Saturday, December 14, 2019

Science and Theology Both Require Faith!

Science is the study of nature. Theology is the study of God. It is a common teaching and belief that since nature is the material world and God is immaterial, science and theology embody two totally different ways of knowing and represent, as biologist Stephen Jay Gould taught, “two completely different, non-overlapping magisteria.” In her book, Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey explains that our culture has separated "truth" into two categories. Theology fits in one category which is subjective and unverifiable. The other category is considered to be verifiable: hard, factual, scientific knowledge.[1] The more I study science and the more I study theology, the more I find that the two categories actually overlap. There is absolutely no need to keep them separated; in fact, science itself depends on the understanding of nature ascribed by the Judeo-Christian worldview.

Both science and theology are concerned with knowing the truth about the world; both study the handiwork of God. One studies God’s inspired writings and attempts to interpret their meaning, while the other studies God’s creation and tries to make sense of it. Both use remarkably similar techniques! The Reverend Doctor John Polkinghorne, who has a doctorate in physics and is also ordained as an Anglican priest, notices the similarities between his two disciplines and states, “Theology, as much as science, must appeal to motivated belief arising from interpreted experience.”[2]

Both Christianity and science require faith. Both begin with presuppositions and assumptions that cannot be proven, both require intellectual acceptance of reasons supporting a particular belief or idea, both place trust in another person’s credibility, and both require a commitment leading to some form of life change.[3] Max Planck, the father of quantum theory, understood that the process of science requires several assumptions.

Science demands also the believing spirit. Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with.[4]

Faith – the Biblical definition more aptly worded as “trust”- is required by both disciplines.  Science and theology both surrender to assumptions that cannot be proven using empirical facts and instead depend on knowledge and reasons which are presupposed.

It has gone too little noticed that scientists are in a parallel situation to that of Christians: they also act in faith. As we have seen, the sciences have the common-sense presuppositions at their very foundation and cannot function without them. Moreover, the sciences cannot provide justification for these presuppositions, as scientists’ methods are already based on these presuppositions. Scientists, whether they realize it or not, trust that some other domain of knowledge outside the sciences has provided an appropriate justification or motivation for this common-sense foundation of scientific inquiry. Scientists have a faith commitment - a stance of trust – toward these common-sense presuppositions. This is a stock of knowledge scientists count on to do their work.[5]

Chapter 3 of Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins by Robert C. Bishop, et al., discusses the assumptions that are necessary to even begin to do science.[6] Scientists must assume that the external world actually exists, that our senses are reliable to provide us with information about that external world, and that we can use reason to think about the external world. These activities require that our minds be independent from the natural world! The process of science also assumes that nature is intelligible to our minds (which again requires that our minds be separate from the material world!) and we must also assume that nature behaves uniformly and consistently. The Judeo-Christian world view stands alone as the only one which is consistent with these assumptions and also provides grounding for why these assumptions can be made in the first place.
The very idea of searching out and discovering laws of nature presupposes this kind of uniformity to creation, and this is exactly the kind of world we might expect based on the [Christian] doctrine of creation’s insistence on functional integrity and the ministerial nature of creation.[7]

Both science and theology also assume that there is a single “truth” to discover; a truth about God as well as a truth about nature. Since we are never going to be able to collect all of the possible facts and evidence, absolute certainty about nature and about God will never be accomplished – but we still trust our discoveries as truth in the sense that what is discovered corresponds with reality.

Both disciplines look at evidence to determine an explanation for that evidence, and then both test the explanation by seeing if new evidence will fit with that description. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, describes the process of “doing theology”:  
1. Find all verses in the Bible relevant to the topic you want to study. 
2. Summarize the points made in the relevant versus.  
3. Summarize the teachings of the relevant versus into one or more points about that subject.  
4. Compare your summary to other writings on the subject and/or talk with others in the church about your summary.  
5. If your views are radically different from others writings on the subject, then you will need more evidence to modify or strengthen your position.  
When doing systematic theology, Grudem states:

…we are free to use our reasoning abilities to draw deductions from any passage of Scripture so long as these deductions do not contradict the clear teaching of some other passage of Scripture.[8]

Compare the above steps for “doing theology” to the commonly accepted steps for “doing science”:  
1. Collect relevant evidence.  
2. Evaluate (summarize) your evidence.  
3. Formulate a conclusion (one or two main points) based on your evidence.  
4. Submit your conclusions to a peer review process (allow others to compare your work).  
5. If your conclusions disagree with others, collect more evidence to either strengthen or modify your conclusion. 

