A History of Science and Its Relations with Philosophy and Religion

A History of Science and Its Relations with Philosophy and Religion

A History of Science and Its Relations with Philosophy and Religion

A History of Science and Its Relations with Philosophy and Religion

Excerpt

The Latin scientia (scire, to learn, to know), in its widest sense, means learning or knowledge. But the English word "science" is used as a shortened term for natural science, though the nearest German equivalent, Wissenschaft, still includes all systematic study, not only of what we call science, but also of history, philology or philosophy. To us, then, science may be defined as ordered knowledge of natural phenomena and the rational study of the relations between the concepts in which these phenomena are expressed.

The origin of physical science can be traced in the observation of natural occurrences, such as the apparent movements of the heavenly bodies, and in the invention of rude implements, by the help of which men strove to increase the safety and comfort of their lives. Similarly, biological science must have begun with the observation of plants and animals, and with primitive medicine and surgery.

But, at an early stage, men almost universally took a wrong path. Led by the idea that like produces like, they tried by imitating nature in rites of sympathetic magic to bring rain or sunshine, or fertility to the teeming earth. Some of them, not satisfied by the results achieved, passed to another stage, to the animistic belief that nature must be under the sway of beings, capricious like themselves, but more powerful. The Sun became the flaming chariot of Phoebus; thunder and lightning were the weapons of Zeus or Thor. Men sought to propitiate such beings, perhaps by rites which were the same as, or developed from, those which had arisen in the more primitive stage. Other men, watching the fixed stars, or the regular movements of the planets, conceived the idea of an immutable Fate controlling human destinies, which might be read in the sky. Magic, astrology and religion have clearly to be studied with the origins of science, though their exact historical relations with science and with each other are still uncertain.

Some order in empirical knowledge appears in the records of ancient Egypt and Babylon--units and rules of measurement, simple arithmetic, a calendar of the year, the recognition of the periodicity of astronomic events, even of eclipses. But the first to submit such knowledge to rational examination, to try to trace causal relations among its parts, in fact the first to create science, were the Greek nature-philosophers of Ionia. The earliest and most successful of such . . .

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