How smart were the ancients?
Growing up as a JW, I always thought the ancients were scientific morons who knew next to nothing. Ashamedly, I used to run around citing Isaiah 40:22 as proof of the Bible's 'divine authorship' because it talked about "the circle of the earth". As though this were somehow an unknowable before spaceflight.
But the more I learn about history, the more I realize just how advanced some of the Ancients were. Eratosthenes calculating the diameter of the earth has been referenced in several threads on this site. But someone you may never of heard of is Aristarchus.
Not a whole lot is know about him but in the year 200 BC Aristarchus' contemporary, Archimedes, wrote a fascinating book called The Sand Reckoner in which Archimedes attempted to calculate how many grains of sand could fit inside the universe. Using parallax and a few assumptions, Archimedes figured the universe was about 2 light years across (pretty astounding for a man of antiquity).
But even more interesting than Archimedes estimations, is his reference to a man who was putting forth the heliocentric model some 1,800 years before Copernicus formalized and popularized the idea. Here's a passage from Archimedes book:
You are now aware that the "universe" is the name given by most astronomers to the sphere the center of which is the center of the earth, while its radius is equal to the straight line between the center of the sun and the center of the earth. This is the common account as you have heard from astronomers. But Aristarchus has brought out a book consisting of certain hypotheses, wherein it appears, as a consequence of the assumptions made, that the universe is many times greater than the "universe" just mentioned. His hypotheses are that the fixed stars and the sun remain unmoved, that the earth revolves about the sun on the circumference of a circle, the sun lying in the middle of the orbit, and that the sphere of the fixed stars, situated about the same center as the sun, is so great that the circle in which he supposes the earth to revolve bears such a proportion to the distance of the fixed stars as the center of the sphere bears to its surface.
Sadly, Aristarchus own writings were lost when the Christians burned down and raised the Library of Alexandria. It kinda makes me wonder what else the ancients knew.
It's what fascinated Russell that still enthralling to the masses that's the pyramids.
ancients with smarts? bible writers were not the brightest of the lot. Dealing with religious fictions, personalities will always be lame compared to observational, theoretical science.
good points CL.
Pretty damn smart..... JW world history is offensive and without doubt knowingly misleading.
Ancient Maths and Physics (measuring the circumference of earth)
Actually, growing up around old-time JWs, who liked to speculate a lot, and read the old literature, I was exposed to the opposite idea. It is an early Bible Student teaching that the closer to Adam humans were, the nearer perfection, and hence more intelligent. In their early tracts against evolution, one of the key arguments Russell made was that humans are getting less intelligent over the centuries, therefore evolution can't be true. This betrayed a superficial understanding of evolution, but it also showed that Bible Students regarded ancient humans as superior to modern humans.
In particlar I remember the idea being floated that there were advanced civilisations before the flood of Noah, and part of the reason for the flood and the destruction of the Tower of Babel was to stall human progress which had advanced far too quickly because humans were still near perfection.
The tract "The Bible vs. The Evolution Theory" (1898) argued that, while the modern age benefits from accumulated knowledge, humans of earlier centuries had greater abilities, and that human intellect has degraded over the centuries. It points to superior examples of art, poetry and even science in previous eras:
"In the Sciences. Of present day art and sciences special boast is made; and we are ready to admit generally the claim, accounting for it as before explained. Nevertheless, it behooves us to remember that the people of the past accomplished wonders without our modern appliances... We are not to forget, either, that some of the valuable arts of the past were so thoroughly lost that even with all our present-day enlightenment they have not yet been re-discovered: for instance, the process of manufacturing flexible glass; and the process of tempering steel which gave the swords of Damascus a world-wide fame for flexibility; and the process of tempering copper so as to render it useful for tools. And while considering these matters we are to remember that the Scriptures indicate not only that the Children of Israel became much degraded through their several centuries of bondage in Egypt, but also that among all the gentiles there was a retrogression."
sbf has a point: watching modern day masons with copper age tools try to dress and then erect a mini pyramid showed, that it would have taken more man hours to sharpen the tools than do the work. but they did it, not slaving either. Must have been the water canopy effect, the flood happened ~ at the same time.
It's a fascinating subject coded logic. I have just started researching this topic myself and have been amazed at the level of ancient technology, building and construction methods etc. I'd say much knowledge has been lost.
Even that phrase "circle of the earth" was interpreted differently by different bible readers.
Some took it to mean that the earth was a disc rather than a sphere. One such person was Paul Kruger, who, during the late 19th Century, served as president of what was then the Transvaal Republic (now a province of South Africa). Furthermore, Kruger was by no means alone amongst his people (a people whose formal education often amounted to no more than reading the bible) in thinking the world was flat.
Contrast that with the knowledge held by certain other peoples whom Europeans would have regarded as "uncivilised". One such group were the Polynesians. They knew that the earth was a sphere, and knew how to navigate by using the sun and the stars as guides. This enabled them to populate that whole vast triangular-shaped expanse of the Pacific Ocean - from Hawaii in the north, to Easter Island in the south east, to New Zealand in the south west.
Polynesian feats of navigation were so impressive that early European explorers speculated that originally, the Pacific Islands of Polynesia must have all been part of one great landmass. They figured that after being populated by humans, this landmass then sank into the ocean, just leaving the mountain tops behind and thus forming the Pacific Islands.
More recent commentators such as Professor Keith Cumberland put Polynesian migration down to "tropical voyages that went wrong" - i.e. according to him, Polynesian migration consisted of boatloads of people who got lost and somehow washed up ashore on the next island group along.
The fact is, though, that these seafarers knew exactly what they were doing when they migrated across the Pacific, between 1200 BC and 1300 AD. Not bad for a group of "primitive" peoples!
Ancient civilisations and their feats of construction from design, calculation,engineering knowhow tooling to completion of projects is always a fascination with me. As far as the earth being a sphere, surely ancient mariners could calculate from the horizon effect of appearance and disappearance and the fact that the watercraft did not fall off the edge of the world that the planet was spherical. Their ancient knowledge of construction and related sciences tells me they would be able to calculate the world to be a sphere without solely relying on biblical text.