Tag Archives: Albertus Magnus

Christian foundations of science and technology innovation, part VI


William Blake, The Ancient of Days setting a Compass to the Earth, frontispiece to copy K of the artist’s Europe a Prophecy

. . . continued from part V

As they sorted and tidied, the university-based natural philosophers began discovering that nature often contained its own causal explanations, which could be identified through observation and experiment. In the heyday of the scholastics, Thomas Aquinas’s teacher Albertus Magnus, for example, wrote two scientific treatises that helped to found empiricism and the scientific method—one on botany and one on zoology—and sought empirical knowledge everywhere he went through observation and experiment. “[Albert] used his journeys through the Western world to further this interest, and was forever asking questions of fishermen, hunters, beekeepers, and bird-catchers.”

Such thinkers certainly did not intend to deny God’s creative, providential activity—just to highlight the more and more evident fact that nature operates according to its own mechanisms, which are describable in naturalistic terms.

By the early 14th century, those terms were becoming increasingly mathematical. Scholars of that day such as Thomas Bradwardine at Oxford (later to become Archbishop of Canterbury) used mathematical theory to challenge and update old, incorrect scientific beliefs inherited from Aristotle. The new and more accurate groundwork they provided on a variety of scientific questions prepared the way for the work of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1717) and other stars of the scientific revolution.

Lest we think, though, that as math entered, faith exited (as some have interpreted Newton’s work!), it is important to see how our eighth fact, the harmonization of scientific and theological understandings, was already emerging in the time of the scholastics.

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The Pagan element of Christian tradition: All truth is God’s truth


Dante and Beatrice speak to the teachers of wi...

Dante and Beatrice speak to the teachers of wisdom Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, Peter Lombard and Sigier of Brabant in the Sphere of the Sun (fresco by Philipp Veit), Canto 10. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s all very well to say that C S Lewis and the medievals valued tradition–indeed, that they hung their hopes for understanding the Truth of things on their ability to understand and act on the wisdom passed down to them. But what was the nature of that tradition? Yes, Christian, of course. But also, as we will see, Pagan.

Tradition included Pagan as well as Christian wisdom

In Discarded Image, Lewis shows us that medievals implicitly trusted historical texts as the repositories of God’s truth. He also shows that they saw truth not just in Scripture and explicitly Christian tradition, but also in the words of the Pagan philosophers and the works of Greco-Roman culture. This was true from Clement of Alexandria and Justin Martyr through Boethius, Thomas Aquinas, and Dante. Though the pagan philosophers had not known Christ in his incarnate form, they too, along with all people, had been given access to the logos – the wisdom of the second person of the Trinity.

In other words, medieval poets, jurists, moral teachers, romance writers, and theologians—all creating compendia of knowledge for their readers—were often gleefully syncretistic. Not that they didn’t care whether the deepest truth of things was to be understood in Christian, Platonic, Stoic, or Pagan terms. Christianity always provided the framework, the “norming norm,” for truth. But within that framework one might fit all the best thought of the pagans, as Christian thinkers had been doing ever since Paul spoke to the Greeks at Mars Hill about their “Unknown God,” using the words of their own poets (“In him we live and move and have our being.”)

What else would we expect from the early spread of “the Way” to the Gentiles? Continue reading

Max Weber was wrong: greed does not make capitalism thrive, it ruins it


My friend Greg Forster has written a thought-provoking article on the humane roots and recent corruption of capitalism. I recommend this as well worth reading. Here’s the first bit, to whet your appetite:

Last week John Starke wrote for TGC about “The Myth of the Protestant Work Ethic.” I’m grateful to Starke for exposing the egregious theological errors in Max Weber‘s theory of capitalism’s origins. But Weber’s theory of what happened next, the “cultural contradictions of capitalism” thesis, has done just as much damage. Christians ought to understand how Weber’s view of capitalism undermines the moral foundations of a humane and genuinely productive economy, promoting materialism, greed, faith/work dualism, debt, and crony capitalism. Continue reading