He Blinded Me with Science Part… the Third: The Final Chapter

The conversation continues…

I know… I know… different 80′s science reference. But how often will I get a chance to use this pic on a Catholic blog?

BOB:  “I’m asking for evidence for this remarkable claim”  (that Christian cosmology is necessary for science).

Dr. Greg: You mean other than the entire academic discipline of the history of science?  I’m afraid you’ve got me there.   Start with Stanley Jaki’s foundational book, “The Savior of Science.”  Columbia University has a brief summary of some of his major points here.

BOB:  “I’ve read this claim from other Christian thinkers, but I didn’t find their claims any better defended.”

Dr. Greg:  Not sure what you mean.  The history of science and epistemology aren’t primarily the purview of Christian thinkers.  How much reading have you done in either field?

BOB:  “I don’t see what’s special here. Couldn’t you and I brainstorm and come up with a dozen make-believe religions that also satisfied your need for a cosmology that presents an orderly universe?”

Dr. Greg:  We could, but you’re asking me to indulge in a fantasy. There are a million scenarios that we could conjure up in our fantasies, but I’m asking you to stick to how science actually came to be.  It has a story.  A real story.   You should get to know it.  That’s not a dig.  I mean it.  Someone in your position needs to know this stuff.  History shows that  science, as a sustained, systematic, enterprise was not a gift from the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  It was a gift of Christianity, and specifically, the Catholic Church.

BOB:  “…Just don’t go into science with a religious presupposition.”

G:  Tell that to these dudes.    Bob, I do understand that it is an inconvenient truth, but science is, in fact, founded almost entirely on religious presupposition. You’re flirting dangerously close to scientism.   http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~mryder/scientism_este.html

BOB:  “And what happens when there’s a conflict between science and scripture?”

G:  Your fundamentalist slip is showing again.   Christianity is more than the bible.  This particular objection has never been an issue for traditional Christians.   20th Century American fundamentalists?  Sure.  Traditional Christians?  Never.  And in anticipation of your Gallileo objection

BOB:  “People are inquisitive and they found that an accurate understanding of the world led to progress. Where’s the puzzle?”

G:  So, “Science happens.”  THAT’s your argument?  Here’s the problem.  Science doesn’t just happen. That’s your 21st Century Western Christ-haunted bias talking.   I will grant that science tried to happen many times throughout human history but until Christianity came along it did not have the fertile soil it needed (Christian cosmology), a systematic way of conducting it (Bacon’s Scientific Method), the institutional structure to support its growth (monasteries) and a comprehensive means of communicating itself (the Church’s development of the university system).

With that, I do think I’ve done the best I can.  I hope at least some of my comments have given you food for thought.  I’ll give you the last word.  I genuinely appreciate the opportunity to thoughtfully engage these issues with you.  Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to do it again.   God Bless!

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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.

  • Theodore Seeber

    This link might help:

    Same argument, but it starts with a guy who is a pretty accomplished Paleontologist- all thanks to a quote from Augustine of Hippo in Life Magazine in 1953.

  • davidt

    Awesome!!! evolution being used In arguement for science development from religion and a scientist in denial exactly like an intelligent design advocate in religion. We have a neuro match aspergers!!! God is an aspergers male who created the cosmos ex nihilo and then manifested himself ex nihilo into being a scientist who is independent of evolution god the cosmos in hypo reductionism. Books are a funny feedback loop to say the least in a book kult-ure.

    • Theodore Seeber

      Did it ever occur to you that it might be the atheist who is stuck in denial and skepticism, rather than the theist scientist who is willing to look at more evidence?

  • Darren

    Dr. Popcak said;

    ”So, “Science happens.” THAT’s your argument? Here’s the problem. Science doesn’t just happen. That’s your 21st Century Western Christ-haunted bias talking. I will grant that science tried to happen many times throughout human history but until Christianity came along it did not have the fertile soil it needed (Christian cosmology), a systematic way of conducting it (Bacon’s Scientific Method), the institutional structure to support its growth (monasteries) and a comprehensive means of communicating itself (the Church’s development of the university system).”

