A Christian article argues that science is built on Christianity. If we forget all the marvelous achievements of other ancient civilizations (the Romans’ roads and buildings, the Greeks’ democracy and philosophy, the Egyptians’ engineering to build the pyramids, and India and China and so on), Christian Europe looks pretty unique. (But then who doesn’t when you eliminate all the competition?)
The article tells us that for all the impressive attributes of those civilizations, only Christian society had experimental science, and the rest is history.
The argument that Christian society uniquely had experimental science is probably debatable, but let’s set that aside. More important, the argument fails because Christian society didn’t have any science to brag of for well over a thousand years after it became the ruling religion within Europe! (More.) So much for Christianity as the talisman that unlocks Nature’s secrets.
This is part two of a three-part series (part 1 here).
Here are five traits of Christianity that the article claims make it a unique incubator for science.
1. God is rational
We believe that God is rational, and that he created an orderly world which mirrors His rationality. So by testing the way the world responds to our activity—via experiments—we can gain reliable knowledge for the future.
I want to see in the Bible where God makes plain that nature was designed to be understandable. Otherwise, the argument is simply an unevidenced claim. “See all this science-y stuff that has brought such benefits to society? We’re responsible for that. You’re welcome.”
And as for an orderly, understandable world, it’s not especially understandable. Get a doctorate in biology, chemistry, or physics and you’ll see that it is anything but straightforward or intuitive. Consider chaos theory, which says that systems can be deterministic and yet inherently unpredictable. Or Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which states that there is a limit to how much precision we can simultaneously know about the properties of elementary particles. Or quantum mechanics, which bewilders our common sense.
To make it worse, humanity will not only never know how much future knowledge about reality we will learn, we will never even know the fraction that we will never know (more). Are we capable of understanding 99 percent of the truths about nature or 1 percent? We’ll never know.
This argument is ridiculous coming from an author who is likely a Creationist but who celebrates science and urges us to conduct experiments and follow the evidence. Last time I checked, Creationists attack science (at least the science that offends their theology), and Christians never build their worldview with evidence.
2. Man mirrors God
We believe that we are images of God. Therefore the world’s rational structure is transparent to the light of our own God-given reason, such that we can gradually come to know it better than our ancestors did.
If we’re created in God’s image, why is the “God’s ways are not our ways” argument paraded out whenever God appears to be irrational or immoral (more, more)? We either reason like God or we don’t—you can’t have it both ways.And, as seen in the previous point, the universe is hardly “transparent” to human minds that were tuned by evolution simply to survive.
The claim “the world’s rational structure is transparent to the light of our own God-given reason” is nothing more than a deepity. A deepity is a statement that, to the extent that it’s true, is trivial, and to the extent that it’s profound, is false. We understand as much of nature as we understand—that’s true but trivial. And (as the author surely intends) to the extent that this claim is profound—our complete understanding of nature makes clear that our brains were tuned by God to understand a Nature tuned by God to be understandable—it’s false.
3. Christianity provides unique insight into time
We believe that the world did not always exist, and won’t disappear then reappear in an endless loop of meaningless cosmic cycles.
This is presumably an attack on the Hindu idea of cyclic time, but I don’t know that I’d throw stones if my Bible’s idea of time were that God created everything in six days.
The well-evidenced idea that time, space, matter, and energy had a beginning 13.8 billion years ago comes from science. Science hasn’t learned anything from religious mythology. If the Bible were scientifically useful, it might’ve contained Maxwell’s equations or the statement of mass-energy equivalence. It doesn’t even have something as simple and practical as a recipe for soap.
4. Christians as stewards of the earth
We believe that the world was created “good,” is sharply distinct from God Himself, and subject to us as its “stewards.” So it is legitimate and good for us to engage it and try to improve it
Great—tell your fellow religionists to take the lead on environmental stewardship. Help get climate change and evolution viewed correctly within conservative Christianity.
5. Christians love progress
We believe in a type of (non-utopian) progress, and think that the world can and should become a more humane place, where suffering diminishes and justice prevails more widely.
You’d think that a benevolent God would want the best for his favorite creation, so why doesn’t he create that? He allows humanity to stumble forward when he could perfect conditions in an instant? In fact, since God has already created a perfect world in heaven, why bother with the crucible of earth? Alternatively, if God deliberately created this imperfect world, how can Christians be presumptuous enough to mess with it?
Ironically, Christianity is usually at the rear of the parade, complaining about social progress. Progress is progressive, but Christianity is conservative (more).
Next up: the article ends with some over-the-top claims about Christianity’s value to science.
Concluded in part 3.
is that myriads have believed it.
They also believed the world was flat.
— Mark Twain
Image from Jared Tarbell, CC license