A Short History of Science to the Nineteenth Century

A Short History of Science to the Nineteenth Century

A Short History of Science to the Nineteenth Century

A Short History of Science to the Nineteenth Century

Excerpt

'What is meant by science?' is the question that will naturally be asked on opening this book. Yet this question, if answered at all, can hardly be answered at the outset. In a sense the book is itself an answer.

Science is often conceived as a body of knowledge. Reflection, however, will lead to the conclusion that this cannot be its true nature. History has repeatedly shown that a body of scientific knowledge that ceases to develop soon ceases to be science at all. The science of one age has often become the nonsense of the next. Consider, for example, astrology; or, again, the idea that certain numbers are lucky or unlucky. With their history unknown, who would see in these superstitions the remnants of far-reaching scientific docttines that once attracted clear-thinking minds seeking rational explanations of the working of the world? Yet such, in fact, is their origin. So, too, we smile at the explanation of fossils as the early and clumsier attempts of an All-powerful Creator to produce the more perfect beings that we know ourselves to be. Yet such conceptions were legitimate stages in the development of modern geological theory, just as the scientific views of our own time are but stages in an agelong process that is leading to wider and more comprehensive conceptions of the nature of our world.

It therefore behoves the historian of science to be very charitable, very forbearing, very humble, in his judgements and presentations of those who have gone before him. He needs to remember that he is dealing with the work of erring and imperfect human beings, each of whom had, like himself, at best but a partial view of truth, but many of whom had a sweep of genius far beyond his own.

There is an unquenchable and irresistible thirst of the soul that demands an explanation of the world in which it finds itself. One expression of that eternal yearning is the formulation of religious . . .

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