Encircling Gloom around Science

Aristotle (384-322 BC) was undoubtedly a genius, but continual feeding off his ideas beyond their ‘sell-by date’ ultimately impeded the development of modern science. The problem was that his works were held in such high esteem that they became an almost unshakeable orthodoxy, defended and imposed by authority. We find that those natural philosophers who stood against authoritarianism before the Reformation were the ones most likely to be making progress in the sciences – but they had to keep their heads down (we will make mention of some of them in future posts). From the Reformation onwards, Protestantism’s rejection of the authority of the Roman church, which had espoused Aristotelianism in the natural sciences, and which, by Aquinas, had infused Aristotelianism into its theology, liberated men to follow where the evidence led them – both in the natural sciences and theology.

Today the scientific world has more or less entrenched itself back into the mode of the bad old days. Those who have the power now exert it to defend the ‘orthodoxy’, to suppress evidence that undermines the orthodoxy, and to punish ‘heretics’ who dare to question the prevailing orthodoxy. The methods used include ridicule and ostracism, of course, and extend to refusal of access to the media, dismissal from post, and denial of resources (monetary and equipment). One can pretty much marginalize a scientist out of existence by dismissing him from his job and denying him the means to function, and the opportunity to publish his results. If anyone denies this is going on, just send a comment to this post, and examples will flow by the dozen.

To exemplify how far modern science has fallen from the reason that gave birth to it and succoured it, one need only go back to before the 1930s. In the late 1920s, science took a false turn and lost its way (as will be demonstrated in future posts), from which it is now racing headlong into an abyss. But until the late 1920s the following, delivered in a public lecture in 1926, was mainstream belief by men of science:

If anyone is able to contemplate the universe in all its magnificence and interlocked beauty and variety, and come to the conclusion that nothing higher than mankind exists in it, I cannot envy him his common sense. The universe is shoutingly full of design, plan, intention, purpose, reason, and what has been called Logos. Without it was not anything made that was made. Not only the heavens, but the earth; not only the flowers, mountains, sunsets, but every pebble, every grain of dust, the beautiful structure of every atom, proclaim the glory of the Being who planned and understands it all.

So spoke the physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, FRS (1851-1940), who closed out his days at the time that science was entering a darkening gloom. Lodge was the pioneer of radio (he was the first to demonstrate sending a message by radio, at Oxford in 1894) and had been awarded the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society in 1898 (so in such illustrious company as the devout Christian physicists Faraday, Maxwell and Stokes etc). He was professor of mathematics and physics at University College, Liverpool, and first principal of the new Birmingham University.

In his Halley Stewart lectures in 1926, Lodge made the following point

Looking back over the history of science, we can trace several stages in scientific development. For many centuries the world was dominated by Aristotelian philosophy…which in the course of time acquired a sort of infallible authority. Assertions were made and not questioned: there was a fundamental body of doctrine to which appeal could be made, and any departure from it was heresy.

As for dealing with these ‘heretics’,

Science has done its best, but never has it been able to approach the virulence of theologians in insisting on detailed doctrine and punishing all those who in the smallest degree departed from it. Science never had the State behind it; it was unable to hand over recalcitrants to the secular arm. Science is not wholly free from priestcraft, but it is comparatively mild in its methods of enforcing its decrees.

Clearly Lodge could never have imagined the punishments meted out to dissenting scientists today. But eighty years ago Lodge could see little of the much-vaunted ‘conflict’ between science and theology, a convenient invention of the atheists. On the contrary

…as an example of what I mean, if I trespass off my ground and on to the ground of the theologians, I want to say that, as far as I can judge, the progress of science is tending towards strengthening of theology in all its really vital aspects.

If any are in doubt as to what science Lodge alludes, it is clear from his former work Man and the Universe (1908):

…when speaking…of the tendency of “science” I was careful always to explain that I meant orthodox or present-day science…science as now interpreted by its recognised official exponents–by the average Fellow of the Royal Society for instance.

How the mighty Royal Society has fallen since then!

So, not only was Christian theology necessary for the development of modern science, but even within living memory it was optimistically believed by a most eminent scientist that the progress of science is tending towards strengthening of theology in all its really vital aspects – yes, that really could still be believed less than a hundred years ago.


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