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Introduction Even if Aristotle was not an atheist in the sense that he directly and openly attacked the divine . . . one could say that he was one in a broader sense, because his ideas on divinity indirectly tend to undermine it and destroy it. Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, Encyclopédie The belief that Aristotle’s philosophy is incompatible with Christianity is hardly controversial today. The conviction that his views about religion and society might be best understood placed in the context of Greek pagan culture is not likely to evoke strong reactions. What is true today, however, was not always the case. For centuries, Christian culture embraced Aristotelian thought as its own, reconciling his philosophy with theology and ecclesiastical doctrine. The image of Aristotle as source of religious truth withered in the seventeenth century, the same century in which he ceased being an authority for natural philosophy. The coincidence of Aristotle’s loss of authority for theology and for natural philosophy was not accidental. Aristotle’s transformation from ancient sage into an impious pagan, who espoused dogmatically dubious doctrines, was part of the general rejection of Aristotelianism that accompanied the scientific revolution. The transformations of natural philosophy during the seventeenth century were tied to understandings of the past. In the words of William Ashworth, “the Scientific Revolution was, after all, itself a historical revolution.”1 Early modern rejections of Scholasticism were also historical evaluations of ancient thought and thinkers, most important among them Aristotle. Nearly by definition, the novel philosophies of the seventeenth century, those traditionally identified with the scientific revolution, shared a critical view toward Aristotelianism and its past. Some promoters of novel philosophies were vitriolic in their hostility, even if they borrowed terminology and concepts from the philosophy of the schools.2 Never- 2 subv erting aristotle theless, most seventeenth-century natural philosophers believed that breaking with Aristotle’s philosophy was crucial to the improvement or renewal of human knowledge. As a result historians have, for the last century, if not longer, identified the emergence of modern science with the loosening grip of Aristotle’s thought.3 The mechanisms and dynamics that caused the downfall of Aristotelian thought were complex. They are hidden behind well-known caricatures of university professors, such as Galileo Galilei’s slavish and foolish character Simplicio or Francis Bacon’s worshippers of idols. The traditional story tells that Aristotle’s philosophy, despite its entrenched positions in universities and churches, fell because its tenets did not conform to the discoveries of the seventeenth century. Aristotle’s philosophy failed conceptually, methodologically, and experientially. Evidence taken from astronomical observations undermined geocentric cosmology . Promoters of corpuscular or atomistic philosophies criticized the metaphysical nature of Aristotelianism, contending that key concepts such as substantial forms and potency and act were unintelligible or chimerical. Increasingly, the cultures of experimentation were seen as inconsistent with the bookish textually based musings found in commentaries and quaestiones on Aristotle’s works, notwithstanding the centuries-old tradition of alchemical testing that was tied to Aristotelian matter theory.4 Common to René Descartes’ speculations, Galileo’s astronomical pronouncements , Nicholas Copernicus’s mathematical theorizing, Pierre Gassendi’s atomism , Robert Boyle’s experimentation with air pumps, and Bacon’s promotion of new methods was their open hostility toward Aristotelianism. In this light, historians have pointed to general causes to the eventual decline of Aristotle’s influence. One is conceptual. The ideas put forth in new cosmological theories, mechanical models of nature, and corpuscular or atomistic philosophies rendered the metaphysical niceties of Aristotle’s thought irrelevant and inaccurate. The second general cause put forth by historians of science is institutional or social. New scientific societies and academies became more capable of making collective inquiries into nature, limiting discord, and publicizing discoveries than the conservative universities had been. As a result, group experimentation replaced the methods of commentary and textual exegesis that were practiced among Aristotelians, and the authority of the ancients gradually vanished. All these parts of the traditional story are true to a certain extent. Nevertheless, they are only parts, not the entire story, in which religion played a significant role. Positivist historians of the nineteenth century, and some afterward, conceived modern science as having arisen in step with secularism.5 For them, Galileo’s clash with the Catholic Church, Giordano Bruno’s trial and execution, bans of Introduction 3 Cartesian teachings at Paris, Leiden, and Utrecht pointed to the incompatibility of free inquiry into nature and the rigid authoritarian nature of churches and churchmen...


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