"Letters to the Editor"
The Wall Street Journal
From the evidence of the review by Alan Hirshfeld of The Workshop of the World by Robert P. Crease, neither of them is aware that Aristotleís physics was refuted by the philosopher John Philoponus, at Alexandria, in the 6th Century A.D. Philoponus even dropped weights, a thousand years before Galileo, and demonstrated, by that experiment, that the weights did not fall at speeds proportional to their weight, as Aristotle had asserted. Even Thomas Kuhn recognized that this led to a scientific revolution, overturning Greek physics. Even Galileo himself knew this. Philoponus did not originate the concept of inertia; but Galileo, who did, was consciously building on his results.
Iím not sure what is worse, that Hirshfeld and Crease ignore Philoponus, or that they actually donít know about him. But the latter would not be uncommon, despite voluminous scholarship on him by the Oxford philosopher Richard Sorabji and others. And I suspect that there is [a] motive for this neglect. If we can skip directly from Aristotle to Galileo, this confirms a narrative of Mediaeval ignorance and bigotry, something that has infected the history and philosophy of science since the Enlightenment. No violence to the truth can stand in the way, after all, of something that discredits religion. Yet it was the Christian Philoponus who refuted Aristotle, not his pagan critic Simplicius. If Hirshfeld and Crease really want to vindicate the ďauthorityĒ of science and its methods, simply displaying their own ignorance or prejudice is not a good way to do it.
Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.
Both Alan Hirshfeld and Robert Crease have appeared before in these pages. Hirshfeld wrote a review, "A Longing for Truth and Meaning," for the book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, by Alan Lightman, which I have reviewed in turn. Both men seem to have fallen victim to the nihilism of a naive and uncritical materialism. Robert Crease, in turn, is a Nietzsche apologist whose column in The Wall Street Journal I answered with a letter to the editor. From what I have seen of these previous writings of theirs, I am not surprised that they should be displaying ignorance of John Philoponus and perpetuating an anti-religious fairy tale about the Middle Ages.
Philosophy of Science