Posts Tagged 'Enlightenment'

What then is Mathematics?

Kurt Gödel’s Proof of the Existence of God

Anyone who thinks there is a simple answer to that question will be seriously disappointed. What have famous mathematicians said about it?

Mathematics is the art of giving the same name to different things (Henri Poincaré)

Thus mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true (Bertrand Russell)

Is mathematics something ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered, or is it a product of the human mind? Do we discover mathematical laws and relationships in nature, or do we impose mathematical descriptions on nature as a way of making sense of it, and harnessing it? Do we even know what number and arithmetic are? Yes, we all know what five loaves and three fishes are because those numbers have referents, but what of the number ‘three’ apart from its being a word or a symbol – does it exist as an immaterial entity? If so, where?

Questions such as these have interested philosophers and mathematicians for centuries. There are at least three fundamental questions to be addressed, on ontology, epistemology, and truth:

  • What is the nature of mathematical objects?
  • How do we obtain knowledge of them?
  • How do we account for certitude in mathematics?

We could add another question on effectiveness:

  • How do we account for the utility of mathematics in physics?

The various views on these questions correspond to the two camps of the medieval philosophers, the Realists and the Nominalists (or Anti-Realists), though Realism goes back much further to ancient Greece. Essentially, Realists believe that abstract entities or universals exist in their own right independently of the mind that thinks them, whereas Nominalists deny the extra-mental reality of universals and abstract ideas.

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Islam and Science

Scholars always have to come up with some new thing, and currently in vogue is the alleged contribution of Islam to modern science. This myth is based on a historical prejudice against the western Middle Ages (a very old term, originally coined as a term of deprecation) and the so-called ‘Dark Ages’, in order to introduce such terms as Renaissance (from the moribund or dead) and Enlightenment (from the benighted and dark). The use of such value-laden terms is part of the propaganda, or ‘narrative’, as the Postmodernists would have it, but having written off the period from AD 500 to 1500 as one of profound darkness and ignorance, it is embarrassing and inconvenient for historians to find increasing evidence that there were significant scientific and technological advances in Christendom during this period. For those who wish to keep up the pretence of the narrative, it has become necessary to invent an external agent as the source of learning, and as Islam arose during this period it is easiest and most convenient to hitch the wagon to that.

That, however, is a perversion of history. It is true that there was development of astronomy, medicine, mathematics and chemistry in the so-called Golden Age of Islam (another loaded descriptor); the question is, what had these to do with Islam, and what did Islam do with such disciplines? The answer is that they had practically nothing to do with Islam, and Islam ultimately destroyed them. The rise and fall of ‘Islamic science’ is closely mirrored by the rise of ‘atheistic science’ in our own day. Atheistic materialism has done a smash-and-grab raid on everything nurtured on Christian foundations, and claims to be the only ‘real’ science, yet is in the process of destroying science, as did Islam. Neither atheism nor Islam have a satisfactory philosophical basis for science, and they develop authority structures against ‘heterodox’ thinkers and practitioners. How Islam destroyed science will be dealt with in a future post.

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Foundations of Modern Science

In this and future posts we will show that the rise of modern science was entirely reliant on Christian theology. That modern science arose in Western Europe at the zenith of its Christian influence is incontrovertible; but this correlation is insufficient in itself to imply a causal relation (that’s the correlation fallacy highlighted in former posts). We note that wherever flickerings of science have appeared elsewhere (e.g. in Muslim, Chinese, Indian, ancient Greek and Persian cultures) they have never got any traction in the long term, and it was only in Christian societies that science took root and flourished. But this observation, though adding circumstantial evidence, doesn’t get to the heart of why Christian theology is so important for science. In this post we will touch on some of the reasons why Christian theology was necessary for modern science. Future posts will deal with the failure of other religions and worldviews (including atheism) to give birth to or sustain science, and why such worldviews ultimately destroy true science.

Modern atheistic science is arrogant that it alone holds the key to real scientific endeavour. We must realize that, in the scale of things, atheists have only been taken seriously in science for less than a century. But that’s long enough to see the fruits of their destruction of science, which they merely snatched from Christianity and could never have developed themselves. To give a historical corollary, Islam also stole the clothes of the more advanced civilizations it subjugated, and some sort of science guttered within Islam for some centuries before they burned it out. Likewise, atheism will extinguish real science, and it will need to be recovered one day from the smouldering ruins by bold Christian scholars.

Rodney Stark, Professor of the Social Sciences, and former Professor of Sociology and Comparative Religion, reminds us that

…the claim of an inevitable and bitter warfare between religion and science has, for more than three centuries, been the primary polemical device used in the atheist attack on faith. From Thomas Hobbes through Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, false claims about religion and science have been used as weapons in the battle to “free” the human mind from the “fetters of faith”…

Stark agues that

…there is no inherent conflict between religion and science, but…Christian theology was essential for the rise of science…[T]he leading figures in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries overwhelmingly were devout Christians who believed it their duty to comprehend God’s handiwork. [italics original]

Turning to an assessment of the so-called Enlightenment, Stark notes that it was

…conceived initially as a propaganda ploy by militant atheists and humanists who attempted to claim credit for the rise of science. The falsehood that science required the defeat of religion was proclaimed by such self-appointed cheerleaders as Voltaire, Diderot, and Gibbon, who themselves played no part in the scientific enterprise – a pattern that continues.

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