Did Christianity (and other religions) promote the rise of science?

Of course most of you will answer “No way!”, and I do, too, but accommodationists and science-friendly believers make this argument often. Here are a few specimens:

“. . . the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships.”—Paul Davies, “Taking Science on Faith“, New York Times.

“Moral laws are promulgated by God for free creatures, who have it in their power to obey or disobey. The laws of nature, on the other hand, are promulgated for the inanimate world of matter; physical objects don’t get to decide to obey, say, Newton’s law of gravity. In each case, however, we have the setting forth or promulgation of divine rule for a certain domain of application. It is important to see that our notion of the laws of nature, crucial for contemporary science, has this origin in Christian theism.”  —Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, p. 276

“Indeed, a distinctive feature of the Scientific Revolution is that, unlike other scientific programmes and cultures, it is driven, often explicitly, by religious considerations: Christianity set the agenda for natural philosophy in many respects and projected it forward in a way quite different from that of any scientific culture. Moreover, when the standing of religion as a source of knowledge about the world, and cognitive values generally, came to be threatened, it was not science that posed the threat but history.” —S. Graukoger, The Emergence of a Modern Scientific Culture, p. 3

“faith in the possibility of science, generated antecdently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology.” —Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 19.

“Recent scholarship, most of it conducted by secular academics, has established that religious belief was entirely compatible with scientific progress, even encouraging it in many cases.”—K. Giberson and F. Collins, The Language of Science and Faith

Inevitably accompanying these claims is the assertion that because many early scientists (e.g., Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, and Maxwell) were Christians, Christianity must claim some credit for science. Other faiths too take credit; it’s common for accommodationist Muslims to point out that the real scientific achievements of Islam, coupled with bogus exegesis of the Qur’an, show that Islam was important in encouraging science.

The claims are diverse, but all give religion—especially Christianity—credit for science.  Religion is said to either encourage thinking (read Aquinas), impel people to do science as a way of unravelling God’s plan, lead to the idea of scientific laws (viz. Davies and Plantinga, above), or “encourage” science in some nebulous ways (this “encouragement” often seems to mean only “did not impede science.”)

Now these claims are bogus, but if you read various histories of science, you’ll see conflict on this issue.  I’ll put my own objections below, but you should also read Richard Carrier’s 2010 article, “Christianity was not responsible for modern science.” Pp. 396-419 in J. W. Loftus, ed. The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. Prometheus Books (that’s a book well worth reading, by the way.)

Here are some of my responses to the “science came from Christianity” canard

1. Even were it true, it doesn’t in any way support the truth claims of Christianity or any other religion.

2. Christianity was around for a millennium without much science being done; “modern” science really started as a going concern in the 17th century. Why did that take so long if Christianity was so important in fostering science?

3. If you think of science as rational and empirical investigation of the natural world, it originated not with Christianity but with the ancient Greeks, and was also promulgated for a while by Islam.

3. Carrier makes the point that there was no scientific revolution in the eastern half of the Christian world. Why was that?

4. Another Carrier point: geometry was invented by polytheists (ancient Greeks); do we give polytheism credit for geometry, then?

5. Religion has of course also repressed the search for knowledge. Not only do we have the cases of Galileo and Bruno, but also the active discouragement of the use of reason by many church fathers, especially Martin Luther, who made statements like this: “Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.” And freethinkers like Spinoza were regularly persecuted by religion (Judaism in his case.)

6. There was and still is, of course, opposition to science by Christians. The greatest opponent of biology’s greatest theory—evolution—has always been Christianity.

7. If religion promulgated the search for knowledge, it also gave rise to erroneous, revelation-based “scientific” conclusions that surely impeded progress. Those include creation ex nihilo, the Great Flood, a geocentric universe, and so on.

8.  Early scientists were Christians, at least in the west, because everyone was a Christian then.  You would have been an apostate, or burnt at the stake, had you denied that faith.  If you’re going to give Christianity credit for science, you have to give it credit for nearly everything, including art, architecture, music, and so on.

9.  Islam began as a science-supportive regime, but lost its impetus when the faith around the 16th century when religious authorities began repressing a “western” mode of inquiry. This anti-Western attitude may explain the minimal achievements of science in modern Islamic nations.

10. At present nearly half of science are atheists, and the argument that religion motivates science can no longer stand. The major achievements of science, including relativity, evolution, and modern molecular biology, were achieved by non-theists. Indeed, Jim Watson told me that his and Crick’s drive to find the structure of DNA was largely motivated by a desire to show that the “secret of life”—the replicating molecule that serves as a recipe for bodies—was pure chemistry, with not a trace of the divine in it.

11. All progress in science, whether ancient or modern, came from ignoring or rejecting the idea of divine intervention. Even if theories were inspired by thoughts of God, they were substantiated or disproven by tacitly assuming a godless universe—that is, by employing methodological naturalism. Religion has only impeded that kind of investigation and, in fact, has never come up with a theory on its own that had scientific credibility.  Newton, for instance, couldn’t explain regular planetary motion, and had to invoke divine intervention (so much for God helping science!) until Laplace came along and showed that orbital irregularities could be explained in a purely naturalistic way. (As Laplace supposedly replied to Napoleon, who had read Kepler’s book on celestial mechanics and inquired about the absence of God in that tome, “I have no need of that hypothesis.”)

