Did Christianity Invent Science?


After writing up two posts about medieval Islamic contributions to science, I argued that the exhibit called 1001 Inventions was propaganda and Muslim apologetics. Sure, there were Muslims that contributed to science, but it wasn’t because of Islam and many (most?) of the alleged discoveries/inventions/innovations were pre-Islamic. But it’s not just modern Muslims that are arguing that Islam is great for science with shaky premises.

There has been a sort of mythology also going around in conservative academic circles that it was medieval Christians that made science possible. That it was figures like Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and others that made modern science happen, and without Christian theism we just couldn’t have our modern world. (Never mind where that Christian theism gets in the way of science, be it with evolution, the Big Bang, stem-cell research, contraceptive efficacy, etc.) It’s a central premise in Dinesh D’Souza’s  What’s So Great About Christianity? and Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God. And it is all sorts of wrong.

In my posts on the 1001 Inventions book and exhibit, I countered much of the claims by pointing to ancient Greek and Roman scientific advances, and that equally belies the claims that Christians invented science. What is much safer to claim is that it was Christian scholars such as Bacon and Aquinas that made it possible for Christian theism to actually work with analytic philosophy and natural philosophy as done by Aristotle. The history of that interaction is nicely captured in Richard Rubenstein’s Aristotle’s Children. But there was all sorts of science being done outside of Christian theism in the past, and even outside of theism! (Many think of Epicurus, but a better example is Strato of Lampsacus who was an early geologist and pneumaticist.) You have to just ignore huge collections of sources on Greco-Roman science and engineering (such as this and this book for starters).

But instead of making a large post on the subject, I have been outdone by Richard Carrier who earned his PhD in ancient history studying Greco-Roman history. He had done an awesome blog post debunking much that has been popular for the claim that medieval Christians made all sorts of science. But his chapter on ancient science in The Christian Delusion has all the argument and sourcing to prove beyond reasonable doubt that there was a great science program before the dominance of Christianity.

So, I won’t write that which will certainly be inferior to Carrier’s work. But if you want something quick to prove otherwise, I can think of three fast examples:

  1. Archimedes: super engineer and mathematician; made advanced catapults, figured out bouyancy, and the rudements of probability theory and integral calculus
  2. The Antikythera mechanism: a mechanical astronomical computer; yes, a frakking computer
  3. Galen: he did eye and brain surgery

If you have someone still arguing that no Jesus, no science (or no Mohammad, no science), have them read Carrier’s chapter. After that all that can support the premise is being delusional.

Maybe if I close my eyes, the science will go away.

But hey, at least this isn’t Ancient Aliens delusional…

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