Causation

Before moving on to my next post, I came across this and it of course speaks to many areas I’ve brought up in the past.  Again, when we think about the impact of narratives upon cultures, can it tell us something “true” about those narratives in the sense I’ve been talking about in these last posts on that very subject?  I think it can.
Putting that aside, for those who still think there is some conflict between science and Christianity, I hope they can begin to see it is little more than a modern myth.  The first scientists were also theologians or those who were influenced by them.  The modern scientist rests upon the shoulders of theologians.  And even the modern atheistic scientist is still a philosopher first—just one who’s forgotten where he came from or who opened up this world for him he now thinks is devoid of anything but the material.  He is a philosopher because only a philosopher can make a case for atheism.  It certainly can’t be made by a scientist.  And the case for God can’t be made by a scientist either.  What must haunt the atheistic scientist however is that he would probably not exist except for this thing he rejects.  He must always feel like the young man or woman who feels their parents are just so uncool, outdated, and wrong about everything.  And yet, they are his or her parents.  It’s a tough road that one.
Could modern science have arisen outside the theological matrix of Western Christendom? It is difficult to say. What can be said for certain is that it did arise in that environment, and that theological ideas underpinned some of its central assumptions. Those who argue for the incompatibility of science and religion will draw little comfort from history.
What historical record also suggests is that insofar as modern science posits natural laws and presupposes the constancy of nature, it invokes an implicit theology. Most important of all, perhaps, religious considerations provided vital sanctions for the pursuit of scientific knowledge and, arguably, it is these that account for the positive attitudes to science which have led to the high status of science in the modern West.
This is not to deny that there have been those in the past who have opposed certain scientific views on religious grounds. This has been especially the case since the advent of Darwinianism, which met with a mixed reception in religious circles. It is often forgotten, however, that Darwinism met with a mixed reaction in scientific circles, too. 

Those who have magnified more recent controversies about the relations of science and religion, and who have projected them back into historical time, simply perpetuate a historical myth. The myth of a perennial conflict between science and religion is one to which no historian of science would subscribe.
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6 Responses to Causation

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Very well. What happened? Why all the smoke and flames? You seem to think that, as a lineal relative, science owes some kind of filial debt to religion, to Christianity. What form would that take? Giving it the philosophical room to believe in innanities and phantoms? That would serve no one. We must move foreward, enlightening as we go along, in all areas, physical, philosophical, psychological.

    I'll cover a piece from Pinker this weekend.

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  2. Hi Darrell

    That various ideas have arisen within particular cultural contexts is undeniable, indeed inevitable. That they could have arisen in no other, and hence owe their existence to that context, strikes me as a rather brave assertion.

    Bernard

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  3. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    I’m sure your post on Pinker will be very enlightening.

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  4. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    I’m not sure how, if something is inevitable in one context, it is also inevitable in another—especially given this:

    “Could modern science have arisen outside the theological matrix of Western Christendom? It is difficult to say. What can be said for certain is that it did arise in that environment, and that theological ideas underpinned some of its central assumptions.”

    So the argument isn't just the particular cultural context, but rather specific “theological ideas.” He isn't saying it is “impossible” they might have arisen outside of Christendom; he is saying that historically we know they didn't. Since he is also saying they seem to be intrinsically linked to a theology, it would logically follow then that another environment would still need to have that same theology or a similar understanding to produce similar results.

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  5. Hi Darrell

    One would need to be careful not to confuse an aspect of a theology (say a belief in uniformity, or knowability) with the broader theology. The scientific revolution, such as it was, owed an awful amount to the renaissance, and by implication pre-christian classical thought, a great debt to advances in technology (telescopic lens, clock) advances in mathematics (owing a great deal to Indian and Middle eastern traditions) amongst other things.

    So, yes, Christianity is part of the ix, but only a small part. The West have awfully good at putting themselves at the centre of history, but there's something slightly colonial about that view.

    Bernard

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  6. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    I don’t think the writer, or I, are confusing the two. Plus, I’m not sure it matters. Those early scientists saw the connections, whether with the broader theology or specific aspects. The specific aspects are related to the broader themes.

    The Renaissance we already well in the stream of Western Christendom and influenced by that same theology. This re-birth of knowledge wasn't feared by the Church (in fact the Church sponsored much of the work) because it was widely assumed that all truth was “God’s” truth no matter where it originated and didn't conflict, fundamentally, with the teachings of the Church. The Renaissance is but a chapter in the narrative of Christendom, although an important one.

    So you have it exactly backwards. Yes, there were other influences and movements, but they were “only a small part” and even the Platonism and Aristotelianism elements were “Christianized.”

    As far as colonialism, it could be said that science played an even greater role in those imperialist endeavors from the great age of exploration clear up until the 1950s. The “center” of Western modern history has too often been that our superior technology and science should give us carte-blanche to run roughshod over the rest of the world.

    The writer’s essay and my points have nothing to do with any sort of triumphalism. The point is that there are many still out there, including some readers of this blog, who think there has always been some sort of enmity (or that there should be!) between science and Christianity. Such a notion is simply false, historically and presently.

    It may be those main points you should address.

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