Book Plunge: Science Education in the Early Roman Empire

What do I think of Richard Carrier’s latest book published by Pitchstone Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I saw Carrier had a new book coming, I decided I had to order it immediately. Carrier is one of the biggest names in atheism today for some reason and I want to be on top of what is being said as a Christian, so I placed my request and waited. The book actually came before the release date, which was a surprise, but I’m not complaining.

To start, some people will be surprised that this book is short. Had it not been for the presidential debates and then getting ready to spend Anime Weekend Atlanta with my wife, I can conceive of someone going through this in a day. The content pages aren’t large in number, they have footnotes, and the font seems larger than normal. This isn’t a complaint by the way, but just a statement of fact.

Reading this also, one in many ways seems to encounter a Carrier that they haven’t seen before. I thought his book on the historicity of Jesus just went for stretch after stretch after stretch and his book on sense and goodness without God had no real referencing to speak of. The style in this is quite different and I would not have known it was a Carrier book unless I had read it on the front because that was so incredibly different, but I understand that this is based on his dissertation so that’s probably what explains it.

I actually think the book is quite informative as well. It’s important to note that science wasn’t taught as much not because it was looked down on per se, but because attitudes like virtue and rhetoric were seen as more important. This is understandable. As Lewis wrote that many people can put up one kind of moral behavior and posit that for morality and think they are more moral than people of the past because of where they excel, ignoring where they are weak, so can it be done with knowledge. For the ancients, it was rhetoric and persuasive ability that mattered. For the medievals, it was the knowledge of God that was on top. For moderns, it’s science. Of course, it’s my persuasion that we can learn from all three.

Carrier does want to compare the time to the Middle Ages, but here you see that he has not really looked at it as much. I look forward to seeing what Hannam and O’Neill will say in response. Let’s look at some such passages in Carrier to see what I mean.

“How many youths studied the enkykios (A basic curriculum consisting of scientific knowledge) and its basic science content in the Middle Ages?  I suspect it is not likely even to be comparable, much less greater. But I must leave that for others to determine.” (p. 85)

“But I suspect very much the same could be said for the Middle Ages.” (p. 89)

“It seems unlikely that these standards for the education of scientists and philosophers continued in the Middle Ages, which oversaw a broad decline of scientific knowledge, and the gradual elimination of even the idea of a philosophy school.” (p. 119)

“Medieval state and public support for education is not likely to compare as well, until the rise of the universities, yet even those were small and few in number for quite some time and thus, at least until the Renaissance, might not have surpassed what had already been available in the Roman Empire.” (p. 136)

Statements like this do show that we need to wait for that information to come out. As I said, I look forward to what Hannam and O’Neill have to say, particularly about Christianity not being responsible for the rise of science. Still, this book is actually an interesting and enjoyable read and I think contains information that is worth further study. We’ll have to see what others have to say about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Inventing The Flat Earth

What do I think of Jeffrey Russell’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.


Recently, I had a conversation at a store with a salesman who was telling me that people in the past believed the Earth was flat, which I raised disagreement with. Online, one can hear this as a common objection. Often it is treated as an axiom and with the idea that the church was teaching otherwise. Consider this quote from Ingersoll in his essay Individuality


It is a blessed thing that in every age some one has had individuality enough and courage enough to stand by his own convictions,—some one who had the grandeur to say his say. I believe it was Magellan who said, “The church says the earth is flat; but I have seen its shadow on the moon, and I have more confidence even in a shadow than in the church.” On the prow of his ship were disobedience, defiance, scorn, and success.


A flat-earther is used to refer to someone today who is a fool and is going against the progress of science. It’s certainly easy to write off people as believing this. I know in Elementary school and beyond I was taught that Columbus sailed around to demonstrate that the Earth was round and not flat. (Which even if that had been the case, considering he didn’t circumnavigate the globe, he did not prove that anyway. 

If only I had know about Russell’s book back then.

Russell’s book is incredibly short. You can easily read it in a couple of hours like I did. In doing so, you will have invested those hours well. Russell points out that after the time of Christ, there were only two people who really brought out the idea that the Earth was flat. How many followers did they get on that count? None. They were certainly the minority. Alas, these two are thought to be representative of the time as a whole, ignoring all the other evidence that indicates people knew it was round.

Now of course, it could be that this did not extend to the masses, but frankly, we have no real way of knowing that. I would wager that for most people who were working hard to put food on the table and care for their families, they did not really think about the shape of the Earth. In fact, if they had, well you just go and ask the local priest and the local priest will tell you what the fathers of the church have said and you’ll hear that it’s round.

Russell also shows how this fed into a false idea of a warfare between science and religion, started mainly by people like John Draper and Andrew Dickson White. In many cases, this because a round of a group of people quoting each other as their own authorities and thereby seeking to establish their case as if it was heavily documented. (Read new atheist literature today and not much has changed.)

While Russell’s thesis is certainly correct and he goes into great detail to show a meeting Columbus had with officials never brought up the shape of the Earth and while his work is filled with scholarly notes, I would like to see future editions contain quotes within the text itself. What would most complete this book is to have a series of quotations from people in this time period on how the Earth was indeed spherical, such as Thomas Aquinas’s in his Summa Theologica in the very first question.

Still, this is a valuable book to read on the controversy. I wish I’d had it in the past instead of just buying into what my teachers taught me.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/8 2013, Lighting Up Dark Ages Science

What’s coming up on this Saturday’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We had hoped to get Mike Licona to join us, but he is with his mother who is in the final stages of brain cancer. We ask for your prayers for her and the rest of our family in this time.

Instead, it looks like our guest is going to be James Hannam. James Hannam is the author of the book “God’s Philosophers”, also known as “The Genesis of Science.” In this book, Hannam takes a look at the period of time known as the Dark Ages where the church led the world and as a result, science and education languished while people dwelt in superstition, until finally came Galileo along to renew an interest in science.

That’s the popular belief, and as is often the case with many such beliefs today, it is entirely false. Hannam goes to great lengths in this book to demonstrate that the Christian church not only encouraged science, but carried it forward so that people like Galileo were just standing on the shoulders of those who came before them.

We will hopefully be talking about people such as Andrew Dickson White who kept going the myth that in this time there was a warfare between science and religion. This could include also discussing how modern disciples of ignorance, such as the new atheists, keep these claims going.

We will find that certainly not everything the medievals believed about science and nature was accurate, but it wasn’t because they were blinded by religion. If anything, it was because they did not have the best information available, yet for what means that they did have to obtain knowledge, they made several excellent observations that we still hold today.

We will be looking at the way Scripture did play a role in this. Did it hinder the learning that took place or did it encourage it? Was it a rule that the Scriptures had to be interpreted “literally” or did the church allow for a variety of ways in which a passage could be translated? Were there any real conflicts going on between science and religion?

Were those who were doing science supported by the church or where they doing their work in isolation? If you had a sickness, could it have actually been better for you to go to your local priest rather than to the actual medical doctor? Were cadavers allowed to be used for the study of the body?

And of course, some time will have to be spent on Galileo. Was he really the victim of persecution from the church trying to put a stop to his science, or was there something more going on?

In the end, I suspect you will be surprised to find that the so-called dark ages were not really dark at all. If anything is actually in the dark today, it is the idea that is spread perpetually by those who wish to paint the time period as a time of great ignorance.

Please join in from 3-5 EST this Saturday to listen to the podcast here

In Christ,
Nick Peters