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The Rise of Science

  1. Apr 14, 2003 #1
    The Rise of Science
    by Ted Tripp

    We have already noted that education in the 14th and 15th centuries was dogmatic due to a shortage in books which forced reliance on scholasticism. The unique nature of our earth formed one of the corner-stones of orthodox Christianity, so that anyone that ventured even to conjecture the existence of other worlds similar to our own was liable to incur very special displeasure from the Church.

    Nevertheless, we find a cardinal, Nicholas of Cusa, by virtue of his position a pillar of the Church, writing in 1440; "I have long considered that this earth is not fixed, but moves as do the other stars

    To my mind, the earth turns upon its axis once every day and night." That he escaped conflict with the Church was probably because it did not yet realise the full implications of this supposition, but it was soon to show its antagonism against others that began to expound this heresy.

    e towards the centre of the earth and to come to rest there, the earth itself could have no tendency to move in any direction, with the assertion that gravity was a universal force which could be attributed to all other bodies, consequently there was no longer any reason to prefer the earth as the centre. He supposed, therefore, that the earth was a planet moving like the other planets round the sun, and showed in this way the stations, retrogressions and progressions of the planets could be accounted for in a simple way.

    By withholding the publication of his great work until after his death Copernicus slipped beyond the reach of the Church which was now thoroughly alive to the threat both to orthodoxy and to its authority in any promulgations of Copernican doctrines. The out-cry was not limited to the Church of Rome, but Luther and Calvin joined in the denunciation of the upstart astrologer who had dared to set his authority above that of Holy Scripture;" thus, the two main factions of the Church were at one in their desire to stamp out inquiry after the truth. Yet the terrors of religion, while they may have delayed, certainly failed to arrest the progress of science.

    The religious terror continued right through the sixteenth century. Tens of thousands suffered agonising tortures and death with assurance of everlasting damnation, for an offence of which not only were they innocent, but of which it is impossible that anyone should ever be guilty. The records of the 16th century are ghastly in their revelation of the triumph of bloody superstition. In a single year four hundred persons were burned for sorcery at Toulouse; in another year, five hundred at Geneva, six hundred at Bamberg and in many other centres. The city of Treves alone is said to have seen in the course of the century no less than seven thousand executions for witchcraft and sorcery.

    Despite the terror, spectacular triumphs were made in science by the 17th Century. So much so that this century is considered the period in which the modern world begins. Copernicus in the 16th century made the discovery that the sun was the centre of the universe: that the earth has a daily rotation and an annual revolution around the sun. In this he was the first to show that the beliefs of ancient times could now be shown to be false. This was followed by Kepler (1571-1630) who proved the motion of the planets to be elliptical, thus forcing the abandonment of the aesthetic bias believed from the time of Plato that the movement of heavenly bodies could not be anything else than that of a circle, this being more natural to their spiritual quality than that of an ellipse. Then Galielo (1564-1642), whose construction of the telescope substantiated the theory of Copernicus bringing down on his head the whole concentrated fury of the Church. He was condemned by the Inquisition, privately in 1616 and then publicly in 1623, on the occasion of which he recanted promising never again to maintain that the earth rotates or revolves.

    The Inquisition triumphed in Italy for centuries. It failed, however, to stop the progress of science; instead, it did considerable damage to the Church by its stupidity. Protestant churches were just as eager to do harm to science but as they were unable like Italy to gain control of the state their attacks were weakened.

    The Renaissance accelerated the decline of mediaeval scholasticism and paved the way for the beginning of modern philosophy from the 17th century onward. Two Englishmen, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes inaugurated modern materialism.

    [to be continued]
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 14, 2003 #2
    The Rise of Science [part 2]


    Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

    "England," said Karl Marx, "is the original home of modern materialism, from the 17th century onwards." (Quoted by Engels in the introduction to Socialism Utopian and Scientific.) Marx continued: "The real progenitor of English materialism is Bacon. To him natural philosophy is the only true philosophy, and physics, based upon the experiences of the senses, is the chief part of natural philosophy ... According to him the senses are infallible and the source of all knowledge. All science is based upon experience, and consists in subjecting the data furnished by the senses to a rational method of investigation. Induction, analysis, comparison, observation, experiment, are the principal forms of such a rational method."

