The Catholic Church – Builder of Civilization, Episode 2: The Church and Science

The Catholic Church – Builder of Civilization, Episode 2: The Church and Science


Thomas: Everyone learns in school that the Catholic Church was the big enemy of science. Well, you know who doesn’t believe that anymore? Pr ofessional historians of science. Join me today on The Catholic Church: Builder of Civilization and we’ll learn the truth. (music) Thomas: Welcome to The Catholic Church: Builder of Civilization. I’m Thomas Woods. It comes as a surprise, doesn’t it, to learn that the Catholic Chur ch may have had a positive role in the development of science, right because we’r e all taught from birth the exact opposite. In school, in the media, in movies scientists ar e always brave martyrs against the ignorant Church that wants to suppress their findings. Well, you might be excused for this view if you lived 100 years ago because then the dominant book on the subject was written by a fellow named Andrew Dickson White. I mentioned him in our first pr ogram because he wrote a book called The History of the Warfare of Science with Theology and Christendom. This became the defining volume on this subject. But it is full of nonsense. In fact, it turns out that in White’s book you actually read that the Catholic Church taught that the earth was flat. Now, we saw last time there is not the tiniest stitch of evidence for that. But White, anxious to portray the Chur ch as silly and backward and ridiculous, simply repeated what other historians had said without bothering to investigate it. That was the quality of his book. Since then, White’s book has been so dramatically overturned that you’d think we’d be r eading something about it. We’d hear, “Hey, the Catholic Church after all played an important role in the sciences,” but instead we hear only crickets. There’s no r eal anxiety, ther e’s no anxiousness to get to the truth in this matter. I wonder why that is. Well, ther e are a lot of modern historians, who unlike Pr ofessor White, are still alive and who are doing work right now and who have concluded that in fact the Church has played at least some kind of positive role and some scholars even go far as, so far as to say that the Church had certain ideas that wer e indispensable to the development of science. That’s the opposite of what we hear, right? But you have scholars saying this all the time… Thomas Goldstein, Toby Huff, A. C. Crombie, Edward Grant, David Lind bergh, Pr ofessor Heilbron at Berkley, and many others. So, what are they saying and how dare they say this? Don’t they know the Catholic Church is nothing but an oppressor of the geniuses of the world? Well, let’s look at some of the claims that these new historians are making. And by the way, they are not all Catholic… some ar e Catholic, some ar en’t Catholic. I’ve deliberately gone out of way to consult historians of science who are non-Catholic, some of whom are even anti-Catholic, in order to show that this is for real. This isn’t a bunch of Catholics writings some books to make the Church look good. This is the consensus among professionals today. Now, one of the most important principles that the Catholic Chur ch contributed to the development of science comes fr om a Biblical verse, a Biblical verse that was one of the most fr equently quoted in the whole Middle Ages and that verse is Wisdom 11:21. And that verse tells us that God has order ed all things according to measure, number, and weight. Okay, so that doesn’t sound explosive right off the bat, but I pr omise you it is. God has order ed all things according to measure, number, and weight. What did people take that to mean? They took it to mean that the universe God has created is orderly; it makes sense, it’s intelligible to our minds. It’s mathematical. It’s ordered according to patterns. Measur e, number, weight… ther e is something mathematical about the universe. St. Augustine, for example said, “God is like a great geometer.” He’s a practitioner of geometry. So for anybody watching who hated geometry, hated math, well, St. Augustine is implicitly rebuking you. Because in fact, mathematics is really a language that God uses in ordering and fashioning this universe that He’s given us. So the Christian tradition through this Wisdom verse that was quoted all through the Middle Ages dramatically amplifies an existing tradition in the West going back to the 6th century B.C. And the great pre-Socratic philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras. In the 6th century B.C., Pythagoras had said, “Do you know what the universe is made of? “It’s not made out of air or water or earth,” as some of his contemporaries had said. “It’s made out of numbers.” That’s the fundamental constituent of our universe. Not physical stuff but numbers, math. Math is everywhere. And this Christian tradition, building on Wisdom 11:21 took Pythagoras’ obscure insight and in effect developed a whole civilization around it. That’s pretty important, and in fact, even scientists who may not have given the matter a second thought lived in a civilization in which the orderliness of the world was taken for granted. So for example, let’s consider the gentleman who drew up for us the first periodic table of the elements, Dmitri Mendeleev. He so believed that the universe was orderly that when he began arranging the elements… And perhaps you’ve seen the periodic table, the elements. It’s got all the constituent parts of our world and they’re listed according, in rows and then a series of rows creates columns. And he found that elements that were next to each other on the table possessed similar characteristics. Well, then he got to about