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).]