• Christianity and science. Again.

    Here is a quote that I posted on the Daily Telegraph (eek) in the UK which was reporting the letter it had received denouncing PM Cameron’s claim that we should be proud that we are a Christian nation. I will first post the comment I reacted to:

    What do they imagine is the source of their liberal egalitarianism other than the Christian idea of all souls being equal in the eyes of God? Clue, that’s why such a thing as liberalism and free enquiry, that’s to say science, first took root in this part of the world and not elsewhere. The fact that they may be card carrying humanists today doesn’t alter that.

    I simply stated:

    Oh dear.

    Christianity is not responsible for science.

    Christianity is not responsible for science

    To which he replied:

    Thank you for the link – yes I don’t dissent from any of that: indeed at times Christianity has been anti-science; at others Islam has been a haven of learning, the means of transmissioin for Greek thought, the fount of science. But it doens’t invalidate my point that enlightenment or free inquiry, the basis of science as we know it today, notwithstanding its long and varied previous history, flourished in specifically Christian polities, and for two principal reasons: the separation of powers between Church and State ( render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s . . .contrast Islam) and the Christian emphasis on the value of truth itself: the one true God, the antecedent of unconditional truth as a primary value. Which ultimately and paradoxically proved the undoing of Christianity. Hence Nietszche’s point that the man of science was the latest incarnation of “asceitc values” or the “priestly type”, having reonunced faith in the one true God for fatih in truth itself.

    And this is what I said, and I quite like it!

    I think there is definitely an interesting distinction between Islam and Christianity here (which I have done a podcast on, even) which plays into what you are saying. Part of it is that Islam IS the word of God and operates a a theocracy. There is no budging. This is its strength and its weakness, and the same applies to Christianity. Islam expects society (science, technology, economics, moral progress, Enlightenment, philosophy) to adapt TO IT. Thus in evolutionary terms, it is not adaptive to environments. The strength is its purity, the weakness its lack of adaptability.

    Christianity, OTOH, adapts to its environment and society. This is why there are some 40,000 denominations of it worldwide. Its strength is its adaptability, its weakness its lack or purity. This is because it is not the word of God, but the word of man, perhaps inspired by God. Perhaps.

    The Qu’ran was dictated by God, so you can’t (supposedly) mess with it. The Bible is ripe for interpretation, and no two theologians agree on what a particular passage or pericope means..

    The adaptivity of Christianity has meant that science was more likely to develop in a mass way than with Islam.

    But actually, this took a hell of long time, and a whole period where we lost so much knowledge amassed by Greeks and Romans. What the Christians did to Hypatia of Alexandria was scandalous. The destruction of the Academy equally so. I would be wary of cherry picking only the good things which happened way too late that Christianity supposedly engendered.

    Would you be so happy to agree that Christianity was responsible for massive worldwide slavery? That the Curse of Ham and other biblical texts were used to countenance mass exploitation?

    Probably not. But using such logic, I would say you cannot take the good, but refuse to acknowledge responsibility for the bad.

    Personally, I would be fairer.

    Humans are responsible for the good and the bad of the world, in different historical and cultural contexts. We have seen the scientific method develop before, during and after the Christian dominance.

    We have seen slavery abolished centuries before Christ in different parts of the world. I would not ascribe causal responsibility in such a way to religions, but to humans.

    When we’re good, we’re good. When we’re bad, we suck, irrespective of the default religion of the society which we are analysing. Christianity wasn’t responsible for the sickening crusades, or science. The bad and the good were human doings, in our conquest both for power and greed, but also understanding an knowledge.

    The sooner everyone understood this, the quicker we can all herald and favour one whilst disavowing and falling prey to the other.


    Category: ScienceScience and religionSecularism


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce