Monday, July 28, 2008

Ancient Greek Science

(This post is reprinted from one of my earliest, when I first began blogging.)

Arguably the first important underwater archaeological find was a shipwreck discovered in 1900 off the Aegean Sea island of Antikythera. The ship was Greek, dated from the time of Christ, and carried a wealth of statues and pottery.

Also aboard this ancient ship was a heavily-encrusted instrument, which little-by-little came to be recognized as a navigational device. It wasn't until the 1950's, though, that with x-ray and gamma-ray examination of its internal structure investigators recognized it as a sophisticated instrument that accurately mimicked past, present, and future movements of the sun, moon, and planets. Some early Greek had developed an analog computer 2000 years ago!

Historians of science recognize that several ancient civilizations besides Greece--Mesopotamia, China, India, Egypt, and Islam--made impotant contributions to modern science (especially in mathematics and astronomy, but also in other areas). In the case of each of these cultures, however, such contributions (and the individuals that effected them) were rather anomalous. They weren't followed by further progress, or by a succession of like-minded individuals and similar innovation and advance. Science historian Stanley Jaki has argued that science was "stillborn" in these other cultures. Why?

Worldview. These cultures each had worldview inadequacies, aspects of their overall view of reality that stifled scientific advance. Modern science was conceived, was born, and flourished only within the Judeo-Christian worldview of 16th and 17th century Europe. All of the founders of modern science were either devout Christians (Boyle, Newton, Pascal, Kepler, Bacon, Descartes, Leibnitz, Linnaeus, Mendel, Cuvier, Agassiz, Pasteur, and others) or at least operated within a Christian understanding of reality (Copernicus, Galileo, van Leeuwenhoek, and others).

And this was not just a coincidence. The very philosophical presuppositions that allowed the scientific revolution come from a biblical understanding of the world. What's more, science only makes sense within a theistic--and specifically Christian--worldview. While science can be (and increasingly is) conducted by atheistic naturalists, naturalism fails to provide a rational foundation for science. Naturalists engaging in science do so on capital borrowed from Christian theism.

(The Antikythera Device was in my local paper today, which is what prompted this repost. New research indicates that the device was also used for organizing the calendar with regard to the four-year cycle of the ancient Olympic Games.)

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