Western Science

By Antonio Morgan,2014-01-16 17:45
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Western ScienceWest

A, S - 13: Western Science


    1. science a conceptual structure for understanding the universe

    2. technology the use of advanced knowledge to control the physical world

    3. mathematics the language of science

Science is the study of the natural world and involves uncovering laws that govern the

    universe. Science dates back 2,500 years and developed in the West. Why?

     1A glance at ancient civilizations:

    Did the China India Arabia/Egypt Europe



    advanced rice cotton (4500 BC) irrigation productive

    cultivation agriculture

    involving precise

    study of weather,

    irrigation (250

    BC), pesticides rd(3 C BC)

    advanced iron (1400 BC), steam engine, calculation of the discoveries

    astronomy, advanced metals electricity (0 AD), earths

    coated with zinc, medicine circumference to medicine 医药

    cataract surgery within one percent rd(500 BC) (3 C BC); eye

    surgery (AD 20)

    [Alchemist at Work

    in His Laboratory,

    John. L. Wimbush,

    d. 1904]

    roads built to pyramids (2560 the arch, massive engineering thstandard width (9 BC), mining (1500 temples, running achievements

     1 Adapted from a lecture on Christianity and science given by Stanley Jaki (1924 - 2009) March, 1992, at Swarthmore

    College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.


    C BC), mining, the BC), aqueducts water (AD 0)

    Grand Canal (AD (750 BC)

    600), the Great

    Wall (AD 1400),

    silk, compass, oven (2200 BC), optics (lenses) inventions

    gunpowder, chess (AD 300)

    magnet, paper,


    seismograph (AD

    132), helicopter

    rotor (4th C AD) ndthrdabacus (2 C BC), C C BC), invented “0” (7advanced pi (π) (3mathematics thrdpi (π) (5AD), decimal geometry (3 C BC) C mathematics thsystem (9 C AD), BC), roman

    pi (π) numerals

    Confucius (551-Aryabhata (476 Ptolemy (AD 90 Pythagoras (570 advanced

    479 BC), Zu 520 BC), 168), Theon of 495 BC), thinkers

    Chong Zhi (AD Brahmagupta (AD Alexandria (AD Archimedes (287

    429 501) 598 668) 335 405) 212 BC),

    cosmic engine incense clock water clock (1500 clock: used to timekeeping

    clock aligned with BC) control the ththe stars (AD1090) universe (15 C

     used to fit into AD)

    the universe

    yes yes yes Yes a sophisticated

    writing system

Discussion Questions:

    1. Which great Chinese accomplishments would you add to the list above?

    Explain them.

     22. Why did the ancient Chinese develop astronomy? Give as much detail as you


    bāohánwànyǒubāoluïwànxiàng33. Explain the Chinese saying (or ). Give an

    example to illustrate it.

     2 The ancient Chinese studied the stars with great precision because it was thought that the stars voiced either approval

    or condemnation from Heaven. Also Emperors maintained their Mandate from Heaven based on their ability to predict

    astronomical events.

    bāoluïwànxiàngbāohánwànyǒu3 (or ) means to cover the universes myriad phenomena, to include things

    of every description. It also refers to being all inclusive.


    From the chart above it is easy to see that all ancient civilizations possessed technology, inventions, and great thinkers. Each made advances in their quality of life and brought a measure of prosperity to their civilizations. But the pivotal question is: why did

    advanced science develop in the West but not in China, India, or Egypt? Each

    civilization possessed the same fertile soil of technology, mathematics, inventions, and

    great thinkers. But only in the West did science take root and flourish.

[Egyptian Chess Players, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1879]


    In AD 132 (AD 78 139), invented the seismograph which could not only

    detect an earthquake, but also approximate its epicenter. The seismograph was an iron

    vase with eight dragon‟s heads, each facing one of the compass directions (north,

    northeast, east, etc.). In each dragon‟s mouth was a copper ball and below each was the gaping mouth of a frog. Before an earthquake one of the copper balls fell into a frog‟s

    mouth indicating the direction of the quake.

