Did the Protestant Reformation spur science?
|October 29, 2017||Posted by News under Culture, Intelligent Design, Religion, Science|
Not really, says David Wootton at Nature:
But it is still widely argued by historians of science that the Protestant religion and the new science were inextricably intertwined, as Protestantism turned away from the spirituality of Catholicism and fostered a practical engagement with the world, exemplified in the idea that a person’s occupation was their vocation. Merton was following in the footsteps of German sociologist Max Weber, who argued that Protestantism had led to capitalism.
I disagree. First, plenty of great sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scientists were Catholics, including Copernicus, Galileo and Pascal. Second, one of the most striking features of the new science was how easily it passed back and forth between Catholics and Protestants. At the height of the religious wars, two Protestant astronomers were appointed one after another as mathematicians to the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor: first Brahe, then Kepler. Louis XIV, who expelled the Protestants from France in 1685, had previously hired Protestants such as Christiaan Huygens for his Academy of Sciences. The experiments of Pascal, a devout Catholic, were quickly copied in England by the devoutly Protestant Boyle. The Catholic Church banned Copernicanism, but was quick to change its mind in the light of Newton’s discoveries. And third, if we can point to Protestant communities that seem to have produced more than their share of great scientists, we can also point to Protestant societies where the new science did not flourish until later — Scotland, for example. More.
This shouldn’t be a surprise because the disputes that led to the Reformation were not really about anything to do with science.
Wootton argues for the discovery of the Americas, the invention of the printing press, and the development of the experimental method as providing the needed force. That sounds more likely because developments like these made science relevant to far more people than it had previously been. That is, the question for most people would not be whether they accepted or rejected findings of science so much as whether they could even find out about them — and if they could, did the findings matter?
As a general rule, when science makes a difference, everyone wants it. (Think: successful cancer treatment) And most groups want a piece of the action.
See also: Physicist: The Galileo dispute involved science as well as religion This feels new. And we could use more of it. At one time, Cool science writers could afford to get it wrong (because those they maligned Didn’t Matter). Is there now a trend toward getting it right? If so, is it possible that the recent “Bible says” fiasco at Nature made a difference?