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The Stillbirth of Science in India

Stillbirth of Science in India

NOTE: Today we continue our weekly series of essays by Dr. Stacy Trasancos on the "stillbirths" of science. They're based on Fr. Stanley L. Jaki's research into the theological history of science in the ancient cultures of Egypt, China, India, Babylon, Greece, and Arabia. See past articles here.

The decimal system and notation developed in ancient India between the fourth and seventh centuries represents “the most noteworthy single contribution of ancient India to science and its importance cannot be overstated.” (Science and Creation, 13-14) Without the decimal system in the Late Middle Ages, the more cumbersome Roman numeral system would have been used and it would have delayed the birth of science in the seventeenth century Christian West. The ancient Indians also built houses out of brick and constructed drainage facilities. There is evidence that they used copper and bronze and made glass.

Advanced technological skill dating back to the third century B.C. and “still unexplained today” is evidenced in the non-rusting pillars erected by King Ashoka during his reign. They certainly remain a monument to progress in metallurgy, stone-cutting, and transportation engineering. (Savior of Science, 27) The world-famous monuments of the Iron Pillar of Delhi and Sultanganj and copper colossus of Buddha also provide evidence of advanced metallurgy. There was also a lively interest in industrial arts from the third century B.C. in the writing of Kantilya’s Arthasastra, which articulates the business of government and legislation, the construction of ships, buildings, and roads, and the development of husbandry, agriculture, land surveying, mining, and medicine.

Jaki noted that “practicality, craftsmanship, and organizational talent do not, however, qualify as science.” (Science and Creation, 14) There was no theoretical generalization leading to the formulation of physical laws and systems of laws. The claim that science originated in India is also difficult for anyone to make because there are so many doubts about historical sources. This lack of chronology was noted by Needham, a leading historian of not just Chinese, but all Oriental science. He warned that reliable dating of ancient records was necessary for objective analysis of history, and he admitted “the extreme uncertainties in the dating of the most important texts and even of actual objects which have survived” among what is known of Indian history.

Much debate still wages over Needham’s infamous question regarding “the failure of China and India to give rise to distinctively modern science while being ahead of Europe for fourteen previous centuries.” (Joseph Needham, Science and the Crossroads, Foreword) While acknowledging that the Scientific Revolution was “part of a European miracle,” Indian scholars have offered explanations that perhaps India experienced a “mathematical revolution” called “computational positivism” instead. The Indian approach, according to this theory, showed a “deep and studied distrust of axioms and physical models,” while Europe “achieved unreasonably and unexpectedly spectacular successes in science.” (Roddam Narasimha, “The Indian half of Needham’s question")

Other theories have suggested the ability to grasp logical contradictions and “contempt for mundane reality” as a cause for the lack of science in India, while others suggest the cultural stability of agricultural societies with no new challenges to create new knowledge to solve problems. Yet others have alleged that Indian culture was “otherworldly” and perceived the physical world as an illusion and the liberation of the soul more important than the study of the external world. Still others have claimed that since there was no conflict between religion and science in India, and since atheists were not persecuted, this lack of tension is at fault for complacency about science in India; while others have faulted instead the colonialism of the West, and speculated that the “European miracle” would not have happened if it were not for the mathematical contributions of India. (Agrawal and Kendra, “The Needham Question: Some Answers")

Roddam Narasimha, Indian aerospace scientist and Director of the National Institute of Advanced Studies from 1997 to 2004, where he pursued his interests in the history of science and technology and the philosophy underlying Indic rationalism, referred to the Scientific Revolution as part of a “European miracle” triggered by developments in China and India just as Needham also labeled it. (Narasimha, 3) He wrote that the “long Dark Ages of Europe were broken with the help of technical and mathematical inventions imported from the East.” This reference was in response to Needham’s question regarding the failure of China and India to give rise to modern science while being ahead of Europe for fourteen centuries prior. He called the “birth of modern science” a European rather than a scientific miracle because technologies from China and India triggered it, allowing Europe to escape the Dark Ages, by which he meant the “period immediately preceding the birth of modern science” during the two centuries 1500–1700.

So, there has been a lot of speculation about why science was not born in India, but the fact remains, it was not. It is true that European science benefited from the technical and mathematical inventions of the East, but it seems impossible to conclude that these inventions were responsible for the birth of modern science, i.e. the “mathematization of science.” Modern science is the application, as said, of quantities to natural processes. Both the East and the West had access to nature, but one culture applied mathematics and experimentation to seek an understanding of it and the other cultures did not. If mathematical inventions were responsible for a miracle, then why didn’t the culture that invented them experience the so-called miracle first? It seems unsatisfactory to claim that mathematics and technology triggered the birth of modern science in Europe when the real difference in the cultures was a mindset, a psychology, a fundamental way of viewing the universe and existence. Narasimha’s argument actually gives support to Jaki’s, that science was stillborn in other cultures and born from a Christian mindset.

The Hindus of old also had an animistic view of existence. The doctrine of the Atman represented, and still does represent, a perception of an eternal unity which underlies the phenomenon of nature called the Brahman. Atman is the Indian expression for “first principle,” that the individual self of man is found by laying hold of this ultimate self of the universe, the ultimate essences of all things. The Indians viewed the universe as an organism, an eternal Pantheistic Being, as did the Egyptians and Chinese.(Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads, 85-86)

Indian writings defined the Brahman as a deep sleeper whose vital breath remains dormant, but issues forth on waking, and with his breaths all worlds, gods, and living creatures also awake and are called collectively the Atman. The pranâs (speech, eye, ear, touch) proceeded from the Atman. He was the “Soul of the Universe” which bred himself. His mouth, nostrils, eyes, and ears became distinct of his own doing. His skin and hair became the plants and trees, and his heart the moon. His semen became water and his navel exuded corruption. This world-soul is understood as an endless cycle of births and decays with no starting or ending points. Jaki compares it to an eternal “cosmic treadmill.” (Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads, 85-86)

The Kaliyuga from Indian scripture measured four cycles of human history which were taken to be four ages of the demons characterized by ignorance, poverty, and disease. They should have ended around 300 B.C., but when a golden age did not come, the age of the yugas was recalculated to be 360 years so that, as Jaki interpreted it, their “credibility might be saved.” (The Savior of Science, 27) The longer scale meant a never-ending resignation to the age of evil.

Jaki also noted that, in stark contrast to the ancient skill in metallurgy and construction, it was reported by the World Bank in the year A.D. 2000 that only around forty percent of the 825,000 villages in India possessed paved roads to access essential services. For some reason, technology did not continue even though talent and social stability were not lacking and decimal counting, “possibly the greatest scientific discovery ever made,” was invented in ancient India. (The Savior of Science, 28)

As Jaki also showed in other cultures, where there was a pervading resignation to the “cosmic treadmill” or the eternal rebirth of the universe, there was no motivation to try to escape from it. Referencing the Hymns of the Rig-Veda, the Hymns of the Atharva-Veda, and Thirteen Principle Upanishads in Science and Creation and The Savior of Science, Jaki points out the prose of the eternal cosmic cycle. The Upanishads form the core of Indian philosophy and spiritual teaching, were composed between 800–500 B.C., and are still in use today. From the Svetasvatara Upanishad in the First Prapathaka, in the last few lines this resignation is evident:

"In this sort of cycle of existence what is the good of enjoyment of desires, when a man has fed on them there is seen repeatedly his return to earth? Be pleased to deliver me. In this cycle of existence I am like a frog in a waterless well." (Maitri Upanishad, Sanskrit Text with English Translation)

Jaki also quoted a twentieth-century explanation from Gandhi in 1938 about the absolute superiority of life with no technology. In this statement Gandhi echoed the philosophy and teaching of the Upanishad of ancient times:

"I believe that the civilization that India evolved is not to be beaten in the world. . . . India remains immovable and that is her glory. . . . Our ancestors dissuaded us from luxuries and pleasure. We have managed with the same kind of plough as existed thousands of years ago. . . We have had no system of life-corroding competition. . . . It was not that we did not know how to invent machinery, but our forefathers knew that, if we set our hearts after such things, we would become slaves and lose our moral fibre. They, therefore, after due deliberation decided that we should only do what we could with our hands and feet. . . . They were, therefore, satisfied with small villages. . . . They held the sovereigns of the earth to be inferior to the Rishis and the Fakirs. A nation with a constitution like this is fitter to teach others than to learn from others." (M. K. Gandhi, "What is True Civilization")

This is not to imply that there is nothing beautiful in labor and toil for the needs of life, but the implications of these ancient teachings for Indian science are also indisputable. There was a psychology not conducive to the birth of modern science even though the skill was apparent long ago. “Science,” Jaki wrote, “cannot arise, let alone gain sustained momentum, without an articulated longing for truth which in turn presupposes a confident approach to reality.” (Science and Creation, 19)


(Image credit: Wikimedia)

Dr. Stacy Trasancos

Written by

Stacy A. Trasancos is a wife and homeschooling mother of seven. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Penn State University and a MA in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. She teaches chemistry and physics for Kolbe Academy online homeschool program and serves as the Science Department Chair. She teaches Reading Science in the Light of Faith at Holy Apostles College & Seminary. She is author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki. Her new book, Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science (Ave Maria Press) comes out October 2016. She works from her family’s 100-year old restored lodge in the Adirondack mountains, where her husband, children, and two German Shepherds remain top priority. Her website can be found here.

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  • Chee Chak

    Just an interesting tidbit to serve as a damper or a bit of a brake on the runaway locomotive of Western superiority. Anyway I put this out there for your perusal...from Open Parachute.

    Just an interesting tidbit to serve as a damper or a bit of a brake on the runaway locomotive of Western superiority.

    An excerpt from a book Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion. by Noah J. Efron,President of the Society for Israeli History and Philosophy of Science.

    That Christianity gave birth to modern science, is a myth. Science is a a human endeavour.This history and the current situation where a large percentage of scientists are not Christian, many not even religious, show an important fact about modern science. “The rich diversity of the cultural and intellectual soil deep into which its roots extend.” And: “With the passage of time, the ethos of science came to stand at odds with the particularist claims of any religion or ethnic group.” Science is a non-sectarian, democratic and inclusive enterprise.The chauvinistic approach of the myth that Christianity gave birth to science opposes this scientific ethos. It is denigrating to non-Christians and immature. As Efron points out assigning credit is not a zero-sum game. “It does not diminish Christianity to recognize that non-Christians, too, have a proud place in the history of science.”
    Scientists are used to proper attribution. To acknowledging that we all stand on the shoulders of giants – and it’s a bit like “turtles all the way down. Efron says.Efron concludes with: “For better or worse, science is a human endeavour, and it always has been.”/blockquote>


    • I quoted that essay in my book, along with a number of other critics. Efron misrepresented Jaki's argument almost entirely and swept it away with broad gestures. A serious critic incurs the burden of knowing what he criticizes.

