Monday, September 08, 2008

Faith and Human Progress

The Oklahoman has printed a reply to my recent letter to the editor. According to Mike Reese (Your Views, September 8), we have Christian scientists to thank for bringing mankind out of the faith-based stupor of the Dark Ages. Missing from his claim is any reference to just how the religion of these scientists had anything to do with their science.

Did these scientists look to scripture to discover that the Earth moved around the Sun? Did these scientists look to scripture to discover the causes and prevention of disease? Did these scientists look to scripture to discover the principles behind electromagnetism, chemistry, genetics, or the evolution of species? Or did these scientists ignore faith when working in their science and focus their minds strictly on perceiving reality as it is?

The evidence speaks clearly to the latter, yet for advocates of faith, evidence doesn't really count for all that much, does it?

11 comments:

Rob said...

Hey Nick - I noticed your contribution in the comments section - don't know if you've been following it but the debate is lively and a few local secularists have even joined in!

Nicholas Provenzo said...

Thanks for the heads up--I made another post with the text I wrote here. :)

Neil Parille said...

In fact, many historians of science who are not traditional Christians (such as Whitehead) have seen the origins of science in the middle ages, with its belief in creation and a universe controlled by natural laws ordained by God.

It seems to me that various traditions can provide an impetus to good science. Many outstanding scientists have been Kantians (such as Einstein) or Platonists (such as Galileo).

Anonymous said...

I think the accurate phraseology is that there are many outstanding scientists despite their Kantianism (such as Einstein) or Platonism (such as Galileo)

Neil Parille said...

Incidentally, I think you are carciauturing the argument here:

"Did these scientists look to scripture to discover the principles behind electromagnetism, chemistry, genetics, or the evolution of species? "

No one is saying they did or should, any more than one should look to Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology to discover the latest findings in particular physics. The question is whether certain religious views encourages people to be inquisitive about the world and believe that there are laws of nature that can be discovered by the mind.

In the past, when people were more religious, most scientists had some religous beliefs. (Think of of people like Mendel, Faraday & Kelvin.) Now, with the rise of secularism, most scientists probably aren't particularly religous.

I realize Objectivism hasn't been around for long, but I would be curious if you could identify any scientists of note who are Objectivists.

Jeffrey said...

"In fact, many historians of science who are not traditional Christians (such as Whitehead) have seen the origins of science in the middle ages, with its belief in creation and a universe controlled by natural laws ordained by God."

It is accurate in the sense that Aristotle's Posterior Analytics made a come back with Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas a full one hundred years before the Renaissance started with Petrarch and Boccaccio -- that is to say it occurred during what modern historians call the Middle Ages.

The Renaissance, due to bad philosophy, is viewed as primarily a revival of the Roman authors and a rebellion against the "pedantry" of the Aristotelean Scholastics. I, of course, disagree completely and would place the beginning of the Renaissance with the revival of Aristotle.

The problem with Whitehead, therefore, is that he attributes something to Christianity that ought to be attributed to Aristotle.

Anonymous said...

Mike Reese, among other statements, answered Nick with this gem of non-observation:
"To the contrary, Christianity provided the way out of the Dark Ages! The church was the only civilizing force of the early Middle Ages; it saved western Europe from complete ignorance."

How blind can one be? Christianity's hold on the minds of men prolonged the Dark and Middle Ages. It was when men began to question religion that the Renaissance began to glow and set them free of religion. To the extent that the great thinkers of that era employed reason, that was their contribution to the Enlightenment; to the extent that they did not apply reason, that was their contribution to the perpetuation of mysticism (in religion, politics and even in science).

Ed Cline

Philosophical Recon said...

Outstanding blog. But I don't know if its just me or if anyone else has tried viewing the Rule of Reason on a blackberry - the background is white and the words are light gray. I'll double check my phone to see if the problem exists within my personal settings.

Michael Smith said...

Neil Parille frames the issue as follows:

The question is whether certain religious views encourages people to be inquisitive about the world and believe that there are laws of nature that can be discovered by the mind.

The fundamental "religious view" common to virtually all religions is the demand that one suspend reason and accept "God" -- and all his edicts -- on faith. Far from "encouraging people to be inquisitive", this is a demand that one's mind be turned off.

Burgess Laughlin said...

" I . . . would place the beginning of the Renaissance with the revival of Aristotle."

If the "revival" of Aristotle's works was the main cause of the Renaissance, then why was there no Renaissance in cultures where Aristotle's works were long present--as in Spain, c. 1000, and in Constantinople, even earlier? That is the question I find intriguing.

I would suggest that part of the answer lies in checking one's premises. I question whether there was truly a "revival" of Aristotle in the Latin West. Boethius's translations into Latin, c. 500, came too late to have much effect.

When Aristotle's works began seeping into Latin-Christian culture at large, c. 1100-1250, they were largely new, not recovered. (Physically the manuscripts may have existed in Latin Europe all along, but they were not a significant part of the culture.)

What was different about some parts of Latin-Christian culture, compared to Arabic-Islamic and Greek-Christian cultures, that encouraged not only the study of such works but the application of them to broader and broader areas of life (even theology)?

Burgess Laughlin said...

Philosophical Recon: ". . . the Rule of Reason . . . the background is white and the words are light gray."

I see the same thing on my Mac, full screen. It is part of the site apparently. To be able to read the comment text I need to change Safari by View, Make Text Bigger (several times!). The comments would be much easier to read if the comment text were solid black on white.

Either way, I am glad Nicholas is maintaining this site, especially with its growing list of contributors.