And of course there’s a contradiction, too: if religion and science are separate magisteria, as Gould maintained, then the are completely separate and can only harm each other by overstepping their bounds.  But if you claim that religion inspired scientific theories and scientific progress, that’s a NOMA boundary violation.

In the end, it’s a useless argument, for there is no rapprochement between the religious and nonreligious historians of science. I’m willing to grant that some scientists were prompted by their faith to study nature. But what we do know is that all the achievements of both ancient and modern science have been made by explicitly rejecting the theistic view that God has a hand in the universe, and that religion, if it ever did inspire scientific research, doesn’t do so any longer.  I maintain, though I can’t prove this, that had there been no Christianity, if after the fall of Rome atheism had pervaded the Western world, science would have developed earlier and be far more advanced than it is now. All religion has done was inspire a few famous scientists to do their work. Its inimical effects on science were far more serious.

I know many of my readers know far more than I about the history of science and its interaction with religion. Do weigh in below with your opinions.

254 Comments

  1. Richard Olson
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    From today’s FFRF birthdate acknowledgement:

    ” . . . have not some religions, including the most influential forms of Christianity, taught that the heart of man is totally corrupt? How could the course of religion in its entire sweep not be marked by practices that are shameful in their cruelty and lustfulness, and by beliefs that are degraded and intellectually incredible? What else than what we can find could be expected, in the case of people having little knowledge and no secure method of knowing; with primitive institutions, and with so little control of natural forces that they lived in a constant state of fear?”

    —— John Dewey in “The Religious in Experience,” chapter 20 of Intelligence in the Modern World; John Dewey’s Philosophy (1939)

  2. freethinkinfranklin
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    A bit off topic perhaps, but I just have to comment on a TV show called “Zombie Apocalypse” on the Discovery channel of all places. It highlights “zombie preppers” that wholeheartedly belive that Zombies exist and are coming for them/us. Delving into aspects of a zombie attack, including how to kill them properly and why they have “come into being”. Questioning if its perhaps an “act of god” ! I busted out laughing, an imaginary god turning the zombie minions loose of us, just hit my funny bone hard, what’s next the Unicorns and Leprechauns releasing the Kracken?? Lol.
    I feel sorry for these people and their kids/families, the amount of wasted time and resources preparing for something that has zero chance of ever happening is very reminiscent of other groups, those that follow the mythical “Zombie Jew”.

  3. AttyFAM
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Algebra, Azimuth, Zenith. The concept of zero itself. The Arab numbering system – you know, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 . . . . All this came from Arab science, and were adopted by the Christians of Europe. There would be no modern science at all without zero or Arabic numbers or without algebra.

    In astronomy, Al-Biruni discussed the rotation of the earth on its axis 600 years before Galileo. Avicenna was the greatest writer on medicine in the middle ages.

    And that is just a few highlights of the Arab contribution. And we have not yet discussed the Chinese, who, don’t forget gave us gunpowder, paper, the compass, etc. etc.

    • Posted October 20, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      Those religions had nothing to do with those contributions. Sure, members of those religions came up with the ideas, but the religions themselves were irrelevant. We might as well attribute culinary preferences or political party affiliation to those discoveries as religion.

      …unless, of course, you can identify which gods revealed the information in which way to which people…?

      b&

    • Posted October 22, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Actually, the Arabs got this information form the Indians (Hindus). We just call them arabic numerals because when they were introduced to us, it was the Arabs who showed them to us. Just to correct the record. Some speculate that the Indians had to invent zeros because some of the number in their Holy Texts are huge. They talk about events that supposedly happened Billions of years ago. I could be wrong.. could just be millions.

  4. Posted October 21, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Sarvodaya and commented:
    What are your thoughts folks?

  5. Bob
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Martin Luther is not a Church Father: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Church_Fathers

    Also, Luther’s view of reason is also not indicative of Medieval theology.

  6. interested reader
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I may have missed it if others already mentioned him, but historian Ronald Numbers (agnostic) has written about the myths of the historical science/religion wars in Galileo Goes to Jail and other works.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Numbers

  7. David
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    A microbiologist and a historian (of science) have an interesting response to this article: http://www.realclearscience.com/articles/2013/10/21/twisted_history_jerry_coyne_on_science__religion_106729.html

    I fall into the ‘this whole debate is a bit of a canard’ camp, but i’m thankful for the 20 minute diversion.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 22, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      From that article…”…excommunicated Halley’s Comet.” WTH?

  8. Posted October 22, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Really, bringing up Christian Scientist really misses the point. The argument is not, “these scientists were Christians therefore Christianity brought forth science.” The argument is more complicated than that. The argument is that the emphasis on “logos” and the individual along with what differentiates Christianity form other World Religions (the separation between the temporal world and the spiritual world without viewing the temporal as some kind of deception keeping us from spiritual knowledge, i.e. Hinduism) brought about the intellectual frame work that made it possible for these scientists to even consider attempting to find general laws that governed the physical universe. S
    Something similar happened in Classical Greece and the Church did help preserve the legacy of Classical Greece (that would be very hard to dispute.)
    One could reasonably argue that atheism is an even better intellectual frame work for science than Christianity while acknowledging that, Christianity was a lot better than what came before it and the other world views that dominated the earth until very recently.
    Some historians believe that atheism is the end result of an intellectual/religious evolution: We started out with animism where everything is spiritual (a lot of very primitive tribes believed this), then we went to polytheism, then to mono-theism (Diest argue that Christianity was sort of a detour because the trinity can be seen as polytheistic), then to Unitarianism, then to Deism, and then finally, to Atheism. Some argue that Zen Buddhism is an alternate religious/intellectual frame work that makes room for science. That’s why a lot of scientist and other academics are intrigued by it. I frankly don’t understand Buddhism that well, but I do find it interesting that when the Moslems conquered India, they left the Hindus alone but persecuted that Buddhist because the Moslems felt the Buddhist were in fact Atheists. That’s why there are few Buddhist in the land of its origin compare to all the lands east of it and, now, in the rest of the world.
    *You don’t have to be a Christian to realize that Christianity helped bring about science. I had a Buddhist history professor who argued that Christianity helped bring on the scientific revolution.

