“I do not know even this one thing, namely that I know nothing”
This is the first line of Sanches’ Quod Nihil Scitur “That Nothing Is Known,” a book published in Lyons, France, in 1581 that rocked European intellectuals and helped lay the groundwork for the Enlightenment in the 18th century, the Age of Reason.
Sanches, “the Father of Modern Scepticism,” questioned Aristotelian theories of logic and science that had gone unexamined for centuries.
And he didn’t beat around the bush in trashing the “scientific” knowledge of his time: “Do you call this knowledge?” asked Sanches. “I call it ignorance.”
He attempted to answer that tantalizing question that still resonates today: “Can we ever have certain knowledge in science and religion?”
Sanches argued that it was impossible to have certain or perfect knowledge of the rational world–only God possesses that. The best we can do is use observation, experience and judgment to understand in a limited way the natural world. It’s the start of scientific thought.
Francisco Sanches was born in northern Portugal in 1551. His father was a physician and a converso—a Jew who had converted to Christianity. Converses were targets of both the Portuguese and Spanish inquisitions.
When Sanches was a boy his family fled to France as the attacks of the Inquisition on Portuguese converso families increased (shades of Nazi Germany in the 1930s).
Like his father, Sanches became a doctor. He was a professor of medicine and philosophy at the University of Toulouse. He lived as a devout, church-going Christian—his two sons became priests.
Sanches is sometimes classified as a Jewish philosopher because his skepticism stretched to Christian theology. His writings never mention the Gospel but do quote the Jewish Tanach (the three Jewish divisions of the Old Testament). Some scholars claim he outwardly appeared a Christian but in secret practiced Judaism, as some converso families did.
A distant cousin of Sanches is the famous philosopher and essayist, Montaigne (1533–92), whose family had also escaped the Inquisition to live in the same area of France. Montaigne and Sanches were between them, as one leading scholar put it, “responsible for a re-examination of old claims to knowledge by thinkers in the 17th century.”
So the totalitarian Inquisition chased out the best and brightest, just as Einstein fled Hitler’s Germany to come to America.
What I would like to see is someone with Francisco Sanches’ intellectual cojones appear today to take on all those who insist, with all the pharisaical, bombastic self-righteousness of a Grand Inquisitor, that man-made climate change (aka “global warming”) is a scientific certainty. Anyone who questions them or raises doubts is heretical, a “denialist.”
Yes, there certainly is climate change. But what I object to is people who approach this subject as if it were a religion. They use climate change–and the fear of the apocalyptic consequences of climate change–to push their agenda. They want power. They want to tell other people how to live.
Fanatical believers in man-made climate change attack anyone who dares question their orthodoxy. The Inquisitors in Spain and Portugal, who for three fearful centuries persecuted heretics, Jews, Muslims and anyone who wasn’t a “right-thinking” conformist, would approve.
Sanches wouldn’t waste his time on anyone with this mindset. As he wrote, challengingly, in his introduction to That Nothing Is Known, “Let them be deceived who wish to be deceived; it is not for them I write, so they need not read my works…”
His intended audience is those who, “not bound by the oath of fidelity to any master’s words, assess the facts for themselves, under the guidance of sense, perception and reason.”