Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Only Reasonable That Christians Invented Science

However, that just makes sense. And it makes absolutely no sense to consider that believing in God is a hindrance to science. First, imperially and historically, this can be disproved. Secondly, why do folks do science? Primarily because the want to know more about how things got the way they are.

Frequent contributor and now friend, Bernardo, commonly maintains that there are two ways of thinking about the universe and how it works. One involves purpose and one doesn't. However, at the root of every desire to know must lie the desire to know not only how, but why. And folks who are serious about their Christianity are always desiring to go deeper, learn more, about God and his purposes. And there is no way to do this without also being aware of the natural world. Thus Biblical Christianity and Science are natural kissing cousins. (I used that on purpose. Heh heh.)


Hey Skipper said...

Despite not being a Christian, I see, and agree with, your point.

That doesn't seem to apply to Islam, though.


bernardo said...

Makes sense to me. (The original post, not the comment about Islam. I just don't know much about Islam, sorry. But if you explain what makes you say "That doesn't seem to apply to Islam", maybe we could get that discussion going).

I would not say "at the root of every desire to know must lie the desire to know not only how, but why". I insist that I am quite comfortable with the idea that sometimes there may be no "Why" at all, and that we can only speculate and guess about "Why" (and about whether there is a "Why" in the first place), while we can actually test and observe the "How"s (which to me is much more satisfying than just speculating and guessing). Do you really not believe me when I say that I don't really worry about the "Why" very much?

But, yes, you're definitely right: If you do believe that there is a "Why" to the universe in general, then it only makes sense that you want to understand as much as you can, in as much detail as you can. So of COURSE religion and science are complementary ways to know the universe, rather than competing ones. Do you really think any reasonable person would disagree?

It's just that some of us don't think that there's a "Why" to everything. We tend to be the ones who have an easier time believing the possibility that all the "How"s may be natural and not miraculous. The only problem is, we get a little mad when, in the course of asking "Why", some people tell us that "There is no way you could ever possibly find a naturalistic 'How' to explain that", and this can make us a little upset. Especially when they try to insist that this supposed impossibility was determined by "Science" and try to teach it in public school classrooms.

Other than that, I don't see a problem. Kiss away =]

PS: Do I link to it yet again? Oh, why the heck not. NOMA!

Tom Foss said...

Christians invented science? I think Archimedes would disagree. While the classical scientists were not so called ("natural philosophy" was the term in those days and for quite some time afterward), their commitment to science and their importance to the scientific world cannot be ignored. No, Christians most certainly did not "invent" science, and for a long time (the Dark Ages), they were chiefly responsible for the suppression thereof, while learning and enlightenment continued in the East (and for quite a long time, the Islamic world were at the forefront of progress and advancement; they are experiencing their own Dark Ages now).

Second, I would say that science as a whole is less concerned with "how things got the way they are" and more with "how things are." "How things got" is part of the purvey of historical scientists (who are, indeed, more concerned with "how things were") and cosmologists, while the majority of science is done with a focus on the here and now (or in the case of astronomy, the "there" and "the billions of years ago when that light was first emitted."

And sadly, there are many Christians who are quite content to practice their beliefs without ever considering the natural world, except to deny it outright as a fraud.

There is an amount to which belief in the supernatural does become a hindrance to the practice of science, and that is in the very different ways we come to believe things about the natural and supernatural worlds. In science, it is foolish and wrongheaded to take matters on faith, to refuse to question the established order, to fail to propose new ideas if they better explain the observations. In the supernatural, faith is the foundation and new ideas and questions are the stuff of heresy, schism, and reformation.

Science certainly owes quite a bit to Christianity; for quite some time, the only real learning, science included, occurred in the monestaries and the religious schools. But fundamentalism, whether it be the torture devices of the Inquisition, the fire and brimstone of the Puritans, or the literalism that has flourished since the '20s, is antithetical to learning, to progress, and to science.

bernardo said...

A curiosity about how the natural world works has always been a part of humanity. Sure, the Greeks and Arabs and other cultures were the first to try to create mathematical models of the world, but these were (for the most part) not verified experimentally. The makeup of matter, the nature of celestial bodies, the function of each of the body's organs, these things were guessed at but not verified or experimented on. It was not until Galileo and Newton (ok, maybe the previous generation or two) that the scientific method was developed, that CHECKING guesses became a part of "natural philosophy". Because, if you're not checking your guesses, then that's just having faith in whatever ideas sound pretty. That's not science.

And those ancient Meditarranean cultures, and Asians over the last 2000 years, did develop most of the math we use today. But math and science are different things. Science relies on the tools that math provides, but they pursue different kinds of knowledge, in different ways.

(The Greeks had "natural philosophy", not science, because they tried to model the natural world in their heads and on paper - i.e. the way you do math, not the way you do science).

I'm not saying that "Christians invented science" is completely correct. But it's pretty close. What I am fairly sure of is that science was not invented (or at least did not catch on) until the second millennium.

