Monday, October 21, 2013

No, Christianity Didn't Give Us Science


Many Christians loudly proclaim that Christianity made possible the modern scientific revolution and that other religions or beliefs would have made it impossible for science to flourish. They'll point to key figures in science who were Christian and use it to make the claim that faith and science are perfectly compatible. A Christian I was debating with made a post over on his blog arguing that faith and science are indeed compatible, and he quoted the Christian philosopher of science John Lennox to make the point. I just had to respond, given Lennox's failure to make a convincing argument. From Lennox's book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? he quotes:


C. S. Lewis’ . . . view is worth noting: ‘Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.’ It was this conviction that led Francis Bacon, regarded by many as the father of modern science, to teach that God has provided us with two books — the book of Nature and the Bible — and that to be really properly educated, one should give one’s mind to studying both.
Many of the towering figures of science agreed. Men such as Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin, and Clerk Maxwell were theists; most of them, in fact, were Christians. Their belief in God, far from being a hindrance to their science, was often the main inspiration for it and they were not shy of saying so. The driving force behind Galileo’s questing mind, for example, was his deep inner conviction that the Creator who had ‘endowed us with senses, reason and intellect’ intended us not to ‘forgo their use and by some other means give us knowledge which we can attain by them.’ Johannes Kepler described his motivation thus: ‘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.’


First, I’m not a huge fan of Lennox, but at least he is not, from what I understand, a creationist who denies evolution. So he gets a point for that. Second, it might be important to know that in Galileo’s day, you had to profess Christian faith. This was back when the Church was the State. If you publicly denied Christ or god you’d be burned at the stake. Galileo spent the last decade of his life under house arrest because he dared challenge the orthodoxy of the day that the Earth was NOT the center of the universe. And in 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned alive for saying the same thing and for believing there might be other forms of life out in space. Galileo was aware of this and it silenced him. Thus it took many centuries and hurdles to get scientific facts accepted because Christianity held them back.

It was not until Darwin that it became safe enough to profess agnosticism or atheism, but even then there were massive social persecutions. But once religion’s power grip loosened, science began to flourish faster.

The ancient Greeks and Romans faced the same problems when Christianity came to power. Atomism was banned as blasphemy, even though it was correct 2,400 years ago. And the dark ages fell over Europe. The Church stagnated scientific progress. In China, there were actually more advances in technology before the modern era, we just hear history from a Western perspective. The compass, gunpowder, papermaking, and printing, were all invented in China centuries before Europeans had them. (See here.) And the Islamic Golden Age made advances in astronomy, math and science before the modern scientific revolution in Europe. So it is not true at all that Christianity can be thanked for science. The foundations of it go way back before Christianity. The main reason why science has thrived in Europe for the last ~400 years is because of European colonialism that made Europe rich off of the slaves labor and exploited resources it received from oppressing other people and conquering their lands. Plus its proximity to the Middle East and through the Silk Road to Asia, ideas from the East could spread into Europe. (Read Jared Diamond's excellent work, Guns, Germs & Steel.)

Most Christians today are anti-science. More than half don’t accept evolution. Same is true of Muslims. That’s not true of the Chinese. Or the Japanese. Or most of Europe today which is largely secular and post-religious. The more Christian a country is today, the more uneducated they tend to be on science. Atheists make up 60 percent of scientists and 90 percent of elite scientists in the US. And there are no shortage of scientists and engineers in China, Korea and Japan where they are wooping our ass in these fields. And here in the US it’s the anti-science creationist that holds us back in part. 50 percent of Americans think the world is less than 10,000 years old. That’s an embarrassment.

For a great majority of the Christian scientists during the early centuries of the scientific revolution, denying Christianity wouldn’t be compatible with staying alive. Science thus flourished in spite of Christianity's domination, not because of it. There is a conflict between faith and science; the two are incompatible. One is about evidence, the other is about faith. Now the only way to deal with it is either to compartmentalize your different views or to deny all the science that is conflicts with your faith.



16 comments:

  1. Or even "burned at the stake".

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  2. Good grief. I don't even know where to begin on this mess of a post.

    Let's start with:

    "Galileo spent the last decade of his life under house arrest because he dared challenge the orthodoxy of the day that the Earth was NOT the center of the universe."

    Galileo wasn't imprisoned because he supported a heliocentric model. He was imprisoned for political reasons. He was far from the only one who espoused these beliefs, and not even the first. However, he had enemies and rivals.

