The scientific method and science emerged out the European Renaissance beginning in the late 15th Century. A number of factors gave rise to science, not the least of which was the infusion of ancient Greek culture into European society. (See yesterday’s post) Most European scholars who ventured into science where firm believers in the God of Christianity. In fact, they believed they could learn of God’s character by studying the way God had ordered the universe. Many early scientists were clergy.
The watershed event was a scientific revolution set in motion 16th Century by Nicholas Copernicus and brought to full flower by Giordono Bruno and Galileo Galilei. The Church, thoroughly invested in an earth centered model, believed these revolutionary thinkers to be a direct threat to the authority of the Church. Bruno was burned at the stake for his contributions. Inquisitions were used to halt the sweeping changes under way but to no avail.
As science become more refined and its ability to make sense of the physical world rapidly grew, scientific thinking began to expand into the study of human behavior. Christian institutions had shown themselves to be resistant new understandings and were perceived to be reactionary and archaic by many leading age scholars of the day. Thomas Hobbes, Rene Descartes, and John Locke, became the first of the Enlightenment thinkers.
The Enlightenment set the stage for Romanticism (19th Century) and Modernism (20th Century). I am not going to try to trace all the various threads of the movements going forward. I do want to highlight some of the values that emerged that have largely prevailed from the 18th Century on:
• The universe is rational and can be understood through the use of reason alone.
• Truth can be arrived at through empirical observation, the use of reason, and systematic doubt.
• Human experience is the foundation of human understanding of truth.
• Just as the natural world can be understand, manipulated and engineered, so can human life, both social and individual.
• Human history is a history of progress.
• Religious doctrines and religious authority have no place in the understanding of the physical and human worlds.
One of the profound impacts was the acceleration in the rate of change. Unmoored from traditional authority, new and competing ideas vied for dominance. How ideas rose and fell in dominance within science is instructive for seeing how ideas rise and fall throughout culture.
(PS: The circumstances of Rene Descartes death are not widely known. Seems he was dining with a friend. When his host asked if he would like more coffee, he responded "Oh, I think not." PUFF. He disappeared.)