      I'm disappointed in your opening sarcasm. You seem to think it replaces the need to be informed. It doesn't.

      Please—I think this is reasonable, and by the rules—engage the material at hand and comment accordingly, or read the book before trying to argue against it.

      • Chee Chak

        by the rules—I'm disappointed in your opening sarcasm. You seem to think it replaces the need to be informed. It doesn't.engage the material at hand and comment
        accordingly, or read the book before trying to argue against

        Excuse me.....I was not trying to argue against anything.As I said in my comment...I only put this out there for the perusal of the participants.
        I will allow that this so called "myth" by Efron, commonly claimed by the theologically inclined, of course does not always completely ignore the contributions of other cultures – but it downplays them. but it gives Christianity a necessary role, above other cultures. As for the "sarcasm" that is only your interpretation of my "motive" as per my comment, I was only passing on information that some may be interested in. We can't possibly be expected to read all of your stuff or Jaki's when making casual comments in com boxes on this matter. If I was making some in depth personal critique of the article or writing a book or an essay, then more could be expected of me in the area of research. Sorry if I offended you.

        • I don't expect you to read the book, but I do expect you to engage the material at hand and stay on topic.

    • Your comment isn't so much a critique of Trasancos's or Jaki's work, which is more subtle than this, and doesn't in general suffer from this sort of sever triumphalism, but it is a critique of a common misinterpretation of Trasancos and Jaki.

      I have noticed that, in previous articles, both here and elsewhere, by Trasancos, such triumphalism can be found in the comments sections. Your comment is a good warning against that kind of anti-intellectualism.

      • Triumphalism goes both ways, which is why I ask people to engage the material at hand and stay on topic.

        I said in the book that accurate articulation of Jaki's work was my hope for the reader because I noticed how often his claims are misrepresented, not just by casual commenters on websites but by scholars. There will always be differences of opinions and interpretations of history. I don't expect to change that.

        • I think that Chee Chak's quote from Efron well illustrates this the problem of triumphalism on both sides.

          As Efron points out assigning credit is not a zero-sum game. “It does not diminish Christianity to recognize that non-Christians, too, have a proud place in the history of science.”

          By that same logic, it does not diminish non-Christians to recognize that Christians, too, have a proud place in the history of science.

          To me it is simply fascinating, almost a miracle, that evolved primates have been able to somehow attain insight into the birth of the universe by this discovered method, a method that defies any ownership, by race, or sex or creed or culture. Or religion.

          bold text added on edit

          • Yes! Thank you Paul. Science unites humanity. It is accessible to all of us (which is why I often make the dinner party analogy).

            I wrote this (end of penultimate chapter):

            Jaki wrote in an addendum to his autobiography in 2009, a few weeks before his death, that he asked himself, “What is the point to work hard on a topic, though only to see in the end that what one tried to transmit on the basis of decades of hard work runs like water off a duck’s back?” His disappointment is understandable, but Jaki’s hard work has not been wasted. Maybe it ran like water off the back of a duck for some people during his lifetime and maybe there will always be people who do not make the effort to understand his work, but others see Jaki’s legacy as a wellspring, an ongoing source of insight and information into the distinctly human activity we call science.

    • Where is the evidence? The supporting material? Just because you "say so" doesn't make it so.

      • Chee Chak

        The supporting material? Just because you "say so" doesn't make it so.

        Pardone' moi? The supporting material for what?

    • Norman

      I think something that helps scientific thinking is labelling pride the foundation of all sin. Galileo was a shining example, today the scientific community uses popular parts of that story to pit science vs. religion when it should be truth vs. pride. Galileo was able to freely teach whatever his heart desired (St. Thomas Bellarmine taped to him and said so, stating that for the entire church to change its teaching would require more evidence which he was free to produce) but it wasn't good enough and everyone had to adapt to his thinking. We always hear "but he was right" but he also taught that the sun was the center of the universe so no, he wasn't.
      Ergo the fall of superior intelligence, it may even attract atheism but it also has common characteristics like arrogance, and narcissism, I don't say this to be rude but I say it because I've studied psychology and its fact. Say the church did change to Galileo's thinking, it'd A) bend to an arrogant narcissist with typical intelligence, and B) Still be scientificly inaccurate so it could taste the fruits of C) The Truth bowing to some clever fellows Pride.
      Theological and mystically filled it may be, its also the entity that invented the PhD program, requires all of its clerics to have a higher/college education, has its own observatory and gave the world the big bang theory (which Hubble was more than willing to take credit for a few years later, again a typical ego), educates more people than any other entity on the planet, and encourages know it alls to question their own intelligence which for them, is the hardest thing they can do! Of course Christians and scientists of all faiths are going to favor a God who cultivates such an intellectually rich and stimulating atmosphere, its attractive whether one believes it to be true or not.

      • Greg Schaefer

        Hi Norman.

        I don't mean to get into the intricacies of the Galileo case; that's been done before on SN.

        But, perhaps you could answer a question.

        If it is true that "Galileo was able to freely teach whatever his heart desired," then why was he put on trial?

      • Greg Schaefer

        Hi Norman.

        I gather you don't think highly of atheists who appear to you to exhibit pride and arrogance and think themselves clever and possessed of superior intelligence.

        But, in your life's experience, is it the case that you've never come across any Catholics (or other devout religious believers) who exhibit pride and arrogance and think themselves clever and possessed of superior intillegence?

        Could it be the case that pride and arrogance are human characteristics that can be found among certain humans at all points across the belief/non-belief spectrum?

        Who, one might also wonder, might be thought to be exhibiting pride when expounding to others as "Truth" the particular dogmas of the religion to which they personally subscribe that ultimately depend on faith or the acceptance of the authority of their Church in receiving, understanding and accurately transmitting Revelation?

        With respect to the Galileo case, is it possible that there might have been institutional pride on the part of the Church and personal pride on the part of Cardinal Bellarmine and Popes Paul V and Urban VIII at stake (as well as on Galileo's part)?

        It is easy to demonize those with whom we disagree. I understand charity to be a virtue extolled in Christianity. Might it not be better to exhibit more charity with regard to the personal attributes of those with whom one disagrees and focus on the merits of what they have to say? Seek to teach, and persuade (if you will), through the illumination of sound reason and the modeling of the traits and virtues one is said to cherish rather than seek to discredit those who don't think or believe as you do by the hurling of epithets and the heaping of disdain?

        • Norman

          Hi Greg,
          I wrong t saw this but appreciate your response. Any disdain I have for atheism spawed out of the idea that its a more intelligent idea is that of my own as I used to possess such a thought and changed my mind. It is not a mentality that applies to all atheists which is exactly why I differentiate between my opinion (not to be rude) and psychological fact when saying intelligence has a downside - intelligent people are also more likely to deceive people, that's not to say all intelligent people are liars but some will naturally interpret it that way because they may be looking to be victimized or to point to those they disagree with and say "easy". I don't think Galileo was an atheist but yes you're absolutely right in that they all had some degree of pride, although there's a difference between a sinful pride like Galileo saying "I am right" and a pride in the righteousness of not purporting the Sun as the center of the universe (which I would think any and all scientists would be wanting to support).
          Some people are silly enough to say "there is no truth" and even pay colleges to teach it to them, but that simultaneously supporting the idea that, perhaps in some cases, rape is ok.
          Think about that because if there is no truth, the truth is you cannot defend rape being wrong. Maybe the rapist thought it was a good thing and it was "true to them", yada yada yada - how silly is that?... Rape being wrong is not institutional pride and I know atheists agree with that, but those who commit it - whether they believe in God or not - must have thought it was good for something, but regardless of how much pride they have in their idea, they're wrong.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Norman.

            I think of atheism not as being "a more intelligent idea" about something as much as it is a label conventionally used in modern times to describe a group of otherwise wildly divergent people whose only necessarily uniting or common characteristic is that they don't subscribe to any prevailing beliefs about the existence of a God of the type venerated by any of the then-existent institutional religions.

            I suppose most every characteristic used to describe humans has downside(s) as well as upside(s). In general, though, I would ascribe more upsides than you apparently do to intelligence and more downsides to ignorance (or prideful stupidity). Although it is nice to see that you recognize that not all intelligent people are (always?) liars. While I'm uncertain how one would go about defining "intelligence" for purposes of such a study, it would be interesting to learn if there are extant any empirical studies that have sought to analyze any correlation (or even purported to have discerned a cause and effect relationship) between intelligence and the capacity of seeking to deceive others.

            As to the whole Galileo affair, I'll just leave things with the observation that I am far less confident than you that Cardinal Bellarmine and Popes Paul V and Urban VIII didn't allow their own personal pride, and the institutional pride of the Church they represented, to get the better of them as you think was the case with Galileo and his "sinful pride." Things we do know: it was Galileo whom the Church forced to recant opinions deemed to be heresy; Galileo who was barred from teaching or defending certain Copernican ideas; Galileo whose book "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems" was banned; and Galileo who spent the last nine years of his life under house arrest and whose intellectual wings and freedom were clipped in significant ways over the last 26 years of his life due to actions by the Church in defending its theological position that the Earth lay at the center of the universe and that the Sun orbited the Earth (rather than vice versa), based on interpretations of various passages in the Bible. Whatever the respective levels of pride on display, there is no question regarding who wielded the actual power that mattered in terms of how Galileo spent the last 26 years of his life.

          • Norman

            Ah yes I see, you're likely wanting to hear that which I can agree, that the Church is wrong sometimes and you bet I know that. Yes, how they treated Galileo was poorly and I think it had to do more with personal relations than Church and scientific ones. The guy who excommunicated him was friends with Galileo prior to that point. Maybe you've read that the worst enemies are the ones that used to be friends (a good call too even with God's relationships with humans), yes the Pope had much (sinful) pride in showing Galileo just how powerful she could be (banning any books or ideas of his had everything to do with the fact that they were his, and hardly any to do with the ideas within them - tsk tsk tsk). I'm apparently one of the few who say that doesn't excuse Galileo for being so adamant that the entire Church change its teaching in each of his universities because of what he found. If Georges Lemeitre (priest who came up with the big bang) had conducted himself in the same manner, the results may have been similar (minus jail time - like when the Church excommunicated a Bishop and his followers for things like denying the holocaust without them ending up in jail).
            Only some might say humans being a part of Church is how we know its fallacious, but Jesus gave a parable I need to now ask about in Matthew Chapter 13; a farmer sowed good seed in the field one day and then came a thief in the night and sowed bad seed among the newly planted good. The field has been sown with good seed and bad. They both grew up together. When the workers said: "what should we do about this? Should we pull up all the bad plants?". The owner said "No. Let them both grew up together until harvest when the angels come to report with the bad and the good, and separate the bad and the good. " - the reason I share this with you is because we know all too well that there are horrible people in the Church and some even use it to further their sick causes, but why did you think Jesus let them grow up together, side by side?... Is the Church the only place this is true or might it have applications to a lot of life and whats the lesson?

