas about, and was burned alive in part because of, his ideas about the nature of the ________. This set the stage for future persecutions of people with “heretical” ideas about the _________. It served to (further) instill fear in those like Galileo whose research and beliefs contradicted the Church’s teachings about the structure and workings of the _________.

  51. Ganner says

    Their best fucking defense is “we didn’t kill people for their scientific ideas, we killed people for their religious ideas!”

  52. says

    consciousness razor: Bruno’s claim is not an empirical claim, either when he made it or at present, unless you know of observations or experiments that actually demonstrate an infinity of worlds. It may well be true, but it wasn’t testable when Bruno made the claim, and it is undemonstrated at present.

    Further, science is fundamentally different from metaphysics in terms of its method and it’s domain.

    I agree incorporating examples from history enriches the program, but prompting confusion as to the very real differences between science and metaphysics detracts from the program’s effectiveness in my view.

    Here ya go, this may help:
    http://plato.stanford.edu

  53. consciousness razor says

    consciousness razor: Bruno’s claim is not an empirical claim, either when he made it or at present, unless you know of observations or experiments that actually demonstrate an infinity of worlds. It may well be true, but it wasn’t testable when Bruno made the claim, and it is undemonstrated at present.

    What I meant by that it that it wasn’t some claim about supernatural entities. It’s about natural entities: space and time. Being demonstrable (or demonstrated at the time) is distinct from that. Unless you’re going to tell me that “space” can only be a theological concept, I don’t think your point here is relevant.

    Also, if BICEP2 is confirmed, those observations lead to not just some form of inflation but a multiverse. So there’s that.

    But “an infinity of worlds” does not mean the same thing as “the world is infinite,” so what you mean there isn’t very clear. The number of planets? The size of the universe? The number of universes? The sizes of those universes? The numbers of planets in each of those universes? The total sizes of all of those planets, maybe? Whatever the case, I was talking about the size of the universe. That looks like it’s probably infinite. That’s also what the show happened to be about. Did you see the show?

    Further, science is fundamentally different from metaphysics in terms of its method and it’s domain.

    How so? There is no rule anywhere that it may not rely on scientific methods. So that’s simply false. And metaphysics may concern itself with the existence of things that science doesn’t. But I don’t see where you’d get anything “fundamental” out of that.

    I agree incorporating examples from history enriches the program, but prompting confusion as to the very real differences between science and metaphysics detracts from the program’s effectiveness in my view.

    What confusion? Science is concerned with what exists, and so is metaphysics. So, these are concerned with the same fundamental questions. That makes them not “fundamentally different,” contrary to what you claimed.

    Here ya go, this may help:
    http://plato.stanford.edu

    I’m already aware of this entire online encyclopedia of philosophy. Do you have any particular article in mind, or do you actually think it would be helpful to cite some hundreds or thousands of articles at the same time?

  54. Menyambal says

    Scotthatfield, this was a discussion about the crimes of the Catholic Church, and the burning alive of a human being. Bruno died horribly, for what he thought.

    You are making it into a critique of a segment of a TV show. Could you kindly fuck the hell off?

  55. says

    The point isn’t that the church executed people for their scientific ideas, or if they executed people for different religious ideas; the church executed people for voicing ideas contradictory to Catholic doctrine. As such, no idea that was not in full agreement with doctrine was safe to voice, which obviously includes scientific ideas.

    In fact — if some of the theories above are supported — it was so acceptable to execute people for heresy, that it could be used as a proxy for different “crimes” that the church might have had more difficulty with!

    “Your political views are threatening to me, but I may have trouble prosecuting you for that… so I will try you based on your beliefs instead!”

    How does this improve the situation for science?

  56. says

    consciousness razor: I realize that there are a whole bunch of cosmology types waxing enthusiastic about a multiverse or an infinite universe, but if you’ve been told that confirmation of BICEP2’s findings will “prove” either proposition, you’ve been handed a bill of goods. For what it’s worth, I think BICEP2’s finding are likely to be replicated, but ripples in spacetime that get us fractionally closer to the moment of inflation are not a ‘smoking gun’ for a multiverse.

