Review: Science & Religion, 1450-1900

This is a fascinating book.

I bought Richard G. Olson’s Science & Religion, 1450-1900: From Copernicus To Darwin many years ago while researching the war between science and religion. At the time, I was under the influence of Richard Dawkins and this book changed my perspective on the issue.

What are the origins of modern science?

Why does modern science begin to emerge in Western Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries? How does it differ from ancient and medieval science? What was the true relationship between religion and science in the West? Is it fundamentally antagonistic as in the case of Galileo?

This book paints a more complex narrative. There were lots of ingredients of modern science in Antiquity: the empiricism of Aristotle, the skepticism of Pyrrho, the materialism of the ancient atomists, the mathematics of Archimedes, the idea of manipulating nature and restoring natural knowledge that was lost after the Fall of Man in the Hermetic tradition. These ideas were dredged up by scholars in the late Renaissance and began to challenge the dominant Aristotelianism.

Nominalism was a contribution of the Middle Ages. This is a denial of the existence of universals and the belief that God’s will is the final cause of all things. This led to a shift in science from searching for final causes to describing how events occur on the basis of experience. Renaissance alchemists developed the experimental method and questioned ancient authorities.

Modern science developed in the swirl of these ideas and in the aftermath of the Copernican hypothesis in astronomy from around 1550 to 1650. Whereas ancient science was contemplative, modern science was practical and experimental and increasingly described in the language of mathematics. Newton would later finalize the union of mathematics with the experimental method.

I found one of the most fascinating aspects of this book to be how modern scientific societies were inspired by Christian humanism:

“The notion implicit in this work – that is, experimental knowledge should be the product of a collaborative enterprise and that collectively produced and tested knowledge gained credibility over privately produced knowledge – was embodied in a small and short lived local society established by the natural magician Giambattista Della Porta at Naples in 1560 under the title Accedemia dei segreti. More importantly for the long run, it was strongly promoted in a group of extremely popular Christian humanist utopias, all written within a few years of each other at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Johann Andreae’s Christianopolis (1619), Tommaso Campanella’s City of the Sun (1623) and Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1626) all offered visions of a new and perfected society. At the heart of each lay a set of institutions for the collective discovery and dissemination of natural knowledge aimed at improving human welfare. Collectively these works seem to have stimulated widespread enthusiasm for experimental natural philosophy and offered models emulated by the founders of such major new institutions for the pursuit of the sciences as the Royal Society of London for Improving of Natural Knowledge.” (Olson, 52)

It was Christians like Johann Andreae who dreamed up the world created by modern science. Christianopolis was early 17th century science fiction:

“In 1619, Andreae published Christianopolis, modeled on Thomas More’s Utopia. As in More’s work, the central figure is shipwrecked and washes up on an island that is the site of a perfect society. He is interrogated by a delegation from a nearby city to determine whether he is a pious Christian and whether he has made progress in “the observation of the heavens and the earth, in the close examination of nature, [and] in the instruments of the arts” (Andreae 1916, 148). When he says yes, he is given a group of guides to show him Christianopolis. Like Utopia, Christianopolis is a communistic society in which goods are held in common. Its governmental structure is that of a theocracy, and its theology is orthodox Lutheran. But what attracts the reader’s attention above all else is the relationships among scientific research, education, and economic activity.

The first stop in the tour is the metallurgical workshop:

“Here everything that the earth contains in her bowels is subjected to the laws and instruments of science. Here men are not driven to work with which they are unfamiliar like pack animals to their task, but they have been trained long before in accurate knowledge of scientific matters, and feel their delight in the inner part of nature. If a person here does not listen to reason and look into the most minute elements of the macrocosm, they think that nothing has been accomplished. Unless you analyse matter by experiment, unless you improve the deficiencies of knowledge by more capable instruments, you are worthless … To be brief, here is practical science.” (Andreae 1916, 154-155; emphasis mine)

Proceeding to the center of the city, we find among the buildings devoted to government, religion and education, a series of teaching laboratories, anatomical theaters, natural history museums, and collections of mathematical instruments. In each, men learn to “assist the struggles of nature” (Andreae 1916, 199). After describing Christianopolitan’s education in mathematics and natural philosophy, which contains both knowledge designed to increase one’s appreciation of the universe as well as knowledge designed to increase one’s ability to act on it, Andreae conclues with the following remarkable statement:

“It is … man’s duty, now that he has all creatures for his use, to give thanks to God himself in place of them all; that is, he should offer to God as much obedience as he observes in His creatures. Then, he will never look upon this earth without praise to God or advantage to himself … Blessed are they who use the world and are not used by it (1916, 231-232; emphasis mine)

These men were contemporaries of Galileo.

