Tag Archives: science

Another layer of the onion: “Imperial accommodation”–all bad?


Cover of "Christ and Culture"

I'm a "Christ above culture" guy, but that doesn't mean I ignore the evils of a culture-accommodated Christianity

Reader David responded to the post with the following:

While I agree that Constantine is not the whole story of the development of Christendom.  In my understanding, he is but one step – a formative one –  in a longer slide toward Christendom (which is not the same as saying “perfect before/all bad after.” I think we need to at least characterize this shift as my friend Alan Kreider does from the imperial accommodation of Christianity (Constantine) to imperial adoption of Christianity (Theodosius). There is a  difference between declaring religious tolerance of Christianity and making it the Imperial religion.

To me, this is an important distinction. As I responded initially to David: Continue reading

“Do not feed the fundamentalists”: The Smithsonian manages to engage creationists in civil dialogue! Stop the presses!


The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History appears to have posted an invisible warning–perhaps more for its staff than its visitors. The implied sign resembles the familiar zoo warning: “Do not feed the bears!” Only it is not bears that worry the custodians of this temple to science, but rabid creationist fundamentalists.

What surprises scientist and Huffpost writer Alan I. Leshner is not so much that creationists go to the museum’s exhibit of early hominids as that the museum manages to draw them into (gasp) civil dialogue. Here’s a bit of his take from the article:

The exhibit — including a wealth of physical evidence, from fossilized skulls to stone tools — reveals without ambiguity how hominids have gradually evolved over millions of years. Of course, this evidence stands in sharp contrast with the creationist view that God created the Earth and all its inhabitants, virtually simultaneously, between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. Continue reading

The supposed warfare between science and religion: A historian of science speaks out


The interview with eminent historian of science Dr. David Lindberg excerpted here first appeared in issue #76 of Christian History.

The Christian Face of the Scientific Revolution: Christian History Interview – Natural Adversaries?
Historian David Lindberg shows that Christianity and science are not at war – and may never have been.
David Lindberg

Has Christianity always warred with science? Or, conversely, did Christianity create science? CH asked David Lindberg, Hilldale Professor Emeritus of the History of Science and currently director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin.

And he should know. Lindberg specializes in the history of medieval and early modern science, especially the interaction between science and religion. His Beginnings of Western Science (University of Chicago Press, 1992) is an oft-translated standard in the field. He is also currently the general editor, jointly with Ronald Numbers, of the forthcoming eight-volume. Cambridge History of Science

Many people today have a sense that the church has always tried to quash science. Is this, indeed, the case?

This view is known as the “warfare thesis.” It originated in the seventeenth century, but it came into its own with certain radical thinkers of the French Enlightenment. These people were eager to condemn the Catholic Church and went on the attack against it. So, for example, the Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794), a mathematician and philosopher, assured his readers that Christianity’s ascension during the Middle Ages resulted in “the complete decadence of philosophy and the sciences.” Continue reading

Galileo’s trial NOT a clash between science and religion. Get over it.


Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Susterma...

Galileo Galilei

“The notion that Galileo’s trial was a conflict between science and religion should be dead. Anyone who works seriously on Galileo doesn’t accept that interpretation anymore.”

So says Thomas Mayer, a historian at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. Here’s a clip from the article:

Records riddled with holes
The Roman Inquisition began in 1542 — 22 years before Galileo’s birth — as part of the Catholic Church‘s Counter-Reformation against the spread of Protestantism, but it represented a less harsh affair than the previously established Spanish Inquisition.

Galileo’s first trial ended with the Inquisition issuing a formal order, called a precept, in 1616 demanding he stop teaching or defending the heliocentric model. His decision to ignore the precept ultimately led to the second trial 15 years later.

But some people have argued that Galileo never actually received the precept from the Inquisition. By their logic, the astronomer misunderstood the formal order as a mere rap on the knuckles. Continue reading

The Western scientist-missionary allowed entry to China’s Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci


Matteo Ricci "Painted in 1610 by the Chin...

One of my all-time favorite gospel-translating saints is the 16th-century Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci. By “gospel-translating,” I mean the apologetic and missionary move of entering a culture and finding the best points of connection to the gospel, thereby the better to present the gospel in a compelling way.

Here’s an excerpt from a sketch of Ricci that highlights this “translating” aspect of his ministry. Many thanks to Msgr. David Q. Liptak:

Father Ricci is especially significant because, as Pope Benedict explains, he represents in a missionary “a unique case of a felicitous synthesis between the proclamation of the Gospel and the Dialogue with the culture of the people to whom he brought it.” Moreover, he constitutes “an example of balance between doctrinal clarity and prudent pastoral action.”

Inculturation was his genius, therefore. Continue reading

Galileo as secularist hero . . . and Catholic saint


A museum in Florence, Italy is now displaying two fingers and a tooth from Galileo Galilei as “secular relics.” The relics, disinterred in the 18th century and until recently lost from public view, resurfaced recently and are now on display at Florence’s Galileo Museum.

What’s odd about this (typical) spin on Galileo as a secularist hero is that he was a devout Catholic whose motives, early research, and behavior during the ecclesiastical trial all stemmed from his deep faith. For a thorough Christian-historical account of the “Galileo Affair,” check out this article by Virginia Stem Owens. Here’s a taste:

Say the name Galileo, and most people picture the astronomer standing before scowling Inquisition judges, forced to recant his claim that the earth revolves about the sun.