  9. Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Wow – all this speculation and rationalization, and all you have to do is look at history for the answer.

    For over 2000 years, less than 20% of the world was non-Christian:
    Africa: non-Christian
    Americas: non-Christian
    Asia: non-Christian
    Middle East: mixed
    Eastern Europe: mixed
    Western Europe: Christian
    Simple question: Where did modern science develop to its fullest?
    Answer: Western Europe. End of debate.

    Need something more recent? How about the last 100 years?
    USSR: Atheist
    China: Atheist
    Western Europe/US: Christian (okay, nominally so, but still a Judeo-Christian morality/ethic/environment)
    Simple Question #2: Where did modern science develop to its fullest?
    Answer: Western Europe/US.

    Post Hoc rationalizations cannot change the fact that modern science DID NOT develop in the non-Christian world.

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Nobody is disputing that science (and the Enlightenment, for that matter) grew out of cultures that were predominantly Christian at the time.

      The question is whether Christianity itself had anything to do with the transition to a (somewhat) rational society.

      And, unless you can point to examples where Jesus revealed some information to a scientist, I can’t imagine what it could possibly mean for Christianity to have promoted the rise of science.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        So you are basically advocating that the fact that modern science arose in the Christian world alone is pure coincidence, and that Christianity had nothing to do with “promot(ing) the rise of science”. Wow.

        Coyne himself provides references to various historians and scientists explanations of how Christianity promotes a rational “designed” view of the universe. Not to mention the Christian roots of the vast majority of centers of learning and science in the Western world. University was practically synonymous with Seminary. Any attempt to deny a link between Christianity and modern science is pure sophistry.

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

          Erm…you are aware, are you not, that correlation is not causation and, at best, only implies causation? After all, the early scientists were also much more likely to eat leaven bread loaves than flatbread. Does that mean that bread yeast also played a factor in the scientific revolution?

          Unless you can, at a bare minimum, offer a plausible causative hypothesis for the role that Christianity played in the advancement of science, there isn’t even a reason to seriously entertain the proposition.

          I offered one example: Do you think that Jesus whisper orbital mechanics in Kepler’s ear?

          If not, then what, exactly, was it that Christianity did that promoted the rise of science?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

            So that would be a “yes, I think it is pure coincidence.” Your credulity does you credit. As for your “plausible causative hypothesis”, I would refer you back to the first several paragraphs of Coyne’s article.

            I’ll offer an analogy as my final point: While the rest of the world was mired in tractless swamps, Christianity provided a paved road for modern science to develop. Coyne has, at best, identified some potholes in the road.

            • Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

              Then we must have read entirely different essays by entirely different people, because the Jerry Coyne who wrote the essay at the top of the page I’m reading most assuredly did not offer a plausible causative mechanism by which Christianity could have promoted the rise of science, and he came — as I have — to the exact opposite conclusion: that Christianity played no role in the promotion of science.

              Note again: Christianity. Not individuals who happened to be Christians, but the religion itself.

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Sastra
              Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

              You’re forgetting that Christianity was simply one thread in European culture. There is no reason to assume it was the most significant aspect of scientific evolution — and many reasons to think it was either tangential or actually a bit of a drag.

              Which do you think would have been more disastrous for science: eliminating a mystical revealed religion or eliminating Greek philosophy?

    • freethinkinfranklin
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      however it was and is developed by the hands and minds of non-christians. end of debate…

      • Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        Rather than devolve into a “yes they were”, “no they weren’t” pointless back-and-forth, I will simply suggest you perform the following experiment:
        1) list the major scientific contributors to modern science. e.g. newton, maxwell, mendel, galileo, etc.
        2) Where did they study?
        3) Were they Christians? Atheists? Other?
        4) How often did they reference God in their writings?
        5) How many come from non-Christian cultures?

        Suffice it to say that I disagree with your assessment of the major contributors to modern scientific thought and foundations.

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          In the future, I do believe Professor Ceiling Cat would appreciate if you would not do a massive copy / paste from a rather lengthy Wikipedia article, and simply supply the link. Like thus:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_atheists_in_science_and_technology

          Back to the subject matter…it’s also worth noting that scientists are far less religious than the general population, and outright theists are almost (but not entirely) absent from the most prestigious scientific organizations, such as the National Academy of Science or Nobel laureates. Of those vanishingly few scientists who are religious, almost all subscribe to some vague form of deism.

          Again, there are notable exceptions, such as Francis Collins. But they’re outnumbered, generally by factors of at least ten to one, often much more.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

            Yea, however, was that true at the start of the Scientific Revolution? Also, the debate is not about whether or not most scientists are Christians. One can be influenced by the Judeo-Christian Culture without believing in God.

            The debate is about the intellectual climate that Christianity helped foster. Which I and others already touched on in the comments above.