    Not only was Bacon the founder of materialism but he was also the inspirer of empiricism. The primary principle of empiricism is that all knowledge is founded on experience of the senses. But it is only in the sense of Marx's quotation given above that Bacon can be classified as an empiricist. Empiricism which merely concerned itself as knowledge furnished through the senses was described by Plato and other ancients as unscientific practitioners who follow rule of thumb methods and accumulate disconnected devices. Francis Bacon himself likened empiricists to the ants which amass only and use:

    "while the dogmatists, like spiders, spin webs out of themselves. But the course of the bee lies mid-way-she gathers materials from the flowers and then by her own powers changes and digests them. Nor is the true labor of philosophy unlike hers. It does not depend entirely, or even chiefly, on the strength of the mind, nor does it store up in the memory unaltered the materials provided by natural history and mechanical experiments - but changes and digests them by the intellect." The opponents of modern philosophical empiricism make the charge of sceptics to those who would push empirical analysis in philosophy to its most radical extremes. Contemporary empiricists of this type, had they lived in the 16th century, would have been the first to scoff at the new philosophy of the universe.
    By divorcing philosophy from theology and reason from faith, Bacon joined the new philosophy to natural science in the form of a materialist physics. He directed thought away from barren scholastic learning of the universities towards outdoor study and direct observation of natural phenomena. Proceeding from a materialist conception of nature which viewed matter as indestructible, self-moving, ever active and constantly changing. Bacon projected a new logical method which cautioned against the 'vicious habit" of jumping to unverified general propositions and deducing consequences from them. In its place the procedure of making narrow general propositions from observed data and then, step by step, moving from these restricted rules to broader generalisations and checking them at every stage by reference to the results of experiment.

    In The Advancement of Learning Bacon says:

    "God hath framed the mind of man as a mirror or glass, capable of the image of the universal world, and joyful to receive the impression thereof, as they eye joyeth to receive light; and not only delighted in beholding the variety of
    things and the vicissitude of times, but raised also to find out and discern the ordinances and decrees, which through all those changes are infallibly observed."

    Briefly summarised, Bacon's doctrine asserted:
    (1) That science is the highway of knowledge.
    (2) That scientific knowledge is based on observation. On the basis of observation scientific theories are worked out, which must be tested by
    (3) That scientific knowledge is objectively true, and that no other means of attaining objective truth exists.

    Bacon contrasted the method of science, not only to the unscientific amassing of "undigested" facts, but to the method of "dogmatism". By which he meant the propounding of theories a-priori, that is, not based on observation, nor tested by it, but derived from principles which are supposed to be given in some way without reference to experience.

    Bacon switched the function of philosophy from religion to serving the practical needs of mankind. The increased knowledge of nature acquired by Bacon's innovation in scientific method was intended to promote useful works and to stimulate inventions like printing, gun-powder and the magnetic compass. Such mechanical advances increased the efficiency and power of the instruments of production, augmented wealth, and helped satisfy men's needs and comforts. These aims corresponded to basic requirements of the emerging bourgeois order. His theorising heralded the coming industrial revolution

    For Bacon, experience, based upon what is learnt through the senses and aids to the senses like the telescope, was the sole valid source and sure road to useful knowledge. Unlike most of his empirical successors, he did not interpret sensuous experience as primarily passive. He was one of the first to emphasise that the acquisition of knowledge had its active side in the manipulating and shaping of objects as is done by a craftsman. It is through such practical activity that the senses disclose the essential features of nature to us.

    Bacon's materialism, as Marx observed, "pullulates with inconsistencies imported from theology." But nevertheless such a materialist doctrine, which attacked and destroyed the old scholastic philosophy, was no less destructive of the theology of which that scholasticism was the philosophic foundation.

    [to be continued]
  4. Apr 14, 2003 #3
    The Rise of Science [part 3]


    Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

    Hobbes stated that sensation was "the principle of the knowledge of principles" themselves and all science is derived from the source. He wrote in Leviathan; "There is no conception in a man's mind which hath not at first, totally or by parts, been begotten upon the organs of sense. The rest are derived from that original."