element 21 and ther e was a gap there. He couldn’t find an element that should fit there but he said, “The r elationships should keep working if I skip 21 and I keep going.” But so convinced was he that something had to go ther e, so convinced was he that God couldn’t have given us this universe or that He couldn’t believe we live in a universe where there’d be a big gap on the periodic table. There had to be something that belonged there. So he predictable, “Well, some day we’ll discover an element that goes ther e.” I mean, what nerve the guy has to say, “Of course, we’ll find something to fit into the gap on my chart.” But sure enough, what did they find? 10 years later the element scandium was discovered. Where does it go? It’s atomic number 21. So this is a key feature of our civilization. And in fact, the scientific method cannot be pursued unless you believe the universe is orderly, because what do you do in the scientific method? What’s it all about? The scientific method consists of gathering data about the world around you and then studying that data, looking for patterns, trying to understand it. And then developing hypotheses about the data… why do I think thus and so is occurring and then devising experiments to then confirm or disconfirm my various hypotheses. Now, you cannot follow those steps unless you believe the universe is orderly, because I have to be sure, I have to have a confidence that if I run the same experiment multiple times under the same conditions I will get the same results. Now, if I live in a disorderly universe, I have no right to expect that. Maybe, sure, maybe six times when I drop something it will fall to the ground, but maybe the seventh time, the object will turn into Elvis. How do I know? If I don’t live in an orderly universe I have no right to expect that. And if I don’t live in an orderly universe, I can’t even begin to do science, I can’t even begin to find patterns in the universe if I don’t expect them to be ther e. This is essential for science. And in fact, Albert Einstein even said, “It’s a miracle that the universe is orderly. “We have absolutely no right to assume that.” And in fact, many civilizations did not assume it. They did not assume it. Ancient Babylon for example, the Babylonians did not assume the universe was orderly. It was completely chaotic. Did science get started among the ancient Babylonians? The question answers itself, doesn’t it? So these are essential points. These are essential points… that the universe is orderly and mathematical. Now, that does not mean that the universe is so orderly that God can’t perform miracles that that would somehow violate the order of the universe. Of course, as Catholics we believe in miracles, that God can perform miracles. Of course we believe that! But understand what that means. You can only recognize a miracle if it takes place against a backdr op of order. If we lived in a completely chaotic universe, how could we r ecognize a miracle? Everything would be a miracle. Everything’s crazy and chaotic and doesn’t follow any laws. So we recognize God’s miracles because He performs them within a universe of order. St. Anselm very helpfully clarified this point. He said that, “God has His absolute power” or potentia absoluta, for you Latinists “and His ordered power” or potentia ordinata. That is to say, sure, God has the raw power to turn that object into Elvis but He also has His ordered power by which He behaves according to the laws that He’s built into the universe – that it would not befit the dignity of Our God for Him to behave in such a whimsical way. He can’t do that. He has to in effect behave in a way that is consistent with His pr omises to us. And in effect, the functioning of the universe is one of those promises. So we expect to find order in the universe and that’s why scientists go looking for it. But as I say, not all civilizations have been able to do this, have had this insight. We take this insight for granted. The universe makes sense, we can find mathematical relationships in it but not every civilization could. And one civilization that could not is Islamic civilization. Now, there’s much we can say about Islamic contributions to civilization and even the sciences. For example, in some of what we might call the applied sciences like medicine and optics, well, Muslims made great contributions in those areas. But in the more theor etical sciences, Islamic science in effect suffered what Fr. Stanley Jaki calls “a stillbirth.” It seemed like it was going somewhere, and then boom, gone. And then, today, of course, Islamic civilization is largely a backwater, scientifically. Now, why is that? Why did Islam suffer such devastation in terms of the sciences? One reason involves this matter of the ability to view the universe as being orderly. Islamic civilization could not do that. Because if you wer e to say that the universe is ordered according to certain laws that must observed, that would be an insult to Allah who may behave as arbitrarily as he wants. What looks like a law to you may just be one of his habits that he can discontinue at any time. Well, we got to break now but come on back for some mor e myth busting about the Church and science. (music) (music) Thomas: Welcome back to The Catholic Church: Builder of Civilization. I’m Thomas Woods. Before the br eak, we discussed some forbidden truths about the Church and science. We know what we’re supposed to say. We’r e supposed to say the Church has been nothing but an obstacle to the sciences, but that’s not what pr ofessional historians of science are saying. And if you r ecall fr om our first episode I mentioned that the most depr essing job on earth would