In past lessons, we have studied the steady development of the classical liberal arts curriculum from the earliest days of human civilization through the Renaissance of the 14th through 17th centuries. In this lesson, we will look at the Scientific Revolution, which like the Protestant Reformation, is another manifestation of the dark side of the Renaissance. Having had the opportunity to follow the maturation of the classical liberal arts curriculum through history, you will now observe the ideas that unraveled it all in just a few centuries. In this lesson we will get at the core principles of the Scientific Revolution, which have caused great confusion in the Church, have provided for several embarrassing moments in Church history and continue to cripple Christian people today.
The Seeds of the Revolution
It is well known that “Ideas have consequences.”, yet few have the knowledge to trace consequences back to their original ideas. When we look back through history, we see individual movements such as the rise of Scholasticism, the Protestant Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and later the rise of Capitalism, Marxism, Darwinianism, Naziism, and so on. However, these events are the manifestations of philosophical developments that have taken place behind the scenes and slowly trickle down into different fields of study and practice.
Since the ascension of Jesus Christ, the Church labored to carry out the apostolic ministry described by St. Paul in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians:
“We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.”
The history of the Christian era through the Middle ages is nothing more than the outworking of this mission from Jerusalem, throughout the Roman Empire and then to the borders of Europe. For this mission, God provided the Church with an army of apostles, prophets and teachers who were divinely gifted to dismantle every false philosophy and demonstrate the superiority of the Catholic faith over the course of more than 1,400 years. This mission included the development of sacred traditions, the production of creeds, the establishing of the canon of Scripture, the composition of philosophical treatises, the preparation of catechisms and more. While there were certainly weeds mixed with the wheat in the Church, the overall achievements of the Church were supernatural, as we might expect.
Into this clean field of truth many seeds of falsehood and disobedience had been cast–and that not by men alone. Most of them had been rooted out, but others had remained dormant for some time. As never before in human history, the lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and pride of life–had been kept under control by the Church’s diligent government and sacramental life, but new (or newly energized) forces and new alliances, filled the Earth with new and more hardy weeds than had ever been faced before. Some of them took root so strongly that even the elect were scarcely saved from them. Human society has never recovered from the evil effects of these movements.
The peace and prosperity that followed Christianity’s conquests in Europe, created just the opportunity many enemies of the Church needed to stir up a rebellion. The Church’s authority, wealth and power–combined with visible bad examples of a few–were easily used to present false, though appealing, arguments against the Church and her teaching. As we saw in the last lesson, the increasing secularism provided the civil support and protection the Reformation needed to succeed. In this lesson we find these same forces ready to support another revolution, this time in the realm of the Natural Sciences.
The New Organon
To suggest, as many do, that man is on a steady path of progress is easily contradicted by human history. There have been many changes that resulted not from true progress, but from violent revolutions inspired by evil ambitions and the abuse of power, wealth and influence. One such revolution was that proposed in the name of “Science” in the 1600s. Many suggest that the advent of modern science was among the greatest achievements of human learning. Many see the event as a liberation of mankind from the darkness of ancient superstitions into the clear light of modern observation. Many boast of the great advantages received by mankind ever since Galileo freed the universe from Catholic control. However, we would challenge the truth of each of these claims. Modern science has the appearance of a beautiful fruit, but it contains a deadly poison. A poison that affects all today, though we seem to know not where it comes from. It comes from a disordered devotion to the Scientific Method.
The key philosophical treatise behind the Scientific Revolution, which explained the principles upon which the Scientific Method was based, is the Novum Organum, written by Sir Francis Bacon in 1620. The fact that what was taking place was a conscious rejection of and rebellion against classical philosophy and traditional Christian thought is found in the very title of the book. We may translate the title Novum Organum, to mean “The New Method” or “The New Instrument”. If it is “new”, then it must be replacing something known as “old”. What is being replaced in the Novum Organum?
The title of Aristotle’s library of Logic texts is called (in Greek) the Organon and in Latin the Organum. Aristotle, then, is the author of the “Old Method”–and what is this method? It is Logic. This is the method Francis Bacon seeks to replace.
If the shift taking place was simply one that moved from an ancient philosophical method to a modern philosophical method based on new knowledge or historical necessity, that would be one thing. However, when we realize that the Catholic Church had embraced the Aristotelean tradition and employed it, through the expertise of the Scholastics, in the development of Catholic dogma, we find in the Novum Organum no innocent challenge of ideas, but a violent rejection of the Church and her authority.