            To Ben Goren’s “And, unless you can point to examples where Jesus revealed some information to a scientist . . . ” So, you want to remove the contributions of St. Augustine, Thomas Aquainis and other contributions to Chirstian Thought from the debate? Is your contention that Jesus was the only person who influenced the thought process of the Church and how the Church influenced the intellectuals of Western Europe?

            • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

              I admit that this debate can not be resolved to a level of scientific certainity. How ever, one can’t just reject the hypothesis out of hand. Hardly any professional historians do. The jewish idea of an orderly God which created an orderly universe was adopted by the Church.

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

                Eh, the Jews were hardly the first ones to credit order in the universe to divine intervention. Where do you think the terms, chaos and logos come from?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

                I also want to remind Ben of the questions I aksed: To Ben Goren’s “And, unless you can point to examples where Jesus revealed some information to a scientist . . . ” So, you want to remove the contributions of St. Augustine, Thomas Aquainis and other contributions to Chirstian Thought from the debate? Is your contention that Jesus was the only person who influenced the thought process of the Church and how the Church influenced the intellectuals of Western Europe?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                It’s as if you all believe the Scientific method was conceived in an intellectual vacuum. You seem to think it is more likely that some genius was born who would have developed the scientific method no matter what cultural he was born into than, that such a person would have built upon the ideas of his culture: especially if it was a Judeo-Christian culture.
                Do you think Socrates would have grown up to be Socrates if he was born in Sparta instead of Athens? Do you think Thomas Jefferson would have grown up to be a classical liberal if he was born in 8th centenary China? Do you think John Lock would have written about rights endowed by the Creator (a.k.a. natural rights) if he was the grandson of Gengis Khan?
                Almost any true genius (I’m not talking high IQ. I’m talking innovating a transformative idea) would tell you their idea was built upon the ideas of others.

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

                Again, that’s not what I’m doing at all.

                Christianity is a very specific religious entity, with a very specific set of creeds and holy texts and divine authority figures and what-not.

                Christianity is not a culture. You can find Christians in any and every culture on the planet. What they share as Christians is not their culture, not their politics, not anything save for their faith in salvation through the risen Christ.

                So, again: what has the risen Christ got to do with science? What’s unique enough about Christianity to be able to identify its contributions as distinct from, say, those of people who speak languages that trace their roots back to ancient Greece, Rome, and Germany?

                What Christian deity or doctrine or dogma is it that is responsible for the rise of the scientific method?

                What was the specifically, identifiably, uniquely Christian influence?

                That’s the question I keep asking you, and you keep answering with irrelevancies like so-and-so was influential and happened to be a Christian. So what? So-and-so also probably happened to have brown hair and a Y chromosome.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

                Re: “You also contradict yourself. You credit Augustine with bringing Platonism into Christianity, and then credit Christianity with introducing Platonism to Europe. But Plato was there all along.” I was very careful to be specific and say WESTERN Europe. Plato wasn’t from Western Europe. He was from Greece which is Eastern Europe. I was very deliberate in specifying “Western Europe” where the Scientific Revolution started.

                Plato wasn’t in Western Europe. He was from Greece. So, no Greek philosophy was mot “there all the time.” Greek philosophy was brought to the peoples who later became Western Europeans (The Germanic barbarians and the remnant of the Celts that survived their onslaught). It was the Church who preserved those ideas.

                You keep on wanting to narrow Christianity down to the writings of the first two or three generations of Christians (the 66 books of the Protestant Bible). There is so much more to the Judeo-Christian culture than that.
                I could make a cheap shot and say the word “Logos” was used in the Gospel of John however; the word was used in a much different way than how Plato or St Augustine used it.

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

                There is so much more to the Judeo-Christian culture than that.

                So, let’s turn it around.

                What contribution did an European Christian make that could just have easily been made by an Ethiopian Jew?

                If it’s the religion / religious foundation to credit, you should have no trouble coming up with example after example.

                But if the religion itself is irrelevant, you won’t be able to come up with even a single example.

                My money’s on the latter.

                Cheers,

                b&

                P.S. Your characterization of Eastern v Western Europe and the history of that part of the world “isn’t even worng,” but we can ignore that for the moment. b&

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

                I’m not wrong about my portrayal of the general history of Europe. It was the Western Roman Catholic Church that introduced Greek Philosophy to the barbarians that immigrated into Western Europe during and after the fall of the Roman Empire. It was decendents of these barbarians and probably intermixed with inginious peopels who became the scientists of the Scientific Revolution.

                RE: “What contribution did an European Christian make that could just have easily been made by an Ethiopian Jew?” Theoretically, every contribution made by a Western Europea could have been made by an Ethiopian Jew. That was a very vauge question. Could have under what circumstances. Now, beyond the hypothetical: Ethiopian Jews did not contribute to the Scientific Revolution on the same scale that Western Europeans did.

                Guess who controlled Ethiopia during this period? It wasn’t Christians. It was Moslems. I don’t see who that question makes you point. It kind of makes mind. Can you tell me the point you were trying to make with that question. Are you now trying to further narrow down Judio-Christian culture to the culture of Ethiopian Jews?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

                I hope you can get passed my horrible punctuation in my hurried response. Using periods istead of question marks and spelling like a dyslexic who didn’t to a quick proof read. (i am a dyslexic who didn’t do a quick proof read.)

