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THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE vs. HISTORICAL REVISIONISM

29 Oct

HISTORY OF SCIENCE ROCKIN’ ON YOUR RADIOOO!

The pop culture consensus is generally unaware of the history of modern science and its Christian origins. To make matters worse, many internet atheists engage in historical revisionism when engaging this issue. For example, see the hard secular polemics of Richard Carrier, who is following in the footsteps of his outdated, outmoded and outlandish forebears, John William Draper and Andrew Dickson.

Dr. Jonathan Sarfati (Creation Ministries International) was on Backpack Radio (link) to discuss the Christian roots related to the rise of modern science. I was on an episode of Apologia Radio to discuss the same thing and respond to some criticism of the claim. Apologia’s website says the show, “will hopefully cause praise to flow from your lips to God Who is the very foundation of any pursuit of scientific discovery.” My sentiments exactly. On this post, I share some thoughts on the history and development of modern science.

ONWARD TOWARDS RECOGNIZING A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE
Many pioneers of modern science were Christians. In fact, many were specifically informed by their Christian worldview as they pursued science. This is important. Why? When someone observing history notes that modern science arose from a decidedly Christian view of God, creation and humanity, a doubter arises and claims the observer is committing the fallacy of correlation (eg, History of Modern Science and Two Fallacies).

This is a common mistake people make once they learn the concept of logical fallacies: they falsely call non-fallacies, fallacies. It’s not a display of critical thinking, it’s a rhetorical shortcut disguised as a counter-argument. When someone says something is wrong – when it is not – it is falsely calling a fallacy. In this case, the fallacy of correlation.

There are a ways we can show there is a causal relationship between the Christian world of ideas and the rise of science.

-One way to determine causality is by investigating intention, purpose and motivation. If an acting agent expressly declares why they are doing what they are doing, we have a statement of intention. In the case of many of the pioneers of modern science, we have this – read their writings! It’s easy, they tell us. Listen to them:

Johannes ‪‎Kepler‬ (1571–1630): “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational‬ order and harmony which has been imposed on it by ‪‎God‬ and which He revealed to us in the language of ‪‎mathematics‬.” [1]

Kepler also wrote that “God, who founded everything in the world according to the norm of quantity, also has endowed man with a mind which can comprehend those norms.”

Nicholas Copernicus: “The universe has been wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator.”

French philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) spoke of “certain laws which God has so established in nature and of certain notions which He has impressed in our souls.”

On a slightly different note, but still too fun to leave out, the preface of Isaac ’s Principia states this “will be the safest protection against the attacks of , and nowhere more surely than from this quiver can one draw forth missiles against the band of godless men.” [2]

The list goes on. It is long, not short. These kind of comments in trail blazing scientific writings are purposeful, frequent and in-depth, not accidental, occasional and off-hand.

-Another way to determine causality is via deductive reasoning; we can link certain premises of scientific pioneers with certain conclusions. This means we can see where their line of reasoning will lead – or not. We can trace out where Christian monotheism vs. animism or pantheism leads; we can walk out a biblical doctrine of creation vs. an ancient pagan one. Try it. Here is an example relating God’s sovereignty over sinners and his sovereignty over matter:

“The view of sinners as passive inspired a parallel view of matter as passive. Matter was driven not by internal rational Forms but by the sovereign commands of God. The freedom of God in bestowing salvation inspired a parallel view of His freedom in creation and providence. God was not restricted by any inherent necessity; He freely bestowed order according to His own will and design.” [3]

-Another way to determine causality is historical investigation. Especially one in which we take ideas, events and even people as data and then compare and contrast them. For example, comparing one civilization with another and asking: what are the similarities and differences? Then we can further investigate and ask: what factors did the differences play in the different outcomes? Historians of science do this all the time and most non-positivist historians come to relatively similar conclusions: Christian thought was instrumental in the invention of science as an institution.

Other doubters will charge that the Christian conflates necessary and sufficient conditions. Here is the question: what do people need to believe about the world first in order for science to get off the ground? Unless the revisionist can sketch a bullet list of the necessary conditions for people to believe in and then engage in scientific discovery, then it seems the charge is not an argument at all … but more of a baseless accusation. Christianity does supply both the necessary and sufficient conditions needed to under gird the scientific enterprise.

9 Ideas The Christian Worldview Provides for Science:[4]

1. Creation is Real:
Finite objects are not mere appearances of the Infinite or any other similar concept; they are not illusory but real.