Both depend on human interpretation of evidence. Science uses a peer review process and reproducible experiments to test the explanations. Theology uses peer review as well; others in the church cross check explanations with the latest research on the earliest recoverable Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts. Both use something a bit different as evidence, but the process to evaluate the evidence is very much the same. Both also refer to past experts for help, as Newton and Maxwell are part of any standard science text just as much as Augustine and Aquinas are part of a theology text; both areas have their accepted doctrines. Obviously, science and theology are studying different areas and usually are asking different types of questions (as they should, since they are different disciplines), but the process of science and the process of theology are very much in harmony, and both use hard, factual knowledge.

Modern science itself was born out of Christianity because reasoning and using evidence is what Christians did! To the early Christians, faith was believing because of the evidence.  Christianity, as described in the Bible, is itself “scientific” as it is historically based on evidence, testing, reason, and logic. Jesus continuously gave concrete examples and signs. In Mark 2, Jesus says he healed so that you may believe; he gave signs to show that he was the Christ. He was not afraid to show physical evidence to Thomas. In Acts, Paul reasonswith non-believers and Peter reminds people of the evidence they saw. John’s entire gospel is an evidential apologetic and explains his faith in his first epistle:

He opens his letter with the evidence of his own eyewitness encounter with Christ. Notice how many senses he appeals to:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life, and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us, what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also…
Then he closes his letter like this:
And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.
To John, faith wasn't a blind leap. It wasn't wishing on a star. It was grounded in evidence that led to knowledge. It was certain.[9]

The New Testament furnishes its readers with evidence of its claims and implores them to investigate what has been written. Faith, as described in the Bible, is based on evidence and reason—not merely a blind, subjective leap.  

The Biblical authors repeatedly encouraged their readers to search the evidence to investigate the claims of Christianity (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 and 1 John 4:1) so they could be convinced of the truth of these claims (Romans 14:5, 2 Timothy 1:8-12 and 2 Timothy 3:14). This encouragement is consistent with the notion that the evidence will lead us to a rational conclusion about the nature of Jesus. In fact, Jesus also encouraged his followers to consider the evidence he provided about his deity (John 14:11 and Acts 1:2-3). Christian faith is not blind. Instead, the Christian faith encourages investigation related to Jesus and to the world around us.[10]

If you really want to understand the world and the true nature of reality, you must not limit yourself to only one domain.  There is no reason why they can’t go hand in hand, as they have historically done.  Both science and Christian Theology can teach you truth and each can enhance the other; showing you two different symbiotic aspects of the universe. You can approach both Christianity and science using evidence, reason and logic.  When you do, you will discover how much they complement and enhance each other.  In Romans, we are told to look at nature to learn things about God, while knowing about the Creator can give us a different perspective on the creation.  As Rev. Dr. Polkinghorne says it:

…science describes only one dimension of the many-layered reality within which we live, restricting itself to the impersonal and general, and bracketing out the personal and unique.[11]

If interpreted experience is to be the basis of our understanding reality, then our concept of the nature of reality must be sufficiently extensive to be able to accommodate the richness of our experience.[12]

[1] Nancy R. Pearcey, Total Truth, Crossway Books, 2005
[2] John Polkinghorne, Quantum Physics and Theology, Yale University Press, 2007.
[3] Robert C. Bishop, Larry L. Funck, Raymond J. Lewis, Stephen O. Moshier, and John H. Walton, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins, 2018, page 52
[4] Max Planck, Where is Science Going, W.W. Norton, 1932, page 214
[5] Robert C. Bishop, Larry L. Funck, Raymond J. Lewis, Stephen O. Moshier, and John H. Walton, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins, 2018, page 50
[6] ibid
[7] ibid, page 44
[8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994.
[9] Gregory Koukl, Stand to Reason, Solid Ground, February 2000.
[11] John Polkinghorne, Exploring Reality, Yale University Press, 2005.
[12] Ibid.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Is the “Brute Reality” God, the Universe, or The Laws of Physics?

