The Sight of Science

It is a truth universally acknowledged that he whose mind is ahead of his time and above that of his peers may not be understood by his fellow people and be subject to critisizm and persecution. Galilei Galileo, Francis Bacon, and Rene Descartes were among the first to break away from the conventional views of their times to find a place for science in a society and propose the way it should be practiced. All three authors agree on some points but differe markedly on others.

Bacon insists on the importa nce of experimentation and relative uselessness of senses and experience, while Decartes thinks them imporatnt for nderstanding of nature. Galileo stresses the need for separation of science and religion, while Descartes deems the correctness of the method of scientific thought to be most important. Yet all three writers agree that natural science should be freed of the grip of theology and human ethics, what sets them apart from previous generations of scientists and thinkers.

In his Discoveries, Bacon goes at great length to discuss the influence the prescientfic mode of thinking has had on generations of scientists, and tries to Descartes asserts that the mathematical method of examining the elationship between objects and expressing them in concise formulas, applied to the entire realm of knowledge, permits him to exercise his own reason to the best of his ability. Since nothing in philosophy is certain, it is evident that he must discover his own philosophical principles.

Galileo’s views on science and religion, as seen from his Letter to the Grand Dutchess Christina are very radical for his times. He suggests that physical sciences must be separated from theological studies because the goals of the two disicplines are totally different: theology is concerned with alvation of the soul, while the sciences are concerned with understanding of nature. He believes that the clergy apply faith where ther is none involved — one cannot undersand nature just by quoting the Scripture because the nature, a fruit of God’s infinite wisdom. defies the simple explanation men’s feeble minds attempt to find in the Bible.

To truly understand nature, one has apply the little of the reason that God has given to him and look “between the li nes” for the true meaning of the Bible. There are a number interpretations one can find because the Bible is often general and simplistic; Galileo suggests that he best way to find the true meaning is to disprove the false conclusions by finding contradicions in nature, as determined by accurate experiments rather than fervent meditation.

It is a job of scientists to examine nature and it is the business of theologists to make sure the Bible agrees with it, for nature is no less a manifestation of God than the Holy Bible itself: “A thing is not forever contrary to the faith until disproved by most certain truth.. When that happens it was not the Holy scripture that ever affirmed it but human ignorance that ever imagined it. ” (St. Augustine, De Genesi Ad Literam i, 18,19, p. 206).

Ultimately, the true faith and physical sciences take two different but parallel pathways in an attempt to understand God, one by following His canons and the other by exploring His creations, “by Nature in his works and by doctrine in his word” (183). Bacon differs somewhat in his view of science and religion. Indeed, he claims that a true scince must be free of religious tenets where they do not apply: “It is therefore most wise soberly to render unto faith that are faith’s” (317). However, Bacon goes further to describe the different uses and abuses of eligion that can either further or impede the adavancement of science.

Perhaps most notable of them is the idea of differentiating true faith from superstition. The true faith is derived from th e scriptures and applied only to the matters of salvation, while superstition is a dangerous mixture of philosophy and religion that is applied to the matters where there is no faith involved, such as politics and natural sciences. Unlike Galileo and Descartes, Bacon not only states that religion is not a means of establishing physical truths because it does not rely on practical experimentation.

He also suggests hat the since the Bible was written centuries ago, it lacks the information scientists established from natural experiments over that perfiod of time; using it to explain the natural phenomena is nothing more than “seeking thus the dead among the living. ” The role of the philosopher in science is different for Bacon and Descartes. Although both of the thinkers are sceptical of the benefits a philosophy may bring, Bacon denies a place for it in science, while Descartes believes that it may still be of some value.

Bacon rejects conventional philosophy mainly because it rests on what he considers to be a “weak oundation” or logic. Logic has no place in scientific method because it rests on few, if any, experimentally proven facts and then attempts to extrapolate or deduce further conclusions. Logic is based on applying human mind in effort to explain nature, while, as Bacon claims, ” The subtilty of nature is far beyond that of sense or of the understanding. ” Apparently, he believes that nature so beyond t he grasp of human mind that it goes against all the conclusion that human rationality prescribes.

Therefore he abandons logic as a tool for understanding nature. Instead, he proposes to conduct science by the method of true induction” — proposing a reasonable conclusion based on a set of thorough and deliberate experiments. Bacon’s inductive reasoning is perhaps the main principle that separates him scientists of his times. Almost all of contemporary scientits, he tells us, are concerned with finding basic generalizations common to different scientific phenomena, and then attempt deduce the truth behind them by applying the newly established axioms to more specific problems.

First, the nature is far too complex to be taken superficially; it defies both understanding of the human ind and perception of human senses. The only way to make sure that an axiom is true is by conducting a series of apt scientific trials, and then attempt to combine the experimentally found facts by the powers of induction to produce a more general statement. The importance of careful and systematic experiments is perhaps the certral principle that separates Bacon’s understanding of science from the opinions commonly held at his time.

He proposes that science should no longer be practiced by haphazard experimentation, superstition, Acknowledging the significance of contributions of the ancient cientists such as Pythagoras and Aristotles, Bacon disapproves the use of the methodology they prescribe for several reasons. First, he argues that practice of science should be essentially aimed at the discovery of truths behind natural phenomena, which is confirmed by centuries of careful analysis and experimentation rather then on authority, stature, or popularity of the scientist.

Since the world has matured and advanced since the times of the ancient thinkers, the contemporary scientists are in a better position to explain nature. In searching for a method of arriving at knowledge, Descartes considered ancient logic. It is apparent that he believes that logic can only be used to com municate those concepts that are already known and accepted. He rejects geometry and algebraic analysis because of the restrictions which limit these subjects to figures alone.

Instead, he prefers mathematics since it is controlled and limited by rigid rules. Just as the best government is the government which has few laws rigidly administered, the best method has few rules resolutely followed. On the assumption that a few rules closely adhered to are superior to lengthy set of precepts, he limits himself to the ollowing four laws. First, never accept anything as true unless you understand clearly that it is true. Second, reduce all problems to small component parts and thoroughly analyze each part by itself.

Third, proceed in a orderly and regulated manner in analyzing matters step by step, from the simple to the complex order of knowledge. Fourth, present a thorough enumeration of all possibilities and review thoroughly to make sure that nothing has been left out. Under constraints of the above methodology, logic can be applied to scientific principles with great success. It follows then that reason must be nothing more than regulated logic. It is the misdirected or randomly applied logic what he is against.

Descartes’ search for certainty and absolute truth, by using his own reason rather than the traditions and dogmas of the church, represents a distinct departure for his time. This position rivals the medieval claim that truth can be found only in religious doctrine. The methodology he proposes implies that a man can and perhaps should amass knowledge on his own. This idea seems to be in contradiction with the doctrine professed by the catholic church t the time, and Descartes prudently decides not to publish some of his work to avoid religious persecutions that befall the fate of Galileo.

Although the three thinkers disagree markedly both conception and methodology of science, the message they convey is clear. The progress of science is essential for advancement of a nation; inventions, both in method and instrumentations, are the only means by which the human mind can grasp the subtleties of nature. Science must be free of religious and ethical constraints to achieve the master of humans over nature.


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