    As for the Stanford site, I commend sections 3-5 of the article “Metaphysics”. The article notes that metaphysics today is difficult to define, and that there are multiple arguments that attack the notion that any ‘metaphysics’ as the term is usually applied is even possible. Contrast that with scientific endeavor. Yes, there is certainly an aspect of ‘metaphysics’ that shares an interests with that of science, in terms of determining what actually exists. And it is certainly true that there is nothing that prevents metaphysicians from applying science to their interests. But that really falls under the heading of the old wheeze, inspired by Wittgenstein, that ‘philosophy is the disease for which it ought to be the cure.’

    If that’s not clear, consider what happens when scientific method and concepts are applied to metaphysics. Typically, what happens is one of the following: either some metaphysical claim is falsified, or else it is determined that you can not reason about the notion and draw meaningful conclusions that would pass muster in science. The reverse does not seem to happen: metaphysics does not seem to be able to falsify scientific claims based on evidence, while scientific propositions (being already falsifiable by definition) do not require the assent of some separate argument derived from metaphysical interests. For example, one’s estimation of the mass of a mole of C-12 atoms really has nothing to do with the alleged ‘ontological structure’ of that mole.

    That is not to say that philosophy is of no use in science. Epistemology and logic are especially useful for clarifying propositions. But metaphysics? It’s main usefulness is merely as another source of hypotheses, which are only valid to the degree that they can be tested, or which might lead to some future test. ‘Thought experiments’ in the manner of Einstein are useful toys that might superficially resemble metaphysical notions, but only in the sense that they might, down the road, lead to real observations, real experiments and real science.

  57. consciousness razor says

    I realize that there are a whole bunch of cosmology types waxing enthusiastic about a multiverse or an infinite universe, but if you’ve been told that confirmation of BICEP2′s findings will “prove” either proposition, you’ve been handed a bill of goods. For what it’s worth, I think BICEP2′s finding are likely to be replicated, but ripples in spacetime that get us fractionally closer to the moment of inflation are not a ‘smoking gun’ for a multiverse.

    I’m not a physicist. That was based on what physicists have claimed about the (relevant?) inflationary theories. I think they do know what they’re talking about. But I don’t have any reason to be persuaded by your assertion here.

    You mention some things about falsifiability and whether metaphysics is useful to science. I don’t particularly care. They’re both about the nature of existence and what exists. If you have some better concept of metaphysics, I’d love to hear it. Confusing though you may think the whole subject is, you haven’t offered any sort of clarity to me. I don’t see the benefits of sharing in your confusion or ambiguity or in being non-committal, so I’m not inclined to join you in whatever that’s supposed to be.

    Are you conceding the point that Bruno’s claims about space were not only or strictly “theological,” even if his murderers were motivated by theology, and that none of this has any relevance to whether the show ought to have covered the story?

  58. says

    Not all physicists are as sanguine as others about whether or not the confirmation of inflationary theory also provides a clear path to a multiverse. As usual, whenever there’s a new development, the most charismatic get the most press, and Max Tegmark is nothing if not charismatic.

    I concede that in the middle of Bruno’s mysticism were some ideas that anticipated future scientific findings. But it wasn’t just his murderers, but Bruno himself who was motivated by his theology. He was executed for those theological views, not for any future scientific work those views might have inspired. The Church wasn’t threatened by science, but by theological views that implicitly challenged its authority.

    Having said that, I have no problems personally with the inclusion of Bruno’s story. It’s inherently interesting, and directly related to some ideas that have far greater currency today amongst cosmologists than when Sagan and Druyan were writing the original series. What bothers me (I’m a science educator) is not the fact that the show told the story, but the way the story was employed, as I just described. The show simplified Bruno’s views to the point where the casual viewer is likely to perceive it as ‘the Church vs. science.’ That is probably not the best frame to reach a wide audience, and will cause many science educators to avoid using the program in their own classes. That’s not how I’ll respond, but then I’m quite a bit bolder than many of my colleagues in the public schools.