    "And in 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned alive for saying the same thing and for believing there might be other forms of life out in space. Galileo was aware of this and it silenced him. Thus it took many centuries and hurdles to get scientific facts accepted because Christianity held them back."

    More rubbish. Bruno died because he made the wrong enemies. While it's true that the Church was the method used to kill him, that is only because it was the instrument of power most convenient to deal with him for those that disliked him.

    In fact, both men's downfalls were not playing politics correctly. There were plenty of astronomers whose reputations and careers rested on a geocentric model, and they were the ones ultimately to blame. Even wikipedia has this stuff clear as day, do you don't need to have any particular history education (which you clearly do not) to know this.

    Moving on:

    "The ancient Greeks and Romans faced the same problems when Christianity came to power. Atomism was banned as blasphemy, even though it was correct 2,400 years ago. "

    Do you honestly conflate Atomism the PHILOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT with science? Really? You even posted the wikipedia link which clearly lays out that it was not a scientific movement, but a philosophical one.

    Here's another rich one:

    "And the dark ages fell over Europe."

    Historians haven't used the term 'dark ages' in decades if they were serious at all. The Dark Ages wasn't a thing. It never happened. And your sly implication that Christianity was the cause of the Dark Ages is equally ignorant.

    ". In China, there were actually more advances in technology before the modern era, we just hear history from a Western perspective."

    Hmmm, let's see, what did China have that Europe didn't? Oh, I know, a functioning central government and stability. But yes, it's Christianity's fault that a lack of central government didn't exist, right?

    "The main reason why science has thrived in Europe for the last ~400 years is because of European colonialism that made Europe rich off of the slaves labor and exploited resources it received from oppressing other people and conquering their lands."

    What? Are you serious? I don't even know where to begin with this statement. There isn't a single credible historian on the planet who says that Europe's scientific progress was the RESULT of colonization and expansion. You are aware that the rise of Europe couldn't have happened without that very same technological revolution, right? You are basically giving a circular argument. "Europe thrived because Europe thrived". Do you always say such empty things?

    Here's my favourite though:

    "Most Christians today are anti-science. More than half don’t accept evolution. "

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_support_for_evolution#Support_for_evolution_by_religious_bodies

    Do you enjoy making things up? This post went from trying to argue against the idea that Christians are very pro science, a possibly plausible argument, to outright lying and claiming that they are outright anti-science, an absurdity.


    You give atheists a bad name.

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  3. Galileo wasn't imprisoned because he supported a heliocentric model. He was imprisoned for political reasons. He was far from the only one who espoused these beliefs, and not even the first. However, he had enemies and rivals.


    Are you kidding me? Where are your sources for this theory that it was really all just politics and had nothing to do with Galileo's unorthodox scientific beliefs? The problem the Church had with Galileo is well known. see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_affair#Trial

    More rubbish. Bruno died because he made the wrong enemies. While it's true that the Church was the method used to kill him, that is only because it was the instrument of power most convenient to deal with him for those that disliked him.

    Do you know what he was charged with?

    -holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith and speaking against it and its ministers;
    -holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith about the Trinity, divinity of Christ, and Incarnation;
    -holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith pertaining to Jesus as Christ;
    -holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith regarding the virginity of Mary, mother of Jesus;
    -holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith about both Transubstantiation and Mass;
    -claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity;
    -believing in metempsychosis and in the transmigration of the human soul into brutes;
    -dealing in magics and divination.

    These are all theological/scientific differences with the Church. That's why he was disliked. The fact that you could be imprisoned/executed for merely espousing unorthodox beliefs proves my point.

    See here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno#Imprisonment.2C_trial_and_execution.2C_1593.E2.80.931600

    Do you honestly conflate Atomism the PHILOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT with science? Really? You even posted the wikipedia link which clearly lays out that it was not a scientific movement, but a philosophical one.


    In the ancient days there was no distinction between science and philosophy. People like Aristotle were both scientists and philosophers. That's how science was done back then.

    Historians haven't used the term 'dark ages' in decades if they were serious at all. The Dark Ages wasn't a thing. It never happened. And your sly implication that Christianity was the cause of the Dark Ages is equally ignorant.

    The Dark Ages were a time of scientific stagnation in Europe. It happened right at the time Christianity took over. Were there political influences? Sure. But Christianity sure didn't flourish science at this time and it was in the Middle East and in Asia when many scientific discoveries and advances were happening.

