This has come up in conversation elsewhere, so I thought I would resurrect this old post from my old, old blog. Part 2 of this can be found here.
I have recently been involved in an argument online which is a very common argument and one which annoys me just a little. It is also an argument which I have had many times before with Christians. The claim goes something like this:
“Christianity is responsible for the development of science.”
The word science can be swapped with hospital, charity, education and so on. In the case in hand, there were statements such as:
“the essential necessity of Christianity to the origin of science.”
So on and so forth.
I would like to take umbrage to this point and attempt to properly refute it. Firstly, let us look at a comment such as this:
“I think the problem with the idea that Christian’s emotions overwhelm their intellect is that some of the greatest intellectuals of all time were very religious people. Aquinas, Augustine, Ockham, Copernicus, Bacon, Pascal, Newton, Fermat, Mendel, Lemaître and of course Francis Collins who has already been mentioned. There are thousands more that could be mentioned. “
The commenter has listed a bunch of people who were intelligent and Christian. The modern world at those periods in time, the world which was most advanced for a number of reasons, was Christian. That means that any intellect who came out of those societies was BY DEFAULT Christian. This is an almighty fallacy. The most populous and advanced society was Christian and thus its great people were Christian. They were NOT great and intelligent BECAUSE they were Christian!
This is such a common mistake.
It is also notable that the poster forgot to mention the great thinkers from Islamic (Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ghazali etc) and great Chinese thinkers (Confucius, Mencius, Xun Zi, Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming, Lao Zi, Zhuangzi,. Liezi,, Mozi, Shang Yang, Han Fei, Li, Si, Huineng) probably because of his European-centric / Christian bias. This is simply cherry-picking the successes that took place under Christianity whilst ‘forgetting’ others under different religions.
A classic example of the confusion of correlation with causation.
Secondly, even under Christianity, science did not flourish for 1500 years. This is a refutation of the claim, surely, and stands on its own merit!
Thirdly, discoveries such as formal geometry developed under polytheism. This does not mean that polytheism was responsible for formal geometry. The earliest mathematical principles were discovered by the Greeks, and not the Christians. This is a correlation fallacy. Here is a quote from wiki on the entry for the history of the scientific method:
c. 2000 BC — First text indexes (various cultures).
c. 1600 BC — An Egyptian medical textbook, the Edwin Smith papyrus, (circa 1600 BC), applies the following components: examination, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis, to the treatment of disease, which display parallels to basic empirical methodology.
c. 400 BC — In China, Mozi and the School of Names advocate using one’s senses to observe the world, and develop the “three-prong method” for testing the truth or falsehood of statements.
c. 400 BC — Democritus advocates inductive reasoning through a process of examining the causes of sensory perceptions and drawing conclusions about the outside world.
c. 320 BC — First comprehensive documents categorising and subdividing knowledge, dividing knowledge into different areas by Aristotle,(physics, poetry, zoology, logic, rhetoric, politics, and biology). Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics defends the ideal of science as necessary demonstration from axioms known with certainty.
c. 300 BC — Euclid’s Elements expound geometry as a system of theorems following logically from axioms known with certainty.
c. 200 BC — First Cataloged library (at Alexandria)1st through 12th centuriesc. 800 AD — Jābir ibn Hayyān designs controlled experiments.1021 — Alhazen introduces the experimental method and combines observations, experiments and rational arguments in his Book of Optics.c. 1025 — Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, develops experimental methods for mineralogy and mechanics, and conducts elaborate experiments related to astronomical phenomena.1027 — In The Book of Healing, Avicenna criticizes the Aristotelian method of induction, arguing that “it does not lead to the absolute, universal, and certain premises that it purports to provide”, and in its place, develops examination and experimentation as a means for scientific inquiry.
This clearly illustrates that the scientific method was developing outside of Christianity. Christianity (well, scientists who may well have been Christian) may well have continued to refine these ideas, but it was not responsible for the scientific method. Indeed, without this foundation, that further knowledge would not have been discoverable.
You need to properly understand causality to understand why things happen. Causal lines are much longer. There is also the difference between necessary causation and sufficient causation. Wiki:
Causes are often distinguished into two types: Necessary and sufficient. A third type of causation, which requires neither necessity nor sufficiency in and of itself, but which contributes to the effect, is called a “contributory cause.”
If x is a necessary cause of y, then the presence of y necessarily implies the presence of x. The presence of x, however, does not imply that y will occur.
If x is a sufficient cause of y, then the presence of x necessarily implies the presence of y. However, another cause z may alternatively cause y. Thus the presence of y does not imply the presence of x.
A cause may be classified as a “contributory cause,” if the presumed cause precedes the effect, and altering the cause alters the effect. It does not require that all those subjects which possess the contributory cause experience the effect. It does not require that all those subjects which are free of the contributory cause be free of the effect. In other words, a contributory cause may be neither necessary nor sufficient but it must be contributory.
To establish that Christianity is responsible for science, one must prove it is the necessary cause, a task which is not only virtually impossible even if it was, but is demonstrably incorrect given what we do know about how science and the scientific method came about.
Furthermore, the dark ages DID actually happen. Treatises were being written which actually lamented the loss of scientific knowledge. Take the example of the Archimedes Codex having the ink scraped off and hymns written over it! During this period there was no scientific progress, and actually a regress. This period must not be conflated with the middle ages. Many Christians claim that the Dark Ages actually saw much progress. It didn’t. [I think Richard Carrier might be contributing a chapter on this to Loftus’ new book.]