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Multicultural Historians: The Assault on Western Civilization and Defilement of the Historical Profession, Part I: Patrick O'Brien on the Scientific Revolution

  • The University of New Brunswick, Saint John
The history of Western civilization has been undergoing a massive re-
interpretation in the name of a historical narrative that meets the re-
quirements of multiculturalism and the promotion of mass immigra-
tionregardless of the established protocols of scholarly trustworthi-
ness and the dictates of documentary evidence. Europe and Asia are
now regularly portrayed as “surprisingly similar” as late as 1750/1800
in their economic advances, standard of living, scientific knowhow, and
overall cultural achievements. Jack Goldstone has even argued that
there “were no cultural or institutional dynamics leading to a materially
superior civilization in the West” before 1850, except for the appearance
in Britain, “due to a host of locally contingent factors,” of an “engineer-
ing culture.”1
Multicultural historians are instructing their students that Europeans
don’t inhabit a continental homeland independently of Asia and Africa;
Europe’s history can only be understood within the context of “recipro-
cal connections” within the globe. “The exceptional interconnectedness
of Afroeurasia shaped the history of this world zone in profound ways,”
writes David Christian, author of the widely promoted book, Maps of
Time: An Introduction to Big History (2005).2 Students are being indoctri-
1 Jack Goldstone, “Capitalist Origins, the Advent of Modernity, and Coherent Ex-
planation, Canadian Journal of Sociology 33, no. 1 (Winter 2008): 11933. Goldstone has
been making this argument for some years; now available in a student-oriented book,
Why Europe? The Rise of the West in World History, 15001850 (Boston: McGraw-Hill,
2 David Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 2005). The cited sentence comes from Christian’s article Afroeura-
sia in Geological Time, World History Connected 5, no. 2 (February 2008) (unpaginated).
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 3, Fall 2013
nated that the only thing that stands out about Europeans was the
“windfall” profits they obtained from the Americas, the “lucky” pres-
ence of coal in England, and the blood-stained manner they went about
creating a new form of international slavery combined with “scientific”
This state of affairs has been in the making for some decades now, as
evident in the formation of numerous programs dedicated to ethnic mi-
norities, the establishment of well-funded organizations, journals, and
the continuous conferences taking place every week and month
throughout the West promoting every multicultural idea and policy im-
aginable. The old experts on European history are divided, heedless,
and confined to circumscribed fields lacking a coherent vision. The
Western Civilization history course, virtually a standard curriculum of-
fering 40 years ago, has disappeared from American colleges. According
to a National Association of Scholars report issued in 2011, “The Vanish-
ing West: 1964–2010,” only two percent of colleges offer Western Civili-
zation as a course requirement.4 No wonder the authors of recent West-
ern Civ texts, pleading for survival, have been adopting a globalist ap-
proach; Brian Levack et al. thus write in The West, Encounters & Trans-
formations (2007): “we examine the West as a product of a series of cul-
tural encounters both outside the West and within it.5 They also insist
that the religion of Islam was one of the prominent cultural features of
the West. Similarly, Clifford Backman, in his just released textbook, The
Cultures of the West (2013), traces the origins of the West to Iraq, Syria,
Lebanon, and Israel; and then goes on to tell students that his book is
different from previous texts in treating Islam as “essentially a Western
religion” and examining “jointly” the history of Europe and the Middle
Eastern world (xxii).6
3 John M. Hobson, The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization (Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University Press, 2004).
4 Glenn Ricketts, Peter Wood, Stephen Balch, and Ashley Thorne, The Vanishing
West: 19642010. The Disappearance of Western Civilization from the American Undergradu-
ate Curriculum (New York: National Association of Scholars, May 2011).
5 Brian Levack, Edward Muir, and Meredith Veldman, The West, Encounters &
Transformations, Volume I: To 1715, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2007),
6 Clifford Backman, The Cultures of the West (New York: Oxford University Press,
2013), xxii.
Writing about Western Civ texts from a globalist approach has been eagerly pro-
moted as a new teaching approach since the 1990s; Michael Doyle thus encourages
teachers, in “‘Hisperanto’: Western Civilization in the Global Curriculum, published
in the Teaching column of Perspectives (May 1998), a publication of the American His-
Duchesne, “Multicultural Historians”
The intention of this essay is twofold: 1) exhibit the extent to which
multicultural world historians have been willing to violate two basic
principles of the historical professionrespect for the scholarly sources
and reliability in the evaluation of the evidencefor the sake of
advancing a view that meets the political objective of promoting
diversity; and 2) interpret the assault against European achievements as
a curricular effort to brainwash native European students into accepting
a heterogeneous race-mixed society consistent with egalitarian mass
World historians continually boast about their emphasis on “connec-
tions” between regions and continents, emphasizing the role of trade,
migrations, and environmental events that transcend national bounda-
ries. They also brag about their “scientific” emphasis on the geograph-
ical, geological, climatic, economic, and demographic aspects of history,
as contrasted to the parochial, cultural, Eurocentric biases of historians
who write about the unique features of Western civilization.7 It would
make for an interesting essay showing the ways in which this “scien-
tific” emphasis is seriously impaired by the way multicultural historians
envision the geological, biological, and human history of the planet as a
communal affair wherein all natural things, cultures, and regions are
seen as equal partners marching in unison under the guidance of “pro-
gressive” elites.