be to be a professor of medieval studies, trying to tell people the Middle Ages weren’t really so bad. Well, I think a good runner-up for most depressing job on earth would be to be a historian of science trying to argue that in fact, the Church had by and large a positive influence on the sciences. Even your fellow scientists aren’t going to believe you, much less the general public but yet you have an enormous amount of evidence that you can amass. And book after book after book is being written today and yet you still can’t crack thr ough to the general public. One of the reasons I ended up writing a book called How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization was that I was afraid that all these wonderful studies that pr ofessors are doing that are vindicating the Chur ch aren’t getting to the general public. People are still being taught the nonsense about the Church as an opponent of science. So now we got to go and study this stuff so we can better defend ourselves. But let me tell you something… today if you were taking a course on the history of science… and some universities have that as a separate discipline… if you were talking a course in that and you said, “Oh, religion and science have been nothing but enemies over the years,” you would be considered to have written, in effect, a fourth grade term paper and no one would take that seriously anymor e. So let’s return to our discussion from before the br eak, when I was saying that the key insight that allows a breakthr ough in science in the West is the Catholic view of God as being orderly, a view that is derived principally, though by no means exclusively, through that Wisdom verse 11:21 that, “God has order ed all things according to measure, number, and weight.” And we saw that St. Augustine took that to mean that God was a great geometer and other Christian thinkers elaborated on it as well. At the Cathedral School at Chartres, for example, in France, there was a lot of elaboration on that critical Wisdom verse. Now, Cathedral School, first of all, what’s that? Charlemagne, who was Emperor, Emper or of the West from about 768 to 814, had established that the various cathedrals should have schools set up attached to them. And these cathedral schools, in some cases, developed into our earliest universities, although we’ll discuss in a futur e episode. But at the Cathedral School at Chartres, those scholars seized upon Wisdom 11:21 and took it to mean that if we want to understand the universe, we must understand it quantitatively. That’s a fancy way of saying that if we want to understand the universe, we have to understand it through math. Well, that is actually an extraordinarily modern idea. The Cathedral School at Chartres was r eally at its peak perhaps in the 12th century, and yet it’s got this fantastically modern idea that, at least at some level, the universe can and should be understood mathematically if we want to understand its workings and pr edict how it will behave in the future. We have to understand it through math and they interpr eted Wisdom 11:21 to mean just that, that the universe is mathematical and we understand it that way. Because the Cathedral School at Chartres spread this idea far and wide, that the universe is mathematical, should be understood through math, they are incr easingly given credit as having helped to launch the scientific revolution centuries before it really began to take place in the 17 th century. In addition to that, the scholars at Chartres took for granted that God was orderly and had built natural laws into the world and that if we want to understand how the world works, we first use our natural reason. And only when our natural reason br eaks down do we then say, “We are faced with a miracle, we’re faced with something supernatural,” and we refer this to God. But the Chartres scholars were convinced that God has given us our reason for a r eason. That we’re not cows, we’re not aardvarks, we’re not ants… we have the ability to think and to draw cause- and-effect conclusions and relationships. Why would God give us this faculty unless we were meant to use it and we become true human beings only when we use the unique gift that human beings alone possess which is r eason. So for example, one scholar at Chartres said, “It is through reason that we are men. “For if we turned our backs on the amazing rational beauty of the universe we live in, we should indeed deserve to be driven there fr om, like a guest unappreciative of the house into which he has been received.” Another scholar at Chartres said, “I take nothing away from God. “He’s the Author of all things, evil excepted. “But the nature with which He endowed His creatures accomplishes a whole scheme of operations and these too turn to His glory because it is He Who created this very nature.” In other words, God created us with a rational nature. So we give Him glory when we have recourse to that rational nature. Now, that is very much the opposite of what people are told, isn’t it, about the Catholic Church? I think most people are under the belief that the Church teaches you have that you shouldn’t use your human reason, that human reason is in some way phony or something to be despised even. But to the contrary, here we have one of the most accomplished and important schools of the whole Middle Ages telling us that we should use our r eason if we want to understand the way the universe works. Now, from that, I return to the point that Chartres emphasized the mathematical nature of the universe and in doing so, they gave birth to a central modern idea… that if you want to understand physical relationships and how the physical universe operates, you