Fred Seiler's Writings on the History of Science


If my writings below interest you, please check out my blog: Seiler on Science. I plan the blog to be a repository of my ongoing thoughts on the history of science, and hopefully a conduit for valuable feedback from readers.

Why learn about the history of science?

Why should we study the history of science? There are many excellent reasons, but I'd like to focus here on one which is personally very important to me. This is the value of inspiration.

The stories of the struggles of famous scientists can be very dramatic and inspiring. When we learn about Andreas Vesalius enduring the stench of decaying corpses in order to study the most miniscule details of human anatomy — when we learn about Galileo Galilei courageously standing up to the Church to defend his view of the universe — when we learn about the temperamentally timid Charles Darwin coming to reevaluate the whole issue of man's origins — then we are inspired by human greatness.

The biographies of countless scientists show us people who were driven by an intense curiosity about the world around them — a curiosity about reality — and who took action to satisfy their curiosity. Of course, not all scientists led equally heroic lives. But they did contribute (to a greater or lesser extent) to what is arguably the greatest achievement of the human race: the modern scientific understanding of the universe and our place in it.

The progression of science through history has largely been a cumulative progression. Yesterday's discoveries were used as the foundation for today's discoveries, which in turn will be the foundation for those of tomorrow. To be sure, the progression hasn't always been continuously upwards. There have been wrong turns and dead ends, but these have been footnotes to the main story. The history of science is, in essence, the story of a dramatic upwards progression, leading to the modern scientific understanding of the universe and all of the wonders of modern technology. Moreover, these achievements will undoubtably be far surpassed in the future, as science continues its amazing story.

My Philosophy

I adhere to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, which she called "Objectivism." Objectivism is the framework for everything that I write. For those unfamiliar with it, I refer you to the writings of Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff. I also recommend the website of the Ayn Rand Institute.

The Rise and Fall of the "Conflict Thesis"

The idea that science and religion are fundamentally opposed has a name among historians of science. They call it the "conflict thesis" (or sometimes the "warfare thesis"). The two most influential proponents of the conflict thesis were Americans writing in the late 19th century. Who were they and what motivated them? Why have today's historians of science almost universally rejected the conflict thesis? The answers can be found in my essay here.

My Book-in-Progress on the Conflict Between Science and Religion in History

Countless books have been written about the relationship between science and religion. The great majority of these have argued or assumed that science and religion are mutually compatible. The theme of my book-in-progress is that science and religion are incompatible at the deepest level, and that this is visible in the events of history.

Ayn Rand identified two opposite principles of metaphysics which she called the "primacy of existence" and the "primacy of consciousness." Science embodies the primacy of existence, whereas religion embodies the primacy of consciousness. This is the deepest philosophical root of the conflict. But the events of history tell an incredibly complex story, and show science and religion interacting in a number of different ways. My goal is to make sense of this complexity.

My Review of David Harriman's The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics

I wrote this review for publication at the technical blog You can read it on the slashdot site here or in a slightly cleaned up version here.

Copyright © 2009-2013 Frederick M. Seiler. All Rights Reserved.