Christianity invented science
Many Christians, such as Roman Catholic Father Stanley Jaki and Christian sociologist Rodney Stark, claim that modern day science formed in Christian-centered Europe, and thus Christianity was responsible for the development of science.
"As a new generation of historians, sociologists, and philosophers of science has proven, biblical religion was not the enemy of science but rather the intellectual matrix that made it possible in the first place. Without key insights that Christianity found celebrated in the Bible and spread throughout Europe, science would never have happened.... The evidence is incontrovertible: It was the rational theology of both the Catholic Middle Ages and the Protestant Reformation--inspired by the explicit and implicit truths revealed in the Jewish Bible--that led to the discoveries of modern science." - Robery Hutchinson, "The Biblical Origins of Modern Science" (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2007. pg. 139)
Rodney Stark, and other conservative Christians defend the above statement, arguing that since Christianity arose in Christian Western culture, that Christianity was therefore was not just the cause of modern science, but that Christianity was required for the origin of science.
Christianity is clearly not responsible for the invention of science. When the cause is in place, its effect is seen. The religion dominated the whole of the Western world from the fifth to the fifteenth century, and yet in all those thousand years there was no scientific revolution. Nor did any scientific revolution occur in the Eastern Christian world, such as the Byzantine Empire, even though the East was just as prosperous and largely peaceful for five centuries.
Apologists may dismiss Byzantines as somehow the "wrong kind" of Christians (Lynn White Jr. "What Accelerated Technological Progress in the Western Middle Ages?" in Scientific Change, ed. A. C. Crombie (New York: Basic Books, 1963(pg.272-91)); however, in addition to being a No true Scotsman fallacy, the point remains that largely Christian civilizations took over a thousand years to develop science.
The ancient Greeks were the first to use science, in fact they invented reason (in the very sense he means, developing the formal sciences of logic, philosophy, mathematics, and rhetoric). Nevertheless, the scientific method was first formally described centuries later by Francis Bacon. Certainly most of the early scientists of the Renaissance were Christian (i.e., Galileo and Newton). However, the church was often openly hostile to scientific inquiry and on guard for potential heresy. While not always openly hostile to science, both the Catholic and Protestant churches were quick to attempt to silence anything that appeared to contradict Biblical history, as in the cases of Galileo and Charles Darwin). The Vatican Observatory didn't come into existence until 1891, and not for scientific inquiry but to establish a better calendar to determine the time to celebrate religious events.
Finally, another fallacy is the conflation of necessary, sufficient, and contributing causes. A good case can be made that scientific thinking was actually the byproduct of early pagan theology (persuasively argued in David Sedley, Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007)). But even if so, no one would conclude from this that paganism was required. Many aspects of pagan religion could contribute to the rise of science, but it does not follow that only paganism can have these attributes. It is not even certain they are all required. It may have provided values that helped science develop, which science could still have developed without, or that other worldviews could have encouraged just as well.
Certain Christians, such as Dinesh D'Souza in his book What is So Great About Christianity, claims before science came into the picture, the dominantly held belief was animism: the idea that everything had a spirit. After that developed polytheistic beliefs, then Eastern beliefs, until the first religion to be based on reason: Christianity. D'Souza says that Judaism and Islam were religions of law whereas Christianity is a religion of creed. Here, D'Souza claims that Christianity is the only religion built on reason and there are no theologians in the history of any other religion. But as just explained earlier, reason was invented by the ancient Greeks -who were pagans! So, D'souza is essentially arguing that Christianity is based on paganism. And any attentive reader of the Bible knows Christianity was from the beginning based on scripture, inspiration, and revelation, not "reason" (On the original epistemology of Christianity: Richard Carrier, Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn't Need a Miracle to Succeed (Raleigh, NC: Lulu, 2009): pg. 329-68, 385-406). To see what a religion actually based on reason looks like, just look at the formal theologies of the Greco-Roman philosophers. Yes, the pagans invented theology too (Theology as a rational science in antiquity: Aristotle, Metaphysics 6.1 1026a); Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 9.12-194 (= Against the Physicists 1.12-194 = Against the Dogmatists 3.12-194); and John Dillon, Alcinous: The Handbook of Platonism (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993): pg. 57-60, 86-89.).
No Science in Antiquity?
Rodney Stark does not stop there. "Greek learning stagnated of its own inner logic. After Plato and Aristotle, very little happened beyond some extensions of geometry." (Stark, Victory of Reason, pg. 20)
For the record, Rodney Stark is a sociologist, not a historian of any sort, and he makes a very lousy historian. Stark's entire argument rests on the above sentence. However, if he had done any scholarly work (as a scholar is obliged to do) he would quickly learn that his key premise is utter rubbish. The truth is that the Greeks and Romans achieved tremendous and continual advances in science and mathematics after Aristotle. Here are a few examples:
- Aristotle performed numerous dissection and vivisection experiments in animal anatomy and physiology - composing the most scientific range of zoological works then known.
- His successor, Theophrastus, extended this work to botany and plant physiology, and produced the earliest known works in pyrology, mineralogy, and other fields.
- His successor, Strato of Lamsacus, extended their experimental method to machines and physics - by which many of Aristotle's physical theories were altered or abandoned.
- A research institute was built in Alexandria, Egypt in the third century BCE, in which Ctesibius and Philo completed the first known scientific works in experimental pneumatics.
- Eratosthenes invented the science of cartography and was one of the first scientists in history to measure the diameter of the earth (he was off by 15% - not bad), and he analyzed the effect of the moon on the tides (Bill O'Reilly needed to know this was explained in the third century BCE and was sadly out of date when he claimed you can't explain "tides come in, tides go out").
- Herophilus became the first scientist to dissect human cadavers. Also, he and his pupil Erasistrus originated neurophysiology, establishing with detailed experiments that the mind is a function of the brain and the specific mental functions were controlled in specific areas of the brain, and they distinguished motor from sensory nerves and mapped them throughout the body. Altogether. their study of the human body and its bones, muscles, and organs, was so thorough that we still use much of their anatomical terminology.
- In Sicily, their colleague Archimedes was advancing sciences of mechanics and hydrostatics, and discovering, describing, or explaining the first mathematical laws of physics.
- Aristarchus began measuring the distances of the moon, sun and planets, and proposed the first heliocentric theory.
- In Rhodes, Hipparchus discovered and measured celestial precession, observed the first supernova, established the first detailed scientific star charts, made numerous advances in planetary theory, and developed the first scientific system for predicting lunar and solar eclipses.
- Seleucus of Babylon discovered the effect of the sun on the tides (not just the moon), and developed the first mathematical lunisolar tide theory.
During the Roman Empire, science reached its pinnacle of achievement, producing works not exceeded until the Scientific Revolution. Just to name a few:
- Dioscorides in botany, mineralogy, and pharmacology
- Hero in mathematics, pneumatics, and theatrical robotics
- Ptolemy in astronomy, cartography, optics, and harmonics
- Galen in anatomy, physiology, and medicine
Many of the scientific discoveries refuted or replaced Aristotle's ideas. For instance, by the Roman period, Aristotle's conclusion that comets were an atmospheric phenomenon lost ground when Hipparchus developed an increasingly correct theory of projectile motion and refuted Aristotle's belief that the heavens never change. Also, Herophilus had refuted the Aristotelian theory that the soul resided in the heart, with precise experiments proving all thought and sensation occurred in the brain - a conclusion reinforced by Galen, who showed that the brain controlled human speech.