Today, I received a comment to the CADRE blog entry I wrote on the outlandish "Beyond Belief" conference that I thought was so misguided and so typical that I thought I would highlight it here. What the writer wrote is this:
It's very interesting that Christian must downplay science. They always have. They always will. Sad, really.
I don't know how to say this without insulting the writer (hence, my not using his name directly in this post), but that really is a foolish and ill-informed statement. The idea that somehow Christianity has been the roadblock to scientific endeavor is the biggest myth that has been handed down over the past 500 years. You see, it isn't just wrong, it's so completly out of sinc with the truth as to be Twilight Zone material. Here's the truth -- in all of the cultures in the world, science became a legitimate field of inquiry only in Western Europe because Western Europe was Christian.
Christianity isn't just in favor of science -- it was only in Christian society that science could advance beyond the speculations of the ancient Greeks.
Rodney Stark, Ph.D., is University Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University. Among his Academic honors is a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his book The Rise of Christianity. In 2003, while still Professor of Sociology and of Comparative Religion, University of Washington, Dr. Stark wrote an article for The American Enterprise entitled "False Conflict: Christianity Is Not Only Compatible with Science—It Created It," which has been published on the Internet in a truncated version as Catholicism and Science. Here's what Dr. Stark says:
Popular lore, movies, and children’s stories hold that in 1492 Christopher Columbus proved the world is round and in the process defeated years of dogged opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, which insisted that the earth is flat. These tales are rooted in books like A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, an influential reference by Andrew Dickson White, founder and first president of Cornell University. White claimed that even after Columbus’ return "the Church by its highest authority solemnly stumbled and persisted in going astray."
The trouble is, almost every word of White’s account of the Columbus story is a lie. All educated persons of Columbus’ day, very much including the Roman Catholic prelates, knew the earth was round. The Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) taught that the world was round, as did Bishop Virgilius of Salzburg (c. 720-784), Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), and Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224-74). All four ended up saints. Sphere was the title of the most popular medieval textbook on astronomy, written by the English scholastic John of Sacrobosco (c. 1200-1256). It informed that not only the earth but all heavenly bodies are spherical.
So, why does the fable of the Catholic Church’s ignorance and opposition to the truth persist? Because the claim of an inevitable and bitter warfare between religion and science has, for more than three centuries, been the primary polemical device used in the atheist attack on faith. The truth is, there is no inherent conflict between religion and science. Indeed, the fundamental reality is that Christian theology was essential for the rise of science—a fact little appreciated outside the ranks of academic specialists.
The article goes on to explain how it was only in Western Europe where Christianity was the dominant religion that alchemy became chemistry and astrology became astronomy. This wasn't mere coincidence. Rather, it was the result of the Christian mindset that the commentor (and the hatred-blind New Atheists) apparently don't recognize or don't understand.
. . . Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being, and the universe as his personal creation. The natural world was thus understood to have a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting (indeed, inviting) human comprehension.
Christians developed science because they believed it could—and should—be done. Alfred North Whitehead, the great philosopher and mathematician, co-author with Bertrand Russell of the landmark Principia Mathematica, credited "medieval theology" for the rise of science. He pointed to the "insistence on the rationality of God," which produced the belief that "the search into nature could only result in the vindication of the faith."
Whitehead ended with the remark that the images of God found in other religions, especially in Asia, are too impersonal or too irrational to have sustained science. A God who is capricious or unknowable gives no incentive for humans to dig deeply into his essence. Moreover, most non-Christian religions don’t posit a creation. If the universe is without beginning or purpose, has no Creator, is an inconsistent, unpredictable, and arbitrary mystery, there is little reason to explore it. Under those religious premises, the path to wisdom is through meditation and mystical insights, and there is no occasion to celebrate reason.
Dr. Stark's view is not unique. Consider the following from a talk entitled "Science and Christianity" by Hieronymus on Bede's Library (Bede's Library often has trained and practicing historians author articles under psudonyms so as to protect them from the fear of repercussions in the heavily secular universities):
Christians believe in "God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth", whom, they assert, brought all things into being out of nothingness.
This means, then, that for Christians the universe is readable. It may be terrifyingly vast. It may be incredibly complex. It may even be subject to a large degree of chance and random circumstance. It will however, be intelligible, and rational minds, given enough time and information, will be able to discern its patterns. These patterns will not be figments of the perceiving minds. These are present in the universe itself, because it is the creation of a rational intelligence, and because it has existence independent of perceiving minds. (If a tree falls in the forest and there's no-one around, does it make a sound? Yes.) Further, God (Christians assert) is not the universe. The universe is not God. While God's sustaining power is necessary for its existence, it is distinct and separate from Him.
These beliefs constitute one of Christianity's great intellectual strengths - its cosmology and philosophy of nature. Modern science was born and raised primarily in Western Christendom precisely because of these ideas. Other cultures and systems of thought certainly contributed to the emergence of science, and had their own discoveries in mathematics or astronomy, but it was only in the intellectual matrix of Christianity that empirical and experimental science as we know it was established.
Despite the widespread belief (based on polemics of the "pro-scientism" crowd) that Christianity has stood in the way of scientific progress, it is just the opposite. Without Christianity, science would not have come into being -- or at least, we don't know for certain that it would have come into being. After all, while science admittedly was birthed in Classical Greek, there is some question as to what would have motivated the Greeks to continue to do science. Some have speculated that the Greeks, while great at philosophy, lacked the motivation and the worldview (see, some details in the ealier mentioned Hieronymus article) to engage in in-depth scientific research. If this is true, then it was only in the context of Christianity that science could advance as it did.
Am I saying that small minded people under the guise of Christianity have never stood in the way of scientific advancement? Of course I'm not saying anything like that. As Hiernymous points out: "sometimes Christians are massively, bone headedly, and dogmatically wrong in their claims to have absolute knowledge of the world." Certainly, some people find anything that opposes their overly-literalistic view of the Bible to be offensive. But we are looking to broader issues here. And the broader worldview of Christianity not only supports science, it openly invites scientific investigation. Christianity properly understood encourages people to enter the sciences and study God's creation. The results of such study, when not dragged down by the materialisitic presuppositions of those who believe not in science but scientism (such as the New Atheists and the participants in the Beyond Belief conference), gives insights into the Creator Himself.
That's not downplaying science. That's elevating science. It just doesn't buy into the stifled view of reality that scientism demands and which atheists see as the only way to properly do science. That's what's truly sad.