Tag Archives: scientific revolution

A few more accessible, fully illustrated, scholar-written resources on faith and science!

Issue 134, 2020

For those who enjoyed my faith & science history series over the past couple of weeks, there’s a treasure trove awaiting: The recent Christian History issue(s) on the same topic. You can browse the issue in full color and download pdfs of individual articles here.

Which reminds me to say . . .

. . . if I had a nickel for every time someone has said they didn’t know that Christian History had re-started after its then 26-year run ended in the fateful year 2008 . . . well, I’d be able to buy a fancy coffee or two. And little did anyone know – leastwise the magazine’s editors and parent (non-profit) organization – that in 2022 we’d be cruising into CH’s 40th anniversary year (special anniversary issue coming – keep an eye out at this link!).

But since 2011, the magazine has indeed lived again – and what a run it’s been, under the indefatigable editorial leadership of scholar/editor/writer/priest extraordinaire Jennifer Woodruff Tait. Among the topics we’ve covered just in the past few years: America’s love affair with the Bible; CS Lewis’s friends & family and their influence on him; Christian support for the common good in science, healthcare, higher education, the public square, and the marketplace; Christianity and Judaism; plagues and epidemics; Latin American Christianity; the women of the Reformation; the Quakers . . .

And for those interested in topics churchly/scientific, check out the following issues:

Hard to believe that last one, my very first issue as (short-lived) managing editor, came out a full 20 years ago! And I’m still proud of it . . .

Thanks y’all for reading my blog. I hope you enjoy these resources!

Christian foundations of science and technology innovation, part VII (final)

Miniature from 1450 taken from a copy of “Horologium Sapientiae” written around 1330 by Constance Henrich Seuse, Bibliothèque Royale Albert 1er, Bruxelles

. . . continued (and completed) from part VI

But though intellectual curiosity or the expectation of a lawfulness in nature mirroring the rationality of God did help drive the rise of science, it was not the only factor. Another, more practical consideration also contributed, and this brings us to Fact #9. That is, that medieval Christians also saw their rational study of creation as helping fulfil the cultural mandate of Genesis by developing new tools for better living.

In other words, the pursuit of scientific knowledge was already, even among the medieval scholastics, a matter not just for speculative or devotional interest, but also a way of contributing to human flourishing. The scholastics understood that God wants us to live in full enjoyment of his creation as well as his fellowship. God will not allow this full enjoyment and flourishing to be completely destroyed by the disobedience of humans in the fall, and so he works with and through human reason to improve every area of human life through new technologies, advances in medicine, and every other field of material culture.

Thus medieval theological education fostered every science and art—the quadrivium of the maths and sciences (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy) as well as the trivium of the humanities (grammar, logic, rhetoric). Though theology remained the “queen of the sciences,” every medieval university student, in order to earn a bachelor’s degree, had to study arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy as well.

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Christian foundations of science and technology innovation, part II

Continued from part I

Opening historical salvo

A reasonable place to start this “story in ten facts” might be with the scientific revolution—traditionally dated from the 1543 publication of Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres to the 1687 publication of Isaac Newton’s Principia. As soon as we look at this revolution – the seedbed of all modern scientific disciplines—we see some potential problems with the warfare thesis.

First, we notice that the scientific revolution happened before the secularizing Enlightenment—traditionally dated from the death of the French king Louis XIV in 1715 to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. In other words, modern science was born in a Europe still thoroughly Christian in its thinking and institutions. That being true, it’s not surprising that almost all of the scientists who founded modern scientific disciplines during that period were themselves Christians [see illustration at the top of part I]. You’ll see a few named here – and we could include so many others, from Nicolaus Copernicus to Johannes Kepler to Blaise Pascal. Every one of these innovators was a person of faith who pursued scientific and technological innovation out of Christian motives and understandings.

I know what you’re thinking. “Ah, but what about Galileo? Wasn’t his work on the solar system suppressed by the church? Didn’t he become a prisoner to religious bigotry?” Well, no. It turns out Galileo ended up on trial before the Inquisition more because of his political naivete and lack of tact than anything else, and that the trial was more a legal dispute than a clash of beliefs. Says historian Thomas Mayer, “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 any more.”