    Clearly, the ancient Chinese devised stunning inventions but never developed a scientific method. Chinese inventions were ingenious but isolated ideas which never became

    deeply rooted or shaping forces in the culture. The Chinese lacked a sense of abstract, universal principles.


Conversely, the ancient Greeks maintained lofty notions of how the universe operated,

    but did not conduct experiments or develop practical inventions. Their thoughts 4remained abstract and idealized.

[Archimedes Thoughtful, Domenico Fetti, 1620]

    The reason is simple and involves the assumed enemy of science: religion. The dominant Western religion, Christianity, provided the impetus for modern science because it offered a framework for scientific theory and inspired the scientific method (the way science is conducted). Christianity provided a compelling purpose for investigating the universe.

    Modern science developed in the West because of three fundamental beliefs about God:

    1. God designs complexity.

    How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. (Bible, Psalm 104:24) 耶和华啊?你所造的何其多?都是你用智慧造

    成的?遍地满了你的丰富. (圣经, 诗篇 104:24)

    2. God imposes order.

     4 Gaarder, Jostein. Sophies World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy. Berkley Press. 1996.


    Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up Gods dominion over the

    earth? (Bible, Job 38:33)

    你知道天的定例麽? 能使地归在天的权下麽? (圣经, 约伯记 38:33)

    For God is not a God of disorder by of peace. (Bible, 1 Corinthians 14:33)

    因为神不是叫人混乱?乃是叫人安静. (圣经, 哥林多前书 14:33)

    [The Starry Night, Vincent Willem van Gogh, 1889]

    3. God‟s work is understandable.

    For since the creation of the world Gods invisible qualities his eternal power and

    divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,

    so that men are without excuse. (Bible, Romans 1:20)


    晓得?叫人无可推诿。(圣经, 罗马书 1:20)

Astronomer Carl Sagans (1934 1996) 1985 novel Contact suggests that pi (π, 3.14159)

    is a secret code left by the universes designer.

    And three crucial beliefs about the universe:

    1. That it is real

    2. That it was created good

    3. That it is not God itself



    Western scientists such as Francis Bacon ( ) (1561 1626) believed that the

    universe is like a giant book which God wrote about himself. For this reason Christian

    scientists studied the universe, in order to uncover God‟s character and nature. Western thinkers traditionally believed that the Bible and the natural world are complementary

    because they are both Gods revelation of himself.

[Sir Francis Bacon Viscount Saint Alban, John Vanderbank, c. 1731]

    God blessed them [Adam and Eve] and said to them, Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. (Bible, Genesis 1:28)



The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day

    after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (Bible, Psalm 19: 1, 2 )



In Buddhist thought the world is an illusion; it doesn‟t really exist. Therefore, there is no

    reason to study it or uncover its hidden qualities. In Greek thought the physical world is evil. The human soul struggles to free itself from a frail physical body to which it is fettered. For this reason the Greeks never seriously investigated the physical world. It was not considered worthy of their efforts; they instead developed philosophy. Likewise, Hinduism, which holds that the universe is itself god, is equally unlikely to study the physical world, but for the opposite reason. Such study would be sacrilegious or at least 5disrespectful.

    Most early Christian missionaries to China were skilled mathematicians and scientists, sometimes appointed by the Emperor to head imperial departments. Often these

    missionaries scientific skill was directly related to their religious beliefs, such as with 6Matteo Ricci (1552 1610).

    One of the principles reasons that modern science developed in the West is because the Christian God displays a rational mind and created a rational universe.

    The Christian worldview asserts that God possesses a rational mind reflected in a rational universe governed by discernable laws. Mankind, because he is created in the image of God, also has a rational mind. So mankind can understand the universe around him because both were created by the same God. (Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up Gods dominion over the earth? Bible, Job 38:33 你知道天的定例麽?能


A crucial concept in the development of Western science:

    A rational God created…

    a rational universe which can be understood by …

    rational minds.

Isaac Newton (1642 1727), the celebrated English scientist, based his physical

    investigation on fundamental Christian beliefs. In fact, he invented calculus in order to understand the concept of infinity, an aspect of Gods being.

