No Philosophy—No Science

A response to my last post perpetuates a common myth, which is that modern science simply appears at some point in history as an accident of some sort and one completely isolated from context, philosophical influence, and somehow a-historical.  Or, that it appears as a liberation of sorts from superstition and religion.  All nonsense of course.  It is the conventional wisdom of the type that falls into the same sort of sensibility you find with the person who says something like “all black people have rhythm,” and then goes on to tell us that some of his best friends are black and that “history” confirms his observation.  It is prejudice derived from ignorance masquerading as knowledge.

There are many many books now and sources out there that do away with this myth.  To name just one is this book by professor of political science at Auburn University, Murray Jardine.  The following points are made:

Most people have been taught in school that science comes from the Greek philosophers.  In fact, although it is true that Greek philosophers were the first people to attempt something like science, that is, the systematic understanding of how the material world works, modern historians of science agree that the conceptual basis for modern science comes from the Bible, and that in fact the incorporation of Greek philosophical ideas into Christian theology actually retarded the development of science.

…It is not just coincidence, then [after he compares the differences between Greek philosophy and a Biblical model], that modern inductive, experimental science, and the technological capacities derived from science, developed in the Christian West, not elsewhere.  As a practical matter, the beginnings of modern science developed in the monasteries during the latter part of the Middle Ages, creating physical concepts, particularly those for describing the motions of bodies, that were compatible with the biblical cosmology.

And like my earlier post, the point here is not simply a Greek v. Biblical model—it is the greater point that science, of any type, is impossible without some governing philosophical context that allows it to “see” what is possible to begin with.  “Science” doesn’t simply appear as a reaction or as something a-historical and without philosophical presupposition or context.  Science was/is birthed and evolves by philosophical guidance.  For better or worse, for good or bad, this is simply a fact.

And this takes nothing away from the scientist on the ground, so to speak, who takes the philosophical presuppositions/world-view he is given (usually without question as he is educated through high school and college with them) and does the hard work of experimentation and bringing to life the practical aspects of theory through trial and error. But that is only possible when the conceptual world, for what is possible, has already been created by the philosopher/theologian.  They create the world in which the scientist lives and works.  Unless any given scientist is also a trained and educated philosopher, he lives and works in their world and not they his.  If he is an educated and trained philosopher, he already knows this.
This entry was posted in History, Jardine, philosophy, Science. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to No Philosophy—No Science

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Not quite a fact, actually. What was the philosophical impetus for Galileo determining the constant period of a pendulum? None, really. It was just a curious observation, yet a pregnant one. The method is seat-of-the-pants, trial and error, but with some faith in one's own eyes… observation over authority, theory, and especially philosophy. Most especially theology.


  2. Darrell says:

    The impetus was pointed out. “As a practical matter, the beginnings of modern science developed in the monasteries during the latter part of the Middle Ages, creating physical concepts, particularly those for describing the motions of bodies, that were compatible with the biblical cosmology.”

    This was the world Galileo would have been familiar with and influenced by. Are you suggesting he lived, thought, and experimented in a context-less, a-philosophical, a-historical vacuum?

    Of course Galileo was a genius and a curious person, but he certainly wasn’t the first in history. Do you think he was the first or only person to ever consider the motion of bodies?

    The point remains. One example, even if Galileo is an anomaly or accident, doesn’t change the fact that science, as we know it, became what it was because philosophy/theology allowed it to “see” what it could not see before.


  3. Burk Braun says:


    For someone so versed in Kuhn and the paradigm shift, one would think you would recognize one here, where Galileo dispensed with received wisdom and authority (whether through ignorance or disgust, I don't know) and came up with a new paradigm, not only for the content of physics, but for the method of doing science generally. The old paradigm was unproductive and wrong.

    To argue otherwise, as though Galileo owed anything to the theologians, is like saying that disco led to AIDs. It is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. And, typically enough, gives the theologians the opposite of what they are due.


  4. Darrell says:

    Well that is exactly what I’m talking about, which you were missing. I am placing Galileo in context—you were trying to impose you’re a-historical, a-philosophical ideology back on him. There was a shift (although not what you are suggesting, which I will get to). So good, you agree then. These philosophical shifts allow “science” to see what they couldn’t before and thus why philosophy is the teacher and science the student.

    Second, the shift Galileo saw that the Church authorities could not was that the Aristotelian view was incorrect. The Church authorities were defending Aristotle, not anything Biblical or Christian. It was that “old paradigm”—the Greek paradigm that was unproductive and wrong.

    And indeed, it was the world-view created by theologians/philosophers who had moved on from the Greek view (or that Galileo was able to see himself) that opened up the prevailing “view” so that Galileo would even be aware and open to such possibilities. Further, Galileo was a believer in every sense and saw no contradiction between his findings and a Biblical model or Christian teaching in general. His challenge was to the Aristotelian view, not Biblical/Christian teaching.

    But my posts or points were not about Galileo or one person in history. My point, which by noting Kuhn you seem to agree with is that science is simply a tool in the hands of philosophers/theologians and can only “see” what those teachers allow it to “see” or imagine is possible. One comes before the other. One is the teacher, one is the student.

    I say this not to downgrade science, but to simply point out a fact.


Comments are closed.