In this course, we have studied the history of the world with a responsible focus on the unfolding of the plan of redemption which God promised since the beginning of the world. In recent lessons, we have studied the terrible falling away of many from the Christian faith and the evils that were allowed to be revived among men as a result. We saw how the spirit of the Renaissance allowed paganism to escape from the stranglehold Christianity had upon it, and how the Reformation divided the Church and unraveled centuries of clarification of Christian teaching, leading millions into confusion and, often, despair.
In this lesson, we will look at another movement that developed from this same spirit, but in another sphere of human life. While the Renaissance attacked the heavenly mindedness of Christendom, and the Reformation attacked the Church itself, this movement, called the “Scientific Revolution” attacked the pursuit of Truth itself, leading many to question whether anything–anything!–that had been taught by the ancients was worthy of men’s trust. This incredible development is taken for granted today, and we must examine it carefully.
The Seeds of Revolution
It is well known that “Ideas have consequences.”, yet few people usually 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 Platonism, Aristoteleanism, Epicureanism, Stoicism, Christianity, Scholasticism, the Protestant Reformation, Naziism, and so on. However, these events are the results 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 publishing of creeds, the establishing of the canon of Scripture, the composition of philosophical treatises, the preparation of catechisms and more. The achievements of the Church in freeing mankind from ancient errors was miraculous!
However, 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 hardy weeds than had ever been faced before. Some of them took root so strongly that even the best of Christians were barely 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 which directly affects us today.
The Center of It All
Since the beginning of time, men spoke of the heavens as signs placed by God just right so that man, working for God on earth, might have his days, seasons, hours and years ordered by their observation. Ancient men understood that the sun and stars could be read in a way that directed all of man’s work on earth, and believed that the world was filled with a heavenly music, the “music of the spheres” of heaven. For us to understand this would take a great deal of time, and we’ll reserve this study for Classical Astronomy.
What was clear–or seemed to be clear–was that “in the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth”. The book of Genesis tells us that the earth was made before the sun, moon, stars or planets, and that they were made to serve man on earth. Understanding the purpose of the objects in the heavens, man always viewed them as moving about the earth and judged their benefits to be available to the human eye–as God intended for them to be observed. This view–the belief that the earth is at the center of the universe–is called geocentrism, and was held by nearly every wise man in world history and was explicitly taught in the Bible and by the Church for centuries.
There were some scientists, however, who had different ideas. The most important was Nicolaus Copernicus, who proposed the idea that the sun, and not the earth, was the true center of the universe. This idea was published by Copernicus in 1543, and is judged by historians to mark the beginning of what is called the “scientific revolution”. Of course, philosophers and leaders of the Church were shocked and angered by this suggestion, especially because of the confusion it would bring to the common people, and because of the obvious contradiction it made to the sacred writings.
Copernicus argued that his idea was not crazy, but was based on observations he had made as an astronomer with instruments that ancient men did not have. Copernicus was supported and followed by Galileo Galilei, who shared the idea, known as heliocentrism (Greek helios = “sun”). Opposing these scientists was the famous (Saint) Robert Bellarmine, a highly educated Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He informed Galileo, who was seeking to persuade the Holy Father to allow the ideas of Copernicus to be studied and discussed, that the only this “theory” could be permitted was if it was supported by demonstrative evidence–that is, unquestionable proof. As the scientists were unable to provide such evidence, they were forbidden to teach or promote the ideas. Galileo responded by publishing a book titled, “A Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems” in which he mocked the Pope’s teaching and warnings on the issue. For him, this public mockery (which is called “reviling”) got him into big trouble. He was called to Rome in 1632 to defend his writing to the Church. He was unable to defend his actions, and was condemned by the Church. He was required to publicly reject heliocentrism (which he did), was imprisoned and his book was banned. Galileo lived the rest of his life under house arrest and died 8 years later, in 1642.
The New Organon
The men seeking to promote their ideas were forced to find a way around these wise men, and they realized that as long as Faith and Reason remained the tools by which men tested ideas, they would have no chance of getting past the “Schoolmen”, that is, the Scholastic philosophers. The Scholastics had the errors of the world in a stranglehold and the Church exercised its authority most valiantly in removing the errors from human thinking and replacing them with the wisdom of Christ, through which happiness would be found by all men. To have their way, the scientists had to get around what Aristotle called “The Method”, that is, the method of testing ideas and discovering truth and falsehood. Aristotle’s books on Logic, which the world and the Church had studied and followed for 2000 years were simply called Organon, which meant, “the Method”. This was “the method” by which wise men discovered truth, which, when joined with the divine revelation and sacramental power of Christianity, led the whole world out from the darkness of paganism into the light of truth.
As men organized in their rebellion against the Church and its teachers, they developed what they called a new method which they knew would be received by all those who, like them, were eager for a way out from under the authority of the Church. This book, written in 1620 by Francis Bacon (pictured), explained the principles upon which the new way of thinking was based, and was called Novum Organum–the “New Method”. 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. If it is “new”, then it must be replacing something known as “old”. What was being replaced in the Novum Organum?
Aristotle’s “Old” Organon
If the shift taking place was simply one that moved from an outdated method to a new and improved truth-seeking 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, founded upon the life and teaching of Jesus Christ who was the final “Word” of God for the world, revealed “in the last days”. Catholic philosophy was brought to perfection 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 was the aim of the Novum Organum.
Now, the “logic” of the war against Logic would require great cunning, or none would admit the argument that Logic was not reliable! The power and infallibility of the art of reasoning could never be questioned, so 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
Really? What was “the logic now in use”? What were the “commonly received notions” and how could Bacon know that they were wrong BEFORE he began the “true” search for truth? Something sure seems strange about his logic. “Let’s reject the ancient ideas because they are false, and then let us begin studying the right way so that we can figure out what the truth is.” What if the “commonly received notions” were the truth? That wasn’t a concern for Bacon and his friends because they weren’t really concerned with the truth at all. Their “method”, which has filled the world with confusion , was itself unreasonable–and the Scholastic philosophers knew that.
Fortunately, Bacon did not represent all men who believed that more attention should be given to the scientific study of the world. Bacon, who is called the “father of the scientific method” was no such thing. He was the leader of a rebellion against wisdom and happiness, and better men corrected his errors and did improve scientific investigation by rejecting his rebellious efforts.
Whereas some tried to use organized scientific study as a way to rebel against authority, many good men made an honest effort to improve scientific research and this led to a very beneficial “revolution”. Most of the work done by scientists during this time was in developing the instruments that they themselves were using for their experiments–most importantly, the telescope. While questions about the design of the universe may be beyond our understanding, the practical benefits that organized science has led to is undeniable. Right now, you are probably sitting in a room with electric lighting, using a computer that receives information from around the world in seconds, and have eaten food today that was produced by machines that couldn’t have been imagined 200 years ago. The method of strategic, step-by-step experimentation, careful note-taking and collaboration, and constant progress has led to many incredible discoveries–most of which we now take for granted. These developments have changed the world incredibly, as we’ll see in our next lesson.