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Apparent connections amidst science politics and religion

Apparent Connections Amidst Science Politics and Religion

Apparent Connections Amidst Science, Politics, and Religion

Within today’s society science is an entity almost entirely separate from religion and politics, yet history paints a different picture. During 17th and 18th century Europe, the spread of ideas and the inspiration to perform science were a direct result of religion and politics. The readings of Darnton, Dobbs and Jacob illuminate how social, political and religious elements were crucial to the development and spread of modern science.

Politics and religion often inspired new discoveries and perspectives in relation to science. Jacob mentions that the natural philosophers "looked forward to the progressive purification of religion and a moral which science...was seen as being crucial." Therefore, the people of this era depicted science as a key element to ignite political and religious change. Moreover, Jacob observes that the populace felt that "the discovery of nature would overcome the religious divisions and usher in a world reformation."2 Through an expanded knowledge of nature the true religious doctrine would be located and the entire population would follow. This inspired scientists to reach new frontiers via scientific discoveries for the benefit of religion. Concepts from the variety of religions present during this time roused new ideas for scientific discovery. For example, Jacobs notes that the Stoic religion emphasized an "eternal cosmic cycle of birth, expansion, conflagration, contraction, and regeneration."3 This cycle of the cosmos was later applied to the behavior of the universe and life. Galileo supported this concept through his telescope discoveries of the orbiting moons and planets. This displayed the cycle in which the planets move. The application of religious doctrines to science also caused the metamorphosis of scientific theory. Jacob recalls how the "Aristotelian idea of a finite universe came into conflict with the Christian doctrine of divine omnipotence. The issue was resolved by maintaining that God has the power to create other worlds besides ours and that therefore there may, or must, exist an infinite void space to hold these potential worlds."4This excerpt shows how a conflict between religion and science resulted in reshaping the scientific theory. In this instance the scientific theory of a finite universe was expanded to include an infinite void space to accommodate the Christian doctrine.

The political arena also significantly impacted the basis of scientific theories. Jacob notes that rulers of 17th and 18th -century Europe encouraged the progression of science via the improvement of research facilities and the formulation of scientific meeting circles.5 This movement of scientific knowledge brought advancement. The rulers advanced their reputation as a result of this knowledge that represented their country. The scientists advanced because of the more intricate experiments they were now able to perform and the transfer of ideas among their peers. As Jacob mentions, "the academy was expected to engage in collaborative research directed toward providing solutions to practical problems...such knowledge was meant to be useful to the kingdom, broadly conceived."5 This excerpt displays how the formulation of a sponsored scientific group can aid in the discovery of new ideas and inventions for the benefit of the entire populace. Another example is displayed through the spread of the ideas of Aristotle and Ptolemy to Europe through wars with nearby nations.6 In other words, politically- ignited wars spread the theories and truths of science. As the ideas spread, the old scientific theories of an area would reshape to include the new information—forming new scientific theories. Scientific ideas also influenced political behavior. Darnton mentions that mesmerist writing carried the tone of "injured innocence and opposition to the scientific establishment."7 This excerpt portrays an avenue in which this scientifically- based group evolved over time to include a strong aspect of radical politics. The Mesmerists wrote numerous pamphlets sharing their distrust and affliction towards the scientific academies and later the government. As Darnton recounts, "Bergasse complied by denouncing the commission’s report for the violation of the most basic rules of justice and morality and ‘the first principles of natural law’. The Parliament should stand up against this royally commissioned lawlessness by placing mesmerism under its special protection."7 Notice the mention of a broken law and the calling upon the Parliament to rescue the mesmerists from the tyranny of the government. The revolutionary propaganda of the 17th and 18th -century carries a tone similar to mesmeric papers. The tone was derived specifically from the mesmerist pamphlets, in addition to the revolutionary’s use of pamphlets to share thoughts.

The criteria to determine the validity of scientific solutions became increasingly specific throughout this time period. In Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France, Mercier asserts that "love of the marvelous always conquers us, because, sensing confusedly how little we know of the forces of nature, we ecstatically welcome anything that leads us to discoveries about them."8 This excerpt depicts the populace as a body that will follow anything that seems even somewhat plausible. By failing to set forth guidelines to determine validity of theory, the determination is left completely open to interpretation. As Jacob contends, "what one [person] takes for good, beautiful, and true may be thought of as the reverse by another."9 People tend to possess different views and, therefore use unique criteria to judge the validity of a concept. This array of unique values for judgement causes theories to appear correct in only certain areas and by certain people. This manner of judgement is essentially universal, in that it remains present even in today’s society. Moreover, the populace was faced with the shifting thoughts of the Church on what was and was not heresy.10 Therefore, determining the validity of scientific theories was quite an arduous task. The Royal Society, conventions of math, and the social status of an individual were denoted as the way to objectively judge the merit in a theory or concept. Darnton notes that Bacon felt that "knowledge would be more genuine and useful for being the result of scientific collaboration."11 Scientific collaboration emerged as an accepted means for substantiating theories. Furthermore, Dobbs reports that Newton felt that "several systems of thought were accorded by some aspect of truth." 12 Newton saw aspects of the truth in all theories. In order to confirm the merit of a given idea a mathematical explanation was, therefore, needed.13 Before these criterion for judgement were conceived, Darnton asserts that the populace felt that "legitimacy of the systems...were to be determined by the respectability of the men who testified in their favor."14 Therefore, it was the status of the people who agreed in favor of the theory that determined its merit. As Darnton points out that the government "used academies to control public opinion [and] to stifle the new truths of science and philosophy."15 The academies ensured that Europeans accepted certain scientific solutions as true and others as false.

Numerous people utilized science to bolster their religious or political position. As Darnton recalls, "the government offered Mesmer a life pension of 20,000 livres and another 10,000 a year to set up a clinic." This offer was to try to convince Mesmer to remain in France and continue his healing of the populace. Therefore, his involvement in science brought him popularity and potential fortune. Bergasse became a national hero and a leading member of the Estates General through his involvement in science.16 Essentially it was the involvement in the politics that coincided with the science of mesmerism that caused Bergasse to improve his status. Finally, Westfall points out that Newton was elected to the Mint, granted knighthood, and named as a government official.17 These were all rewards for his significant advancements in science. Participation in the field of science provided grand rewards of varying degrees depending on the scale of ones contribution.

Throughout the written works of Darnton, Dobbs, and Jacob the manner in which the social, political, and religious concerns shaped the development of science becomes apparent. The people of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries were driven to promote moral order and the open spread of ideas for the common good. In the political arena, the rulers encouraged the collaboration amongst specific groups and provided the atmosphere to test these theories by building research facilities. Yet, the government utilized its control over the specific groups to halt the spread of ideas outside these circles. Furthermore, politics could not provide the peaceful and civilizing avenue for change that customarily followed science. Religion provided an inspiration to discover more about the surrounding world to learn more about God. The division of religion during this time period elevated the drive to learn more about God for many people because they hoped to ignite a world reformation in which a universal religion emerges.


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