Saturday, June 17, 2006

Christianity and Science- Part One

An article written by Nancy Pearcey entitled 'Christianity Is a Science-Starter, Not a Science-Stopper' can be accessed at the referenced website. A part of it is quoted with my identified comments included.

"The default position for many Americans in the Blue States seems to be that Christianity is a "science stopper"--that religion implies a world of perpetual miracle, closing off the search for natural causes.[3] This is often coupled with the familiar cliché that over the centuries the Christian church has intimidated, silenced, and persecuted scientists. A few months ago, a journalist repeated the shop-worn stereotype, writing that "proponents of Copernicus' theory were denounced as heretics and burned at the stake."[4] A columnist recently wrote that Copernicus "scandalized the world--and more important, the Catholic Church--with his theory of heliocentric cosmology." The same pattern continues today, the columnist goes on: "The conflict of religion and science sounds all too familiar. Darwin still has trouble getting past creationist gatekeepers in some school districts."[5] The story of conflict does sound familiar, because it is the standard interpretation of history taught all through the public education system. In fact, it is so widely accepted that often it is treated not as an interpretation at all, but simply as a fact of history. Yet, surprising as it may sound, among historians of science, the standard view has been soundly debunked. Most historians today agree that the main impact Christianity had on the origin and development of modern science was positive. Far from being a science stopper, it is a science starter."

[Bradford]: Pearcey is attempting to substitute historic facts where distortion and untruth currently hold sway. As she has done in the past Pearcey is identifying and debunking a pernicious myth that portrays Christianity as a hindrance to scientific progress.

"One reason this dramatic turn-around has not yet filtered down to the public is that the history of science is still quite a young field. Only fifty years ago, it was not even an independent discipline. Over the past few decades, however, it has blossomed dramatically, and in the process, many of the old myths and stereotypes that we grew up with have been toppled. Today the majority view is that Christianity provided many of the crucial motivations and philosophical assumptions necessary for the rise of modern science."[6]

[Bradford]: Fair enough but this does not explain why these myths and stereotypes developed in the first place. Understanding that entails acknowledging a duality of thinking that has pervaded western thinking since the inception of Christianity. Since the apostles first began spreading Christianity in the first century there has existed a large segment of society hostile to its message. The open persecution of the Roman era ceased but opposition to Christianity continued; taking more subtle approaches since then. Anti-Christian elements in the west have succeeded in making their viewpoints predominant and thought of as mainstream thinking. This is evident in inaccurate descriptions of key events in history. Nancy Pearcey accurately documents these events.

"In one sense, this should come as no surprise. After all, modern science arose in one place and one time only: It arose out of medieval Europe, during a period when its intellectual life was thoroughly permeated with a Christian worldview. Other great cultures, such as the Chinese and the Indian, often developed a higher level of technology and engineering. But their expertise tended to consist of practical know-how and rules of thumb. They did not develop what we know as experimental science--testable theories organized into coherent systems. Science in this sense has appeared only once in history. As historian Edward Grant writes, "It is indisputable that modern science emerged in the seventeenth century in Western Europe and nowhere else."[7]

This fact is certainly suggestive, and it has prompted scholars to ask why it is that modern science emerged only out of medieval Europe. Sociologist of religion Rodney Stark identified the 52 figures who made the most significant contributions to the scientific revolution, then researched biographical sources to discover their religious views. He found that among the top contributors to science, surprisingly only two were skeptics (Paracelsus and Edmund Halley).

Stark then subdivided his subjects once again into those who were "conventional" in their religious views (that is, their writings exhibit the conventional religious views of the time), and those who were "devout" (their writings express a strong personal investment). The resulting numbers show that more than 60 percent of those who jumpstarted the scientific revolution were religiously "devout."[8] Clearly, holding a Christian worldview posed no barrier to doing excellent scientific work, and even seems to have provided a positive inspiration."

[Bradford]: But you would never grasp this based on information imparted in our educational institutions from elementary levels on up. Pearcey emphasizes that far from being a hindrance to science, Christian influences led to its pursuit by early scientific pioneers. In addition the fact that science did not evolve in cultures lacking a significant Christian influence is not lost on Pearcey nor should it be on her readers.

What were the key elements in that inspiration? Let's highlight several basic principles by drawing a series of contrasts to other religions and philosophies. If we make the claim that Christianity played a causative role in the rise of modern science, to be scientific about the matter, we must also rule out other possible causes. Since as a matter of historical fact, no other religion or philosophy did play the same causative role, the best way to phrase the question is, Why didn't they?

[Bradford]: Good question and not one likely to be pursued by those who would depict science and Christianity as inherently in conflict.


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