have to explain it mathematically. You have mastered the universe only when you have unlocked its mysteries through the language of mathematics. And that’s why Sir Isaac Newton was so impressive to people in the 18th century when, with a single equation, he was able to account for all the motion in the universe. That was an extraordinarily elegant explanation of a seemingly complicated pr oblem. All the differ ent kind of motion could be reduced to one eq uation. And so, in the sense in which we’re speaking of, he understood the universe because he was able to take disparate phenomena that are all different, different kinds of motion but yet account for them all with one simple elegant mathematical equation. So he is simply bringing to fruition the mission that the Cathedral School of Chartres gave to the scholars and scientists of the West. Now, another problem that was solved in large part by the Cathedral School at Chartres goes all the way back to the ancient world, all the way back to the world of Ancient Greece and Rome. Because as far back as that time people had believed that the heavenly bodies that you see out there were, in fact, in some way divine. They must have some kind of divine attributes or perhaps they even have souls in some way or they were composed of imperishable matter that operated according to laws different from those of or terrestrial world here on earth. This was taken for granted for many reasons. For instance, in the ancient world it was taken for granted that a body at rest tends to say at rest but a body in motion can only be in motion if something is forcing it into motion. So in other words, the ancient world took for granted that the natural state of things is to be at r est. Motion needs to be accounted for. And yet they look out in the sky and they see the planets are moving but ther e’s no big hand pushing them. So, what’s making them move? They should be at rest. What’s making them move? So they had to posit all kinds of theories… that maybe, maybe they have souls and the souls impart motion to them, or they’re divine and that accounts for their movement, or later it was pr oposed that angels might be pushing them. There wer e all kinds of theories to account for this. But it was taken for granted that there must be differ ent rules governing motion in outer space and governing motion on earth because what’s going on? Why do they keep on moving? They just couldn’t figure it out. These things must be fundamentally differ ent from the things on our earth. Now, Isaac Newton later showed that, in fact, the same laws of motion wer e at work in the heavens and on earth. That was a br eakthrough. But it wasn’t something that just came out of left field, because who really began thinking this for the first time? It was Terry of Chartr es, another scholar at the Cathedral School of Chartres in the 12th century. What did Terry say? He said that, “In effect, what you have in the universe and in outer space are things that are composed of the same kind of matter that we have her e on earth.” Now, he couldn’t quite account for why they orbited and why they seem to move on their own. He had n’t anticipated Newton’s Laws of Motion but by saying that the stuff up ther e is in no fundamental way any differ ent from the stuff down here, he have paved the way for a central conclusion of modern science. Now, Thomas Goldstein is a recent historian of the history of science. What does he have to say about the Cathedral school at Chartres? He says, “In a period of 15 to 20 years, ar ound the middle of the 12th century, a handful of men were constantly striving to launch the evolution of Western science, and undertook every major step that was needed to achieve that end.” Goldstein even went so far as to say that, “Some day Terry of Chartres will be viewed as one of the great founders of modern science.” Now, can you believe that? There’s a historian writing just in this generation. And not only does he credit the Church with lending an important impetus to the development of science but he even goes all the way back to the 12th century to identify somebody nobody’s ever heard of and say he may be one of the great architects of modern science. This is becoming absolutely common among historians of science. Yes, Richard Dawkins is writing his books, Daniel Dent keeps writing his books, as scientific atheists. But as historians of science you consistently get more and more favor shown toward the Catholic Chur ch. Now, the secret is, the question is, how do we get this information to the general public? And as I say, it’s not going to get out ther e unless Catholics start telling it themselves. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, because what we’ve discussed today is very theor etical… the idea that the universe is orderly and so on and on, that it’s built according to fixed physical laws. That’s all very theoretical. But next time we’r e going to get down to the nuts and bolts because next we’re going to look at how many priests wer e scientific pioneers. It’s not enough to say, “Oh, look at all these scientists who happen to be Catholic.” Well, that could be just a coincidence, they just happen to be Catholic. But when you’r e talking about priests who occupy such an elevated r ole in the life of the Chur ch, who have taken Holy Orders and have that sacred vocation, if they are great practitioners of the sciences and are congratulated by the Popes for doing so, then surely the Catholic Chur ch cannot be the enemy of science. So let’s look at these great scientific heroes in the Catholic Chur ch next time when we come back once again for The Catholic Church: Builder of Civilization. (music)