    Finally, you assert indifference as my attempt to explain why the methods and domains of metaphysics and science differ. Well, you are certainly entitled to your indifference and any. But the scientific community doesn’t give a hoot for your feelings,or mine. The scientific community is interested in evidence, which the practice of metaphysics is notoriously indifferent to supplying.

  59. consciousness razor says

    Not all physicists are as sanguine as others about whether or not the confirmation of inflationary theory also provides a clear path to a multiverse. As usual, whenever there’s a new development, the most charismatic get the most press, and Max Tegmark is nothing if not charismatic.

    Okay. I’m sure sanguinity does vary, even among physicists. I haven’t heard what Tegmark’s take on it is, but I’ll agree he’s a likable fellow.

    Finally, you assert indifference as my attempt to explain why the methods and domains of metaphysics and science differ. Well, you are certainly entitled to your indifference and any. But the scientific community doesn’t give a hoot for your feelings,or mine. The scientific community is interested in evidence, which the practice of metaphysics is notoriously indifferent to supplying.

    When I’m claiming that they’re both metaphysics, I’m not claiming that they’re both science. The confusion still seems to be yours. Science is the subset, not the other way around (and they’re not coextensive), so it makes no difference in what ways science distinguishes itself, so long as it isn’t an entirely different kind of project. I don’t think it is: they’re about what exists. Your niceties about modality and so on are more of an afterthought than some fundamental difference. It’s quite right for scientists to have certain methods and epistemic standards, even though philosophers don’t always need to be so restricted to address all of their problems. I have no problem at all with that. None of this really has nothing to do with my feelings: saying I don’t “care” was just a way of expressing that my claim itself is “indifferent” to the objections you raised.

    What bothers me (I’m a science educator) is not the fact that the show told the story, but the way the story was employed, as I just described. The show simplified Bruno’s views to the point where the casual viewer is likely to perceive it as ‘the Church vs. science.’

    I didn’t get that. Maybe I’m not casual or ignorant enough. Or I’m just lucky. I don’t know what to say, except that it was very clearly articulated that he wasn’t a scientist and that it wasn’t a scientific theory. Sure, perhaps if I wasn’t listening carefully, I would’ve thought (or assumed) they said something else. And sure, the Church definitely was against him, and it’s also definitely against science. So if you connected those dots in a very particular way, I could see what you’re saying, but that just isn’t there in the actual narrative.

  60. says

    That being said, I have a simple question: if Bruno is not a scientist, why is his life story being used as a cautionary example in a science documentary?

    Because the documentary is not for scientists. The principles of science and the ability to think freely belong to everyone, even weird cantankerous religious freaks like Bruno.

    They are likely to infer, incorrectly, that even if Bruno was not a scientist, that he was a martyr for science and rational thought, rather than a mystic charged with heresy on largely theological grounds. Seems like a flawed choice to me.

    I don’t even understand that point, and people keep trying to make it. So what if he was killed for his theology? He was killed for denying dogma. This is a bad thing for a culture that wants to encourage science.

    Or should we instead be spreading the message that scientists get a special exemption from the inquisition, while the little people do not? Because that not only seems unfair, it wasn’t even true — everyone got screwed over by the inquisition.

  61. says

    Of course (and IIRR, I can’t look it up at the mo) strictly speaking the church didn’t burn anyone: they handed the victim over to the civil authorities, who did burn them.
    (Even of-courser the church made damn* sure the civil authorities did.)
     
     
     _______________
    * ‘damn’ is exactly the right word! Think of what the church would have done it they hadn’t…

  62. carlie says

    @63:

    Scott Hatfield? Scott Hatfield? SCOTT HATFIELD?!?

    *runs around in circles flailing arms and throwing confetti*

    I mean, ahem, good to see you, sir. Very good indeed.

  63. rorschach says

    Scott Hatfield? Scott Hatfield? SCOTT HATFIELD?!?

    With the appearances by Scott and SC it has been a really nice evening at Pharyngula today…everyone has been around :-)

  64. Thumper: Token Breeder says

    How is killing someone for denying the faith not an attempt by religious authorities to suppress freedom of thought?