It would also make for an interesting paper explaining the ways in
which politically correct would-be scientific historians employ post-
modernist discourses as a means to confuse, detract from, or avoid fac-
ing up to the overwhelming reality of the evidence standing in opposi-
tion to their poorly supported claims. It would be a most revealing ex-
position to show how multicultural historians have suppressed the find-
torical Association, “to continue to incorporate a more inclusive approach to all cul-
tures with which it [the West] came into contact.” Certainly Western Civ students
should read parts of the Qur’an and understand the attitudes that produced Fanon’s
The Wretched of the Earth.” He refers to the Communist Eric Hobsbawm’s widely read
books on European history as a model to be emulated by students and teachers.
7 According to Patrick Manning’s Navigating World History: Historians Create a Global
Past (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), histories that do not treat Europe as an
integrated part of the African, Asian, or American continents cannot be categorized as
works of world history.” Only histories emphasizing connections can be said to con-
stitute world history, even if such histories area about small local regions in Africa
connected to other localities elsewhere. The history of cotton planters in the American
South is world history in its connection to the Atlantic; the history of the rise of modern
science in Europe is not world history, unless the rise of this science is seen to be con-
nected to some place in Africa, Asia, or the Americas.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 3, Fall 2013
ings of Darwinian theory and evolutionary psychology in their efforts to
write of a common, generic humanity without ethnic distinctions or
group interests.
However, my aim here is to bring to light the flagrant manner in
which multicultural historians go about misusing sources, misreading
books, misinterpreting the evidence, concealing the facts, and overall
violating the principles of historical objectivity and respect for scholar-
shipall in the name of creating a consensus to accept the imagined
merits of a multiracial society inside European-created cultures.
I will do this by examining four recent articles which appeared sepa-
rately in the Journal of Global History, published by Cambridge Universi-
ty Press, in the flagship Journal of World History, in the distinguished
American Historical Review, and in the widely read leftist newspaper The
Hundreds of other publications could have served as well to illustrate
this abuse of the historical profession. In The Uniqueness of Western Civili-
zation (2011),8 I elaborated on some of the ways Kenneth Pomeranz, John
Hobson, Bin Wong, Patrick Manning, and others relied on dated
sources, misread, and sometimes willfully misinterpreted numerous au-
thors. Examining four articles will allow me to make my case in a de-
tailed and in-depth way. What is going on here cannot be attributed to
mere empirical incompleteness and understandable errors of judgment.
Our students today may be said to be the targets of a deep-seated educa-
tional effort to impose on the historical profession a multicultural view
of Europe’s history that is heavily infused with fabrications and the mis-
treatment of scholarly sources.
Patrick O’Brien, Professor of Global History at the London School of
Economics and Political Science, proudly sent proof copies of the follow-
ing title to a number of historians including myself: “Historical Founda-
tions for a Global Perspective on the Emergence of a Western European
Regime for the Discovery, Development, and Diffusion of Useful and
Reliable Knowledge.” Soon enough the essay appeared in The Journal of
Global History (March 2013). The essay seemed fair enough in its con-
cluding statement that “historians of global economic development
8 Ricardo Duchesne, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization (Leiden, The Netherlands:
Brill, 2011).
Duchesne, “Multicultural Historians”
might wish to retain the ‘older’ view of the ‘Scientific Revolution.’”9
The global historians O’Brien was referring to are Pomeranz, Wong,
Goldstone, Prasannan Parthasarathi, Ian Morris, Felipe Fernández-
Armesto, Andre Gunder Frank, Manning, Christian, and indeed almost
the entire world and global history professoriate dominating our educa-
tional institutions. The research of these historians has been invariably
about the so-called “similarities”—economic and institutionalbetween
Europe and Asia before the Industrial Revolution. They have generally
insisted that the rise of modern science was a global phenomenon. For
example, Frank has written that Newtonian science was not peculiar to
Europe but “existed and continued to develop elsewhere as well.”10 Fer-
nández-Armesto has shown no hesitation s t a t i n g that the science
and philosophy of Copernicus, Kepler, Laplace, Descartes and Bacon
was no more original than the neo-Confucian “scientific” revival of the
seven- teenth century—both were “comparable in kind.11
Morris, in his widely reviewed book, Why the West RulesFor Now
(2010), has said that an intellectual movement in seventeenth- to eight-
eenth-century China known as Kaozheng “paralleled western Europe’s
scientific revolution in every wayexcept one: it did not develop a me-
chanical model of nature”—a rather large difference given that nature
can’t be understood scientifically without such models.12 Parthasarathi,
in his recent book, Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Eco-
nomic Divergence, 16001850 (2011) has rejected the “older” claim that
Europe possessed superior markets, rationality, science or institutions,
tracing the divergence instead to different competitive and ecological
pressures structured by global dynamics.13
Now, while O’Brien thinks that these historians have been “success-
ful” in their “assault upon a triumphalist tradition of European global
9 Patrick O’Brien, Historical Foundations for a Global Perspective on the Emer-
gence of a Western European Regime for the Discovery, Development, and Diffusion
of Useful and Reliable Knowledge,” The Journal of Global History 8, no. 1 (March 2013):
124, 15.
10 Andre Gunder Frank, Re-Orient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: Uni-
versity of California Press, 1998), 18889.
11 Felipe Fernández-Armesto, The World: A History (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pear-
son, 2007), 630.
12 Ian Morris, Why the West RulesFor Now: The Patterns of History, and What They
Reveal About the Future (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), 473.
