If I was to ask most people how the modern scientific revolution began most people would give me a blank look. We in the west, including Europe owe a great deal to this amazing era and as such it deserves some attention. Now lets go through some of the key names and events that led to the enlightenment and the scientific revolution.
The birth of rationalism
Rene Descartes was born in 1596 and was a philosopher, mathematician and a scientist who would become a key figure in the inspiration of Newton himself. He introduced the concept of the Cartesian coordinate system and wrote the standard in philosophy called "Meditations on First Philosophy" which is still taught in philosophy departments today.
Of note was his work on rationalism - innate ideas, reason and deduction - the first half of the scientific method as it were. Interestingly, his work in developing his philosophy on rationalism would play an important role in the enlightenment and inspire many scientists and philosophers who would go on to develop entire fields of science. Many came to realize that we could think our way to truth and that by emphasizing the mind over the senses we could push the limits of what could be known through reason alone.
Empiricism and the scientific revolution
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is a name most people have not heard. In a nutshell, he is the genius who came up with the first version of the scientific method as a tool of clearing away idols and false ideas in order to get to the truth.
Bacon played a key role in skepticism. Bacon was a fan of empirical evidence as he stated that, “the human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it.”
Isaac Newton (1643 - 1727)
Newton's book Principia Mathematica is still considered to be a work of absolute genius. It was a description of the mechanistic principles seen in nature through the use of mathematics. For the first time, we could understand the world through with proof through mathematics.
We came to the realization for the first time that we and the universe itself was not random but rather governed by very intricate, rational mathematical laws. This concept is taken for granted today, but back then it provided brilliant minds evidence that the universe is indeed consistent and because of this, we can discover how nature works. This would go on to have enormous impact in the fields of biology, medicine and chemistry. This is why Newton is considered the father of modern science.
The Protestant Reformation
The Catholic Church used to have a monopoly on truth and was unwilling to bend - even in the light of evidence. The Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther and continued by John Calvin caused the split of many churches from the Catholic Church and resulted in a friendlier climate for science to blossom.
The development of the printing press in 1451 by Johannes Gutenberg was revolutionary in that it allowed the rapid printing of books through movable type printing, the first book being the Gutenberg Bible.
This tool became instrumental in the printing and distribution of the Bible in people's native language. Before this, the Bible was only to be found in handwritten form in Latin. Only Catholic priests spoke Latin and so the remainder of the population remained in ignorance towards the will of God and the understanding of the written word. So grave was this threat to the monopoly of the Catholic Church that hundreds were gruesomely executed to try halt the Bible's advance throughout Europe. This of course failed and once people saw the corruption of the Catholic Church in light of a Bible they could understand, they became outspoken and the result was the Protestant Reformation. By 1482 there were 100 printing presses in Western Europe and by 1500 there were 40,000 editions of the Bible and the Greek classics with over 1,000,000 copies in print. This had a massive impact on the advancement of knowledge and we would not be where we are today without both Gutenberg's press and the Reformation it helped start.
