Darwinism, Secularism and the Decline of the West – Part 2: Excursus on the Origins of Modern Science

[For those interested in exploring these themes in greater depth, please see the resources listed at the end of this post.]

In much the same manner that the medieval fusion of Judeo-Christian theistic belief with Greco-Roman philosophical resources gave Western civilization its conscience and moral structure, its sense of duty and responsibility, its love of freedom within a respect for the rule of law, its model of self-sacrifice in response to need or in confrontation with evil, its basic principles of decency and its self-confident backbone in world affairs, so too it laid the 400px-Ptolemaic_armillary_sphere_from_1737_in_Putnam_Gallery,_2009-11-24historical foundations for Western science and technological success. The socioeconomic and political developments that were brought to life and nurtured in the cradle of the Judeo-Christian worldview that dominated medieval European society provided fertile metaphysical, epistemic, sociocultural and economic ground for scientific theorizing and experimentation. Advances in land and sea transportation, along with the diversification and specialization in the production of goods taking place at Christian monasteries across Europe, the ensuing transition to a cash economy, and the advent of laws protecting private property from monarchic usurpation, led to the rise of a commercial class and the establishment of banks and insurance companies that freed capital for investment and entrepreneurial use (Baldwin 1959; Gordon 2011b; Noonan 1957; Richards 2009; Stark 2005). This growth in political stability and economic prosperity provided an environment that nurtured scholarly activity and notable advances in scientific knowledge and technology, mostly through the efforts of scholastics in the context of the universities they had established for the advancement of learning and the dissemination of research and scholarship. The medieval invention of the printing press further galvanized literacy and the spread of knowledge, contributing another indispensable condition for the exponential expansion of the sciences and humanities in the sixteenth century. It is therefore reasonable to regard the “Renaissance” and the “Enlightenment” as natural extensions of progress that had been made in the medieval period under the economic, political and creative impetus of Christianity, rather than as a sudden break with medieval modes of thought. Continue reading

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