            I'm not trying to convert you, but sometimes I think people think church goers and religious are a bit more narrow minded than we are. No doubt that you have your crazies and plenty to choose from in America, the Westborough Baptist Church arrived at a slain priests funeral to assure every one they were going to hell. Do not think for one minute I would expect even the most deceptive atheist to do that, yet I've heard of worse going on because "there is no God", but at a certain point its like asking "what's worse, your hand or your foot being stuck underneath an atomic bomb as it goes off?"... Well, they both sound pretty bad to me!

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Norman.

            In response to your comments in the third paragraph of your reply, I think the best policy is to avoid painting entire groups of people with too broad a brush. It is far better to focus on individuals, and what they do and say in specific contexts.

            So, sure, there are some "churchgoers and religious" who are more narrow-minded than I would hope for. I know some personally, and have read things written by some that would lead me to hold that opinion of them.

            But, the same is true with respect to some non-believers I know and others whose writings I have read.

            And, to complete the circle, I know many "churchgoers and religious" -- including family members, friends and professional colleagues -- and have read the writings of numerous others who strike me as intelligent (often-times, highly), well-educated, well-read, and broad- and fair-minded people.

            And, no worries about trying to convert me! ;)


          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Norman.

            Galileo may have acted rashly. He may have contended that he had proved more than the evidence available at the time warranted (and was wrong, according to modern astronomy and physics, in some particulars, as you noted in an earlier comment). And, he may have been intemperate (and imprudent, as it turned out) in the sarcastic tone and demeanor in which he styled "Dialogue" and evidently in which he also interacted at times with the Church hierarchy between 1614 and 1633.

            But Galileo was neither a theologian nor a member of the Catholic hierarchy, so he obviously had no power to dictate Catholic theology or doctrine. I don't understand why the Church couldn't simply have ignored Galileo's ruminations on the implications of his findings regarding heliocentrism for some of the Church's biblical interpretations and Catholic theology.

            While Galileo may have exhibited undue pride, impertinence, obstinacy, sarcasm and ridiculing scorn, the fact remains that the Church has borne the brunt of the blame for the outcome of the affair, Galileo's conviction for heresy, his confinement to house arrest and the banning of "Dialogue" and it was the Church that held the power and bears the responsibility for the course it chose to take.

            I have no real interest in playing "gotcha" here. All of us make mistakes and all human institutions of which I'm aware make mistakes. (Some more egregious and some more frequently than others, of course.) While it may be emotionally or psychologically easier for those of us who are not believing Catholics to see areas in which the Catholic Church has made mistakes, it is not surprising, human nature being what it is, that it is harder for devout believers -- not to mention the hierarchy! -- to acknowledge mistakes by the Church. The real problem here, it seems to me, is not the gotcha game but rather that the extreme recalcitrance, and sometimes apparently obstinate outright refusal by some Catholics and by some in the Catholic hierarchy, to acknowledge obvious mistakes hardly improves overall credibility on other matters.

            But, I fear we are wondering too far afield on this thread, as the "Galileo affair" has been the subject of other SN OPs and voluminous commentary.

        • Norman

          Greg, also, someone first revealed to you the truthful dogma that rape is wrong, why do you subscribe to that revelation?
          I ask because I know you agree that it is wrong and I'm not demonizing, but demonstrating that not all dogmas are bad. Not all religious people are good and not all nonreligious are full blown bad either, I guess that's really important for me to say so people don't attribute thoughts that aren't mine, to me.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Norman.

            You've raised the issue of rape in both of your replies to me: here, in the context of dogmatic revelation and, in your other reply, in the context of truth. I'll respond to both here.

            The Oxford English Dictionary defines "dogma" as "(1) An opinion, a belief, spec. a tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, esp. by a Church or sect; an arrogant declaration of opinion. (2) Doctrines or opinions, esp. on religious matters, laid down authoritatively or assertively."

            You presciently predicted that I would agree with you that rape is wrong. But we know that rape is wrong not simply as a matter of dogmatic revelation from any institutional religion. Rape is deemed wrong by secular society as well: rapists can be imprisoned by the State if convicted under the criminal code proscribing rape (as variously defined) and may also be sued civilly for money damages by the victim.

            Rape is wrong for a number of reasons accessible to human reason and empathy, upon which humans reach consensus in constructing civilized and ordered (and, hopefully, peaceful and harmonious) societies without dependence on dogmatic religious revelation.

            I'll offer just a few reasons why I know that rape is wrong that have nothing to do with any dogmatic religious revelation. Rape is wrong because the rapist is violating the victim's bodily autonomy without the victims's consent. It is wrong because the rapist may be inflicting pain and causing needless emotional and/or psychological suffering on the victim, again without the victim's consent. It is wrong because it unwarrantedly privileges the rapist's own selfish desires -- whatever they happen to be in any particular situation -- over the desires and rights of the victim. It is wrong because it violates the dictum, "Do no harm." It is wrong because it manifests the rapist's lack of due regard for another human being's sense of self and freedom and liberty interests.

            Others could articulate a number of other reasons why rape is wrong, but the foregoing list provides at least a starter. The point is that we do not require an authoritative Church to instruct us -- through revealed religious dogma -- that, or why, rape is wrong.

            In the US, where I live, our Constitution guarantees to all US citizens the right to the free exercise of religion but also prohibits the federal and state governments from establishing any religion. So, institutional religions are free to establish religious dogmas and adherents to those religions are free to profess such dogmatic beliefs as they wish. But, no religion has the right, at least in the US, to seek to force their religious dogmas on any who do not voluntarily assent.

            Personally, I'm not a fan of being forced by any authority -- religious or secular -- to assent to belief in any dogma, but everyone has to make that choice for himself or herself. To the extent that dogmas foreclose free and independent inquiry, lead to a closing of the human mind, stifle the progress of our pursuit of knowledge and hinder or even obstruct our understanding of the truth of reality, I would regard dogmas as being "bad."

            As to your thoughts regarding "some people" who "are silly enough to say 'there is no truth'" in the context of whether rape is wrong or is "ok" and can be defended. I'd say the issue is not so much whether "there is truth" but rather the capacity of the human mind to understand what the truth is in any given context, given all the frailties and limitations of the human mind as well as our species' inherent emotional and psychological makeups.

            So, even if I think there is objective reality beyond self, that does not necessarily mean that human beings will ever be capable of fully understanding all aspects of the truth regarding ultimate reality. But, that still does not mean that we can't know that rape is wrong: we can and still do know that rape is wrong, for reasons I've previously articulated in this comment. No society could long persist, not to mention thrive, if every person was free to act at every moment on every base, purely selfish, temporary inclination without regard to its impact on others and society at large. That would be pure anarchy.

          • Norman

            Hi Greg,

            I have to use rape being wrong as an example of morality because both religious and nonreligious would agree upon it. Only when I was an atheist I started to question why I even acknowledged morality, let alone act upon it (which I wasn't all that prone to do given I didn't believe in Karma, or its western name justice). I reasoned that if there was no God, there is no real morality either. You outlined why rape is wrong and I agree with everything you said, but not why you adhere to it. I couldn't get past morality being a human invention born purely out of intellect without any outside help. I do believe in the natural law, i.e. that you can get to rape being wrong without a religion telling you so, but why adhere to it?... It'd be anarchy yes, but isn't the second definition of "dogma" in the Oxford dictionary what your previous response is? ("esp" in religious matters, but it does not say "only in religious matters")... And don't worry, I think you should be authoritative in denouncing rape as should I, but if there's that opinion on morality them there's probably more and ones opinion on morality hardly matters (as we know in the "rape is wrong" example).
            Stalin had a "kill homosexuals" opinion and policy (dogma), yet it had nothing to do with religious denunciation as religion was outlawed and handled much the same way. It had everything to do with furthering the communistic state he was in charge of. What makes your (or my) dogma any better than his?... If there's no third party of morality such as God to reveal it, than any one opinion is just as good as another, they're just different and that's the way the animal kingdom is so end of story.... We both know that's not the end of story, but you don't need a list of reasons to know why rape is wrong to know that it is (and I didn't ask for why rape is wrong, I asked why you personally believe it but I fear I'll get Oxford quotes and not your opinion) - my point is that something inside of you tells you morality exists, its something you can feel. You feel with emotions but you have to make sense of these with an intellect. Yes, the Church steps in with intellect because its history contains the summary of this naturally felt law or morality being etched in to stone - literally, with the ten commandments. Its not that you cannot feel "thou shall not murder", its that one feels many things throughout life an experiences many things, like being wronged but even though your feelings will change by feeling like maybe this one person who wronged should be out of my way permanently, but we look back and alas, "thou shall not murder" is still written regardless of our emotions. Is thou shall not murder a wrong because its a religious idea that became authoritative, or because Joseph Stalin had a different authoritative opinion/dogma?
            On a separate note I am glad that you don't equate freedom with "do anything you want whenever you want", all too many modernly educated people do that without the realization that its anarchy. So kudos to you on things like your education and the past book reading.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Norman.

            There's so much to say in response to your reply.

            Morality can, and does, exist in human societies whether God does, or doesn't, exist. All moral rules and ethical values ultimately derive from humans thinking about how best to order human societies to achieve desired ends and how we ought to behave and treat other members of our societies, and reflect cultural traditions developed over time in specific societies and, more generally, the manner in which Homo sapiens has evolved over the course of geological time.

            One big difference between the religious believing set and the non-believing set is to be found here. The non-believing set recognize that morality is a subject to be discussed and debated within a society and that eventually, after the required degree of consensus has been reached on specific moral rules through that society's decisional processes, the resulting moral rules are then implemented and enforced as deemed appropriate in that society. Non-believers don't, of course, invoke God at any stage of the process.

