The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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Christianity and Science

Christianity and science are, in their essences, mutually exclusive systems of thought. While science exhorts the importance of reasoning and systematic observation, Christianity preaches faith and belief in the unknowable.

There were many times throughout history when Christianity has persecuted scientists and technologists simply because they made use of this secular art! Thus we find in the tenth century Norway, the execution of a Viking chieftain Raud the Strong by the pious Christianizing King Olaf Trygvasson. His crime: for sailing into the wind [a] for which the king accused him of an alliance with the devil. Another senseless execution was that of the mathematician Valmes by the Spanish Inquisitor Torquemada in 1486. He was burned at the stake for having claimed to have found a solution to a purely mathematical problem (solving the quartic equation). The Inquisitor General maintained that it was God's will that such equations should remain unsolved! [1]

Even as late as the twentieth century we still find this attempt to suppress science. In the 1920's some group of American Christians tried, unsuccessfully, to prescribe by law that the value of Pi should be changed from 3.142 (roughly) to 3.000. They argued that not only was their figure easier to use, being an integer, but that Biblical references (II Chronicles 4:2; I Kings 7:23) guaranteed its correctness! [2]

But by far, the main conflict between Christianity and Science occurred when science "infringe" the theologians territory. This happened for a few reasons.

One is when the scientific discovery made known a fact which directly contradicts what Christianity had taught for centuries. This happened when Copernicus and then Galileo showed that it was the earth that orbited the sun, not vice versa. This broke to pieces the theological principle that man was the crowning glory of creation and was fittingly put in the center of the universe.

The second is when a scientific discovery changed a situation which had long been taught by the theologian as a result of God's will. That was the case when Simpson discovered anaesthetic to relieve the pain of women in labor. He was denounced by the theologians for breaking the curse God put on Eve.

The third reason is when science made the unknowable known. It has been said many times that the province of religion lies within the gaps of human knowledge. Christian theology is a theology of the gaps. If one does not know how the world was created, the theologians had an answer ready: God did it. If one does not understand what causes an earthquake, the theologians replied: God wills it. This was what happened when Darwin discovered the proofs and the mechanism of evolution. It became impossible to talk about nature as God's work after that.

In the next few sections we will be taking a closer look at the conflicts outline above.

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Notes

a.A normal procedure for sailing, which involves sailing in a zig zag manner with the net effect of the ship moving forward into the direction of the wind.

References

1.Beckmann, History of Pi: p80-81
2.Nelkin, The Creation Controversy: p31

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© Paul N. Tobin 2000

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