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

                So, just to be clear: we are in agreement that European Christians and Ethiopian Jews have the same religious foundation, and yet the one developed the scientific method and the other did not.

                If you were at all vaguely familiar with the way that science works, you would recognize that religion cannot therefore possibly be the determining factor in this discussion. Clearly, something other than religion is to credit.

                You’re welcome to argue this further if you like; I cede the podium to you. I’ve made all the points that need be made.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

                Re: “So, just to be clear: we are in agreement that European Christians and Ethiopian Jews have the same religious foundation.”

                No. The Ethiopian Jews of the 15th Century did not have all of the same religious foundations as the Western Christians of the 15th century.
                No. 1. The Ethiopian Jews were living in an Islamic Land not a Christian one. So, even if they had the same philosophy regarding the physical world as Western Christians, they would not have had the same opportunity to pursue scientific experiment. They were living under Islamic Rule and Islamic Civilization (not the spread of the faith) but Islamic power and cultural were on the Decline after the battle of Lepanto. Also, I do not know how much free time these Ethiopian Jews had to do science under Islamic rule.
                Also, The Ethiopian Jews of the 16th century (or any time for that matter) were not influenced by St. Augustine. There were influences on the Western Church that were not influenced on Ethiopian Jews (especially by the 16th century)

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

                Re: “So, just to be clear: we are in agreement that European Christians and Ethiopian Jews have the same religious foundation.”

                No. The Ethiopian Jews of the 15th Century did not have all of the same religious foundations as the Western Christians of the 15th century.
                No. 1. The Ethiopian Jews were living in an Islamic Land not a Christian one. So, even if they had the same philosophy regarding the physical world as Western Christians, they would not have had the same opportunity to pursue scientific experiment. They were living under Islamic Rule and Islamic Civilization (not the spread of the faith) but Islamic power and cultural were on the Decline after the battle of Lepanto. Also, I do not know how much free time these Ethiopian Jews had to do science under Islamic rule.
                Also, The Ethiopian Jews of the 16th century (or any time for that matter) were not influenced by St. Augustine. There were influences on the Western Church that were not influenced on Ethiopian Jews (especially by the 16th century)

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

                RE: “If you were at all vaguely familiar with the way that science works, you would recognize that religion cannot therefore possibly be the determining factor in this discussion.”
                Again this is a derivative of the arrogant, “I’m smarter than you so you should listen to me argument.” Alex B Berezow is more than “vaguely familiar with how science” works he believes Christianity help foster science. James Hannam is more than “vaguely familiar with how science works” and he acknowledges Christian thought’s importance to the scientific revolution. Dr. Thomas H. Keene is personally taught me about how Christianity thought helped develop science and he is more than “vaguely familiar with how science works.”
                Dr. Alex Berzow holds a PhD in microbiology from the University of Washington.
                Dr. James Hannam holds a PhD in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge.
                Dr. Thomas H. Keene just retired from teaching at Kennesaw State Univirsity. He for year taught a class on the history of science and taught a class called “Orgins of Great Traditions” which touched on how the early religions that led to world religions helped shape civilization and brought us to the world views we hold, today.
                All three of these gentlemen have forgotten more about historiography works than me or you have or probably will ever learn.
                Re: “I’ve made all the points that need be made.” That’s pretty arrogant of you to think you have already made every point worthy to make on this subject. Dare I say, it is rather unscientific?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

                For the views of the people I reverenced to counter to counter Ben Goren’s point that anyone “vaguely familiar with the way that science works” would agree with Ben Goren on this topic see http://www.realclearscience.com/articles/2013/10/21/twisted_history_jerry_coyne_on_science__religion_106729.html

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 1:01 am | Permalink

                Excuse us if we remain sceptical about what James Hannam has to say on this topic… see Why God’s Philosophers did not deserve to be shortlisted for the Royal Society prize and Science, God’s Philosophers and the Dark Ages.

                /@

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 1:02 am | Permalink

                * in reply to #87

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 1:03 am | Permalink

                ** more coffee needed!

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 1:04 am | Permalink

                OK, it’s not me… something’s gone screwy with the reply threading…

                /@

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:40 am | Permalink

                Yea. I was having the same problem, also. It seems to have been corrected. I read the first few paragraphs of the first link you posted. I can attest to one exceprt form it.

                ” One supporter of Hannam, a medievalist who clearly knows more about the literature on medieval science than I do, states that “his work is simply popularising several decades of research by leading historians of early science like [Ronald] Numbers, [David] Lindberg and [Edward] Grant””

                I nothing in James Hannan’s article in Realclear politics seemed original to me. I didn’t read his book. But, I had to read a lot of reviews of history books in a historiography class I took. Most published history books have some negitive reviews of this intensity. I really don’t understand critiicing his work because he is a converted Catholic. Actually, it would be eaten up for making that a point in his work in history departemtns. If I wrote any kind of paper, i’d be expecting to back up my thesis with arguments and data: not by stating what my persoanl background. For some reason, that is fround upon in history departments. But it was an interesting read… I didn’t finish because my eyes are getting sleepy.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:52 am | Permalink

                @ #90

                As I said, I was replying only to the article you linked to.

                /@

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:17 am | Permalink

                Yes, it isn’t you. I noticed this last night.

              • gbjames
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:19 am | Permalink

                Thread decoupling/disruption seems to happen when a comment midstream in the list gets evaporated. My guess is that some linked list isn’t updated correctly and everything thereafter is hosed. I wonder where this comment will land.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:28 am | Permalink

                :) I think it may be fixed.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:28 am | Permalink

                D’oh!

