Does Christianity Offer the Best Basis for Science?

There’s an argument I’ve run across several times, that theism, and specifically Christianity, forms a much better basis for science than does atheism. Indeed, some people go so far as to claim that only Christianity provides a foundation for science. Matt Slick at CARM lays it out well (though Don Johnson Ministries makes a similar argument). After listing a number of influential scientists who were Christians, Slick writes:

To many Christians, the idea that God existed and brought the universe into existence meant that the universe could be understood because God was a God of order and his character would be reflected in creation (Rom. 1:20).  Instead of a Pantheon of gods who ran the universe in an unpredictable fashion, Christianity provided the monotheistic bedrock (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8; 45:5) upon which the scientific study of nature could be justified.  Many Christians expected to find the secrets that God had hidden in the universe and were confident in being able to discover them.  This is a critical philosophical foundation that is necessary if an emerging culture is to break the shackles of ignorance and superstition in order to discover what secrets exist in the world around them.

This emphasis on order seems odd, since one of the main features of Christianity is miracles, that is, violations of natural law. Without at least the resurrection of Jesus, there is no Christianity. Add to that the various miracles Jehovah, Jesus, and various and sundry saints are said to have performed, the common notion that God sometimes responds to prayer by performing additional miracles, and weekly transubstantiation in church, and you get a picture of reality in which any regularities, any laws of nature exist only so long as a malleable deity permits them to exist.

If scientists like Kepler and Newton saw the Christian God as fundamentally one of order rather than caprice, and drew inspiration for their scientific pursuits from that, fine. But that’s hardly the only type of Christianity out there. I doubt that theirs was even a majority view. But in a time and place where pretty much everyone was Christian (and where not being Christian often carried either social stigma or legal penalty), of course Christians are going to be the ones doing science.

It seems to me that Taoism is a much better match for Matt Slick’s description than Christianity. You could, I think, make a strong case for the notion that the Tao is natural law. There’s certainly the notion that you can either go with the Tao, or you can wear yourself out trying to go against it.

(Yes, this still leaves the question of why so many scientific discoveries came from Europe rather than China. But that’s an interesting question for another day. I suspect that the fact that Europeans wrote American history textbooks has something to do with it.)

I suppose it wouldn’t do to mention alchemy and algebra, whose prefix “al” betrays their Muslim origin. Or the fact that a large proportion of visible stars have Arabic names.

I also don’t see why it takes a whole religion or worldview to want to figure out what makes the world tick. Anyone can see that day follows night, summer follows spring, rocks always roll downhill, never up, and that oaks only come from acorns. Clearly there are some regularities, and these can be investigated. We’re curious creatures; figuring stuff out is fun.

There’s a related claim to the one that Christians founded all the sciences: that Christians founded all the major universities. I haven’t checked this, but I see no reason to doubt this claim.

This brings me to my final point: let’s grant, at least for the sake of argument, that Christians, motivated by their understanding of God as a lawmaker, got all of the sciences started; that most or all of the major universities were founded as institutions to learn how God set up the universe; that Christianity is the only religion — the only worldview — that could have kickstarted science this way, and that out of those beginnings grew science as we know it today… so what? Why keep religion around today?

A scaffolding is essential when beginning a new building. But after a certain point, it needs to go. I was on an all-milk diet for the first, crucial part of my life, and that helped make me into the person I am today. But that doesn’t mean that I should continue to drink milk as an adult; I especially shouldn’t be on an all-milk diet.

Whatever benefits religion may once have provided to science, these days it just gets in the way, from creationism to anti-gay “conversion therapy” to faith-based climate change denialism. It’s time to jettison it.

Atheist Contributions

James Osborne (1834-1881) was an early settler of Seattle, who opened the Gem Saloon (seen in the illustration to the left). His obituary said that “He maintained a reputable saloon patronized by the best citizens of the type that patronized saloons.”[1]

In addition, in his will, he left money to the city to build a civic building, provided that the city contributed matching funds. Unfortunately, he was so filthy rich (like much of the American west, Seattle was founded by a bunch of people trying to make a quick buck) that the city couldn’t afford to match the funds until 1927, when they built the Seattle Opera House (see also Speidel).

Speidel also tells us:

The will specified, for one thing, that his brother-in-law—who had thrown him out of the house once—was not to get “one thin dime.” It also stated flatly that he forbade anyone to take his body into—or even near—any church and there were to be no religious ceremonies conducted at the funeral.

Instead he asked that the funeral be held at Yesler’s Pavilion, that a competent brass band be employed to liven up the occasion, and that a good free-thinker like Judge I. R. W. Hall be paid one hundred dollars for the oration … and failing Judge Hall, that “either Thomas Burke or W. H. White will do.” The services were to end with burial in Lakeview Cemetery by the Ancient Order of United Workmen.

So that we can truthfully tell you that the “father” of our Opera House was an atheistic saloon keeper from the Skid Road.

[1]: William C. Speidel, Sons of the Profits, Nettle Creek Press, pp. 72-73.

More Catholic Idiocy

While in Israel, pope Benny

“Those deeply moving encounters brought back memories of my visit three years ago to the death camp at Auschwitz, where so many Jews – mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends – were brutally exterminated under a godless regime.”

Yeah, “godless”.

Nazi belt buckle with the inscription "Gott mit uns": "God with us"
Now, I’m no historian, and my knowledge of religion in Nazi Germany
comes from such places as
The Straight Dope,
and it looks as though the situation is about as clear as mud: yes,
there were people like Martin Niemöller, but there were also Catholic
priests and bishops who didn’t seem to have a problem with the Nazi
regime. And Hitler certainly paid lip service to religion a lot. And
as far as I know, no one was ever excommunicated for participating in
the Holocaust.

Oh, and, of course, there’s the matter of Benny’s own membership in
the Hitler Youth.

At any rate, the situation is certainly nowhere near as clear as “Nazi
Germany was a godless regime.” In fact, one could easily make the case
that Nazi Germany (and the Soviet Union) had a lot of the uglier
aspects of religion: cult of personality, adherence to dogma, sworn
fealty to the authorities, and so forth.

But maybe The Ratz is simply using the word “godless” as synonymous
with “evil”. In which case, I hope he won’t mind if I use “Catholic”
as a synonym for “pederast”.

Irony meter
On a lighter note, Jesus and Mo
informs us
that Catholics have
(aka magic massage):

But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine in late March dismissed reiki as superstition incompatible with Christian belief or scientific teaching, and said it is inappropriate for use in Catholic institutions, including hospitals, retreat centers and schools.

From the Catholic Committee on Doctrine’s
Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy:

[F]rom the time of the Apostles the
Church has interceded on behalf of the sick through the invocation of
the name of the Lord Jesus, asking for healing through the power of
the Holy Spirit, whether in the form of the sacramental laying on of
hands and anointing with oil
or of simple prayers for healing, which
often include an appeal to the saints for their aid.

[A] Catholic who puts his or her trust in Reiki would be operating
in the realm of superstition, the no-man’s-land that is neither faith
nor science.

(emphasis added)

Clearly, “faith” here means “the good kind of superstition”.