    Hmmm, let's see, what did China have that Europe didn't? Oh, I know, a functioning central government and stability. But yes, it's Christianity's fault that a lack of central government didn't exist, right?

    All your statement would prove would be that stable governments are the greatest instruments for scientific advancement and NOT Christianity. So you're arguing against your position.



    ReplyDelete
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    1. "Are you kidding me? Where are your sources for this theory that it was really all just politics and had nothing to do with Galileo's unorthodox scientific beliefs? The problem the Church had with Galileo is well known. see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_affair#Trial"

      Read a book. I am not interested in detailing the history of the court politics in Rome at the time. Both Galileo and Bruno suffered from those politics. To blame Christianity for their fates is akin to blaming secularism for the fates of countless political figures whose political acumen failed them. The fact that the Church was the instrument is only answering the how, not the why. And if you are only interested in the how, you're choosing to be purposefully ignorant.

      "In the ancient days there was no distinction between science and philosophy. People like Aristotle were both scientists and philosophers. That's how science was done back then. "

      You are demonstrating completely anachronistic thinking here. 'Science' didn't exist as a concept, and atomism wasn't attempting to explain the natural world in a scientific way as we understand it today anymore than Plato was with his forms. You might as well claim that suppressing the idea that the Earth was made up of different elemental realms and Olympus was anti-scientific. It was a difference of philosophy, nothing more.

      "The Dark Ages were a time of scientific stagnation in Europe. It happened right at the time Christianity took over. Were there political influences? Sure. But Christianity sure didn't flourish science at this time and it was in the Middle East and in Asia when many scientific discoveries and advances were happening."

      I already answered this on reddit, but suffice to say, the Dark Ages weren't a thing. Even using the term is you putting a sign on your head that says "I'm uneducated and ignorant".

      "All your statement would prove would be that stable governments are the greatest instruments for scientific advancement and NOT Christianity. So you're arguing against your position."

      No. I never argued once that Christianity was how all science came to be. I took umbrage with your ill-informed leap of logic that because it DIDN'T do that it was therefore responsible for the opposite, which is precisely what 90% of this rubbish of a blog post is arguing. That said, Christianity WAS responsible for a lot of good things during the Medieval period in terms of research; anyone who has read St. Augstine (which I doubt you have) knows that. They were responsible for the retaining and spreading of literacy, and funded most early scientific work (including Galileo). Now, does that make them special? No, since they were merely the only institution capable of doing it, and if it were to be done it would be them by default. That said, the fact that they DID do it means the Church does deserve some credit.

      Your line of argument suggests to me you hold the errenous (and quite franklly, bizarrely misinformed) belief that if Christianity never came along, we would be X years ahead of where we are now. Any serious historian will laugh in your face if you suggest that, and most of us (myself included) aren't Christian.

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    2. To blame Christianity for their fates is akin to blaming secularism for the fates of countless political figures whose political acumen failed them. The fact that the Church was the instrument is only answering the how, not the why. And if you are only interested in the how, you're choosing to be purposefully ignorant.

      Right, and I suppose the whole Inquisition had nothing to do with religion. The Church was the chief instrument to blame for their fates. Any dogmatic system where unorthodox ideas could be silenced at a whim is not a system conducive to science. That the Catholic Church had a list of forbidden books is testament to that.

      'Science' didn't exist as a concept, and atomism wasn't attempting to explain the natural world in a scientific way as we understand it today anymore than Plato was with his forms.

      I'm not trying to say that the modern form of science we have now existed in ancient times. I'm not saying Plato or Aristotle were scientists in the same way Einstein and Maxwell were. In the ancient days, what we call science today was more of a natural philosophy, because physics then, was mostly metaphysics. The Atomists were natural philosophers, I grant you that.

      I already answered this on reddit, but suffice to say, the Dark Ages weren't a thing. Even using the term is you putting a sign on your head that says "I'm uneducated and ignorant".


      I never said it was a thing. I'm referring to the period after Rome fell to the dawn of the modern scientific revolution. Roughly a 1000 year period when relatively little scientific progress took place in Christian Europe and where the chief discoveries of the time were made in the Middle East and Asia and flowed into Europe where it spawned the scientific revolution.

