Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tracking a lie through its various plagiarized sources

There is an interesting phenomena over at PZ Myers' blog that has to do with some of the people who have been posting Catholic arguments against anything PZ writes about religion. It was especially intense right after PZ threatened to desecrate a cracker. PZ's regulars call them "godbots," they are people who post huge chunks of plagiarized material, make wild and unsupported assertions, many obviously false, and they cannot comprehend or bother with explanations about how they're wrong. For example, someone calling themselves "cj" wrote a comment screed begining with "TO THE MYERS-IAN ATHEISTS" in which he made such outrageous claims as:

How many times need I remind you folks that Science itself was the result of CATHOLICS in the first place! It's interesting to note that the first scientists were all monks, they were all clerics!

Someone obviously lied to cj about "the first scientists" if he believes that. The first scientists that I can name go back to pre-Christian Greece. There also had to be a few "scientists" in ancient Egypt too else they couldn't have built those pyramids, but I couldn't give you their names. Seeing that the bulk of cj's post was a huge list of, supposedly, Catholic scientists and that cj obviously did not compile the list himself I decided to find it on the net. I plugged one of the list's entries into Google and found this site: "SCIENCE, THEOLOGY, AND CHRISTIANITY/CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHY." And there was the exact same list of Catholic scientists. It was copied and pasted, obviously, and with no credit to the original source.

But this wasn't the guy who lied to cj about Catholics being the first scientists, this guy only said:

... scientists who through the ages have been practising members of the Catholic Church and at the same time outstanding in Science. These men not only found no conflict between science and religion, but became more firm in their faith as they delved deeper into science.

While this statement isn't exactly on target because he can't honestly say that every "Catholic" scientist on that list never came into conflict with "religion" for, ironically, Galileo and a few others were on the list. They did come up against a conflict between "religion" (or at least the church) and science.

Seeing, however, this wasn't the source of the primary lie I next plugged cj's phrase "the first scientists were all monks, they were all clerics" into Google and found this source: A Monitor article published on March 03, 2007, called "Vatican astronomer blends faith, science," by Chelsea Conaboy.

Also, with a bit of modification in my search, this blog post came up: "P. Z. Myers Must Be Fired" by Jimmy Akin which has a comment by a someone calling themselves "Cracker Jack" that repeats cj's claims in more detail saying:

How many times need I remind you folks that such science, and even Science itself, was the result of Catholic scientists in the first place! So, yes, there was "assistance from the imaginary"; that is, it was the Catholic Faith of the first Scientists which were Catholic monks, clerics, and laity, that drove them to Science in the first place and inspired them to discovery and seek out the very workings of creation of God!

The first site is the source for the lie that cj believes as well as the source of cj's plagiarism. I am now informed that "Cracker Jack" is cj. The basic idea is far older however and it could probably, if given enough time, be tracked back farther to other sources. Eventually its degenerate evolution could be tracked.

The source article, "Vatican astronomer blends faith, science," is about Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Vatican astronomer. Consolmagno himself made the same wild and seemingly false assertion I quoted from cj:

"It's interesting to note that those people, the first scientists, were all monks, they were all clerics," he said. "And their sense that the universe makes sense came from, first of all, their belief that God created the universe in a logical way."

That's the first "lie," but, unlike cj, Consolmagno gave it a tiny bit of justification and the term "first scientist" should really be qualified as the "first methodologically experimental scientists to arise in Europe since perhaps the fall into the dark ages and the burning of the library at Alexandria." Of course, Consolmagno doesn't say that. The term "those people" in the above quote was introduced and qualified with only:

"But hundreds of years ago, the basic laws of science had not yet been discovered."

Those people, the "first scientists" in Consolmagno's mind, are the ones who discovered the "basic laws of science" hundreds of years ago (not thousands of years ago?). What he seems to mean by "the basic laws of science" is really just a rapid addition of some very limited science about the time of the Renaissance. cj left that tiny bit off and there was no qualification to his claim that the first scientists were Catholics.

Consolmagno is still wrong in my view, but it now looks more like cj's lie started with a "mistake" in the way things were worded rather than an out right lie. Perhaps Consolmagno engineered his statement to be misunderstood by those who know little of history. I'm not going to argue with Consolmagno's point until I get some examples of what he means by "basic laws" and "first scientists." Until then it's too vague to pin down.

However the first part of the lie that many of us are victims of may have started when we were taught the history of science in high school. The history we were mostly given was a Greek and European history that ignored the contributions of other cultures. Science seen through Western eyes. We learned about Galileo and Copernicus and they were apparently sincere Catholics. We learned about Newton who we found out later was an alchemist who studied the Bible like an alchemy text, looking for its secret meanings. What we did not learn much about was the Muslim contribution to science, India's contribution to science and math or about China's contribution to science.

Another reason so many so-called "first" scientists seemed to be Catholic a few hundred years ago is because Europe was Catholic in the same way Arabia was, and is, Islamic and India is Hindu. You could also get burned at the stake by the Roman Inquisition, like Giordano Bruno, for heresy. If you didn't claim belief in Catholic dogma, then you didn't talk about it.

Another factor that makes those days seem scientifically revolutionary is the fact that the work of scientists from before the fall of Rome were often burned and their knowledge was lost. In fact, this time period is often, pejoratively, called "the dark ages," an era of ignorance, superstition and social chaos. After the fall of Rome there was a long period in which good science couldn't be supported because the social infrastructure wasn't there. European civilization was intellectually and economically backward compared to the other cultures that rivaled it during those times. This made the advancement seem all the more rapid.

Another factor: Some scientists were monks, like Gregor Mendel and Thomas Bayes (a Presbyterian monk, not a Catholic), and they had the kind of institutional support that allowed them the time and resources to explore the natural world.

I'll have to dig a little deeper to find out exactly what Consolmagno thinks are the "basic laws of science" but I suspect that many of them will have sources in other, non-Christian, cultures.


watercat said...

You keep using that term "the basic laws of science". I don't think it means what he thinks it means. :-)

normdoering said...


What do you think it means?

And, what do you think Brother Guy Consolmagno means?

The term is rather fuzzy. Are we talking scientific method? Are we talking Newton's calculus?