To secular scholars, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was a martyr to religious bigotry, demonstrating how pious superstition can shackle human knowledge. To Protestant historians, Galileo’s fate is a sharp contrast to the freedom other Enlightenment luminaries, like Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, and Johannes Kepler, enjoyed in Reformation regions.

But there’s more to Galileo’s story. Continue reading

Did medieval people believe the earth was flat?


One of the myths perpetuated by William Manchester in his atrocious book A World Lit Only By Fire is that even in Columbus’s time, and certainly throughout the Middle Ages, people actually believed the world was flat. Nonsense, said University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and historian of science David Lindberg, in an interview for Christian History magazine. (I’ll add that Lindberg is co-editor of the Cambridge History of Science, so he knows his apples.) The full interview can be found here, but this is the pertinent section:

What other myths about science and Christianity are commonly accepted today?

One obvious one maintains that before Columbus, Europeans believed nearly unanimously in a flat earth—a belief allegedly drawn from certain biblical statements and enforced by the medieval church.

This myth seems to have had an eighteenth-century origin, elaborated and popularized by Washington Irving, who flagrantly fabricated evidence for it in his four-volume history of Columbus. The myth was then picked up by White and others.

The truth is that it’s almost impossible to find an educated person after Aristotle (d. 322 B.C.) who doubts that the earth is a sphere. In the Middle Ages, you couldn’t emerge from any kind of education, cathedral school or university, without being perfectly clear about the earth’s sphericity and even its approximate circumference.

Marilynne Rouse: “What is man that thou art mindful of him?”


Marilynne Robinson is a Christian and a deep thinker (this very conjunction may shock some). She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (Gilead, Home) and leader in that great thrumming Midwestern engine of the American fiction scene: the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She has taken to heart the traditional Christian insistence that we have been given minds, the faculty of reason, as God’s highest gift, and that we must thus steward them well–see this post, point #6. Now she is training her focus on the mind itself, against certain reductionistic genetic approaches (she calls these “parascientific.”) I link here a recent article in Commonweal, which is taken from her new book, Absence of Mind (which is now Amazon’s #3 “religious nonfiction” book).

A mentor sent me this same link, saying in his email “If you set out to read this, disconnect the phone, sit up straight, and lock the door.” Indeed. She traverses rocky philosophical terrain in engaging the “parascientists.” But she does it with tremendous beauty and potency. Though I have a PhD (granted it’s in one of those fuzzy-headed humanistic disciplines), I had to “blip” through parts of this, as one of Charles Schulz’s characters once said he had to with the Russian names in a Dostoevsky novel. But it was worth the extra time and thought.

A few tastes of the essay follow, but I recommend you simply disconnect the phone, etc., and then click the link above and read the whole thing for yourself:

The strangeness of reality consistently exceeds the expectations of science, and the assumptions of science, however tried and rational, are inclined to encourage false expectations. Continue reading

Department of oxymorons: Ten “hot issues” in Christian history today


Another re-post from Christianity Today’s history blog:

Department of Oxymorons: Ten “Hot Issues” in Christian History Today

by Chris Armstrong

Davidlettermannavy.jpg

We moderns (and even we postmoderns) love top-ten lists. David Letterman has even managed to prop up a wilting career by providing one daily.

This list reaches fearlessly into the land of the oxymoron – you know, those lovely self-contradictory statements: “jumbo shrimp,” “airline food,” “Microsoft Works™.” The oxymoron for today: “Hot issues in history.”

That was the topic put to me a couple of years ago when my seminary’s sister undergraduate institution, Bethel College, was looking to spiff up the Christian history content of its Western Civ curriculum. Would I come talk to the course’s cadre of professors about what’s “new and exciting” in this field of history? So I took my best shot.

I can’t say my colleagues in the guild of Christian historians are staying awake nights wrestling with any of the following 10 issues. But these are all matters that I’ve recently seen discussed – some of them with some heat – by historically conscious evangelicals. If there is a theme to the list, it is this: How does our history define us, and how should it?

So here goes: Continue reading

The distinctive Dantes of C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Dorothy L. Sayers


Here’s a rough introduction to next week’s contribution to Christianity Today‘s history blog. The rest of the article will touch on such works as Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, Williams’s Figure of Beatrice, and Sayers’s translation of the Divine Comedy:

C. S. Lewis was a scholar and professor who became one of the premier lay theologians of the 20th century. He chose to communicate the truths of Christian faith both in essays and in fiction writing, with powerful effects that have resonated into the 21st century.

Lewis’s friend Charles Williams, arguably the linchpin of the “Inklings” literary circle to which Lewis, Tolkien, and others belonged, also wrote both essays and imaginative literature with a deeply Christian message.

Dorothy Sayers, detective novelist, playwright, and essayist, corresponded with both Lewis and Williams. And she developed her own deeply individual and powerful Christian apologetic, which she also expressed in both nonfiction and fiction.

These three “literary Brits” shared more than a lively Christian faith, the writing of imaginative literature, and a strong mutual regard. Together they launched a literary holy war on their era’s scientific materialism and the spiritual declension that accompanied it. Continue reading