Science and Christianity

Thomas C. writes:

Ed,

I was enjoying Anthony Garettʼs article on evolution until I reached this point.

“In fact, far from being opposed to Christian theology, I hold that the theory of evolution is deeply conditioned by it. It would be an enormous coincidence if the scientific method arose within the only culture to have been evangelized for many centuries by chance. Science is an enterprise that seeks to make the world more comprehensible to man, and Christianity is the only faith to maintain that the world is comprehensible to man, since in Christ the creator has made himself known and through him all is knowable. Christian faith that the world is comprehensible to man, and that the enterprise of trying to comprehend it is therefore worthwhile, finally bore the fruit that is science. It could not have happened elsewhere. Evolution is a fully scientific theory and is part of the Christian tradition of seeking order in creation, even though it makes no explicit reference to God.”

Many cultures participated in the sciences long before Christianity took hold on Western civilization! The Maya tracked the heavens, and predicted Lunar Eclipses! Africa was a beacon of scientific knowledge before Europeans ever put a foot on the African continent! And the list goes on! Please, Mr. Garett, Donʼt get too ahead of yourself! Christianity doesnʼt give you the hold on the scientific method!

Thomas

Science and Christianity

Under the first Christian Roman Emperors, Christians grew wary (to say the least) of anything “pagan,” including “pagan” schools of learning, wisdom and books:

Paganism was reclassified as a demonic system. If Satan was the source of error and evil, false teaching and wrongdoing were not merely mistaken: they were diabolic. The division between a Christian “community of goodness” and an “outer world of evil” could easily become too pronounced. The idea of Satan magnified the difference between “true” and “false” Christians and between Christian sinners and saints.

Like Satan, the Last Judgment was a force that Christians exaggerated and then claimed to be able to defeat. This teaching was reinforced by an equally powerful ally, the Christian idea of sin. Sin was not just the sin of an action, or even an intention, but also the sin of a thought, even a passing interest in an appealing man or woman. This combination of rarefied sin and eternal punishment was supported, as we shall see, by books of vision and revelation that were probably more widely read than modern contempt for “pseudepigraphic” forgeries allows: acquaintance with the Apocalypse of “Peter” would make anyone think twice before leaving the Church (we happen to know that “Peterʼs vision of hell” was still read as a holy text in the churches in Palestine on Good Friday during the fifth century). If fears for Eternity brought converts to the faith, one suspects that they did even more to keep existing converts in it.
—Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1987), p.326-327, 330-331, 412


Institutions of higher learning had been largely destroyed. The [Christian] emperorsʼ attacks had centered on the chief of them, Athens and Alexandria, in the late fourth century and were turned against them again toward the end of the fifth and in 529. [“529 A.D.” was the year that the School of Athens was closed by the decree of the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian, the same Justinian who also outlawed sodomy, because, “It is well known that buggery is a principal cause of earthquakes, and so must be prohibited.”—E.T.B.]. As to the initiators of the persecution, the [Christian] emperors themselves, a steady decline in their level of cultivation has been noticed. Thus books and philosophy were bound to fade from sight.

After Constantine there existed an empire-wide instrument of education: the church. What bishops, even emperors, made plain, and what could be heard in broader terms from every pulpit, was an agreed upon teaching. Every witness, every listener should know the great danger to his soul in Platoʼs books, in Aristotleʼs, in any of the philosophical corpus handed down from the past. The same danger threatened anyone using his mind according to their manner, with analytical intent, ranging widely for the materials of understanding, and independent of divine imparted teachings.

Another factor that arose specifically out of the ongoing conversion of the empire was the doctrine of demonic causation. The belief in the operation of maleficent forces on a large scale had to await Christianity; and it was of course Christianity that was to form the medieval and Byzantine world.

Satanic agents were to be seen as the cause not only of wars and rebellions, persecution and heresy, storms at sea and earthquakes on land, but of a host of minor or major personal afflictions. So, in consequence, Christians were forever crossing themselves, whatever new action they set about, and painted crosses on their foreheads too, responding to their leadersʼ urging them to do so. It would protect them against all evil.
—Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries


The libraries [of Alexandria] were surely in decline under Christians who, following their triumph over pagans, Jews, and Neoplatonists, found the Hellenic riches of the libraries discomfiting. Their anger reached a fever pitch in the fourth century A.D.: Theophilus, patriarch of Alexandria, desired the site of the temple of Serapis [a huge temple/library and part of the libraries of Alexandria] for a church; he set loose a mob of Christians, who destroyed the pagan temple, and perhaps, the books of its library as well.

The [rest of the] libraries of Alexandria probably shared a modest fate, moldering slowly through the centuries as people grew indifferent and even hostile to their contents. Ancient Greek, never a linguistic monolith in any case, became incomprehensible to Alexandrians of the Christian era with their mixture of Coptic, Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, and Koine, or demotic Greek. Ignored by the generations to whom they were indecipherable, the scrolls would have been damaged, stolen, lost, and yes, burned. They were replaced by writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the church and by the thinning literature of the declining Roman world.
—Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), p.24,32


Art, philosophy, literature, the very psychology of Western man, all suffered by the victory of the bishops.
—John Holland Smith, The Death of Classical Paganism


To understand the resurgence of interest in science in Europe, one must read the recent book, Aristotleʼs Children (look up a synopsis and reviewerʼs comments on the web) that points out that Christian Platonism was a dead end for science and only Islamic translations of Aristotle jump started modern science, not Christianity.

And though science flourished under Christianity after the rediscovery of Aristotle, lots of things flourished in Europe at that time. As Jared Diamond pointed out in his prize-winning bestseller, Guns, Germs, and Steel, after the last ice age, Europe was filled with more plants that could be cultivated and eaten by human beings, and Europe had the best soil too, ground up rocks adding minerals after the glaciers had retreated about ten thousand years ago. Europe also had rich forests filled with wood for building and heat, and many thick lush rivers of clean water. So Europe, during the Middle Ages had some natural advantages other parts of the world didnʼt have, plus the high pagan Roman culture of her past with its lessons in art, architecture and science. So Europe continued to increase in food production and population, and that led to more minds with more free time, more inventions, and curiosity, especially about her pagan past.

Copernicus, Galileo and Leonardo were influenced by classical Hellenistic idea, ideals and glories, as were many inventors, scientists and artists of the Renaissance. In fact Copernicusʼ revolutionary book on heliocentric astronomy contained references to pagan gods and sun worship (as Christian geocentrists like Dr. Bouw point out in disgust. *smile*) Neither were later scientists necessarily orthodox Christians. For instance Isaac Newton and Joseph Priestly, two geniuses, were heretical in their Christian beliefs, both being pro-Arians (anti-Athanasius), influenced by the growing religious questions and controversies of their day.

Lastly, no matter what the origins of science, it survives quite well on its own, practiced by people of all religions or lack thereof, and allows a wide variety of believers of whatever spiritual or non-spiritual kinds to agree on more things on earth than on heaven, quite an accomplishment in and of itself.

Or as someone else pointed out, “science” is like a cuckoos egg laid in the nest of Christianity, but was not the same species of the other birds in the nest, and even began nudging the eggs of the native birds out of the nest to make room only for itself. *smile*

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