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Friday, August 05, 2005

The spin cycle: Charles Krauthammer and circular reasoning

Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth, comments, re Charles Krauthammer’s recent demand that evidence of intelligent design in nature not be considered as science, that he should have checked into his science history a little more.

Krauthammer compares Cardinal Schonborn's rejection of Darwinism to the rejection by a Dutch clergyman of the elliptical orbits of planets, because the clergyman thought that planetary orbits should be circular. In other words, he thinks that the Cardinal is unaware of any evidence against Darwinism and simply dogmatically stating a theology, as that long-ago clergyman did.

Oops. As Pearcey notes below, the idea that orbits must be circular doesn't come from Christianity, but from ancient Greek philosophy.

Krauthammer's take is disappointing. He expresses a strong faith-science dichotomy, and does not seem to realize how much science is not actually a matter of mere observation but has enshrined naturalistic philosophical assumptions.

This is actually funny:

"With your ellipse," Fabricius wrote Kepler, "you abolish the circularity and uniformity of the motions, which appears to me increasingly absurd the more profoundly I think about it."

Krauthammer uses this as an example of Christian thought interfering with science, but it is in fact an example of *secular* philosophy slowing down the progress of science. Ptolemy took the idea of circular orbits from Greek philosophy. It regarded the earth as a place of decay, while the heavens are perfect. And what's the perfect shape? The circle--because it goes on forever--a kind of infinity. Ergo, the planets must move in circular orbits. So this example actually proves the opposite of what Krauthammer wanted to illustrate.

Galileo apparently rejected elliptical orbits as well, by the way, and forthe same reason - and his views were way more influential than that clergyman's. But notice that no one rushes into print with that information. Galileo is way too important a folk legend of secularism to be permitted to have made a mistake based on philosophy, never mind the facts of the case.
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