Saturday, January 30, 2010

Did theology hinder or help the birth of modern science?

Most scholars, whether Christian or not, would agree that the Christian world view created an environment that helped rather than hindered the birth of modern science.

Alfred North Whitehead was one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth-century. He wrote:

Without this belief, the incredible labours of scientists would be without hope. It is . . . the motive power of research - that there is a secret, a secret which can be revealed. When we compare this tone of thought in Europe with the attitude of other civilizations when left to themselves, there seems but one source for its origin. It must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher. Every detail was supervised and ordered: the search into nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality..... My explanation is that the faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, as an unconscious derivative from medieval theology.

1925a. Science and the Modern World. (Vol. 55 of the Great Books of the Western World series)

It should be pointed out Whitehead was not a Christian, as discussed in this article. He had no funeral.

I came across this Whitehead quote in Denis Alexander's wonderful book, Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and faith in the twenty-first century. There is a very helpful chapter on The Roots of Modern Science. Hopefully, I will write more on that later...

The painting is by Joseph Nicolas Robert-Fleury "Galileo Galilei in front of the Inquisition in the Vatican 1632."

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