Posts Tagged ‘faith and science’

This is an article by my good friend Allen Hainline.  He is a summa cum laude graduate in physics from the University of Texas at Austin and has a Masters degree in Systems and Software Engineering from the University of Texas Continuing Engineering Studies and also later taught in the program for several years.  Over at crossexamined.org (the apologetics site of Frank Turek) Allen has Cross Examined - Christian Apologetic Ministry | Frank Turek | Christian Apologetics | Christian Apologetics Speakersdone a series of posts related to science and fine-tuning for life.  They are definitely worth the read.  His latest is on the false notion that belief in God is a science stopper.  Here is a quick taste:

I’d like to call attention to a couple of excellent blogs by Luke Barnes correcting some historical blunders that Neil deGrasse Tyson made. Tyson argued that Newton failed to discover the stability of the solar system due to blinders that resulted from his belief in God. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 of the blogs by Barnes, a cosmologist from Australia.

I had recognized historical misrepresentations by Tyson in the Cosmos series such as that Giordano Bruno was a martyr for science and that Galileo went to jail for his scientific beliefs[1] but I wasn’t aware of the broader story behind this famous interaction between Laplace and Napole0n. You really need to read Barnes’s blogs for the details but in a nutshell the story is that Napolean upon reading physicist Pierre-Simon Laplace’s writings about the physics of the solar system asked why they never mentioned a Creator. Laplace replied that “Sir, I had no need of that hypothesis.” Also, as Barnes summarizes: “Tyson claims that Newton (1642-1727) should have discovered what Laplace (1749-1827) did – that the combined pull of the planets on each other do not destabilise their orbits – but was hamstrung by his theism.” Tyson wonders why Newton didn’t discover the stability of the solar system but inserted God as a means of intervening to keep things stable:

What concerns me is, even if you’re as brilliant as Newton, you reach a point where you start basking in the majesty of God, and then your discovery stops. It just stops. You’re no good any more for advancing that frontier. You’re waiting for someone to come behind you who doesn’t have God on the brain and who says “that’s a really cool problem, I want to solve it.” And they come in and solve it.”

Barnes points out several problems with Tyson’s claims:

  • This story may have never actually happened – the case for its historicity is somewhat weak as Laplace himself denied it and the earliest reports about the meeting are relatively late.

The other problems with Tyson’s claims can be found by linking over to the post.  Allen Hainline runs a college ministry at the University of Texas at Dallas that I am privileged to speak at ever so often.  It is part of the Reasonable Faith chapters of William Lane Craig’s ministry.  Information can be found at Reasonable Faith University of Texas at Dallas (RF UTD) which usually meets every Thursday night at 7 PM in the campus library.  Just this year they have had J. Warner Wallace  (former cold-case detective), Dr. Frank Turek,(apologist at Crossexamined.org), Dr. Ray Bohlin (a molecular and cell biologist), and Dr. Michael Strauss.  (professor of physics at University of Oklahoma).

This video is a debate Allen Hainline had with Lydia Allen at the BBC:

 

Christianity Today article reports on Alister McGrath’s lecture at Baylor University.  McGrath holds the Andreas Idreos Professorship in Science and Religion in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford.  A prolific author who holds three doctoral degrees in both science, theology, and intellectual history all from Oxford University, McGrath has explored and explained the relationship between science and religion (and has the credentials to do so expertly).

A taste of the article:

Atheism is in decline and will be trumped by faith, the professor of science and religion at the University of Oxford has said.

Professor Alister McGrath made his predictions during the annual Parchman Lectures at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary, the Baptist Standard reports. The academic, who has degrees in molecular biology, theology and intellectual history, spoke on “why faith makes sense: exploring the rationality of Christianity.”

McGrath said he was an atheist as a young man, but faith makes greater sense of reality and transcends reason, which is insufficient for understanding the world.

“New Atheism ridicules the ‘irrationality of faith,'” said McGrath, who has debated New Atheist icons such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. “But it’s in decline, because it’s stale, dull and incredible. It provides unsatisfactory answers to ultimate questions. People want to know more.”

His most recent book, The Big Question: Why We Can’t Stop Talking About Science, Faith, and God is now available.  Amazon describes it:

Alister McGrath’s The Big Question is an accessible, engaging account of how science relates to faith, exploring how the working methods and assumptions of the natural sciences can be theologically useful. McGrath uses stories and analogies, as well as personal accounts, in order to help readers understand the scientific and theological points he makes, and grasp their deeper significance. An extremely accomplished scientist and scholar, McGrath criticizes the evangelism of the New Atheists and paves a logical well-argued road to the compatibility between science and faith.

