Daily Archives: 17 July 2014

July 17, 1203 C.E.

On this date, Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was captured by armies from Western Europe during the fourth crusade. The ancient name of Constantinople was Byzantium (Greek: Byzantion), from which the Byzantine Empire’s name was derived. The name had been changed by Roman emperor Constantine I, who had moved the capital of the Roman empire here on May 11, 330 C.E. Constantine wanted to name the city Nova Roma (New Rome), but this name never caught on. Today, the city is known as Istanbul and is the cultural and financial center of Turkey.

Prior to the fall of Constantinople, Western scholars had had access to Latin translations of the writings of Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher who lived from 384 to 322 B.C.E. These translations were based on texts in Arabic, which in turn were based on translations in Syriac from the original Greek. This was because the West, unlike the East (such as Syria), had never preserved Aristotle’s original writings. The structure of the Arab language is quite different from Greek and Latin (which are fairly similar to each other), so there was unavoidable paraphrasing in the passage from the original Greek to Arabic, and then again in the translation from Arabic to Latin. In effect, the first exposure to the full extent of Aristotle’s writings by Western scholars came in the form of Latin paraphrases of Arab paraphrases of (and commentaries on) Syriac paraphrases of second-hand copies of the original Greek texts. Not surprisingly, the resulting Latin renderings were somewhat unreliable.

However, as a result of the fall of Constantinople, Western scholars gained access to Greek texts that were much closer to Aristotle’s original writings. Around 1265, the Flemish Dominican William of Moerbeke (1215-1286) and other scholars translated these Greek texts into Latin, which can almost be done word-for-word, given the structural similarity between the two languages. Later, Thomas Aquinas undertook to integrate and reconcile the Aristotelian principles of reason and rational thought with Christian theology, resulting in his monumental Summa teologica. Thus fused with Christian doctrine into a philosophical system known as Scholasticism, Aristotelian philosophy became the official philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church. The view of Aristotle as the indisputable epitome of reason dates from this time.

The ruins of Aristotle's school have been found only 2 kilometers away from the contemporary Naoussa, at the district of Isvoria in Athens, Greece.

Aristotle was called Ille Philosophus (The Philosopher), or “the master of them that know,” and many accepted every word of his writings — or at least every word that did not contradict the Bible — as eternal truth. Consequently, some scientific discoveries in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were criticized simply because they were not found in Aristotle. It is one of the ironies of the history of science that Aristotle’s writings, which in many cases were based on extraordinary first-hand observation, were actually used to impede observational science — a development that Aristotle, no doubt, never intended.

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July 17, 1925 (a Friday)

Judge Raulston delivers a ruling.

On this date, Judge John Raulston ruled in the Scopes Monkey Trial that the defense will not be allowed to present expert testimony on evolution or its consistency with Genesis:

This case is now before the court upon a motion by the [prosecution] to exclude from the consideration of the jury certain expert testimony offered by the defendant, the import of such testimony being an effort to explain the origin of man and life. The state insists that such evidence is wholly irrelevant, incompetent and impertinent to the issues pending, and that it should be excluded. Upon the other hand, the defendant insists that this evidence is highly competent and relevant to the issues involved, and should be admitted. . . . In the final analysis this court, after a most earnest and careful consideration, has reached the conclusions that under the provisions of the act involved in this case, it is made unlawful thereby to teach in the public schools of the state of Tennessee the theory that man descended from a lower order of animals. If the court is correct in this, then the evidence of experts would shed no light on the issues. Therefore, the court is content to sustain the motion of the [prosecution] to exclude the expert testimony.

Darrow was livid and accused Raulston of bias. “I do not understand,” said Darrow, “why every suggestion of the prosecution should meet with an endless waste of time, and a bare suggestion of anything that is perfectly competent on our part should be immediately overruled.” Raulston asked Darrow, “I hope you do not mean to reflect upon the court?” Darrow replied, “Well, your honor has the right to hope.” Raulston responded, “I have the right to do something else” and held Darrow in contempt of court. Darrow later apologized for his remark, prompting a big hand from spectators, and Raulston dropped the contempt citation. Darrow and Raulston shook hands.

After expressing concern that the courtroom floor might collapse from the weight of so many spectators, Raulston transferred the proceedings to the lawn outside the courthouse. There, the defense read into the record, for purpose of appellate review, excerpts from the prepared statements of eight scientists and four experts on religion who had been prepared to testify. The statements of the experts were widely reported by the press, helping Darrow succeed in his efforts to turn the trial into a national biology lesson.

July 17, 2011 (a Sunday)

The International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC/CPI), Netherlands.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC/CPI), Netherlands.

On 17 July 2011, the world celebrated the first International Criminal Justice Day. This date is the anniversary of the day in July 1998 when the international community made a pledge in Rome to never again allow impunity to reign supreme in the contemporary world by creating the International Criminal Court (ICC). The observance was adopted by the Assembly of the States Parties during the Review Conference of the Rome Statute held in Kampala (Uganda) in June 2010.

The ICC is the first permanent international judicial body in history capable of trying individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. To date, 139 states have signed and 121 states have ratified the Rome Statute, the international treaty that gave birth to the Court.

Unfortunately, the United States has a recent history of opposition to the ICC. Since Nuremberg, the United States had historically supported international mechanisms to enhance accountability. United States’ President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute on 31 December 2000, the last day that it was open for signature. Shortly after the Bush Administration entered office and just before the 1 July 2002 entry into force of the Rome Statute, US President George W. Bush “nullified” the Clinton signature on 6 May 2002, alleging that the United States would no longer be involved in the ICC process and that it did not consider itself as having any legal obligations under the treaty. The legality of such a “nullification” is unclear and the subject of debate by international legal scholars. Since 2002, the Bush Administration undertook a policy of active opposition to the Court through a global campaign to obtain immunity from ICC jurisdiction through a multi-pronged approach.

Under the Obama administration, the United States has shifted its stance. As of November 2009, it has begun attending the Rome Statute’s Assembly of States Parties (ASP) meetings as an observer, signaling a new policy of engagement with the ICC. At the 2010 Review Conference of the ASP, the United States participated fully as an observer.