I recently completed Mr. Hannam's book and quite enjoyed it. The book itself as well as various reviews and blogposts have left me convinced that Christianity did not hinder the development of science, and that the Catholic Church's reputation as an opponent of science is almost entirely undeserved.
What I would like to do now is look into the idea that Christianity was not only neutral, but essential to science's development. I've read a few short posts around the website that explore this thesis, but I'd like to know where I can see it discussed in greater depth. Sure, I understand that many medieval Christian thinkers saw nature as orderly and wanted to understand its rules so as to glorify God. But are there other additional theories explaining the fact that science developed uniquely in a particular place and time?
If Christianity is the essential ingredient in science, why is it (at least according to my limited understanding) that science did not develop significantly in the wealthier and more populous Eastern Roman Empire? They had 1000+ years. Was Christianity perhaps necessary but not sufficient for modern science to develop?
Thank you for any links and I appreciate any arguments put forward (either way) on this question. I find it all quite fascinating.
Edit: I should mention that I'm familiar with Rodney Stark's work, but I see that he's not exactly the most historical writer. And although my question is controversial, perhaps something a little less polemical?
At the risk of fellow forum members attacking me again with all guns blazing, I have found my personal study of Medieval theological disputes far more valuable to my professional development as a product design engineer than my formal science training. Academics are quite blasé about the fact that the “scientific method” taught in schools is incapable of distinguishing “causal relationships” from “coincidence.” But then, a sound methodology would reduce drug development costs to a fraction of what they are, depriving universities of a lucrative revenue stream from extorting drug companies to conduct FDA compliance tests. Consequently, you will find no in depth, systematic treatment of the role of Christian doctrine in the formulation of scientific ideas. Recognition of “science” as a development of the conservative Augustinian response to the theological innovations of Thomas Aquinas explains your point of the lack of science in the Eastern Roman Empire, because Catholic theology is different from Protestant theology.
One notable example is the identification of the cell as a manifestation of Leibnitz’s Doctrine of Monads, which in turn is an application of Luther’s Doctrine of Consubstantiation. This identification led to the development of cytology and bacteriology, whereas prior to this, tissues were viewed as amorphous masses. The influence of Christian doctrine continues indirectly, through Heglian logic, in Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC) and Altshuller’s Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ). Heglian logic is an application of John 1:1’s identification of Christ as the personification of the Greek philosophical principle of Logos. In terms of Frege’s formulation, the process of creative problem solving involves finding an underlying contradiction of a Thesis with its Antithesis, which in turn is resolved into a Synthesis. An example is a pencil inserted into a glass of water. We are presented with a contradiction of simultaneously viewing a bent pencil (Thesis) while feeling a straight pencil (Antithesis), This contradiction of observations is resolved into a Synthesis by recognizing the underlying false assumption that light is traveling in a straight line (refraction).
Well this is interesting... thank you for the response. I'll have to chew on that. Is your point that the scientific method has a relation to theological disputes? I'm not sure I understand your reason for not expecting science to develop in the Eastern Roman Empire. Do you think it has something to do with Orthodox as opposed to Catholic doctrine?
A common weakness in histories of science is the failure to consider an investigator’s view of religion and of science, thus conflating the issues of literal vs. allegorical interpretation of Biblical texts and of Platonic Idealism vs. Aristotelian Realism in natural philosophy. Of particular importance to the history of science is the Historical-Grammatical Method of Interpretation, originating in Antioch, as opposed to the Allegorical Method of Alexandria. The Historical-Grammatical Method recognizes that word meanings can change with historical context, therefore proper understanding of Biblical texts requires preservation of the historical and cultural context of Scripture. However, the preservation of Greek natural philosophical works places the theologian into conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture. What we therefore find is that advocates of the Historical-Grammatical Method of Biblical Interpretation are also involved in the preservation and critical analysis of Greek scientific works as well.
Because of their opposition to the revival of the cult of Isis in the guise of veneration of the Virgin Mary, under Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria (412 - 444), of Hypatia infamy, followers of Nestor, Bishop of Antioch, were forced to flee to Persia following the Council of Brigands in 431. After the Muslim conquest, Nestorians, under the leadership of Hunayn ibn Ishaq, translated Greek scientific works into Arabic.
Medieval Jews in Spain and the Middle East found that the Historical-Grammatical Method resolved the dilemma of reconciling the cessation of Temple sacrifice with maintaining the authority of scripture. These Jews were to serve as translators in the subsequent revival of learning in Western Europe, as is the case of the Spanish Jew, John of Seville (fl. 1133-42), who translated the Arabic into vernacular Castilian which was then rendered into Latin by Dominicus Gundissalinus. The Jewish trading colony of Oxford, because of its access to the new translations, became a center of scientific activity as well as an intellectual center for the Lollards, because of its distance from religious oversight authority in London.
Robert Grosseteste (1168-1253), first chancellor of Oxford University and one of the translators, along with his student Roger Bacon (c. 1214-94), advocated the study of the original languages to properly understand the texts being translated. He also criticized Thomas Aquinas’s Great Compromise of Christian doctrine with the teachings of Aristotle. To this end, Grosseteste criticized Aristotle’s teaching that observation was the basis of knowledge, pointing out that light was necessary for observation. Since geometry governed the propagation of light, mathematics was the true basis of knowledge. Furthermore, since many possible causes may account for any particular observation, he therefore introduced the argument form Reducio ad Absurdum to discern the true cause of an observation. Bacon, in turn, criticized Aristotle’s teaching on the nature of matter, asserting that “horses and asses are not different forms of matter, but are composed of entirely different matter.” Gassendi applied Bacon’s insight to Democrites’s atoms. Dalton’s contribution was to determine how to weigh Gassendi’s atoms to make quantitative predictions in chemical reactions.
Thomas Bradwardine (c.1300 – 1349) applied Grosseteste’s mathematical approach to criticize Aristotle’s teaching on motion, thus introducing the exponential function to mathematics. He also asserted that even the Pope can go to Hell, inspiring John Wycliffe to undertake the first translation of the Bible into English. A 1382 crackdown on the Lollards, in the aftermath of Wycliffe’s ministry, forced scientific activity to move to Padua, which came under the control of Venice and thus protected from papal influence.