Catholic doctrine was complex and firmly established throughout the Christian world. Catholic philosophy was brought to such heights by the Doctors of the Church–especially by St. Thomas–that virtually no stone was left unturned. A complete system of faith and practice that encompassed every area of human life was articulated by the Doctors of the Church and bore with it the blessings and curses of the keys of St. Peter. Anti-Catholics had (and have) no hope of refuting the arguments of the Scholastics. The Logic of the faith was impenetrable and so easily defended by the Church that there was only one option left for anti-Catholics: to reject Logic as the method for seeking truth. This is the aim of the Novum Organum.
Now, the “logic” of the war against Logic would require great cunning for none would admit the argument that Logic was not reliable! The power and infallibility of the syllogism cannot be questioned. Bacon crafted a devilish scheme: to suggest that all existing human knowledge had been or might have been based on false doctrines in the ancient past and that Logic had merely led men from those false doctrines to the false conclusions known in his day.
“The logic now in use serves rather to fix and give stability to the errors which have their foundation in commonly received notions than to help the search after truth. So it does more harm than good.” Aphorism XII
Furthermore, since these original false doctrines are unknown to us, mankind must start all over again from scratch if we are to have any hope of being freed from the errors and idols of the past. Since our minds cannot be freed from the influence of past ideas, traditions, etc., we must allow experimental science to be the ONLY source of our new ideas. Anything that contradicts the conclusions of our experiments will be identified as a remnant of the errors of the past. Cunning, no?
Again, setting up such a violent battle between the traditional philosophy and the new philosophy would draw too much attention to the issues on which they differ. Therefore Bacon proposed that we compartmentalize learning into two different groups and the philosophers of each group into two separate families that leave each other alone. In this way, the new scientists might be free to advance their own system while pretending to not interfere with the old philosophers and their realms of influence. Here, as in the Protestant Reformation, we find the initial impetus for the separation of Church and State, and more full yet, the Church and Science. When we clear away the cunning Rhetoric and false suggestions of peace, we find one common aim: to launch a full-scale war on Catholicism. In the place of more than 4,000 years of human experience, tradition and divine revelation (!) was set the small band of like-minded men–the possessors of the instruments of research– as the new “pillar and support of the truth”.
Effects on Education
The two evil manifestations of the Renaissance–the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution–have all but destroyed education. In the universities, the “Scientific Method” has been applied to all fields–including theology, ethics and history. While the electron microscope reveals the “truth” in the chemistry department, the archaeologist’s shovel determines for us whether Jesus ever lived or not–warning us of the danger of accepting the errors of ancient superstition before we have evidence of what truly occurred.
Inasmuch as the classical liberal arts curriculum served the “old” system, modern education requires a completely new course of studies. The role of education in the modern world is to brief students on the current consensus of the scientific community. The entire body of knowledge changes from one generation to the next and one generation’s learning is considered “obsolete” by the next. The result is not progress, though! Schools go through chaotic waverings often returning to previously rejected ideas and then back again to new ones. Textbooks are valid for but a few years until their content is frowned upon by the scientific community. Fortunately, schools suggest, computers will allow “real-time” learning in modern schools.
Rather than freeing men from superstition, these systems have enslaved men to agnosticism and materialism. Sacred Scripture is reckoned all but unknowable by modern society since there is no way of demonstrating in a scientific way which interpretation is true for any passage or whether any passage is genuinely inspired. Any doubt becomes a case against Scripture and any interpretation–no matter how absurd–becomes a possible meaning. As individuals know themselves to be unable to answer the questions raised by skeptics, they doubt themselves whether there are any answers.
The natural world, likewise, is unknowable. Virtually any statement made based on one’s observation will be challenged by a “scientist” who has the ability to see deeper or further than the man on the ground. Very, very few have access to the most powerful instruments and since the argument is that only they can tell us what may truly be “seen”, we must await their revelation of the newest sight before we can say we have seen anything ourselves. The study of science, hanging always on the endless release of retractions, contradictions, questions, confusions, etc.., is but a waste of time. What is “scientific” in one generation is abandoned in the next.
What is worse, tragically worse, is that Catholics have fallen for the false peace offered by the new scientists and have offered their own schools to this madness. Modern Catholic schools have nothing at all to do with St. Thomas or the philosophical tradition of the Catholic faith. Instead they themselves are breeding grounds for doubt, materialism and despair among Christian students who believe that what they find in the modern Catholic school is all that the Church has to offer.
With this lesson, our study of the classical liberal arts curriculum through the Renaissance ends. Through the injection of two simple ideas, namely that the premises upon which the Catholic-Aristotelean tradition are false and that the true premises may only be discovered by means of scientific instruments, the foundation is laid for the complete dismantling and erasing of educational history that follows. In our next lesson, we will look at the application of these principles as democratic societies consider the mission of public education.