            In contrast, in the case of the religious believing set (at least some religious believers, anyway) many appear comfortable in accepting claims made (or dogmas proclaimed or doctrines announced, if you will) by the religious elites within their Church/faith tradition that moral rules and ethical values being handed down within that religion/faith are not those of those elites' own devising but somehow are truths of so-called objective morality revealed by God to those self-same elites (or at least to some founder(s) or prophets in that religion's/faith's traditions and history). That approach is convenient for those religious elites: it means they don't have the same burden the rest of us do of having to persuade others in our society based solely on the merits of any suggested moral rule (or ethical value) in order to garner adequate support from the decisional processes in the society as a prerequisite to implementation of any moral rule or ethical value but can simply hand it down as a supposed mandate dictated by a postulated omniscient and omnipotent transcendent God deemed to be binding on humans.

            We all acknowledge morality because it is a necessary precondition to society, if not innate to our species, at the present state of our evolution. In terms envisioned by some of the Age of Enlightenment thinkers, like John Locke, each of us agrees to give up some of our theoretical freedom to do whatever we might otherwise "want" to do whenever we would wish to do it in exchange for the commitment of others to do the same, and a governing body is given the authority to enforce this set of rules in order to secure life and liberty for all of the society's members. Absent this, there is only anarchy, and none of us would ever truly be reasonably free from the prospects of unwanted predation by others.

            As this comment has already gotten so long, I'll cut it off here. More to follow. Cheers.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Norman.

            You write: "but if there's that opinion on morality them there's probably more and ones opinion on morality hardly matters."

            Sure, there can be a range of opinions among a society's members on virtually anything that can be thought of as involving morality. And, in that instance, it can be the case that any given individual's opinion hardly matters. What matters is the consensus rule that emerges in that society on any given issue and whether and the extent to which that society will seek to enforce that rule.

            Prohibitions on murder and rape and stealing seem to be easy cases. All it takes is a minimal level of empathy and a broader view of self-interest. Presumably, that has at least something to do with how the so-called "Golden Rule" and "Silver Rule" developed. In other words, if you don't want others in your society being free to kill you, rape you or steal your things whenever they might happen to fell a momentary impulse to do so, then commit yourself -- and recognize your society's right to enforce this commitment through reasonable means -- to refrain from killing or raping others, or from stealing their things.

            There is nothing about this that requires resort to God. As noted in my earlier comment, resort to God in this regard can be seen as a convenient device by which some religious elites seek to privilege their own opinions about appropriate moral rules by cloaking them as mandates emanating from their God, exempting themselves from the burden all the rest of us bear of having to persuade others of the merits of the moral rules we think appropriate for society.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Norman.

            Continuing down the body of your reply . . . .

            You report that Stalin had a policy to "kill homosexuals." It will hardly come as a surprise to you that I would denounce such a policy.

            But, I don't see how the fact that Stalin may have had ignoble policies -- many, in fact -- helps to advance your basic theme. After all, history seems to teach us that -- notwithstanding what Plato or Hobbes (among others) might have conjectured about the so-called enlightened despot as representing the ideal form of government, or the idealized and sanitized manner in which the reign of selected secular monarchs, such as the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, might have been passed down through the deep mists of history -- investing absolute power in a single individual (whatever the title one wishes to deploy) doesn't tend to work out well for the greatest good of the greatest number of members of that society or bode well for the prospects for most of the society's members to enjoy life and liberty unburdened by the arbitrary and capricious whims of the ruler. (You might reflect on the message this could portend for institutional religions vesting ultimate authority in a single individual, even more so in the case of a religion with a dogma that certain promulgations made by that individual are infallible under certain circumstances and conditions.)

            There is little reason to think that dogmas pronounced by secular authorities are immune from all the problems inherent in dogmas pronounced by religious authorities. I don't endorse either.

            We can rely on the same reasoning I've elaborated in my earlier comments in concluding that Stalin was wrong with his policy or "dogma" -- your term -- of "kill homosexuals." (Ironically for Christians, Stalin apparently could have cited Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as warrant for his policy. Perhaps Stalin became familiar with passages in the Old Testament condemning homosexuality during the several years he spent as a seminary student at the Tiflis [Georgian Orthodox] Theological Seminary?)

            I wonder if this same reasoning might also help explain why increasing numbers in Europe and North America appear to be rejecting Catholic dogmas regarding contraception, same sex marriage (and the Catholic teaching that homosexuality itself is intrinsically and objectively disordered) and abortion. It is possible for people to have sound moral reasons for rejecting the Catholic Church's dogmas in these areas, even if the Catholic Church is loath to concede that fact.

            I understand why religious elites like to invoke God as the claimed "third party [source] of morality" to ensure compliance or secure submission on the part of their religious believers. Naturally, though, such claims are non-starters in dialogue with atheists who haven't been persuaded that there is good reason to believe a God in the form of that venerated by that institutional religion even exists in the first instance, much less that such a God in fact has revealed such moral rules to selected humans over the course of history and mandated their acceptance by human societies.

          • Norman

            Hmm, citing the Old Testament to invite Stalin's support of 'ridding' his country of religious dogmas in addition to the death penalty of married homosexuals and hard labor for any homosexual is far fetched at best. The reason why I cite Stalin is because he thought religious dogmas were as problematic as you do in citing them harmful - why wouldn't the government want to rid its country of something harmful?... Conversely, in modern times, as the US grows less religious its influence will wane (and is starting to), perhaps a distant possibility in the past - Russia and China religiousness is on the rise.
            Glad you don't support communism but in the Marxist theory, Socialism is the precursor to Communism. Without religions filling the void of taking care of the poverty stricken then the government steps in with social programs to take care of them and as they grow lar eventually sees no need for religion, eliminate it and become communistic anyway.
            Your saying that your support of government does include protecting things that harm its constituents, but once power enters the picture it changes a mentality - if you were in charge?...
            Many atheistic leaders and governments have authority problems with religions, like Mexico in the 1920s or even China in the past (and bits today, but as I said religiousness is growing there). If you're in support of the U.S. government as I am (aside from a monarchy where everyone loves the king which in no way is humanly possible - heaven), then surely you see the value of religions as the founding fathers did?
            You cited their dogmas as harmful, so I'm unsure... Wouldn't you agree that anti-religious secularists are the least united group of people in the world?... The Church gave the world a working calendar, what would its date be if Jesus's influence disappears- could we agree on anything or would an individual have to take charge?... The Church operates much more like a democracy than people think (Acts ch. 15 through Vatican II), can admit to its past mistakes such as it did with Galileo and the priest abuse scandal, WWII even though priests died in concentration camps, is the largest charity in the world, is the largest educator in the world and helped form the "lets not kill homosexuals because they're homosexuals" and "women can vote" type human rights as we know them today, is harmful?
            I say labelling Pride the foundation of all sin is harmful?... With each quote of the Old Testament is the unending error of citing the New to Christians, what do you think of Leviticus 18:23, the sentence right after the one you cite?... Or bestiality is natural, ok, and should be legal because the Old Testament?-- You've read "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" written by then Cardinal Ratzinger who became Pope Benedict XVI?... Science dictates that it takes one man and one woman to make a child, not an orgy, not anything else except that combination - men in Rome did decide that yet they have a desire to have a family. A deep seated natural, and very good, desire to have a family. Further up in the psychology, they're attracted to the same sex and although that's the result of nature too, nature does not allow them to naturally posses having a child with their desired parter. Something is off, its not in order - nature decided that, not Dogma, my dogma tells me that which I believe: they're not good people that God loves as much as everyone else.
            If you can quote that document in conext you might get somewhere with people like me, but if someone highlight sectences in the Old Testament and told me I can't eat shellfish, Ill be puzzled as I thank God for my shrimp and lobster... because apparently they don't know my religious dogma?

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Norman.

            I do want to thank you for your comment, and for engaging with me in this area. I've (obviously) found your comment to be a rich vein to spark dialogue!

            Neither you nor I may "need a list of reasons to know why rape is wrong." But, you may have misunderstood one of my earlier replies. The list of reasons I provided is, in fact, why I personally believe that rape is wrong. The fact that many others may also point to one or more of those as reasons to say that "rape is wrong" does not vitiate their also serving to ground my personal opinion on the subject.

            I happen to agree with you that something inside us informs our moral views. I -- and many others, of course -- would call that something conscience. While I'd defer to anthropologists, psychologists or other scientists possessing relevant expertise and knowledge regarding human cultures and the human "mind," I'd guess that virtually all humans, perhaps with the exception of those characterized as being psychopathic or sociopathic personalities, have consciences and that they engage with their consciences continually in deciding how to act and behave in many circumstances. (Although, I also suspect that many of our decisions are governed by more purely immediate, emotional responses effectively hard-wired by the course of evolution into our subconscious.)

            The profoundly interesting aspect of all this, to my way of thinking, are all the factors and considerations that go into why we have consciences in the first instance, how they are formed, and how they develop over the course of our lives. If you're not familiar with them, I'd heartily recommend Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" (2002) and Joshua Greene's "Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason and the Gap Between Us and Them" (2013) [which I'm currently reading].

            I understand, of course, that the Catholic Church has a different view on the source of conscience and how best to inform it! ;)

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Norman.

            Continuing on, to explore this very rich vein . . .

            While I understand the reverence, not to mention the talismanic significance, many Jews and Christians express for the Ten Commandments, I hardly look upon them as being a summary of natural law or as manifesting the highest orders of morality.

            (As an aside, this somewhat begs the threshold question of which Ten Commandments? Those contained in Exodus 20:2-17? Deuteronomy 5:6-21? Exodus 34:11-28? Which denomination’s Ten Commandments: Jewish? Catholic/Lutheran? Anglican and most Christian Protestant? Orthodox? For purposes of this discussion, I'll assume it is acceptable to work from the version taken from Exodus, Chapter 20 and to use the Catholic numbering scheme.)

            Commandments 1 - 3 relate only to the relationship between the Israelites of the Old Testament and their God, Yahweh. They strike me more as the kind of thing we'd expect to see from an inordinately jealous, perhaps somewhat paranoid but certainly imperious, human ruler accustomed to demanding obeisance. I would characterize them as rather silly, and not particularly attractive, attributes of human emotion. They hardly seem befitting of an intelligence of the order Christians posit for God. And, they hardly seem to rank among the ten most wise and profound principles of morality known to a being/intelligence that could have created our universe.

            Commandment 4 is a good idea, at least for those fathers and mothers who have, by their actions and conduct toward their children, "earned" it. But, in such instances it would hardly have seemed necessary to carve such a rule "into stone," as you put it, as it would seem to follow naturally. And, as for the parents who abandon, neglect, abuse (whether physically, psychologically or emotionally), taunt, belittle or humiliate their children, it's hard to see why there is some overarching principle of profound moral importance to the maintenance of human civilizations that would demand that such mistreated and abused children nevertheless profess to honor their unworthy parents.