For thousands of years, the prevailing scientific view was that the universe was eternal – that it had always been here; that it was static and unchanging.  During those thousands of years, the Bible stood in direct opposition to that idea; teaching that the universe had a beginning and that God had existed eternally.  Since the 1960’s, the prevailing scientific view has been that the universe did indeed have a beginning; this has been used by Christian apologists as one piece of evidence that God does exist. 

This ultimate question of what has existed eternally is discussed by Jeff Zweerink near the end of his book, Escaping The Beginning.[1] The “brute reality” must either be God, the Universe, or a new eternal entity, proposed recently by Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking, the “Laws of Physics.”

Is the Universe Eternal?

This is a popular choice for the brute reality based on the success we have had finding purely natural explanations for phenomena.  Since inflation almost certainly happened, the universe is much larger than we can imagine or observe. If our current understanding of the mechanism for inflation is correct, then bubble universes exist and the Big Bang marks the beginning of space, matter, and time in our universe only.[2] Is it possible that inflation has been going on forever creating bubble universes and ours is only one of many universes? According to Arizona State Physicist Paul Davies, for eternal inflation to be the reality, there has to be some sort of universe generating mechanism which itself must to be exceedingly fine-tuned; the level of fine-tuning needed for this requires an explanation. The pre-inflationary patch of space which became our universe had exceedingly low entropy; what is the source of the quantum and gravitation laws that govern this? What is the source of the structure of space-time that allows this? These requirements make it more reasonable that the “brute reality” be something outside of the universe, such as God or the “Laws of Physics”.

Are the Laws of Physics Eternal?

Hawking and Krauss both agree that the universe had a beginning. Both of their proposed mechanisms for the beginning of the universe have theoretical backing and contain ideas anchored in known physics – but both also contain huge extrapolations from the known physics.[3] For Hawking and Krauss to be correct, the laws of physics must exist outside of space and time and must be eternal, and therefore must be self-existent.  The laws of physics must exist independently of anything physical and are prescriptive; therefore they have the power to create.[4] On this view, our ability to think and reason must also have emerged through a purely naturalistic process. The laws of physics must then be conscious in order to provide other entities with consciousness. A closer inspection of Hawking and Krauss show that the laws of physics producing the universe have similar attributes to those Christianity ascribes to God.[5]  Self-existent, causative, and conscious: If the “Laws of Physics” are the eternal entity they sure sound a lot like the common description of God.

Is God Eternal?

The God of the Bible has all the necessary attributes to explain the existence of the universe. The Biblical description of the universe and its creation matches all the essential features of all the Big Bang models:  constant laws of physics, expanding universe, increasing entropy, a beginning.[6] Experience has taught us that laws require a law-giver; if the universe is governed by laws, then it is reasonable to conclude that those laws were prescribed by a mind – especially since the properties of those laws begin to sound exactly like the Biblical God. In support of this premise is modeling work done in an area of theoretical physics called “Causal Dynamical Triangulation.” This work has demonstrated that causality is a necessary component of a stable, four-dimensional universe.[7] In other words, something beyond space and time encoded cause and effect into the very fabric of space-time.[8]

Many other areas of study – not only in science – make the conclusion of God as the eternal entity the most reasonable conclusion. We find information embedded in life.  We find that we are conscious and are able to study and understand the universe.  We find that mathematics is able to describe nature. We trust in our minds to think rationally and make reasonable conclusions. We have a sense that objective moral laws and duties actually exist. Evidence from philosophy, history, archaeology, and Biblical textual criticism also give support to the reasonable conclusion that the God of the Bible is the “brute reality” that has existed eternally. 

[1] Jeff Zweerink, Escaping the Beginning, Reasons To Believe, 2019, pages 158-160
[2] ibid, page 103
[3] ibid, page 141
[4] ibid, page 145
[5] ibid
[6] ibid, page 150
[7] ibid, page 50
[8] ibid

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Does Christianity Hinder Science?