    Hobbes took as his starting point Bacon's principle that all knowledge is furnished from the senses. The action of external objects upon the sense organs produced in the mind what Hobbes called 'seemings' or 'apparitions' or 'fancies'. the sensations of light, colour, sound, odour, hardness, softness etc. "All which qualities called sensible are in the object that causeth them but so many several motions of the matter by which it presseth our organs diversely. Neither in us that are pressed are they anything else but diverse motions, for motion produceth nothing but motion. But their appearance to us is fancy, the same waking as dreaming." (Hobbes: Human Nature)

    We see by this that what really exists for Hobbes is nothing else but matter-body. He defined matter or body to the property of existing objectively in space, external to and independent of consciousness. Of consciousness, Hobbes said it was only an "appearance" or "apparition" arising from the interaction of bodies. "The word body," he wrote in Leviathan, "signifieth that which filleth or occupieth some certain room or ... place; and dependeth not on the imagination, but is a real part of that we call the universe. For the universe being the aggregate of all bodies, there is no real part thereof that is not also body; nor anything properly a body, that is not also part of that aggregate of all bodies, the universe."

    The mechanical nature of Hobbes' materialism is shown in his equation of matter with body. Modern dialectical materialism defines matter as "the objective reality which is given to man by his sensations," and "the sole property of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind." (Lenin: Materialism and Empiro-Criticism). "The mode of existence of matter is motion, and space and time are the essential forms of the existence of matterĀ·'. (Engels" Anti-Duhrig). Equating matter with body, Hobbes regarded particular properties of material objects - hardness, impenetrability, etc. - as the essential properties of matter, of all reality existing outside the mind; he separated space from matter, although he regarded the whole of space as being filled with bodies. He separated matter from motion. For Hobbes, bodies were always in motion, but he regarded this motion as being of an external kind separate. Hobbes regards bodies as always in motion, but a motion external, consisting of collisions and interactions of separate bodies one with another. Matter was devoid of self-motion; body was changeless, and always remained exactly the same.

    Thought is impossible without a body that has sensations and thoughts, and it consists in a train of ideas derived from sense impressions. Thought consists in the significant conjunction of words. We attach different words to the different bodies and properties of bodies that we perceive, and so by joining words together in sentences and strings of sentences we signify various facts about the motions and properties of bodies.

    From this follow important consequences about the significance and insignificance of thoughts, or sentences. For when we join words in a way that contradicts the nature of the things signified, the result is not untrue thoughts, but insignificant thoughts, or nonsense - as "round quadrangle," "immaterial substance," or "free will." (Hobbes: Leviathan)

    For instance, to make assertions about "immaterial substance" or "free will" is not to speak untruth, but rather to speak insignificant nonsense -just as it is obviously nonsense to speak of a "round quadrangle." Hobbes here developed a powerful weapon of criticism against all previous dogmatic, spiritualist or idealist philosophy. "Substance and body," he wrote, "signify the same thing; and therefore substance incorporeal are words which when they are jointed together destroy one another, as if a man should say an incorporeal body." (Leviathan).
    From this immediately follows further the openly anti-religious and antheistical character of Hobbes' materialism. Religion was explained as the mechanical product of human ignorance and fear; and God - a being "incorporeal", "infinite", "omnipotent," etc. - as absolutely incomprehensible.

    Paradoxically, it was Hobbes, the champion of absolutism in government who led the way in undermining the old supports religion gave to absolutism and transferring it to a different foundation. Hobbes deprived religion of its halo of sanctity by characterising it as a product of men's ignorance and fears. Like others we have mentioned he considered religion most useful in curbing seditious inclinations in the "multitude" and enhancing their loyalty to the established regime. Clerics and scholars pounced upon these antisupernatural aspects of Hobbes' teaching and assailed him for perverting morals and religion as well as polluting politics. The outcries of these watchdogs against his "atheism" alerted the ruling classes to the subversive implications of the mechanical conception for religion, morality, and the security of the state.

    The victorious bourgeoisie needed institutions of the Christian faith to uphold their regime, just as they had to foster natural science to promote their material interests. But they could not maintain the same sort of religion as the absolute monarchy. They sought a religion tailored to their special requirements, a utilitarian Protestantism which blessed the union of Church and State, tolerated to a certain degree of non-conformism, and reconciled the new finds of physical science with the religious viewpoint.
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