Some of his main discussion points include:
1. There is much more convergence between science and faith than is usually appreciated
2. How the three great models of scientific explanation can be adapted to religious belief
3. Belief in God provides a ‘big picture’ of reality, making sense of science’s successes

Here is a lecture McGrath did on “The Bankruptcy of Scientific Atheism”:

 

A much shorter clip of McGrath:

 

undeniableI had a former student who went to Harvard University several years back who returned an atheist.  I asked what evidence did he find that showed Christianity to be false.  He informed me that in his biology class he was taught that scientists were able to produce life from non-life in laboratory conditions.  That has nothing to do with Jesus’ existence, his death, or his resurrection, but nevertheless, some people think evolution disproves God.  I am not sure how, but there you have it. Nevertheless I continued the conversation to see where it would lead.  Now, I am no Ivy league graduate, so I was very interested to see what a cutting edge research university had turned up.  To my utter surprise he related the Stanley Miller-Urey experiment.

What!?

An Ivy league school was teaching that the 1950s Miller-Urey experiment is our best evidence that nature can produce life from non-life.  Now, I have just finished paying taxes and all the Ivy League schools receive government funding, which in short means I pay for an Ivy league school to teach an out-of-date and defunct experiment to our nations leading students!  Pardon me for being a little upset, but give me a break.  I would expect just a little bit more from a leading institution such as Harvard.

Bill Nye, who starred in the PBS series “Bill Nye the Science Guy” in the 90s, has recently published a book on evolution and guess what it includes.  You guessed right: the Miller-Urey experiment.  For those not in the know, the Miller-Urey experiment was conducted at the University of Chicago in millerurey1952 in which they simulated what they believed to be the early conditions of earth and provided an electrical impulse to produce amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are the building blocks of life.  One simple problem: those conditions simulated in the experiment did not resemble the early conditions of earth.  As Casey Luskin explains in a Stream article: “Nye maintains that the famous Miller-Urey experiments ‘simulate[d] the conditions on earth in primordial times,’ and ‘produced the natural amino acids.’ Yet the Miller-Urey experiments did not accurately simulate the earth’s early atmosphere. An article in Science explains why the experiments are irrelevant: ‘the early atmosphere looked nothing like the Miller-Urey situation.’ ”  Luskin goes on to enumerate other pseudo-science claims in Nye’s book including the 1% myth and the TIktaalik “fisapod” as a transitional fossil and the suboptimal design of the human eye.

The MIller-Urey experiment is a 60+ year old experiment that is defunct and discredited.  Schools, textbooks, and universities need to give this one up.  The origins of life remains a mystery.  In fact, the origins of life studies are so desperate they are asserting a theory called panspermia, which is the idea that extraterrestrial life has deposited the first life on earth.  Sounds more like science fiction than science.

Articles:

“Does Peer-Reviewed Science Support Bill Nye’s Attempt to Prove Materialism” at winteryknight.com

“Real Science vs. Bill Nye’s Undeniable” Casey Luskin at The Stream

“Biology Textbooks Get It Wrong on LIfe’s Origin” by Dr. Fazale Rana at Reasons to Believe

“Psst! Don’t tell the creationists, but scientists don’t have a clue how life began” by February 28, 2011 Scientific American

“How Did Life Begin?” by at Universe Today

“How Did Life Start On Earth?” in Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network

ScienceFaith1Anytime science and religion are brought up one can hear the proverbial announcer shout, “LETS GET READY TO RUMBLE!”

That science and religion are in conflict is commonly believed today.  Check out these quotes about the warfare between science and religion:

“The conflict between religion and science is unavoidable. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science.”  –Sam Harris, chief executive of Project Reason, a non-profit that promotes science and secularism.

“I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive of religious belief and I’m all for that. If scientists can destroy the influence of religion on young people, then I think it may be the most important contribution that we can make.”  –Steven Weinberg, Nobel prize winning physicist of the University of Texas.

“Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.” –Victor Stenger, American particle physicist

These be fighting words!  Notice that Weinberg states that the most important contribution of scientists is not the mastery or understanding of nature, but the destruction of religion.

In this post in the Science Series, I want to address the myth that the Church has hindered the development of science.  In fact, the previous post on the Galileo affair and the flat earth are all part of the attempt to present the idea that science was hindered by the church.

