The Age of Faith and Reason

From an article by Michael F. Flynn:

To summarize briefly, the Latins believed that:

  • The universe was rationally ordered because a single rational God had willed it into being,
  • This order was knowable by autonomous human reason by ‘measuring, numbering, and weighing’ (and reason could be trusted in this regard),
  • Matter could act directly on matter in “the common course of nature;” and because God was true to his promises, these actions were dependable and repeatable; and
  • The discovery of such relations was a worthwhile pursuit for adults.

They also embedded this pursuit in their culture through broad-based cultural institutions:

  • Creating independent, self-governing corporations in the social space between Church and State.
  • Accepting with enthusiasm the work of pagan philosophers and Muslim commentators and reconciling them with their religious beliefs.
  • Teaching logic, reason, and natural philosophy systematically across the whole of Europe in self-governing universities, in consequence of which:
  • Nearly every medieval theologian was first trained in natural philosophy, which created enthusiasm for rather than resistance to the study of nature.
  • Encouraged freedom of inquiry and a culture of “poking into things” by means of the Questions genre and the disputatio.

Many of these internal factors were muted or a minority position in Islam and were wholly absent in China. Consequently, after an exciting and promising start, rational inquiry into nature in Muslim lands gradually sputtered out; and in China hardly got started. This does not and should not detract from the genuine accomplishments of these cultures in technology, mathematics, and the “exact sciences,” and in the accumulation of facts and lore about nature. In particular, the medieval revolution in natural philosophy could not have happened without the earlier Muslim commentaries on the works of Aristotle, Galen, Ptolemy, and others.

But this accumulation alone was not sufficient for the birth of modern science. Something more was needed; something provided only in the West.

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