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
study of weather,
BC), pesticides rd(3 C BC)
advanced iron (1400 BC), steam engine, calculation of the discoveries
astronomy, advanced metals electricity (0 AD), earth‟s
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,
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)
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)
yes yes yes Yes a sophisticated
1. Which great Chinese accomplishments would you add to the list above?
22. Why did the ancient Chinese develop astronomy? Give as much detail as you
bāohánwànyǒubāoluïwànxiàng33. Explain the Chinese saying 包 含 万 有 (or 包 罗 万 象). 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
bāoluïwànxiàngbāohánwànyǒu3 包 含 万 有 (or 包 罗 万 象) means to cover the universe‟s 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 张 衡 (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. Sophie’s World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy. Berkley Press. 1996.
Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God‟s 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 God‟s 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 Sagan‟s (1934 – 1996) 1985 novel Contact suggests that pi (π, 3.14159)
is a secret code left by the universe‟s 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 (培 根) (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 God‟s 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 God‟s 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 …
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 God‟s being.
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?
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 God‟s work in nature.
Science has never explained gravity. It remains as much a mystery today as when
Newton discovered it.
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 Newton‟s 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.
1. Do you agree that scientists see what they think they will see? Explain.
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 paradigm‟s 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 universe‟s 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)