A while back I found the following diagram (below) demonstrating that Christianity hindered the advancement of science.  That if it wasn’t for the church science would be much more developed than it is today.

advanceThis is a commonly held notion that anyone would run across online or in our culture at large.  This is also common amongst academics as well.  Robert Wilson in his Princeton University published book Astronomy through the Ages states that the “commitment to Holy Scripture was, and still is, the fundamental basis of Christianity, but there is no doubt that it was a discouragement to scientific endeavors and these languished for a thousand years after the military fall of Rome.” (p. 45) The original Cosmos series hosted by Carl Sagan provided a timeline of the development of science in which a thousand year period was left blank during the Middle Ages with the caption “a poignant lost opportunity for mankind.”  Henry Williams book Great Astronomers dramatically illustrates this myth by having the medieval chapter consist of two biblical epigraphs followed by several blank pages.

The history is quite different from these passive aggressive attempts to slander Christianity with the idea that the church attempted to suppress science.

In the much to be read book Galileo Goes to Jail, Michael H. Shank, professor of the history of science at University of Wisconsin-Madison, states in his chapter titled “Myth 2: That the Medieval Christian Church Suppressed the Growth of Science” that “Historians of science have presented much evidence against the myth [i.e. the church hindered science].” (p.21)

In fact, the conflict thesis was invented by John Draper in his book History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) and catapulted into popularity by Andrew D. White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896).

In fact, the opposite of this myth is true.  Here are some of the ways the church has actually supported science:

Universities – the medieval period gave birth to the university, actively supported by the church.  A third of the curriculum at medieval universities were over the natural world.  Shank states that “hundreds of thousands of students – were exposed to science in the Greco-Arabic tradition.” He goes on to observe that “If the medieval church had intended to discourage or suppress science, it certainly made a colossal mistake in tolerating – to say nothing of supporting – the university.” (p. 21-22)

Scientific discoveries in the Middle Ages:

1. use of the camera obscura to view solar eclipses

2. resolving the problem of primary and secondary rainbows

3. application of mathematical analysis to motion

4. impetus theory to explain projectile motion and acceleration of free-fall

5. Inventions: water mills, windmills, three-field system, chimneys, eyeglasses, stirrups,

Medieval Scientists:

1. Anthemius of Tralles (5th cent.) – mathematics and architecture

2. John Philoponus (6th cent.) – physics and inertia

3. The Venerable Bede (6th cent.) – tides and computus

4. Pope Sylvester II (10th cent.) – abacus, armillary sphere, and spread of Hindu-Arabic numeral system

5. Richard of Wallingford (14th cent.) – mathematician, astronomer, designed an astronomical clock, calculated the lunar, solar and planetary longitudes, predicted eclipses.

and of course the famed:

6. Roger Bacon (13th cent.) – an English philosopher and Franciscan friar emphasized the study of nature through empirical methods and observation.

Ground Support:

A. N. Whitehead of Cambridge University and later Harvard University, communicated in Science and the Modern World that “faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific  theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology.”  Genesis chapter 1 states that when God created the world he called it “good.”  If it is good then it is worthy of study.  The Christian worldview provided the philosophical underpinnings necessary for science to develop.  C. S. Lewis, in Miracles, states that “men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected this because they believed in a Legislator [God].”  This theological foundation is one of the reasons science developed in Christian Western Europe.  Other worldviews say the physical world as an illusion, or at best a lesser reality.

Follow the Money“:

Nothing speaks as loudly as money.  Science can be an expensive endeavor.  Who funded this endeavor.  If you want proof positive that the church supported the growth of science, look no further than the bank account.  “The Roman Catholic Church gave more financial and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, form the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and probably all, other institutions.” (John Helibron The Sun in the Church, p. 3)

The church has given more money to science that any other institution.  It funded (and continues to fund) universities.  The Vatican has its own observatory.  Every time someone puts money into an offering plate at a church today, it supports science.  A portion of that money goes to the denomination of that church, they in turn give it to a university, and all the Christian universities in America have science buildings, science departments, and scientists.  Wheaton University’s Meyer Science Building cost $69 million to build and has a $11 million endowment. Baylor University’s new Science Building cost a $103 million to construct.  Who would have thought.  Every time a Christian tithes they are supporting science.

In fact, the myth that the church hindered the development of science was the first myth busted in the Numbers edited book Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion.  David Lindberg in that opening chapter reveals that just the opposite of this myth is the case: “Augustine and other like him applied Greco-Roman natural science with a vengeance to biblical interpretation.  The sciences are not be loved, but to be used.  This attitude  toward scientific knowledge was to flourish throughout the Middle Ages and well into the modern period.  Were it not for this outlook, medieval Europeans would surely have had less scientific knowledge, not more.”