    No PZ, you misunderstand. The Church never contested his right to freedom of thought! It was his freedom of speech they had a problem with. And, as I’m sure we all know, that’s much better *nod nod*.

  65. cartomancer says

    What an awful lot of people – catholic apologists especially – tend to get wrong about this issue is that when we say “the church” and its attitudes toward novelty were a barrier to the development and proliferation of scientific thought, we don’t just mean the hierarchs, we mean everybody.

    It wasn’t just a small coterie of popes and cardinals and bishops, operating imperiously from the top down, who thought that enforcing theological orthodoxy was a good idea – like an unpopular junta with its stormtroopers trying to oppress an unwilling populace. It was a very widespread attitude indeed. It was part of the culture. Ask the average peasant or merchant or noble whether heresy should be harshly punished and most of the time you’d get an overwhelming yes. Indeed, ask many of the heretics themselves whether incorrect belief ought to be stamped out for the common good, and they’d enthusiastically agree as well (they’d just quibble over what exactly correct belief consists in). In many ways the clamour for inquisition and heresy prosecutions came from the people, and the church hierarchy simply stepped in to do officially what everyone agreed needed doing anyway.

    To see how deeply these notions permeated Medieval culture, one can note that the earliest inquisitions – the episcopal inquisitions at the end of the twelfth century – came about in a large part because the nascent institutional church wanted to regulate the extensive persecutions of heresy carried out by secular lords under their own jurisdictions. The fear was that secular lords were enthusiastic, bloodthirsty and unqualified to judge on theological matters, and many in the church cast it as a kindness to try suspected heretics properly, and offer them guidance and a chance to repent, rather than killing the lot out of hand as would happen if this were left to the kings and barons and town authorities.

    The church hierarchs were drawn from a culture where theology and orthodoxy were thought to matter deeply. They were a part of that culture, and while their activities extended and perpetuated the culture, it is a mistake to think that they did so cynically and for personal gain. Nobody sat down and framed it as “lets oppress freedom of thought, because freedom of thought is dangerous to our brand”, but a barrier to free inquiry was implicit in the culture anyway. Scholars grew up implicitly understanding that heresy had real consequences – not so much the burning at the stake, actually, because cruel and unusual punishments were a fact of life in Medieval Europe, but more the fear of eternal damnation for being sinfully wrong. The burning at the stake served to highlight how much being right was thought to matter to these people, but it was the little policemen in their own heads that did most of the work. There is a reason it was mostly the flamboyantly iconoclastic and charismatic ones who got into trouble – Abelard in the twelfth century, Sigier of Brabant in the thirteenth, Ockham in the fourteenth, Bruno in the sixteenth – it took their kind of fervent self-belief and desire for publicity to make them stick their heads above the parapet with their novel ideas.

    Much, much more significantly, though, is that the widespread cultural appreciation for doctrinal correctness and orthodoxy turned the academic discourse of the Medieval cathedral schools and universities into a powerful and malignant species of peer review that excluded many strands of thought from academic respectability. Crucially, in the pre-printing world, heretical tracts would not get copied and distributed, while orthodox ones would. Even before there was a centralised Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the cultural tendencies mitigated against the lone iconoclast. Even more so because most of the work of copying academic books in a university setting tended to be done by the Dominicans and Franciscans, which is why the writings of secular theologians like Giles of Rome and Henry of Ghent are much less well known than those of their contemporaries in the orders – Aquinas, Scotus, Bonaventure etc. As Bruno showed, the orders had quite a vested interest in preserving doctrinal orthodoxy.