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:18 am | Permalink

                Ant, I didn’t list only James Hannam. I listed three people. The reason I referenced them was to counter Ben Goren’s claim that, ““If you [meaning me] were at all vaguely familiar with the way that science works, you would recognize that religion cannot therefore possibly be the determining factor in this discussion.”
                I cited people who obviously are more than “vaguely familiar with the way that science works” and who do think that Christianity had a role in the scientific revolution.
                I wasn’t citing James Hannam and two others as the absolute finale authorities on the subject. I was giving Ben Goren examples that contradicted his claim. Since, he chose to use the “I’m smarter than you argument so, you should just accept what I say argument”, I relished in doing it.
                Say what you will, but I would be shocked if someone could honestly claim one could get a PhD in micro-biology from the University of Washington without being “vaguely familiar with the way sconce works.” It would also be very hard to convince me that one could get a PhD from the University of Cambridge in history and philosophy of science without being “vaguely familiar with the way science works. Although, I try to give credit to where I get my ideas and knowledge, I hardly ever use what Carl Sagan called “the appeal to authority” debating tactic. That would be very un-logos of me.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

                Let’s not forget that while the Church preserved a lot from antiquity, it also destroyed or let fall to ruin those things that it didn’t see value in – for example, look at the state of the Roman Colosseum (as it came to be known in the Middle ages, it was originally the Flavian Amphitheatre) vs. the state of the Pantheon. The Pantheon was used by the Church when emperor Phocas donated it to Pope Boniface III and Boniface consecrated it as the church of St. Mary and the Martyrs.

                What else have we lost?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

                To answer your question: The terms come from Classical Greece. Who do you think introduced those ideas to Western European thought? St. Augustine, who was influenced by Plato, brought the terms into Christian and Western European thought. It’s common knowledge that Judeo-Christian culture owes a lot to the Greeks.. Why do you think Western Historians call Plato’s particular era of history, “The Classical Period.” Christianity introduced the concept of logos to Western Europe and preserved the idea in Western Europe. Really, St. Austine argued Saint Paul introduced the concept of logos. Paul knew Greek and was a Roman Citizen so, he was probably very familiar with Greek philosophy.
                From Wikipedia “Under Hellenistic Judaism, Philo (ca. 20 BC – AD 50) adopted the term into Jewish philosophy.” So, yes. Just because the Greeks may have used the term Logos before the Jews, that does not mean that the Judeo-Christian culture did not adopt it.

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

                So, the Greeks invented it, a Jew thought it was a neat idea…and the Christians get credit for it. After they perverted it beyond all recognition.

                Sorry, but it don’t work that way.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

                The Judeo Christian Culture (as are most cultures) a blend of other cultures. And, yes. I do give credit to the Church for preserving those ideas and expanding upon those ideas. Like it or not, those concepts would have not been prevalent in Western Europe had it not been for the Christian Church. The Western Europeans did not get their idea of an orderly universe with governed by laws that could be discovered from their pagan ancestors. They got it from the Church. No one is arguing that the Church did not get these from Jews and Greeks. It’s a red herring to suggest otherwise. However, it wasn’t Greek or Jewish institutions that introduced these concepts to the barbarians who’s decedents became the Scientist of the Scientific Revolution: It was the Christian Church that did this. Again, the ideas of the Scientific Revolution were not developed in a vacuum. Just the motivation to investigate the physical world and the idea that there may be universal laws didn’t develop in a vacuum.

            • Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

              I should think it obvious that the whole point of Christianity is some sort of a relationship between humans and the divine, even if nobody within the Christian community can agree upon the slightest details past that. For Christianity to substantively claim credit for the scientific revolution, it would have to be as a result of some sort of interaction with one or more of the Christian deities. Otherwise…well, it’d be like claiming that Indian fondness for flatbread (naan) was the driving force behind Ghandi’s non-violence movement, since all the major actors ate naan.

              So, if all that Christianity did is have some people who lived thoroughly mundane, normal, uninspired lives entirely free from divine intervention, and others built upon some of the intellectual work that those people did…well, yeah. Christianity had diddly-squat to do with it, any more than those people’s taste in clothes or music.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

                You keep on wanting to narrow the pool of possible evidence, “it would have to be as a result of some sort of interaction with one or more of the Christian deities.

                Re: So, if all that Christianity did is have some people who lived thoroughly mundane, normal, uninspired lives entirely free from divine intervention, and others built upon some of the intellectual work that those people did…” It wasn’t “others” that built up that intellectual framework. It was people like St. Agustine who brought in Platonic ideas to Christain thought and the monks who preserved the Greek Classics. Christainity introduced the idea to Western Europe that the physical world is orderly and governed by laws. The Scientific Method is a tool to discover those laws. Before, that. people did not view the physical world was orderly so they did not try to find universal laws that governed the physical world.

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

                Again, you keep crediting Christianity with the deeds of Christian individuals.

                What specific property of Christianity is responsible for inspiring Augustine to draw inspiration from Plato? What Bible verse, for example, quotes Jesus as saying, “And do thou remember to read thy Plato, for that righteous dude was seriously smrt!”?

