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Is Christianity At War With Science? (5/20

The following is a continuing list of Christians down through the centuries who, far from being constantly at war with science (commonly called ‘natural philosophy’ in previous times), took an active interest in seeking to understand how the universe worked.  The first page in this list is here.

7th century:  Sisebute of Hispania: Contributed a remarkably accurate explanation of how and why lunar eclipses occur. He argued that the moon had no light of its own but only reflected light from the sun, and that the earth sometimes obstructed that light when it was between the sun and the moon.  In an age when such events were clouded in superstition, and attributed to supernatural causes, Sisebute (a Christian and firm defender of the Catholic faith), countered the myths of the day with a sound, rational, and scientific explanation.

673-735:  Bede of Jarrow:  A monk in Northumberland (England), also known as Beda or ‘The Venerable Bede’.  A famous medieval historian, whose writings are one of the most important primary sources for his era.  Bede discovered that the earth’s spherical shape affects the length of daylight in different parts of the world, observed a relationship between the moon and the tides, gave a scientific explanation of the changing appearance of the moon throughout the seasons, and improved the accuracy of the calendar.

‘What is more pitiable than to say that a thing is, because God is able to do it, and not to show any reason why it is so, nor any purpose for which it is so; just as if God did everything that he is able to do! You talk like one who says that God is able to make a calf out of a log.

But did he ever do it? Either, then, show a reason why a thing is so, or a purpose wherefore it is so, or else cease to declare it so.’

Bede, ‘Elementa Philosophiae’, 8th century

779-840:  Agobard of Lyons:  refuted popular superstitions regarding the weather, insisting that so called witches and ‘storm makers’ were utterly powerless to change the weather by magic, since God has ordained unchangeable laws by which the weather and seasons were regulated.

‘In these regions, nearly all men, noble and common, city and country dwellers, old and young, believe that hail and thunder can be produced by human will.’

‘It is necessary that we examine by the authority of Holy Scripture whether it is true as the masses believe.’

Agobard of Lyons, ‘On Hail And Thunder’ 9th century AD

‘But yet, because this error, which so generally possesses the minds of almost everyone in this region, should be judged by everyone gifted with reason, we offer proofs from Scripture by which it can be judged.

‘Indeed, we have repeatedly heard it said by many people that they know such things have certainly happened in places, but we have yet to hear someone swear that he has seen these things.’

Agobard of Lyons, ‘On Hail And Thunder’, 9th century AD

‘What is said should be closely attended to: “The clouds go roundabout,” but, “whithersoever the will of God that governeth them shall lead them.” [Job 37:9-12]  Therefore, if God governs them, no unrighteous man can turn them to another region, because he is not able to command God, nor is he worthy of obtaining them through prayer.’

‘So much stupidity has already oppressed the wretched world that Christians now believe things so absurd that no one ever before could persuade the pagans to believe them, even though these pagans were ignorant of the Creator of all things.’

Agobard of Lyons, ‘On Hail And Thunder’, 9th century AD

Agobard’s reasoning was so sound that he receives an honourable mention in Andrew White’s book ‘Warfare Of Science With Theology’.  Although the purpose of White’s book was to attempt to show that Christianity had always had a superstitious fear of science, and that the church had always attempted to suppress scientific investigation and discovery (a theory long since debunked, as mentioned at the beginning of this chapter), White included a description of Agobard in his book as an outstanding example of a prominent Christian who attempted to fight superstition with both science and the Bible.  His praise of Agobard is high praise indeed:

‘As early as the ninth century one great churchman, Agobard, Archbishop of Lyons, struck a heavy blow at this superstition.

His work, Against the Absurd Opinion of the Vulgar touching Hail and Thunder, shows him to have been one of the most devoted apostles of right reason whom human history has known.’

Andrew Dickinson White, ‘Warfare Of Science With Theology’, chapter 11, 1898

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