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On science’s accidental midwife

Summary

Nick Spencer offers some ways of understanding Christianity’s complex relationship with science.

Summary

Nick Spencer offers some ways of understanding Christianity’s complex relationship with science.

Transcript

I called Christianity the accidental midwife of science for two reasons, connected to those two main terms.

It’s a midwife because it does deliver science; because it legitimises it, it creates permission – justification – for the Scientific Revolution. But in some sense it does so accidentally. Science is a later term, really, and scientist is a much later term. It’s natural theology or perhaps natural philosophy in the 17th century. And what science becomes in the minds of some, and particularly in the minds of some atheists today – a cudgel with which we can whack religion or Christianity back into its cave – was never even on the radar of any scientific thinker at the time. The idea that this new child, this new enterprise to which they gave birth, or which they helped deliver, would one day grow up and start attacking them – they couldn’t have conceptualised.

Now, for one, I believe, and I think many others do as well, that in actual fact science doesn’t cudgel Christianity in the way that some propagandists think it does. But it certainly has been used to by some at the time. And that’s why that whole element of accident is in there.