Christian Theology and the Modern Scientific World View
As alluded to in the introduction to this book, many Conservative Western Christians seem to share an unstated common outlook with business-friendly political Conservatives who may or may not be Christians. This outlook is a broadly right-of-centre, free-market capitalist, profit-driven attitude to natural exploitation, and often entails climate change denial or inaction. This relationship usually looks contingent rather than integral because we like to think that personal religious conviction is discrete from the pragmatic worlds of business, politics, and finance. We are now at a point where we can unpack the ways in which these relationships are not at all contingent or only apparent, but are essential and integral.
The Rise of Science out of a New Secular Theology
Historians of modern science are intimately aware of the deep and mutually constructive ties between new forms of modern Christian theology and early modern science. Amos Funkenstein points out that
A new and unique approach to matters divine, a secular theology of sorts, emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to a short career. It was secular in that it was conceived by laymen for laymen. Galileo and Descartes, Leibniz and Newton, Hobbes and Vico were either not clergymen at all or did not acquire an advanced degree in divinity. They were not professional theologians, and yet they treated theological issues at length ... Never before or after were science, philosophy, and theology seen as almost one and the same occupation."
As the actual history of the relationship makes abundantly clear, it is a new type of Christian theology that gave rise to modern science. Indeed, the defining features of
the Scientific Revolution can be properly understood only against the backdrop of the theology which inspired and supported them.12
To be more precise,
a distinctive feature of the Scientific Revolution is that, unlike other earlier scientific programmes and cultures, it is driven, often explicitly, by religious considerations: Christianity set the agenda for natural philosophy [i.e., modern science] in many respects and projected it forward in a way quite different from that of any other scientific culture.13
The need to harmonise the new experimental knowledge with the changing theological landscape of sixteenth and seventeenth-century European Christian thinking was the astonishingly innovative context in which modern science was born. Though our cultural memory has faded—and even though the attempt to replace that memory with a new origin story of a perpetual war between science and religion has occurred—scientific modernity is still deeply embedded in certain features of early modern European Christian theology. It is time to be more specific.