The Synergetic Relationship Between Christianity & Science – Part 3
The Scientific Revolution

Christians see God as a Lawgiver, as a rational mind, and as the Creator. Because of this, the world must be rational, must follow prescribed laws, and must have a reason for its existence. Science is the way we study the world, the laws, and the reasons. Christian theology also teaches that man was created in the image of God, so we also have the ability to comprehend God’s laws and reasons. Therefore, science arose only once: In Christian Western Europe in the 17thcentury.

Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as His personal creation, thus having a rational stable structure, awaiting human comprehension. Christians developed science because they believed it could be done and they thought it should be done.[1]

…the proponents of a mechanical universe were driven by religious concerns, the debate between different forms of the mechanical philosophy was waged on religious grounds, and the success of the mechanical philosophy was hailed as a Christian triumph.[2]

In part 1of this post, I briefly showed with three examples how prominent Christian thinkers from the 5thcentury to the 8thcentury promoted science as a second way to know God’s truth. In part 2, I showed how science was not “held back” during the so-called “Dark Ages,” and instead continued to advance in church sponsored universities even to the point of foreshadowing Newton’s Laws and providing the scaffolding needed for Nicolaus Copernicus to make his contribution to science. In this post, I will show how science continued to advance after Copernicus because of Christianity, not in spite of it.
Since they believed it could be done, the vast majority of initial thinkers in science were Christians who did their investigations becauseof the Christian ideas they had about the universe. Copernicus was a church deacon who did astronomy in his spare time. Robert Boyle, father of modern chemistry, set up Christian apologetics lectures. Isaac Newton, discoverer of the universal laws of gravitation, finishes his Principiawith:

This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being...This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God.[3]

Johannes Kepler, discoverer of the laws of planetary motion, wrote:

The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.[4]

Newton, Boyle, Descartes, and Gassendi all subscribed to some version of the mechanical philosophy. They also believed in an all-wise, all-powerful God who had once created and still preserved this universe of matter in motion. None of these natural philosophers saw any conflict between the two beliefs; in fact, one might go so far as to say that they found these two creeds, Christianity and the mechanical philosophy, inseparable and equally necessary.[5]

Arno Penzias, Nobel Laureate and co-discoverer of the cosmic background radiation, says of Kepler’s philosophy: 

That really goes back to the triumph, not of Copernicus, but really the triumph of Kepler. That's because, after all, the notion of epicycles and so forth goes back to days when scientists were swapping opinions. All this went along until we had a true believer and this was Kepler. Kepler, after all, was the Old Testament Christian. Right? He really believed in God the Lawgiver. And so he demanded that the same God who spoke in single words and created the universe is not going to have a universe with 35 epicycles in it. And he said there's got to be something simpler and more powerful. Now he was lucky or maybe there was something deeper, but Kepler's faith was rewarded with his laws of nature. And so from that day on, it's been an awful struggle, but over long centuries, we find that very simple laws of nature actually do apply. And so that expectation is still with scientists. And it comes essentially from Kepler, and Kepler got it out of his belief in the Bible, as far as I can tell. This passionate belief turned out to be right. And he gave us his laws of motion, the first real laws of nature we ever had. And so nature turned out to redeem the expectations he had based on his faith. And scientists have adopted Kepler's faith, without the cause.[6]

One common charge against Christianity is that it “hinders scientific progress.” Any commonly accepted idea could hinder science—not just ones that Christians hold. The best example was the dogmatic adherence to Aristotle that hindered scientific progress for over 2000 years. The first people to openly disagree with Aristotle were either Christians or professors in church sponsored universities; these ideas lead eventually to the revolutionary idea of Nicolaus Copernicus (as discussed in my previous post). 