    It is an interesting question and certainly one with makes the Atheist community rather nervous: what debt do we liberated 21st century types owe to the Christian religion, Church, worldview, etc. If true, then we should all be happy to acknowledge that debt.

    I have no special knowledge to contribute, but I do have questions.

    If we are interested in the contribution that Christianity itself made, as opposed to the contributions of individual thinkers who may (or may not) have been practicing, or even acculturated, Christians then we must look carefully.

    Certainly during a period in history when the vast majority of Europeans where (for whatever reason) Christian, one would expect through simple statistics that the vast majority of scientists and scientific advances to proceed from Christians. This is a historic fact and no sense in disputing it.

    But to what extent did their Christianity, or the Christianity of the culture in which they were immersed in the case of those scientists who were not strictly orthodox, allow, enable, or encourage their thought? Would their thoughts have been as great had they not had the benefit of the Christian worldview? Was it something intrinsic to Christianity, some intrinsic Christian characteristic that made the European Christian so much more capable than the Hindu, the Muslim, the Jew, the Pagan, the Buddhist? Perhaps so.

    During those same periods, virtually all scientific and philosophical advances were also made by men. Would we be justified in saying then to modern women that they owe a debt to all of the male thinkers, and that without them, the scattered and feeble attempts by women scientists and philosophers would never have amounted to much of anything? Is there something likewise inherently superior about the male brain, at least as applies to reason, science, philosophy, theology, and all those fields in which the contributions of women have been so comparatively feeble? Some do maintain this to be the case, and it would follow from the historical record, but I should not like to be the one to deliver that news…

    It is unfortunate that we cannot run controlled trials, rewind Europe and see how things would have turned out had Greek or Roman Polytheism persisted, or if the fall of Rome had preceded the conversion of Constantine and then perhaps Germanic Paganism held sway. Would advances have been as swift and sure as they were under the Christian yoke?

    I have no answer, but I do wonder if we might look at the rate of advances compared with the power and influence of Christianity and see if the waxing and waning of the one correlates with the other. Dr. Popcak has taken Bob to task for mixing his Christianities, by confusing Traditional Christianity (and by this I will assume more or less the Roman Catholic Church) with ‘reformers’ (for which I will take this to be Protestantism in general). Dr. Popcak would appear to be claiming that it is more specifically the traditional Christian worldview which is so conducive to the advance of human understanding, and not the rather notoriously limited thoughts of the ‘reformers’.

    So, does the advance of philosophy and science track with the waxing and waning power and influence of traditional Christianity?

    I propose starting the period of traditional Christian power and influence with the Conversion of Constantine in 312 CE. So, that puts all of the science, art, technology, and philosophy of the classical period on the non-Christian side along with developments of the Roman era such as the road, cement, plumbing, steel, etc.

    From 312 to about 1500 we have smooth sailing, though. The traditional Christianity steadily growing in influence and power. I will leave it to others to catalog the scientific and philosophical advances of this period, though we should be careful not to mistakenly attribute advances taken from the Muslims during the Crusade years or the Moorish occupation of Spain from ~ 827 to 1492.

    From the 14th to 17th century we have the Renaissance, which seems to point pretty clearly to traditional Christian enabled advance, but many sources also ascribe the spark which ignited the Renaissance to classical, thus non-Christian sources. I am not sure how to call this one, so perhaps a draw…

    The Protestant Reformation would seem to be the first major blow against what Dr. Popcak would consider Traditional Christian power and influence. The damage was confined at least to the Northern parts of Europe at first, so I suppose others could chime in and say if the now divided Europe showed differing levels of advances after 1521.

    The secession of England from traditional Christianity in 1534 would have been another blow, but again offers us the chance to compare subsequent advances in the still faithful France, Italy, and Southern Germany with the advances of the so called reformers in Northern Germany and the UK.

