Marcus Aurelius wrote:
Historians talk about ancient science - but they always qualify the term. The term "natural philosophy" is far more appropriate for periods before the 18th century, and especially for antiquity. Moreover, I've yet to see any indication of a thriving culture of natural philosophy in the Roman period (although there were great feats of engineering).
Well, there certainly was in Alexandria, even though that was not attributable to Romans but more to the Hellenistic culture. It is also not entirely fair to separate engineering from natural philosophy and say that only the latter represents scientific progress. Many historians when they talk about "ancient science" include engineering, medicine and other applied sciences because they are also included in the modern definition of science at least peripherally. The borderline between natural philosphy and engineering was more strict in Antiquity, but that was their view that we don't necessarily have to share.
There's a reason I stressed natural philosophy as a theoretical tool for understanding the world - it's absolutely essential for the development of modern science, and the joining of natural philosophy with mixed mathematics and engineering are some of the most important steps in creating the conglomerate we know as modern science.
Perhaps it's wrong for me to stress natural philosophy as the crucial element (although I rather doubt that), but the point that I'm trying to make is: the above conglomerate of natural philosophy, mixed mathematics and engineering isn't something that must necessarily develop. It didn't develop in ancient Athens. It didn't develop in ancient Alexandria. It didn't develop in the Islamic world. It didn't develop in China. It didn't develop in Africa. It didn't develop in the Americas. It only developed in Europe. The development of modern science is a unique event - it's the exception, not the rule. In such a case, it's wiser to look for causes of that development rather than looking for inhibiting factors that held it back.
The general tendency in this topic - the tendency to look at the Church as an inhibiting factor for the development of modern science, rather than as a complex web of influences - implies the naive notion that modern science is what naturally follows when one tries to understand the natural world for long enough.
Assumption (a) is the most derided assumption in all the history of science. Almost nobody who actually studies the history of science shares it. People on internet fora do, and scientists who haven't studied the history of their science (and by that I mean the actual history, not the textbook versions that present the development of science as progress after progress after progress) - but not historians of science.
Are you talking about modern science in the Enlightenment sense or do you include "natural philosophy"? Because if you are referring to the former, it sounds to me that you have read too much Kuhn and historians influenced by Kuhnian thinking. In contrast, there are many philosophers of science who say that the concept of "paradigm shift" does not really apply to natural sciences in the way Kunh intended. It does apply fairly well to some social sciences, but one can't expand that to all sciences.
I've not used the word paradigm shift even once in the above block of text. There are certainly some Kuhnian influences in mainstream history of science these days, but nothing I said requires one to accept his more controversial ideas (incommensurability, paradigm shifts, normal science vs revolutionary science, etc.)
Furthermore, of course one can't say that science advances "inevitably unless there are specific factors that inhibit hat progress", because the spesific factors you referred to remain undefined, and disputing that notion is essentially a straw man attack unless you define what you mean by "spesific factors". Like I wrote, the advancement of science is of course dependant on socioeconomic factors. Saying that science progresses magically without, for example, adequate funding would be idiotic.
The point is that there is a danger in limiting the factors you take into account - as your example shows. Funding is one of the most obvious influences - but what about conceptual schemes, the social status of individual sciences, interpretations of what constitutes a good experiment, power relations, the social status and background of scientists, etc. Scientific advancement isn't simply about "insert money here" - it's intertwined with intellectual culture, philosophy, social stratification, etc.
Which is exactly what I meant. However, if you want to evaluate the net effect (your expression) of Roman catholic church to advancement of science, you inevitably imply that counterfactual, because you need to establish some kind of baseline to evaluate the net effect from. The conclusion is that the "net effect" is unknowable and always will be. The best we can do is to evaluate some spesific points, although even that is quite a tall order.
However, analogies to the Islamic world are useful for some kind of estimations. There the advancement of natural philosophy was rapid before the onset of religious conservatism that shunned philosophy in favor of Islamic orthodoxy. And yet again, there were also socioeconomic factors that played a role in the emergence of a more dogmatic Islam, so one cannot really say which factor was more important. What we can say is that the emergence of intolerant religious orthodoxy usually has a detrimental effect on the advancement of science; a very general and bland conclusion, but I don't think we can do any better.
I don't know enough about Islamic science to point to the exact reasons of its flourishing ending; however, I don't think it's abnormal. To quote Stephen Gaukroger, "Scientific developments in the classical and Hellenistical worlds, China, the medieval Islamic world, and medieval Paris and Oxford, share a distinctive feature. They each exhibit a pattern of slow, irregular, intermittent growth, alternating with substantial periods of stagnation, in which interest shifts to political, economic, technological, moral, or other questions." As he goes on to say, "The 'Scientific Revolution' of the early-modern West breaks with the boom/bust pattern of all other scientific cultures, and what emerges is the uninterrupted and cumulative growth that constitutes the general rule for scientific development in the West since that time. (...) This form of scientific development is exceptional and anomalous."