13 Prasannan Parthasarathi, Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic
Divergence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 3, Fall 2013
economic history,14 he guardedly questions their claim that the rise of
modern science was a global phenomenon. The Scientific Revolution, he
writes, was something less than a short, sharp discontinuity in the ac-
cumulation of scientific knowledge, and more a profound conjuncture
locatable for its time in the history of western Europe.15 Yet, O’Brien accepts
the idea that world history should be the study of “connections in the
human community,” the story of humanity’s “common experience,” an
idea which precludes seeing historical transformation in terms of the
“internal logics” of nations or particular civilizations. The result is one of
the most convoluted, awkward, improperly documented papers I have
This paper is part of a “project funded by the European Research
Council.” In an earlier “Proposal to the European Research Council”
(2009), O’Brien spoke of the need for “an international alliance . . . to re-
spond to demands from a cosmopolitan generation of students now at
university for greater engagement with big questions that are . . . clearly
relevant to the geopolitical and moral concerns of their (and our) times
of accelerated globalization.16 He mentioned the names of Montes-
quieu, Voltaire, Hume, Quesnay, Turgot, Miller, Hegel, and other En-
lightenment thinkers known for their “universal” approaches, but then
summarily dismissed them for their “superficial” discussions of eco-
nomic matters, including in his indictment Spencer, Spengler, and
Toynbee. He acknowledged the stimulating discussions occasioned by
“neo-Weberian explanations” of the rise of the west” (by Eric Jones, Na-
than Rosenberg, Douglas North, Joel Mokyr, David Landes, and Angus
Maddison). But, again, he quickly brushed them off in favor of “Waller-
stein and his followers in the World Systems School of Historical Sociol-
O’Brien further insisted that the “divergence of European economies
from Asia is explicable . . . in terms of the gains the former made from
the discovery and exploitation of the Americas and (as Marx asserted)
by way of the systematic use of naval power and colonization in Asia.”
He told the European Council that Pomeranz, Wong, Goldstone, Harriet
Zurndorfer, and Parthasarathi (“aided by that indefatigable polemicist
Gunder Frank”) had in effect refuted the old Eurocentric view on West-
14 O’Brien, “Historical Foundations,” 2.
15 Ibid., 23.
16 Patrick O’Brien, Proposal to the European Research Council (2009).
Duchesne, “Multicultural Historians”
ern uniqueness.
O’Brien articulated similar ideas in his inaugural essay for the Journal
of Global History, “Historiographical Traditions and Modern Imperatives
for the Restoration of Global History,” published in 2006, where he em-
phasized the marginalized narratives of the non-Western world, their
struggle against “the interests of the wealthy, the powerful and the
West,” and the need for a new global history “inclusive” of the diversity
of the world, in resistance to the master narratives” of the West.17 The
Council agreed with O’Brien’s proposal, and awarded him “a large
grant,” and so was born the project, “Useful and Reliable Knowledge in
Global Histories of Material Progress in the East and the West”
(URKEW) at the London School of Economics, with O’Brien as “princi-
pal investigator.”
The article we are examining here, O’Brien’s 2013 article,18 is the main
product, thus far, to be generated by the leading researcher of this pro-
ject. A close examination offers some revealing insights on the way
world historians are rewriting the history of Europeans in accordance
with the principles of cultural egalitarianism and racial inclusiveness.
They face a major task: how to frame Europe’s unparalleled revolutions
and novelties within a global framework even if the existing research
does not at all validate their perspective. The Scientific Revolution,
O’Brien acknowledges in this paper, was locatable for its time in the histo-
ry of western Europe.” Yet the purpose of the entire Global Economic His-
tory Network housing the URKEW project is to advance and demon-
strate the veracity of the idea that “a global perspective” is required be-
cause the major transformations of history have been occasioned and
structured by world connections and “two-way” cultural influences. He
says in the opening pages that the questions of “how, when, and why
western Europe” witnessed a Scientific Revolution can only be answered
by a “programme of historical research” that emphasizes “reciprocal
comparisons” transcending “the myopias imposed by the frontiers and
chronologies of continental, national, or local histories.”19 But O’Brien
never manages to find a solid source either refuting the old Eurocentric
explanation or demonstrating that Asia nurtured anything close to New-
tonian mechanics, apart from some generalities about reciprocal com-
parisons,” a reference to Arun Bala’s unspecified “dialogue of civiliza-
17 Patrick O’Brien, Historiographical Traditions and Modern Imperatives for the
Restoration of Global History,” Journal of Global History 1, no. 1 (March 2006): 38.
18 O’Brien, “Historical Foundations.”
19 Ibid., 3.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 3, Fall 2013
tions,” and a citation of a unscholarly book and of one refuted book.
We are thus privy to a very strange paper which boasts about the su-
periority of global history, yielding the perspective that “much of the
modern debate on the Scientific Revolution looks Eurocentric, provin-
cial, and obsessed with local detail,20 but which relies almost entirely
on Eurocentric sources, and is perforce obligated to conclude that the
rise of modern science was a European-generated phenomenon, but
which nevertheless still frames this revolution in global terms.
O’Brien’s paper takes us through a historiographical journey of some
of the key books published since roughly the 1990s. Nearly all these
books were written by specialists in European history; they are not
products of a globalist approach. World historians have yet to produce
anything that can justify a global view of modern science; accordingly,
O’Brien has no optionunless he foregoes the act of writing about this
subjectbut to rely on the very Eurocentric sources he otherwise de-
rides. This startling contradiction results in one of the most tortuous,
muddling, and diffident papers I have read. It is worth going over the
details of this historiographical paper both to educate readers about the
state of the research about a momentous revolution in the history of Eu-
rope, and to alert them about the strategies globalists are employing in
their quest to dissolve Europe’s identity and sense of accomplishment.