In the second half of the seventeenth century, a new philosophy of nature came into prominence. Although it was presented in many forms by the likes of Rene Descartes, Pierre Gassendi, and Robert Boyle, in all forms it treated matter as lifeless and inert, without any properties of its own. It also suggested that all natural phenomena could be explained by the mechanical interactions of matter in motion. This "mechanical philosophy" as it came to be called, was in strong contrast to the picture presented by the traditional philosophies, such as Aristotlelianism.[7]

It was another Christian, Galileo, who challenged the prevailing scientific view of the universe in the name of science. Most people at the time, including secular scientists, held the Aristotelian idea that the earth was at the center of the solar system and heavenly bodies moved in perfect circles. It was Kepler who showed planetary orbits to be ellipses. Christians were the ones actually pushing science forward in an age of scientific stagnation.

The main lesson to be drawn is that it was Galileo, a believer in the biblical worldview, who was advancing a better scientificunderstanding of the universe, not only, as we have seen, in opposition to some churchmen but against the resistance and the obscurantism of the secular philosophers of his time who, like the churchmen, were also convinced disciples of Aristotle.[8]

Another example of this was Louis Pasteur, a devout Christian credited with the discovery of germ theory. The prevailing view in Pasteur’s time was that microbes could spontaneously appear from chemicals and this was the cause of illness. Spontaneous generation disagrees with the Christian Doctrine of Creation, so Pasteur set out, with obvious success, to show that life appearing from non-life could not be correct. Based on his Christian beliefs, Pasteur was motivated to test a prevailing scientific theory to the benefit of mankind.
A current example of a theory holding back science is the belief that our DNA contains a vast amount of “junk” that has no function. Scientists held to this belief because it was one of the evidences for evolutionary theory and this “held back” science for 30 years. We are now discovering all kinds of function in “junk DNA” that we never bothered to look for earlier because of a dogmatic adherence to evolutionary theory. For example, these previously thought “non-coding” regions are showing a possible ability to “turn off” cancer cells; some promise for a possible cancer cure that was ignored because of the scientific dogma of junk DNA. Christianity is no more guilty of “holding back science” than any other commonly held idea that society sees as correct.
Christianity and science are not at odds, nor should they be at war. Because humans make mistakes, it is the interpretation of nature (science) and the interpretation of scripture (theology) that can be in conflict. As history has shown, both domains can work together, support each other, and learn from each other. When interpreted correctly, Christian scripture and nature should be in harmony; God created the universe and inspired the Bible, so both should agree. As it did with the early scientists, Christianity can provide inspiration and provide a reason and a rationale for why we should investigate nature. Discovering how the universe began or deciphering the ultimate nature of matter is a much richer activity when you can pair it with the knowledge of the One who created it all. 

[1]Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, Princeton University Press, 2003, page 147
[2]William B. Ashworth Jr., When Science & Christianity Meet, Lindberg & Numbers, editors, University of Chicago Press, 2003, page 61
[3]Isaac Newton, Principia, 1687
[4]Johannes Kepler, Astronomia nova, 1609
[5]William B. Ashworth Jr., When Science & Christianity Meet, Lindberg & Numbers, editors, University of Chicago Press, 2003, page 84
[6]Michael Bumbulis, Christianity and the Birth of Science
[7]William B. Ashworth Jr., When Science & Christianity Meet, Lindberg & Numbers, editors, University of Chicago Press, 2003, page 61
[8]John Lennox, in Just Thinking, RZIM, Volume 27.1, page 17

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Did Christianity Suppress Science in the "Dark Ages?" - Part 2

The Synergetic Relationship Between Science & Christianity - Part 2
The "Dark Ages"

Science and Christianity have traditionally complemented each other – even in the so called “Dark Ages” - and have been intimately connected throughout history. In part 1of this post, I briefly showed with three examples how prominent Christian thinkers from the 5th century to the 8th century promoted science as a second way to know God’s truth. Augustine was confident that we could use our reason and experience to read the book of nature because it was created by God. He wanted the interpretation of scripture to stay consistent with the cosmology and physics of the classical tradition and used the natural sciences in his role as a theologian and Bible interpreter. The Roman Senator Boethius and the English Monk Bede both had Christian worldviews that were not at all in conflict with a mechanistic universe governed by natural cause and effect.[1]In part 2, I will continue to look at how the Christian view of God as a lawgiver, a rational mind, and as the Creator gave rise to modern science.
Beginning with the University of Bologna in 1088, followed by Paris and Oxford before 1200, the invention of the church supported university had much – if not everything – to do with the “Scientific Revolution.” These universities, and the Christians who supported and ran them, provided the stimulus to translate Greek and Arabic texts – many of which concerned the knowledge of nature - into Latin. “If European Christians had been closed-minded to the earlier work of pagans, as the [“Dark Ages”] myth alleges, then what explains this ferocious appetite for translations?”[2]

