The Middle Ages, Theology, and Science.

Several months ago I wrote a review of the book Superstition. Thinking back to numerous of its claims one in particular came back to mind. Park stated often that when Christians believe in God in prevents them from doing science because they already know that God made it, therefore nobody has to ask any questions. I rarely make claims to know what people believe without asking them, I also rarely make attempts to clarify physics for physicists (though I’ve discovered that with a bit of reading I can do a lot of physics). But I am trained to study ancient texts and history, something Park couldn’t do. 
Christians today may really think that science is dangerous to Christianity. But in the medieval era (an era you’ll recall was not really the Dark Ages) science was considered a gold mine of important data about the world. Etienne Gilson note in The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy:

In every one of his actions man is a living witness to finality in the universe, and if it would be a very naive piece of anthropomorphism to regard all natural events as the work of a hidden supermen, it would be no less naive to hold itself to take no notice of it [finality] even where it exists. The discovery of the why does not absolve us from looking for the how, but, if anyone looks only for the how can he be surprised if he fails to find the why?…on this point Christian thought has never wavered [during the Medieval era]. pp 105

In other word, man makes decisions with goals in mind. The universe seems to have an aim too. It was this aim-ed-ness that led the Medievals to pursue questions of about “how things came to be in the first place.” They did this because, believing God made it for a purpose, the steps backward and forward, in fits and starts, could be discerned. The universe, ultimately, was a communication of God’s “beatitude along with His intelligibility.” 

Because humans were a part of nature and they had aims and experienced causality, the rest of nature could be perceived the same way. This Greco-Roman belief along with the belief in God’s intelligibility impelled people to pursue scientific questions. Modern Christians may not see it that way and that is sad, but it is wrong to say that Christianity, in general, makes people averse to science. In my experience university politics sometimes makes scientists averse to science but few scientists call for an exodus from the universities. 

Anyhow, in the medieval era theology and science were, at least conceptually, sort of like a joint endeavor not a battle. How this worked in practice varied as other medievalists will tell you, but the general stance of the day was that studying the physical world for answers to how questions was a good thing. 


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