In the aftermath of the Reformation in the 16th century, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuit Order as an army of defence against the attack on the One True Church. The Jesuits saw that the reformers had learning and intelligence on their side; they were translating the Bible into vernacular tongues, and encouraging lay people to read it, and when laymen did so they could see that the doctrines and practices of the Roman church were a mountain of rubbish. The Jesuits aimed to be an army of very smart casuists and propagandists, skilful in rhetoric and argument, trained to counter the reformers’ charges, not interested in truth but in Catholicism’s tendentious version of it.
This is supposed to be a prime historical example of religious prejudice blocking truth, i.e. scientific truth. This claim is all well and good but whatever Professor Grayling’s merits as a philosopher may or may not be, as a historian of science in the early modern period he is a null. Now my landsmen have a sort of blind fear and loathing of the Jesuits that goes back at least to John Donne’s Ignatius His Conclave from 1611 and Mr Grayling seems to share this irrational fear causing him to ignore historical facts in order bash the ‘Black Monks’, as they are disparagingly known to the English.
Now anybody who has an up to date knowledge of the evolution of science from the late sixteenth up through the seventeenth and into the eighteenth centuries knows that far from denying, blocking or in anyway hindering this evolution Jesuit and Jesuit educated and trained scientists made substantial and crucial contributions to it. Not exactly the message that Mr Grayling is trying to convey and which Jason so avidly wants to believe.
I’m not going to give a complete history of the Jesuit contributions to science in this period, our until now, by no means complete, knowledge of it already fills several books, but I will give a list of some of the high points. Anybody who has already read my original put down of Mr Grayling’s ignorance, at Evolving Thought, concerning the Jesuit’s and Galileo and/or my post on Christoph Clavius, here at RM, can stop reading now, as I shan’t be adding anything substantially new.
We’ll start with Clavius who I pointed out in my earlier post was responsible for introducing the mathematical sciences into the school and university curricula in the Catholic countries of Europe in the 17th century; a task that Philipp Melanchthon had performed for the mainland protestant countries in the 16th century. Mr Grayling’s England lagged almost a hundred years behind in this educational reform, not least because of their hatred of anything associated with the Jesuits. Jesuit scientist, in particular Mateo Ricci and Johann Adam Schall von Bell, introduced the then ‘modern’ European mathematical sciences, including heliocentricity, into China and the rest of Asia. Lembo and Grienberger, the leading members of Clavius’ institute of mathematics at the Collegio Romano, the Jesuit University, provided the necessary confirmation of Galileo’s telescopic discoveries. Riciolli, Grimaldi, Scheiner, Kircher and Grassi all made substantial contributions to the development of the new astronomy in the 17th century; Grimaldi also made important contributions to the theory of optics. Grégoire de Saint-Vincent made important contributions to the development of infinitesimal calculus and Giovanni Girolamo Saccheri played an important role in the history of non-Euclidian geometry. All of these men were Jesuit scientists.
Pierrre Gassendi modernised Greek atomism, a theory, which played a key role in the move from Aristotelian to modern science; he was also the first astronomer to observe a transit of mercury, a key observation on the road to the scientific proof of heliocentricity. Marin Mersenne was, along with Kircher, one of the key collectors and distributors of scientific information amongst the scholars of Europe in the period before the establishment of scientific journals; in particular he propagated the mechanics of Galileo and helped to get them established amongst his correspondents. He also founded the science of acoustics and made significant contributions to the developing analysis. Descartes was one of the founders of modern geometric optics, a co-inventor of analytical geometry and the discoverer of the law of inertia. (Any commentator who says that he was a founder of modern scientific methodology will get beaten over the head with a wet haddock!) Giovanni Domenico Cassini was the greatest observational astronomer of the 17th century who also founded a family dynasty that revolutionised astronomy, surveying and cartography in France in the 17th and 18th centuries. All of these men were Jesuit educated and trained scientists.
In the 17th century the Jesuit schools and colleges had the best science curriculum, teachers and textbooks, in fact those textbooks were so good they were also used in protestant schools and colleges.
Far from being a hindrance to scientific truth as Mr Grayling would wish us to believe the Jesuits were one of the most powerful forces for its development in the 17th century.