The Franciscan cleric and university scholar Roger Bacon read much of the newly translated work … By evaluating this past work and introducing some controlled observations – what we now call experiments – Bacon brought the science of light to its most sophisticated stage of medieval development.[3]

Roger Bacon’s work from the 13th century, Opus Majus, is evidence enough that medieval Christians did not “hold back science!” If you need more evidence, consider that thirty percent of the medieval university liberal arts curriculum addressed what we would call science.[4]
Most “histories” about the “rise of science” begin with Copernicus and how his work brought about a drastic change in how people thought about the universe. This fiction ignores the fact that Copernicus received an excellent education at some of the best Christian universities of the time (Cracow, Bologna, Padua).  It also assumes that the idea of the Earth orbiting the sun came to him out of the blue, instead of simply adding the next implicit step to what the Scholastic scientists had formulated and taught for the past two centuries.[5]
To the Greeks, continuous motion required continuous force; this thought about the heavenly bodies continued through Aquinas in the 13th century. Because of his belief that space was a vacuum, William of Ockham broke from this tradition in the 14th century by arguing that a body in motion may not require continuous pushing and once a body had been set in motion by God, it would remain in motion.[6]Jean Buridan, rector at the University of Paris, extended on this idea, anticipating Newton’s First Law of Motion.

[When moving the celestial orbs, God] impressed upon them impetuses which moved them without His having to move them any more … And these impetuses which He impressed in the celestial bodies were not decreased nor corrupted afterwards because there was no inclination of the celestial bodies for other movements. Nor was there resistance which could be corruptive or repressive of that impetus.[7]

Buridan then proposed that the Earth turns on its axis. Objections to the Earth moving, such as why there is not a constant wind and why arrows do not land far away from their origin, were addressed in the 14th century by both Nicole d’Oresme and Albert of Saxony with explanations that sound a lot like Newton’s inertia.[8]Christian university professors began to teach that sunrise and sunset could be caused by the rotation of the earth; in the 14th century it was no longer necessary to assume that the sun circled the Earth![9]
Nicholas of Cusa took the next step in the 15th century:

[Nicholas] noted that, “as we see from its shadow in eclipses, … the earth is smaller than the sun” but larger than the moon or Mercury, Nicholas went on to observe (as had Buridan and d’Oresme) that “whether a man is on the earth, or the sun, or some other star, it will always seem to him that the position he occupies is the motionless centre, and that all other things are in motion.” It followed that humans need not trust their perception that the earth is stationary, perhaps it isn’t.[10]

All of the theorizing of Ockham, Buridan, d’Oresme, Albert, and Nicholas was known prior to Copernicus and taught at the Christian centered universities!  The scientific revolution did not begin with Copernicus, he simply took the logical next step.[11]
Science and Christianity have traditionally complemented each other and have been intimately connected throughout history. Science was not “held back” during the so-called “Dark Ages.” In fact, scientific thought continued to move forward, even foreshadowing Newton’s Laws and providing the scaffolding needed for Copernicus, a canon in the Catholic Church, to make his contribution to science.

If the medieval church had intended to discourage or suppress science, it certainly made a colossal mistake in tolerating – to say nothing of supporting – the university. In this new institution, Greco-Arabic science and medicine for the first time found a permanent home, one that – with various ups and downs – science has retained to this day. Dozens of universities introduced large numbers of students to Euclidean geometry, optics, the problems of generation and reproduction, the rudiments of astronomy, and the arguments for the sphericity of the earth.[12]

[1]Michael Newton Keas, Unbelievable, ISI Books, 2019, page 35
[2]Ibid, page 37
[5]Rodney Stark, For The Glory of God, Princeton University Press, 2003, page 135
[6]Ibid, page 136
[8]Ibid, page 137
[10]Ibid, page 138
[12]Michael Shank, as quoted by Michael Newton Keas, Unbelievable, ISI Books, 2019, page 37

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Did Christianity Suppress Science in the "Dark Ages?"

