Tuesday, April 8, 2014

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The High Middles and the beginnings of modern science

Grosseteste and Bacon

by Ferdinand III

The era, from about 1000 until 1300 AD saw marvellous advancements in the European political-economy. This was an era of decentralization and political turmoil, with oftentimes vicious, unending, intra-European warfare. Contrary to myth, Europe circa 1100 was not a monolithic bastion of Christian fundamentalism. It was riven with dynastic, family, feudal, ecclesiastical rivalries, and beset with exogenous invasions from the east, in the guise of Huns and Turks. The Crusades, an incredibly complicated and expensive counter-attack against Moslem Jihad aggression raged 2000 miles away. A time of quietude it was not, yet somehow from the chaos, the ordered genius of Medieval man emerged, manifested in astonishing gains from art to science.

A partial list of inventions and innovations in the 11th century can be found here at the end] including universities, agricultural improvements, manufacturing, brewing and improved metallurgy.

By the 12th Century, universities and other centres of learning, including public schools, were developed. These institutions and systems demanded a new cadre of scholars and teachers who were educated not only in theology, but science, math, and naturalism. The new era demanded men who in the main, could take Greek ideas and improve on them in a markedly innovative fashion. From theology to science, the Scholastics were reformers.

These men were essential in building up modern science, and establishing the priority of experimentation, empirical research and the usage of advanced mathematics. This period witnessed great thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas, Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, and William of Ockham amongst 200 others which could be named, all of whom aided in the creation of true science and the scientific method.

Aquinas and Grosseteste

Thomas Aquinas is regarded as the greatest Catholic theologian. He merged Aristotelian naturalism with Church doctrine. In other words, he Christianized Aristotle. Arguing using reason from faith, Aquinas impelled Christian philosophy towards empiricism and away from Neo-Platonic mysticism, in order to prove the existence of god.

Robert Grosseteste, was one of the major contributors to the scientific method, and founded the Oxford Franciscan School which promoted the dualistic scientific method first proposed by Aristotle, and the idea of experimentation, which Aristotle never or rarely undertook. From Grosseteste and others came the intellectual and mathematical skills to overturn Aristotelian dogma, much of which was wrong, and institute true methods of discovery which uncovered natural physical laws and ratios.

For instance Grosseteste's idea of resolution and composition involved experimentation and prediction. He maintained that observations needed be used to propose a universal law, and this universal law should be used to predict outcomes. This was very similar to the idea of ancient astronomers, who used observations to discern trends, and used these trends to create predictive models for astronomical events.

Grosseteste was one of the first men in history to set this out as an empirical process and his methods influenced the Catholic created-scientific discoveries of the 17th century.

Roger Bacon, a very intellectually-curious Catholic

Roger Bacon was the heir of Grosseteste. Bacon is not regarded today as a 'giant' amongst scientists, but that only shows our modern ignorance. His influence is at least as great as that of Aristotle, Galileo, and Newton. Bacon took the work of Grosseteste, Aristotle, and others in the 12th century, and created the method of induction as the cornerstone of empiricism. Bacon described the method of observation, prediction (hypothesis), and experimentation, and added that the results should be independently verified. He was meticulous in documenting his results in fine detail so that others might repeat the experiment. He was also skilled in optics and likely built the world's first telescope though proof of this is disputed. In any event his career is an important milestone in the construction of true science.

Today with the cults of warm and evolution Bacon's scientific method is simply ignored.