Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Separation of Science and Religion

The expansion of human knowledge took place largely through the interaction of human beings with nature, fellow humans and forces of history. In this process, the existential condition of human beings, their basic needs and methods to satisfy themselves played a crucial role. The human existential nature comprises both natural endowments, the biological and mental peculiarities and cultural styles and achievements.

With the emergence of imperial political organisation, there took place large-scale growth in trade, commerce, technology and industrial production. This is revealed through the history of ancient civilisations like those of India, China, Egypt, Greece and Rome. With few exceptions, now a differentiation between the scientists and religious or priestly classes took place. The knowledge of science and technology had its uses in industry and warfare. These were the foundations of new empires and they were organised in a comprehensive institutional form. At this stage of social development, the magical practices were largely individualised, and the institutional organisation of science and religion was slowly being separated. This separation was often hazy but the specialised roles necessitated functional differentiation.

With the decline of the Graeco-Roman civilisation and the rise of Christianity, the Church had emerged in Europe as the most powerful social and political institution. It was a major setback to the process of differentiation between religious and scientific knowledge. As the religious worldview of medieval Christianity increased its influence through the church, the scope for scientific experiments and success of its humanistic and rational worldview declined. All knowledge was now subject to approval of religious authority represented by the Church. Its Seminaries were the only institutional organisations recognised for generation and communication of knowledge. This pattern continued for several centuries unit it was challenged by forces of renaissance and religious reformation during the 15th and 16th centuries.

The contributions to science by Galileo, Copernicus and Newton and the religious reforms initiated by Luther and Calvin made it possible that humanistic, rational and empirical forms of knowledge could slowly emerge. Luther and Calvin emphasised the role of individual over that of Church for religious salvation. Galileo and Newton offered scientific and experimental evidence instead of theological cosmology and brought the human being back into the natural scheme of universe. Slowly the nature of seminaries which were like theological schools changed. These were taken out of the control of the Church and taken over by the city councils of citizens for administration and cultivation of knowledge. The modern university system on secular basis of organisation, production and communication of knowledge thus came into being. This process of secularisation of knowledge in the European society took several hundred years and was aided by its own social, political, cultural and economic transformation.

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