This post is part of Human History series. Start with introduction.
Because you are reading this, I expect you are an educated person. At minimum, you are literate. You were probably in school, and you cannot imagine someone not having the same experience. But education has not been available till recently. Even if we know about philosophers coming with ideas and first schools (Plato’s Academy or Aristotle’s Lyceum) 2500 years ago, most people lived simple lives on the field even 500 years ago (the time this post is covering). Their life was unstable and hard. Plagues and wars were devastating, and there was nothing much they could do.
The Church was the only institute providing education. Priests knew all-important facts from the bible, and you were expected to ask a priest if you wanted to know something. In case your question was about science (for example, why something works the way it works) and the bible couldn’t answer, you were expected to believe in God, and that it’s in good hands of God (i.e., you should not be worried). Anyone who did some exploration was ignored or treated like a weirdo. Yes, religion is ignorance.
Science was a big challenge for Church. Thomas Aquinas was a Catholic philosopher believing that religion and science can coexist together in harmony. He tried to convince faithless people in the rational nature of Christianity and turn them into faith. Thomas also admired Greek philosopher Aristotle and commented on his work from a theological point of view.
The Church was afraid anyway. That’s understandable because Church was living from indulgences. If science proved there is no God and people would stop believing, Church would end up poor. Church continued to ignore science, keep education based on the bible, and use Latin at masses instead of people’s languages, so they wouldn’t understand.
Independently, two guys rebelled against the status quo, Jan Hus from Bohemia and Martin Luther from Germany. Both were against indulgences and services in Latin. Jan Hus was burned for this, but his followers started Hussite Wars. Hussites were invincible. Unfortunately, they destroyed themselves because of arguments about how radical they should be. On the other side, Luther was not burned, but his writing was. He escaped from punishment, translated the bible to German, and let Protestantism begin.
All kings and nobles were fighting for their interpretation of the bible and how the Church should work. There were many battles for thrones and setup marriages to support their cause. That explains why the structure of churches is so complicated. After a long time, the situation in Bohemia exploded into the Thirty Years’ War. This war killed a third of the European population, and there was no winner, only many victims. After this war, entire Europe was just a small collection of independent kingdoms.
But there was another important consequence: people were thinking about religion and what religion should be. It was not set in stone anymore. After a long time, people looked back to classical Greek science and art. For example, Shakespeare got inspiration from Sophocles, or Leonardo da Vinci used a realistic depiction of man, which he used to draw Mona Lisa. And they did not just look back, they also improved it and moved on. Leonardo designed many inventions. Some plans could not be created right away, but he foresaw, for example, plains and helicopters. People thought he was crazy.
Nowadays we consider Galileo Galilei as a father of modern science. Galileo was an advocate of scientific method, and his work proving heliocentrism is considered as the most crucial piece since the time of Aristotle. God was still important even in science, though. Isaac Newton believed in God and also that theology became physics and vice versa. The first scientist to reject God and keep religion as a choice of each person was Blaise Pascal.
It is important to assert that science is not here to say what is right and what is wrong. Science can give us information only. Then it’s up to us what we will do with that information. We cannot improve everything at once, e.g., make better education, health, and social system, eradicate poverty, have enough food, be ecological, and so on. People want everything at once, but sources are limited, and someone needs to decide what can be improved.
Until Science Revolution, the decision was in the hands of kings and popes serving to God. Science Revolution started the end of God. The problem is, there was no replacement. People were used only to fight for many centuries in holy wars. The new science was used the same way as religion. Any ideology based on the science used in extreme way leads basically to just a different religion. Science needs to be treated as “we know nothing, and each evidence reveals a piece of truth.” No information can be treated as the final truth. Science is never final and never evil.
For example, people burned a lot of trees because of metal production. Europe had severe problems. Maybe we would not be here if that would not stop. Thanks to the discovery of coal, people found another source of energy, and many trees were saved. It was a good step, but now coal is a dated way of gaining energy, and we need to move on. As you can see, what was seen as good is now seen as bad, even if the science behind it is still the same. I’m sure all those “green energies” will be once also outdated because they will not be “green” enough. Science is never final and never evil.
Today, we put our belief in science, but politicians secure that science. They shape what scientists are researching, and they use ideologies (nazism, communism, capitalism, and so on) instead of religion to decide what to do.
I will talk about it later. Next time, I will continue how new inventions helped to make colonies around the world.