Friday, May 23, 2014

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Moerbeeke, translations and the medieval genius to adapt and learn

The opposite is true of Islam

by Ferdinand III

One of the great aspects of the Medieval era, was cultural-adaptability. The Roman Empire post the time of Augustus became a dead weight for European development, retarding by hundreds of years European civilizational improvement. But one positive aspect of Roman culture did implant itself and that was the ability to take foreign ideas, adapt them, use them and improve upon them. This mentality pervaded the medieval era in Catholic Europe. It matter not who created the idea, or from where it originated. If it made sense, use it, and if possible, extend it.

Edward Grant in 'God and Reason' writes that by the end of eleventh century, “Western Europeans were aware that both Muslims and Byzantines had access to philosophical and scientific texts that they did not have. After the capture of Toledo, Spain and Sicily from the Muslims in 1085 and 1091, respectively, a number of scholars translated Greek and Arabic texts, but tended to prefer the Greek ones because Greek was a related Indo-European language, which Arabic was not.

Did the Moslems seek out Christian texts, or the numerous treatises on science, math and agricultural innovations than prevalent in Europe? Of course not. By 1000 AD the Moslem mind was shut. Moslem culture ossified, becoming a mental backwater of Koranic inspired gibberish, anti-science, as well as virulently anti-Christian. The Moslem golden age is one gigantic lie and myth.

By contrast the Christians were very keen on translation. Texts from sources they deemed important, be they Roman, Greek, Arab or Oriental were sought out and translated. Not only do we see an active, engaged culture, but a multi-lingual one as well. Europeans were quite able to translate material directly from Greek and Arabic into both Latin and the nascent vernaculars. There is not one single piece of evidence that Arabs at any time during the medieval period, translated anything from Latin into Arabic, even though by 1000 AD it was clear that Europe was far ahead of Islam in everything from warfare to metallurgy.

Grant gives many examples of this translating energy. Source material in optics, astronomy, medicine and mathematics were translated from Arabic to Latin for example, but according to Grant it was, "Aristotle's work on natural philosophy that had the greatest impact. The two greatest translators from Greek to Latin were James of Venice (d. after AD 1147), the first major translator of Aristotle's works from Greek to Latin, and the Flemish scholar William of Moerbeke (c. AD 1215-c. 1286), who was the last".

Keep in mind that much of Aristotle's naturalism is of course entirely wrong, unscientific, and obstructed scientific experimentation. This is what Christians discovered after translating his works from Greek and Arabic. The Moslems had simply accepted Aristotle's ideas as 'fact'. Most of these 'laws' were inane and incredibly incorrect.

Grant, page 166 and the Christian penchant to understand science:
"William of Moerbeke [13th century] translated at least forty-eight treatises, including seven on mathematics and mechanics by Archimedes, translated for the first time into Latin (Grant 1974, 39-41; Minio-Paluello 1974, 436-438). His Aristotelian translations are truly impressive. He was the first to translate Aristotle's biological works from Greek into Latin. In translating the rest of Aristotle's natural philosophy, Moerbeke found it useful to revise, expand, and even complete some earlier translations, including revisions of at least three treatises previously translated by James of Venice. In addition, Moerbeke translated Greek commentaries on Aristotle's works from late antiquity. Thus, he translated John Philoponus' Commentary on the Soul, and Simplicius' Commentary on the Heavens. One of the earliest beneficiaries of Moerbeke's translations was Thomas Aquinas."
Information on Moerbeeke can be found here. Aquinas was of course one of the most important philosophers in history. He basically 'Christianized' Aristotle, accepting some aspects of the ancient Greek's naturalism which made sense, and rejecting parts which had no basis in common-sense or science. Without Moerbeeke's contributions however, Aquinas' theological philosophy might have turned out quite differently. Show me any Arab who translated 40-50 Latin texts into Arabic ? Or maybe just one ?

The knowledge accumulated by men such as Moerbeeke was vital to European intellectual development, stimulating an already effervescent society with new ideas and energy. Within Islam such developments would have meant nothing. Within Europe they help to solidify and extend the complex intellectual creations of the Medieval period. This is because the Europeans had long divorced the state from the church. Inquiry was not only funded by the Church but demanded. The same was true of secular powers.

The first universities of the 11th century were found only in Europe, usually with a mix of church, state and student-tuition funding. It was impossible to keep out 'good ideas' from these schools, or society at large. If Aristotle's naturalism was clearly limited and suffused with bad concepts, so be it. It could still be taught, learnt, analyzed, rejected or even accepted. This cultural confidence did not exist, and indeed has never existed, within Islam.

As Grant writes, one of the most important advantages Catholic Europe enjoyed during this period was the separation between church and state [page 246-247]:
"[Byzantines and Muslims] paid a heavy price for failing to separate church and state. In both societies, Aristotle's natural philosophy was regarded as potentially dangerous because it encompassed ideas and concepts that were hostile to both religions, and because it was often felt that scholars who focused too much on natural philosophy would either neglect religion or come to regard it as inferior to natural philosophy. Islam's failure to separate church and state nullified an institutional advantage it had over Western Christendom...the West developed a lively natural philosophy, whereas in Islam natural philosophy became a peripheral and suspect discipline, whose study could even prove dangerous."
Catholic Europe was obsessive in divorcing the state from the Church. Indeed at times, in despotic Spain or France during the post-Middle Ages [16th century, supposedly a time of joy and rationality]; the state took over the Church leading to despotic disasters and bankruptcy. The opposite was true pre-1600. The fragmented nature of Europe held together by the cultural ethos of the Church allowed the Europeans to stride onto world mastery. Grant, page 248:
"Without the separation of church and state, and the developments that proceeded as a consequence, the West would not have produced a deeply rooted natural philosophy that was disseminated through Europe by virtue of an extensive network of universities, which laid the foundation for the great scientific advances made in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, advances that have continued to the present day."
Questions for Moslemophiles. If Islam is so superior, or relatively as 'great' as Western culture, why the poverty, the lack of science, the paucity of innovation within its culture now and in the past? Why didn't Arabs and Moslems translate books from other superior cultures ? How would merging the church with the state create civilization? The culture of Islam is of course anti-civilizational. That is the answer.