Science and Schism

A reader put forward the idea that the Protestant Reformation, allegedly by challenging the Christian desire for unity in dogma that hitherto differentiated Christians from pagans, allowed for freedom of inquiry in Protestant nations, and created or perhaps only encouraged the birth of science.

This is an old, old slander, and one that was popular among ahistorians long before the atheists took the same argument and turned it into the alleged war between Faith and Reason.

It is a theory the historical record does not support.

Here are a list of some of the inventions, mathematicians, and scientists who flourished before the Protestant Reformation.

It is this list that has to be explained away by the Christians-deter-science or Catholics-deter-science calumny. Ready? Go.

Early Medieval: Horseshoes, Stirrup, Horse collar, Windmill, Greek Fire, Quill pen. (And please, no one rush to tell me the Chinese invented all these things first. They did not do so in a systematic way, nor put them into production, nor exploit them, nor make them commonplace. The forces of stagnation triumphed in China. Enough said.)

1088: University of Bologna founded.
Late Medieval: Gunpowder/Cannon, Eyeglasses, Mechanical clocks

Robert Grosseteste 1175 – 1253. “Grosseteste had insisted on the need for observation and experiment in the study of nature.”

Albertus Magnus (c.1206–1280) – Patron saint of natural sciences

Roger Bacon: (1212 -1292) an English Franciscan

Thomas Bradwardine (c.1290–1349) – Archbishop and one of the discoverers of the mean speed theorem

William of Ockham. (d  1349). Formulated one of the first statements of scientific empiricism. Best for his principle of economy — the so-called Ockham’s Razor. This principle stated that one should not postulate the existence of a greater number of entities than needed

Thomas Bradwardine (c.1290–1349): English archbishop, developed studies as one of the Oxford Calculators of Merton College. These studies would lead to important developments in mechanics.

Jean Buridan (1350) A priest was responsible for originating or developing some of the most essential ideas of the modern scientific tradition. Buridan wrote on the projectile motion, falling bodies, and the rotation of the earth. Developed the theory of impetus

Nicholas Oresme (1323-1382) “He discovered, for example, that the distance traveled by a body moving with a uniformly increasing velocity is equal to the distance traveled in the same time by a body moving with a uniform velocity equal to the velocity attained by the first body in the middle instant of its course. Moreover, in order to express these and similar successive variations of intensity in a manner which would facilitate understanding and comparison, Nicholas conceived the idea of representing them by rectangular co-ordinates, that is to say, by means of graphs.”

Jordanus de Nemore (fl. 13th century): Italian scholar whose work was considerable important in the development of mathematics and science.

Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464): Catholic cardinal and theologian who made contributions to the field of mathematics by developing the concepts of the infinitesimal and of relative motion.

Albert Brudzewski (c. 1445-c.1497) – First to state that the Moon moves in an ellipse

1450: Alphabetic, movable type printing press
1451: Concave lens for eyeglasses

1510: Pocket watch

1517: Luther’s Theses published

Now, let us continue by looking at the scientists in Catholic nations. If the Christian insistence on unity of dogma prevented or even hindered the march of science, we should see a far greater explosion of invention in Protestant nations in the next century, say, to the early 1600s.

I hope no one is alleging so much energy behind Luther’s publication that it transformed the method of thinking about basic matters from nonscientific to scientific in nations where Lutheranism was illegal in less than a century.

Let us start in alphabetical order.

Georgius Agricola (1494–1555) – Father of mineralogy

Daniello Bartoli (1608–1685) – Jesuit priest and one of the first to see the equatorial belts of Jupiter

Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (1608–1679) – Father of modern biomechanics

Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1625–1712) – First to observe four of Saturn’s moons and the co-discoverer of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. (The Cassini division in Saturn’s rings is named after him).

Bonaventura Cavalieri (1598–1647) – Mathematician known for his work in optics and motion, calculus, and for introducing logarithms to Italy

Andrea Cesalpino (c.1525–1603) – Botanist who also theorized on the circulation of blood

Christopher Clavius (1538–1612) – Jesuit who was the main architect of the Gregorian calendar

Mateo Realdo Colombo (1516–1559) – Discovered the pulmonary circuit,[14] which paved the way for Harvey’s discovery of circulation

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) – First person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology

Johann Baptist Cysat (c.1587–1657) – Jesuit priest known for his study of comets

René Descartes (1596–1650) – Father of modern philosophy and analytic geometry

Bartolomeo Eustachi (c.1500–1574) – One of the founders of human anatomy

Hieronymus Fabricius (1537–1619) – Father of embryology

Gabriele Falloppio (1523–1562) – Pioneering Italian anatomist who studied the human ear and reproductive organs

Pierre de Fermat (1601–1665) – Number theorist who contributed to the early development of calculus


OKAY — I am only up to the F’s and I am out of time and space. Someone else will have to compile the list of Protestant scientists living in the same century, and show how much more wonderful, free, swiftly made and amazing their inventions and discoveries were, in nations where Catholicism as against the law, but somehow free inquiry into religious matter was magically allowed to bloom, despite this legal restriction on doctrinal matters.

Nor am I suggesting this raw list proves anything one way or the other. I am saying that the claim that Catholicism in that era deterred the growth of science whereas Protestantism encouraged it has to come up with some explanation to explain away all non-Protestant growth of science, which is, frankly, unprecedented.

The contrast with the Chinese inability to exploit the selfsame inventions as the Dark Ages Europe is instructive.

NB: Do not bother bringing up the Galileo case in the comments. I will see you and raise you one Servetus, who was burned to death by Calvinists in Protestant-run Geneva. In science wrote on astronomy; and his theological work “Christianismi Restitutio” contained the first European description of the function of pulmonary circulation.

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