History: Christianity and Science

July 1, 2010

From the beginning Christianity combined the philosophical paradigms of Aristotle and Plato that emphasized deductive reasoning and systematic thought with the Jewish distinction between Creator and Creation. There has also been a consistent Christian emphasis on literacy (centered on the reading and transmission of scripture) that reached its zenith in the years following the Protestant Reformation. The Christian emphasis on caring for the sick gave rise to the community hospital; and the emphasis on study of philosophy and theology gave rise to the university. All of these things built the infrastructure needed for the rise of the scientific revolution.

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10 Responses to “History: Christianity and Science”

  1. KB Says:

    This is really great. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Adam Says:

    Logical analysis was formerly developed in Ancient Greece, as well as mathematics (with Egypt contributing towards knowledge of fractions). Greeks almost managed to arrive at Newton’s Laws (integral calculus):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greece#Science_.26_Technology

    (free) scientific enquiry ceases abruptly upon arrival of Christianity.

    We inherit universities from Islam:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Al-Karaouine
    Oldest university is Al-Azhar University, Cairo.

    The birth of science is taken to be as Francis Bacon’s work on philosophy of science.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baconian_method

  3. W. Vida Says:

    Hi Adam, I actually acknowledged that Christianity used tools given by the Greeks. My point was that it was the particularly Christian combination of Greek philosophy with Jewish literacy and theology that set the stage for the birth of modern science.

    I am aware of the early Islamic advances in mathematics (and pre-science). Early Islam shared a lot of parallels with Christianity (philosophical/theological). This is not surprising given that the Koran is largely based on the Bible. However, with the rise of Sunni Islam (which takes issue with the establishment of natural laws) the advances fell off. Regarding whether or not “Al-Azhar” could be actually classified as a university until very recently, I will respectfully disagree. But even granting the point, the University system was not widespread anywhere but in Christian Europe in the late middle ages.

  4. Richard Hodds Says:

    I do not think the monastries were very compasionate at all, some were closed to the public. The word hospital was used in a different sense in the middle ages it was a profit making hotel. The universities taught mainly Christian Theology and were not open to change.
    Sure there were some that ministered to the poor, but no more than the Nobility of the time helped those in need.
    I think modern science has more to thank the Alchemist than any religious body.

    • W. Vida Says:

      Hi Richard,

      //I do not think the monastries were very compasionate at all, some were closed to the public. The word hospital was used in a different sense in the middle ages it was a profit making hotel. //

      I think you are wrong here. Most were open to the public. The whole point of the hospital was to provide care to the public.

      //The universities taught mainly Christian Theology and were not open to change.//

      This is true. But they built the infrastructure required for the scientific explosion. Early science was actually done in the philosophical departments.

      //I think modern science has more to thank the Alchemist than any religious body.//

      Early alchemy was mostly a biblical pursuit.

      Check out this discussion on Newton’s life.

      https://religionannarbor.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/book-review-isaac-newton-by-mitch-stokes/

  5. Adam Says:

    “particularly Christian combination of Greek philosophy with Jewish literacy and theology that set the stage for the birth of modern science.”

    No, Greek Philosophy on its own set the stage for axiomatic science. The Greeks had well-established science and technology, and as I said, were very close to discovering the integral calculus. They had machines and early computers, etc.

    I’m pretty sure all universities are based on the Islamic schools mate.

  6. W. Vida Says:

    Hi Adam,

    //No, Greek Philosophy on its own set the stage for axiomatic science.//

    My argument here is actually simply repeating the work of religion scholar, Lawrence Wood in his brilliant book “God and History”. It is available on google books. He argues that the reason that the Greek efforts did not come to fruition is that the greeks did not have a theological distinction between creator and creation as the Jews did (and Christians maintained). You are basically speculating and saying that the scientific revolution that took place within the Christian world in the 17th and 18th centuries would have happened in the Greek world (minus Christianity) but this is very speculative and doesn’t take into account the fact that it did take place within Christianity (at Christian Universities).

    If you wish to speculate, fine. I think you are wrong. We can leave it there.

    //The Greeks had well-established science and technology, and as I said, were very close to discovering the integral calculus.//

    But they didn’t. There was a long time between Plato~350BC and the adoption of Christianity by Constantine in the early fourth century AD. You may wish to speculate on the results if Christianity had not have taken place but the fact is the advancements were made within an uniquely Christian culture where the earliest scientists (Newton, Galileo, etc) were all very devout Christians working in confessional Christian Universities.

    //They had machines and early computers, etc.//

    To say that they had computers in any sense is a big stretch.

    //I’m pretty sure all universities are based on the Islamic schools mate.//

    Well….couple points here. There have been schools of some sorts throughout history. The ancient Jews had them. The ancient Greeks had them and so did many other cultures. There are some who argue that the first University was Islamic but this view is in the minority and in fact depends on a very loose view of what a University is. Most scholars (for example Peter Watson in his Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention).

    Finally, I am not arguing that the Greeks and Muslims and other cultures didn’t contribute to math and science. What I am arguing is that the scientific explosion that took place in the Christian West was not an accident of history.

  7. Adam Says:

    The scientific revolution took place in private societies run by interested men. The most evident example being the Royal Society, founded in November 1660. The vast majority of these men were university men, but there’s no connection between those ideas uniquely Christian and the work that they did.
    What is the connection between Christian culture or ideas or whatever you want to call it, and the laws discovered by Gay-Lussac, Boyles, Dalton, Bacon, Galilei, Avogadro, Cavendish, Joule and the rest in their own spare time?

    Science never had anything to do with religion. When Andrius Vesalius published ‘The Fabric of the Human Body’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_humani_corporis_fabrica) it was greatly resisted by the Christian establishment because it challenged their acceptance of Galen’s theory of the body. The reason why there was such a huge gap between Galen’s published work and Vesalius’? The Church banned human dissection in order to avoid Galen’s work being rectified. Of course Vesalius did get an opportunity to work on human beings to write his book – people who had been executed.

    Are you sure about what a computer is?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism

  8. W. Vida Says:

    Hi Adam,

    //The scientific revolution took place in private societies run by interested men. //

    The science was not done at the Royal society. They were basically a peer review organization. They didn’t pay Newton or Boyle or any of the other early scientists nor did they provide research facilities. In short, they were not the “infrastructure” that was needed. That came from the universities.

    For the record, most of the people in the Royal Society were devout Christians.

    //What is the connection between Christian culture or ideas or whatever you want to call it, and the laws discovered by Gay-Lussac, Boyles, Dalton, Bacon, Galilei, Avogadro, Cavendish, Joule and the rest in their own spare time?//

    Well, that is what I have been trying to say. The connection was a Christian world view in which the distinction between Creator and Creation is assumed(allowing study of nature) and Greek logic is taken for granted. This set the stage for science.

    Regarding anatomy, I think that one of the big problems that the church had was the question of ethics in medicine. What is ok to do with dead bodies and what is not? Now, I think that everyone (including Christians) have come down on the side of tolerating the dissection and study of cadavers so that science can be used to improve human kind but I am not ashamed that the church forced a discussion on ethics. I think science without ethical discussions is scary.

    • Adam Says:

      “The connection was a Christian world view in which the distinction between Creator and Creation is assumed(allowing study of nature)”

      I think this needs to be proven. What significance does this have? Newton’s reasoning when using calculus to formulate classical mechanics doesn’t contain any mention of Creation, and a belief in a Creator would not aid his calculations at all.


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