Melancholy Baby

Robert Burton, author of the raging bestseller of the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s, Anatomy of Melancholy, provides us with a look at what our intellectual world might be if our friends, the advocates of Intelligent Design, have their way. After all, Professor Michael Behe testified under oath that according to his definition of science, Astrology would be considered a scientific discipline. Perhaps we would return to the intellectual world of Mr. Burton, before the scientific method was accepted, by some, and the chief source of authority was textual. Not that the IDers will insist on literal interpretation of the Bible, but their constant insistance on the false notion that evolution is just a theory, and that their “theory” therefore deserves equal time, opens up the vista of science classes clogged with references to all current notions about this or that, all of which are treated equally.Here is an excerpt from Mr. B. on the influence of the stars on melancholia:

Paracelsus is of opinion, that a physician without the knowledge of stars can neither understand the cause or cure of any disease, either of this or gout, not so much as toothache; except he see the peculiar geniture and scheme of the party effected. And for this proper malady, he will have the principal and primary cause of it proceed from the heaven, ascribing more to stars than humours,”and that the constellation alone many times produceth melancholy, all other causes set apart. He gives instance in lunatic persons, that are deprived of their wits by the moon’s motion; and in another place refers all to the ascendant, and will have the true and chief cause of it to be sought from the stars. Neither is it his opinion only, but of many Galenists and philosophers, though they do not so peremptorily maintain as much. This variety of melancholy symptoms proceeds from the stars, saith Melancthon: the most generous melancholy, as that of Augustus, comes from the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Libra: the bad, as that of Catiline’s, from the meeting of Saturn and the moon in Scorpio. Jovianus Pontanus, in his tenth book, and thirteenth chapter de rebus coelestibus, discourseth to this purpose at large, Ex atra bile varii generantur morbi, etc.

Notice the deference to published sources, the voluminous quotations, the piling on of examples from stories, annecdote, and text. Notice the tone of, “So and so says,” “while, Mr. X said…” Never an attempt to TEST any of them. His book, highly entertaining, goes on like this for thousands of pages, and I recommend it enthusiastically as a literary diversion, and a window into another world, but science it ain’t! Can’t you see it? “Darwin’s theory of evolution says this, and predicts that, all of which have been borne out by field evidence and laboratory experiment. On the basis of this theory, now proven, we can develop vaccines, improve animal breeding, create new strands of wheat….The theory of Intelligent Design, on the other hand, asserts that there must be a guiding force behind this process. We can’t say what it is, but we suspect that it is God, whatever that is. There are a lot of authors who feel this way, and even some with Ph. D.s in science…”

4 Responses to Melancholy Baby

  1. NowWhat? says:

    Glad you’re back – who else would recommend 16th century essays on death? Good stuff –

  2. Brian Scoles says:

    Glad to make your acquaintance. I have not read Anatomy as of yet. Does he, by chance, reference or comment on my longtime obsession, the book of Ecclesiastes?

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