Did science originate in Christianity? (1/2)

It’s commonly assumed that science originated in secular thought. But the word “science” (Latin scienria) originally meant learned knowledge of any kind. Not until 1725 was the English word restricted to mean knowledge of the physical world obtained through reason, observation and mathematics. Before then, what today is called science was called natural philosophy (or sometimes natural history). Technology developed independently of natural philosophy and existed millennia before science. The inventors of flint tools did not have a theory about how their inventions Worked; they used only trial and error. Science is often-particularly at present-aided by technology, but the origins of science do not lie in technology They lie instead in a rational framework to explain nature.

The essence of what we call science is the union of theory and observation. The question is when and where this union was consummated.The ancient Babylonians rnade extraordinarily precise astronomical calculations but could not explain why the heavens moved. The ancient Greek philosophers were the first to develop logic and geometry, but they were more interested in speculation than in observation, and the underlying Greek polytheism in which many gods willfully disputed with one another inhibited science from getting purchase in the culture. The Romans had almost no interest in theory at all. The ancient and medieval Chinese developed the best technology anywhere in the World, but their view of many spirits operating in a cyclical cosmos provided them with no theory of science. Further, China closed itself off from the rest of the world for five centuries beginning in the 1400s. In medieval Islam from the 800s to the 1200s there was movement toward science, but it was hindered by the underlying belief that every event is caused directly by God. By 1300 muslim science was being hobbled by the insistence that true knowledge carrie only from revelation (the Qur’an or Koran-from the hadith (traditions about Muhammad), and from the rules developed from them.

Science arose in Europe and in Christian culture. A recent article questioning this fact warns only against the exaggeration that Christianity was the only origin of science.” The objective, nonpartisan History of Science and Technology lists in its 719 pages Very few ideas and discoveries after the year 1400 that originate anywhere but in Europe or areas educationally influenced by Christian Europe.The enormous contribution oflews to science in the past two centuries has come from Ashkenazi Jews whose education derived from Europe and America.

Until recently historians of science focused on a “scientific revolution” occurring in the 1600s and developing in the Enlightenment ofthe 1700s. The idea was that the religious wars of the 1500s and 1600s between Catholics and Protestants discredited religion in general, turning thinkers away from the “other World” to concentrate on “this World,” or nature.

Source: Burton Russell, J (2012) Exposing Myths About Christianity. IVP Books

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