The first notable trait is the use of the term “useful and reliable
knowledge in the title of the URKEW project, and the Global Economic
Network generally. This means that contributions to natural science in
the East and the West will be deemed part of this debate so long as they
can be shown to be concerned with useful applications for the material
welfare of humanity. The ideas don’t need to be associated with imme-
diate applications, but they must be closely timed “behind the emer-
gence of contrasts in labor productivity and standards of living” in east-
ern and western regions. That is, they must be closely arranged behind
“the successful assault on the traditional Eurocentric interpretation of
the Industrial Revolution. The question of Western scientific uniqueness
is thus framed in terms of the more important and “useful” question of
why, when, and how the societies of the world followed trajectories that
led to divergent prospects for modern economic growth and technologi-
cal change.
This way of thinking goes unquestioned among all the participants in
this debate. Cultural traits are open to discussion only insofar as they
20 Ibid.
Duchesne, “Multicultural Historians”
can be shown to have influenced economic development. This is also
true of “critics” of global historians. Many who emphasize Europe’s in-
ternal culture and institutions cannot avoid focusing on Europe’s ascent
to global economic domination, in a Marxist oriented way. Peer Vries criti-
cizes the Pomeranz/Wong focus on colonial windfalls, but differs from
them only in his “internalist” emphasis on the fiscal/administrative ca-
pacity of imperial Britain to impose itself economically on the world.21
Similarly, Joseph Bryant vigorously questions the short-term perspective
of Pomeranz, Goody, and Goldstone, and their reduction of the diver-
gence to fortuitous accidents of geography, in favor of long-term insti-
tutional changes in Europe. However, the issue for Bryant remains how
to account for “the causes that facilitated the European passage to colo-
nial domination and capitalist modernity.22
These sides have been debating each other heartily from conference to
conference, grant to grant, invitation to invitation. This is what academia
understands by intellectual diversity today.
This faux diversity is further embellished with the presence of non-
Europeans such as Wong, Parthasarathi, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam.
These three have assimilated the basic tenets of Western political cor-
rectness, Marxist political economy, and the idea of “connected histo-
ries.” They particularly enjoy pointing to similarities in Eastern and
Western economic development before Europe’s industrial acceleration
after 1800. This is not difficult since societies like China and India with
their historically massive populations inevitably generated higher levels
of output, coupled with the fact that differences in average economic in-
dicators can never be very large when we are dealing with pre-industrial
societies living on the margins.
They pay attention only to those cultural factors that can be shown to
have brought about an economic outcome. The Greek invention of phil-
osophical reasoning and citizenship politics, the medieval invention of
universities and the seven liberal arts, the Copernican Revolution and
the Cartographic Revolution, do not qualify, on their own, as part of this
debate. Books such as Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment: The Pur-
21 Peer Vries, “Are Coal and Colonies Really Crucial? Kenneth Pomeranz and the
Great Divergence,” Journal of World History 12, no. 2 (Fall 2001): 407446.
22 Joseph Bryant, The West and the Rest Revisited: Debating Capitalist Origins, Eu-
ropean Colonialism, and the Advent of Modernity,” Canadian Journal of Sociology 31, no.
4 (2006): 403.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 3, Fall 2013
suit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 (2003),23 are of
no interest to them. Never mind that this book systematically arranges
“data that meet scientific standards of reliability and validity” for the
purpose of evaluating “as facts” the accomplishments of individuals and
countries across the world in the arts and sciences (by calculating the
amount of space allocated to these individuals in reference works, ency-
clopedias, and dictionaries).24 They could not care less about Murray’s
finding that 97 percent of accomplishment in science, whether measured
in people or events, occurred in Europe and North America from 800
B.C. to 1950.25 For O’Brien such cultural facts are “Eurocentric, provin-
cial, and obsessed with local detail,” or too focused on immaterial events
without “usefulness.”
This emphasis on “divergence in quantifiable economic terms” allows
O’Brien to evaluate Europe’s contribution to science only in terms of its
economic implications.26 For all his condemnation of Eurocentrism, he
shows no awareness that this abstraction of humans to economic agents
alone is itself a modern European idea which cannot be projected back-
wards onto Europe’s history or to all cultures. O’Brien is a Eurocentric
egalitarian who has been thoroughly socialized not to permit himself
any “triumphalist” notion of heroism according to which his people
produced a far higher number of explorers (95 percent), musical com-
posers (100 percent), philosophers (about 95 percent), and scientists. To
the contrary, just because Europe did, it must make amends by speaking
of equal dialogues and by blaming itself for outperforming the world.
The “academic offensive” of the URKEW project against European na-
tional histories should be seen as a curricular effort to wheedle native
European students into accepting the denial of their ethno-cultural iden-
tity in favor of a heterogeneous race-mixed society in which all the in-
habitants are seen essentially as interchangeable economic agents.
O’Brien promises in the abstract that his paper will first suggest “that
the Scientific Revolution’s remote antecedents might be traced back to
Europe’s particular transition from polytheism to monotheism.27 This is
the focus of a few pages in this 24-page paperthe most confounding
set of pages I have read in a long time. After suggesting a link between
23 Charles Murray, Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and
Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 (New York: HarperCollins, 2003).
