There was no shortage of medieval scholastics arguing that a serious study of nature could only distract one from the important truths of theology
Nor is there a shortage today of leftists arguing that science distracts us from the important truths of reforming society. What of it? It’s not as if the study of nature were the *only important activity in which human beings could engage.
while the Church did much to promote the advance of science it also did much to stand in its way.
This is often said; but less often backed up with examples.
The science is handmaiden to religion view might be a necessary step in the
transition from a society in which knowledge is carefully policed by religious authorities to one where the spirit of free inquiry reigns, but anyone espousing it today would be considered profoundly anti-science.
Instead, today we have transitioned from Bacon’s view that science is the handmaiden of engineering and industry to a post-modern view that she is the handmaiden of politics. Personally, I do not regard this as an improvement. Besides, what exactly is wrong with the notion that theology ought to rely on philosophy for support?
a society in which knowledge is carefully policed by religious authorities
No society before the Late Modern Age of the Scientific State was ever “carefully policed” by anyone. In particular, “knowledge” as such was never “policed,” carefully or not. Theological writings had to pass through peer review before they could be copied and distributed; but peer review is hardly what most folk mean by “policing.” We still use it today, and not only for theological treatises, though the peer reviewers seldom say, “Nihil obstat” anymore.
Given the political and financial dominance of the Church in Europe during the relevant time period
This is a comic book vision of the Middle Ages. We Late Moderns tend to react freakishly to any society in which the State is not the be-all and end-all. That the Church had any independent power at all strikes us as strange.
A friend of mine who taught theater classes in college some years back carried out an experiment. He used a checklist to call on each student an equal number of times, regardless who raised their hands. Consequently, the young men in the class complained because he called upon “the girls” all the time. Even after he showed them the tally that he had called upon the young women no more often than the young men, it still <i>seemed to them that he had. From their social presuppositions, any time women students were called upon struck them while calling upon guys passed by without notice.</i>
So, in the same fashion, the idea that anyone but the King should have anything to say strikes those of us living in the age of the Totalizing State as somehow out of kilter.
it is hard to imagine from where else science was supposed to emerge.
One can imagine science emerging in ancient Greece, in China, in the House of Submission, in India, in Meso-America, in a host of other places. But she did not.
Let’s not confuse post hoc arguments with an actual train of ideas in the history of thought. There were certain thoughts that arose in Christendom that were crucial to the development of science, and these were thought not by people who happened to be Christian, but by people because they were Christian.
For several centuries now science has been producing reliable knowledge about the world at a clip that only seems to be increasing, to the point where there are so many avenues of investigation still left to explore that it just seems a bit silly to take time out for studying the Bible.
The unexamined assumption here is that only the study of the quantitative extensions of physical matter is worthwhile and all the rest—mathematics, philosophy, history, art, literature, etc.—are silly. Natural science, following the methodological naturalism laid down by St. Albert the Great, can tell us about certain things in the world, especially if profitable products can be built with them. But as Heisenberg pointed out: “What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” So if our method of questioning is a hammer, our science will testify to Nature’s sterling nail-like qualities. But that does not mean that things other than nails are not important.
theologians have mostly been reacting, trying to explain why the latest scientific advances have not completely relegated their holy texts to the dustbin.
This betrays the similarity of thought between fundamentalists and atheists. Both are obsessed with the naive-literal reading of texts. But two thirds of Christians are members of Churches that have never taken that approach: the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Bible Thumping Shack is not the mainstream of theological thought. What the theologians have generally been trying to explain is how the scientists have gone off the reservation from natural science to philosophy and theology (and public policy and….) and have over-interpreted their findings in the effort to sit at the Kool Kids table.