The Synergetic Relationship Between Science & Christianity - Part 1
The "Dark Ages"

In the Middle Ages, as most people believe, it is correct that some of the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, & Galen (the “Classical tradition”) caused suspicion, hostility, and condemnation from the church.  But more often, critical reflection about the nature of the world was tolerated and even encouraged by medieval religious leaders. Many of the church fathers had been educated in the classical tradition before converting to Christianity and had acquired habits of rational inquiry. They used these tools to help develop Christian doctrine and to help defend the faith against detractors.[2]For example, Aristotle’s philosophy could be used to rationally argue the existence of God.

Consequently, many of the church fathers expressed at least limited approval of the classical tradition.  For example, the second and third century writers Athenagoras, Clement, and Origen all found Greek philosophy a useful tool in the defense of Christianity.  Athenagoras marshaled the authority of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics in favor of monotheism.  Clement attacked the earliest Greek philosophers for their atheism. But he [Clement] also acknowledged that certain philosophers and poets bore testimony to the truth, and that within the philosophical tradition there is a “slender spark, capable of being fanned into flame, a trace of wisdom and an impulse from God.” Tertullian himself viewed Christian religion as the fulfillment of Greek rationality, and he both advocated and engaged in philosophical activity.[3]

Medieval Scholastics deeply valued Aristotle and his writings and believed that his teachings on reason could be incorporated into church theology.  Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine), one of the most important Christian church fathers during the 4thand 5thcentury, wrote at length about the connection between the Genesis account in the Bible and the natural sciences contained in the classical tradition. Augustine had no problem using natural science to help interpret scripture.  Roger Bacon agreed with Augustine.  

His goal was to demonstrate that the pagan learning of the classical tradition was a vital resource, capable of offering essential services to theology and the church; and moreover that it posed no insuperable religious threat, that suitably disciplined and purged of error, it would serve as a faithful handmaiden of religion and the church.[4]

Augustine was confident that we could use our reason and experience to read the book of nature because it was created by God. He wanted the interpretation of scripture to stay consistent with the cosmology and physics of the classical tradition and used the natural sciences in his role as a theologian and bible interpreter. Christians should think of Scripture and Creation as two “books” that should be read together for understanding of the fullness of God’s self-revelation; science is a God-given tool for discerning the handiwork of God in Creation and is fully compatible with God’s Word revealed in Scripture. In terms of actual science, Augustine argued in Confessionsthat time itself is part of the created order and that the universe was created out of nothing;[5]two ideas that modern science didn’t agree with for over 1500 years.
Another Christian in the late 5thand early 6thcentury, the Roman senator Boethius established a foundational scientific concept that we now call “natural laws” by expressing how inanimate nature obeys God’s rules.[6]Work done by the English monk Bede in the late 7thand early 8thcentury “became a model for a purely physical description of the results of the divine creation, devoid of allegorical interpretation, and using the accumulated teachings of the past, both Christian and pagan.”[7]Both Boethius’ and Bede’s Christian worldview was not at all in conflict with a mechanistic universe governed by natural cause and effect.[8]
Science and Christianity have complemented each other – even in the so called “Dark Ages” - and have been intimately connected throughout history. In part 2 I will continue to look at how the Christian view of God as a lawgiver, a rational mind, and as the Creator gave rise to modern science.

[2]David C. Linderg, When Science and Christianity Meet, University of Chicago Press, 2003
[3]David C. Linderg, When Science and Christianity Meet, University of Chicago Press, 2003, page 12
[4]ibid, page 24
[5]Kenneth Richard Samples, Classic Christian Thinkers, Reasons to Believe, 2019
[6]Michael Newton Keas, Unbelievable, ISI Books, 2019, page 35
[7]Bruce S. Eastwood, “Early-Medieval Cosmology, Astronomy, and Mathematics,” in Cambridge History of Science: Volume 2, 307
[8]Michael Newton Keas, Unbelievable, ISI Books, 2019, page 35