Humanism is probably the greatest contribution of the Renaissance period which changed not just the political and religious climate of the era but also started the scientific explorations that lead to the advancements in science we enjoy today. The American Humanist Association defines humanism as “a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Humanism is said to have paved the way to the ideological, political and religious explorations during the Renaissance and Reformation periods that eventually gave birth to Scientific Revolution. To better appreciate the role of humanism in the advancement of science, we need to look at the events surrounding the Renaissance period. Renaissance, which refers to the period 1400 to 1650, is between medieval Christian era and Scientific Revolution.
It is a period between religious domination and enlightened exploration. According to Kreis in his lecture on Renaissance Humanism, it is a period between “faith and reason. In medieval Christian civilization, only one church existed- the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope, who is the head of the church, governs everyone. People rely on God and prefabricated doctrines for every decision. Everyone is demanded to obey and believe. In the society, individuals are subordinate to the majority. Collective thoughts and decisions reign over individual preferences. Laws and customs regulate everything that happens in the land. People have no individual rights. Questioning authorities is not permissible. People are not allowed to think for themselves and explore their potentials.
Renaissance period gave birth to humanism. According to Kreis in Renaissance Humanism, humanism promoted “independence of medieval tradition. ” It shattered every fabric of the medieval influence. It brought people from blind obedience to progressive thinking. Humanism reformed the mind of people. It gave individuals a new way of looking at themselves and the world. It promoted self worth and confidence to the individual. It encouraged people to think for themselves, explore new ideas, learn new things and express their thoughts. It gave people the opportunity to view themselves apart from the church and society.
This freedom bred doubts about the old system. People started challenging the norms and laws of society that held them captive. They started to question the authority and teachings of the church. Niccolo Machiavelli, one of the thinkers of Renaissance wrote “God is not willing to do everything, and thus take away our free will and that share of glory which belongs to us” (p. 95). This is a humanist statement challenging God and his authority. Machiavelli mentioned “free will” which is opposed to the collective decision and religious obedience of medieval Christians.
Furthermore, he also referred to the “glory which belong to us” encouraging people to recognize their worth instead of subjecting themselves to the dictates of society. The freedom to challenge norms and explore new things started by the humanists instigated the Protestant Reformation that divided the Roman Catholic Church. Furthermore, it also led to interests not only in personal development, politics and religion but also in the natural world. People started to notice their environment and find new things. This new-found curiosity about nature set up the Scientific Revolution.