The idea that the church hindered science is far from the truth:  the church has historically, philosophically, theologically, and financially supported science.  It always has and it looks like it always will.

Resources:

Quick Quotes from the Experts:

“Between 1150 and 1500, more literate Europeans had had access to scientific materials than any of their predecessors in earlier cultures, thanks largely to the emergence, rapid growth, and naturalistic arts curricula of the medieval universities.  If the medieval church had intended to suppress the inquiry into nature, it must have been completely powerless, for it utterly failed to reach its goal.” (Michael H. Shank, “Myth 2: The Medieval Church’s Suppression of Science,” in Galileo Goes to Jail, p. 27)

“Theological assumptions unique to Christianity explain why science was born only in Christian Europe. Contrary to the received wisdom, religion and science not only were compatible; they were inseparable.” (Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, p. 3)

“It must be emphatically stated that within this educational system the medieval master had a great deal of freedom. The stereotype of the Middle Ages pictures the professor as spineless and subservient, a slavish follower of Aristotle and the church fathers. . . . there was almost no doctrine, philosophical or theological, that was not submitted to minute scrutiny and criticism by scholars in the medieval university.  Certainly the master who specialized in the natural sciences would not have considered himself restricted or oppressed by either ancient or religious authority.” (David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science p. 224, nook edition)

“The fundamental paradigm of science; its invariable stillbirths in all ancient cultures and its only viable birth in a Europe which Christian faith in the Creator had helped to form.” (Stanley L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God, p. 243)

Books, Articles, and Videos:

Galileo Goes to Jail: and Other Myths About Science and Religion, ed. Ronald L. Numbers (Harvard UP, 2009)

For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery, by Rodney Stark (Princeton University Press, 2003)

The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, by James Hannam (Regenery, 2011)

The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, by David C. Lindberg (Univ of Chicago Press, 2008)

Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century by Amos Funkenstein (Princeton University Press, 1989)

Slaying the Dragons: Destroying the Myths in the History of Science and Faith by Allan Chapman (Lion Hudson Books, 2013)

“Science and the Church in the Middle Ages” by James Hannam, Medieval Science and Philosophy (website for the book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution)

The Mythical Conflict Between Science and Religion” James Hannam, Medieval Science and Philosophy (website for the book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution)

 

1Flat-Earth_Myth_01_240x305 Quickly, answer the following question: “Who proved the world was round?” If you said Columbus, you are certainly not alone. We have all heard the idea that before Columbus, the Church and all the Christian intellectuals of the Middle Ages taught that the earth was flat.  If you sailed out far enough you would fall off the face of the earth. Unfortunately, you, along with many others, have been vastly misinformed. No Christian scholar, theologian, philosopher, or priest in the Middle Ages believed that the earth was flat. Where did this idea come from that the earth was flat?


This is my second post in the series on science and religion.  Just this past week I was involved in a discussion about Galileo’s imprisonment, which I had blogged on recently, and the flat earth myth was thrown in my face as proof of the churches backward beliefs before science came and corrected it. At that moment I knew immediately what my next post in this science series would be: the flat earth myth.  The flat earth claim is part of the propaganda of a conflict between science and religion.  Here is a quick video to introduce this myth: Who else has purported this defamation of the Medieval thinkers?  And more importantly why was this myth perpetrated upon the Middle Ages?  Contemporary perpetrators include examples from pop culture to high school and college textbooks to established academics:

Contemporary Perpetrators

  1. Infinite Car Commercial:

“If no one ever challenged the status quo, the earth would still be flat.”

  1. America: Past and Present (5th grade textbook):

“Columbus felt he would eventually reach the Indies in the East. Many Europeans still believed that the world was flat. Columbus, they thought, would fall off the earth.” (1983)

  1. We The People: A History of the United States of America (8th grade textbook):

“The European sailor of a thousand years ago believed that a ship could sail out to sea just so far before it fell off the edge of the sea.” (1982)

  1. A History of Civilization: Prehistory to 1715 (College textbook):

“The fact that the earth is round was known to the ancient Greeks but lost in the Middle Ages.” (1960 ed., 1971, 1976)

  1. Daniel Boorstin (the former Librarian of Congress):

“Christian faith and dogma suppressed the useful image of the world that had been so slowly, so painfully, and so scrupulously drawn by ancient geographers.” – The Discoverers (1983)

  1. John Huchra (Harvard Smithsonian Institution of Astrophysics):

“Back then [when the New World was discovered] there was a lot of theoretical, yet incorrect, knowledge about what the world was like. Some thought the world was flat and you could fall off the edge, but he explorers went out and found what was truly there.” – (1990)

The belief that educated people in the Middle Ages believed the earth was flat and Columbus braved superstition and ignorance by sailing across the Atlantic when his contemporaries thought he would fall of the edge has been circulated so widely it is held as common sense today.