27 thoughts on “The Catholic Church – Builder of Civilization, Episode 2: The Church and Science

  1. @qtutoringhelps The universe has order, as science has since shown, before the church the world was not though to be orders, spontaneous generation for example was not put to rest until Pasture (A firm Catholic by the way) gave us the Law of Bio-genesis.

  2. @qtutoringhelps Your really have no idea of their religion do you? Read…lets say, the books by homer first, then talk to me, they can do fine for small things, but when you get to say, how was the sun light brought to them every day…they can't explain it without a god and a chariot.

    when you can blame a god for something all the time, then you really have not figured out the order to the full measure needed to prove things like Christians did.

  3. @qtutoringhelps I'm a historian, i'm not saying they were stupid, i am saying there is a limit to how much they can do unless they fully understand the world is ordered. They had a partial understanding, and that let them do many things, but they could not have been for example Heliocentric if they think a god pulls the sun threw the sky in a chariot. Or that gods fight with each other and make disorder. They even had a god of disorder, Eris.

    He is also a convert to the Catholic faith BTW.

  4. @qtutoringhelps so a few exceptions to the made it so that no one though that?

    with us, everyone assumes this, with you, your speculating a few people did.

  5. I would like to note that a civilization having the knowledge of the Ancient Greeks does not necessarily mean that that civilization will develop the theoretical sciences. Ancient Rome and Islamic civilization had it for centuries, but they never did go beyond the Greeks. Christian civilization, however, did.

  6. Now what really cracks me up is that if Prof. Woods is right, then IF the Catholic Church had a Protestant mindset, science wouldn't have developed as it has now in the first place. Wisdom is an "Apocryphal" book, a book Protestants don't even consider as part of Scripture.

  7. The so-called conflict between faith and science through the centuries could partly be blamed on some leaders of the Church who took the Bible literally and read it like a modern science handbook, so much so that people like Copernicus and Galileo were persecuted by some churchmen. They should have listened to men like Cardinal Baronius, a contemporary of Galileo, who said that "Scriptures tell us how to go to Heaven and not how the heavens go."

  8. Nothing like Boring John Hodgeman to spice up your propaganda programs. He really adds a new layer of drab to the boredom of cheap sets and a single endless talking head. Great stuff!