Olson goes on to describe the well known story of how the earliest scientists were borderline magicians motivated to study the “Book of Nature” in order to better understand God. There is a long discussion of natural theology from Robert Hooker through Deism in England.

As the centuries have passed, the memory of how modern science evolved began to fade. We remember that Galileo was convicted of heresy, but we have largely forgotten that the Jesuits made massive contributions to astronomy. We have modern hospitals, universities and scientific institutions, but have forgotten the cultural matrix that gave them their purpose.

Much of this is due to the success of modern science and the mess it made of morality. There is a connection between the two that we will be examining in the weeks ahead.

Note: Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single black person who had anything to do with this. I don’t remember a single black person being mentioned in this book.

About Hunter Wallace 9628 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent

17 Comments

  1. We have gone full circle since Galileo. Now every major university supports global warming non-science along with Boazian anthropology, gender and race denial studies and quacks like Freud. I like Darwin personally but my opinion is he was being (((promoted))) as a battering ram against the Church. Wallace came up with the same concept at the same time but was not aristocracy so was ignored. I also find it hard to believe that they were the first. Animal husbandry and plant breeding were going on for thousands of years. That our more intelligent ancestors did not have a basic concept of evolution defies logic.

    • I should add a complete bullshit (((Economics))) program based on the (((Federal Reserve))) and fiat currency where yoyos like (((Krugman))) can get a Nobel Prize and it is taught that the massive issuance of food stamps grows the economy. No wonder one of the first things Hitler did is shut these institutions down. For this he is (((ridiculed))) as anti-intellectual when quite the opposite was true.

  2. It’s funny that the Jesuits of the 1500s were more scientifically literate and open than the overwhelming majority of American Protestants today.

    • It seems to me that the (((King James’ Bible))) killed off Protestantism or maybe it was just a (((subversive))) scam from the beginning. Regardless, it was subverted and we and our children were sold into a form of Talmudic banking slavery.

      • Found this little gem earlier today:

        There was not a “recorded” astronomical observation made for over 1000 years. Proclus in 475 AD, and Copernicus in 1543 AD.

        The fear of being called a heretic and burned at the stake by the Catholic Church was that strong!

        • What about the great supernova explosion of 1054? Surely some learned man of natural philosophy made an observation of it?

        • The swastika is a star chart/calendar of ursa major at the equinoxes and solstices. Not sure much changed in the north.

      • @hans Is there a Bible version that you can recommend? If the KJV is converged, what’s left? The Geneva? Tyndale?

        • The KJV is really more an example of Jacobean literature than it is a legit translation of the bible. I think the ASV or RSV are the best way to go.

        • I have no clue honestly. If I were researching for “the real bible” I would probably go back before the Cult of Isis/Cult of the Bastard was incorporated into it.

      • Oh, please. Now Whites are going to ‘diss’ the KJV as a ‘Jewish’ invention?!!? How stupid do you need to be? How far the descent on the road to madness? How ignorant of the growth and ubiquity of English as the Lingua Franca of the World, is due to Shakespeare, the BCP, and the Authorized Version!!?!?

        If you want to take pot shots, why not nuke the Scofield Reference Bible? At least THAT is deserving of unmitigated scorn!

        And Krafty’s christophobic statement is little better. I told Brad that Hoffman’s book is a clear indictment of the ROMAN Church’s duplicity and evil, but the CATHOLIC Church is not ‘the root of all evil…’ for if it were, EVERYTHING THE JEWS SAY would be true. And I would rather die a martyr than believe a Kike would tell Truth, after what they did to Christ.

  3. Utopianism of that era seems to be based on what early Christianity was like. People shared all their possessions, like in a feather Indian potlatch.
    Speaking of feather Indians, have you been following Vox Day’s shredding of the theory of evolution by natural selection? He points out that there is no mathematical or statistical proof for evolution as a predictive model, amongst other things.
    FWIW, I learn more from studying history than from anything else. Not boilerplate history, but the books that deep-dive into what really happened and why. History rhymes, as is said, so comparing and contrasting past situations with our dysfunctional present might be more interesting and helpful than getting into the current version of the elitist betrayal of the peasantry.

  4. “I can’t think of a single black person who had anything to do with this. I don’t remember a single black person being mentioned in this book.” If Whites had not invented light bulbs and flush toilets, billions of non-Whites would still dance around fires and squat over holes they dug with their hands.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Science & Religion 1450-1900 - Read Right

Comments are closed.