The Church and Science

The year is 1631 and a group of priests is meeting in the Collegio Romano, the Jesuits' centre for scientific research in Rome. The Collegio had celebrated Galileo's astronomical discoveries decades before but was shortly to become his adversary (see Galileo's Battle for the Heavens). This meeting wasn't about Galileo. It was to decide what to do with a parcel of tree bark that had arrived from Jesuits in Peru. The bark was being used by natives of the Andes to fight off chills. They decided to see if tea made from the bark could combat the chills associated with malaria. Their experiment would change the course of history (see The Jesuit's Bark). The bark was rich in quinine, an anti-malarial compound. Over centuries millions would benefit from this discovery. For the Jesuits, science was much more than just astronomy. There is a lesson here for modern discussions of church and science.

Jesuits Bark:Encyclopedia Brittanica Plate

Blinded by Science

Discussions on the church and science are very common on the internet. The problem is that they are not very scientific. We know this from what is discussed and how it is discussed. They are too narrowly focused. The visualization below maps the interdependence and importance of various disciplines in modern science(For more info go to Eigenfactor-Mapping Science). It shows how disconnected discussions of church and science are with modern science. In discussions of church and science, Astronomy is the most important discipline and Cell Biology isn't important at all. A broader look at science is necessary. This means looking far beyond astronomy.

Map of Science

The discussions are disconnected with earlier science in similar ways. There were advances in the seventeenth century in many areas of science (see Galileo Contemporaries Timeline). These are typically ignored. Some of these advances, like the discovery of the Jesuit's Bark, relate directly to discussions of church and science. In Biology, we have Francesco Redi. Francesco Redi is famous for his controlled experiment to challenge the concept of spontaneous generation. Francesco Redi did many of the things that were supposed to have gotten Galileo in trouble with the church yet he never had any troubles with the church (see Galileo's Twin). Looking at things in isolation is not always a good idea.

Redi, Maggots and flies

Science is as much about how you do things as it is about what you study. Scientists are careful about the quality of data. Discussions on church and science aren't. That is why they are often peppered with myths. These myths are so enticing that even famous scientists fall prey to them (see The Galileo Myths).

Science is more than hypotheses and theories. It's about models, too. The Copernican Model is a common topic in discussions of church and science. It is not discussed as a scientist would. When scientists discuss models they are interested in "goodness of fit". In the thousands of pages that discuss the Copernican Model, it is difficult to find any that address "goodness of fit"?

Science - A Bad History

We are taught some very strange things about the history of science. Science needed a Galileo to discover the parabolic trajectory of projectiles, a Newton to invent calculus, and an Einstein to develop Special Relativity theory. This is the Great Man approach to history. In fact, science didn't need a Galileo, Newton, or Einstein for those advances. The answers were already "in the air" (see In the Air). In each case, there were others who arrived at the same conclusions independently around the same time. Multiple discoveries are common in science.

Historians of Science dropped the Great Man Theory long ago. It presented only a shallow view of the history of Modern Science (see Modern Science). Today science depends heavily on technology for instrumentation and universities as a locale for research and training ground for scientists. That means the history of technology and universities is important to the history of science. This means that actions of the church to formalize the structure of the modern university between the 11th and 13th century is important to the history of science.

The Rest of the Story

The goal of these pages is to give a better glimpse of the big picture than personality-based discussions. Modern Science presents the theme that intelligent discussions of church and science must start with a discussion of modern science. Pages on modern scientists such as Gregor Mendel and Alfred Wegener follow on this theme. The Calculatores describes how the calculatory tradition so important to modern Western science had its origins well before the Scientific Revolution. Galileo's Battle for the Heavens presents several of the "missing bits" from most discussions of the Galileo Affair. Galileo's Contemporaries and Galileo's Contemporaries Timeline illustrate how Galileo was not working in a vacuum. Kepler was one of Galileo's that he largely ignored. Important medical advances from Galileo's time included the discovery of a remedy for malaria (see The Jesuit's Bark). Finally, The Real da Vinci Code explores the censorship of Pierre Duhem, a historian of science who had discovered important advances in science originating in the Middle Ages.

Copyright Joseph Sant (2017).
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