    And theology and natural science were so intertwined throughout the entire Middle Ages and Early Modern period that it is laughable to suggest that cultural taboos about theological positions didn’t have an impact on the scientific thinking. The best example of this is what was happening in Paris and Oxford in the thirteenth century. In the 1210s the Parisian academic establishment was shaken by the heterodox heresies of David of Dinant and Amauric of Bene – whose study of obscure Greek Patristic texts had led them into a number of unacceptable positions on theological topics. David had also read some of the natural philosophy of Aristotle in Greek, and was one of the earliest Latin thinkers to make use of it (Latin translations were beginning to be made of these works from the 1160s, but they took decades to circulate). As a result the University of Paris issued several interdicts forbidding the reading of Aristotle’s Libri naturales in the 1220s, 30s and 40s (though whether this covered private study or just the teaching of them is uncertain), and provision was made to edit the texts to “purge them of error” (i.e. doctrinal error) before they could be put on the university curricula. These attempts to suppress Aristotelianism (which was heavily bound up with the theologically contentious commentaries of Avicenna and later Averroes at this point) had petered out by 1244, but Paris had to import English and Scottish masters from Oxford, such as Roger Bacon, to teach these books, because there were no Parisians who were familiar enough with them. It is no accident that most of the interesting speculations in natural science from the first half of the thirteenth century come from non-Parisian thinkers – Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, Leonardo Fibonnaci – and when natural scientific speculation did become popular in Paris in the 1270s (Aquinas got in on the act with his commentaries on Aristotle, and then there was Sigier), Bishop Etienne Tempier stepped in in 1277 with a list of prohibitions on propositions you were not allowed to hold about things like the eternity and immobility of the universe or whether god could translate it laterally, or alter the past. Even some of Aquinas’s doctrines came in for censure in this list. Most of these prohibitions were attempts to prevent the conventions of Aristotelian physics from impinging on divine omnipotence and power, and it has been argued (the AC Crombie line) that this may actually have been beneficial to scientific speculation, because it prevented medieval science from just becoming a kind of dogmatic Aristotelianism and forced the Arts masters who taught and wrote on it to consider the limits and inaccuracies in Aristotle. Whether this can be sustained or not, the clear point here is that the concerns of theologians and dogmatists had a very real, very obvious, and rather far-reaching impact on the progress of scientific and philosophical thinking – even without any threats of torture or burning at the stake.

  66. jimmiraybob says

    “Bruno’s conflict with the Catholic Church was theological, not scientific….”

    Yes, and Al Capone’s conflict with the government was taxes, not racketeering and murder.

    Bruno was not getting lucky with his view of cosmology. The show mentions Lucretius right at the outset of the segment and that would be the 1st century Roman Lucretius that wrote the poem De rerum natura setting out the Epicurean vision of cosmology and ethics. The western Latin Church had all but removed Epicureanism (and Stoicism) and rival views of nature by the 5th century and it wasn’t until De rerum natura was reintroduced in the west during the 15th century that a rival cosmology to established and Church-sanctioned Scholastic Aristotelian metaphysics/”science” took hold.

    Bruno was advocating an Epicurean cosmology, as close as they could get at the time to what would eventually be known as science, and that is what informed his “theology.” There are echoes of this epicurean metaphysics reverberating throughout the advancement of western scientific endeavor for the centuries following Bruno that could later be empirically established after the invention, dissemination and systematic improvement of telescopes, microscopes, communications, etc.

    I recommend Stephen Greenblatt’s The Curve and Jonathon Israel’s Radical Enlightenment. Also too, Steven Nadler’s Spinoza; A Life.

  67. jimmiraybob says

    In light of cartomancer’s comment at #71, I should say that by the 15th-16th centuries, and largely due to Aquinas’ work, Aristotelian metaphysics was the accepted cosmological framework in Europe’s universities and Scholastic education – all the more so in conservative, chiefly Church influenced institutions. This largely led to an unfruitful stasis that a rising humanist, and increasingly inquisitive, tide rejected. (And by humanist I’m not necessarily making a connection with modern humanism.)

  68. says

    This is at least the third (fourth… fifth?) such post I’ve read about this topic, and somehow, amazingly, still too many people seem to be missing the very basic point, a point that seems to my simple mind to be fairly easy to understand, and one that PZ has gone to great pains to emphasize and articulate in the simplest terms possible, both in his posts and comments:

    1. Bruno was brutally murdered for having public, dissenting views on Catholic dogma.
    2. Tyson goes out of his way to state that Bruno wasn’t a scientist.
    3. The fact that it wasn’t “the Catholic Church” that actually killed him is a “true but useless” fact, since they instigated the process that led to his murder, and only an idiot would believe that the “secular authorities” of the time were in any way secular.
    4. And lastly, the point behind the Bruno story was never that the church was killing scientists for doing science. The point was that the church made a habit of killing anyone who challenged their supreme authority as a fear tactic to discourage others from doing it… because even then the Church was well aware that the biggest challenge to their authority was independent thought (just as it is today).

