Peter Harrison Explains The Link Between Protestant Exegesis & The Scientific Revolution

Up until the rise of Humanism and the 16th Century Protestant Reformation the natural world tended to be read in a symbolical way that was related to the symbolical reading of scripture. It was said that God had given mankind two books, the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature and one was read in the light of the other. One advocate of the Two Books theory was Raymond Sebond, whose book, Theologia Naturalis, is discussed by Montaigne in his essay, Apologie de Raimond Sebond.

Humanism and Protestantism were both interested in original texts and in textual readings that privileged literal and historical readings over the traditional symbolic interpretations of scripture. That change of approach towards the Book of Scripture led to a change in approach to and interpretation of the Book of Nature.

Unlikely connections: the Bible & science from CPX on Vimeo

In this video Professor Peter Harrison explains how an unintended consequence of the shift in biblical exegesis was the collapse of the symbolic reading of the world and nature, and how that made possible new mathematical readings of nature and ultimately led to the scientific revolution of the 17th Century.

Professor Harrison explains how the presupposition of the rational intelligibility of the natural world is not itself alone sufficient for the rise of the scientific method. Aristotle shared the view and believed that the human mind was naturally attuned to the natural world and that therefore the laws that governed it could be rationally intuited. Harrison argues that more was required than this assumption.

What is found in the 17th Century is a counter intuitive approach to the natural world prompted by the belief that the human mind has fallen away from its original, pristine condition as a consequence of the Fall, and that the imperfections of the human mind which resulted from the Fall of Man can be overcome in part if we engage in communal and long term scientific activities in which we “interrogate” nature and develop a probabilistic account of what we can know.

It is the idea that our fallen minds are limited in what they can know that prompts the beginnings of experimental science.

Another factor is the view that nature itself has fallen away from its original transparency and should therefore be “interrogated” and “vexed” to extract her hidden secrets, a view most famously advocated by Francis Bacon.

David Hurley