Tue | Apr 25, 2017

Stark truths about Christianity's role in science

Published:Wednesday | August 26, 2015 | 8:00 AM


Dr Patrick White keeps diminishing the role played by Christianity in the development of science. I make reference to his articles published on August 3 and 21, 2015. This sent me to read again Chapter 2 of Professor Rodney Stark's book, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts and the end of Slavery. I propose to quote from this chapter with the aim of giving readers alternative viewpoints on the matters raised by Dr White.

Stark argues that "Christian theology was essential to the rise of science." He asks some interesting questions: "Why did real science develop in Europe at this time? Why did it not develop anywhere else?"

What exactly is Professor Stark referring to when discussing 'science'? He defines 'science' as being not "merely technology". A society does not have science simply because it can "build sailing ships, smelt iron or eat off porcelain dishes. Science is a method utilised in organised efforts to formulate explanations of nature, always subject to modifications and corrections through systematic observations ... . Science consists of theory and research".

For Stark, achievements of other civilisations, amazing though they were, "do not constitute science" being better described as "engineering, learning or simply knowledge ... . Until they were linked to testable theories, these observations remained merely facts".

Again according to Professor Stark, the rise of science "was the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: Nature exists because it was created by God. To love and honour God, one must fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork. Moreover, because God is perfect, his handiwork functions in accord with immutable principles. By the full use of our God-given powers of reason and observations, we ought to be able to discover these principles". These critical ideas, according to Professor Stark, were why science arose in Europe and nowhere else.




Stark quotes, inter alia, for his thesis an excerpt from a lecture given by Alfred North Whitehead in 1925 at Harvard that science arose in Europe because of "faith in the possibility of science ... derivative from medieval theology". (Alfred North Whitehead co-authored Principia Mathematica, along with philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell).

Stark is not saying that Christian theology was by itself sufficient for the development of science. What he, however, maintains is that a particular concept of the Creator was necessary in order for science to develop. Stark also points out that once properly launched, science developed its own momentum.

So my encouragement to readers is that they should go after truth, for it is still the truth which will set us free. A reading of Rodney Stark is a great place to begin.