Lecture: Science and Enlightenment
To discuss science, I want to go way back in human history to the first shamans. In ancient (even pre-historic) times, shamans were the scientists of human communities. Their observations of natural phenomena led them to create theories and be able to predict events. Often these theories and events were explained by supernatural forces, and gods were a manifestation of such forces. But although the infrastructure of this thought process was religious, the activities engaged in by shamans (observing data and creating hypotheses) were by their nature scientific.
In Greek times, and continuing from the 5th century BC in Athens to the decline of the western Roman Empire in AD 5th century, science took on a more rationalistic bent. The ancient Greeks separated natural phenomena from the supernatural, examining the universe using reason. Their own philosophies justified this focus. In much Greek philosophy, there was a dualistic battle between passion and reason. Reason was ultimately presumed more important, and the Greeks prided themselves on objectivity in examining the physical world.
In medieval times, observation of the world was in many ways guided by the spiritual values inherent in the Roman Church. The Bible, or its interpretations by scholastics, was the basis of interpreting the universe. The works of Greek philosopher Aristotle provided a structure for knowledge and, as you have seen, created another conflict, this time of faith versus reason. "Natural philosophers" (scientists) continued to use reason in their examinations, but many were also people of faith.
The 16th and 17th centuries brought a change in thinking which created "modern" science. There were many reasons for this. One may have been the Protestant Reformation. Although many Protestants were dependent on the Bible for truth in all things, Protestantism depends on reading and interpreting the Bible for oneself. I can't say that there would be more Protestant scientists than Catholic, but the issues raised by Protestantism (such as who is the final authority on truth) may well have encouraged science. Another reason for the change was surely the information from the Americas. Since Columbus' journeys across the Atlantic in the 1490s, Europeans had learned that the natural world was far more complex than they had thought. Exotic plants and animals from the New World, and reports of the kinds of people who lived there, inspired curiosity and scientific study, especially in botany. The confidence of the Renaissance also must have played a role, a new confidence which emphasized not only the revival of classical values and knowledge but also the ability of humans to understand and control their world.
Paradigm Shift: Barbara Shapiro's Theory
In 1983, historian of science Barbara Shapiro published her theories about the shift to modern science, and why they solidified in the 17th century. I relay these theories to you because they help explain not only the rise of scientific method, but also the ways in which new scientific thinking could impact all areas of life.
One key to understanding Shapiro's theory is to understand how knowledge was divided before the shift to science. Prior to the "paradigm shift", the subjects of experience (rhetoric, daily life, and theology) were seen as related to each other but unrelated to subjects of thought (science, certainty, and philosophy). New theories of knowledge, new modes of discussion, and new experimental methods emerged which made possible a combining of experience/experimentation and mathematics/certainty. The combination led to modern science. Shapiro uses five areas of life to demonstrate:
By the end of the 17th century, witch trials were on their way out. The new scientific view of the mechanical universe left little room for spirits. The view of early 18th century intellectual Joseph Addison says it all: "I believe in general that there is...such a thing as Witchcraft; but at the same time, can give no Credit to any particular Instance of it." Modern science was here to stay.
Science vs Technology
It's important at this point to make some sort of distinction between science and technology. As we use the word today, "science" means using the "scientific method", which combines empiricism/experimentation with rationalism/deduction. It is possible to use information gained from this method to create machines. But machines of all kinds were created long before there was a scientific method.
Humans have always used technology. Any tool, such as a bone for clobbering an animal over the head, is technology. So are irrigation ditches, pyramids, cloth, etc. The major example of technology we've dealt with in this course is the medieval fulling mill. The mill was made with some "science" (study in velocity, for example) and lots of trial, error, and skill. Most craftspeople were not scientists, and some inventors weren't even craftspeople. In 1596, Sir John Harington published New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax (Ajax was slang for jakes, which meant privy...you know...necessary house, outhouse...) showing his invention: the water closet. Many inventions were simply practical, trying to solve a particular problem. So in addition to the acceptance of empiricism, the practical bent of technology was another reason that England became less elitist in its brand of science. The Royal Society, founded by Charles II in 1662, admitted craftspeople and empiricists as well as theoretical scientists. This was unusual; most scientific societies on the Continent admitted only university-trained scientists. But in England, someone like Josiah Wedgewood could get in. He was a genius with ceramic materials, and the Society accepted him even though he wasn't formally trained in science.
This is not to say that England's inventiveness created a better standard of living in the 16th or even 17th centuries. Although Harington's WC was popular among elites, it wasn't until Thomas Crapper's (yes, really) reinvention of it in the 19th century that the toilet became commonplace. But by the 18th century, the middle class was on the rise, providing a market for ingenious inventions. And industrialization was occurring through the adoption of various labor-saving machinery, very little of which was created by people with scientific training.
The English Scientific Revolution
It is fitting that the English geniuses of science, should create systems which combined the verve of empiricism with rationalism. In many ways, the English Scientific Revolution begins with Sir Francis Bacon, who, as noted above, popularized inductive reasoning and empiricism. Robert Boyle, the father of modern chemistry, was also a philosopher who refined the process of experiment. Professor of geometry Robert Hooke constructed his own microscope, and published drawings of what he viewed. Sir Isaac Newton, working on the motion of planetary bodies, began with mathematics, then used experimentation to prove he was right. In his spare time, he invented differential and integral calculus, and the theory of universal gravity.
Newton's most important contribution was not any particular scientific theory, but rather the development of a new cosmology, presented in his Principia. The Newtonian universe behaved in an orderly fashion which could be studied and understood, and science was the tool in that understanding. The universe was knowable, once the rules were learned. Newton had shown that one could take any area of the physical world, and discover the rules by which it operated. To some, like Alexander Pope, this expanded the holy view of nature.
Enlightenment Applications of Science
In simple terms, the Enlightenment was the application of scientific rationality to other areas of life. The movement itself began in France with the philosophes. Voltaire, for example, used reason to undermine religious hypocrisy, and also helped publish the Encyclopedia. This multi-volume work had numerous pictures of machinery, and was a testament to the human ability to control nature. It was supposed to be a compilation of all human knowledge. Because it did not have an entry for "God", or any other "unknowable" subjects, it was banned by the Catholic church.
But even before Voltaire, the English were applying scientific rationalism to politics. This would be natural in the 17th century, the era of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution. John Locke, who you'll recall justified the Glorious Revolution in his Second Treatise on Government (1688) is a good example. His "state of nature" argument rests on the idea that the rights of man are "natural" (based on the objective observation of nature), as is the rational rule over human beings. These principles, as you know, carried into the 18th century with Thomas Jefferson.
Scottish philosopher David Hume would use the enlightened approach to discuss miracles, and whether or not they could be proved. Ideas like this caused some religious people to claim that science and philosophy led to atheism. But most natural philosophers were not atheists. They were "Deists" who believed that God had created a wonderful, clockwork universe which functions on its own and which humans can discover and analyze.
Social systems were also subject to scientific thought. The idea emerged that society itself could be considered a natural system, and therefore subject to natural law. Science could be applied to solve social problems, such as poverty and disease. By the 19th century, this will be an assumption on which many social programs will be based.
Lastly, science would be connected to the emerging British Empire. The plants and animals brought back from the Americas, and eventually India and the tropics, would be subject to study. Kew Gardens was established in the 18th century, with the purpose of trying to grow exotic plants in England's harsh climate. The idea of zoological gardens also emerged in the 18th century, for the study and breeding of animals from other climates.
Of further interest...
See the site for Anne Finch, Viscountess Conway, philosopher. Her life story ties together 17th century philosophy, women, medicine, and much more.
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