    Everything else being argued about with regards to this story is just noise meant to distract from these basic facts, which really can’t be argued against.

  69. Lesa Smart says

    Bruno was a Philosopher, in the 16th century science and philosophy were fused and not really separate disciplines. Much of Bruno heresies were also considered religious such as his Arianism, sceptical ideas about on the virgin Mary and Transubstantiation. He also managed to alienate the Protestants with his views. I think the example used by the series isn’t necessary about one of scientific merit of his theories, but of the power of curiosity. The story of Bruno is the story of an ordinary man who saw something majestic and believed in something that others weren’t willing to consider. It’s about a man who was so curious as to challenge the beliefs of all of his superiors. And what is Cosmos all about? Inspiring curiosity in the common man. Later Tyson states that at the time Bruno theories could not be proven, they would be proven later by scientists like Galileo with his telescope.

  70. gussnarp says

    It’s astounding how religion’s influence has changed. When the original Cosmos aired, had this piece been included, no one would have batted an eye. Even Catholics, who at that time might still have had some claim to be a mistreated religious minority in at least some parts of the country, would have simply recognized it as a historical artifact and a comment on the idea of the inquisition and what it did, not as a comment on the modern Catholic Church. Evangelicals might have seen it as an attack on the Catholic Church and they’d have loved it for being that. But today people of all religious stripes see what is obviously a commentary on the danger of any powerful force censoring inquiry as an attack on religion in general. I think it’s quite telling that today’s Christians are feeling so defensive about this story being told. It seems to me to indicate that they see some truth and relevance to their current beliefs in it. So keep complaining, religious folks, the more you do, the more people will realize that you doth protest too much.

    Meanwhile, I watched the first episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos last night, and I have to say that while I hate to criticize Tyson’s version, and I hope that, while I’m not enjoying it as much as I’d like, it will be effective in reaching younger people and those not steeped in a love of science, I really do like Carl’s version better. Man that was great to watch. But more to the point, I was struck at how a big part of what Sagan did in that first show was to point out the dangers to scientific inquiry and humanity’s future, primarily, nuclear weapon proliferation. He was deeply concerned that too much of our scientific intellectual capital was being spent on the arms race instead of more fruitful pursuits.

    Today’s Cosmos too, I think, is trying to point out dangers we face and our scientific inquiry faces. Clearly anti-science worming its way into political power is one of those dangers. It hurts education and therefore future inquiry and also our ability to deal with problems like climate change. Tyson is clearly launching an attack on science-denialism and its growing political power. That’s what the Bruno piece was about. While I think a lot of that denialism is religiously motivated, and like most of us here see religion as an evil unto itself, I don’t think Tyson entirely shares that view. I think he chose Bruno because Bruno was a religious mystic. I think he intended to make the point that religious people suffer from anti-science as well and that religious people can have great ideas worth exploring. I truly think the segment was intended to at once criticize the religious factions that promote censorship, anti-science, and denialism today while remaining inviting to religious moderates. That so many people see it as a wholesale attack on religion is, I think, more telling of the current state of religious belief in the United States than of anything about Tyson, Cosmos, or even Seth MacFarlane.

  71. consciousness razor says

    While I think a lot of that denialism is religiously motivated, and like most of us here see religion as an evil unto itself, I don’t think Tyson entirely shares that view. I think he chose Bruno because Bruno was a religious mystic.

    We should probably attribute these sorts of decisions to Ann Druyan before saying it was Tyson. I’m sure he gave a lot of input, but as far as we know, he’s just presenting the show, not writing and producing it.

