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
understanding 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
relationship 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
salvation 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
the 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
religion 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
that 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