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'On the whole, religious beliefs have done more to stimulate change than to hold it back.' Discuss

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Introduction

Simon Shapcott 'On the whole, religious beliefs have done more to stimulate change than to hold it back.' Discuss Since the early part of the 15th century, science and the scientific understanding that we have of the world has been steadily increasing. The changes that this new science brought about were huge; from works in astronomy to anatomy, every walk of life was affected in some way. This rise in science came at a time when an institutionalised church ruled the Western World and the religious beliefs of the church were considered to be unquestionably true. Did this church support and help nurture the growing scientific world or did it in fact, try to hold it back and suppress its growth? The focus of this essay will be to look at change as the growth of scientific understanding and to see whether religion has held it back or stimulated it. As both these ideas are polarized a middle ground between the two needs to be looked for. It is always difficult to generalise what religious beliefs are. As Einstein (1954) put it most people would agree on what is meant by science but they are likely to disagree on what is the meaning of religion. Here the focus will be on the rise of science in the Western World and the conflicts and harmonies it has with the Christian religion, be it Catholicism or Protestantism. It is necessary to point out that this assessment would not be true of other religions, if you were to tackle the same argument ...read more.

Middle

When he did have it published it was condemned by the Inquisition as heretical, and placed on the Index of Prohibited Books, saying that it was "utterly contrary to the Holy Scriptures". (Barbour 1998) As you can see from the Inquisition's reason for banning Copernicus' book, the Church was banning anything that ran contrary to the Scriptures and their interpretation of it. It is clear to see that the Catholic Church in the 15th and 16th centuries were doing everything in their power to maintain the status quo and to suppress any change that could effect their power base. An increase in scientific understanding would do just that. There is another school of thought that would agree that religion has done more to stimulate change than to hold it back, or at the very least not done anything to hold it back. There was a small minority of Catholic thinkers who believed that scientific understanding did not conflict with religion. Cardinal Baronius, an important man in the Catholic Church said in 1598 "The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes." (Barbour 1998) Nevertheless they were in the significant minority. However, you needed to look at the Protestant church to see where religion has really helped stimulate change. There are many theologians and scientists that believe that religion has done much more to stimulate change and scientific understanding than to hold it back. ...read more.

Conclusion

This was why the Church opposed and tried to suppress any advance in science. The Protestant faith however has had a very different effect on science than Catholicism. Protestantism has actively encouraged the growth of science as it sees science as a way of understanding God through the scientific understanding of nature. Calvin and Luther both saw the scriptures as open for interpretation, not to be taken literally but used as a guide on how to live your life. So they had no problem with the conflicts that arose between the scriptures and the scientific discoveries that were made. It is possible to say when weighing up the evidence that the Christian religion as a whole has in fact done more to stimulate and encourage scientific change than to hold it back. The scientific movements in many Protestant countries grew up because of the desire to understand more about God and his work in nature. Without it there would have been no motivation for the scientists to pursue their work. "Although we seldom recognize it, scientific research requires certain basic beliefs about the order and rationality of matter, and its accessibility to the human mind . . . they came to us in their full force through the Judeo-Christian belief in an omnipotent God, creator and sustainer of all things. In such a world view it becomes sensible to try and understand the world, and this is the fundamental reason science developed as it did in the Middle Ages in Christian Europe, culminating in the brilliant achievements of the seventeenth century. ...read more.

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