You are right, though, in that science is mostly (but not quite entirely) concerned with how things are, not how things became.

As for faith getting in the way of learning about the natural world... Some kinds of religion do get in the way of learning (or just appreciating) science, since so many people have trouble figuring out where one ends and the other begins. But this is by no means true of all religious people. Most of the religious people I have met know that religion can answer certain questions, and science can answer certain questions, and those don't really overlap very much. So having faith, and believing in the supernatural, does not make a person incapable of asking "What naturalistic explanation is there for this phenomenon?". Faith might make them less MOTIVATED to ask that question. Faith might cause them to think that some phenomena are not causal consequences of preceding circumstances... in which case those people can fill those gaps in their understanding of the physical world with "God did it".

The only problem - and this only happens with SOME religious people, it is by no means an inevitable consequence of faith - is when a naturalistic explanation is proposed, theorized, investigated, or discovered, and the person PREFERS to keep that gap in understanding filled with "God did it".

But don't worry about those people too much. We can make progress without them. Let them stay in the middle ages, and meanwhile the rest of us can create technology (using the models they deny) and sell it to them.

They see their world view as consistent and as not lacking anything that they need - and, in a way, they're right. What are you going to do? Well, create a government that protects you from their craziness, that does not help them spread their views, and that ensures you the freedom to disagree with them and not have to face consequences for it. But other than that, you can't (and shouldn't be able to) just make them stop. You can give them Carl Sagan books, talk to them, evangelize, but faith is a very contagious and infectious meme.

Besides, you have different requirements for your world view than they do, so it might be no use trying to sell your world view to them.

Randy Kirk said...

Unless I am a robot and completely devoid of feelings, I want to know what my life means. If I spend 8 hours a day doing research into cures for AIDS or standing in the middle of the street with a sign that says "slow" on one side and "stop" on the other, I want to believe that my life has value.

In order for my life to have any value at all, I must have a purpose. If I'm in the middle of that road with my sign, I'm helping to keep folks from getting hurt. That is my purpose. I can feel good at the end of the day if nobody got hurt. If I'm researching AID's cures, I can feel good that my work might eventually save lives.

But, if the lives I am protecting or saving have no reason for being here other than to propegate spread my genetic matter and die, the it seems pretty useles.

Therefore, as I study the virus, and I know that God has put humans here to love Him and to love others, my endeavor is an outgrowth of that purpose. As I study the virus, I wonder not just how it operates in a test tube, but why God might have created this organism. Is there a potential benefit? How does its existence play out in the big picture? Is AIDS truly a natural consequence of sin, and if so, how does that impact my efforts.

That's why I say it is all intertwined, and why Christians (not every last one of them. We all have our priorities) are more likely than others to seek truths about nature in order to learn more about God and His purposes.

bernardo said...

"Unless I am a robot and completely devoid of feelings, I want to know what my life means."

Sure. But you didn't define what "means" means in this case. Let's say you meant "how my life impacts the lives of others", which is what can be deduced from your second paragraph, about purpose. You think that certain actions will lead to less suffering and more justice, so you take those actions, and you feel good about their impact. Because you don't like suffering or injustice, since you're a compassionate person.

"But, if the lives I am protecting or saving have no reason for being here other than to propagate spread my genetic matter and die, the it seems pretty useless."

Not necessarily. If you're really a compassionate person, then the reduction of suffering and injustice should be its own reward, its own "use".

"I know that God has put humans here to love Him and to love others, my endeavor is an outgrowth of that purpose."

I see that this adds one more dimension of meaning and reward to your activities. But your activities can still be very meaningful and rewarding without this extra layer. Especially since (IMHO) you can't really "know" that this extra layer is not made up.

"... it is all intertwined, ... Christians ... are more likely than others to seek truths about nature in order to learn more about God and His purposes."

So "Christianity is good", is what you're saying. (Sure, I tend to agree with that). Doesn't mean it's correct, though. (Ah, the Dawkins nitpick). If you're trying to say that Christianity is good for the world - as our friend Ben often reminds us - I find this hard to disagree with. But I still prefer to think that the Christian God is fundamentally made up, which does not mean that the Christian God cannot motivate people to do good things and to help everyone learn about how the world actually works.

And there is still the fact that some Christians try to use scientific-looking methods to "prove" that there is no physical model that could possibly account for the causation behind certain events (like the formation of the bacterial flagellum, etc). You have to admit that this is the opposite of the kind of progress that your comment says Christians should value. So there is some correlation between Christianity and a curiosity for how the world works, but it's just not quite that simple.

Randy Kirk said...

The only point of this thread is the simple idea that the Christian love of God creates a desire to know Him, which would also mean His creation. Therefore it is not surprising that Christians started all the major Western Universities prior to the 20th Century.

