Christian multi-universe theories

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The scholastic theology of the Middle Ages was very much in thrall to the philosophy of Aristotle.  One of the themes of the Reformation was to move away from Aristotelian thought in favor of the Hebraic thought of the Bible.  But already in the Middle Ages, Aristotle had his critics.  In 1277, the Pope asked the Bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier, to look into reports that some of the faculty members at the University of Paris were taking Aristotelianism way too far.  So Tempier studied the matter and came up with a list of 219 propositions in Aristotle that were heretical.  Any professor teaching them would be excommunicated and would lose his position.

Church-imposed censorship of the free inquiry and the untrammeled life of the mind that are at the heart of the university!  So some would consider it.  But a line of research today, detailed in the article linked after the jump, argues that Tempier’s list had the effect of liberating Western thought from Aristotle’s scientific teachings.  And this, in turn, was an important factor in the rise of modern science.

One of the teachings that Bishop Tempier condemned was the notion of Aristotle’s that only one universe is possible.  Tempier said that this denies God’s omnipotence.  If God wanted to, He could create any number of separate universes.

This led to other theologians speculating as to how that might, in fact, be the case.  And how those universes would also be inhabited with different forms of life.  All anticipating today’s multi-universe theories and speculation about alien life and civilizations.

Sarah Laskow tells this fascinating tale at Atlas Obscura, quoted and linked after the jump.

Yes, multi-universe theories are nothing new.  Milton alludes to them.  As I understand it, Mormons believe that those who get to go to Heaven will become gods of their own universe.  But the difference between the difference between what William of Ware and Nicholas of Cusa were speculating about and many of today’s multi-universe theories is that the latter hinge not on God’s creativity but on all possibilities being realized from our universe.

William of Ware said that any multiple universes must be parallel to and completely separate from our own, with no possibility of their interacting.  Some multi-verse theorists today speak in that same way, but what some quantum physicists are saying is that every possibility here, in our universe,  creates another universe.  A subatomic particle randomly moves to the left.  In another universe, it moves to the right.  Similarly, I choose to walk through the door on my left.  In another universe, I choose to walk through the door on my right.  In another universe, Hitler won the war.  In another universe, Archduke Ferdinand was never assassinated and World War I, the Russian Revolution, World War II, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War never happened.

I may not have that right.  (Someone who knows, please correct me.)  But my impression is that the Christian versions of this theory hold that God could and might have created multiple universes, whereas the postmodern versions have human or random actions bringing them into existence.

But read what Sarah Laskow has to say on the subject. . . . [Read more…]

The myth of ‘settled science’

Charles Krauthhammer says there is no such thing as “settled science”:

“The debate is settled,” asserted propagandist in chief Barack Obama in his latest State of the Union address. “Climate change is a fact.” Really? There is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge. [Read more…]

Christianity & Science

In an article on “Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science,” Hillel Ofek describes and helps account for the great contributions of early Islamic scientists and mathematicians, but he then chronicles how ever-more-absolutist brands of Islam came to shut them down.  Ofek says that civilizations often abandon scientific inquiry–citing China and India–and that the West is the notable exception.  For this he gives Christianity lots of credit:

As a way of articulating questions that lie deeper than the Ash’arism-Mu’tazilism debate, it is helpful to briefly compare Islam with Christianity. Christianity acknowledges a private-public distinction and (theoretically, at least) allows adherents the liberty to decide much about their social and political lives. Islam, on the other hand, denies any private-public distinction and includes laws regulating the most minute details of private life. Put another way, Islam does not acknowledge any difference between religious and political ends: it is a religion that specifies political rules for the community.

Such differences between the two faiths can be traced to the differences between their prophets. While Christ was an outsider of the state who ruled no one, and while Christianity did not become a state religion until centuries after Christ’s birth, Mohammed was not only a prophet but also a chief magistrate, a political leader who conquered and governed a religious community he founded. Because Islam was born outside of the Roman Empire, it was never subordinate to politics. As Bernard Lewis puts it, Mohammed was his own Constantine. This means that, for Islam, religion and politics were interdependent from the beginning; Islam needs a state to enforce its laws, and the state needs a basis in Islam to be legitimate. To what extent, then, do Islam’s political proclivities make free inquiry — which is inherently subversive to established rules and customs — possible at a deep and enduring institutional level?

Some clues can be found by comparing institutions in the medieval period. Far from accepting anything close to the occasionalism and legal positivism of the Sunnis, European scholars argued explicitly that when the Bible contradicts the natural world, the holy book should not be taken literally. Influential philosophers like Augustine held that knowledge and reason precede Christianity; he approached the subject of scientific inquiry with cautious encouragement, exhorting Christians to use the classical sciences as a handmaiden of Christian thought. Galileo’s house arrest notwithstanding, his famous remark that “the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes” underscores the durability of the scientific spirit among pious Western societies. Indeed, as David C. Lindberg argues in an essay collected in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (2009), “No institution or cultural force of the patristic period offered more encouragement for the investigation of nature than did the Christian church.” And, as Baylor University sociologist Rodney Stark notes in his book For the Glory of God (2003), many of the greatest scientists of the scientific revolution were also Christian priests or ministers.

The Church’s acceptance and even encouragement of philosophy and science was evident from the High Middle Ages to modern times. As the late Ernest L. Fortin of Boston College noted in an essay collected in Classical Christianity and the Political Order (1996), unlike al-Farabi and his successors, “Aquinas was rarely forced to contend with an anti-philosophic bias on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities. As a Christian, he could simply assume philosophy without becoming publicly involved in any argument for or against it.” And when someone like Galileo got in trouble, his work moved forward and his inquiry was carried on by others; in other words, institutional dedication to scientific inquiry was too entrenched in Europe for any authority to control. After about the middle of the thirteenth century in the Latin West, we know of no instance of persecution of anyone who advocated philosophy as an aid in interpreting revelation. In this period, “attacks on reason would have been regarded as bizarre and unacceptable,” explains historian Edward Grant in Science and Religion, 400 b.c. to a.d. 1550.

via The New Atlantis » Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science.

Augustine indeed, on the basis of the classical science of his day, said there was no need to take the creation account in Genesis literally in every detail, while still affirming the truth of what it means.  Arguably, the worldviews of Christianity and those early scientists were in harmony–indeed, the former made possible the latter–whereas  they started to clash after the Enlightenment and 19th century materialism.  Still. . . .

HT:  Joe Carter