ROGER BACON AND THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY CHRISTIAN ORIGINS OF MODERN SCIENCE

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by Bill Nugent
Article #97

 
Few people in the 21st century are familiar with the scientific accomplishments of Roger Bacon (1214-1294) but if it wasn’t for him we might still be riding in horse drawn carriages and eating by candle light. Bacon sought to relate science, philosophy and theology to the Bible at a time when the Bible was available only in ancient languages and read by few.

Let me first set the stage. In the Medieval period, roughly 400 AD to 1500 AD, we have what is known as the Christian/neo-Classical synthesis dominating the thought processes of the scholars in the universities and monasteries. In other words the teachings of the Bible were mingled with the teachings of the ancient Greek Pagan “classical” philosophers. Classical thought consists primarily of the teachings of Plato and Aristotle.

The ancient Greek religion was Olympianism which has some points in common with Hinduism. Like Hinduism, Olympianism regarded the natural, physical world as illusory or unreal and therefore irrelevant to the pursuit of higher knowledge. The ancient Greek view of evil was that evil is in the material world and therefore to be free of evil one must escape the material world.

The Christian view of evil is that evil is in the hearts of people and therefore we must turn to God for forgiveness. The Christian regards the material world as subject to evil but not inherently evil. Though Plato and Aristotle departed from Olympianism in some respects the Olympian low view of the physical world does show through in their writings.

Platonic and to a lessor degree Aristotelian thought largely rejected experimental observation (scientific experimentation) as a means of gaining knowledge. The ancient Greeks did mathematics and architecture but almost no pure, experimental science. Their worldview would not allow for anything like the scientific method.

In the Medieval world, the influential scholar Augustine (353 AD-430 AD) was heavily influenced by Plato. Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274) was heavily influenced by Aristotle. This was the Pagan syncretism the hobbled the church for more than a thousand years.

Roger Bacon was a Franciscan Friar and a professor at Oxford university. In his writings he began to strip away the reasoning of the ancient Greek philosophers. He endured much opposition from church leaders. Some criticized his experiments and falsely accused him of dabbling in dark arts.

Bacon began a movement away from Plato and Aristotle that would take centuries to fully unfold. Roger Bacon is considered to be a true scientific pioneer. The key to his success is that he viewed the physical world form a purely Christian perspective.

The sources of knowledge in the Christian worldview are the Holy Scriptures, the natural world and the conscience. The Christian view of nature is that nature is not an illusion, nor is it random or chaotic. Furthermore, observations of nature can be inductively applied which is contrary to the rationalist deductionism of Aristotle.

Nature has been called “God’s second book” because Psalm 19:1-2 and Romans 1:20 teach that the created, natural order reveals things about God. Since the scriptures command us to know God it is implicit therefore that we should study nature. In Genesis 1:28 God commands Adam to “subdue” the earth. We are commanded to tame or master the natural world. This is why modern science arose in the Christian west.

Roger Bacon taught the inductive method of studying nature. Experimental science is also called inductive science. To induce means to infer or extrapolate from the part to the whole. For example if you do an experiment on a small part of nature you infer that the findings of the experiment hold true throughout the universe. In previous generations such knowledge gained from experiments was considered useless because the natural world was considered random. In other words if you measure the temperature at which water freezes it is useless because tomorrow water could freeze at a different temperature.

The Christian worldview regards God as unchanging and therefore nature is assumed to be consistent and orderly. This in turn leads us to the fundamental axiom of modern science. (An axiom is a presupposition that is assumed as true and never doubted or tested.) This axiom that forms the basis for all modern science is called “the regularity principle.” It is also called the “inductive principle.” The regularity principle is the Christian view that the universe is consistent or “regular” and therefore what is found true in one part of the universe is true in all of it.

The God of the Bible created nature subject to His consistent physical laws. The Bible shows God as a moral lawgiver who is rational and consistent. Early Bible believing scientists regarded nature as being under God’s consistent, orderly laws of physics.

The regularity principle is derived from the Christian worldview and is further proof that the Christian worldview is true. Long after Roger Bacon passed away, Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) and Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) came along and built on his foundation. How ironic it is that those who hate the Christian faith use science (falsely applied) to attack the accuracy of the Bible yet it was the Bible based Christian worldview that gave rise to modern science!

 



(C) 2016 William P. Nugent, permission granted to email or republish for Christian outreach.

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