Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What Has Christianity Done for the West?

An intriguing perspective. From Strange Notions:
One spurious idea, which continues to have a strong hold on the views of so many, is that Christianity functioned as an impediment to scientific progress and that only when the West threw off the “shackles” of Christian dogma, did it rise to towering heights in science and technology and achieve global preeminence in virtually every intellectual endeavor. In his scathingly anti-Christian book The Antichrist, the famous 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche charges that Christianity is antithetical to science, reason, life, and reality: “A religion such as Christianity which never comes once in touch with reality, and which collapses the very moment reality asserts its rights even on one single point, must naturally be a mortal enemy of the ‘wisdom of this world’—that is to say, science” (51). In his equally critical Letter to a Christian Nation, American philosopher Sam Harris asserts that “the conflict between religion and science is unavoidable. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science” (63).

Both of these views are clearly off the mark. Far from constituting a handicap to scientific activity, Christian presuppositions encouraged exploration of the physical world and aided scientific progress. The Christian conception of God and of His physical creation has proved immensely conducive for the flowering of science. How so? Christianity conceives of God as a rational and benevolent creator who brought into existence a universe endowed with rationality, order, and purpose. God’s handiwork is not dominated by chaos or mystery or randomness, nor is it too complex for human comprehension. Rather, it functions in accord with invariable, consistent, and rational laws that are accessible to the inquiring mind and to observation. Since God created man in His own image, human beings are blessed with the gift of reason and are possessed of the ability to investigate and understand the rational, fixed, and divinely set patterns according to which the universe operates. Indeed, as Dr. Peter Hodgson, the late lecturer of nuclear physics at Oxford and an avowed Roman Catholic, once said, “Christianity provided just those beliefs that are essential for science, and the whole moral climate that encourages its growth” (Young 144).

Hence, it should come as no surprise that some of the greatest scientists in history, including the stars of the Scientific Revolution, were devout Christians, some of whom wrote on theology as well as science. Suffice it to mention medieval theologian-natural philosophers such as Robert Grosseteste (died in 1253), Albertus Magnus (died in 1280), Thomas Bradawrdine (d. 1349), Jean Buridan (1295-1363), Nicole Oresme (1325-1382), as well as Nicolaus Copernicus (died 1543), Johannes Kepler (died in 1630), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Robert Boyle (1627-1691), Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Michael Faraday (1791-1867), Gregor Mendel (died in 1884), and countless others. Max Planck, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1918 for his work on Quantum Theory, believed faith and science were in partnership rather than at loggerheads: “Religion and natural science are fighting a joint battle in an incessant, never relaxing crusade against scepticism and against dogmatism, against disbelief and against superstition, and the rallying cry in this crusade has always been, and always will be: ‘On to God!’” (156). (Read more.)

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