The subpoint is that you do care about purpose, and you care about origins and whether or not there is a spiritual dimension/life after death. And all of this goes to God's purpose which impacts our purpose. I agree with you that you may approach the problem from a facts based approach, but I don't think you can divorce any experiment from the issue of why?

bernardo said...

"you do care about purpose..."

I care about my purposes. I don't think the universe overall has a purpose. And if it does, I don't think that we'd be able to do much more than just speculate about it.

"and you care about origins..."

Yes I do. And "God did it" does not count as "talking about origins", unless you want to talk about the origin of God.

"and whether or not there is a spiritual dimension/life after death..."

Again, something that I think we probably can't know. But to be honest, the stories of people who have been dead and brought back to life is the only thing that makes me go "Hmmm... Really? Wow" about the possibility of the supernatural, the immortal soul, and all the rest of it. Even more than ESP experiments.

"And all of this goes to God's purpose"

Only if you want it to.

"I don't think you can divorce any experiment from the issue of why"

I insist that you are wrong. I do hope I know myself better than you know me. Or are you suggesting that all naturalists are... deluded?

Randy Kirk said...

Bernardo or others,

Give me an example of an experiment or model or pure scientific endeavor that you have or that you might persue for which the purpose of the information, facts, theories or laws would not enter into your thinking.

Hey Skipper said...


Presuming you mean the underlying purpose, as opposed to the utility to which facts, theories, or laws might be put:




Evolutionary Biology.

bernardo said...

The purpose for me (technology), or the purpose for God?

The purpose for me is always in my thinking. Heck, if you can't come up with a beneficial use for your research, good luck getting a grant.

The purpose for God, though, is what you're talking about here. And that, I study many things without it crossing my mind.

So, instead of "How" vs "Why", I guess we can have

1) How does this work,

2) Why do I care about how it works,

3) Why does it work this way (from the point of view of God's plan for the world).

"1" is Science, "2" is technology, "3" is religion. "3" may motivate some scientists, but not all. Many people, like me, think that "3" can be quite meaningless, that it's impossible to do anything more than just blindly speculate about this question.

Tom Foss said...

But, if the lives I am protecting or saving have no reason for being here other than to propegate spread my genetic matter and die, the it seems pretty useles.

If you need a magical sky-man to make you care about your fellow human beings, then I'm afraid I have no choice but to pity you.

Let's turn it back: if we're only here for the briefest of instants, and God really doesn't give one whit about our lives on this planet, then what meaning does your life have if you're trying to keep people alive? All you're doing is delaying their audience with the Almighty.

Randy Kirk said...


That is such a great response, but fortunately, their are lists of reasons. There are others to be saved through evangelism. To propegate the species. To oversee creation. To give evidence of God through salt and light. And most interesting of all, because God intending our lives on earth to be very joyful, exciting, intresting, and rewarding. Heaven will just be 1000's of times better than our best day here.

hey and Bernardo. I need to roll this one around in the old noggin for a while.

Tom Foss said...

The point is, you act as if God is necessary for you to feel compelled to help your fellow human beings. Nontheists simply don't look at it that way. Not believing God doesn't invalidate the existence of altruism, compassion, and love. I help my fellow human beings because they're my fellow human beings. You're right, you'd have to be an emotionless robot in order to not feel that, and atheists aren't robots.

Furthermore, I'd say that the nontheists have a greater impetus to act here than the theists do. Since we don't believe in an afterlife, this world is all there is. It only makes sense to try to make it a better place, to try to make people happier for their short existences here, when all you have to live for is today. When you don't think you're going someplace a thousand times better than Earth, that just makes you want to make Earth a thousand times better than it is.

As usual, Douglas Adams put this much more succinctly and beautifully than I could: "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" Nontheists believe that people are worth saving and good is worth doing on their own merits, and not because of paradise or souls or a magical man in the sky

Tom Foss said...

Therefore it is not surprising that Christians started all the major Western Universities prior to the 20th Century.

The Lyceum. The Academy. The School at Athens. The schools at Kos and Rhodes. The Library of Alexandria.

Perhaps since the sacking of Rome and prior to the 20th Century, the Christians have developed the majority of major universities, but that's a far cry from "all." And note the number of caveats and hedges in that sentence; we've stretched quite a bit from "Christians invented science."

Also, I'd watch how you use words like "why" and "purpose," which do not necessarily carry metaphysical connotations when you're talking about science. Bernardo addressed this fairly well.

Randy Kirk said...

The issue wasn't about "all" or "invented" it was about the reasonableness. Christians wanting to know. Christians not shrinking from knowledge, but agressively seeking it.

Bryan said...

As heads up, Rodney Stark in his book For The Glory of God outlines exactly what you are talking about in a very specific way. He has a rather long chapter in which he discusses why and how science arose within Christian Europe and also why science did not arise in any other religious cultures.

Randy Kirk said...

Thanks Bryan,

At the rate we are creating great reference links here, I'll never run out of reading material.

bernardo said...

That's one of the dangers of surfing the web.