    The Age of Enlightenment starting around the mid-1600’s saw a further erosion of the power and control of traditional Christianity, though the culture established by Christianity certainly endured and many (perhaps most) of the contributors identified as Christian, though many of those as no longer traditional Christians, and some even as that proto-Atheist concept, the Deist.

    No sense belaboring the point. The 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries all saw further erosion of the power and influence of traditional Christianity, yet each saw further acceleration of the pace of advance.

    So, in summary, if there were some intrinsic principle in Christianity that enabled, encouraged, enhanced the advance of philosophy, rationality, and science, we would expect to find the periods of greatest achievement to correspond to those periods of greatest traditional Christian influence. Conversely, we would expect that periods of decreased traditional Christian influence would correspond with a slowing, or complete cessation, of advance. It is an exercise left to the reader to review the historical record and determine if such a correlation holds.

    I am more than happy to give credit where credit is due. We only reach so high, it has been rightly said, because we stand upon the shoulders of giants. The contributions of the many Christian men (and some women) to modern though are staggering and most appreciated. So, too, are the contributions of the pagan Romans and Greeks, and Muslims. My sincere thanks to you all.

    Thank you in advance for your considered answers to these, my questions.

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      Hi Darren,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. A lot of good stuff there.

      Let me try a metaphor to help you see where I’m coming from. Based on what you’re writing, I think I inadvertently gave you the impression that I think Christianity is an engine that drives science. In your perception of my argument, the bigger the engine the faster the car. That is, the more vibrant the Christianity the bigger and better the science. Likewise, as the engine gets smaller (i.e., Christianity loses its influence) less and worse quality science should be produced.

      I don’t actually think this at all. In fact, I think its demonstrably false.

      Here is a better way to describe what I mean.

      Science is like a skyscraper. Subsequent findings build on top of each other. The stability of each subsequent finding is dependent upon the stability of the floors (facts) beneath the newest floor (discovery).

      My argument, which is really not my argument at all but my distillation of the argument of sociologists of religion like Rodney Stark and historians of science like Stanley Jaki, is that the scientific skyscraper is built on the foundation of Christian cosmology. You could live on the 100th floor and never know what’s in the basement (or care). You could even build another 100 floors and never know or care what the basement looks like or is made of. BUT that doesn’t change the fact that your ability to build the first 100 floors or to continue to build the next 100–in fact, (and most importantly) your ability to begin building the skyscraper at all–is directly dependent on the quality and the strength of the basement.

      Other cultures throughout history made pretty good goes at building the “science skyscraper” but it always collapsed after the first, second, third floor. No one could get the thing to stand. Until the Christians came along. Then, all of a sudden, we have a foundation that can stand a 1000 years of constant building and expansion and nothing we pile on top of the thing makes the foundation crack.

      That said, because we are living in a post-christian society, the foundation is starting to crack and we ARE starting to see a change in the quality of the science that is produced.

      The Enlightenment was a reaction-formation to Christianity, but like any good reaction-formation, it retained the core beliefs of the ideas it was reacting against. Christianity believed that truth was knowable. So did the Enlightenment, which really, was Christianity’s angry teen-age son. Christianity believed in an orderly, predictable universe. So did the Enlightement. Christianity had taught for Centuries before the Enlightenment that research was a path to knowledge. The Enlightenment agreed. Where father and son parted ways was that where Christianity was comfortable with both mystery and reason, the Enlightenment jettisoned mystery and claimed everything could be known through reason. The Enlightenment was undiluted logical positivism.

      BUT stripped of mystery, eventually, positivism falls on hard times. It becomes obvious that not everything can be known and little can ever be known for sure. Now we have post-positivism.

      Then post-positivism falls on hard times. People begin to think that post-positivism is still too sure of itself. Truth isn’t just questionable. It’s personal and subjective. So now, post-positivism falls to phenomenology. But then even phenomenology is too confident. Who’s to say your truth is better than mine? So then phenomenology gives way to “action research” , feminist theory and queer theory where there is no truth at all, only politics and power and research in service of agendas.

