Fjordman’s latest essay has been published at Atlas Shrugs. Some excerpts are below:
My good friend Ohmyrus, on whose website I publish essays at every now and then, is an ethnic Chinese man and a Christian. He believes that secularism promotes a short term attitude towards life since for secular people their time horizon is their own lifetime. Religious people, on the other hand, have their eyes on eternity. Many European medieval cathedrals, for instance Cologne Cathedral in Germany, took centuries to complete. The people who built them literally moved mountains of stones, even though they would in many cases not see the completed result themselves. They did this because they looked to the hereafter. Ohmyrus believes that the same principles applied to science as well.
Many of the scholars who created modern science, including Galileo and Newton, believed that they were honoring God by studying his Creation. They saw science as a religious duty. Since we live in a more secular age, many observers will doubtlessly dismiss this explanation out of hand. But after having studied the astronomical achievements of the Babylonians and the Mayas, I feel quite certain that you cannot understand why they did what they did and put so much effort into astronomical observations unless you understand their religious world view as well. It is quite likely that the same principle applies to European Christians.
Joel Mokyr, professor at the Department of Economics at Northwestern University, writes about innovation and economic history in his book The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy. Was there a link between the so-called Scientific Revolution of seventeenth century Europe and the Industrial Revolution that followed some generations later? Some scholars have questioned this connection, but Mokyr argues that the missing link between the two was what he terms the Industrial Enlightenment. There was a new mentality, and the spillover effects of this were as important as the actual knowledge generated by it.
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The Industrial Enlightenment’s debt to the Scientific Revolution consisted of scientific method, scientific mentality and scientific culture. Scientific method meant more accurate measurements, controlled experiment and an insistence on reproducibility. Increasingly precise barometers, thermometers, clocks and other instruments helped unlock previously unknown natural phenomena. There was a mental shift away from reliance on past authority to empirical verifications of facts, with an emphasis on experiment and refinements of the experimental method. Important was also scientific mentality, the concept that the world was orderly and that natural phenomena could be predicted and described mathematically.
According to Mokyr, “The early seventeenth century witnessed the work of Kepler and Galileo that explicitly tried to integrate mathematics with natural philosophy, a slow and arduous process, but one that eventually changed the way all useful knowledge was gathered and analyzed. Once the natural world became intelligible, it could be tamed: because technology at base involves the manipulation of nature and the physical environment, the metaphysical assumptions under which people engaged in production operate, are ultimately of crucial importance. The Industrial Enlightenment learned from the natural philosophers — especially from Newton, who stated it explicitly in the famous opening pages of Book Three of the Principia — that the phenomena produced by nature and the artificial works of mankind were subject to the same laws. That view squarely contradicted orthodox Aristotelianism. The growing belief in the rationality of nature and the existence of knowable natural laws that govern the universe, the archetypical Enlightenment belief, led to a growing use of mathematics in pure science as well as in engineering and technology.”
The most widely cited consequence of the Scientific Revolution was the increasing use of mathematics in natural philosophy and eventually in technical communications. By making mathematics accessible not only to mathematicians but to instrument makers, engineers, designers and artillery officers it became a tool of communication.
The ancient Greeks made great advances for their time in science and in mathematics. The Romans after them contributed virtually nothing to science or to mathematics. The correlation between science and mathematics is apparently quite strong. Up until the Italian Renaissance, Europeans assimilated some external influences via the Middle East, prominent among them the Hindu numeral system with the zero which we use today as well as some advances in algebra made by Muslim scholars. However, after that, from about the fourteenth to the twentieth century, Europe outperformed all other civilizations in the world in mathematics. By that I don’t just mean to say that Europeans outperformed all other cultures individually, but combined. It is possible to argue that European global leadership was stronger in mathematics than in any other scholarly discipline. Perhaps the simplest explanation for why the Scientific Revolution happened in Europe is because the language of nature is written in mathematics, as Galileo famously said, and Europeans did more than any other civilization to develop — or discover — the vocabulary of this language.
This brings us to the next question: Does mathematics have an independent existence in nature or does the human mind invent it? The answer potentially has huge philosophical implications. The people who created modern science lived predominantly in Europe, an overwhelmingly Christian continent with an important Jewish minority. They apparently had an advantage when they assumed the universe to be designed by a rational Creator. I admit this is a challenging dilemma for those of us who are not religious: Why can nature apparently be described mathematically and rationally if it has not been designed by a rational Creator? As a non-religious man, this is the only religious argument that I find difficult to answer.
Read the rest at Atlas Shrugs.