In 11th and 12th century Europe, urbanization led to the growth of schools and the intellectual culture. The new emphasis on reading the Latin classics led to the study of Plato and integration of his cosmology and the Demiurge.[1] This led to an emphasis on the study of secondary (natural) causes of observable phenomena established by the Creator, an Aristotelian inspired rationalism, and a desire to translate more Greek and Arabic works into Latin. The Platonism of the early Middle Ages that was more compatible with Christian theology was slowly replaced in the late Middle ages with the newly translated works from Aristotle and commentaries from Islamic scholars.[2] Most problematic to Christian theology were Aristotle’s eternal cosmos, monism, deterministic naturalism, and emphasis on reason and sense experience as the sole source testing truth claims. Albertus Magnus (1193– 1280 A.D.) and Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225– 1274 A.D.), in their attempt to mollify the advance of Aristotelian philosophy, ended up importing many new metaphysical concepts into Christianity including a philosophic dualism between nature and God.

The syncretism of theology and natural-science continued such that by the beginning of the 17th century the Roman Catholic Church had fully adopted Aquinas’ 13th century Aristotelian philosophy. The Papal acceptance of the Integration Model of science and religion set the framework for the oft overstated conflict between Papal authority and the Copernican minority. The common acceptance of Aristotelian philosophy challenged the epistemological foundation of science and blurred the line of distinction held to in all the institutes of higher learning between the metaphysical study of astronomy through mathematics and the scientific study of physics:[3] Ultimately, the conflict between The Roman Catholic Church and Copernican theory espoused by Galileo was more about the neo-Platonic natural philosophy advancing against Aristotelianism than it was science vs. religion.

Over the centuries, it is undeniable that harm has been done in the name of religion, in the name of science, and by governments in their lust for power. One theological roadblock has been Aristotelian dualism, enshrined in the theology of Thomas Aquinas, which led to the “two worlds” mentality of Deism and allowed some Christians to abandon care for the natural world over eternal concerns.[4] In addition, this dualism limited the meaning of Divine revelation such God had no way to directly interact or make revelation of himself to humanity.[5] Any attempt to understand the history of science and religion must come to grips with these historic influences of natural philosophy.

[1] David C. Lindberg, “Medieval Science and Religion,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, ed. Gary B. Ferngren (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), 63.

[2] Ibid., 65.

[3] Owen Gingerich, “Truth in Science: Proof, Persuasion, and the Galileo Affair,” Science & Christian Belief 16, no. 1 (2004): 15-16.

[4] Chris Doran, Hope in the Age of Climate Change: Creation Care This Side of the Resurrection (Eugene, OR: WIPF & Stock Publishers, 2017), 10-11. Doran lists here several contemporary theological roadblocks that prevent some Christians from engaging in discussions of climate change or environmental care.

[5] Thomas F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology: Consonance between Theology and Science, New ed., Ground and Grammar (Edinburgh; New York: T&T Clark Ltd., 2001), 30, Logos.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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