In this chapter Dowe examines some seventeenth century figures, Descartes, Galileo and Bacon to see how religious ideas have influenced their science.
Prior to the seventeenth century Aristotelian deductivism – epitomised in Euclid’s Elements – dominated European thought.
The concept of the image of God was taken as axiomatic in the seventeenth century – it played a fundamental role in an optimistic view of science for Descartes, Galileo and Bacon.
René Descartes’ (1596-1650) Meditations on First Philosophy attempted to do for knowledge what Euclid’s Elements did for geometry in his Elements – place it on a deductive edifice derived from certain truths.
For Descartes the ‘book of nature’ was written in the language of mathematics and ‘we rational souls have a truth-reaching capacity for reading that book.’ (Dowe, p. 63) Nature is readily readable.
Galileo took this even further than Descartes – mathematics ‘reaches a standard of infallibility that mirrors God’s understanding’. (Dowe, p. 65)
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) has been described as the father of modern science. His New Organon developed with the intention of replacing Aristotle’s Organon. Bacon rejected Aristotelian scholasticism, he wanted to synthesise practice (experiment) with discourse (theory). He had three requirements for obtaining new knowledge: discard all personal feelings and biases; observe a large sample of relevant data; deduce from the facts generalisations about nature.
So, from sufficient observations we can draw conclusions; this is an inductive rather than deductive process.
Bacon believed that true knowledge would lead to practical application: knowledge is power. Knowledge gives us power over nature. Eighty years after Bacon’s death the Royal Society took up his vision of the scientific method.