24 Ibid., xvi.
25 Ibid., 252.
26 O’Brien, “Historiographical Traditions,” 2.
27 Ibid., 3.
Duchesne, “Multicultural Historians”
monotheism and the maturation of a unified metaphysical cosmogra-
phy, against the polytheistic and animistic views of pagans, he then tells
us that pagan intellectuals in both the eastern and western sides of Eura-
sia had extended the cognitive capacities of humans long before mono-
theism through accurate observation and logical styles of argument. He
does not tell us it was the Greeks who formulated laws of logical think-
ing, the law of non-contradiction, or that the history of logic is over-
whelmingly European. Nevertheless, from a global perspective, even the
magisterial eleven-volume work, Handbook of the History of Logic (2004
2012),28 which contains four chapters in the first two volumes on Indian
and Arabic logic, is lacking because it omits reciprocal connections for
each volume.
Instead, O’Brien goes on to criticize this pagan cosmography—“all
schools of classical philosophy”—by which he now means Greek pagan
thinking. He says that Greek thinkers “offered nothing approximating to
proofs for their theoretical and logical speculations.29
This is plainly wrong: Aristotles logical works, which have been
grouped under the name of Organon, are exactly about the technique
and the principles of proof. Aristotle is regarded as the inventor of the
syllogism for his emphasis on logical operators like “if,” “then,” and
“or” which retain the same meaning every time they are employed, and
for his effort to build propositions and arguments from combinations of
such univocal terms. This was new in philosophy.
What about Euclid’s Elements (300 B.C.), a compilation of ancient ge-
ometric proofs over the centuries, carefully categorized and formalized
by Euclid? This work is purely theoretical in that it contains no useful
applications. But “it has had an enormous number of applications to
practical questions in engineering, architecture, astronomy, physics,”30
starting with Roman engineering which reached the high point of geo-
metric perfection” based on theoretical knowledge gained from Greece
that was useful in resolving complications of measurement and calcula-
28 Dov M. Gabbay, ed., Handbook of the History of Logic, 11 vols. (Amsterdam: Else-
vier, 20042012).
29 O’Brien, “Historiographical Traditions,” 6.
30 Marvin Jay Greenberg, Euclidean and Non-Euclidean Geometries: Development and
History, 4th ed. (New York: W. H. Freeman, 2008), 9.
31 Isaac Moreno Gallo, Roman Surveying (2004).
First published as Elementos de ingeniería romana [Elements of Roman Engineering],
Proceedings of the European Congress 3 (2004), 2568.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 3, Fall 2013
O’Brien adds that Greek “theories” (Epicureanism, Platonism, Stoi-
cism, and Aristotelianism) “never became highly regarded as economi-
cally useful,” or as “effective prescriptions” for bodily health and the al-
leviation of “humankind’s eternal angst about life and death.32 There-
fore, he concludes there is no reason to link the rise of modern science to
Greek “theories.”
Let’s forget about Hippocrates, the pursuit of the Greek “good life,”
Stoic tranquility, or Epicurean happiness. How can one summarily dis-
qualify the contributions of the Greeks to science simply because they
were not aimed at the production of useful items? What is weird is that,
in making these claims, O’Brien cites three books by G. E. R Lloyd,
namely, Cognitive Variations: Reflections on the Unity and the Diversity of
the Human Mind (2007);33 Adversaries and Authorities (1996);34 Methods and
Problems in Greek Science (1991)35all of which argue that the Greeks
were unique in the degree of explicitness and self-consciousness of their
inquiries, and in the cultivation of exact and explicit concepts of proof in
theoretical knowledge. In fact, through most of the first half of his paper
there is an outlandish incongruity between what O’Brien writes and the
sources he refers to. Many sentences are seemingly supported by excel-
lent sources, but these rarely square in their content with what the
sources say. Apparently, O’Brien had no sources to counter the Eurocen-
tric view, which is why he eventually calls for “successful” globalists to
accept the old idea that modern science was a European affair; conse-
quently, he is forced to rely on Eurocentric books. However, as he does
this, he reinterprets them, or pulls ideas from them which contradict
their intended meaning, as if to separate them from any notion of Euro-
pean uniqueness, at the same time that he writes that these sources sug-
gest” that the Scientific Revolution may have had “antecedents” in Eu-
rope’s past.
But since he does not want to trace modern science to Greece, he goes
back to Christian monotheism, starting with the confounding statement
that Christian “fundamentalists” “suppressed” classical polytheism and
all philosophies that had elevated reason above faith. “Before” the re-
32 O’Brien, “Historiographical Traditions,” 6.
33 G. E. R Lloyd, Cognitive Variations: Reflections on the Unity and the Diversity of the
Human Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
34 G. E. R. Lloyd, Adversaries and Authorities: Investigations into Ancient Greek and Chi-
nese Science (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
35 G. E. R. Lloyd, Methods and Problems in Greek Science (New York: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 1991).
Duchesne, “Multicultural Historians”
naissance of the twelfth century, he writes, Christian authorities were
not particularly willing to “engage seriously with classical perceptions
of nature.”36 They rejected the classical notion that nature operated ac-
cording to rational laws in favor of a world operating according to God’s
will and unknowable intentions.
