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  • 18-Jul-09 Modern v. Medieval Science
  • SEPP Science Editorial #22-2009
    (in TWTW Jul 18, 2009)

    Ken Haapala, Executive Vice President , Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)

    Modern v. Medieval Science

    Jul 18, 2009

    A remarkable revolution in thinking occurred in the 17th Century - the creation of modern empirical science, which is one of the greatest achievements of civilization. It marks the major difference between the medieval world and the modern world. At the beginning of the Century, most educated people thought in terms of medieval science; at the end of the Century most thought in terms of modern science. To the medieval scientist what one believes and who believes it were vital. To the modern scientist how and why is most important. Beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not authority or intuition. To the modern scientific mind, if pronouncements from authorities, be they Aristotle, religious leaders, governments, computer models, etc., do not stand up to empirical observation; then, they are wrong.
    Copernicus hypothesized that the Earth has a twofold motion: a daily rotation, and an annual revolution about the Sun. Man was no longer the center of the universe with his place on a fixed Earth -- which outraged religious leaders, Catholic and Protestant, as well as Aristotelian scientists. Kepler simplified the hypothesis by using elliptical orbits, questioning the assumptions of the ancients who believed heavenly bodies must move in perfect circles.

    Galileo insisted that scientific knowledge comes from repeated observations and experiments which he used to develop the concept of acceleration, the law of falling bodies, the parallelogram law, and, using the telescope, discovered that the Sun is not immutable, there are more than seven heavenly bodies, etc. - all contradicting Aristotelian scientists. Newton built upon these works for his laws of motion and the universal law of gravitation, from which came planetary theory, orbits of comets, etc.

    The remarkable change in thinking included the elimination of the animist belief of life force, which has no place in physics. Purpose is not needed to explain scientific procedures, comets are not portents, authority and assumptions are to be constantly questioned, skepticism is vital to expanding knowledge, and experiments and observations are paramount.

    A very disturbing trend is the dogmatic belief that Man is the principal cause of the recent warming. It appears to be a regression to medieval science, with its claimed "consensus" and its insistence on the authority of the UN-IPCC and computer models. Yet the assumptions of the models have not been tested and the models fail basic empirical tests such as the fingerprint test. The IPCC uses a panel of advocates, experts, who assign probabilities to their work. This is no better than a panel of Aristotelian scientists assigning probabilities that Galileo is wrong.

    We must not return to medieval thinking.

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