1902 Encyclopedia > Christianity > Christianity and Science

Christianity
(Part 19)




Christianity and Science

The silent influence which Christianity has exercised upon the human intellect, and especially upon its scientific researches, is too important to be passed over. Antichristian writers have combined to show the hostility which they think exists between religion and science, and have painted in glowing colours the hindrances which Christianity places before the advance of scientific ideas; but such attempts resemble the efforts of a man to kick down the ladder which has enabled him to reach the elevation on which he stands. Christianity did not create philosophy nor science, and many of the earlier Christian theologians denounced in no measured terms the philosophies of Greece and Rome because of their connection with paganism, while philosophy on its side was the last remnant of the old pagan civilization which withstood the Christian conquest. Soon, however, philosophy and Christianity came to terms, and in the writings of St Augustine we find the noblest Platonism allied with the loftiest Christian theology. The science of paganism has never been on a par with its philosophical speculations, and whether we examine the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome which have passed away, or those of India and China which remain, we seek in vain science and scientific knowledge in the modern sense of the term. The truth seems to be that science requires to build on a foundation supplied by Christianity, and which paganism is unable to furnish, or at least has never yet furnished. Science presupposes and rests on the idea of the oneness and uniformity of the universe, and this idea is, strictly speaking, a Christian conception. Aristotle, the most scientific of the ancients, was unable to conceive the uniformity of nature or the totality of things in anything like the sense which these phrases have to modern thinkers. His conceptions of matter and form, of potentiality and actuality, and so on, implied a subtle duality which effectually stood in the way of such a thought. The uniformity of nature, the capacity of the ideal to realize itself in actual things, was always apt to be thwarted by an inward stubbornness of matter which declined on occasions to submit itself to law. It was this idea which stood in the way of the modern thoughts of the uniformity of nature and of the totality of things which are so essential to science. But such a stubborn, formless matter as pagan philosophy and science delighted to speculate about was quite foreign to Christian speculation and was opposed to the deepest instincts of the Christian life-of trust in the Father who is in Heaven. Christianity did not propose to itself the solution or even the statement of scientific problems, but its yearning to get near God enabled it to see deeper into the problem of the basis of science than the whole of pagan thought had been able to do. The Christian doctrine of creation and the Christian doctrine of providence furnish the foundations on which modern science rests. The Christian doctrine of creation states the absolute dependence of all things on God. He made them out of nothing; and the religious nerve of the doctrine consists in the feeling of absolute dependence on God which this implies. We and all things have our birth and being from God, and from nothing else. Practically God is all in all to us, for on Him all things depend for their origin, and they depend on Him alone. The Christian doctrine of providence presents the same thought in another form the nerve of this doctrine is that God can and does make all things work together for the good of His people. Here again is the idea of the absolute dependence of all things on God, not merely for their origin but also for their existence and endurance. In this way the thought of God as the creator and preserver of all things gives a complete unity to the universe which pagan thought never reached, and gave that basis· for the thought of the uniformity of nature which science demands. It was long ere Christianity could force this thought on the human intelligence, but until it had permeated the whole round of man's intellectual work it was vain to look for advances in science. It was the task of the scholastic theology and philosophy to knead into human thought Christian ideas, and among the rest this idea of the unity and uniformity of nature. Antichristian critics have spoken of the deadness and uselessness of scholasticism, but its value for science and scientific inquiry can scarcely be overestimated; for it was scholasticism which worked Christianity into every department of human and intellectual activity, and so leavened them with it, that when its work was done, the intelligence of man was so thoroughly saturated with the Christian view of nature that it could never again forget it. When scholasticism had accomplished its task modern science sprang into being dependent for its very foundation on that Christianity to which it is supposed to be so bitterly hostile.






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