The Church and Science

There are many myths about science. Galileo didn't drop any balls from the Tower of Pisa. Newton didn't develop his theory of gravity after an apple fell on his head. And Gregor Mendel did not do his genetic work alone or on his own time. These myths diminish science. It's all about heros. Science isn't that easy. Sometimes science requires time, even centuries, to develop a theory. Sometimes it needs teams. And sometimes it requires a cultural change. This diminished science has infected many discussions, but none moreso than discussions of the church and science. These discussions focus on personalities, not science or culture. They need to go beyond the myths and the men.

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Myths and Men

The Gregor Mendel Myth is not harmless. By diminishing the effort involved in his study it hides many of the lessons in his work. The myth has never made sense. Gregor Mendel supposedly conducted his study alone in his spare time. His study involved crossing pea plants 29000 times. During this time he was supposedly tending two large research garden plots and managing controls in a greenhouse. In fact, the study was a team project that was well-planned, well-executed and well-resourced (see Mendel and Darwin). Gregor Mendel lead the research but the abbot of his monastery made sure he had the necessary resources, including full-time helpers. Mendel working as part of a team has more bearing on how science is done today than the myth. The other lesson missed is that science is as much about how things are done as they are about what things are done. Mendel's contemporaries, including Darwin, were conducting experiments similar to Mendel's. Mendel's succeeded because he was the only one among them that understood sampling theory.

Mendelian Inheritance

Gregor Mendel was a Catholic priest. But it is Galileo Galilei, not Mendel, that is typically used to symbolize the relationship between the church and science. There is no reason why Galileo represents this relationship better than Mendel. Building the case from either is simply rhetoric (see Galileo's Battle for the Heavens). Science and the development of the scientific tradition is much too complex and the issues too subtle to be argued by cherry-picking historical events relating to individual scientists.

Science's goal is to make sense of nature. At its core is a set of methods for doing this in a repeatable way. This is not enough. The infrastructure needed to sustain science includes higher education, mathematics and technology. Scientists are trained in modern universities, an institution invented by the church in the middle ages. There are many examples where advances in science were only possible because of an advance in mathematics or technology. The advances in astronomy in the seventeenth century were enabled by sophisticated technology for grinding lenses (see Church and the Early Telescope). Many advances in astronomy in the twentieth century were enabled by the seventeenth century advances in Analytic Geometry (see Descartes in Galileo's Contemporaries). This website looks at the question of the church and science from this bigger picture of science. History of science is more than a history of scientists.

The Bigger Picture.

It is hoped that these pages will give a better glimpse of the big picture than more narrow 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 recounts the censorship of Pierre Duhem, a historian of science who had discovered important advances in science originating in the Middle Ages.

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Copyright Joseph Sant (2015).
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