            Commandments 5, 7 and 8 are, to be sure, good ideas, as it is hard to imagine how it would be possible to maintain ordered, civilized societies if people were free to go around randomly and capriciously killing or stealing from others, as I've previously discussed, or lying about them in courts designed to deliver justice. Note, however, that when God handed down the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai, these commandments applied only to relations between the Israelites and did not have universal application: the Old Testament is replete with examples of the Israelites slaughtering numerous other indigenous peoples of Palestine and stealing their goods and property, often directly at Yahweh’s bidding, if the Bible is taken to be inerrant. Again, I am confident that anthropologists would tell us that virtually all societies throughout history, including those predating the Israelites of the Pentateuch period, have had proscriptions against killing and stealing (at least killing or stealing from other members of the tribe/community/society of which they were members). That is no earth-shattering, profound moral truth that only some omnipotent, omniscient being/entity/intelligence could reveal to mankind.

            As to Commandment 6 -- the prohibition against adultery -- that again seems a rule that those ruling over human societies had noticed was a good idea to help maintain civilized order, once humans started living in societies larger than the family-based clans of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, because of the human emotion of jealousy. But even taken on its own terms, this Commandment is hardly high-minded and reflective of some incredibly far-ranging, probing, unimaginably insightful morality: to the extent this commandment prohibited a man from having sexual intercourse with a married woman not his wife, that was only because it was thought to be immoral not for reasons we modern humans understand, but because, to the Israelites at the time this was written, women were deemed to be the mere property of men and any man who had sexual intercourse with another man’s wife was, in effect, taking that man’s property without consent or payment. So much for objective morality far beyond the human imagination!

            Finally, Commandments 9 and 10 relate only to private thoughts. They appear largely to acknowledge the reality of the human emotion of envy. And, note the usefulness they have for the elites in societies in which a few elites control or own wildly disproportionate amounts of materials goods -- or in polygamous societies of ancestral times, in which the most powerful males tended to amass harems of females, be they wives, consorts or concubines -- and desire to preserve their privileges and tamp down the natural instincts of most humans for fairness and more equitable participation in the society's productivity and wealth. Why, anyway, would some omniscient and all-powerful creator intelligence be consumed by private thoughts, rather than actions?

            Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong puts it thusly:

            “This mythology of a divine source of ethics enforced by the all-seeing God, however, has been revealed by the ancient codes themselves to be utter nonsense. A careful study of these codes reveals nothing less than the tribal prejudices, stereotypes, and limited knowledge of the people who created them. . . . The Ten Commandments, although still saluted by many religious people, have lost most of their ancient power. Many of those who pay them lip service cannot tell you what commandments are included in the Ten or even which of the Ten they absolutely do not obey. . . . The first clue in the Bible to the human rather than divine origin of these rules is seen in the fact that they were regularly violated when dealing with people outside the Jewish world.”

            Again, Norman, thank you for this dialogue.

            And, with the hope that our human societies can continue to develop more progressive, useful and meaningful moral codes than many of the outmoded and -- to my and many others' view -- highly immoral codes of morality attributed to God in the Christian Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. I hope for the development of a morality that actually addresses the widespread inequities in this life. A morality that ceases codling, protecting and enabling the politically powerful and the plutocrats to continue their affliction of the already afflicted. A morality that will help create and maintain more just societies in this life for the benefit of all humans, not just the rich and powerful, by:

            (1) stressing the commonality that unites all humans;

            (2) advocating for more effective and responsive government, one that more effectively restrains and regulates rapacious multinational corporations, destructive, unfettered markets and crony capitalism in order to prevent the rise of abusive oligarchies and plutocratic elites;

            (3) preaching inclusiveness and universality and abandoning all forms of “tribalism” -- be they ethnic, religious, nationalistic, class-based or kin-based -- that promote “us versus them” ways of thinking, exclusion and divisiveness;

            (4) seeking greater egalitarianism and more equitable distribution of income and wealth; and

            (5) urging more tempered uses of our planet’s resources and more modest and humble human societies.


          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Norman.

            I am pleased by your recognition that not all religious people are always "good" and that not all "nonreligious" are always "full blown bad" either.

            Tolerance, acceptance and civility toward others who don't think as we do are necessary virtues in any complex, heterogeneous, diverse modern society. As is charity in not presuming that all others not members of one's own "tribe" must perforce not be as just, righteous, ethical and moral as we tend to imagine ourselves -- and exhort other members of our own tribe -- to be.


  • Thanks for another interesting article. My interest remains, and I have many questions, especially about Arabic science, once we get to it. I don't know if I'll be commenting on these articles here much, or asking many of my questions here, as it seems the comment section gets bogged down by the most boorish sort of western Catholic triumphalism. Your argument is much more interesting than that. I don't want it to suffer guilt by association.

  • TeaPot562

    Side comment; Why did Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands dominate trade via sea routes in the 16th -17th centuries? In the early 1400s, a Chinese admiral had sailed a fleet around the Malayan peninsula into the Indian Ocean, and to several further places within. The then Emperor of China ordered him back, and forbade further voyages of discovery and/or explanation.
    Query: Did China have a national mindset that all experimentation and quests for discovery had to be authorized by Beijing? If so, and if the royal court was hostile to new developments, the failure of China to develop science further may be explained.

    • Chad Eberhart

      "Why did Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands dominate trade via sea routes in the 16th -17th centuries?"

      Use of gunpowder and superior weaponry due to centuries of fighting among Christian countries?

      • TeaPot562

        Gunpowder and or the equivalent chemical formulas were known in China before Marco Polo's visit. Didn't they develop fireworks, then gradually export this knowledge to the West?

        • Chad Eberhart

          That is my understanding. My point was that through warfare the West went far beyond fireworks. It's been a while since I've read about this but if memory serves Portugal and Spain took over those ports by gunpoint and then controlled trade.

  • Chee Chak

    This sums up the series still births of science. Recommended reading.

  • Brad

    My question is why did it take 1500 years of Christianity, and even more of Judaism, to finally produce scientific method and discovery? We had an excellent start with the works of the Greeks, but it still took a long time for Galileo to come along. In fact it could be argued that humanity took a pretty large step backwards in regards to science and discovery after Greek civilization declined and Christianity in its early years spread. This large gap in time suggests that the development of science had less to do with a Christian worldview than it did with the political and cultural revival of the Renaissance.

    • Brad, that is a perfectly reasonable and good question. In my book based on Fr. Jaki's work, the chapter "Was Born" is divided into four sections: Stillbirths in Ancient Cultures, The Biblical Womb, Early Christianity, and The Christian West. These six essays about the "stillbirths" are excerpts from that section. The answers to your questions are addressed in the following three sections.

      It is here: http://www.amazon.com/Science-Was-Born-Christianity-Teaching-ebook/dp/B00H3T59XE/ The royalties go to a mother in need, as they have since the book released.

      There are a number of reasons, but overall, the world view of the Biblical cultures and of early Christianity was radically different than the other ancient cultures of pantheism. The Christians held to this world view faithfully (think of the first time creation out of nothing was mentioned in the Bible, by a mother watching her sons be murdered for their faith, they held to their faith in a Creator even then). The early Christian writings were dedicated to Christian ethics, scriptural exegesis, and theology, but there was also a considerable effort to defend the superiority of the Christian message over paganism and pantheism.

      For instance, the apologist, Athenagoras (ca. 133–190 A.D.), made the distinction between God and creation. He taught that Christians, not the pagans, were the ones “who distinguished God from matter, and teach that matter is one thing and God another . . . ” He also taught that the world was “an instrument in tune, and moving in well-measured time,” and that the Deity is the only one who deserved worship because He gave the world “its harmony, and strikes its notes, and sings the accordant strain.”

      They were also more interested in the salvation of souls than what we now call "science," but they protected the world view that would be necessary for science to be born. The birth was a result of the Christian scholars effectively refuting Greek pantheism when they encountered the Greek scientific corpus received from the Muslims.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Nothing in history is instantaneous. Nor is it discontinuous. Galileo did not spring pristine from the brow of Zeus. (Nor for that matter was he the key player that later mythology has made of him: there were others as good or better.) Galileo had teachers from whom he learned the method of Demonstrative Regress which he used to great effect. He had learned it from Paulus Vallius of the Roman College, who had learned it from Ioannes Lorinus, who had learned it from Jacopo Zarabella, and so on back to Robert Grosseteste.

      Our view of the Greeks is biased because the medievals preferentially copied and preserved Greek works on logic, reason, math, medicine, and natural philosophy. They filtered out the bulk of Greek irrationalism and left Aristotle, Plato, and a few others on the filter paper.

      The early Christians were in no position to do much of anything, and were in any case Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Egyptians themselves and shared much of the cultural assumptions, including a disinterest in the natural sciences. Later, in the West there was the small matter of taming and domesticating the English, French, Spanish, and Germans, and of fending off the vikings, saracens, and magyars. The existential threat did not ebb until after the Battle of Lechfeld in AD 1000. After that, the West was in the recovery ward for a while and went out actively seeking to recover the wisdom of the Greeks (which had never been translated into Latin in the first place).

      After that, it was a matter of laying down conceptual foundations, defining a body of knowledge, devising a language in which to talk about it -- words like "velocity," "acceleration," "instantaneous," etc. date from then -- and poking holes in the wisdom of the Greeks. Creating instruments with which to make measurements and a mathematical notation in which to record them also took time. Rome wasn't built in a day, either.

      Accumulation follows a logistic curve. The slope starts out small, but gradually increases as a larger base allows greater growth. Eventually, a "take off" point or "tipping point" is reached and things speed up considerably. But you never reach the take off point unless you have already taxied down the runway.

      IOW, it's not magic. Nothing happens just because some folks got sprinkled. New ideas must (dare I say it?) evolve and spread through the population.

      • jessej

        "IOW, it's not magic. Nothing happens just because some folks got sprinkled. "

        Ha and thank you.

        God started his story with us in a garden for a reason. He likes to watch growth like you and I.

        The alternative brings thoughts of the complete disaster found in A Nice Place to Visit from the mind of Rod Serling.

      • Andrew Kassebaum

        Great comment, Ye Olde Statistician! If you've compiled one, I would love to see your bibliography!