      And that’s where we are.

      Our post-Christian society is tunneling under the Christian intellectual foundation of the Science Skyscraper and because of that, there is more junk science and crap research being produced than ever. Since truth doesn’t really exist (how can it if God is dead?) then the point of research is not finding truth, but profit and self-aggrandisement.

      Thank you for the opportunity to dialog with you.

      • Darren

        Thank you, Greg, for the considerate response.

        Previously, you were claiming that there was something unique to Catholicism, some characteristic that was singularly conducive to the flourishing of philosophy, reason, and, ultimately, science in Europe and then the Western World. This is a very specific claim, that it was Catholicism, not Theism, not mono-Theism, not even Christianity, but traditional Christianity embodied then as now in the Roman Catholic Church.

        ”History shows that science, as a sustained, systematic, enterprise was not a gift from the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was a gift of Christianity, and specifically, the Catholic Church.”

        From your response I now take this position to have evolved into a claim that it was the singular properties of the Catholic worldview that “merely” established the _foundations_ of reason and science and that it should come as no surprise that other worldviews coming later and finding such a well-crafted and robust footing would then be able to seize the baton and race upwards. You were so kind as to provide an analogy to illustrate this more nuanced claim.

        As a professional engineer, I happen to know a few things about the construction of skyscrapers. The methods and materials used in the design and construction of the foundations of skyscrapers are precisely the same methods and materials that are used to design and construct the subsequent 1st floor, 5th floor, or 105th floor. There are subtleties to the effective management of soil bearing loads, groundwater intrusion, vibrational and seismic effects that are different from wind loading and resonant sway, but it is the same math, the same geometry, the same basic materials of steel and concrete, the same computer modeling software, the same drawings, and symbols, and mutually agreed-upon vernacular. We engineers do not use Aristotelian alchemy with its Earth, Air, Fire, and Water for the foundations, then switch to Atomism for floors 2 and up.

        This is to preface that if we are now claiming that Catholicism was a necessary condition for the establishment of reason and philosophy and science, that it laid the metaphorical foundation, but that once this yeoman’s task was accomplished, then any of a number of other systems could then take over, some even perhaps outpacing the accomplishments of Catholicism.

        The objection naturally springs to mind that if these other systems can do such a good job carrying on the work which Catholicism started, then could not those other systems have done the original work to begin with?

        I am afraid this new tack does nothing to address the original proposed test of your theory:
        1. There is some unique property of Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, which is singularly conducive to the foundation and advancement of reason, philosophy, and science.
        2. The strength, pervasiveness, power, and influence of the Catholic worldview varies both temporally and geographically.
        3. Therefore, it would follow that those locations and periods where Catholicism was most influential would also correspond with those locations and periods in which the establishment and advance of reason, philosophy, and science were greatest.

        This is, however, simply not the case as others on Bob’s blog have so ably demonstrated (MNb and Mr. X are great fun).

        It is a historical fact that modern, Western reason, philosophy, and science originated and developed in Europe. Why this is so is an open question. Such thought and scientific advance was not unique to Europe, it cropped up from time to time in multiple other locations, but for reasons beyond the scope of this post those efforts faltered.

        In a former age, it was viewed to be the unique gifts of the European brain, of the white race, that accounted for such poor performance among the colored races. Thankfully, while this view persists among some, thanks to the efforts of we PC liberal elite, few dare utter such views in public.

        In a former age, it was viewed to be the unique gifts of the male brain, of we blessed with the great and powerful penis, that gifted science and reason to the world and accounted for the rather poor performance of the unblessed female. While this age is not so former as the first, we PC liberal elites are endeavoring to silence these voices as well.

        There are, possibly, reasons. But then again, perhaps not. The Anthropic principal may be at work. It happened, we are proof of that. Given that it happened, and it had to happen somewhere, it may have just been dumb luck it was (Christian) Europe. Perhaps.

