Science as we know it today would not be the same without its Christian roots:
To speak of Western civilisation is to speak about Christian civilisation to a very large degree. Without Christianity (and the Judaism that preceded it), the West as we know it today would simply not exist. One of the most recent commentators to make this case is Tucker Carlson. A few weeks ago he gave a speech on how Western civilisation is under attack.
He emphasised how the secular left is really at war with Christianity itself. As he said in part: “Why are they doing this? The goal is to overthrow Western civilization. What is Western civilization? It’s Christian civilization. That’s what it is.”
Entire libraries are filled with the volumes documenting how so much of the West is the product of Christianity. Some months ago, I listed twenty top books on how Christianity made our world. It included titles such as How Christianity Changed the World and What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? That piece is found here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/06/06/top-20-books-on-how-christianity-changed-our-world/
Christianity and Science
Simply looking at the arena of science is enough to show any unbiased observer what a remarkable contribution Christians have made here. Even non-Christians have acknowledged all this. For example, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, in America’s Real War (Multnomah, 1999) put it this way:
“Well over 90 percent of all the scientific discoveries of the past thousand years have been made in nations where Christianity is the prevailing religion. Virtually every major discovery in physics, medicine, chemistry, mathematics, electricity, nuclear physics, mechanics and just about everything else has taken place in Christian countries.”
And consider this stunning remark by the atheist blogger Tim O’Neill from a decade ago:
It’s not hard to kick this nonsense to pieces, especially since the people presenting it know next to nothing about history and have simply picked up these strange ideas from websites and popular books. The assertions collapse as soon as you hit them with hard evidence. I love to totally stump these propagators by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one – scientist burned, persecuted, or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents usually scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong. http://www.strangenotions.com/gods-philosophers/
Of interest, this excerpt was taken from a book review he had penned. I happen to have the book, and it could easily have been included in my top 20 listing (along with many others). I refer to the very important volume God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam, (Icon Books, 2010). It was released in America as The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (Regnery, 2011).
There is so much that can be said about this crucial volume. Perhaps the best I can do here is simply quote from it, hoping that will encourage you to get a copy. In his introduction he says this:
Popular opinion, journalistic cliché, and misinformed historians notwithstanding, recent research has shown that the Middle Ages was a period of enormous advances in science, technology and culture. The compass, paper, printing, stirrups, and gunpowder all appeared in western Europe between 500 and 1500 AD. True, these inventions originated in the Far East, but Europeans developed them to a far higher degree than had been the case elsewhere….
Meanwhile, the people of medieval Europe invented spectacles, the mechanical clock, the windmill, and the blast furnace by themselves. Lenses and cameras, almost all kinds of machinery and the industrial revolution itself all owe their origins to the forgotten inventors of the Middle Ages. Just because we don’t know their names does not mean that we should not recognise their achievements.
Most significantly, the Middle Ages laid the foundation for the greatest achievement of western civilisation, modern science. It is simply untrue to say that there was no science before the “Renaissance.” Once medieval scholars got their hands on the work of the classical Greeks, they developed systems of thought that allowed science to travel far further than it had in the ancient world. Universities, where academic freedom was guarded from royal interference, were first founded in the twelfth century. These institutions have always provided scientific research with a safe home. Even Christian theology turned out to be uniquely suited to encouraging the study of the natural world, which was believed to be God’s creation.
In some 350 pages the Oxford and Cambridge historian of science discusses all this in great detail. Along the way many of the myths and misinformation so many modern secularists have about the Medieval Ages are put to rest. As but one example:
Another modern misconception about the medieval Christian worldview is that people thought the central position of the earth meant that it was somehow exalted. In fact, to the medieval mind, the reverse was the case. The universe was a hierarchy and the further from the earth you travelled, the closer to Heaven you came. . . . The hierarchical system gave people absolute directions of up and down, one towards the heavens and one down to earth at the bottom of the celestial ladder. To move the earth away from the centre of the universe was not to downgrade its importance but to raise it up to the stars.
But let me finish with a few paragraphs from his closing chapter:
Much of the technology we take for granted today, like the computer upon which this book was written, would not exist but for the achievements of modern science. In the Middle Ages, technology and engineering did not owe anything to natural philosophy. The relationship was the other way around. Technical advances gave natural philosophers clues about how the world worked as well as providing the equipment that they needed to investigate it. They could not point to any practical benefits of their work, still less applications that proved their theories were correct. This meant that they needed other ways of justifying their activities.
The metaphysical cornerstone of modern science is often overlooked. We take it for granted and we do not worry about why people began studying nature in the first place. Today you can enhance the credentials of any outlandish theory you like by labelling it ‘scientific’, as advertisers and quacks well appreciate. But back in the Middle Ages, science did not enjoy the automatic authority that it has today.
To understand why science was attractive even before it could demonstrate its remarkable success in explaining the universe, it is necessary to look at things from a medieval point of view. The starting point for all natural philosophy in the Middle Ages was that nature had been created by God. This made it a legitimate area of study because through nature, man could learn about its creator. Mediaeval scholars thought that nature followed the rules that God had ordained for it. Because God was consistent and not capricious, these natural laws were constant and worth scrutinising. However, these scholars rejected Aristotle’s contention that the laws of nature were bound by necessity. God was not constrained by what Aristotle thought. The only way to find out which laws God had decided on was by the use of experience and observation. The motivations and justification of mediaeval natural philosophers were carried over almost unchanged by the pioneers of modern science. Sir Isaac Newton explicitly stated that he was investigating God’s creation, which was a religious duty because nature reflects the creativity of its maker.
Let me again quote O’Neill from his review of this valuable volume: “This is a marvelous book and a brilliant, readable, and accessible antidote to ‘the Myth’. It should be on the Christmas wish-list of any Medievalist, science history buff, or anyone who has a misguided friend who still thinks the nights in the Middle Ages were lit by burning scientists.”
This is just one of so many books we could examine to see the role that Christianity played in the development of the West, including in the area of science. Indeed, simply to list many of the well-known scientists who also strongly believed in God would make the case. Consider just some of them:
Physics—Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Kelvin, Damadian
Chemistry—Boyle, Dalton, Ramsay
Biology—Ray, Linnaeus, Mendel, Pasteur, Virchow, Agassiz, Chain, Paulescu
Geology—Steno, Woodward, Brewster, Buckland, Cuvier
Astronomy—Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Herschel, Maunder
Mathematics—Pascal, Leibnitz, Euler
As the Oxford mathematician and Christian John Lennox once put it: “Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Mendal, Pasteur, Kelvin, and Clerk-Maxwell were all theists, most of them Christians. Their belief in God, far from being a hindrance to their science, was often the main inspiration for it.”
Hannam of course discusses most of these individuals. The bogus claim that Christianity is somehow anti-scientific is simply the stuff of irate misotheists who refuse to see that without Christianity modern science simply would not have been born. As I stated in a previous piece on this:
Some religions, like Judaism have made many contributions to the civilised world. Others have been much less involved in Western progress. As [historian Rodney] Stark and others have demonstrated, only those religions that have had a place for reason and logic have had a real impact on science, progress and technology. The Judeo-Christian worldview certainly gives reason a good run.
Thus important thinkers such as Alfred North Whitehead and Robert Oppenheimer – neither of them Christian – have argued that modern science could not have developed were it not for the Christian worldview that provided the soil from which it arose. The greatest achievements of Western civilisation are mainly, but not completely, the results of the Judeo-Christian mindset. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2006/12/17/christianity-development-and-progress/
It is hoped that this piece will be the first in an irregular series of articles on Christianity and Civilisation. I hope to next look at the area of music and the great composers, so stay tuned.