Editor’s Note: We offer a fine article by a new Lady of the West author, Artemisia Gentileschi. She is a long time friend to us, and we know you will enjoy (and benefit from) her thoughts.
It would seem that science is in the news a lot. People often share “I F***ing Love Science” memes (or the tamer version without the expletive) on Facebook. Various disciplines make the news almost daily. But I wonder if the people who share the memes and preach homage to scientists really “f***ing love science”? Do they love it enough to know its history? To know the source and inspiration for modern science as we know it? To converse with most people, I would answer no. They don’t love science. They “love” science, as long as it serves them and serves to strengthen a narrative. Further, I don’t know that they even truly understand science, the practice.
As Bernard of Chartres, and later Isaac Newton, said, “we are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants”. They were following in the footsteps of the Ancients, building upon their knowledge. Just as they learned from the Ancients, like Aristotle and Ptolemy, we have learned from them and others like them. But what drove them? What was their motivation to explore? To learn? To discover more about this world?
Though the Greeks brought us deductive reasoning, and the Romans excelled at applied science like architecture and engineering, the modern era of science is generally thought to begin with Francis Bacon, who formalized the scientific method as it is practiced today: a falsifiable hypothesis, experimentation and observation, followed by conclusion, whether the hypothesis has been confirmed or apply further refining of the hypothesis and more testing and observation if necessary. The fathers of modern science were not only scientists, but also philosophers and theologians. There is a great benefit in knowing philosophy, as well as science, because there are limits to science, and those knowledgeable in both areas of study can better recognize shortcomings of each process in the quest for knowledge.
The fathers of modern science were not just scientists and philosophers, they were also men of faith. To them there was no divide, no conflict, no battle between science and faith. Rather, their desire to know more about God and the world God made is what drove them in their search for knowledge. The history of science – and the history of the West – is rich with characters. Read more about them. The likes of Newton, Bacon, Mendel, Kepler, Da Vinci, Linnaeus, Faraday, Pasteur are the most well known, but many others made great contributions in various areas of science. Others worth reading about include Blaise Pascal (perhaps best known for his Wager and mathematics), Robert Boyle (chemistry), Athanasius Kircher (partially deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics, germ theory of disease), Isaac Barrow (taught math to Newton), John Woodward (geologist), William Herschel (astronomy), Jean Deluc (geology and meteorology), James Parkinson (medicine), Humphrey Davy (chemistry), Benjamin Silliman (mineralogist, geologist, founded the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale and the American Journal of Science), Charles Babbage (computers), James Joule (thermodynamics), Henri Fabre (entomology), William Thompson – Lord Kelvin (physics, mathematics, thermodynamics), Joseph Lister (antiseptic surgery), Joseph Maxwell (physics), and many others.
So go ahead. Read about some giants. Show science some love.