It is often the case that as the scientific method becomes more widely used in a country or region so the religious fervor of the area declines. In the Middle Ages progress was stifled by hundreds of years in Europe because the church persecuted as heretics anyone who questioned orthodox views on nature and the natural world. Moreover, until the invention of the prinitng press it was the monks that copied books; and only those books that they deemed suitable.
The Renaissance changed everything. It coincided with the invention of the printing press. Suddenly many important ancient Greek texts were found and that started a great flourishing in all fields of human endeavour. People like Copernicus introduced the notion of the scientific method whereby phenomena is observed, data recorded and a theory that conforms with the data is formulated that must be testable.
It was the scientific method that was to lead to Darwin in 1859 publishing his epoch changing On the Origin of Species. We all know the theory of evolution and how it led to a radically different explanation of how man and the animals came into being from the one found in Genesis. It was from this point that many Victorians lost their faith and sought new ideals to base their ethics upon. One such ideal was humanism – a belief in the value and essential goodness of mankind. A belief that man is capable of his own salvation.
This belief in humanism was greatly helped by the Industrial Revolution happening at the same time. Suddenly it did seem that man was master of nature and trains and early motorcars and better agriculture were evidence of such a belief.
This belief only grew stronger in the Twentieth Century – man landed on the moon, EDM technology, vaccines, heart transplants, computers, telephones, television, the internet reinforced man’s ingenuity and ability to use the scientific method to make life more comfortable and to discover more about the universe.
The only sour note has recently been felt with the 9/11 attacks on New York. Fundamental Islam is on the increase and religious wars have become a part of the present geo-political climate. Despite the advances science and humanism has made religion won’t go away. Indeed some humanists want to belong to a ’church’ and be preached at by humanist priests!