Science and Christianity (part Deux)

Posted: June 3, 2006 in Theo/Philo

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Edward Grant,a historian has said 'It is indisputable that modern science emerged in the seventeenth century in western Europe and nowhere else'.What prompted the emergence of science at this place and at this time?Rodney Stark, a sociologist of religion looked at why modern science emerged out of medieval Europe. He identified 52 individuals who had made the most significant contribution to the scientific revolution. Out of the 52 he found only 2 who were doubtful regarding Christianity-Paracelsus (otherwise known as: Auroleus Phillipus Theostratus Bombastus von Hohenheim) and Edmund Halley.Stark also found out of the group of contributors that 60% showed not just consensual religious views but were devout.There is a relationship between Christianity and modern science that contrary to popular belief continues still.Nature published a survey in 1997, which showed that four out of ten scientists believe in God, 45% said they did not believe with 14% agnostic. This ratio of believers to non-believers has remained constant for 80 years despite all the advances and knock down arguments science has produced.Alfred North Whitehead acknowledges that Christianity is the mother of science because of 'The medieval insistence on the rationality of God’. Whitehead goes on to comment about how belief in Gods rationality leads to a 'inexpugnable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles. Without this belief the incredible labors of scientists would be without hope'Broadly speaking there are two ways to view cause and effect in the natural world, either linearly or cyclically.The cyclical view is echoed in the spinning of the earth and the seasons, recycling in nature. Christianity inherited its view of cause and effect from Judaism, that is a linear view, where history is heading towards a goal and had purpose.Cyclic thinking was demonstrated by the Greeks and partly explains why science never flourished in Greece. The other reason science failed to get anything more than a tentative foothold was the low value Greek philosophy placed on the physical world. For instance for Plato his world was the world of Forms, a world of unchanging, perfect objects existing in some non-natural and non-temporal dimension, a world that is the source of, and more real than, the physical world in which we live. Michael Bumbulis in ‘Christianity and the birth of science’ wrote:’ Aristotle attempted to explain the world in typical Greek fashion. Aristotle postulated a law (in "On the Heavens") which stated that the rate of at which falling bodies speed toward the center of the earth, or its surface for that matter, was determined by their weight. Aristotle said that if two bodies were dropped from the same height, the one with twice the weight as the other would reach the ground twice as fast as the lighter one. This law was simply accepted. And how odd this is! Any construction worker would have observed that this was not true. Anyone could have tested Aristotle's claim with a very simple experiment -climb a house and drop two objects of differing weight. But no Greek ever seemed curious enough to simply test this claim!’Arno Penzias (1978 winner of the Nobel Prize in physics and co-discoverer of cosmic background radiation) says :

"That really goes back to the triumph, not of Copernicus, but really the triumph of Kepler. That's because, after all, the notion of epicycles and so forth goes back to days when scientists were swapping opinions. All this went along until we had a true believer and this was Kepler. Kepler, after all, was the Old Testament Christian. Right? He really believed in God the Lawgiver. And so he demanded that the same God who spoke in single words and created the universe is not going to have a universe with 35 epicycles in it. And he said there's got to be something simpler and more powerful. Now he was lucky or maybe there was something deeper, but Kepler's faith was rewarded with his laws of nature. And so from that day on, it's been an awful struggle, but over long centuries, we find that very simple laws of nature actually do apply. And so that expectation is still with scientists. And it comes essentially from Kepler, and Kepler got it out of his belief in the Bible, as far as I can tell. This passionate belief turned out to be right. And he gave us his laws of motion, the first real laws of nature we ever had. And so nature turned out to redeem the expectations he had based on his faith. And scientists have adopted Kepler's faith, without the cause."

Rather than being the death of Science, Christianity was its midwife! Something even Robert Oppenheimer admitted to in his ‘On Science and Culture’ when he said: "Christianity was needed to give birth to modern science."The popular view of Science and Christianity is one of an antagonistic relationship, this view was encouraged by the enlightenments propagandists, who claimed for them selves the role of progenitors of Science. As George Orwell said ‘History is written by the winners’. The Winners being the dominant worldview. But reality and propaganda are rarely in agreement –the truth is that Science was born out of the knowledge that the world was created by a rational God that gave a linear cause and effect world that could be known by man as man was made in Gods image so there is a coherence between man and the external world .The coherence was understood by Einstein to be the most incomprehensible thing about a comprehensible universe.

 "Many scientists do belive in both Science and God-the God of revelation -in a perfectly consistent way" R.P.Feynman (The relation of Science and Religon)

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