      • Brad

        Sorry I did not mean to suggest that Galileo sprang forth in such a manner. Yes there were important antecedents to him which informed him and all the giants of the Scientific Revolution. I only thought it was an interesting point to compare the relative wasteland of advancement in philosophy and science of the first 1200 or so years (I'll say now) of Christianity in relation to a short 300 years of classical Greek civilization and the 500 or so years of modern Science. At least if you're looking for new and unique ideas. It seems to me that the Hellenistic age was a fertile ground for this new powerful idea of Christianity to be planted. Wouldn't we expect a flourishing of science at this time rather that 1000 years of comparatively nothing if the proposition is true? I can see your arguments about Christian preoccupation, but I don't think it's right to say the Greeks and Romans were disinterested in the natural sciences. I think the example of Alexandria illustrates this excellently. You had a place where knowledge could have flourished but instead got three groups (Pagans, Christians and Jews) arguing over questions not of this world but the next and it ended in a stifling of discovery. Now it's been suggested that this early period of Christianity was more focused on questions of the afterlife and the eternal state of our souls. That may be true, but why the change then? It seems to me that this type of focus is the point of the Christian message. It is the most important thing. Maybe it is that in our current society, heaven and hell is a tough sell in the face of declining numbers of religiosity. This is evidenced on this very site when comparing the many articles on science as compared to the zero on hell.

        This brings up another point I'd like to make. I can see the sense in the arguments put out on this subject. It may be that a monotheistic view and a belief in the order of the cosmos was important to the work of the giants of the Scientific Revolution. However, this age was also marked by an increase in free thought and conflict with orthodoxy. I would argue that it was this freedom of thought which was most important to the flourishing of the sciences. If what is argued here is true, why is it the case that the Scientific Revolution sparked the great ages of disbelief? The Scientific Revolution eventually led to Atheism being a logical proposition. Why do we see more Atheist or Agnostic scientists rather than believers? I would argue that it is free thought that is the truly vital aspect of science. If the creator has intention, then under this view of the relationship between Christianity and Science, wouldn't you expect to see an increase in belief rather than a decrease? Maybe there is some aspect of our fallen nature that explains this but it does seem interesting, at least to me.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          You vastly over-estimate the Greek interest in science, as opposed to the interest of a handful of Greeks who were preserved and elevated by the medievals. The Romans were distinctly uninterested. (Name a great Roman scientist.) Your assessment of Alexandria is both over-optimistic and ahistorical.

          why is it the case that the Scientific Revolution sparked the great ages
          of disbelief?

          It didn't. That's post hoc, ergo propter hoc. If you look at the statistics, the movement of women into the labor force sparked the collapse of Detroit. The correlation was 98% or more between %women in labor force and %imported passenger cars.

          Granted, the great ages of disbelief in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia took place in the Late Modern Ages, which were also the great ages of Science!™ but while Germany was famous for its science, Russia was not.

          The Scientific Revolution eventually led to Atheism
          being a logical proposition.

          It would be interesting to see the scientific evidence for that. Logical propositions are the fruit of philosophy, not of natural science.

          I would argue that it is free thought
          that is the truly vital aspect of science.

          Free thought. You get what you pay for.

          But I think you are using the term in an equivocal manner. Freedom of thought does not necessarily require atheism.
          "Assertions… concerning natural philosophy, which do not pertain to theology, should not be solemnly condemned or forbidden to anyone, since in such matters everyone should be free to say freely whatever he pleases."
          -- Br. William of Ockham, OFM (14th cent.)

          One need only consider the scientific advances carried out by religious people: the big bang theory (Fr. George Lemaitre), genetics (Br. Gregor Mendel), etc. A more truly vital aspect of science is the belief that nature has been endowed with the power of secondary causation, that it is rationally ordered "by number, weight, and measure," that this rational order is accessible at least in large measure to human reason, and that the study of nature is a fit occupation for grown-ups. All of which goes back to the topic of this post-series.

          • Brad

            "You vastly over-estimate the Greek interest in science, as opposed to the handful of Greeks who were preserved and elevated by the medievals. The Romans were distinctly uninterested. (Name a great Roman scientist.) Your assessment of Alexandria is both over-optimistic and ahistorical."

            Certainly there was much disinterest among people of the Greco-Roman world on the whole, but in comparison to the first 1000 years of Christianity there was clearly a much greater interest in learning of this sort at least among the elites. This is evidenced by the universities and schools particularly in Athens and Alexandria. Schools which suspiciously disappeared once Paganism was largely wiped out.

            There was a greater emphasis in the Roman world on study of the earlier Greeks and less so on new discovery or observation but if you want a few who break the mold there is Pliny the Elder, Ptolemy, Galen and Hypatia. Galen and Ptolemy were hugely influential in advancements of science even though they may have been wrong about a lot. Hypatia of course brings us to Alexandria where there was a long history of schools of scientific and philosophical discovery. Hypatia even had Christian students learning in hers. I won't get into the many dramatizations and inaccuracies surrounding her but why is it that once Paganism was eradicated so to did schools like hers disappear? Why this outcome especially when considering that she had Christian students? It seems to me there is no better example of the fertile ground awaiting a Christian mindset to take science to new levels. Show me the early Christian versions of Ptolemy, Galen, Hypatia, etc. Show me the early Christian versions of the schools in Athens and Alexandria.

            The great ages of disbelief may be a poor term but the idea is that with the Scientific Revolution you had hand in hand the beginnings of skepticism and reaction against religion. People like Hume and Voltaire clearly show a link between the advancement of science and a philosophy that was in conflict with the church. There could have been no Hume before the Scientific Revolution. This link really takes off after Darwin. The cumulative effect of people like Hume, Voltaire and Darwin make Atheism a logical proposition. All this may seem a bit off topic but I believe the over-arching point of this series and website is to paint Christianity in a pro-scientific light. My question is why do we have hand in hand with scientific advancement a decrease in orthodox religiosity if the message of the article is true? Shouldn't there be more traditionally religious scientists rather than less?

            Free thought does not require Atheism but apparently it often leads to it. Here I was not arguing that you had to be an Atheist to have freedom of thought or to be a scientist. I can see the vitality of a belief in a rationally ordered universe to science, my point is that the freedom to follow where the evidence leads, and the freedom to entertain heretical ideas, whether religious or scientific, is as vital to explaining how we got here.

          • Howard

            "My question is why do we have hand in hand with scientific advancement a decrease in orthodox religiosity if the message of the article is true"

            Actually there was no steady decline of religion.

            Along with Kant and then the new Romanticism, doubt was placed on the claims of Rationalism. Then there was a period of great revival of Catholicism after the defeat of Napoleon.

          • Brad

            Then comes Darwin.

          • Howard

            Yes...and not a problem for Catholics.

          • Brad

            But certainly influential in the state of doubt today.

          • Howard

            What doubt exactly?

          • Brad

            the fact that there are more agnostic scientists than believers, and the fact that there are more people in general that doubt at least orthodox Christianity

          • Howard

            Do you mean Muslims and Hindus and atheists added together? Non-believers is our business, has been from the beginning.

          • Howard

            Sorry Ye...had to comment.

          • Brad

            Nope, just those western scientists who should have seen this obvious connection but somehow haven't.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If the prosperity of the West had been founded on the weaving of cloth, weavers seduced by their own importance and influence would no doubt also have become agnostics. In which case you might proclaim a relationship between weaving (which has given us so much) and agnosticism. Basically, thus:
            a) You don't need primary causation to study the secondary causation of nature.
            b) Natural science is highly useful.
            c) Therefore, there is no God.
            This is like someone who finds that hammers are extremely useful denying the existence of screws.

          • Brad

            I highly doubt the majority of modern scientists who are agnostic are so because they have been seduced by their own importance and influence. If they were believers at a young age I would think it more likely they went through a transformation more along the lines of what happened to Darwin.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Darwin iirc moved to agnosticism because the Anglicanism of his day would have consigned his father to hell, and he could not assent to such a fate for his beloved father. It had little to do with his science.

          • Brad

            Why wasn't he worried about going to hell himself?

          • Brad

            From what I understand he was an aspiring Anglican priest who began to doubt the truth of the bible largely while he was on the Beagle.

          • Brad

            "During these two years I was led to think much about religion. Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox,
            & I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers
            (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable
            authority on some point of morality. I suppose it was the novelty of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, rainbow as a sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian."

          • Michael Murray

            This is like someone who finds that hammers are extremely useful denying the existence of screws.

            More like someone who finds horses really useful denying the existence of unicorns.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You have misunderstood the analogy. Check out Heisenberg.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            in comparison to the first 1000 years of Christianity

            During most of that first thousand years, Christianity was struggling to survive among the underclasses of the Roman Empire. Then it was dealing with the influx of barbarian Goths, Franks, Saxons, Lombards, trying to domesticate them. Then they were under existential threat from saracen jihadis (there was an Arab castle in the Alps into the 9th century, Genoa was depopulated for two generations, etc.), from viking raiders (who damn near sacked Paris), and then magyar hordes from the steppes. Burgundy, in the center of Western Europe, was ravaged in turn by all three. Not until Lechfeld did the external threat survive and the Europeans began putting the pieces back together. So the clock only starts in AD 1000, after the first thousand years.

            the universities and schools particularly in Athens and Alexandria.

            There were no universities in the ancient world. And "schools" must be understood more as "schools of fish" than our own schools. That is, disciples clustered around a master, eager to learn the Master's teachings. From the Greek pov, Jesus and his disciples were a school. So were Plotinus and his twelve disciples. When Hypatia was said to "succeed to the school of Plato" in Alexandria, it did not mean she took over as headmaster of a physical thing. It means she became known as the best expounder of the quasi-magical teachings of Plotinus.

            Schools which suspiciously disappeared once Paganism was largely wiped out.

            Paganism was not largely wiped out until the muslims came along. They tolerated Jews and Christians for a fee, but not pagans. (cf. Yazidis in today's ISIS-ruled region.) Paganism was the state religion, subsidized and staffed by the State. When the emperor and the state became at least nominally Christian, they stopped the subsidies, switched horses, and repurposed the physical plant. But the great schools of Alexandria continued up to the end; and those of Byzantium continued without interruption except where the Slav barbarians disrupted the Balkans for a time.
            In the West, which never had any of these schools, schools were started up during the Carolingian Renaissance, centered around the cathedrals. Many of these cathedral schools later became universities. The taught from Boethius (who had begun the translation of Aristotle before the Goths executed him), and from the Roman encyclopedias (Macrobius, Pliny, Martianus Capella). For a flavor of Late Roman encyclopediasts, see here: http://dhayton.haverford.edu/history118/wp-content/uploads/hist118/week4_capella.pdf

            Pliny the Elder, Ptolemy, Galen and Hypatia.

