Friday, April 13, 2007


From a comment by Greg Bourke about a post on NZ Conservative.
Catholicism gave the following to Western Civilization: The music notation system, double entry book keeping, champagne, Mendelian genetics, Copernican astronomy, the printing press, the hospital, and the university.
Readers are invited to take issue with any of the above. For a start, the musical notation system is dreadful, as anyone who has ever had to deal with all those notes above and below the stave will attest. Double entry book-keeping was invented by merchants in 14th Century Florence, who may have been Catholics but then so was everybody. The Church had more than a few issues with the heliocentric model, particularly when Galileo got hold of it. Whatever involvement the Church had with the invention of the printing press they probably regretted: it led to Protestants and the Enlightenment. The university caused similar woes.

Readers are also welcome to add their own favourite Catholic innovations to the list. I will start the list with Fascism. Anyone who has ever wondered why Fascism was strongest in the Catholic parts of Europe is invited to read Isaiah Berlin's Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism from The Crooked Timber of Humanity.

Lucyna at NZ Conservative has a different interpretation. She blames the Third Reich on the gays, having read a book called The Pink Swastika.


harvestbird said...

The claim that Catholicism gave western civilisation the university is, in my understanding, all kinds of oversimplified. The potted history of the university that a former colleague and I used to give our international students went, from memory (and sourceless, therefore), like this:

The first recorded assembly that is recognisable to modern eyes as like a university was a Buddhist institution in Nalanda (South India?), but the tradition of giving lectures--one speaker addressing a group of interested listeners who may at the address's end ask questions and comment--derives from the halaqa (sp.?), a method of teaching developed by Muslims as a means of carrying on the style of teaching associated with Mohammed. These traditions, derived from the first Muslim universities of the 10th and 11th centuries CE, travelled from Muslim North Africa to Moorish Spain. Here they were of interest first to rabbinical scholars and teachers and later to some of their local Christian counterparts.

When the first western university was founded at Bologna in the twelfth-century, it therefore drew upon traditions of teaching, learning and organisation that were decidedly hybrid (though still Abrahamic; the Buddhists had since dropped out of the picture when the southern Indian university were destroyed during wars with Muslim neighbours at around the time the Bologna edifices were being institutionalised).

Having said that, to give the Catholic heritage its due, one feature of the counter-reformation was the founding of universities in the Spanish-controlled new world. So while it's a massive over-simplification to say that Catholicism gave the university to western civilisation, one can say without reservation that Spanish counter-reformation Catholicism gave the university to Mexico.

Sam Finnemore said...

Sorry to post off-topic - feel free to return to Catholicism afterwards. As you're probably well aware, Garth George and Brian Rudman are fighting it out over global warming. Guess which side Whaleoil takes?

And the author of said weblog, captured on film in a relaxed moment. That's a rather telling T-shirt, too.

stephen said...

Paul, are you sure reading all this stuff is good for you? That post of Lucyna's actually hurt as I tried to itemise all the things that were wrong with it. I started composing comments but discarded them all because they seemed pointless in the face of such determined wrong-headedness.

harvestbird said...

Stephen, you could peruse the blogs of Bourke, the cited commenter, instead. His piety means his arguments run along internally consistent lines, although I am somewhat bemused by his implicit disparaging of lube.

Anonymous said...

Fancy blaming the Third Reich on Gays!!

An old trick of fundies is to blame victims rather than perpetrators!