Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Short History 4

We continue our (very) short history of the relationships between science and religion.

After Christ's life on Earth, Christianity spread throughout Europe, Africa and Asia Minor. Other world religions thrived: Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism. Mohammed, originator of Islam, was born in 570 AD.

Roger Bacon (c.1214-1292) was a British Franciscan (friar of the order of St. Francis) who is credited with the grounding of science in experiment. He conducted some experiments of his own and promoted optics, mathematics and language as keys to the sciences. Persons in the church, however, became suspicious of him and he was imprisoned for a time.[i]

Also in the 1200’s, Thomas Aquinas took a new look at Aristotle. Europe had seemed to lose interest in him, but Aristotle was preserved in the Arab world and now was being revived in Europe. Aquinas wrote the famous Summa Theologica. His first premise was that humans need both reason and revelation from God for full knowledge.[ii]

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was both a scientist and churchman. His belief in the heliocentric (sun-centered) solar system was reinforced by Galileo (1564-1642). Many know of Galileo’s clash with religious authority of his day. He was condemned two times by the Catholic Church, but later exonerated by other scientists. In 1992, Pope John Paul II apologized on behalf of the Church.[iii]

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) encouraged the “inductive” method of science. He said science should be conducted only through observation and experiment. He was reacting against the mixture of knowledge of nature with spiritual speculation of the day. For example, investigators of chemistry often included alchemy and magic in their reasoning.

[i] New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second ed., s.v. “Roger Bacon.”
[ii] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica Part I, Question 1, Article 1.
[iii] Smith, A. Mark, “Galileo,” 11/15/06, http://www.nasa.gov/worldbook/galileo_worldbook.html#wbtop .

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