Again, the sources he cites don’t support O’Brien; rather, they point
in an opposite direction. Let me begin with some highlights from Marcia
Colish’s Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 400
1400 (1997):
[The Latin Apologists of the first centuries A.D.] were convinced
that classical thought could and should be used to clarify and de-
fend the Christian message.37
[For Augustine] the universe is subject to an orderly, rational law
of nature in which nothing happens arbitrarily. . . . Classical sci-
ence and philosophy [were the source of this Augustinian idea].38
In a chapter titled “Western European Thought in the Tenth and Elev-
enth Centuries” (my emphasis), Colish focuses on St. Anselm as a logi-
cian familiar with “paronyms, modal propositions, hypothetical syllo-
gisms, and negative formulations.”39
These are not incidental highlights; Colish’s entire book is dedicated
to the idea that “medieval Europe is the only traditional society to mod-
ernize itself from within, intellectually no less than economically and
The second book O’Brien footnotes is Edward Grant’s Science and Re-
ligion, 400 B.C.A.D. 1550: From Aristotle to Copernicus (2004).41 The edito-
rial description of this book reads:
Historian Edward Grant illuminates how today’s scientific culture
originated with the religious thinkers of the Middle Ages. In the
36 O’Brien, “Historiographical Traditions,” 6.
37 Marcia L. Colish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 400
1400 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 10.
38 Ibid., 30.
39 Ibid., 167.
40 Ibid., x.
41 Edward Grant, Science and Religion, 400 B.C.A.D. 1550: From Aristotle to Coperni-
cus (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 3, Fall 2013
early centuries of Christianity, Christians studied science and natu-
ral philosophy only to the extent that these subjects proved useful
for a better understanding of the Christian faith, not to acquire
knowledge for its own sake. However, with the influx of Greco-
Arabic science and natural philosophy into Western Europe during
the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Christian attitude toward
science changed dramatically. Despite some tensions in the thir-
teenth century, the Church and its theologians became favorably
disposed toward science and natural philosophy and used them
extensively in their theological deliberations.42
Grant does emphasize changes during and after the twelfth century,
but he also brings up the ways in which early Christians eagerly assimi-
lated the classical heritage, setting the ground for the breakthrough in
the twelfth century. In another book, God and Reason in the Middle Ages
(2001), Grant distinctly states that the “self-conscious use of reason and
the emphasis on rationality go back to the classical Greeks,” and that
“despite” some difficulties in the transmission and spread of this herit-
age during the centuries after the fall of Rome and the coming of the
Germanic peoples and Vikings, “natural philosophy was welcomed
within Western Christendom.” The following passage is worth citing:
With perhaps few exceptions, philosophers, scientists and natural
philosophers in the ancient and medieval periods believed une-
quivocally in the existence of a unique, and objective world that,
with the exception of miracles, was regarded as intelligible, lawful,
and essentially knowable.43
Grant specifically says that from the first centuries A.D., Christianity
adopted the idea of using philosophy and science for comprehending
revealed theology, providing as well a section on the “Early Stirrings [in
reason and logic] in the Ninth to Eleventh Centuries.”44
The third book O’Brien mentions is David Lindberg’s edited volume,
Science in the Middle Ages (2008), which also happens to be about the
enormous contribution medieval thinking made to scientific knowledge
43 Edward Grant, God and Reason in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 2001), 1113.
44 Ibid., 3348.
Duchesne, “Multicultural Historians”
and the origins of the Scientific Revolution. In his The Beginnings of West-
ern Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and
Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450 (1992), which O’Brien refer-
ences later, Lindberg limits the heyday of Islamic creativity to the period
between 800 and 1100, and he notes that, by 1200, Europe had recovered
much of the Greek scientific and philosophical legacies maintained by
Despite these sources, O’Brien’s next move consists in fostering the
misleading impression that the Roman Catholic Church was mostly in-
tent on “suppressing” or “evading” “the Eastern-cum-classical [sic] her-
itage of the West,” until eventually the Church “found it expedient” to
make concessions to it. After a truly unreadable paragraph, he tries to
imply that it was Islam’s “advanced economies” that suggested to Chris-
tians “that the forces of nature could be manipulated technologically to
improve the . . . material welfare of the faithful, and thus promoted their
case for their systematic study.”45 Here, in footnotes 25 and 26, every
single book he references refutes his reasoning, and overwhelmingly
supports the standard Eurocentric account. These sources are:
Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity.46
Toby E. Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the
David C. Lindberg, ed., The Beginnings of Western Science: The Euro-
pean Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional
Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450.48
David Levine, At the Dawn of Modernity: Biology, Culture, and Mate-
rial Life in Europe after the Year 1000.49
Marshall Clagett, The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages.50
S. R. Epstein and Maarten R. Prak, eds., Guilds, Innovation and the
45 O’Brien, “Historiographical Traditions,” 7.
46 Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 2008).
47 Toby E. Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
48 David C. Lindberg, ed., The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific
Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450 (Chi-
cago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
49 David Levine, At the Dawn of Modernity: Biology, Culture, and Material Life in Europe
after the Year 1000 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).
50 Marshall Clagett, The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages (Madison: University
of Wisconsin Press, 1959).
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 3, Fall 2013
European Economy, 14001800.51
Bert S. Hall and Delno C. West, eds., On Pre-modern Technology and
Science: A Volume of Studies in Honor of Lynn White, Jr.52
Frances Gies and Joseph Gies, Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel:
Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages.53
None of these books are discussed and none of them support O’Brien.
