Thursday, February 18, 2016

More Lennox on the role of religion in the development of science: a balanced discussion

Lack of appreciation of the precise point I'm making here can lead to confusion. I am not claiming that all aspects of religion in general and Christianity in particular have contributed to the rise of science. What I'm suggesting is that the doctrine of a unique Creator God who is responsible for the existence and order of the universe has played an important role. I am not suggesting that there never has been religious antagonism to science. Indeed, T.F. Torrance, commenting on Whitehead's analysis, points out that the development of science was often "seriously hindered by the Christian church even when within it the beginnings of modern ideas were taking their rise." As an example he states that Augustinian theology that dominated Europe for 1,000 years had a power and beauty that led to great contributions to the arts in the Middle Ages, but its "eschatology which perpetuated the idea of it, directed attention away from the world to the super-terrestrial, while its conception of the sacramental universe allowed only a symbolic understanding of nature and a religious, illustrative use of it" thus "taking up and sanctifying a cosmological outlook that had to be replaced if scientific progress was to be made." 

Torrance also says that what often seriously discouraged the scientific mind was a "hardened notion of authority and its relation to understanding that went back to Augustine... which first gave rise to bitter complaints against the church." Torrance nevertheless gives strong support to the general tenor of Whitehead's thesis: "In spite of the unfortunate tension that has so often cropped up between the advance of scientific theories and traditional habits of thought in the church, theology can still claim to have mothered throughout long centuries the basic beliefs and impulses which have given rise especially to modern empirical science, if only through its flagging faith in the reliability of God the Creator and the ultimate intelligibility of his creation." 

John Brooke, Oxford's first Professor of Science and Religion, is more cautious than Torrance: "In the past religious beliefs have served as a presupposition of the scientific enterprise insofar as they have underwritten that uniformity... a doctrine of creation could give coherence to scientific endeavor insofar as it implied a dependable order behind the flux of nature... this need not entail the strong claim that without theology, science would never have taken off, but it does mean that the particular conceptions of science held by its pioneers were often informed by theological and metaphysical beliefs." More recently, John Brooke's successor at Oxford, Peter Harrison, has made an impressive case that a dominate feature in the rise of modern science was the Protestant attitude to the interpretation of biblical texts, which spelt an end to the symbolic approach of the Middle Ages. 

It is, of course, notoriously difficult to know 'what would have happened if...,' but it is surely not too much to say that the rise of science would have been seriously retarded if one particular doctrine of theology, the doctrine of creation, had not been present, a doctrine that is common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Brooke issues a healthy warning against overstating the case: Just because a religion has supported science does not prove that the religion is true. Quite so, and the same can, of course, be said of atheism. 

The doctrine of creation was not only important in the rise of science because of its entailment of order in the universe. It was important for another reason. In order for science to develop, thinking had to be freed from hitherto ubiquitous Aristotelian method of deducing from mixed principles how the universe ought to be, to a methodology that allowed the universe to speak directly. That fundamental shift in perspective was made made easier by the notion of a contingent creation, that is, that God the Creator could have created the universe any way he liked. Hence, in order to find out what the universe is really like or how it actually works, there is no alternative to going and looking. You cannot deduce how the universe works simply by reasoning from 'a priori' philosophical principles. That is precisely what Galileo and, later, Kepler and others did: They went and looked, and revolutionized science.

God's Undertaker, pp. 21-23. 

18 comments:

Gyan said...

If the doctrine of Creation is so vital then why
1) Sciences first developed in Greece that entirely lacked this doctrine.
2) Why sciences failed to develop among Jews, Byzantines, Ethiopian and other Eastern Christians that had the purest doctrine of Creation.
3) The stillbirth of sciences among the Moslems--also possessor of pure doctrine of Creation.

The alternative offers itself-the idea that behind the multiplicity of the phenomena there lies an intelligible simplicity. This idea is behind sciences and this idea was first germinated among the ancient Greeks. There is no obvious way this is connected to the idea of Creation.

Gyan said...

Galileo and Kepler are hardly the examples to go for distrust of a priori reasoning.
Kepler tried for years to fit planetary motions to a priori conceived orbits defined by Platonic solids--see Koestler's Sleepwalkers.
As Stanley Jaki notes in Cosmos and Creator, "Efforts aimed at an a priori specifications of the shape and structure of the universe were also very visible at the rise of modern science."
Galileo insisted on circular orbits for essentially Aristotelean reasons.
A priori reasoning has been no less fruitful than purely empirical reasoning. As it is well-know, the inverse square power law for optics was accepted (and formed inspiration for the inverse square power law for gravitation) when it has no empirical support whatsoever and for entirely a priori notion of homogeneity of the space.