                You also contradict yourself. You credit Augustine with bringing Platonism into Christianity, and then credit Christianity with introducing Platonism to Europe. But Plato was there all along. Is Christianity’s contribution therefore simply deciding to keep Plato’s books on the shelf? If so, do they not also deserve blame for all the non-Platonic ancient scholars whose works were far more useful that Christianity failed to promote? After all, had the popularity of Democritus and Plato been swapped, we would have already had atomic theory and an accurate map of the Solar System millennia ago — and Democritus was on the right track with respect to the vacuum, as well. Plato mostly gave us poetic but very, very worng and impractical bullshit.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

                I talked about Plato because you asked me about Logos. I never implied I thought Plato deserved more credit for the Scientific Revolution than Democritus. Talking about setting up a straw man. You ask me about Logos and I explain how Logos got to Western again WESTERN Europe via Christainity. Then you critize me for not bringing up Democritus.

                By the way, how do you think we know about Democritus? The Church preserved the documents if if they were unsuccessful, that translated Arab documents into Latin making these works available to the first generation of WESTERN European scientists.

        • gbjames
          Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          That was unneccessary.

      • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        No, no one claimed every great scientist was a Christian. Nice, attempt at a stawman, however.

  10. Posted October 24, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Hate to break it to you, but the seven-day week is much, much older than Judaism, though, granted, we trace the roots of the modern seven-day week through the Jewish as opposed to the earlier Babylonian version. And counting itself is much, much older still.

    And you might not have noticed, but our calendar is as multitheistic as they come. The names of the days come from the names of Teutonic gods, though the particular gods are the Teutonic versions of corresponding Pagan gods. Most of the months are named after Pagan gods. The yearly cycle is pegged to a particular Christian demigod. And that’s just English…even other European languages have different (though similar) etymologies….

    Cheers,

    b&

  11. Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Oh, yes. The, “I am smarter (and in this case) more diligent than you so, you should just listen to me argument.” By the way: Didn’t a full time professor of biology start this thread? He evidently has time to discuss such matters. And you evidently have enough time to analyze the amount of time each poster spent on here and then to extrapolate how much of the rest of their time they spent on endeavors you judge as worthy.

  12. Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    Following on from #88, I’d commend Charles Freeman’s The Closing of the Western Mind :

    The conversion of the emperor Constantine to Christianity in 368 AD brought a transformation to Christianity and to western civilization, the effects of which we still feel today. Previously, the Roman empire had absorbed and sustained the Greek intellectual tradition which, in the astronomy of Ptolemy, the medicine of Galen and the philosophy of Plotinus, reached new heights. Constantine turned Rome from the relatively open, tolerant and pluralistic civilisation of the Hellenistic world, towards a culture that was based on the rule of fixed authority. The century after Constantine’s conversion saw the development of an alliance between church and state which stifled freedom of thought and the tradition of Greek rationalism which was intrinsic to it. The churches enjoyed enormous patronage and exemptions from tax, and in return allowed the emperors to take on the definition and enforcement of an increasingly narrow religious orthodoxy.

    This book explores how the European mind was closed by the revolution of the fourth century. It looks at the rise of the ‘divine’ monarch, the struggle as Christianity painfully separated itself from Judaism, the conflict between faith and reason, and the problems in finding any kind of rational basis for Christian theology. In these centuries, a turning-point for Western civilisation, we see the development of Christian anti-Semitism, the origins of the opposition of religion and science and the roots of Christianity’s discomfort with sex, issues which haunt the Christian churches to this day.

    /@

  13. Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    OK, now things are getting really weird … my comments are being posted earlier in the thread, messing with the comment numbering…

