The Scientific Revolution


By Dr. Diane Moczar
The scientific revolution is a somewhat heavy and involved topic, but it is vitally important for understanding much of our intellectual and cultural life today. The supposed opposition between science and religion; the current cult of everything 'scientific'; the status of the scientists, whose pronouncements are received with the reverence and respect formerly given to saints or theologians; the craze for popular science; the preference given to scientific studies in our schools; and the insertion of dubious "scientific" theories (such as those of Darwin, Kinsey, and Gould) into textbooks on just about anything - all these features from are among the long-term consequences of the intellectual revolution that begun in the seventeenth century.
Before we take a deep breath and plunge into this complex and important series of developments, we should keep in mind three points. First, true science and technology are preeminently part of Western civilization; they flow from elements of the western mentality such as the idea of creation. This truth includes as a corollary the concept of the goodness and intelligibility of nature; it is therefore an encouragement to man to study nature and make use of it. (If matter is evil, as in the religious mentality of some cultures, you don't study it; if it does not exist, as in others, you can't study it.) Secondly, the Church had always fostered scientific studies, and the major Western scientists such as Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, and Copernicus were all clerics; Galileo himself was a Catholic. Thirdly, Catholic Europe had excelled for centuries not only in theoretical science but also in the applied science we call technology; it was practical scientific innovations that made posssible the transatlantic voyages of discovery, for example.
One other point needs to be stressed if we are to appreciate some of the truly revolutionary consequences of the changes that began in the seventeenth contury, and it has to do with the very definition of science. For the Greeks and their Western cultural heirs, science meant "certain knowledge through causes," and included all types of investigation that produce certitude. Ancient and medieval thinkers took as the object of their study all of reality; not just the study of nature, but theology, philosophy, ethics, politics, and many other disciplines were called sciences. These sciences were arranged in a heirarchy according to their objects. Natural science was the lowest of the sciences because it dealt only with material things, while the sciences dealing with man, such as phsychology and ethics, were higher. All these disciplines, however, deal with things that change. There were other sciences, higher still in the classical heirarchy, that deal with things that do not change: with being itself, and with God. We call these sciences metaphysics and theology. Different methods were used for each discipline, but all were considered sciences, and they were approached through their causes.
This question of causality may seem a bit difficult, but it is crucial to understanding the gulf that opened in the Western mind, beginning in the seventeenth century, between how earlier thinkers had approached reality and how modern man looks at it. The Greeks and their intellectual descendents approached anything they wanted to know through four causes: material, formal, efficient, and final. They used the example of a statue to illustrate the operation of the causes. The material cause of a statue of Zeus in the marble from which it is made; the formal cause is the shape it takes, as an image of the god; the efficient cause is the sculptor who imposes the form on the marble; the final cause - the ultimate one, governing all the rest - is the purpose for which the statue is made: to be set up in a temple, for instance. In analyzing the operation of these causes in the objects they studied, the ancients accepted the fact that for most of the things they observed they would be able to determine only the first three causes; physicas, biology, and astronomy, for instance, are incapable of providing information about final causality - their ultimate origin and purpose. For answers to those questions, the scientists turned to the higher sciences of metaphysics and theology.
Now how does the thinking of modern scientist differ from what I have just described? It would seem to diverge in almost every way. To begin with, only the study of material things is is now considered 'science," and it is generally much more highly esteemed than philosophy, theology, or any other field that the Greeks would have put at the top of their list. No modern thinker would consider philosophy or theology sciences, or think of them as productive of any type of certitude whatever. In fact, a major consequence of the Scientific Revolution was the divorce of natural science from philosophy and theology, and its eventual increase in ststus to the most highly valued field of study.
What about the four causes? Modern scientists still consider the matter and form of the things they investigate, as well as the proximate causes that affect them. What they repudiate, out of a sort of unspoken agnosticism, is final causality. It is ironic that what most interested Greek and Christian scholars was the true purpose of things - the ultimate Why - while contemporary thinkers are either totally uninterested in such questions or or think that qua scientists they have no business thinking about them. The modern scientific mind, in fact, denies the reality of nonmaterial causes and is thus reduced, should it be interested in final cuasality at all, to the futile exercise of looking for ultimate explainations in matter itself. I recall a modern textbook author who described how Roger Bacon accurately diagramed the working of the human eye and dsicovered the details of its operation. He remarked, disparagingly, however, on Bacon's comment that the seven parts of the eye were like the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, allowing supernatural light into the soul as natural light enters the body. For the modern writer, Bacon was dragging religion into what should have been a religion-proof scientific discussion; for Bacon, the delight of his discoveries included seeing the glory of Creator reflected in the details of His Creation.
We must not ignore the real scientific breakthroughs that resulted from the Scientific Revolution, such as the development of the experimental method, the use of mathmatics to formulate scientific propositions, and the invention and the use of new scientific instruments. All of this made possible enormous strides in modern science and technology. It could have occured, however, without the rupture with the past and the radical change in the mentality that accompanied the progress of the Revolution. To sum up its long-term consequences, we can observe that the old worldview that saw distinction but not conflict between faith and reason, or between theology and biology, that took all of reality, material and immaterial, as the object of its study, was destroyed. Science and philosophy parted company, and the work of old-fashioned thinkers such as Aristotle and Aquinas, who harmonized the many disciplines, was rejected. The emphasis on final causality, the answer to the ultimate Why, was abandoned in favor of the descriptive How - how it operates, not why it is there in the first place. Somwhere I read this shift described as a denial of the concept "That the world has a purpose more profound than its description." That is beautifully put, but the source eludes me; possibly it is from an article by Father Jaki. Natural science rose from the humblest area of research to its current position as standard for all others: science (narrowly defined) became the measure of all things, the final arbiter of truth, so that we may now say, "Scientists tell us..." or "A scientific study has shown..." when we really want to clinch and argument. This new science is defined so as to exclude all causality that is not material. The scientists is the new high priest of arcane knowledge (and if he is a rocket scientists, well! You can't get wiser than that, can you?). . . . . -

- Read the second half of the story in the latest issue of 'Latin Mass Magazine' - Vol. 15, No. 4 * Fall 2006

[ Dr. Moczar teaches history at Northen Virginia Community College. She is the author of 'Don't Know Much About Catholic History' and 'Ten Dates Every Catholic Should KNow,' published by Sophia Institute Press.]

Ok, whats your point?

I don't think there was a point being made - just something he found interesting.
"Sometimes an article is just an article" - pseudo-Freud
QuisUtDeus Wrote:

I don't think there was a point being made - just something he found interesting.

"Sometimes an article is just an article" - pseudo-Freud

LOL, you got it exactly. I just found it quite a good article, myself having a   love for science.


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