Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Origins of Science and its Development through Deep (Christian) Faith (Part 1 of 2)

(This was my response in our class with Dr. Malayang regarding the question about whether it was possible for a person of deep faith to exercise science...)

As far as we have known through the (limited) achievements historyand archaeology, we can say that science "began" about six hundredyears before Christ with the Greek philosophers who sought non-theological answers for such fundamental questions as concerning theexistence of life and the underlying principles of the world and ofreality, which were previously dealt with in Greek mythology.

Although we have the misfortune of having to learn about them inmere fragments and citations from other subsequent philosophers andhistorians, I would say that the first ignition towards science as we know it today is owed in no small part to the Pre-Socratic Greekphilosophers, not inasmuch as they had the right answers but becausethey posed the right questions: From where does everything come? From what is everything created? How do we explain the plurality ofthings found in nature? How might we describe nature mathematically?

This paved the way for someone like Socrates to kind of set thearena for subsequent intellectual pursuits from then on through histwo assumptions of philosophy, that: 1) the unexamined life is notworth living; and 2) although reason may often bring sorrow andalienation, it is also a source of comfort and assurance (Pojman,2004, The Quest for Truth).

Plato came into the picture as Socrates' student and a proponent ofwhat could be the first philosophical prototype for all idealism,saying that the substantive reality around us is only a reflectionof a higher truth. He believed that ideas were more real thanthings. He developed a vision of two worlds: a world of unchangingideas and a world of changing physical objects.For example, a particular tree, with a branch or two missing,possibly alive, possibly dead, and with the initials of two loverscarved into its bark, is distinct from the abstract form of Tree-ness. A Tree is the ideal that each of us holds that allows us toidentify the imperfect reflections of trees all around us(

Reacting against the deeply rationalistic and highly speculative approach of his teacher Plato, Aristotle placed an increasinglystrong emphasis on what is received by the senses, that is, on aposteriori observations (Macmillan Encyclopedia ofPhilosophy. "Development of Aristotle's Thought", vol. 1, p. 153ff,1969). Using inductive reasoning to arrive at categories andprinciples based upon sense data, this was in sharp opposition toPlato's theory of forms, which was very heavily dependent on apriori assumptions, or "innate" knowledge. Aristotle also stated thecore empiricist tenet that human knowledge of reality is grounded insense experience (Sorabji, R. 1972, Aristotle on Memory).

However, the Greeks never developed anything like modern science.Otherwise, we might have had the nuclear and space age in 100 B.C.The Greek mind simply looked at the natural world primarily as anexercise for the magnificent Greek reason. The world was not to be changed; it was to be understood, and not used. So they applied their ways of reasoning to nature and came up with many great andinteresting philosophical contributions. But it never developedinto "the scientific age" (Kennedy, 1994, What if Jesus Had NeverBeen Born?).

Why didn't the Greeks go further in their potentially scientificqueries? Authors like Dr. Malcolm Jeeves point out a unique blend ofGreek thinking with a specific strand of Christianity—namely, theReformed faith—birthed modern science. He writes:It was with the rediscovery of the Bible and of its message at thetime of the Reformation … that a new impetus came to the developmentof science. This new impetus, flowing together with all that was best in Greek thinking, was to produce the right mixture to detonatethe chain reaction leading to the explosion of knowledge which beganat the start of the scientific revolution in the sixteenth century,and which is proceeding with ever-increasing momentum today.(The Scientific Enterprise and the Christian Faith, 1971)

Not only did science not develop with the Greeks, but it is also true that science would not likely have originated among the Hebrew people—it did not and would not—for the simple reason that to theHebrews, the natural world was simply an occasion for praise to the Creator: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork" (Psalms 19:1).

Nor could modern science ever hope to progress among the Arabs, because of the Muslim religion. Aristotle's writings, when lost tothe Western world from about A.D. 500 to A.D. 1100, were kept by theArabs of North Africa and finally reintroduced into Europe in the 1100s and 1200s.

Aristotle—unlike Plato—had a philosophy that would lend itself tothe scientific type of study because it was more inductive than Plato's deductive kind of reasoning. Plato would get a universal ideal and deduce all manner of things from it. Aristotle would tend to look at the particulars and induce principles from it.

Because of the Aristotelian thought they had access to, the Arabs generally made greater scientific and mathematical advances than the Europeansduring the Middle Ages. But during all of that time the Arabs never introduced nor evercreated any real science. This is due to the fatalism that dominatesthe Muslim religion. Since everything is fatalistically determined,obviously there is no point in trying to manipulate the naturalworld to change everything, because all things are unchangeable.

Science could also not have come from among the animists of central or southern Africa or many other places in the world since experimentation in the natural world would be sacrilege.

Dominant schools in Hinduism and Buddhism teach that the physicalworld is unreal and that the only reality is that of the world's soul and that the greatest thing anyone has to learn is that thephysical world is not real. There would have been no point, therefore, in spending one's life fooling with that which had noreality in the first place.

It took the rise of Christianity to come and weave the different strains of knowledge to produce the phenomenon we know as modernscience. Christianity allowed that there is, first of all, arational and ordered world. This have rise to the possibility ofscientific laws (Kennedy, 1994).

more to come..

- Nigel Uno

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