Louis Pasteur 1822-1895
A closer look at the facts reveals a much different reality than that
painted by the atheists.
History shows that the natural sciences grew out of Christian culture. As
the sociologist Rodney Stark has so convincingly shown (See especially
For the Glory of God:
How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of
Slavery), science was "still-born" in the great civilizations
of the ancient world, except in Christian civilization.
Why is it that empirical science and the scientific method did not
develop in China (with its sophisticated society), in India (with its
philosophical schools), in Arabia (with its advanced mathematics), in Japan
(with its dedicated craftsmen and technologies), or even in ancient Greece
The answer is fairly straightforward. Science flourished in societies
where a Christian mindset understood nature to be ordered, the work of an
intelligent Creator. Science grew where people assumed that the natural
world is intelligible and bears the handwriting of its author.
Far from being an obstacle to science, Christian soil was the necessary
humus where science took root.
Christianity's unapologetic support of science is borne out by the
immense direct contribution of the Church to science itself. To take but one
area -- that of astronomy --
of the University of California-Berkeley has written:
"The Roman Catholic Church gave more financial aid and social support to
the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient
learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other,
and, probably, all other, institutions."
With this in mind, Hitchens' claim that "the right to look through
telescopes and speculate about the result was obstructed by the Church"
seems especially disingenuous.
What can be said of astronomy can be said equally of medicine, physics,
mathematics and chemistry.
Just as the Christian church patronized the arts, so it vigorously
supported scientific research. The caricature of an obscurantist,
ignorance-promoting church simply doesn't correspond to historical truth.
Some of history's greatest scientists -- Newton, Pasteur, Galilei,
Lavoisier, Kepler, Copernicus, Faraday, Maxwell, Bernard and Heisenberg --
were all Christians, and the list doesn't stop there. Some important
scientists, such as astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, were actually Catholic
Christianity is not against science, but against an absolutist reading of
science. The empirical sciences cannot do everything, and hold no monopoly
on knowledge and truth. Many important questions -- the most important,
really -- fall outside the purview of science.
What is the meaning of life? How should people treat one another? What
happens to us when we die?
No matter how long a white-coated scientist toils and sweats in his
laboratory, his instruments will never reveal the answers to these
questions. Science is the wrong tool for the job.
You cannot scale Mount Everest by using a microscope and scalpel. You
cannot write poetry with a vernier caliper. You cannot answer life's
ultimate questions through scientific investigation.
One wonders, in fact, for all their protestations how much atheists truly
desire to advance the needed dialogue between religion and science.
Hitchens writes that "[a]ll attempts to reconcile faith with science and
reason are consigned to failure and ridicule." If this is the foreordained
conclusion, there is no sense continuing to dialogue. It would seem that the
imaginary "faith-science divide" originates not with believers, but with
atheists trying to pick a fight with religion.
This article is reprinted with permission from both the author and NCR. To subscribe to
the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.
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