by Bill Nugent
Did you ever wonder why the major breakthroughs in science occurred in just the last 400 years? Ancient people had the same brain capacity as we do yet science stagnated for centuries. In this article we’ll see why.
Plato (c. 427 – c. 347 BC) and Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) are by far the most influential of all the ancient Greek philosophers. Their writings contain revolutionary ideas in the form of everything from folk wisdom to formal logic to convoluted leaps of reasoning that would have to be explained by a philosophy professor. Plato and Aristotle influenced every western philosopher and scientist who came after them.
We don’t often think of Greek philosophers influencing science but they had a profound influence on it. Religion and philosophy provide the cultural worldview on which science is built. The Greek philosophers gave rise to pagan deductive science that could never produce modern inventions.
Only Christ and the Judeo-Christian faith has had more of an influence than the ancient Greek philosophers on the formation of western civilization. We’ll also see how the Bible influenced the course of science in a radical way.
Socrates’ most famous student was Plato. Plato’s most famous student was Aristotle. Aristotle’s most famous student was Alexander the Great. Plato and Aristotle were very different in terms of their philosophy and were also very different in personal style. It is ironic that they were so different yet both so profoundly influential.
Plato was a big, athletically built man who was a military veteran and preferred casual clothes. His name ‘Plato’ is actually a nickname meaning ‘broad’ or ‘wide.’ We would have called him ‘Bubba.’ Aristotle was something of a dandy. He was descended from royalty and wealth. He preferred fancy haircuts and stylish clothes. Plato gave Aristotle a nickname that roughly translated to ‘the brain.’
Plato had a famous school called the Academy. When it came time to choose his successor to run the school, Plato rejected Aristotle twice. Aristotle eventually left to form his own school which he called the Lyceum. So, other than the fact that they differed fundamentally in their philosophy and had totally different personal styles and Plato practically kicked Aristotle out of his school, other than that, they got along just fine!
Plato and Aristotle had major differences in both theirmetaphysics and epistemology. Metaphysics means that which is nonphysical (‘meta’ means ‘other’ hence metaphysics is ‘other than physical’). Metaphysics is morals, laws of logic, ideas, the realm of spirit and anything not directly perceivable by the senses. Epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge which is how we are certain about what we know.
Plato was very theoretical and abstract while Aristotle, being the son of a physician, was more down to earth. Aristotle wrote not only on metaphysics but also on physics. Aristotle studied nature. He was a scientist. When Aristotle’s student, Alexander the Great, went out on his campaign to conquer the world, an entire division of his troops were comprised of men of science who collected samples of every plant and animal and sent them back to Aristotle. It is estimated that the cost of this scientific venture exceeded any other such venture in proportional terms up until the United State’s NASA space program.
Aristotle helped give great momentum to pagan science. In fact, if Aristotle had just one more philosophical key, the scientific breakthroughs of modern times would have occurred in his day. If he had this key I would imagine that jet planes, rocket ships and automobiles would have been invented in the centuries before Christ. Because he did not have this one key principle, Aristotle never really got beyond taxonomy as a scientist. Taxonomy is the science of classification. Aristotle studied plants and animals and he classified them and not much more.
The key that Aristotle lacked was the regularity principle, also called the inductive principle. The regularity principle was not used by pagan scientists because it comes from the Bible and not from a pagan worldview. The regularity principle is the idea that the universe is governed by physical laws that are uniform. This means that physical laws apply in the same way everywhere in the universe. The regularity principle is derived from the biblical teaching that the God who created the universe is a God who gives moral laws and promotes moral order and it is inferred from this that God also gives physical laws and He governs the physical universe by physical laws.
The ancient Greek gods did not give codes of moral laws. There are no ten commandments from Zeus. The ancient pagans regarded nature as disorderly and random and subject to the wills of their many gods. To them, experimentation on nature was futile or even dangerous because they could offend the gods.
The biblical God is a God of both moral order and physical order. Therefore a scientist can do experimentation on a tiny piece of the universe and infer or induce to the whole. If an apple falls to the ground because of gravity, then we can infer that the moon is also subject to gravity. If water freezes at a precise temperature in Athens, we can infer with certainty that it freezes at the same temperature everywhere on earth. This is something we as modern people take for granted but the ancient pagans had no theological basis for believing it.
In Genesis 1:28 God commanded Adam and Eve to subdue the earth. Christians regard nature as something to be studied and conquered. Medieval Christian men of science regarded the study of nature as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”
The breakthroughs in science that gave us our modern world all occurred in the seventeenth century, i. e.1600 to 1700 AD. That’s when Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, and the other great Bible believing scientists made their fundamental breakthroughs. It’s no coincidence that this happened one century after the Protestant Reformation in which, for the first time in history, the Bible was made available in the languages of the people across the entire continent of Europe.
