Sunday, February 24, 2019

Science and the faith

Philip Jenkins v. a myth:
If you shine powerful flashlights into the more benighted corners of university humanities departments, you can probably find people who still believe that Christianity historically opposed scientific inquiry, and actually held back human progress. ....

We think for instance of the popular vision of Columbus insisting that the world was round, to the derision of ignoramus monks who warned that he would fall off the edge. In reality, Christian scholars had known for a thousand years that the world was round. Their quarrel with Columbus was that the upstart navigator thought it was much smaller than they believed, and the Church consensus was dead right. Nobody could sail three thousand miles west of Spain and hit Japan. Still, the myth of Christian backwardness and superstition is too useful to be discarded because it just happens to be bogus.

I quote a valuable article by Philip Ball from the British Guardian, a left-oriented paper that is not noted for its religious sympathies. But as the author says,
Historians of science oscillate between exasperation and resignation at the fact that nothing they say seems able to dislodge these convictions. They can point out that Copernicus’ book, published in 1543, elicited little more than mild disapproval from the Church for almost a century before Galileo’s trial. They can explain that [Giordano] Bruno’s cosmological ideas constituted a rather minor part of the heretical charges made against him. They can show that it was Galileo’s provocative style and personality – his readiness to lampoon the Pope, say – that landed him in trouble, and that he was wrong anyway in some of his astronomical theories and disputes with clerics (on tides and comets, for example). They can reveal that the conventional narrative of science versus the Church was largely the polemical invention of John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White in the late nineteenth century. It makes no difference. In the “battle for reason”, science must have its heroic martyrs.
In response, we can easily point to all those great scientists who were Christian—if not always orthodox—and who worked to glorify God. It was Sir Isaac Newton whose Principia proclaimed that
This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being...and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God. ....
....For Christians, then, science is not the enemy but something closer to a form of worship. For centuries, the world’s greatest Christian church was Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, which commemorated not an obscure “Saint Sophia,” but the creative Holy Wisdom through which the world was made. .... (more)

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