            Ptolemy was an astronomer, not a scientist; that is, a specialized kind of mathematician. He did not seek for physical theories to explain the phenomena, only mathematical models that would predict them. Galen was a medical practitioner and iirc did try to explain illnesses in terms of the latest technology: hydraulics. To what extent either one was a summarizer of past art or breaking new ground is unknown. Pliny "was not an original, creative thinker, nor a pioneer of research to be compared either with Aristotle and Theophrastus or with any of the great moderns. He was, rather, the compiler of a secondary sourcebook." (Laehn, 1955) He does not use any sort of scientific method in his compilations but simply repeats (often with attribution) the tales told him by others.
            This is Chapter 1: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137%3Abook%3D2%3Achapter%3D1
            And Hypatia was a mathematician and (as a follower of Plotinus) did not dirty herself with physical matter. Her works consited of a masterly edition of Ptolemy produced with her father, and texts we may as well call e.g., "Diophantine equations for dummies."

            Hypatia even had Christian students learning in hers.

            Yes, in fact I think nearly off of those we know were Christians. But then, the Christian scholars had pagan students, too. Ammonius, who was the son of Aedesia, the great female philosopher of Alexandria in the generation after Hypatia, had among his students John Philoponus, a Christian, and Simplicius, a pagan. The latter was used by Galileo as the name for the single-minded Aristotelian in the Dialogue; and many of Philoponus's experiments he took for his own.
            (Philoponus wrote that "(1) The universe is a product of one single God, (2) the heavens and the earth have the same physical properties, (3) and the stars are not divine.")

            Why this outcome especially when considering that she had Christian students?

            Because when the teacher dies his school usually disperses. It was not a school in the sense of a corporate body.

            Show me the early Christian versions of the schools in Athens and Alexandria.

            Paris, Bologna, Salerno, Oxford, etc. Though these are actual corporate bodies, with jurisdiction and autonomy, rather than informal gatherings of disciples around a revered teacher. More like the schools of antiquity would be the two Irishmen who arrived in Paris:
            Now it happened, when [the illustrious Charles] had begun to reign alone in the western parts of the world, and the pursuit of learning had been almost forgotten throughout all his realm, and the worship of the true Godhead was faint and weak, that two Scots came from Ireland to the coast of Gaul along with certain traders of Britain. These Scotchmen were unrivaled for their skill in sacred and secular learning: and day by day, when the crowd gathered round them for traffic, they exhibited no wares for sale, but cried out and said, "Ho, everyone that desires wisdom, let him draw near and take it at our hands; for it is wisdom that we have for sale."

            People like Hume and Voltaire clearly show a link between the advancement of science and a philosophy that was in conflict with the church.

            Neither was a natural philosopher. And Hume in particular denied efficient causation, ascribing everything to correlation. In this he was anticipated by al-Ghazali, whose helped thereby to stifle natural science in Islam.

            The cumulative effect of people like Hume... make Atheism a logical proposition.

            The impact of Hume on science is problematical. If you take him seriously you undermined the very causation that science depends upon.

            I believe the over-arching point of this series and website is to paint Christianity in a pro-scientific light.

            It actually seems to be to identify reasons why science failed to emerge in various other cultures of the world. The phrase "pro-scientific" supposes that there is already a thing called "science" in our modern sense and that Christianity was in favor of it. Christianity, as such, did not care about it, except that the study of nature was seen as a way of glorifying God and was therefore a fit occupation for grown-ups. Also various Christian beliefs -- secondary causation, methodological naturalism, rational order and its accessibility to human reason, etc. -- paved the way or laid the foundations, however you wish to express it. The belief that the universe was actually a huge, living organism with a mind of its own really didn't help, which is why Christians first had to "disenchant" nature.

            why do we have hand in hand with scientific advancement a decrease in orthodox religiosity

            Perhaps for the same reason that we have hand in hand an increase with women advancement and a decrease in Detroit automobiles. That is, Humean correlation is not Aristotelian causation.

            The assertion is not proven. From the cathedral canon (N. Copernicus) through an Augustinian monk (G. Mendel) to a devout Scotch Presbyterian (J.C. Maxwell) and a Belgian priest (G. Lemaitre) there is no discernable diminuation in "religiosity" (whatever that means). Kepler was a committed (if heterodox) Lutheran; Newton, a heterodox Anglican. The decrease in "orthodox religiosity" follows primarily on the mutual suicide pact of 1914-1945, when Europe lost faith in herself. That is, Europeans became more cynical and skeptical as a result of the bloodbath, and not because science had advanced. (Although a pushback has also developed against the science that had enabled the bloodbath.) America, where much of the science was afterward done, is also where most of the religiosity remains. But these are correlative, not causal connections. Two things changing over the same time period will always correlate, even if there is no causal connection whatsoever.

          • Brad

            If you had examples of Christian astronomers and physicians from this period I'm sure you would have pointed them out to me rather than argue that they weren't scientists. Also Pliny was interested in finding explanations of things.

            The schools you mention (Paris, Bologna...) aren't what I'd call early.

            I wasn't thinking of schools in that way. Yes schools in Alexandria were organized that way. It's just that with the decline of paganism went the disappearance of people such as Ptolemy, Hypatia and all the rest. All of the Christian "schools," were concerned with biblical studies and philosophical questions. At the most they may have studied the natural world in an effort to aid their religious life such as trying to figure out the true date of Easter.

            I think you have your Ammoniuses mixed up. There were three as far as I can tell. One was Christian, two were not. One spent his time studying the bible, one was the teacher of Plotinus, and a pagan, and one was the teacher of Simplicius and was persecuted by Justinian and was a pagan.

            Academy, Lyceum and Museum come from the Platonic Academy, the Lyceum of Aristotle and the Museion of Alexandria. Ok, so not universities in the modern sense, but certainly centers of education which yes centered on a revered teacher but under those teachers sought explanations and discovery of the world of the sort not seen again until maybe Paris and Bologna.

          • Brad

            I realize I am probably out of my league here. I have only a passing knowledge of most of this stuff. I should probably head off a response I can already see coming. I have probably gotten ahead of myself spouting off about a lack of Christian scientists in the first millennium. It seems there were at least a few who were making new contributions to the field. A common theme among them seems to be though that they were living in the Byzantine Empire and largely building on the works of pagans. This however gets to my original point wondering why science did not advance faster given that all that was missing was a Christian worldview. The Byzantines had a good 1000 years to get somewhere. Maybe the most important thing to the development of Western science is not the Christian worldview but the long and slow accumulation of knowledge, whether or not that knowledge came from Pagans or Christians.

          • Howard

            "original point wondering why science did not advance faster"

            Your question includes all of humanity. I would suggest that you follow this series and ponder what prevented the emergence of a modern science methodology in all of the other civilizations discussed.

            To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, what remains for us to see after this revelation is the conditions that existed, for ever how long it took, for the scientific method to appear as a structure that produced significant results.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Science is not the accumulation of factoids. Henri Poincare wrote that science is no more a pile of facts than a house is a pile of bricks. Facts, lore, rules of thumb, lucky guesses, and the like are not what we call science -- even though all of them can be food for science. The heart of the matter is the development of physical theories from the facts and the testing of those theories against new facts. This methodology existed in the egg in Aristotle -- no one contends that the medievals had nothing to work with. (It is the Modern who supposes a-historically that the Scientific Revolution had nothing prior to revolve.) But it was organized for investigation of nature by Robert Grosseteste, who added the crucial point that the quia predicted by the propter quid must be quia that were not used to develop the propter quid in the first place.

            Peter Dear listed six elements of the Scientific Revolution:
            1. The view of the world as a kind of machine.
            2. The distinction between “primary” and “secondary” qualities.
            3. The use of deliberate and recordable experimentation.
            4. The use of mathematics as a privileged tool for disclosing nature.
            5. The pursuit of natural philosophy as a research enterprise.
            6. The reconstruction of the social basis of knowledge around a positive evaluation of cooperative research.

            All of them have roots in the medieval West, although some were impeded by the lack of instruments or mathematical notation, or slowed by the lack of the printing press. Item #4 led to a crucial "middle" area between the facts and the theories: that of the "law" describing regularities among the facts (preferably in mathematical language).

            In most other cultures, as the "stillbirth" series indicated, #1 was not achieved and they continued to view the world as a kind of super-organism: "alive, divine, and influential in human affairs."

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Alas, I am not familiar with Byzantine history, and their names would mean little to you. Most of the source material was lost when the City was sacked, and scholarly investigation of their science is spotty. We know of course of Nicephoros Gregoras, Theodore Meliteniotes, and Gregory Chioniades; and in medicine, The Medical Compendium in Seven Books of Paul of Aegina was in use for eight centuries. The Byzantines built the first genuine hospitals in the world, starting with that of Basil of Caesarea in the late fourth century AD. The great hospital in the City was staffed by 12 male doctors, one woman doctor, as well as a woman surgeon.

            Western Europe was in more dire straits, being overrun by barbarians and under constant attack, we can understand if they had other concerns than the leisure of science. Basically, they started doing scientificalistic stuff pretty much as soon as they had the time to do it, so it's not clear why you think they should have produced a great doctor or astronomer in the midst of chaos.

            Even so, every Western cathedral was also an astronomical observatory, and the interest in the date of Easter guaranteed an interest in astronomy. A few years ago, the discovery of some unburned documents from that dark age showed that even in the midst of all the barbarian hoo-hah, the practice of medicine continued at a sophisticated level. As for actual practitioners of various arts, I can suggest Science in the Middle Ages, an anthology edited by David Lindberg.

          • Brad

            I realize this comment thread is probably dead but I have thought more about this debate and would add another point. What I say here is largely in response to the article on the stillbirth in Arabia but the point still applies.

            Could it be that science developed in the Western world in spite of religion? Niall Ferguson in his book "Civilization" gives a more historically satisfying explanation to this divergence between East and West starting with two revolutionary events, the Reformation and the
            invention of the printing press. While the West was in the throes of a great upheaval of ideas and the easy spread of them, the Muslim world was turning inward, going so far as banning printing presses and restricting knowledge mainly because of the conflict between new ideas
            and religion. The Reformation marks a break in freedom of thought and the press becomes a tool to spread all and any ideas to a far greater number of people than ever before. The press made it so that once an idea was out there, whether or not it conflicted with religion, it could
            not be silenced. Scientific progress benefited from the press by the easy dissemination of new ideas regardless of what the authorities felt about them. It is not coincidence that science really didn't start to take off until after this invention. And it is not coincidence that it is this period that marks the beginnings of radical and free thought
            that broke away from Christian thinking. This explains more satisfactorily why science did not develop during the first 1500 years of Christianity. If Christianity was so necessary to the development of Science then why do we find for the first time the strongest skepticism towards Christianity developing almost hand in hand with science starting with this period? It seems that a more satisfactory explanation for this divergence is found in the reality that in the West there was no more a uniform way of thinking and there
            was no more a single power whether it be Pope, Emperor or Caliph that could stop the spread of new ideas, while in the East this spread was stopped largely because of the conflict with religion. No doubt there were many
            Christians who contributed greatly to science, however it is precisely starting in this period that many a Christian scientist was found in the position of having to try and reconcile their beliefs with their science because new ideas were not to be gotten rid of so easily as in the Muslim world.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Except that science was going strong well before the Reformation -- think of Nicholas Cusa, Nicholas Oresme, Thomas Bradwardine, John Dumbleton, Jean Buridan, Theodoric of Freiburg, Albert of Saxony, Robert Grosseteste, et al.