  9. How Can we measure the conscience, the love, the soul and so on?We have to distinguish the reality of the things and the material things that is the subject and the study of the modern science. The comprehension of the science in the Middle Ages is different of the modern science today, they understand the science as a comprehension of the reality, the comprehension of ourselves and of the God. This comprehension of the true science become possible to develop the technology.

  10. 00:10 Obviously he never checked with historians at say, Columbia, UCLA UCI, CORNELL and NYU

    5:00 St. Augustine doesn't realize that mathematics was considered satan's language in the middle ages. It is still associated with witchcraft.

    11:45 in its golden era Islam had advances in math. That ended later on. The real reason it went under is because its warlike and still is. They have had no mosque/state separation. No reformation

    BTW jesus said with God all things are possible so yeah…

  11. 13:00 that's Russian orthodox not Latin.

    15:44 the schools were mostly focused on teaching superstition and junk sciences like alchemy.

    17:40 yet everything was a miracle. Well it was the times they lived in…

    19:47 Issac Newton was branded a heretic. And his theory of gravity was condemned. LOL!

    The bible in its literal Greek form supports Newton's theory! Colossians 1:17 & Hebrews 1:3

    SEE: wwwanswersingenesisorg/articles/cm/v22/n3/gravity

  12. hmm

    @00:10 never mind those Universities are garbage so forget I brought it up.

    @11:45 Well The prof on the video argues that this idea that Islamic sciences fizzled due to Koranic views that the universe is set on ordered laws when Allah can discontinue laws at any time. Jesus said the same thing with God all things are possible. YES it is possible that at times they CAN be suspended but still you had brilliant mathmaticians in Islam. wwwfabpedigreeDOTcom/james/grmatm2DOThtm

  13. @Machias (@11:45), I don't think he is disputing there was great Islamic mathematicians at all, nor would/could he.

  14. First of all you obviously don´t know much about rome or the antiquities otherwise you would not claim things like this. Christianiaty for most of its time was against education and against science. How many people could read in christian europe for at least 1000 years? Far less then in the roman empire. Wha are the middle ages called the dark age? So much in culture and civilizazion was lost and destroyed and christians worked on this as well.

  15. What makes us believe our Individual Opinions on this or any other Spiritual Matter from any other Spiritual Source of Heavenly Divine is both Welcome and Enlightened greater than the Source itself….we have found a Stick to Eat Ants with from another Anthill, but without the Stick we starve, for Measure, anything we think in opposition to Religion is in and of itself from a most recent enlightenment born in Rebellion to Religion itself…How can Science claim any Moral Objective, and why do not Scientists contest the Aversity of this Preparation, meaning Satanism, which exalts the Animal Inhibitions of Man, certainly creating one's own Morality is by far the greatest folly to all Civilization, as in each individual Will being Divine, without Recourse or ability to Empathize with them whom are Victimized, yet may have offered a solution to the Problem at their Hands…how can Opinionation be greater than the Recorded Benefit of Thousands of years of Collected Experience of Religion…the Greatest Perception of Atheism is it's need for Blood and Human Sacrifice, while Ignoring the Sacrifice in which it is Wrought, only the Ideal remains, the Wealth of the King is His People.

  16. Actually, it is Wisdom 11:20:"However, without these, one breath could have blown them over, pursued by Justice, whirled away by the breath of your power. You, however, ordered all things by measure, number and weight."

  17. I liked the section on the Chartres School, of which I had never heard, but saying that the ancient Babylonians contributed nothing to science is absurd. They were among the pioneers of astronomical observation. The Catholic Church can be a great source of divine light without making a straw man of other civilizations.

  18. Woehahaha the catholic church a builder of civilasation, you mean the catholic church is the destroyer of civilasations. Although the protestant church and the two other Abrahamic religions aint much better. Both (especially organised) religion and science are political/totalitarian by nature, love censorship, are dogmatic, spilled oceans of blood, and above all; are as corrupt as it can be. They arent working for the greater good of mankind, they always have whored themselfs out to the commercial and political interest of the people (nobility, industrialist and bankers) who funded them.

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