He then writes that “by the twelfth century,” the medieval Church final-
ly decided to “encourage the introduction” (“under strictly regulated
rules and conditions”) of natural philosophy based on Greek classical
sources. Attached to this statement is this source: Stephen Gaukroger,
The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of Modernity,
12101685.54 Again, this book refutes his efforts to portray Christianity
as a reluctant endorser of classical philosophy. More than this, Gaukrog-
er argues that Christianity “set the agenda” for science all the way into
the Revolution in a way that no other religion in the world ever had:
A distinctive feature of the Scientific Revolution is that, unlike earlier
scientific programmes and cultures, it is driven, often explicitly, by
religious considerations. Christianity set the agenda for natural phi-
losophy in many respects and projected it forward in a way quite
different from that of any other scientific culture.55 (My emphasis)
Incredibly, O’Brien goes on to stress that in the four centuries preced-
ing Copernicus (1150 to 1550), pagan texts coming from Byzantium and,
“in elaborated form, from Islamdom,” flowed in successive waves into
Europe, with Christian authorities doing their best to “resist” and “sup-
press” them, particularly those texts which contradicted core tenets of
Christianity” such as the idea that God controlled everything in the
world through divine interventions.56 But, fair is fair, O’Brien finally us-
es sources that square with his claim regarding Islamic transmission.
51 S. R. Epstein and Maarten R. Prak, eds., Guilds, Innovation and the European Econo-
my, 14001800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
52 Bert S. Hall and Delno C. West, eds., On Pre-modern Technology and Science: A Vol-
ume of Studies in Honor of Lynn White, Jr. (Malibu, CA: Undena Publications, 1976).
53 Frances Gies and Joseph Gies, Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and In-
vention in the Middle Ages (New York: HarperCollins, 1994).
54 Stephen Gaukroger, The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of
Modernity, 12101685 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
55 Ibid., 3.
56 O’Brien, “Historiographical Traditions,” 8.
Duchesne, “Multicultural Historians”
Both these sources happen to be seriously flawed:
John Freely, Aladdin’s Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe
Through the Islamic World (New York: Knopf/Doubleday, 2009).
George Saliba, Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renais-
sance (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007).
O’Brien relies on these books to support the idea that Islamic scholars
were teachers of Europeans up until Copernicus and through the entire
High Middle Ages in the face of Christian opposition. Aladdin’s Lamp,
however, is a popular account which ignores the books we have been
citing, and makes the sweeping claim, without scholarly documentation,
that Greek science tout court came to Europe through the Islamic world.
Saliba’s book is more scholarly but its image of a highly creative Islamic
tradition well into the sixteenth century, producing the Italian Renais-
sance, has been refuted by Huff’s argument that Saliba’s thesis is based
on the supposition that the mere presence of literate men in Muslim
lands bespeaks of scientists engaging in outstanding work.57 The con-
sensus quite firmly supports the view that by the twelfth century Europe
was in possession of the Islamic contribution and about to move well
beyond it.
The two sources OBrien uses to back the claim that Christians were
ambivalent towards the spread of Islamic texts, for fear that these would
challenge the idea of God’s divine interventions in nature, are: Michael
Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of the Rise of Early Modernity;58 and
Michael Horace Barnes, Stages of Thought: The Co-evolution of Religious
Thought and Science.59 Gillespie makes the opposite argument about the
theological “origins” of modernity, and the book by Barnes has nothing
to do with Christianity’s relationship to science in medieval Europe; ra-
ther, it is authored by a contemporary religious person brought into the
debate by O’Brien to confuse and misdirect attention from the issues at
O’Brien keeps pressing the point about how scholastic theologians
welcomed investigations of nature while “resolutely” insisting “upon
57 Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science.
58 Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 2008).
59 Michael Horace Barnes, Stages of Thought: The Co-evolution of Religious Thought and
Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 3, Fall 2013
the sovereignty of revelation.60 “Most” natural philosophers, “as true
believers . . . before, during, and after the Scientific Revolution,” re-
frained from questioning Christianity’s foundational beliefs; “they oper-
ated within authoritarian regimes.” Fortunately, some Christians “cou-
rageously . . . referred for support and guidance to Averroes, Avicenna,
and other Muslim commentators”; as a result, Christians finally began to
deploy “classical modes of logical reasoning to persuade ecclesiastical
and secular elites in the West that God had created and designed a natu-
ral world to operate on intelligible principles.61
Every single one of the sources he cites stands against these claims.
The title of James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World
Laid the Foundations of Modern Science,62 speaks for itself. Richard Olson’s
Science and Religion, 14501900: From Copernicus to Darwin63 is about the
profound influence Christianity had on the lives and work of Galileo,
Newton, and Darwin. Edward Grant’s Planets, Stars and Orbs: The Medie-
val Cosmos, 12001687 argues that medieval cosmology was a fusion of
pagan Greek ideas and biblical descriptions of the world.64 The same
applies to three other sources he uses.
What is all the more perplexing is the continuous effort by O’Brien to
paint Islam as the religion that gave Christian Europe the intellectual
sources to think of natural phenomena in terms of natural laws explain-
able by reason, when it was the other way around. The idea that emerg-
es out of Christian Europe early on is that God is conterminous with
reason, whereas in Islam the idea that Allah has limits to his own arbi-
trary willfulness remains unthinkable to this day. As Robert Reilly ar-
gues in The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the
Modern Islamist Crisis, Islam was at first engaged with Aristotle but even-
tually rejected his reasoning when Abu Hamid al-Ghazali established a
theology in which Allah came to be portrayed as the personal and im-
mediate director of the movement of every molecule in the universe
through his sheer incomprehensible willfulness.65 In contrast, starting
60 O’Brien, “Historiographical Traditions,” 9.
61 Ibid.
62 James Hannam, God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of
Modern Science (London: Icon Books, 2009).
63 Richard Olson, Science and Religion, 14501900 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univer-
sity Press, 2003).
