It’s time for another episode of our favorite soap opera! For the first installment of this thrilling series of stupid Christian arguments, go here.
Today let’s explore the claim that modern science has Christianity as its foundation. And that “The New Atheists are sawing off the branch on which science is sitting.” And that “the only hope for science now is a rebirth of faith.”
Those quotes are from “Abandon God, and Science Will Die,” published at the conservative Christian ministry The Stream. Let’s consider the argument.
What those other ancient civilizations lacked
Those cultures from the ancient past—Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, and more—were impressive. However:
There’s one thing that each of these [ancient] civilizations lacked, which wouldn’t make an appearance until the Christian Middle Ages: experimental science that yields a reliable understanding of the material world and hence technological advancements that better human life.
A coincidence? Nope—we’re told that it’s because Europe was Christian that modern science developed there. The author admits that Archimedes created impressive inventions and Galen made important medical discoveries but states that no one at the time followed up on those inventions.
Compare those civilizations with Christian Europe
Did God particularly favor Christianity with a blessing of scientific progress? Let’s be skeptical for a moment and consider what those other civilizations produced. Egypt developed the science and engineering to built pyramids; the 500-year-long Islamic Golden Age left a record of its achievements in our vocabulary with words like alchemy, algebra, alcohol, and most of named stars; and China developed moveable type, paper, and gunpowder. Christian Europe inherited base 10 positional notation, the numeral zero, and decimal fractions.
And look at what else can’t be credited to Christian Europe. The Roman Empire excelled at civil engineering and gave Europe roads, dams, and aqueducts. Only with the Gothic cathedrals in the 1200s did European architecture rival what Rome had done more than a millennium earlier.
Or consider Greece. The Acropolis of Athens is a building complex that was built centuries before the time of Jesus and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Their summary of the Acropolis reads in part: “On this hill were born Democracy, Philosophy, Theatre, Freedom of Expression and Speech, which provide to this day the intellectual and spiritual foundation for the contemporary world and its values.” Wow—apparently Christian Europe wasn’t uniquely favored by God.
So what’s the argument here? Merely that earlier cultures had science but not experimental science? Okay, but neither did Christian Europe for well over a thousand years! So much for Christianity providing the secret recipe to unlock the secrets of Nature.And think about how the works of Aristotle were treated once rediscovered and popularized in Europe in the 1200s. Initially rejected by the Church, Aristotelian thinking became more mainstream with the work of Thomas Aquinas. But Aristotle’s works weren’t treated as a jumping off point to exciting new science. Because of their new connection to the church, these ideas became unchallengeable dogma, which is the opposite of experimental science.
Christians wanting to show Christianity as the catalyst for science are quick to point to colleges founded and supported by the Church. The article states, “M.I.T. and NASA were made possible on Mount Sinai.” But these medieval colleges bear little resemblance to the MIT of today. They were initially built to train clergy, and evidence-based science was not in the syllabus.
If the rate of scientific progress that we saw beginning in, say, 1800 began instead in 380 when Christianity became the Roman Empire’s state religion, this argument would have some weight. But that isn’t what history tells us, and there’s very little left of this “science was built on Christianity” argument.
But wait—there’s more!
The article reveals why Christianity is different.
What set the Christian West apart? It was the unique worldview of the Jews, implanted in the rationalism of Greece and Rome, and guaranteed by faith.
Tell me more about this guarantee. Show me that faith does anything in the real world and that “guaranteed by faith” means something. Note that you can make that kind of demand of science, and it will deliver.
Next time, we’ll look at the five traits of Christianity that (according to the article) make it a unique incubator for science.
Continued in part 2.
he feels some bliss while praying, say,
or he sees some positive change in his life—
then we’re told that God is good.
But when children by the tens of thousands
are torn from their parents’ arms and drowned
[in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami],
we’re told that God is mysterious.
This is how you play tennis without the net.
— Sam Harris (video @5:01)
Image from Stephen Bowler, CC license