Here I am, back at last. The reason for my long unexplained absence from the blogosphere, is that I’ve been thinking too much about writing posts, and not actually getting round to writing them. Its worse than I imagined. It turns out that I ‘m a procrastinating philosopher. This is not good! But, since it’s the summer holidays now (for me anyway), I promise to be even more inconsistent.
In my previous post, I attempted to expose a couple of widely held historical misconceptions and in my opinion, emerged triumphant. So, I will now take a look at the actual roots and the rise of modern science. As I hope to show from some research (not from Wikipedia), science actually flourished because of a monotheistic worldview and was nurtured by the notion that an ultimate creator exists and set the universe and its laws into being. Hopefully I can keep this interesting.
An Unexpected Origin – The Rise Of Modern Science
Where did science come from? When did it start? Why did humans choose to become scientific? These are all questions that are very rarely asked and few people seem to know about the true roots of science. At the heart of every scientist is the belief that the universe we observe is orderly and follows a set governing laws. If the universe was in complete chaos and wasn’t law-bound, the scientific endeavor would be impossible, moreover we wouldn’t even be here! So, where does the conviction that the universe is orderly come from? Human beings have not always been scientific. I imagine that many people would speculate that science was able to take off, once people stopped believing in God and people let go of ‘superstitious’ beliefs. This is a view that is often expressed by atheists but a false one. Biochemist Melvin Calvin had little doubts about where it originated.
‘ As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2,000 or 3,000 years ago, and enunciated first in the western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing its own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science’ – Melvin Calvin
What Calvin seems to be suggesting is that although the roots seem to trace back to the ancient Greeks, for science (as we understand it today), to proceed effectively, the Greeks had to get rid of their polytheistic worldviews and embrace a monotheistic one. This view of the ancient Hebrews was also much older than the polytheistic beliefs held by the Greeks. This is a point that is not to be overlooked, as it shows that the very foundations on which science stands, has a solid theistic element.
Perhaps the strongest case made to back up this view, was by mathematician and historian of science Sir Alfred North Whitehead. When he observed the strange fact that medieval europe in 1500 knew less than Archimedes in third century BC; and that only 200 years later, Isaac Newton had published the groundbreaking Principia Mathematica, he became interested in the cause behind this rapid scientific explosion. Eventually he concluded that ‘modern science must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God’. C.S. Lewis effectively summed up Whitehead’s thesis:
‘Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a law giver’– C.S Lewis
Most of the fathers of modern science were in fact firm believers in God, most of them being Christians. Men such as Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Pasteur and Clerk Maxwell all believed strongly in a creator and far from it hindering their science, it was their faith that motivated their work. Johannes Kepler described his motivation this way: ‘ The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics’. Upon his discoveries, Kepler believed he was ‘thinking God’s thoughts after him’. In the following centuries, science was nurtured by the church and Christian theology but eventually became more independent of church authority and increased in diversity.
There is another interesting side to this scientific revolution. When looking at countries outside europe, such as China, we find that this revolution didn’t happen as it did in europe. Biochemist Joseph Needham noted that in the eighteenth century, the reaction of the Chinese to such ideas was very different. To them, the possibility that the universe operated by a set of laws and could be explored and discovered by humans was ridiculous. China in that period, experienced an explosion in technology but not science. The reason, it seems, was because they didn’t have the concept of a law giver or a creator God.
An interesting thing to consider is whether the west would have experienced the scientific revolution if it had not followed the paths that it did. It is admittedly difficult to speculate what would have happened, but I think its clear that without the central doctrine of creation, the rise of science would have been seriously different and may not even have happened at all. I think that when looking at the facts of the history of science, we can see how it is indeed a myth, that science and faith are opposes. Considering all of what I have been talking about, I do of course realise that just because all of this is true, it doesn’t mean that Christianity is true. I hasten to point out that the same can also be said of atheism.