who began, just before the Christian era, to open new paths through the great field of the inductive sciences by observation, comparison, and experiment.
The establishment of Christianity, though it began a new evolution of religion, arrested the normal development of the physical sciences for over fifteen hundred years. The cause of this arrest was twofold: First, there was created an atmosphere in which the germs of physical science could hardly grow;—an atmosphere in which all seeking for truth in Nature as truth was regarded as futile. The general belief derived from the New Testament Scriptures was, that the end of the world was at hand; that the last judgment was approaching; that all existing physical Nature was soon to be destroyed: hence, the greatest thinkers in the Church generally poured contempt upon all investigators into a science of Nature, and insisted that everything except the saving of souls was folly.
This belief appears frequently through the entire period of the middle ages, but during the first thousand years it is clearly dominant. From Lactantius and Eusebius, in the third century, pouring contempt, as we have seen, over studies in astronomy, to Peter Damian, the noted chancellor of Pope Gregory VII, in the eleventh century, declaring all worldly sciences to be "absurdities" and "fooleries," it becomes the atmosphere of thought.
Then, too, there was established a standard to which all science which did struggle up through this atmosphere must be made to conform—a standard which favored magic rather than science, for it was a standard of rigid dogmatism obtained from literal readings in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. The most careful inductions from ascertained facts were regarded as wretchedly fallible when compared with any view of Nature whatever given or even hinted at in any poem, chronicle, code, apologue, myth, legend, allegory, letter, or discourse of any sort which had happened to be preserved in the literature which had come to be held as sacred.
For twelve centuries, then, the physical sciences were thus dis-
- As to the beginnings of physical science in Greece, and of the theological opposition to physical science, also Socrates's view regarding certain branches as interdicted to human study, see Grote's Greece, vol. i, pp. 495 and 504, 505; also Jowett's introduction to his translation of the Timæus, and Whewell's History of the Inductive Sciences. For examples showing the incompatibility of Plato's methods in physical science with that pursued in modern times, see Zeller, Plato and the Older Academy, English translation by Alleyne and Goodwin, pp. 375 et seq. The supposed opposition to freedom of opinion in the "Laws" of Plato, toward the end of his life, can hardly make against the whole spirit of Greek thought.
- For the view of Peter Damian and others through the middle ages as to the futility of scientific investigation, see citations in Eicken, Geschichte und System der mittelälterlichen Weltanschauung, chap. vi.