The three alchemical pillars of modern science: just a thought.

Today is the 379th birthday of John Locke 17th century physician probably better known for his philosophical writings. The website that informed me of this anniversary also stated that Locke was an acquaintance of Robert Boyle. Now this acquaintanceship was actually a three way male friendship of which the third party was Isaac Newton. Now what was it that united these three men? What did they have in common? All three of them were devoted acolytes of the ancient discipline of alchemy.

Now I fairly often become embroiled in the Internet in disputes with professed rationalists or sceptics, who are almost never historians of science, who tell me that the so-called scientific revolution in the 17th century freed the study of nature from all forms of woo such as religion, astrology, magic and of course alchemy. One of the things that instantly springs to mind, my mind that is, is the trio of John Locke “the greatest philosopher in the Age of Reason” (according to the source that provoked this comment), Robert Boyle great contributor to the development of modern chemistry and possibly more important one of the founders of experimental philosophy and last but no means least Isaac Newton supposedly the founding father of modern mathematical physics the three alchemical pillars of modern science.


Filed under History of science, Myths of Science, Newton

11 responses to “The three alchemical pillars of modern science: just a thought.

  1. Pingback: The three alchemical pillars of modern science | Whewell's Ghost

  2. Hah! Why can’t historians understand that history is linear and is merely the record of the rise of reason to the lofty heights it has achieved in modern science and skepticism?

    • Cause istorians is ignorant bastards wot don’t know nothin.

      • C Hibbs

        They are, or are being, in one very large sense, dominant at close of my day googling furiously historians of science today. Why is not anywhere a single reference to the contemporary conditions faced today, now, across the frontiers of scientific knowledge? Everywhere soul-searching, relevance despairing, back-biting – frankly of the clique-sniffing kind. But nowhere mention let alone insight into, the character of this scientific moment. At or near the midnight of the moment of greatest peril in the history of Science. You people should be at that frontier because there are unrealized contributions uniquely only historians have possibility to make. That could change the line of history does science die here, or does the next level revolution realize.

  3. I blame John Dee, or is it Roger Bacon.

  4. I would have thought that the sceptic line would have to involve a goal post fudge and invented watershed, in order to keep a tight grip on the rational part of the name.

    I would run the argument like this.

    A. Point out the fact you are stupid and smell of wee by loudly noting the fact that you are a mere renaissance historian who therefore has no understanding of modern science.

    B. Suggest that my Dad is of a superior size to your Dad by claiming a fuller understanding of modern science.

    C. Pick a date in the 19th century which I can claim as the true birth of modern science.

    All I have to do is police and maintain a grey area which allows my beliefs to remain perfectly rational.

    I don’t have to prove anything but if I don’t seek to maintain a policing role and ensure that I can claim that H.O.S. is a fudge with no consensus and is filled with ignorant historians, I start to look somewhat bonkers.

  5. Pingback: It’s silly questions time again: “Was Newton a scientist or a sorcerer? | The Renaissance Mathematicus

  6. Pingback: Help! I’ve just been savaged by a toothless American bulldog. | The Renaissance Mathematicus

  7. C Hibbs

    Alchemy is possibly the most significant foundational line…science may never have happened at all, or certainly had it, would feasibly be something else entirely than ours as we know it. The fact alchemy ran for hundreds of years, exhibited so many attributes of science – througgoals and realizations, tools codification observation recording, sharing reproducing, methodological, and on top of all that, how pretty much all chemists were alchemists at the outset. Yet despite all that Alchemy managed to realize profoundly anything but science. Not science. Not a little bit. That’s something we – science esp. at the frontier – ought receive as a timely warning

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