Christianity and the Sciences

It is widely agreed that the “Scientific Revolution” of the late seventeenth century was of major importance in shaping modern culture. There is much to be said for this view, and we shall consider the role of Christianity in catalyzing this development in a later chapter. Yet the Scientific Revolution built upon developments during the later Middle Ages, and especially during the sixteenth century. One theme that is known to have been significant in catalyzing the emergence of the scientific method is the fundamental Christian belief that the universe has been created with an inbuilt ordering which can be grasped and represented by the human mind.


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The field of science most affected by Christianity in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was astronomy. The retrieval of ancient scientific works from Arabic or Greek sources in the early Middle Ages (2.3.2) led to considerable interest being taken in the views of the Egyptian astronomy Ptolemy, who held that the earth is at the center of the universe, and that all heavenly bodies rotate in circular paths around the earth. This geocentric view was regarded as scientifically established, and was incorporated into medieval biblical exegesis. The Bible was interpreted on the assumption that the earth stood at the center of the universe.

Yet during the sixteenth century, this view began to be challenged. It became clear that Ptolemy’s theory could not account for detailed observational evidence that had built up in the early sixteenth century. Initially, the theory was modified by the introduction of a complicated and rather clumsy series of “circles within circles” (technically known as “epi- cycles”). But some began to suggest that a better way of thinking about things would have to be found.

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