Conservative Colloquium

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The Christian Roots of Modern Science

Posted by Tony Listi on March 11, 2008

Science has theological roots. This is so because Christianity (or at least Catholicism) has never been hostile to the use of reason. In fact, reason is a gift from God, a spark of the divine, and a reflection of the image and likeness of God in ourselves.

Have you ever wondered why modern science (and the university) arose in Europe rather than in some other part of the world? It is a fact of history that Western philosophical and scientific advancement began well before the secularism of the so-called Enlightenment. The answer is that Europe had Christianity and Christianity embraced reason. Should we be surprised that some of the greatest scientists and philosophers in history have been Christians? No. Pagan religions thought that the natural world was full of spirits or that many gods governed and interfered with the natural world. Thus under both systems, the world was mysterious, unpredictable, capricious, and uncontrollable. This was not good philosophical and paradigmatic soil for science. The Chinese came close with the conception of the Tao, a vast undefinable and impersonal force that ordered the universe. But a belief in order alone is not suffucient for science; one must also believe that human beings can discover and grasp that order. This latter belief was not present among the Chinese, probably because there was no idea of a personal God.

Then came Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which show greater openness to reason. Judaism planted the seeds of reason for the other two religions and for what would become science. The Old Testament reveals that the natural world is a creation of God. Recall that God chastises people for worshipping idols, which were merely nature, His creation. (See also the Book of Wisdom 13:1-4). Nature is governed according to God’s laws (See Job 38:4-5). It is not filled with spirits and God inteferes with this creation only in certain circumstances and for his particular purposes. The notion of the world as the creation of God would be adopted by Christianity and would lay the foundation for the concept of nature as an object of study distinct and separate from the divine. Indeed, the Judeo-Christian concept of a “miracle” would have had no special significance (e.g. as proof of the divine) without the Judeo-Christian paradigm of a naturally ordered material world.

Islam did not develop modern science because the very religion oppressed philosophers whose ideas seemed to challenge the very principles of the religion itself (al-Ghazali vs. Averroes). The Qur’an was the perfect book with perfect knowledge; what need was there of scientific literature? Moreover, the Qur’an portrays Allah as having absolute freedom and sovereignty. Ideas such as goodness, rationality, truth, and anything else do not constrain Allah (Qur’an 5:64).

But Judaism and Islam are primarily religions of law and thus concerned with jurisprudence. Thus reasoned debate and and exploration tend to focus narrowly on legal codes. Christianity, however, is a religion of creed and doctrine. Christians seek to know what are the correct set of beliefs and what is the relationship between God and man. Christian theologians thus have always exercised reason in order to understand the ways of God in a way that most religions do not. Theological argumentation was the pre-cursor of science.

This may have begun most prominently with St. Augustine who attempted to tackle some of the deepest and most difficult theological and philosophical problems in history: free will, the existence of evil, God’s existence and the nature of that existence, God’s relationship to time itself, etc.

St. Thomas Aquinas also wrote reasonably with arguments: “We shall first try to manifest the truth that faith professes and reason investigates, setting forth demonstrative and probable arguments, so that the truth may be confirmed and the adversary convinced.” Faith alone is not enough; reason should demonstrate and confirm the truth.

St. Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God is also quite a piece of rational discourse. It was assailed by Kant, only to be defended later by Hegel, both whom are giants in the field of philosophy.

Augustine, Aquinas, and Anselm do NOT appeal to faith, revelation, or the Bible in formulating their arguments. Such things may form the backdrop or even the raw material for rational discourse and examination, but it cannot be claimed that Christianity has rejected reason in favor of blind faith alone.

Scientists today take for granted that their whole enterprise is based on a very Christian and faith based idea: the universe operates according to intelligible laws. The universe has an order to it and we can perceive and understand that order. Nature is mathematical. There is no logical or rational necessity that this should be so. It was Christianity (building upon the tradition of the pre-Socratic Greeks) that advanced the idea of a rational cosmos because it holds that God is rational (Jesus is the Word, the logos, which also means “reason” in Greek).

(The material for this post was drawn from D’Souza’s What’s So Great About Christianity and The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible and Islam.)

9 Responses to “The Christian Roots of Modern Science”

  1. […] Bo’az wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThis is so because Christianity (or at least Catholicism) has never been hostile to the use of reason. In fact, reason is a gift from God, a spark of the divine, and a reflection of the image and likeness of God in ourselves. … […]

  2. Julie said

    Great article. Atheist’s who hide behind science, and say Christian’s don’t use logic or reason are ultimeately hiding behind the ideas religion started. Not to mention, as you indicated, that most schools and universities were established by religion, most often, Christianity.

  3. Aufaq Zargar said

    If christians believe in Logic .
    Just show me a single unequivocal verse of bible were jesus Christ(PBUH) attributes himself as Son of God. I promise if u come up with a reply , i will have no objection in accepting Islam.

  4. Aufaq Zargar said

    Please read Cristianity instead of Islam in the bottomline of my previous comment

    [If christians believe in Logic .
    Just show me a single unequivocal verse of bible were jesus Christ(PBUH) attributes himself as Son of God. I promise if u come up with a reply , i will have no objection in accepting Christianity]

  5. foospro86 said

    The purpose of this post was not to convert anyone.
    But I will accommodate you in providing Scriptural support that Jesus claimed to be God/the Son of God. Muslims claim to accept the New Testament as part of their scripture, but I wonder how many have actually read the Gospels. Jesus’ claim to divinity is so inescapable (just read the Gospel of John) that I believe some Muslim leaders have resorted to accusing Christians of changing the scripture, though there is no evidence of this whatsoever. The content of the Bible was fixed permanently by the Church long before Muhammad was even born.

    Looking for the most explicit references:
    Luke 22:70 “And they all said, ‘Are You the Son of God, then?’ And He said to them, ‘Yes, I am.'”

    John 3:16-18 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

    John 10:36 “Do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘ I am the Son of God’?”

    John 1:49-50 “Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.’ Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.'”

    John 20:28 (Jesus does not correct Thomas)

    Matthew 27:43 “He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”

    John 19:7
    Luke 1:35
    Mark 1:1
    John 20:31

    These links provides biblical verses and historical evidence.

  6. Ken Yeh said

    I am a science and theology teacher at a Christian high school and and I have been given the privilege of teaching a senior theology course for students who will be pursuing careers in the sciences, to prepare them for what they will face when they enter secular colleges and universities. I recently started a blog aimed at providing resources for other Christian teachers and leaders who want to equip their students in issues dealing with science and theology.

    If I may include some links to recent posts that your readers may find helpful in this topic:
    The Caricaturization of Christians in Science
    The Conflict Thesis between Science and Christianity

  7. […] irony is that there would be no modern science without the Judeo-Christian tradition. Virtually all other religious traditions, those of the gentiles and pagans, thought of the […]

  8. Donald Boos said

    Science is far older than Christianity. The Egyptians Had science and the greatest library in existence until the radical Christians burned it down. If it weren’t for the inhibiting effect of the church Science would have progressed much faster in the middle ages. The Chinese were far more advanced than the Europeans. This article shows a complete ignorenc or history and blind repetition of religious propaganda.

  9. Spot on with this write-up, I actually think this web site needs much more attention. I’ll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the info!

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