Is Christianity a science-stopper or a science-starter?

Take a look at this GREAT GREAT article by Nancy Pearcey, which explains why the Christian worldview helped science to progress. (H/T The Poached Egg)


After all, modern science arose in one place and one time only: It arose out of medieval Europe, during a period when its intellectual life was thoroughly permeated with a Christian worldview.  Other great cultures, such as the Chinese and the Indian, often developed a higher level of technology and engineering.  But their expertise tended to consist of practical know-how and rules of thumb.  They did not develop what we know as experimental science–testable theories organized into coherent systems.  Science in this sense has appeared only once in history.  As historian Edward Grant writes, “It is indisputable that modern science emerged in the seventeenth century in Western Europe and nowhere else.”

This fact is certainly suggestive, and it has prompted scholars to ask why it is that modern science emerged only out of medieval Europe.  Sociologist of religion Rodney Stark identified the 52 figures who made the most significant contributions to the scientific revolution, then researched biographical sources to discover their religious views.  He found that among the top contributors to science, surprisingly only two were skeptics (Paracelsus and Edmund Halley).

Stark then subdivided his subjects once again into those who were “conventional” in their religious views (that is, their writings exhibit the conventional religious views of the time), and those who were “devout” (their writings express a strong personal investment).  The resulting numbers show that more than 60 percent of those who jumpstarted the scientific revolution were religiously “devout.” Clearly, holding a Christian worldview posed no barrier to doing excellent scientific work, and even seems to have provided a positive inspiration.

What were the key elements in that inspiration?  Let’s highlight several basic principles by drawing a series of contrasts to other religions and philosophies.  If we make the claim that Christianity played a causative role in the rise of modern science, to be scientific about the matter, we must also rule out other possible causes.  Since as a matter of historical fact, no other religion or philosophy did play the same causative role, the best way to phrase the question is, Why didn’t they?

This is is a must-read article. Please read it, tweet it, and share it on Facebook.

She talks about the fact/value split, which flows out of the view that religion and morality are non-scientific. People today are so committed to naturalism, that anything spiritual or moral is viewed as non-factual. You can only believe in moral prescriptions like “don’t kill unborn children” and “marriage is between one man and one woman” on faith – not on facts. This fact/value split means that Christian theists are marginalized in the public square.

In the rest of the article, Pearcey contrasts monotheism, with polytheism, pantheism and Greek philosophy to see which view grounds the scientific enterprise. She concludes by talking abotu the Enlightenment and the mythical war between science and Christianity.

You may also be interested in this post about whether science and Christianity are compatible. If we were stuck with atheism, then the universe would be eternal, the fine-tuning would be explained by billions of unobservable, untestable universes, the origin of life would be caused by unonbservable, untestable aliens, the fossil record would be explained by billions of unobservable, untestable fossils that haven’t yet been found, and so forth. It’s atheism that is constantly speculating about unobservable entities in order to explain the things that good science tells us. Atheism is just “science fiction”.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

4 thoughts on “Is Christianity a science-stopper or a science-starter?”

  1. “People today are so committed to naturalism, that anything spiritual or moral is viewed as non-factual.” Indeed. On this view, you can say you know Advil will help with your headache, but you can’t say you know God exists. That’s just your opinion. But still, I think Christians need to speak less of our “faith tradition” and “personal beliefs” and much more about “knowledge” or “convictions.” Jesus said we can know the truth. We might still be marginalized, but at least people won’t misunderstand our claim.


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