Empiricism, unchecked, results in doubt about man's ability to know any law of nature and may be associated with an exaggeration of cosmic contingency a la Ethics of Elfland, very popular in theist circles as the ultimate answer to non-theists.

Joe Hinman said...

Dr. R:"Lack of appreciation of the precise point I'm making here can lead to confusion. I am not claiming that all aspects of religion in general and Christianity in particular have contributed to the rise of science. What I'm suggesting is that the doctrine of a unique Creator God who is responsible for the existence and order of the universe has played an important role."

ME>>>>That's the way I took it. I agree. I meant to say that it was that lawgiver/organizer aspect, the imposition of reason upon reality that fired Newton and Boyle. Newton believed that action at distance(gravity pulling stuff without touching it) was directly the result o0f the mind of God imagining or thinking reality and sustaining it through mental power. The universe as the "sensorium of God." That could definitely incur the charge of occasionalism except that it's the whole system that is thought about at every second. I think that's more than occasionalism. It's not like God has to say "Newton's goanna strike a match I better set to make it burn." More ole generating the laws of nature.


Dr. R:"I am not suggesting that there never has been religious antagonism to science. Indeed, T.F. Torrance, commenting on Whitehead's analysis, points out that the development of science was often "seriously hindered by the Christian church even when within it the beginnings of modern ideas were taking their rise." As an example he states that Augustinian theology that dominated Europe for 1,000 years had a power and beauty that led to great contributions to the arts in the Middle Ages, but its "eschatology which perpetuated the idea of it, directed attention away from the world to the super-terrestrial, while its conception of the sacramental universe allowed only a symbolic understanding of nature and a religious, illustrative use of it" thus "taking up and sanctifying a cosmological outlook that had to be replaced if scientific progress was to be made."

ME>>>> sorry Doc I wrote a paper against that thesis in my doctoral work. I think I read it at a conference once for the AARS. Regional conference. That is coming straight out of Hyden White's paper on the roots of the ecological crisis in the Middle ages. That paper was based totally upon the right wing Augustinians whose views are silly. I refuted it with the words of Augie himself.

Joe Hinman said...

Gayan you say:

"Empiricism, unchecked, results in doubt about man's ability to know any law of nature and may be associated with an exaggeration of cosmic contingency a la Ethics of Elfland, very popular in theist circles as the ultimate answer to non-theists."

could you unpack that for me? To my way of thinking theism is more aligned with a priori rather than empiricism. You seem to be saying a priori is just as good as empirical but then seem to be mocking theism for being empirical, which most scientism types would say it's not.

IlĂ­on said...

"If the doctrine of Creation is so vital then why ..."

Well, there is that little matter of the difference between "necessary" and "sufficient"

"1) Sciences first developed in Greece that entirely lacked this doctrine."

If 'science' is used to mean what we today commonly mean by 'science', then 'science' most assuredly did not develop in ancient pagan Greece ... and never would have done so.

Victor Reppert said...

This was John Lennox, from God's Undertaker. Not me. I can't claim credit for it. I'm doing a series on the that book.

David B Marshall said...

Who ever described "Ethics of Elfland" as "the ultimate answer to non-theists?" Heck, I'm not even sure the chapter MENTIONS God! Can you give a quote from someone who does that?

And Richard Carrier (as radical an atheist as you can find, and this one really is his field) points out that many Greek founds of science WERE inspired by their theism. Have you read Plato's Timaeus, or Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods, or the Stoics? The G-Rs weren't so lacking for notions of the creation as you suppose.

Dave Duffy said...

Science is a set of knowledge claims and a practice. The Greeks had the knowledge claims but did not develop the practice. The practice, or methods, of science came from the Christian West. I'm guessing the practice arouse out of a philosophical foundation (God's order in creation) but mainly out of a culture formed by Christian discipline. I think more needs to be said about the links between Christian practice and the practice of science, or medicine, or all the the other practices that arouse out of the Christian West.

Joe Hinman said...

Dave, the knowledge claims are secondary. The method is what makes it science. Specifically systematic analytical repeatable means of testing and invalidating hypotheses.

Edward T. Babinski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edward T. Babinski said...

There is nothing about science that cannot be done today by people of all religions or no religion. In fact the scientific revolution was when science came into its own, not when religion sprouted a blossom called "science."

