Friday, July 30, 2004

The Church & the birth of modern science

As it turns out, the birth of modern science depended heavily on the discoveries of Catholic scientists, as Thomas Woods points out in his article, "The Church and the Birth of Modern Science," in Latin Mass magazine (Spring 2004). Writes Wood:
"The Catholic Church has been unjustly attacked over the years on more grounds than many of us care to recall, but her alleged hostility toward science may be her greatest debit in the popular mind. The caricatured and cartoonish version of the Galileo affair with which most people are familiar is very largely to blame for the widespread belief that the Church has obstructed the advance of scientific inquiry. But even if the Galileo incident had been every bit as bad as people think it was, Cardinal Newman found it revealing that this is the only example that ever comes to anyone's mind.

"Now it is certainly useful to point out, against those who criticize the Church for its alleged opposition to science, that certain important scientists were them-selves Catholic. But it is still more revealing that so many priests were accomplished scien-tists. It would doubtless come as a surprise to most people to learn that the man often identi-fied as the father of geology was Father Nicholas Steno (pictured right), a Lutheran convert who became a Catholic priest. Father Athanasius Kircher (pictured below), one of the last true polymaths of European intellectual history, has been called the father of Egyptology. The fist person to measure the rate of accele-ration of a freely falling body was yet another priest, Father Giambattista Ricciolli. Father Rober Boscovich has often been cited as the father of modern atomic theory. In the twentieth century, the study of earth-quakes, or seismology, was so dominated by Jesuits that it became known as "the Jesuit science."

"And that is far from all. Some thirty-five craters on the moon are named for Jesuit scientists and mathemati-cisans. Indeed the Church's contributions to astronomy are all but unknown despite the fact that, as Professor J.L. Heilbron of the University of California at Berkeley points out, 'the Roman Catholic Church gave more financial aid and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enligh-tenment, than any other, and, probably, all other, institutions.' The Church's true role in the development of modern science remains one of the best-kept secrets of modern history."
It was not coincidental, Wood notes, that the birth of science as a self-perpetuating field of intellectual endeavor should have occurred within a Catholic cultural milieu. Certain fundamental Christian ideas have been indispensable in making possible the emergence of scientific thought. (Read the rest of this article in Latin Mass magazine [Spring 2004], pp. 66-71. Unfortunately this article is not yet available online.)