      No. I never argued once that Christianity was how all science came to be. I took umbrage with your ill-informed leap of logic that because it DIDN'T do that it was therefore responsible for the opposite, which is precisely what 90% of this rubbish of a blog post is arguing.

      Christianity, indeed a lot of religion in general, is responsible for the suppression of scientific advancement. Religion will support science until it finds out something that contradicts its dogma, hence the meme, "I love science, just not the science that conflicts with my Bible." In the words of Protestant reformer Martin Luther:

      People gave ear to an upstart astrologer [Copernicus] who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon ... This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us [Joshua 10:13] that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.

      Your line of argument suggests to me you hold the errenous (and quite franklly, bizarrely misinformed) belief that if Christianity never came along, we would be X years ahead of where we are now. Any serious historian will laugh in your face if you suggest that, and most of us (myself included) aren't Christian.

      Certainly the world would be totally different, but it is impossible to day it wouldn't have. I'm not at all saying that Christianity deserves no credit whatsoever, I'm saying it held back certain scientific progress, and it is not what gave us modern science. The roots of modern science were developed in non-Christian settings (Greece, Rome, Middle East, Far East). Modern science happened to develop in Europe primarily for other reasons than for Christianity.

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  4. What? Are you serious? I don't even know where to begin with this statement. There isn't a single credible historian on the planet who says that Europe's scientific progress was the RESULT of colonization and expansion. You are aware that the rise of Europe couldn't have happened without that very same technological revolution, right? You are basically giving a circular argument. "Europe thrived because Europe thrived". Do you always say such empty things?

    The modern scientific revolution started in the 1500s right after the age of colonization. What Europe had before 1492 was too a large degree obtained from knowledge gained in the Middle East and China. For example, gunpower that made guns possible was invented in China. There's no doubt about it that in the centuries immediately following colonization, we see European states becoming superpowers and the scientific revolution shortly thereafter ensued.


    "Most Christians today are anti-science. More than half don’t accept evolution. "

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_support_for_evolution#Support_for_evolution_by_religious_bodies

    Do you enjoy making things up? This post went from trying to argue against the idea that Christians are very pro science, a possibly plausible argument, to outright lying and claiming that they are outright anti-science, an absurdity.


    The statistics you gave are from AMERICAN Christians, whom a great many still disbelieve in evolution (Hist. Black Protest, Evang. Protestant, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormon). Since only about 40% of Americans accept evolution, it can't be a majority of Christians even in the US. And if you look WORLDWIDE at the Christian population, most Christians live in Latin America and Sub Saharan Africa, and the majority of them do not accept evolution. The only countries where a majority of Christians accept evolution are mostly in Europe - where Christianity is currently on a rapid decline.

    So do you enjoy misinterpreting the data?

    See here: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/Views_on_Evolution.svg


    Your attempts to rewrite history in your favor and fudge the statistics have failed.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. "The modern scientific revolution started in the 1500s right after the age of colonization. What Europe had before 1492 was too a large degree obtained from knowledge gained in the Middle East and China. For example, gunpower that made guns possible was invented in China. There's no doubt about it that in the centuries immediately following colonization, we see European states becoming superpowers and the scientific revolution shortly thereafter ensued. "

      Have you ever heard of the term "correlation does not imply causation". You are taking an incredibly folksy and misinformed view of history here, and it is beneath further comment.

      "The statistics you gave are from AMERICAN Christians, whom a great many still disbelieve in evolution (Hist. Black Protest, Evang. Protestant, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormon). Since only about 40% of Americans accept evolution, it can't be a majority of Christians even in the US. And if you look WORLDWIDE at the Christian population, most Christians live in Latin America and Sub Saharan Africa, and the majority of them do not accept evolution. The only countries where a majority of Christians accept evolution are mostly in Europe - where Christianity is currently on a rapid decline. "

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_support_for_evolution#United_States

      Only 30% of people according to this data (which is attributed, unlike your graph) don't believe in evolution. So, try again. Actually, in general, your analysis is so scattered and misinformed I can scarcely formulate a coherent reply since you keep changing the goal posts. Suffice to say, most Americans believe in evolution.

      Now, there is certainly a relationship between religion and belief in evolution, that much we can agree on. But you are tacitly implying that those beliefs are incapable of reconciling, when in fact, they are not. Are you aware WHY evolution is such a hot topic in the US? I doubt it. It would require knowledge of history.

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    2. Have you ever heard of the term "correlation does not imply causation". You are taking an incredibly folksy and misinformed view of history here, and it is beneath further comment.


