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Friday, April 27, 2018

Did Math Kill God? | New Republic

Photo: Josephine Livingstone
Josephine Livingstone, culture staff writer at The New Republic inform, "A new book on Renaissance mathematics makes a bold case."

Photo: New Republic
One upon a time, a great Italian published a work called the Siderius Nuncius. Galileo had seen the moons of Jupiter through his telescope. He had seen Venus moving. So, in 1606, he endorsed the ideas Copernicus had written down a half-century earlier in the De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. The earth moves around the sun, Galileo said. On February 24, 1616, the Qualifiers of the Inquisition declared heliocentrism heretical. After a trial Galileo was sentenced to house arrest in 1633. There he stayed ever after, moving indeed around a sun, but stuck indoors while thinking about it.

You have likely heard this tale many times. But what does the story mean? For children it shows that you should stick to your guns when you know you’re right—especially if you’re a scientist. For adults it represents a key moment in the development of astronomy and the sciences in general. And those two lessons bind into a bigger story that we use to define who we are, in our time. The Galileo Affair becomes part of a metanarrative, or, in Jean-Francois Lyotard’s term, a Grand Narrative. It says that early seventeenth-century Europe hung at a crux, with religion pulling it backward into medieval ignorance and science straining to push time forward into modernity. Against the benighted church Galileo labored, alongside the other great thinkers of the sixteenth century who gave rise to our rational modern age.

As many scholars have observed in the past century or so, this is a deeply suspicious way to think about events from the past. When Lyotard coined his term, he was observing the tendency to conceive of knowledge in the form of story-telling. Such narratives legitimize certain ideas, he argued. The story of Jesus is not merely a biography, but legitimizes Christianity as a social norm. In the same way, history and science are driven by narrative. When we learn about physics in class, we do not ourselves perform every experiment. We hear the narrative about forces exerting themselves in an equal and opposite direction, and we believe it. When those narratives culminate in a meta-narrative, we see a result that seems almost pre-determined. We see things as pursuing a teleology.

The Great Rift:
Literacy, Numeracy,
and the Religion-Science Divide

In a new book called The Great Rift: Literacy, Numeracy, and the Religion-Science Divide, Michael E. Hobart offers a new twist on a huge old metanarrative: the death of God...

Josephine Livingstone ends her article with following: "Although it is impossible to fault the passion with which he has ventured into historical mathematics’ every daunting nook and baffling cranny, the speed and the sweep of Hobart’s argument makes it hard for a reader suspicious of metanarrative to remain unsuspicious of his book. Technological determinism is perhaps the great intellectual temptation of our decade—try not to fall for it."
Read more... 

Source: New Republic

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