Catholic, Christian history, Christianity, history, James Hannam, religion, Rodney Stark, science, Tim O'neill
Go through what you know about the title. What comes to mind?
Did anyone think of Galileo?
For many people Galileo seems two epitomize the relationship. But to say that turns history on its head. Science was born in a deeply Christian culture. As I indicated I recently finished some books by Rodney Stark and I also just finished a book by James Hannam called the Genesis of Science. (Painting a basement is always a good time to listen to some audible books) I have to say I am simply amazed at how much of science middle age “natural philosophers” put together before even Copernicus came on the scene.
The importance of applying math to nature, using empirical evidence to test theories, including but not limited to, how objects move, how light works, whether the earth moves, how things might work in a vacuum etc. Why was I so ignorant of all this? I can tell you it’s not that I was taught all this and forgot it. All of these great medieval thinkers were left out of my education. None of it quite fit the “scientific revolution” view of history. You know the story where the Catholic Church had to let the poor scientists out of their evil clutches before science could advance. If you read Hannam’s book you will see that the Catholic Church and the university system (which was heavily fostered and influenced by the Church) was actually the major force that brought about science.
So what are the facts about Christianity and Science? For that I highly recommend Hamman’s book to get a fuller picture. Honestly it was such a flood of new and interesting information I do not have the perspective to summarize it properly. (I offer some other blogs below that do that.)
But here I will just offer something from Rodney Stark. Rodney Stark is what I consider a hard working scholar. He tends to do the nitty gritty work of looking up facts and delivering the information. He did the legwork and looked up the all the major scientists during the “scientific revolution” and addressed how religious/Christian they were. Here is his explanation of his methodology:
“Historians typically define the era of the “Scientific Revolution” as stretching from the publication in 1543 of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus to the end of the seventeenth century. Therefore, I selected Copernicus as my first case and included all appropriate cases, beginning with Copernicus’s contemporaries and stopping with scientists born after 1680. The “whom” was a bit more difficult. First of all, I limited the set to active scientists, thus excluding some well-known philosophers and supporters of science such as Francis Bacon, Joseph Scaliger, and Diego de Zuniga. Second, I tried to pick only those who made significant contributions. To select the cases, I searched books and articles on the history of science, and I also consulted a number of specialized encyclopedias and biographical dictionaries, among which I must mention the several editions of Isaac Asimov’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology for its completeness and lack of obvious biases. Having developed a list of 52 scientists, I then consulted various sources, including individual biographies, to determine the facts that I wished to code for each case”
Christianity and Science from Stark (2003) For the Glory of God p.22
Click to access Stark%20(2003)%20Ch.2%20For%20the%20Glory%20of%20God.pdf
Stark put the 52 scientists in 1 of 4 categories. Clergy, devout, conventional Christian, or skeptic. “Devout” meant that they did things that demonstrated an unusual commitment to Christianity such as writing extensively on Christianity or other works indicating strong commitment to the faith. “Conventional Christians” would be those who did not appear to be much more than typical Christians of the time. He gives some explanations of how he grouped these people but in general he appears to have underestimated the religiosity. For example a scientist who became the Popes physician was categorized not as devout but just as “conventionally” religious.
Here were the results:
13 (25%) were clergy 9 of them catholic clergy, 60% were devout. There were only 2 who were skeptics.
Now yes it’s true that people in Europe at this time tended to be Christian. But that raises the question: Of all the places and times, was it coincidence that Science developed in Christian society? Not in the Roman Empire, not in China, Not in Islamic cultures or Persia. Not in any of the other times and places. Rodney Stark and others think that is not just a coincidence. For example, early on Christians have been open to the idea that our senses can be reliable guides to reality. (Unlike certain Greeks that taught how the material world was relatively unreliable) Moreover, Christians put a high value on logical thinking and reason in theology. Christianity is an intellectual religion which made science (then known as natural philosophy) and mathematics required courses in its medieval universities. People who argue there is a conflict between Christianity and Science are taking the rare exception and calling it the rule.
Indeed, Galileo may be the only scientist who was ever persecuted by the church for his scientific view. And those who are aware of Galileo case can legitimately question whether it was really his views as opposed to essentially calling the pope a simpleton which lead to his persecution. Feel free to read more on the story for youself and draw your own conclusions. Based on what I have read I do find the Church blameworthy in that case, even if Galileo was a stubborn, egocentric, and abrasive genius.
Remaining ignorant of all the people who lead up to Galileo and Copernicus in order to push the “enlightment” myth was a sad state for educational institutions. But there is hope this prejudice is being scraped away thanks to scholarly work. Not only has Hamman’s work received acclaim but I am told scholars are viewing his books and their views as relatively uncontroversial – at least to those who study this matter.
Short of reading Hamman’s book I would invite those with an interest in the history of science to take a look at this blog by Tim O’neill where he reviews God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science By James Hannam:
Although he is himself an atheist, he also has a blog that debunks much of “new atheist” history here:
As people who are interested in truth we should read about history and where we see the ignorant prejudices of the past being propagated, suggest the person at least read some of the above listed books or blogs.