      Of course I've heard that. I think it is undeniable that European colonialism helped advance scientific progress in Europe. That's why it was largely Western Europe that lead the way by the 1700-1800s.

      Only 30% of people according to this data (which is attributed, unlike your graph) don't believe in evolution. So, try again. Actually, in general, your analysis is so scattered and misinformed I can scarcely formulate a coherent reply since you keep changing the goal posts. Suffice to say, most Americans believe in evolution.

      Funny, the link you showed me before says only 48% of Americans accept evolution, now its 70%. That's a discrepancy too large to believe. Something is wrong here. See the origin of the source you gave me here: http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report2-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf#page=99

      Oh and here's a Gallup poll from 2012 showing 46% of Americans believe god created humans in their present form: http://www.gallup.com/poll/21814/Evolution-Creationism-Intelligent-Design.aspx Since almost all of that 46% would be Christians (with small percentage Jews and Muslims) I don't buy it that more than half of American Christians accept evolution.

      But if you were able to read my post properly you'd know that I was not even talking about American Christians. I was talking about Christians worldwide, most of whom live in Latin America and Sub Saharan Africa, where acceptance of evolution is comparatively low.

      Now, there is certainly a relationship between religion and belief in evolution, that much we can agree on. But you are tacitly implying that those beliefs are incapable of reconciling, when in fact, they are not.

      I never said or implied in my post that one cannot be a Christian and believe in evolution. You're reading into my post a narrow minded narrative that suits what you want to portrait me as. I said more than half of Christians don't accept evolution. Right there I'm also saying many do, and I am perfect aware one can be a Christian/Muslim/Jew and accept evolution. And I wasn't even talking about American Christians for the last time, I was talking about Christians worldwide.

      Are you aware WHY evolution is such a hot topic in the US? I doubt it. It would require knowledge of history.

      No Mr. historian, please tell me why.

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  5. In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins:

    Although the percentages choosing each view have varied from survey to survey, the 46% who today choose the creationist explanation is virtually the same as the 45% average over that period -- and very similar to the 44% who chose that explanation in 1982. The 32% who choose the "theistic evolution" view that humans evolved under God's guidance is slightly below the 30-year average of 37%, while the 15% choosing the secular evolution view is slightly higher (12%).

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    1. Yeah, this guy "Masamax" is kidding himself, the majority of American Christians do not believe in evolution as a whole, but the point I made was about Christians worldwide, not just in the US.

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    2. You are changing the goal posts now. So what if a Christian wants to believe evolution was guided by God? Does that make them believe in evolution any less? And the fact remains, far more than 50% of Christians believe in evolution by that metric. Since no scientist would ever claim to be able to prove that evolution was guided by God, at the end of the day, the only difference is one of philosophy to a question that cannot be answered, and is therefore irrelevant.

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    3. I was never making any difference between naturalistic evolution and theistic evolution, I'd include all theists who believe in theistic evolution as believing in evolution. Still doesn't make a difference. Since less than 50 percent of Americans accept evolution at all - theistic or naturalistic - the majority of American Christians can't accept evolution. And again, the point I made was about Christians worldwide, not just in the US.

      And no I never changed any goal posts, that something you made up in your head.

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  6. Masamax:

    So what if a Christian wants to believe evolution was guided by God? Does that make them believe in evolution any less?

    Yes. A key element of evolution is natural selection, not divine selection. Talk about moving the goal posts.

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    1. And who is to say that 'God' didn't guide that natural selection? I don't believe it is so, but it is impossible to DISPROVE. Masquering intelligent design as science is folly. Accepting it is a philosophy that does not automatically mean someone can't also believe in evolution is simply stupid. It doesn't affect how they feel evolution as a mechanism works, which is what is important, and if they need that to accept evolution, so be it. Why is it any skin off your back?

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    2. And who is to say that 'God' didn't guide that natural selection? I don't believe it is so, but it is impossible to DISPROVE.
      There is NO evidence indicating ANY directedness to evolutionary processes.
      While it might be possible that God tinkers in a way indistinguishable from undirected processes, such an hypothesis is ad-hoc and without explanatory merit.
      Consider it scientifically disproved, while not logically disproved :-)

      It doesn't affect how they feel evolution as a mechanism works, which is what is important,
      But it does have an effect on their acceptance of evolution - guided evolution is not the same as unguided evolution.

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