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Christian foundations of science and technology innovation, part I

Illustration from C Armstrong, “The Pursuit of Science for God and Neighbor,” Common Good magazine issue #3, pp. 48-53

For many years I’ve attended – and sometimes spoken at – the Acton Institute’s annual four-day June meeting, “Acton University.” The 2022 meeting will happen June 20-23 both in-person in Grand Rapids and online. I’ll be giving a talk there titled “Christian foundations of science & technology innovation: A story in ten facts.” Here it is:

I’d like to start our reflection together with a question about finding Christian vocation in this tremendously important sector of modern work: science and technology.

Christians today are often told that we must bridge the so-called “sacred-secular divide” by finding divine purpose and mission in our daily work. And that sounds good in theory. It certainly has good support in both Scripture and tradition—from the Apostle Paul to Gregory the Great to Martin Luther and beyond. But where it often runs aground is in our actual experience.

Because, truthfully, our modern work contexts, and even the nature of the work we do in those contexts, seems to many of us—for many reasons—about as secular as can be.

So here’s the vocation question: How can we discover Christian vocation in fields of work that Luther could not have even imagined—let alone the Apostle Paul? In particular, how can modern people of faith experience work in the scientific laboratory or the high-tech firm as Christian mission?

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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

Potpourri of the day: Civil War evangelists, Pool of Siloam and ancient monks’ cells discovered, the sublime Angelico, Christianity & European culture, and “the abbot and the pendulum”

Here’s another one of those “candy bowls” containing brief news items on Christian-historical topics. I compiled this one for issue 88 (on C. S. Lewis) of Christian History & Biography:

Living History
Compiled by Chris Armstrong

The War for Souls

With its own national association (www.cwreenactors.com) and magazine (www.campchase.com) serving an estimated 50,000 re–enactors in the U.S., Civil War re–enactment thrives today. However, until a few years ago, the re–enactors who worked so painstakingly to replicate each detail accurately often overlooked an entire group of participants. On the battlefields and in the camps, these men fought a different war—the war for souls—and some paid the ultimate price. They were the roughly 1,200 to 1,400 Confederate chaplains, 3,000 Union chaplains, and 5,000 Christian Commission volunteers.

Alan Farley won’t let reenactors forget the chaplains or the faith that animated them. Farley, an evangelist who began attending these events as a child in 1984, now portrays General Lee’s chaplain—and presents the gospel—at Virginia reenactments. Continue reading

Those odd, brilliant men and their scientific schemes: the religious back-story of the Royal Society

When I arrived at Christianity Today International back in 2002 as the fresh-faced managing editor of Christian History, I was told that our next issue was going to be on some aspect of science. Through our usual rollicking brainstorming process (how I miss those days), we narrowed the topic down to the scientific revolution–in particular, the faith of that revolution’s leaders. The result was Issue #76: The Christian Face of the Scientific Revolution.

Not only did I get to edit my very first issue of the magazine I had read and loved since the early ’80s, but I also got to write an article. I chose that fascinating cabal of brilliant and eccentric men: England’s Royal Society. And I soon discovered that those men, while sharing Christian faith, had to overcome ecclesiastical division: some were royalist Anglicans and some radical Puritans.

My research unearthed three “aha” moments: The first was how downright eccentric these people were: they collected bizarre oddments, proposed outlandish “silver-bullet” theories with the promise that they would change the world, and (many of them) continued to work the age-old magic of alchemy in the hope of forging gold from cheap materials.

The second surprise was that in the name of science, these religiously diverse people were able to work together in a time of significant national division across Anglican-Puritan lines. And the third was that in forging that unity, the members of the Royal Society quite unintentionally laid the groundwork for the deism that poisoned the well of 18th- and 19th-century Western faith. Here’s the story:

The Christian Virtuosi
The Royal Society defended religion but laid the groundwork for irreligion.
Chris Armstrong

November 28, 1660, a group of English thinkers gathered at Gresham College, London, to hear a lecture by the young astronomy professor and future architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Christopher Wren. As they talked among themselves after Wren’s lecture, they agreed to form a society dedicated, as their full, official name later stated, to “Improving Natural Knowledge.” Continue reading