All of the founders of the major fields of science were Bible believing men of faith. Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691) did much chemical experimentation, formulated Boyle’s law and founded modern chemistry. Boyle left provision in his will to fund a series of lectures to defend the Christian faith. He established a “Defending the Faith” lecture series!
Newton, Bacon, Pascal, Boyle and the others had to work under the opposition of the established scientists of their time who held to an authoritarian view of science. The universities of the time would not accept inductive science because they held to an Aristotelian deductive approach to studying nature. Aristotle was the great authority figure the universities revered. So great was the opposition from the universities that Newton, Boyle and the others formed the world’s first think tank. They called it “the invisible college” and it was later formalized under the name: The Royal Society in The Royal Society 1645 in England.
Let me explain why the universities held to a pagan science view. There were two main pagan schools of thought regarding philosophy that crept into the medieval church. One was neo-platonic philosophy and the other was Aristotelian philosophy. Augustine (353 – 430 AD) incorporated Platonic thought in much of his theology. Thomas Aquinas (1226 – 1274) held Aristotle in such high esteem that in his writings he referred to Aristotle as “the philosopher.” I admit that the foregoing is a bit of an oversimplification because Augustine opposed the neo-Platonists on some issues and Aquinas rejected a considerable amount of Aristotle’s thought. The fact remains, however, that the in the universities, the writings of Plato and Aristotle were held in extremely high regard.
Aristotle’s deductive science starts with a general principle and analyzes it logically and breaks it down (deduces from it) to apply it to a specific case. Deductive science is a great exercise in logic and reasoning but does not add new knowledge that would come from experiments.
Inductive science does the opposite of deductive science. To induce means “to add.” Inductive science starts with many individual cases (experiments) and adds the results together to infer a general principle. General principles such as, for instance, the laws of thermodynamics, are discovered. These general principles are a code of physical laws. The discovery of physical laws enabled the breakthroughs in chemistry, physics, biology and electricity that revolutionized science and engineering and gave us our modern inventions.
The question arises, how could such great Christian men like Augustine and Aquinas see the Bible through the lens of pagan philosophy? It held back science for more than a thousand years! It’s probably because the world at large embraced Plato and Aristotle. Augustine and Aquinas unconsciously internalized the worldly pagan viewpoint.
We shouldn’t think of this as an error confined to the medieval period. Christian scholars do the same kind of thing today. In the twenty-first century most Christians read the New Testament teachings on marriage through a lens of feminism. I’ve heard teaching on Ephesians 5:21-33 that completely reverses the plain meaning of the text to give it support for feminist egalitarianism in marriage. One teaching I heard gave it a matriarchal spin! The world embraces feminism. Christian leaders are tempted to conform to the world and read feminist ideas into the New Testament.
The seventeenth century universities were entrenched in Aristotelian deductionism in science. They opposed inductive, experimental science, which was often called Baconian science in honor of Francis Bacon. Authoritarianism and turf protection hindered science and drove it off campus. We see the same thing today in biology and natural history. Darwinian evolution is the establishment position. It is extremely difficult, for scientists who reject Darwinism to get published in peer reviewed journals. Advances in science always start as a minority view. One can’t always dismiss minority opinion as pseudo-science.
Darwinian evolution is taught ‘as fact’ when there are many anomalies that Darwinism cannot explain. Any theory put forth by scientists must explain all the facts. When inconvenient facts turn up that the theory can’t explain, the theory must be adjusted. If enough anomalies come up and the theory can’t explain them or can’t be adjusted to explain them, then the entire theory must be jettisoned.
In my DTF articles I’ve exposed the flaws of Darwinism and I’ve shown the multitude of streams of evidence from microbiology, genetics and the fossil record that proves the impossibility of random mutations to produce uphill genetic change to turn pond scum into human beings over time. Many qualified scientists, both religious and secular, have taken a stand against Darwinism often at the expense of being harassed by academic authorities or losing their jobs outright.
As people see the many flaws of Darwinism, they reject it and begin to take a new look at Christianity. The Bible, like no other holy book of any other faith, is buttressed by the rational evidence of hundreds of Bible prophecies and their fulfillments in history. No other book of any other faith compares to the Bible’s record of prophetic fulfillment. Add to that the miracles that occur even today in Christ’s name. The fact that the Bible gives the inductive principle which is the basis of modern science is further proof that the Bible is not full of ancient obsolete ideas. The Bible is indeed inspired by God and highly relevant for today! Christianity is a faith but not a blind faith.
God sent His Son Jesus, the promised Messiah of Israel, to come and to suffer and die, taking upon himself the punishment we deserved for our sins and then rise from the dead. This was all foretold by the prophets centuries before the coming of Christ. Forgiveness of sins is offered through Christ. Turn to Christ today to receive forgiveness of sins!