Lucas Mix: Is Christianity Opposed to Science?

The Rev. Dr. Lucas Mix, Episcopal Priest, astrobiologist, martial arts enthusiast and now (hooray) a New Englander again, has been blogging for a while on the questions of science and religion. In his latest blog post, about the the supposed conflict between the enterprises of Science and Theology, he makes a series of interesting points.

I’m particularly taken by his response to the question of whether or not religion and religionists work to thwart the advancement of scientific knowledge.

A bit of his response:

“Prior to 1900, almost all science was done by members of the upper class (the leisure class).  The general public didn’t have the opportunity, meaning it was a pursuit for the wealthy or their dependents.  Thus the lists of early scientists are littered with the names of clerics.  Among the most notable are Copernicus, Mendel, Secchi, and Priestley.  For a list of Roman Catholic cleric scientists, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Roman_Catholic_cleric-scientists.

I must admit to mixed feelings about the close association of privilege with the church, but it cannot be denied that wealth led to science, often through the church.

But didn’t the church suppress Galileo?  Yes, but again, this is not a function of Christianity, but of institution.  (I will argue below that Christianity favors science.)  Large authoritarian institutions stifle creativity and innovation.  They always have.  One need only look to the Soviet promotion of Trofim Lysenko in the 20th century to see a clear example of this.  Soviet biology floundered, because Lysenko, a prominent biologist, rejected certain insights of Darwin and Mendel that became central to modern biology.  Young scientists who argued against this orthodoxy were suppressed. Galileo, likewise, ran into an authority structure when the Pope favored Aristotelian orthodoxy (in physics) over Galileo’s novel ideas.

It looks as though the Christian Church, but particularly the Roman Catholic hierarchy, both collected wealth to produce a leisure class (good for science) and suppressed creativity (bad for science).  Given that the system produced Copernicus, Galileo, and Mendel (and later Lemaitre and Secchi), we’d be hard pressed to say it’s been bad for science.  [It may have been bad for faith, but that’s another article.]

Meanwhile, the Anglican strand of Christianity in England and Scotland produced many more scientists and some of the foundational philosophies that make modern science possible.”

Much more here plus the rest of the article.

(Lucas, like me, is a member of the Society of Ordained Scientists. In fact he was one of the people who managed to get me to become part of the order. I’m delighted that he’s moving back to Boston to work on a Templeton project at MIT on the meaning of life. I’m hoping to get him down to Rhode Island for a proper visit.)

About Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...
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4 Responses to Lucas Mix: Is Christianity Opposed to Science?

  1. Deacon Barbara Mays-Stock says:

    Well, Bishop, I have never had a problem with religion and science and how they work together. As a Cultural Anthropologist, I have learned that we respond to our world through the particular lense of our own time, place, culture and biases. Religion and practice is a huge part of that, and where we fall into a problem is when we decide that our cultural mores ARE our religion. Our personal and cultural biases reflect more about what we believe than actual religion and its true practice does.So, what we really have a problem with is our personal and cultural biases coming up against science , and that’s not the same thing.

  2. Paul Martin says:

    Thank you for posting this. My time at MIT provided a wide range of attitudes between Christianity and science. I am sure Dr. Mix will see the same variety today, depending on academic departments and choice of Christian denomination.

    My personal experience is that science benefits from its own growth, from its development of new theories and new understandings of its field. An undergraduate physics student gets direct experience of this as they encounter modern (non-Greek) physics, then quantum physics, then relativistic quantum, and so forth. The student’s own mind experiences the transitions taken by their field. I know that mine did. Christianity, at least in some denominations, tends to become locked down in past beliefs. This is unfortunate, and is not an accurate picture of the history of Christian theology. The manner in which I approach the Bible is greatly influenced by my education in science and engineering. Perhaps that is a cultural viewpoint, perhaps it runs more deeply.

  3. Gil Stafford says:

    The community of scientist/theologians/clerics has two profound voices in the Rev. Dr. Mix and Bishop Knisely. The Episcopal Church should consider itself fortunate that we have these two persons to lead us through such dialogues. The Northeast is fortunate, at the loss of the Diocese of Arizona. As a campus chaplain, I point many of the students I come in contact with every day to the blogs of both of these insightful scientists and persons of faith.

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