The forgotten roots of science. Part 1

And so on page 20 Lennox’s selective history of science begins. I call it a selective history because to the exclusion of any other reasons he’s focused solely on the effect theism (read Christianity) has had on science. It wouldn’t have been too hard for him to throw in ‘among the reasons for’ or ‘in addittion to’, but that would weaken even more what was to begin with a fairly weak version of science’s history. Basically the Greek’s polytheism gets overthrown, the Middle Ages are skipped over, and then Western science rises triumphant with the Renaissance.

The most disappointing part is when the scientific history of China is, how shall I say… I don’t know… maybe it’s just better if you read it for yourself:
How different, as British biochemist Joseph Needham records, was the reaction of the Chinese in the eighteenth century when the news about the great development in science that had taken place in the West was brought to them by the Jesuit missionaries. For them the idea that the universe could be governed by simple laws which human beings could and had discovered was foolish in the extreme. Their culture simply was not receptive to such notions (21).

It would have been nice to mention that the exchange of ideas was not one way and that the unreceptive-to-natural-laws Chinese had already invented gunpowder, paper and the compass, three things that would go on to greatly influence Europe when they made their way there from the East. And there were other forces at work on science in China than the Chinese worldview; there were geographical and political factors that held back Chinese science, but these are given no mention at all. From the above quote one is left with the impression that the major reason Chinese science was behind the West was that they hadn’t progressed to monotheism.

Lennox reins in his grandiose claims for the effect theism has had on science at the end with “Lack of appreciation of the precise point we are making here can lead to confusion. We are not claiming that all aspects of religion in general and Christianity in particular have contributed to the rise of science. What we are suggesting is that the doctrine of a unique Creator God who is responsible for the existence and order of the universe has played an important role” (22), but the reader is left with the very strong impression that the forgotten root of science is the belief in a singular god.

But what really lets down these first pages of ‘The forgotten roots of science’ is its rambling appeal to authority. In the one sentence Lennox mentions Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin and Maxwell to make the startling point that they were motivated by their belief in God. This “belief in God, far from being a hinderance to their science, was often the main inspiration for it and they were not shy of saying so” claims Lennox (21). I’m at a lose as to what Lennox’s point is. That being a theist is no barrier to being a scientist? Around 90% of people are adherents to some faith, so do the math. That belief in God motivates? People find motivation from all kinds of sources, many of them a lot more earthly than a belief in God. That listing a bunch of very dead and very famous scientists who also happened to be Christian lends credibility to theism? Ah, that’s it.

One thought on “The forgotten roots of science. Part 1

  1. Chris Fellows (@cfellows65536)

    I believe Lennox’s point was made, as most points in modern theist responses to atheist tracts were, clearly and ably by G. K. Chesterton. (Though I can’t find it in my Googling just now, alas)

    1. The assumption that the universe is ultimately logical and comprehensible is not a universal human assumption.

    2. Instead, the assumption that the universe is governed by rational laws has historically *arisen* in societies that believed it was created by a rational creator.

    3. These two assumptions are historically very closely correlated in strength in time, space, and – this is Lennox’s justification for citing all those famous scientists – between individuals.

    4. There is no good reason for expecting the one assumption to continue without the other; it is just inertia.


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