The explosion of science
There was a remarkable explosion in science which began in Europe. Below you will find just a tiny list of notable names in science, many who were instrumental in developing entire branches of science:
- Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464)
- Otto Brunfels (1488–1534)
- William Turner (c.1508–1568)
- Ignazio Danti (1536–1586)
- Francis Bacon (1561–1626)
- Galileo Galilei (1564 –1642)
- Laurentius Gothus (1565–1646)
- Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655)
- Anton Maria of Rheita (1597–1660)
- Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)
- Nicolas Steno (1638–1686)
- Isaac Barrow (1630–1677)
- Juan Lobkowitz (1606–1682)
- Seth Ward (1617–1689)
- Robert Boyle (1627–1691)
- Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
- Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)
- John Ray (1627–1705)
- Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716)
- Stephen Hales (1677–1761)
- Firmin Abauzit (1679–1767)
- Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772)
- Albrecht von Haller (1708–1777)
- Leonhard Euler (1707–1783)
- Antoine Lavoisier (1743–1794)
- Herman Boerhaave (1668–1789)
- John Michell (1724–1793)
- Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718–1799)
- Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778)
- Joseph Priestley (1733–1804)
- Isaac Milner (1750–1820)
- Samuel Vince (1749–1821)
- Georges Cuvier (1769–1832)
- Alessandro Volta (1745–1827)
- Andre Marie Ampere (1775–1836)
- Olinthus Gregory (1774–1841)
- John Abercrombie (1780–1844)
- Mary Anning (1799–1847)
- William Kirby (1759–1850)
- William Buckland (1784–1856)
- Marshall Hall (1790–1857)
- Lars Levi Læstadius (1800–1861)
- Edward Hitchcock (1793–1864)
- Benjamin Silliman (1779–1864)
- Bernhard Riemann (1826–1866)
- William Whewell (1794–1866)
- Michael Faraday (1791–1867)
- James David Forbes (1809–1868)
- Charles Babbage (1791–1871)
- Adam Sedgwick (1785–1873)
- Temple Chevallier (1794–1873)
- John Bachman (1790–1874)
- Robert Main (1808–1878)
- James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879)
- James Bovell (1817–1880)
- Andrew Pritchard (1804–1882)
- Gregor Mendel (1822–1884)
- Heinrich Hertz (1857–1894)
- Philip Henry Gosse (1810–1888)
- Asa Gray (1810–1888)
- Julian Tenison Woods (1832–1889)
- James Dwight Dana (1813–1895)
- James Prescott Joule (1818–1889)
- John William Dawson (1820–1899)
- Armand David (1826–1900)
Have you noticed?
The names above come from this page on Wikipedia:
That's right. They were ALL Christians. Even those earlier in this blog post. The enlightenment was the result of Christian thinkers who were the result of the Protestant Reformation and the climate this created for science.
When I visit any Christian channel on YouTube, it is bombarded with comments from members of the atheist community who have somehow claimed logic and critical thinking as the mark of an atheist. The reality is that not a single atheist discovered anything of note during the scientific revolution. The entire movement was the sole consequence of Christians and their faith in God and the Bible.
So critical was this belief in God that even Newton said, 'Opposition to godliness is atheism in profession and idolatry in practice. Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors'
But how can this be? Newton is arguably one of the greatest minds that ever lived yet he had this to say about atheism? Maybe this is just a fluke though. What did other notables have to say about science and God?
"I believe that the more thoroughly science is studied, the further does it take us from anything comparable to atheism." - Lord William Kelvin
"Both religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations... To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view." - Max Planck
"The best data we have (concerning the Big Bang) are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole." - Arno Penzias
"To know the mighty works of God, to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful workings of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge." - Nicolas Copernicus
You see, the names on the list were not just labelled as Christians - they were devoted Christians and devout in their adhesion to God's Word. Their faith did not cripple their ability to understand the world around them - it was the very driving force and inspiration for why they studied the world and came to their findings. We turn a blind eye to this in modern society as it's a very inconvenient fact that modern educational institutions refuse to accept.
Standing on the shoulders of giants
The new atheist seeks to elevate and inflate the role of atheism in critical thought yet historically this "prerequisite" for critical thought does not even register as a blip in scientific history. When the point is raised that science as we know it is the result of Christians EXCLUSIVELY, this is written off as a mere coincidence or the argument of "the church was mean to Galileo" is thrown around.
Unfortunately, you cannot separate the faith of the founders of science from their brilliance as they themselves are quoted as giving God the credit for their inspiration. In fact, it's because they knew God through his Word and his orderly nature that they expected to find order and laws in nature. This flies in the face of every other religion where the god(s) were fallible and whimsical and inconsistent. In fact if one were to take atheism to it's logical conclusion then there is absolutely no reason why we should observe consistency in nature at all.
So how can we stand on the shoulders of giants yet completely ignore the very foundation on which those giants stand? Because when it all boils down to it, we are not as logical and critical as we like to think. We like to claim the discoveries yet refuse to acknowledge how these discoveries came about as it upsets our world view and calls the very fabric of our reality into question. There is no conflict between faith and science - merely conflict between atheism and the faith that started and stands with science.
This is why in order to continue the new atheist argument, history itself must be changed as when we really understand how we got here, atheism makes less and less sense.
I would urge you to watch this excellent debate between David Wood and Michael Shermer which covers this beautifully.