Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christianity vs Science

Are Christianity and science enemies? Some would say they always have been. Others would claim science came from Christian assumptions. That the idea the world was created by a orderly God who is separate from creation was the basic understanding that made science possible. While I agree with the latter conclusion, I would like to approach the question from a different angle.

Before science, the chief source for the study of the natural world was Greek philosophy. But, while the philosophers had some knowledge, they also reached many false conclusions. The reason was their emphasis on abstract thinking rather than actual observation of the physical world. (The Greeks did vary in this. Aristotle did make some observations. But the general tendency was in the other way.) Underlying this was the ideal of the philosopher as one who sat in his study and contemplated the universe, as opposed to someone who actually worked with his hands to examine the facts.

Modern science deserted this position to base its conclusions on observation and experimentation, resulting in greater accuracy. It is my contention that the source of this change was Christianity. Christians believe that God is the one who directly created all things (Genesis 1, 2). (This is as opposed to Plato, for example, who saw God as spending His time contemplating the Good and the world being made by the Demiurge, a lesser deity.) Further, when God became a man, He became a carpenter, someone who worked with His hands (Mark 6:3). Also, the evidence presented for the truth of Christianity was not abstract reasoning, but what the believers had seen and heard: the miracles (Acts 10:38), the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), and the fact God had predicted the future (Isaiah 44:24-28). While Christianity denies that we can only believe what our senses show us, it does use those senses as a starting place for understanding the things that cannot be seen (John 1:18; 1 John 1:1-3). This is also the starting place of modern science.

Another factor is the change in approach to knowledge at the end of the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages had great respect for authority, not only in the area of theology, but in every area. As a result, they had a hard time questioning the Greek philosophers in areas outside theology. At the end of the Middle Ages, there was a movement in different disciplines to question the traditional authorities and to attempt to understand truth for oneself. In theology, this resulted in the Protestant Reformation. In investigation of the physical world, it resulted in modern science. (These movements were not derived from each other, but came from the same impulse.) But this is not a desertion of Christian principles, but a freeing of genuine Christian thinking from Greek philosophy and dubious authority. I would therefore conclude that science was the result of and not contrary to correct Christian thinking.

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