  72. gussnarp says

    @Consciousness razor
    #77:

    You’re probably right, although I expect Tyson has a lot more input than your standard run of the mill presenter.

    Still, the fact that he’s in the limelight and she’s behind the scenes leads to this sort of thing, which ends up ignoring the huge contributions of a woman to a show about science, so in future I’ll make her importance as a writer and producer clear any time I talk about this show.

  73. brucegorton says

    That being said, I have a simple question: if Bruno is not a scientist, why is his life story being used as a cautionary example in a science documentary?

    Because science doesn’t rest on the authority of scientists, and a lot of scientific advances are made by people who are not in fact scientists.

    This is actually a mistake a lot of Creationists make in their arguments when they try to trot out ‘creation scientists’ – the fact of the matter is nobody gives a damn about what people call themselves, what we care about is the data.

    Because the mistakes made by the Catholic Church were hardly unique to that organisation, and hardly stopped in the Middle Ages.

    The USSR shut down its genetic research based on much the same error when it banned Darwin, and when you consider how many Americans will argue that evolution is ‘un-American’ you see the echoes of the same thing happening all over again.

    Because science cannot thrive in a society where going against the powers that be can get you burnt at the stake.

    Some fields of engineering can do well, but actual science requires the freedom to go against established ideas. That is really what science at its best is all about, not confirming the beliefs we already have, but testing them to see if we are wrong.

  74. Q.E.D says

    Breaking News, this just in:

    The Vatican is still not sorry it burned Bruno at the stake:

    “Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, said the church ”regretted” that it had resorted to violence in Bruno’s case, but pointed out that Bruno’s writing was ”incompatible” with Christian thinking, and that he therefore remains a heretic.”

    “http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/18/world/honoring-a-heretic-whom-vatican-regrets-burning.html

  75. David Marjanović says

    Also, the Church didn’t execute him. The Church turned him over to secular authorities, who executed him.

    …for the crime of… heresy.

    (Also sound familiar?)

    Yes. It reminds me of “the US civil war wasn’t about slavery, it was about the right of the states to… allow slavery on and beyond their territories and have it recognized by the other states and the federal government”.

    John La Carre

    Le Carré, “the square”.

    That being said, I have a simple question: if Bruno is not a scientist, why is his life story being used as a cautionary example in a science documentary?

    Because he was the looming precedent for Galileo Galilei: publicly contradict anything the Church teaches, and you might not-quite-accidentally get killed.

    To see how deeply these notions permeated Medieval culture, one can note that the earliest inquisitions – the episcopal inquisitions at the end of the twelfth century – came about in a large part because the nascent institutional church wanted to regulate the extensive persecutions of heresy carried out by secular lords under their own jurisdictions. The fear was that secular lords were enthusiastic, bloodthirsty and unqualified to judge on theological matters, and many in the church cast it as a kindness to try suspected heretics properly, and offer them guidance and a chance to repent, rather than killing the lot out of hand as would happen if this were left to the kings and barons and town authorities.

    And indeed, there were cases when a mob didn’t want to wait for such a trial, but broke into a jail, dragged the suspects out, “put fire under them outside the city and burned them”.

  76. opposablethumbs says

    My apologies for this brief derail –
    cartomancer, if you’re still about – I’d love to know what you think of Eco’s Name of the Rose (the book rather than the film, I mean). How close does he get to the beliefs and attitudes of the period, do you think? (I’d thought of asking you that before, but I don’t think I ever did and we don’t see you often enough in these parts).
    /derail

  77. Gregory Greenwood says

    While the early-modern religious persecution certainly can’t be denied, Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress all “freedom of thought.”

    What a disturbing exercise in hair-splitting over the exact rationale for the cold blooded murder of someone who denied dogma. It entirely misses the point that killing someone for denying the received wisdom of the day, no matter what motivated them to do so, is entirely incompatible with all free thought including scientific enquiry and is a gross ethical affront.

    The more critisim of Cosmos I hear from theists of various stripes, the more I can’t help but feel that many of them look back on the period of the bloodthirsty inquisitorial thought-police with a great deal of nostalgia, and wouldn’t at all object to putting Tyson (and anyone else who wont bend the knee to their delusions) on a pyre, if they thought they could get away with it, and all the while claiming that they are the wronged party.