Origins and History of a Myth

The seeds of the invention of the Flat Earth myth were planted by Copernicus (1473-1543), watered by Washington Irving (1783-1859), and came to fruition with Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918).

– Copernicus, Preface to On The Revolutions (1543) – Copernicus compared his opponents who insisted on geocentric model with the ignorance of those who believed in a flat-earth like Lactantius.

– Washington Irving, History of the Life of Columbus (1828) – Irving invented a fictional telling of Columbus and the fictitious “Council of Salamanca” in which Columbus was assailed by a parade of biblical and medieval sources touting a flat earth.

– Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848) – Established the flat-earth myth as academically acceptable with his article “On the Cosmographical Opinions of the Church Fathers” (1834). Claimed that astronomers were “forced” to believe the earth was flat and “had three irresistible arguments: persecution, prison, and the stake.”

– Andrew Dickson White, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896) – First president of Cornell University: “Many a bold navigator, who was quite ready to brave pirates and tempests, trembled at the thought of tumbling with his ship into one of the openings into hell which a widespread belief placed in the Atlantic at some unknown distance from Europe. This terror among sailors was one of the main obstacles in the great voyage of Columbus.”

As you can see the Middle Ages were maligned with a belief that was invented and spread by the creative fiction of subsequent generations particularly in the nineteenth century but has had continual ramifications in the twentieth and twenty first century. In contrast the ancient world was quite progressive in its near universal adherence to a spherical earth: Pythagoras, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, Strabo, and Ptolemy all believed in spherical earth.  The so-called “Dark Ages” glimmered with enlightenment concerning sphericity of the globe with Christian intellectuals such as Isidore of Seville, Bede, Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose, Augustine, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, Brunetto Latini, and Dante all believing the earth was a globe. Even the Enlightenment rarely charged the Middle Ages with the belief in the flat-earth, being fully aware that sphericity was central to their beliefs about the earth.

Jeffrey Burton Russell, emeritus professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, states, that “nineteenth and twentieth-century writers flattened the medieval globe.” What this myth tells us, according to Russell, is that historians and scientists pass on error as well as truth, especially when led by biases rather than evidence and fact. When methodology and sources are not checked it can lead to myths that can take on a life of their own.

The flat-earth myth is based on the conviction that church was opposed to science leading to a conflict model. This model is relatively recent beginning with John W. Draper in his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science as the first influential figure to declare a war between science and religion followed closely by Andrew D. White.

The flat earth myth is a slanderous falsehood concocted by opponents of Christianity in the 19th century which has been debunked by historians today. Along with the myth that Galileo was thrown in a dungeon for promoting a heliocentric model of the universe, the flat earth myth needs to be buried.

The conflict between science and religion is smoke and mirrors.  There is no conflict as it is popularly presented to us today.

Resources:

Quick Quotes from the Experts:

No one thought that Columbus would ‘sail of the edge of the earth’ since the sphericity of the earth had been fully established in Europe for over 1,500 years before Columbus. The notion that people before Columbus thought the earth was flat is a 19th century invention. Medievals would have had a good laugh at that idea!” (L. Principe, The Scientific Revolution, p. 15)

“The widespread conviction that all in the Middle Ages believed in a flat earth until Columbus showed otherwise was an invention of the nineteenth century.” (Edward Grant, God and Reason in the Middle Ages, p. 341)

“There never was a period of ‘flat earth darkness’ among scholars (regardless of how many uneducated people may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.” (Stephen Jay Gould, “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth” in Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History, 1997, pp. 38-50)

Books and Articles and Video:

“Myth of the Flat Earth” by Jeffrey Burton Russell, American Scientific Affiliation, August 4, 1997 at Westmont College

Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and the Modern Historians, by Jeffrey Burton Russell (Praeger, 1991)

“The Myth of the Flat Earth” by James Hannam, Medieval Science and Philosophy (website for the book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution)

“The Assault on the Middle Ages” ch. 7 in God and Reason in the Middle Ages by Edward Grant (Cambridge University Press, 2001)