Read about why most Evangelical apologists are ignoring the evidence against the "dependency thesis" when it comes to the birth of modern science:

How and why did the scientific revolution take place? How much responsibility can Christianity claim for it? ESSENTIAL RESOURCES

http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/07/how-and-why-did-scientific-revolution.html

Edward T. Babinski said...

Paradox

Not truth, nor certainty. These I forswore
In my novitiate, as young men called
To holy orders must abjure the world.
'If...,then...,' this only I assert;
And my successes are but pretty chains
Linking twin doubts, for it is vain to ask
If what I postulate be justified,
Or what I prove possess the stamp of fact.

Yet bridges stand, and men no longer crawl
In two dimension. And such triumphs stem
In no small measure from the power this game,
Played with the thrice-attentuated shades
Of things, has over their originals.
How frail the wand, but how profound the spell!

Clarence R. Wylie Jr.

Dave Duffy said...

"There is nothing about science that cannot be done today by people of all religions or no religion."

Ed,

True, there is no human skill that I know of that can't be done by anyone given a certain level of natural talent and willful determination. Unfortunately, I know the limitations of natural talent as I was both a small running-back with some speed playing football and I was given an average intellect perusing a career in science.

The question was about why science, particularly its method, began in the Christian West. I was just throwing in my two-cents worth about practice.

By-the-way, I read the book you sent me some time ago. Like everything else I read, it adds some perspective.

Joe Hinman said...


Read about why most Evangelical apologists are ignoring the evidence against the "dependency thesis" when it comes to the birth of modern science:

How and why did the scientific revolution take place? How much responsibility can Christianity claim for it? ESSENTIAL RESOURCES


>>>you need to read the history of science. This is the major climate of opinion in the field for decades now. Not science is part of religion and not that it could not bloom on it's own but that religion did not hold it back but enabled it.

you need to read historians of science not atheists apologists (I'm not saying you personally read them but to others reading this).

Good places to start:

sorry about list not being alphabetized it's been on Doxa so long I don't remember why it's not.

Fuchs, Stephan. The Professional Quest for Truth: A social Theory of Science and Knowledge. State University of New York Press, 1992.

Gay, Peter. The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism. New York: W.W. Norton & co. 1966.

Hacking, Ian. The Emergence of Probability: A Philosophical Study of Early Ideas about Probability, Induction, and Statistical Inference. London: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

****Jacob, Margaret C. The Newtonians and the English Revolution: 1689-1720. Ithica New York: Cornell University Press, 1976.

James, William, The Varieties of Religious Experience.

Lukes, Steven. "On the Social Determination of Truth," Modes of Thought: Essays on Thinking in Western and Non-Western Societies. ed. Robin Horton and Ruth Finnegan. London: Faber & Faber, 1973.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Second edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970 (originally 1962).

Popkin, Richard H. The History of Skepticism From Erasmus To Spinoza. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, revised edition, 1979 (original 1948).

Editor. "Introduction," The Philosophy of The 16th and 17th Centuries. gen. ed. Paul edwards and Richard Popkin. New York: The Free Press, Div. of Macmillon, 1966.

Shapin, Steven. A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth Century England. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Shapin, Steven and Simon Schaffer. Leviathan And The Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton University Press, 1985.

Stout, Jeffrey. The Flight From Authority: Religion, Morality, and The Quest For Autonomy. Notre Dame, London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981.

Redwood, John. Reason, Ridicule, And Religion: The Age of Enlightenment In England 1660-1750. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976

Willey, Basil. The Eighteenth Century Background: Studies On the Idea of Nature In the Thought of the Period. New York: Columbia University Press, 1941.

Joe Hinman said...

Here's another one ifyou can't get any of them get this one A.E. Burtt The Metaphysical Foundations of Early Modern Science.

Gyan said...

That ancient Greeks did not engage in experiments does not mean they did not do science. Eschewing supernatural and mythological explanations, they sought natural causes for natural phenomena. This is what science is, essentially. Some of them even reached the threshold of biological evolution as well.

Gyan said...

David B Marshall,
Dialogues of Plato describe transmigration of souls. Not very theist, in fact very similar to pantheist Hinduism.

Joe Hinman said...

That ancient Greeks did not engage in experiments does not mean they did not do science. Eschewing supernatural and mythological explanations, they sought natural causes for natural phenomena. This is what science is, essentially. Some of them even reached the threshold of biological evolution as well.

>>>no that is not what science is. Naturalism is an ideology science is a method. atheism is switched the method for the ideology and tries to use science as an enforcement mechanism.

It's not what the supernaturalism is either. su[ernatural is not opposed to the natural. It is not a realm beyo9nd the natural.

read my essay on the subject.