Monday, November 1, 2010

More on Hypatia (and Christians, and atheists, and Ptolemaic science)

A lot of the stuff on Hypatia out there on teh interwebs is (surprise!) misinformed, misleading or just out and out disinformation. A lot of this is due to Christians desperately trying to rewrite history. Also, the portrayal of Hypatia in the film Agora, while sympathetic after a fashion, is more fiction than fact -- and that is largely due to the fact that Alejandro Amenábar's atheism is nearly as hostile to Hypatia's Paganism as Christianity is.

Anyway, here are a few links that won't steer you too far wrong:
One of the worst thing about the film Agora is the way in which the scientific achievements of ancient Pagandom are inexcusably distorted to fit Amenabar's atheist agenda. Anyone interested in actually understanding the tremendous accomplishments and intellectual sophistication of ancient Pagan science should check out Andrew Barker's study Scientific Method in Ptolemy's Harmonics. In that work, and as the title implies, Barker argues that in his Harmonics, Ptolemy "announces and seeks to justify at the outset a sophisticated set of procedural principles which scientists in this field, so it argues, must follow if they are to produce defensible results." [p. 1] Barker goes on to say that:
The complex combination of rationalism and empiricism which Ptolemy professes to adopt insists, among other things, on a crucial role for experimental tests of provisional theory-based results. Here, as we shall see, the word 'experimental' is to be construed in a strict sense that will seem surprisingly modern. I hope to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Ptolemy understood very well what conditions must be met if experimental tests are to be fully rigorous, and that he had a clear and persuasive conception of the roles they should be assigned in a well conducted scientific project.
[p. 2]
In other words far from being simply an authority figure whose views were accepted uncritically, Ptolemy was an outspoken proponent for open ended scientific research in the full modern sense. This is precisely the opposite of the view of Ptolemaic science that is presented in Agora.

[This is a follow up to the post: Hypatia (Honoring Our Pagan Ancestors, Part Two).]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the links to the Hypatia articles. I saw Agora when it first came out in NYC and agree there were some historical distortions including portraying Hypatia as a modern atheist. Her dedication to a philosophy which practiced specific mysteries as way to know "the divine" shows she was a deeply spiritual woman. I discuss that aspect of Agora, among many others, in a series of posts on my blog--not a movie review, but a "reel vs. real" discussion.

You might want to add to your recommended reading a biography by Maria Dzielska called Hypatia of Alexandria (Harvard Press, 1995.) On some atheist blogs she is termed a Christian apologist, but I didn't find that all. She clearly holds Christians to account for Hypatia's death, but ascribes a political motive. After all, how do you separate politics and religion, even in these days, much less in the 5C? I thought Dzielska did a great job of combing through the myths and legends and putting the few historical primary sources in context. Thanks again, for your interesting posts!