2. Creation is Good:
Genesis, Psalms, etc. portray a high view of creation. God made the material world good. Therefore, work is valuable, a way to serve God.
3. Creation is Not God:
Creation is not to be an object of worship but rather an object of study. It is valuable but not divine or ultimate.
4. Creation is Orderly:
Events occur in reliable, predictable fashion. NOTE: this presupposition rests not merely on the existence of a god but specifically on the trustworthy and dependable character of this God.
5. Humans Can Discover The Order:
God created humans with the powers of observation and reasoning necessary to gain reliable knowledge of natural world. Knowledge is possible because of a corresponding capacity created in us by God (cf, Herman Dooyeweerd)
6. Creation Obeys Laws:
All natural occurrences are lawful, intelligible. A rational God means the world must be lawfully ordered; the world reflects God’s rationality.
7. Creation’s Laws Can Be Stated:
This can be done using precise mathematical formulas. Belief in God is a guarantee of consistency; it guarantees the logical validity of mathematical concepts. Mathematics are a God-given means for perceiving reality; analogous to sight, sense, touch, hearing and smell. No one “invents” geometry; and that’s part of the point. This idea ties mathematics to real world.
8. Creation is Intelligible:
Creatio ex nihilo means there is no pre-existing substance with its own independent properties to limit what God can do. God created the world exactly as He willed. (cf, R. G. Collingwood). Structure, existence of universe contingent upon free, transcendent will of God. So, we must experiment and observe to discover what’s there.
9. Goal of science:
Glory of God and benefit of mankind. Humans are free to manipulate creation, theoretically in mathematical formulas, practically by experiment. Christianity provided the intellectual framework and motive for technology (Gen. 1-2).

*Note this list is not identical to the Aristotelian worldview.

ATHEIST LISTS, ATHEIST AXIOMS
Any list an atheist gives of the basic philosophical assumptions needed for science will mismatch with their worldview. That is to say, it will not match up with their actual axioms somewhere. It may sound like common sense because in the West, we generally take our starting place for granted. But look deeper and you will discern it is ad hoc at key junctions because the evidence from metaphysics is against their metaphysics. 

For example, they want order in their worldview but all they have is chaos, randomness and chance. But wait – the actual universe displays order! Of course the atheist realizes this and understand how important order is for science (for example, in repeating experiments, making predictions). What do they do? They acknowledge this reality and try to artificially attach order to their worldview somewhere (“order is merely a construct of the human mind”, etc.) or just shrug their philosophical shoulders and say, “I don’t know, but it works … besides, your answer is no better!” There is a disconnect between what they have – and what they need.

No atheistic worldview can supply the atheist with the preconditions needed for science. This news ain’t new – except to the 21st century atheist. David Hume will tell you this. Hume held that any case of A causing B is a mere verbal convention borne from mental habit. Most scientists can’t tell you this; as a general rule, they haven’t give it a second thought.

“YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE”! (OR, “MAYBE YOU CAN, YOU JUST DIDN’T HAPPEN TO…”)
Does anyone truly think that any ol’ worldview contains the needed axioms for scientific thought? I have actually heard from a number of atheists there is nothing unique about one worldview over another; specifically, that there is nothing distinct about Christianity that led to scientific exploration. Really? Please don’t be needlessly stubborn and act as if you could get identical axiomatic principles out of Hinduism, Buddhism, animism or polytheism.

Who can say with a straight face that Christianity just “happened” to be the dominate religion when science took off?  It’s unfathomable how folks can glibly make such statements – but they do. The evidence of history (and yes, metaphysics) is against these naive revisionist claims.

This particular disagreement often looks like mere head-shaking on the part of many atheists; it appears they simply say ‘no’ over and over again for the sake of obstinacy (either that or repeating, “luuucky”). A great example is Richard Carrier’s appearance on Unbelievers Radio – it amounted to haughty (but unfounded) scoffing and naked contrarianism – and a rather shallow contrarianism at that.

Philosophy of science is a legitimate second-order academic discipline.* Pay attention to it. The history of science is ever before us. The keen observer takes note that the history of science is not merely a happenstance invention here and a fortunate discovery there; no, the history of science is the history of ideas – how they are played out in real time.

NOTES
[1] Cited in Kline, Mathematics in Western Culture, Oxford, 1953, p 96
[2] Written by Roger Cotes, in the Preface to 2nd edition
[3] from The Soul of Science, referencing/describing Gary Deason’s chapter “Reformation Theology and the Mechanistic Conception of Nature”, in God and Nature, ed. David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (Univ. of Calif. Press, 1986), pp. 167- 191).
[4] Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton pointed out ideas which are needed for people to believe in science; some of these points are a reader’s digest/summarized version of some of their points in The Soul of Science.
* For a great intro to this, Science & Grace is an underrated, controversial and paradigm-shaking book towards a philosophy/theology of science.

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vocab Malone is a semi-retired hip hop artist and slam poet. He is Pastor of Teaching  and Evangelism at Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing a D. Min at Talbot. He has been married for 10 years and has adopted three boys. Vocab and his wife enjoy going to Comicon in full cosplay. He can be heard every Sunday night on Backpack Radio on 1360 KPXQ. Follow him on Twitter @VocabMalone
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