Discussion Questions:

    1. What is the legendary story about the way in which Newton discovered 7gravity? Explain why this event was significant.

    2. In 2737 BC Chinese scholar Shen Nong (神农) experienced an event similar 8to Newton. What did Shen Nong discover and under what tree was he sitting?

    Give details.

     5 Hill, Jonathan. What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us? InterVarsity Academic Press. 2005. 6 Hill, Jonathan. What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us? InterVarsity Academic Press. 2005. 7 Although the story is probably apocryphal, Newton is said to have been hit on the head by a falling apple. This prompted him to investigate the laws of gravity.


    Newton knew that rational laws must be woven into the universe because its creator is a God of clear, logical laws. This drove Newton to search for and uncover physical laws.

Isaac Newton wrote more about theology (the study of God) than he did about science.

    His science was a direct outgrowth of his belief in God because he saw himself as

    revealing Gods work in nature.

Science has never explained gravity. It remains as much a mystery today as when

    Newton discovered it.

Discussion Questions:

     91. What are Chinese students taught about Isaac Newton’s religious beliefs?

    Explain in detail.

     2. Do most scientists believe in God? Why or why not? Explain.

    A crucial reason that modern science developed in the West is because the Bible and science were seen as complementary, not enemies.

In the West the Bible traditionally answered “why” questions such as:

    1. Is there meaning to life?

    2. What is the purpose of human existence?

    3. How is a person supposed to live?

    4. What happens when a person dies?

     8 According to legend, Shen Nong was sitting under a wild tea tree in 2737 BC when a leaf fell into his cup of hot water and he discovered tea. 9 Most Chinese students are taught that Newtons theological inquiries were a hindrance to his scientific investigation, or merely wasted valuable time. They are also taught that it was only once Newton renounced his theology that his science truly flourished.


[Interior of the New Church in Delft, Emanuel De Witte, 1664]

    Science answered “how” questions about the way in which the creation works such as:

    1. How is an atom split?

    2. Along what path do the planets revolved around the sun? 103. Why is a sunset red?

    Science is based on empirical evidence which can be repeated by anyone at anytime. However, it is dangerous to assume that science reliably answers how questions. We

    often wrongly view science as objective or unbiased. We juxtapose the facts of

    science with the mystery of religion, tending to see the former as concrete and true and the later as distant and subjective.

    Science is not pure facts. It interprets facts. This means that it must make sense of the information that it gathers. Just as a person often sees what he thinks he sees, so too scientists see what they think they see.

Discussion Question:

    1. Do you agree that scientists see what they think they will see? Explain.

Scientific Paradigms

     10 Hummel, Charles E. The Galileo Connection. InterVarsity Press. 1986.


    Throughout history science has explained the mechanism of the universe using often contradictory models, called paradigms. Paradigms change to reflect various scientific

     322 BC) view of the assumptions. For example, there was a shift from Aristotle‟s (384

    universe to Ptolemy‟s, then to Copernicus (1473 - 1543), Newton, and later Einstein (1879 - 1955). Each presented a new model of how the universe works. Each gathered evidence and interpreted it with a particular set of lenses.

An excellent book on the issue of paradigm shifts is The Structure of Scientific 11Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (1922 1996). This work is still considered a central

    pillar in the discussion of philosophy of science.

    When a scientific paradigm changes the instruments used to measure the natural world also change. Certain instruments will only show forth certain results so that new 12instruments must be invented to suit the new paradigms gaze.

Aristotle posited five elements (earth, water, air, fire, and the quintessence) that make up

    the universe. Ptolemy believed that the earth is at the center of the universe. Copernicus

    placed the sun at the center of the universe. Newton demonstrated that planets travel

    elliptically around the sun, and Einstein proffered the theory that space is curved so the

    universe forms a loop. Each of these views is a unique paradigm, system, or “set of

    lenses” for interpreting the universes data.

[Astronomer Copernicus, Conversation with God, Jan Matejko, 1872]

     11 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (University of Chicago Press, 1962) 12 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (University of Chicago Press, 1962)


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