In my essay, I show that the Spanish Inquisition was a hurdle to scientific progress. However, I contend that it was only a hurdle to scientific progress in Spain. The Spanish inquisition was a process where religious radicalism corrupted a pure faith and caused people to do terrible things such as torture and murder. The zealous application of corrupted morals led to people being afraid to pursue academic and inventive routes, which is the biggest reason why the Spanish Inquisition was a hurdle to scientific progress.
Most people have no idea what science or the scientific process is to the point where they think things such as science and religion are opposed. Nothing could be further from the truth because science is simply a method of repeated trial and error tests, and religion is simply organized faith. Sadly, during the Spanish inquisition, there were a small minority of people who punished others for using things such as the scientific method because the people undertaking the inquisition had no idea what science was or how it may be used to benefit religion. (Murphy, 2012).
The Spanish inquisition was far smaller, less widespread, and less horrid than most people think. There were only a handful of zealots who took part in the Spanish inquisition, but its name and reputation spread about Spain and then about Europe until the legend became far more than the events ever were. However, such rumor and misinformation was enough to scare people into avoiding things such as inventing and scientific research. Despite the fact that most people never saw an inquisitor, and despite the fact that we cannot prove it even happened, people were so scared by the rumor that they avoided science simply as a precaution. (Abraham &Yuchasin, 1580)
The Spanish inquisition only affected scientific progress in Spain. It is a known fact these days that secularists have caused the most death and the most problems, such as Chairman Mao and Hitler (since Hitler became a noted secularist after his first year in power). However, the rumors about Spanish inquisitors were notably scarier than anything their modern secularists could do because it appeared that the Inquisitors were abiding by a rulebook that didn’t exist. After all, there is nothing in the bible about it being okay to kill and torture people, and yet it appeared that the inquisitors were following some sort of code. Such ideas were enough to scare people into avoiding science or anything that seemed remotely involved with what the Spanish inquisitors were punishing. (Smith, 2010).
One of the biggest signs that the inquisition was a hurdle to Spanish scientific discovery was just after the Inquisition was first abolished during the domination of Napoleon and the reign of Joseph Bonaparte (1808–1812). Groups that called themselves enlightened thinkers started to spring up in a variety of different places in Spain, and scientific progress began once again because of the example these people set to their fellow country people. Scientific progress also restarted again after the royal decree by Regent Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies that abolished all forms of religious inquisition from 1834 to today. (Henry Kamen, 1999).
Words did more damage than the Spanish inquisitors. I am not saying that the inquisition itself didn’t do damage to the scientific progress of the country of Spain, but I contend that it was the rumors and scare stories about the Spanish inquisition that did the most damage. The inquisitors themselves may have been the source of the fear, but they were not the ones who spread it. Since other people in Europe were not physically affected by inquisitors, they were not influenced by them and were therefore free to undertake scientific endeavors without incident or fear.
Abraham Zacuto, SeferYuchasin, Cracow 1580 (q.v. SeferYuchasin, p. 266 in PDF) (Hebrew).
Henry Kamen: The Spanish Inquisition A Historical Revision. 1999
Murphy, Cullen (2012). God’s jury : the Inquisition and the making of the modern world. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 75
Smith, Damian J., Crusade, Heresy and Inquisition in the Lands of the Crown of Aragon, Brill, 2010