64 Edward Grant, Planets, Stars and Orbs: The Medieval Cosmos, 12001687 (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1994).
65 Robert Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the
Modern Islamist Crisis (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010).
Duchesne, “Multicultural Historians”
with St. Anselm’s (10331109) effort to logically demonstrate the exist-
ence of God and continuing with Aquinas and others, Christianity went
on to conceptualize the movement of material bodies in terms of natural
O’Brien eventually starts to acknowledge the contribution of medie-
val Christianity to a “deeper intelligibility about the natural world,”
though he cannot help inserting phrases about “Islamic discoveries” and
how Christians were “deeply indebted” to Islamic thinking,67 even
though he only has two sources (Saliba68 and Freely69) backing him.
One really has to wonder why O’Brien would misuse text after text;
some may want to think this is a sign of his willingness to engage
sources that contradict his thesis. But this is not reasonable; the standard
practice is, in the first instance, to use sources to support one’s argu-
ments. One must refer to countering sources but then try to show what
are the weaknesses and failures of these sources; and if one is unsure, or
the debate is quite undecided, one should acknowledge the opposing
sources with statements such as “for a different view, see a, b, and c,” or,
“for a serious challenge to the ideas presented here, consult x, y, and z,”
and the like.
When O’Brien writes about the Scientific Revolution proper, and ad-
mits that this revolution occurred inside Europe with antecedents in the
medieval era, the sources he uses begin to square with his arguments.
My view is that O’Brien, a specialist in quantitative economic history,
was unprepared for the true state of scholarship on the question of me-
dieval science, but was still determined to persist with a “global per-
spective.” He had a hard time digesting this Eurocentric literature, so he
decided to misconstrue one book after another (wording their argu-
ments as close as possible to his own way of thinking).
Nevertheless, O’Brien’s paper will go unquestioned and become part
of the “conversation,” of a growing “scholarly literature” on European
history offering a “new,” “exciting,” and “liberating” global perspective.
Historians preoccupied with Europe’s history lack the metapolitical lan-
guage to counter the globalists. They are seen as archaic, myopic, and
narrow-minded. And the fact is that many of the remaining Eurocentric
scholars are “quiet” academics who debate specialized topics only with
their peers without thinkingnever mind promotinga cohesive view
66 Hannam, God’s Philosophers.
67 O’Brien, “Historiographical Traditions,” 11.
68 Saliba, Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance.
69 Freely, Aladdin’s Lamp.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 3, Fall 2013
of Western civilization. They are generally “liberal minded,” sympathet-
ic to the idea of inclusive universities, multiculturalism, and diversity.
Some are apolitical or uninvolved with broader political and cultural
questions, completely unaware of the dramatic ethnic alteration their
own societies are experiencing.
Meanwhile, in contrast to these reserved or “moderate” academics,
O’Brien is part of an activist group of academics who have no qualms
forcing their ideological expectations upon the sources. Even though he
concludes that global historians “may sensibly retain the ‘Scientific Rev-
olution’ as a venerable and heuristic label,70 he still presents it as a
“conjuncture in global history,71 as a “fortuitous re-ordering of western
Europe’s cosmography,”72 with both Eastern and Western antecedents.
By “conjuncture” he means that it was something that happened in Eu-
rope due to the “fortuitous” dynamics of global forces, which could
have happened elsewhere. There was nothing really unique about Eu-
rope; modern science, after all, is about engendering instruments “for
the accumulation of useful and reliable knowledge” for humanity.
O’Brien did not offer one original thought. He condemned the “my-
opias imposed” by national histories of this revolution, but relied almost
entirely on such histories; and, without any sources of his own, enforced
the globalist approach on the literature, twisting it beyond the author’s
intentions. This is the strategy academic globalists are employing to di-
lute European identity, destroy European cultural pride and confidence,
promote globalization, and create a new economic man.
Ricardo Duchesne is Professor of Sociology at the University of
New Brunswick and author of The Uniqueness of Western Civilization
(Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011).
70 O’Brien, “Historiographical Traditions,” 13.
71 Ibid., 22.
72 Ibid., 15.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
The West's sense of itself, its relation to its past, and its sense of its future have been profoundly altered since the 17th century as cognitive values generally have gradually come to be shaped around scientific ones. The issue is not just that science brought a new set of such values to the task of understanding the world and our place in it, but rather that it completely transformed the task, redefining the goals of enquiry. This is a distinctive feature of the development of a scientific culture in the West and it marks it out from other scientifically productive cultures. This book examines the first stage of this development, from the 13th-century introduction of Aristotelianism and its establishment of natural philosophy as the point of entry into systematic understanding of the world and our place in it, to the attempts to establish natural philosophy as a world-view in the wake of the Scientific Revolution. It offers a conceptual and cultural history of the emergence of a scientific culture in the West from the early-modern era to the present. Science in the modern period is treated as a particular kind of cognitive practice and as a particular kind of cultural product, with aim to show that if we explore the connections between these two, we can learn something about the concerns and values of modern thought that we could not learn from either of them taken separately.
Medieval cosmology was a fusion of pagan Greek ideas and biblical descriptions of the world, especially the creation account in Genesis. Planets, Stars, and Orbs describes medieval conceptions of the cosmos as understood by scholastic theologians and natural philosophers in the universities of western Europe from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Not only are the major ideas and arguments of medieval cosmology described and analysed, but much attention is paid to the responses of scholastic natural philosophers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the challenges posed by the new science and astronomy as represented by Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo and Kepler.