        For me, when looking for a foundational tradition to give thanks to, my money is on the pagan Greeks and their inheritors the Romans.

        Thank you again for article and responding posts.

        P.S. It lies outside of the point of my postings, but you did say one thing which I find very curious:

        ”Our post-Christian society is tunneling under the Christian intellectual foundation of the Science Skyscraper and because of that, there is more junk science and crap research being produced than ever. Since truth doesn’t really exist (how can it if God is dead?) then the point of research is not finding truth, but profit and self-aggrandisement.”

        I am curious as to what, exactly, you mean by this statement. While I can scarcely claim to track even the smallest fraction of the science being produced, the only “junk” that I see is sourced from economically, politically, or religiously motivated pseudo-science. If there is an avalanche of “crap research” being published in the peer reviewed world, I would be very interested in seeing it…

        • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg


          1. I do appreciate your thoughtful response, but just to be clear, my argument didn’t “evolve.” This has been my argument from the beginning. I think if you go back and read the original thread, that will be clearer to you. As I pointed out in my comments to you, you were misunderstanding me. Likewise, I agreed that if I was saying what you claim I was saying, I would have been both wrong and an idiot. We’ve always been on the same page there.

          2. Every analogy has its limits. I was not arguing that my analogy was literally true. I was offering an illustration. I’m glad it seems to have helped you understand my meaning a bit better.

          3. That said, nothing you wrote changes anything about the fact that in order for reason and science to flourish at all it needed Christianity. As you point out, once a building has its foundation, you can build all manner of things on it and the original designers/contractors/builders/architechts who poured the foundation don’t have to be involved with the construction of the 100th floor, nor do they have to use the same methods if they don’t want to. That said, everything that is built up there still rests upon that same foundation.

          Science rests upon a cosmology that was only possible because of Christianity’s proclamation of an orderly universe created by a God who both wedded himself to creation and makes himself knowable through the study of nature. I grant that, by and large, the facts of this cosmology are well-enough empirically established that scientists can now plagiarize the cosmology without attribution. But theft doesn’t alter the original authorship.

          4. Regarding my junk science comment. What I meant is clear enough from the brief epistemological history I provided.

          Thank you for your comments.

          Dr. Greg

  • Bob Seidensticker


    We’ve been discussing this bold claim of yours, that modern science was built on a Christian foundation. One of my readers left a good comment. You might want to give it a read.

  • Darren

    Who is John D. Steinrucken?

    From my internet search, I find copious references to the one, and only one, article in American Thinker. He is not a staff member, he does not appear to have written anything else.

    There is a US patent for a beehive cover from 1981 in Lousiana issued to a John D. Steinrucken.

    There is some chatter about crossword puzzled and other minor matters from a John D. Steinrucken in the Tico Times, “…Central America’s leading English-language news source…”

    ”Although I am a secularist (atheist, if you will), I accept that the great majority of people would be morally and spiritually lost without religion. Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion? Is it not comforting to live in a community where the rule of law and fairness are respected? Would such be likely if Christianity were not there to provide a moral compass to the great majority? Do we secularists not benefit out of all proportion from a morally responsible society?”

    This does not exactly sound like any atheist that I know…

    Even those non-thesists, like myself, who are willing to _entertain_ the proposition that religion _may_ have had a net positive effect on the development and maintenance of civilization would have called a halt long before such effusive Christian centricities.

    Methinks I smell a rat…

  • Jack

    Dr. Greg,

    1. you can find it online. spinoza’s ethics, appendix of part 1
    doctrine of the ends=final causes
    2. got an e-mail? i have 3 papers for you.

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      Thank you very much for the kind offer to read your papers. I’m afraid I wouldn’t have time. I barely have time to read my own papers and my publisher feels rather strongly that I should. I’m sorry that I’ll have to pass, but please do keep reading and commenting. Good to have your voice. Dr.Greg

      • jack

        I did not mean they were my papers. I have copies of 3 essays by M. B. Foster.