Christianity Gave Us Modern Science

In The Irish Catholic, which describes itself as “Ireland’s biggest and best-selling religious newspaper,” we found this article: Christianity gave rise to modern science. Naturally, we were intrigued.

The author is William Reville. They say he “retired in 2011 from UCC as Professor of Biochemistry and College Public Awareness of Science Officer,” and now he “writes a regular column about the interplay of science and religion.” Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

[M]odern science arose in Christian Europe in the 17th Century, not in China which had developed a sophisticated culture long before Europe, or in classical Greece. Many people credit Christianity with providing the missing ingredients that gave rise to modern science.

Really? Modern science is only a few centuries old — commencing with people like Galileo and Isaac Newton. Christianity, of course, is 2,000 years old. So what took so long? We discussed several of Reville’s claims in Did Science Originate with Creationists?

Also, no one who reads the New Testament could think of it as a science book. Is it possible that something else might be responsible for the recent development of science? Surely Reville has some solid reasoning behind his claim. Here’s what he says:

The way Christians think about creation has four significant consequences. First, Christians believe in a rational God who created an orderly world. Second, the world is worthy of study because it is God’s creation. Third, in order to understand God’s handiwork it is necessary to examine the world. Fourth, the universe is not itself divine so it is not irreverent to investigate it. Together these four features provided the intellectual setting necessary to spark off modern science.

We’re pleased that Catholics are in favor of science, but we have some doubts about Reville’s cause and effect claim. First, a universe where miracles occur is not rational or orderly, nor is it comprehensible by mere humans. If miracles are possible, then science is futile because anything can happen. Also, a study of the world sometimes contradicts things in found in scripture — as creationists are always telling us about evolution, and as Galileo learned when the Inquisition forced him to recant his writings about the solar system.

Reville continues:

Christians believe that the individual is made in the image of God and is therefore endowed with intrinsic value and bears individual responsibilities. This gave rise, for example, to opposition to slavery. The Church banned slavery between Christians and ended slavery in Europe by the end of the 11th Century.

[*Groan*] Slavery was still sanctioned by the Church, especially in the New World, until relatively recently — see Catholic Church and slavery. Besides, that has nothing to do with science. We’re less than halfway through Reville’s article, and he has nothing else to say about science. So what does he say?

He claims that Christianity is responsible for property rights, free enterprise, widespread education, and improved living standards. That’s lovely, but he doesn’t mention why there was a notable absence of those things in Europe during the Dark Ages — ten centuries which were very Christian. Then he says

[A]s European Christianity loses its influence negative consequences are clearly emerging. We now live in an age where individualism is rampant and the person is increasingly seen as the sum of his/her wants and desires.

After that he talks about sexuality, abortion, and euthanasia. In his final paragraph, Reville warns:

If Christianity continues to decline in Europe then I fear that the various tendencies I have identified above will continue to intensify. However, if people pondered the practical consequences of losing Christianity they would be emboldened to fight to retain this invaluable asset.

So there you are. Reville says Christianity is the source of all good things, and its decline is the cause of evil. Maybe so, but he needs to improve his arguments.

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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16 responses to “Christianity Gave Us Modern Science

  1. Michael Fugate

    Groan indeed.
    Here is one example that contradicts his conclusion (but one could chose poverty or homicide):
    The proportion of highly religious adults* in a state affects the number of pregnancies** per 1000 15-19 yr olds. A linear regression explains 57% of the variance and every percent increase in highly religious adults results in 0.58 additional teen pregnancies.
    Lowest rate Massachusetts 11.3/1000 and 33% highly religious
    Highest rate Arkansas 41.5/1000 and 70% highly religious

    *http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=alabama
    **https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6516a1.htm

  2. A good counterpoint can be found here, along with the guy’s links to the other similar articles he wrote.

  3. For sure, Christianity gave us modern anti-science.

  4. Ross Cameron

    If you classify engineering among the sciences. I think the Romans and Chinese were miles ahead of Xianity`s contributions. If you classify chemistry as a science, I think the Muslim alchemists were miles ahead long before Xians stopped killing each other.

  5. “Together these four features …..”
    Every single one of these features can be found in other cultures than christian ones. What’s more, in Byzantium they failed to “provide the intellectual setting necessary to spark off modern science”.
    I think the correct expression in English is “shooting in your own foot”.

  6. No one has a good account of what triggered the takeoff of modern science in the seventeenth century, but the four ingredients mentioned were already present in Judaism by the time it is assumed its modern monotheist form, some two thousand years earlier.

  7. Ceteris Paribus

    There is ample irony in William Reville’s article that “Christianity gave rise to modern science”. I expect that the newspaper “The Irish Catholic” might also occasionally run articles proclaiming a view that Biblical “Christianity” also supports maintaining the second-class status of women in modern society.

  8. The is no lying con man like a religious one! Another LIAR4jesus dribbling BS down his chins!! OH! Wait this is just another example of what trumpkins call alternate facts!!

  9. Did showing Galileo the instruments of torture miraculously scare the science into him?

  10. Re “Second, the world is worthy of study because it is God’s creation.” If this is so, why do they keep saying that we cannot believe our lying eyes when we do go out, study “creation,” and find it different from what the Bible says.

  11. One thing which takes design to make: a lie.

  12. Michael Fugate

    Reville is an odd duck. He is a creationist, but doesn’t appear to be a literalist and thinks ID is a counterproductive to his Christianity.

    The basic motivation behind ID is ‘to reverse the current widespread materialist worldview and to place it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions’, but the specific arguments employed by ID are fatally flawed. To pursue the campaign further will serve only to bring religion into disrepute, the exact opposite to the intended aim of ID. The ID movement would now best serve its underlying cause by accepting the verdict of mainstream science and gracefully retiring from the stage.

    W. Reville (2007). Intelligent Design. Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review.

  13. Ceteris Paribus

    @ Michael – thanks for the W. Reville quote.

    [B]ut the specific arguments employed by ID are fatally flawed. To pursue the campaign further will serve only to bring religion into disrepute, the exact opposite to the intended aim of ID.

    And that statement demonstrates that Reville really has no way to change the facts on any creationist table. As long as Reville or any other true believers of the Abrahamic religions persist in reading Genesis literally and/or inerrently, there is simply no air left in the room to have a rational discussion which includes science in any way.

  14. The way Christians think about creation has four significant consequences. First, Christians believe in a rational God who created an orderly world. Second, the world is worthy of study because it is God’s creation. Third, in order to understand God’s handiwork it is necessary to examine the world. Fourth, the universe is not itself divine so it is not irreverent to investigate it. Together these four features provided the intellectual setting necessary to spark off modern science.

    If God created an orderly world, why is He keen on violating that order by performing “miracles”?

  15. Let me play God’s advocate. Miracles are recognised as such because they are deviations from the natural law. So the existence of the natural law is a precondition for the existence of miracles (as indeed it is for pretty well everything else), and there is no inconsistency.

    Come to think of it, this is not a trivial point, but a serious point of tactics. I want to persuade people to accept scientific reality. I have grandchildren being brought up as Catholics. This is something I cannot do anything about. I wanted to send them a copy of Dawkins’s The Magic of Reality but on inspection felt unable to do so, because the final chapter is a gratuitous attack on the concept of miracles. I had no wish to create tensions in that household, and least of all did I want to stir up an avoidable conflict between science and their religion.

  16. @Eric Lipps
    (btw, sorry for my typo on your name in the other thread)
    About an orderly world and miracles …
    If the orderly world is a reason to believe in God
    …and…
    If a disruption of the orderly world is a reason to believe in God
    …why bother with finding reasons to believe in God?