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Curiosity in the Early Christian Era - Philoponus’s Defence of Ancient Astronomy against Christian Critics

S & CB 30 (1)
April 2018


Curiosity is seen today as something good, desirable even. However, it was not always so. From the time that Hellenistic culture started to show signs of decline shortly before the birth of Christ, the attention of ancient scholars focused on the past, looking back to a golden era of sages. For Christianity, the primary interest was not the investigation of the natural world, and yet its world-view challenged some common assumptions that were of importance for the ‘natural philosophy’ conceptions of pagan late antiquity such as the eternity of the world, the divinity of the heavens, the astrological determinism, and so forth. Although these debates were not about the ‘technical’ portion of ancient learning – sphericity of the earth and heavens, epicycle models of planetary movements, theory of eclipses, and so on – voices were raised demanding a ‘Christian cosmology’. Their stronghold was at the theological school of Antioch that clashed with their traditional rivals of Alexandria, the city that was also the cradle of pagan natural philosophy. By the sixth century, the main exponent of the Antiochene flat earth cosmology, Cosmas Indicopleustes, was confronted by the Alexandrian Christian scholar John Philoponus, who defended the freedom of investigating nature and the freedom of scientific curiosity, within a Christian world-view.

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