    Of course, organised oppression of dissenting views directly undertaken by church authorities is not necessary – all that is required is a few obsessive fanatics who are prepared to use violence to intimidate free thinkers into silence, and individuals like violent ‘pro-life’ campaigners demonstrate that people like that are hardly in short supply.

    It seems that the religious mindset really hasn’t changed all that much down the centuries.

  78. davidchapman says

    71
    cartomancer

    What an awful lot of people – catholic apologists especially – tend to get wrong about this issue is that when we say “the church” and its attitudes toward novelty were a barrier to the development and proliferation of scientific thought, we don’t just mean the hierarchs, we mean everybody.

    ??????

    Who is this ‘we’?

    Ask the average peasant or merchant or noble whether heresy should be harshly punished and most of the time you’d get an overwhelming yes.

    This seems to me to represent a flawed way of thinking about history. You don’t know what the average peasant or merchant would say, because nobody ever wrote down what they had to say — I mean wrote down anything like what would constitute a scientific sample for the whole of Christendom. Moreover, if anyone had done that, it would still be almost worthless as evidence, because medieval peasants were not free, or safe, to express their own views, least of all on the issue of the right way to treat heretics. That’s sort of what the freedom of thought issue is about.

    Even if we were to ignore this, and pretend for a moment it was a known fact that the massive monolithic conformity of the age was not the product of physical enforcement — at least not by the Church ( and when I say the Church I refer to the Church, not the population as a whole ) — but instead part of the culture, this would still have been the responsibility of the Church, because the Church was responsible for, indeed organized, the education and ideology of Europe. Christianity was not only a monotheistic creed, and therefore intrinsically premised on conformism, in contrast to the tolerant polytheism of the Roman empire; it possessed an explicit and totalitarian dogma with regard to the appropriate way with dissenters. And this is how it attempted to teach secular lords, and everyone else, to think:
    http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Deuteronomy-Chapter-13/

    74
    Celtic_Evolution
    Everything else being argued about with regards to this story is just noise meant to distract from these basic facts, which really can’t be argued against.

    CE, I agree with almost everything in your post except this last sentence. You might be right there as well, but I feel that contributors like Cartomancer are indeed trying to finesse the issue of the guilt of the Church, and their excuses have to be dealt with, argued with in their own right. I would regret it, though, if this distracts attention from the issues you reiterate which are, indeed, the Point.

  79. madscientist says

    Well, Giordano Bruno was condemned for, among other things, declaring that like the Lutherans he didn’t believe in the ‘divine trinity’ or that Jesus’ mama was a virgin. Around that era the catlick church murdered Lutherans by the thousands; hell, the Jesuit Order was founded in part to exterminate Lutherans. Well, officially to ‘convert’ them – but we all know what happens to those who refuse to recant their heretical beliefs. But oh no, the catlick church would never murder people to ensure the supreacy of their bullshit over all others. Goddamn, historical revision seems to be more widespread than genuine historical fact these days.

  80. twas brillig (stevem) says

    That being said, I have a simple question: if Bruno is not a scientist, why is his life story being used as a cautionary example in a science documentary?

    ahem, sorry to interrupt this discussion, but to interject my “opinion”; Cosmos is NOT a “documentary”. The story of Science is a big part of the subject, but not the only part. Sagan called it Cosmos for a reason; to be about #everything#: the universe, the imagination, etc., and _everything_ about us. The Bruno issue was a significant event in the history of who we are and how we got here. To see it is only the story of Religion killing a Scientist is missing the story unreasonably. Sagan was not a Shakespeare, so his and Ann’s writing is not exquisite prose. I understand complaints that the show is not perfect, but it _is_ “damn good”. Not to single out Ham [but I will]; his complaint about the Bruno story is exactly the stuff the Bruno story was trying to exemplify. Look in the mirror Mr. Ham.
    Sorry, this isn’t my blog, so I’ll sit back and listen again… ;-|