The biblical Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil implies that knowledge, of itself, is morally neutral. Most would agree with that assertion. For millennia religious establishments dominated world culture while science and great thinkers took a back seat. Thats not to say there was no technological advancement. The Egyptians were brilliant engineers and had very advanced medical knowledge. The Romans advanced building techniques and sanitation systems, their still-standing aqueducts testify to their ingenuity.
A terrible dark side of knowledge is how it is utilized in a destructive manner. Man excels in creating fantastic ways to kill and destroy. Leonardo Da Vinci was perhaps the most brilliant man of his time, his insight was centuries ahead of his peers, but he also included designs of horrible war machines in his repertoire which he sold. He did this, of course, to support himself and open resources, but he did so also to keep authorities off his back as some of his research was questionable according to the church.
Maybe this was what God was really afraid would happen.
Science Enters The Stage
But not even religion can stop our curious minds. We still ask the same questions, seek the same answers. It’s strange, however, that science’s big break didn’t begin on Earth, but among the stars.
The stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies were studied for ages. Time and the seasons were effectively measured by observations of these objects. Suddenly the heavens were brought closer to the Earth with the invention of the telescope in 1608 by Hans Lippershey and refined by later astronomers like Galileo, Keppler, and Huygens. They observed that not all points of light were stars, but in fact, other planets, each with complex motions of their own. Great efforts were taken by the church to keep this new information Earth-centered, although evidence was increasingly demonstrating otherwise.
Nicholas Copernicus challenged the Earth-centered theory of the universe that had dominated thinking for ages with his publishing of On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in 1543. Johannes Keppler’s Laws of Planetary Motion refined Copernicus’ theory, and together with Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion and Laws of Universal Gravitation formed the basis of all modern astronomy.
Perhaps the most influential scientist of all time was Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727.) His works in mechanics, mathematics, and optics opened the doors to modern sciences and gave insight to the Industrial Revolution to come. Yet, more were to come.
An age of discovery and invention accompanied the industrial revolution. Great machines were created and new energies harnessed to promote the well-being of humanity, and this time they found a willing populace.
The nineteenth century saw unparalleled discovery and invention. Steel to build greater buildings, galvanized rubber, the first practical battery, and usable electricity became reality. The electric lightbulb promised an end to darkness. The telegraph and telephone opened new doors in communications. The first vaccines emerged and medicine began to arise from the dark ages. The camera was documenting history in a way never before captured. The sciences advanced in great leaps, from astronomy to physics to chemistry and biology. New tools that made life easier and safer appeared to ready societies.
A many great scientists (the term, scientist, was first used in 1833) assumed their places in history as science became a profession. Louis Pasteur and the rabies vaccine, as well as pasteurization, opened the door to modern medicine. Michael Faraday introduced the first electric motor. Samuel Morse revolutionized communications with the telegraph, and Alexander Bell introduced the future of communication with the telephone. Charles Darwin shook up the religious community with his Origin of Species and the theory of evolution. Of course, you cannot forget Thomas Edison with the light bulb and so much more. The future was waiting.
There were many more notable scientists and inventors in the nineteenth century. However, there were others that would lead the way into the next century. Someone in the patent office once quipped, “All that can be invented, has been invented.” He was wrong on a scale nobody could imagine.
As the twentieth century loomed, science was poised to take center stage and challenge the established religious mentality. The battle was about to begin.
Next: Science Comes of Age, and War Begins