Is Christianity At War With Science? (6/20

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.

10th century:  Gerbert of Aurillac:  Contributed to mathematics, including creating his own abacus and introducing new mathematical methods to the European mathematical tradition.  He also contributed to geography by making both celestial and terrestrial globes, and contributed to time keeping and mechanics by making a mechanical clock.

1137:  Adelard of Bath:  Applied the scientific method to his investigations of the natural world.  He was convinced that true faith should derive from evidence, not simply authority such as the authority of the church).  Adelard rejected the concept of ‘blind faith’, taught that science is a useful tool of the Christian, and believed that scientific knowledge provides a witness to God and His creation.  His scientific contributions include the theory of the conservation of matter (proved centuries later to be a law), an understanding of the centre of gravity, and a basic theory of how gravitational pull explains the position of the earth in space in relation to the other planets.

‘Those who are now called authorities reached that position first by exercise of their reason

Wherefore, if you want to hear anything more from me, give and take reason…’

Adelard of Bath, ‘Natural Questions’, 1116

Adelard believed that God had ordained natural laws which the universe followed, rejecting the popular idea that unexplained phenomena were necessarily the work of God, and did not believe that God regularly intervened to disrupt the natural order.

Miracles were rare because God had ordained laws by which the universe should run, and so did not need to intervene:

‘Truly, whoever thinks to abolish the innate order within nature is mad…  For he who disposes [God] is most wise and, consequently, is least of all either willing or even able to abolish the fundamental order in nature…  and, among [natural philosophers, it is agreed that any upsetting of this order is least likely to occur.’

Adelard of Bath, ‘Natural Questions’, 1116

Miracles, he said, were the interruption of the natural law by God, and therefore should not be used to explain all natural phenomena:

‘NEPHEW:  If you collect dry dust and put it finely sieved in an earthenware or bronze pot, after a while when you see plants springing up, to what else do you attribute this but to the marvelous effect of the wonderful divine will?

ADELARD:  I do not detract from God.  Everything that is, is from him and because of him.  But [nature] is not confused and without system and so far as human knowledge has progressed it should be given a hearing.   Only when it fails utterly should there be recourse to God…’

Adelard of Bath, ‘Natural Questions’, 1116

1096-1141:  Hugo of St Victor:  Applied the scientific method to his investigations of the natural world.  Hugo believed that God can be known through observation of the natural world ‘all nature expresses God’), and that science helps understand us to understand God’s work.

‘Hugh’s somewhat innovative style of exegesis made an important contribution to the development of natural theology: he based his arguments for God’s existence on external and internal experience and added a teleological proof originating from the facts of experience.’

Article ‘Hugh Of Saint-Victor’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006

1079-1142:  Peter Abelard:  Applied the scientific method to his investigations of the natural world.  He is called ‘the father of modern science’.  Like Adelard of Bath, he believed that true faith should derive from evidence, not simply authority (such as the authority of the church).

Assiduous and frequent questioning is indeed the first key to wisdom.’

For by doubting we come to inquiry; through inquiring we perceive the truth, according to the Truth Himself.

“Seek and you shall find,” He says, “Knock and it shall be opened to you.”‘

Peter Abelard, ‘Sic Et Non’, 1130

1175-1253:  Robert Grosseteste:  Applied the scientific method to his investigations of the natural world.   A truly brilliant man, whose exceptional knowledge was widely respected, he is still admired by modern science.  His scientific studies contributed to meteorology, mathematics, and a more accurate calendar, as well as advances in the understanding of optics, light, and colour which were centuries ahead of his time and would not be surpassed until the work of Sir Isaac Newton almost 450 years later.


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