            Then came about 200 years of marking time during the Renaissance, when art and architecture flourished but science languished.

            It was not until the 17th century that Europe reachieved the population density it had had in the 14th century. Assuming a consistent value of p for the proportion of minds curious about nature, this marked the first time in 300 years that there was a "critical mass" of such minds in Europe. And the printing press contribution was less than that ideas could not be suppressed, but that ideas circulated faster and impacted more minds -- sort of like neutrons in a nuclear pile.

            The notion that the skepticism of the humanists had something to do with the acceleration of science in the 17th century would be better served if it were not for two inconvenient facts:
            a) the humanists tended to be the arts people, not the science people.
            b) the scientists were themselves at this time religious people. Some indeed (Copernicus, Clavius, Scheiner, Lembo, Kirchner, et al.) were clerics; and others (Kepler, Newton) were what we would call religious extremists.

            Even the muslim case is ambiguous. The House of Submission ran a close second to Christendom in achieving breakthrough in natural science. For a while, and while we might say they were more devoutly religious, they were consistently ahead. True, al Ghazali is often blamed for the paralysis that set in; but this may be as much due to his occasionalism as to his devotion. Hume also poo-poohed the idea of causality. The real problem was the lack of universities -- natural science was never forbidden, but was never taught publicly, either -- and the catastrophic effects on society and infrastructure of the Turkish and Mongol invasions.

  • An excellent analysis, uniting theology, philosophy and cultural anthropology.. saying the truth in such a detailed manner is going to rile the likes of those who don't believe in truth, who don't believe God is Truth, who don't believe Christ is the Truth, and who don't believe that the Church helps to arrive at it; not to mention those who do not believe history can teach us about all of the above. Kudos to you! Fight a good fight, and read up on how to manage trolls, since you are walking on Troll country...

    • Oh my goodness, thank you Br. Bugnolo. What an honor to receive this encouragement from you. Christ is the Truth! I took your advice and read up on troll management. Thank you!

      • David

        Dear Dr. Trasancos,

        Thank you for your interesting article. It is unobjectionable to argue that modern science was born in the Christian West and that Christian thought had an influence on its development. Isn't it true that Franciscan theologians/philosophers of the 14th century turned rational inquiry in empirical directions and away from the essentialism of the via antiqua? And that was a development of voluntarist tendencies in 13th century Scotist thought, a reaction to Arab necessitarianism? In this sense, one school of Christian thought provided a framework for studying matter and contingency that would help give rise to modern science.

        At the same time, I would be uncomfortable with the suggestion that "Christianity" is somehow intrinsically scientific, or that rational truth-seeking is somehow uniquely Christian. Indeed, medieval and ancient Christians sometimes pursued lines of thought and inquiry that strike me as equally world-denying, introspective, or techno-phobic as the best (or worst) of Indian philosophers. Even a genius like Thomas - whom I admire enormously and seek to emulate - was far more interested in the metaphysics of nature than its physics - and that interest he turned in contemplative rather than practical directions. What can I say about the Neo-platonic bent, the radical asceticism, the mysticism of so much of Latin, Greek, and Syriac Christianity?

        It seems to me that the "Christian" origins of modern science have as much to do with intra-Christian debates about realism and nominalism in confrontation with the particular challenge of Arabic and Aristotelian Science - as it does with the "Christian worldview" per se. - As if there were one christian worldview that is essentially scientific.

        And - I'm just speculating here - I wonder if the Eastern emphasis on introspection, focus, meditation, and mental training does not have something to do with the VASTLY disproportionate representation of Indians and Chinese graduate students in our Western universities now.




        • Chee Chak

          Hi David.

          At the same time, I would be uncomfortable with the suggestion that "Christianity" is somehow intrinsically scientific, or that rational truth-seeking is somehow uniquely Christian.

          I don't think anyone on here has even remotely suggested that scenario.

          • Rosemary58

            It may not have been openly suggested but it did seem to me that it was implied, or remotely suggested. Many may get on the "runaway locomotive", or misinterpret, the proposal of Christianity being the incubator of science (if I understand this correctly), as Christianity being the source of modern science.

        • Thank you David. Yes, I understand your discomfort with a suggestion that Christianity is intrinsically scientific and that rational truth-seeking is uniquely Christian. The first claim ignores the mysticism of Christianity and the second ignores the rational truth-seeking of the Greeks, and others.

          I think this is where Jaki's metaphor helps. To say science was born of Christianity is like saying a child with a unique personality is born of a mother, but that birth doesn't preclude the births of other children with different personalities. Nor is it to say that the mother necessarily has the same personality. It's only to say the mother nurtured and protected the "child" to an emergence into an independent existence.

          Your speculation in the last paragraph makes sense. My husband is an executive who hires a lot of mathematicians. He can now speak Mandarin, by necessity.

          Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it very much.

          • Rosemary58

            It does seem though that this "child" of Christianity has not supported the Mother very well. It has used science to denigrate Her Teachings and Her mystical dogma. Perhaps the Chinese and Indians were wise to be suspicious of "progress". Could we say that they feared offending a superior Being? The West had no problem with that.

  • Howard


    Great article in the series. I especially enjoy the comments from everyone as they help to understand better this little bit of history by questioning.

    We are looking backwards knowing the outcome. Often where we are now in civilization is accepted as a rightful possession and the contributions and lives of those responsible are swept aside as having no importance anymore, we have what we want.

    What has Christianity done for me in the past and what has it done for me lately are largely unknowns, unless you happen to be a Christian – and informed about the past. Or, are interested in history and appreciate the connection with the human family that from this point in time will also be looked back upon and judged.

    As I have read ancient to modern “primate” literature and follow the ideas presented, I only see influences on thinking, not any kind of evolution of thought by some random or self guided process. Inspiration and new ideas influence, Christianity influenced.

    H. Duncan

  • Dhaniele

    I would wonder if another fact is involved here. For a long time, there was no distinction between what we currently describe as science and what we call philosophy.
    Because of the stress that the Catholic world put on philosophy (which included
    primitive science) there was always a significant interest in this area
    involving a significant number of people – especially those in religious orders; outstandingwould be Oxford for the mindset that would lead to empiricism. In a laterperiod, various names could be mentioned such as Gregor Mendel who did the pioneering work in heredity due to the freedom he had as a religious to pursue
    this interest. When we come to the practical application of scientific
    knowledge, I think the awareness of the fundamental dignity of man (e.g. Magna
    Carta), and legitimacy (e.g., heredity monarchy) were aspects of Christianity
    that made fertile ground for a civilization where technological progress was
    encouraged and rewarded. Those non-Christian systems in which “might makes
    right” in disguised and ideological forms do not provide the social atmosphere
    in which there is motivation to create wealth through technological progress
    since the rulers can always continue their parasitic role in a society what in
    which exploitation of the powerless is seen as the road to prosperity for those
    who have the levers of power.

  • Jim

    What happened to India and China is the same thing that happened to the West and the North African coast; the choke-collar called Islam happened, permanently taking the breath out of inexpensive papyrus exports to the known world.

  • Vicq_Ruiz

    I think an argument from the evidence can be made that a Christian cultural background is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition to maximize a nation's level of scientific advancement. A good leavening of freedom of inquiry and rule of law (as supplied by the Enlightenment) seems also to be required.

    Israel, of course, would be an exception requiring explanation.....

    Whether that Christian cultural heritage needs to be Catholic is another matter entirely. The comparative roster of scientific and technological advances in those countries which were involved in the Reformation, as opposed to those which remained firmly Catholic, speaks for itself.

    • Howard

      Inspiration is an individual matter separate from law or form of government and subject to financing to investigate and confirm. Continuing investigation in any area in hopes of being valuable still need to be financed. Freedom of inquiry can be replaced by directed inquiry and still accomplish much. In the overlap of pure science and technology this has been proven in WW2 and the race to space.

    • Dhaniele

      I feel that you have entered into a very complex area of discussion which
      deserves much thought, though you suggest your conclusions in your text. In any event, generalizations on such a complex issue are sure to be riddled with many exceptions. My take on this is that Europe had a long history before the Reformation and Enlightenment. People do not change so dramatically in a generation or two. The coastal areas of Northern Europe were already well on their economic trajectory long before the Reformation. Another fact is that the Reformation coincides with the discovery of the sea route to Asia and the discovery of America. These events had tremendous negative impact on the economies of those areas of southern Europe (especially Italy) that had prospered as trading centers with the Middle East (and hence the rest of Asia).
      Spain, on the other hand was ending what we would now call a struggle of
      national liberation after 700 years of foreign occupation which had consumed much of its effort, and then it would export much of its talent to the new world in droves. Thus, the matter we are discussing defies simple analysis.
      Human rights also had deep roots in Christian thought that was clarified in the Middle Ages (e.g. Magna Charta) with notions like government is for the common good of the people, and thus Locke did not create his political thought without notable dependence on his predecessors. Of course, the fact that he wrote in English rather than Latin made his thought more available to the educated layman of the time (e.g. American revolution). Finally, Oxford had a long history of scientific research before the Reformation came along. One could go on and on, but I think I have made my point.

      • TeaPot562

        The development of sea routes (around Africa) were driven by changes in the ruling groups in the Eastern Mediterranean. When those groups in Arabia, Egypt & the Turkish Empire set the fees they were taking (on spices from India, Ceylon and other areas) too high for the European nations to meet, they effectively instigated the search for alternate sources. This change also adversely effected Venice and other Mediterranean ports as the traffic in goods from the Orient diminished.
        True, the Atlantic Europeans warred among themselves for domination: thus England vs. Spain, Spain v. The Netherlands, England v. the Netherlands (New Amsterdam becoming New York) etc.
        If your trading ship is going to travel a great distance, it needs to be larger. Also, you find it advisable to improve your weapons to repel those who would take it from you.