    /@

  14. Posted October 26, 2013 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    aristotelian30066 wrote to Ben Goren…
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:44 pm
    “ It’s as if you all believe the Scientific method was conceived in an intellectual vacuum. You seem to think it is more likely that some genius was born who would have developed the scientific method no matter what cultural he was born into than, that such a person would have built upon the ideas of his culture: especially if it was a Judeo-Christian culture….”
    George writes…
    My, my, here’s trouble! My researches, contained in a 2000 page book called ‘Origins of Belief and Behaviour’ concludes just such a thing; that science grew out of dissent, not out of hierarchies of authority such as the religions. Who are those dissenters? Intellectual dissenters such as scientists are intolerant of the social glue of systems of mass deception such as the religions. There seem to me some ornery buggers on this earth who cannot stomach the teaching by authority, and set out to find things for themselves. That process is called ‘Pursuing ‘truth’ as a strategy’ In effect some people, – a very few people –eschew the usual system of gathering information from authority (books and people higher in the authority-structure, or, what is called a university education!) – and go to undermine authority by seeking information from elsewhere. The motivations for seeking truth outside authority are strange and a little perverse. Usually that habit of dissent can be seen in childhood. The habit of dissent begins when the child is first taught unacceptable propositions. Jewish children in particular often feel the sharp cognitive dissonance in family rituals, demands of the synagogue, – and the cool indifference of the world to such imaginary self-protective behaviour. There are many Jewish Nobel Prize-winners.
    We are all familiar with that strategy since it has often played such a big part in intellectual dissent. In ‘truth as a strategy’ the awkward dissenter seeks answers, not because the truth is wonderful, or anything like that, -but because the truth seems to vault over unacceptable and childish conclusions, such as goddidit. Clever people seek the truth because of the shame of organised falsehood. It is a deliberate act of rebellion. But that is exactly how religious people see atheism; as a deliberate and perverse rebellion!
    It is a human perversity to research the truth in things in a world by which the human brain is dedicated to rationalise the assumptions of our forefathers.
    We all know of Newton who tried alchemy and biblical prophesy in order to reconcile an awful inner conflict between his intense Arian Christian beliefs, and the indifference of the world around him. He alighted upon a strategy that gave him the truth about the movement of planets and the forces involved, and the truth about ‘pure’ white light, and many other things that caught his interest. Despite his religious beliefs that tended to draw him towards the normal religious clap-trap concerning the mysterious ways of his gods. In other words he saw through the falsity of religious explanations, while deeply committed to the proposition that the world originated in the mind of gods. His ‘truth as a strategy’ was toward a replacement explanation of how his gods made the world, its objects and its processes. Incidentally, his date for Jesus coming back and killing everyone of earth is 2060.
    Most people love the warm fuzzies of interlocking false explanations such as those of the bible. Only exceptional circumstances make the human brain draw back from authority to strike out in whatever direction his researches take. But armed with the processes (a gift for mathematics, in the case of Newton) that lead to discovering the truth of the world, its objects and its processes, that sense of shame felt by clever people in living with with organised lies, is somewhat assuaged.
    Nobody pursues the truth of the world, unless… Unless it is a strategy to move away from the ordure of traditional beliefs. Strange to realise that our greatest scientists are not motivated by a love of truth, but by a the shame of organised lies. That is why science and religion must be seen as two different categories. And the dissenting scientific mind can do wonders when it dedicates itself to move the poor wretch of a scientist far away from the filth of traditional beliefs upon which human history is based.
    And now we have a new theological movement that attempts to deny the rebellious nature of science. It is called ‘Clergy in Lab-Coats’ They tried ID, but it has failed. The latest wheeze (English word) is to conflate science and religion; to insists that science and religion are compatible, and that science grew out of religion! Preposterous and arrogant notion. The scientific brain and the religious brain are two polar opposites of human Brain Operating Systems. The religious Brain Operating System is dedicated to forming a complete and authoritarian system of explanation. You can see it at work in religion and the Social Sciences. And all such systems are subject to ‘Exponential Error Dispersion’ in that the bulkier the mass of false explanation the more perverse and bizarre it becomes. Eventually the propositions of the Social Sciences or religion make an intelligent person gasp out loud. And for us to ask, how could they possible believe such stuff??!! And theology dances upon some of the greatest fantasy inventions of the human brain! The scientific Brain Operating System has very little loyalty to past knowledge. It can change with every fresh observation.
    I don’t usually read theology books, but what with ‘Darwin’s Doubt’ and Hannam’s appalling ‘God’s Philosophers…’ I find myself appraising the work of ‘Clergy who Wear Lab-Coats’ What embarrassing and gut-wrenching deception!! They, the Clergy in Lab-Coats must know deep down that they are traducing reality to make cover for their holy books. I am presently reading the Hannam book, and it is a classical example of ‘Exponential Error Dispersion’ in that the need to keep invisible gods alive, the whole of historical reality is sacrificed; it has been distorted and reworked by a collection of tricks of rhetoric, of half-truths, of quote-mining, of false implication, and of outright deception. It is another bible, stuffed with pseudoscience, and redolent of a hidden agenda; Catholic in this case. But look to Amazon and see the usual suspects reviewing that book. So many clergy, who, somehow, forget to admit of their religious bias. Is there a collective word for Christian Apologists? ‘A Conspiracy of Clerics,’

    • Posted October 26, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      The historiography that you are labeling “Clergy in Lab-Coats” isn’t new. It’s about 100 years old and it was to counter some pseudo-history promulgated in the 19th century. The history you’re criticizing wasn’t written by clergy.
      You are labeling scientist as dissenters. I always thought the idea of science was to have a neutral agenda while learning about nature via experimentation. Calling them dissenters implies the scientists are just contrarians whose goals are not to learn the truth but instead, to attack conventional wisdom (in other word: upset the apple cart.) The ideal scientist will follow where the science leads whether it debunks or confirms conventional wisdom.
      Again, the idea that there just happened to be ingenious dissenters in Western Europe in the 15th century and that these same geniuses would have been just as successful if they were born in 8th century China seems implausible. Just looking at it statistically.
      The idea that any scientific discovery or successful theory could have been made by a scientist/dissener who no prior knowledge to build upon is absurd. I doubt Einstein would agree that he could have come up with the Theory of Relativity without knowing something of Isaac Newton. Where did he learn about Newton? Rom the institutions you prejoratively called “the usual system of gathering information from authority (books and people higher in the authority-structure, or, what is called a university education!)”
      The argument is that the Judeo-Christian culture (which admittedly owes a lot to the Greeks) was more conducive to individual thought than any other cultures at the time or existed before.

  15. Posted October 26, 2013 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Damn! I just posted a long letter in response to Aristotelian 30066, and my letter is up above his, at 65. I also slammed Hannam, and the habit of the clergy of hiding their affiliation when reviewing books. but more importantly I outlined how science and religion have no possible connection, except this new movement called ‘Clergy in Lab-Coats’ whereby they claim science as their own. I wonder where this missive will land.


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  2. […] using it, and attack the person mentioning anyway. Here’s a Christian example, and another atheist example, both directed at me. If both sides argue with me, I’ve achieved perfect balance in the […]

  3. […] reader “Py” wrote in trying to add a comment to an old post, “Did Christianity (and other religions) promote the rise of science?” Here’s the […]

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