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Of magic cloaks and Classical Greek thought

That JK Rowling majored in Classics is a comfort to impecunious classicists who are often asked why on earth they majored in such an arcane subject. Rather than pointing to, say, the influence of the Ancient Greeks on British and American constitutional government, individual rights under the law, civic responsibility, and civilian control of the military or to the fact that Ancient Greeks established the methods of scientific enquiry that created the modern world, we can now point to classical scholar JK Rowling, who has become the first writer to earn a billion US dollars from her books.

Rowling's universe is a magical world with a happily quirky respect for reason, and many of her magical inventions are close to becoming reality through the use of reason. A flying car is not far away, and US and British scientists have demonstrated a working "invisibility cloak" that could, in time, make its wearers invisible.

There are some wonderful things that could be written about the influence of Classical ideas on British civilization. Beginning in the 13th century British scientists were thrilled and galvanized by the Classical Greek description of rational thought. That they were so inspired is due to the support they received from the Christian Church.

I realize that many people take the play Galileo as the last and only word in scientific-religious history, so I’ll simply note that Galileo’s experience was hardly ever the experience of Christian British scientists. Unlike many other religions, Christianity urged Christians to explore the world rationally. That is why Anselm tried to create a rational proof of God in the 12th century, and why Bishop Grosseteste wrote about the mathematical foundation of the world in the 13th century and his student Roger Bacon urged his students to experiment and base their science on evidence. (Unfortunately Bacon was so far ahead of his time he was attacked as a magician after the Pope who had been protecting him died.)

Eight hundred years of Christian civilisation in Britain nurtured a host of scientists who made countless contributions. It's salutary to realize their exploration of the world was based on rational principles first explicated by the Greeks, in particular, if Aristotle is correct, by Socrates.


More about those early British scientists starts here.