Science has been around
for much of recorded human history existing as theoretical science, but until
the utility of science could be recognized, it was not allowed to prosper. Science
first took off over two millennia ago, but its historical progress stumbled
through the ebbs and flows of war, religion, blight, bigotry, and superstition.
Progress was almost always two steps forward, one step back. It wasn’t until the
fall of religious institutions and the rise of nation states that the
intellectual growth of science could truly blossom. Even then, science was not
truly accepted until it showed practical utility for those in power.
The Dark Ages, referring approximately to the 5th-10th
centuries C.E., was a time that succeeded the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire
and with it, the collapse of the culture. Many in the west confuse the Dark
Ages as a global historical timeframe, but at this time East Asian cultures
were flourishing in philosophy, science and mathematics1.
Christianity was in large part responsible for promoting this western collapse,
causing widespread superstition and creating taboos against secular learning
among the lay, but it was the Church that preserved much of western culture and
intellectual thinking (1). This unintentional preservation later proved
instrumental in laying the foundations for a revival of learning, the arts, and
sciences2. After the Dark Ages, it was the literate clergymen like
Martin Luther who spurred on the idea that arrival
of the printing press
should allow everybody to read, write, and think for themselves. This was a
dangerous idea for the church, as it eventually led to
its downfall as a central authority.
As the authority of Christian institutions began to
diminish, it was replaced by the authority of science. The authority of science
differs greatly from that of the Christian dogma. Science makes no claims of
morality or certainties, nor does it impose penalties on those who reject it.
All claims in science are tentative and subject to change. Many stuck in
dogmatism have trouble understanding that last distinction between science and
religion. But science as a partial authority did not spur its momentum alone,
it took the power of nation states.
Theoretical science is an attempt to understand the
world, which is the science that dominated pre-modern history. Practical
science is an attempt to change the world, and this science has largely become
more important from its inception (2). Practical science was first recognized
in war. Galileo and Leonardo were employed by their government to improve
artillery and fortifications (3). From that point onward, war has spurred
scientific innovation onward; e.g. think steam, electricity, combustion, etc.
This separation of practical science from theoretical science is what makes
science more of a technique, rather than a doctrine that explains the world. Practicality
is what makes science continue to seem and actually be important.
Once science was practically implemented it has shown the
power to change the world. It spurs innovation through competition, between
warring states and private entities, at a higher success rate than change
promoted by dogma or superstition. Between the printing press, the fall of
religious institutions, and man’s competitive nature, no one can claim for
certain which was more effective at allowing science to bloom. But we can say
for certain, that if the use of science was not recognized by those with power,
it would not be the same world it is today.