I have on a couple of occasions blogged on the subject of the supposed Christian origin of modern science. Now this theory, which does in fact have a certain credence amongst some historians and philosophers of science, usually goes something like this. During the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance European Christians believed in a rational mathematical designer God who had created a rational mathematical world and that it was their duty to discover and expose the underlying rationality of this world to the greater glory of their God. This circumstance, which really did exist, is believed by some to be the driving force that led this culture to develop the modern mathematical scientific view of the world. Now this theory does indeed contain a modicum of truth and this world-view was in fact a contributing factor (but probably not ‘the’ decisive one) to the evolution of the new science in the period between roughly 1400CE and 1750CE. However the theory suffers from a small flaw, the belief in a rational designer God was not Christian but in this context has its roots in heathen Platonic philosophy, a fact of which I was reminded in the following quote that I stumbled across in one of the books that I am currently reading. The book is Aspects of the Astrolabe: ‘architectonica ratio’ in tenth- and eleventh-century Europe by Arianna Borrelli, in a discussion of the ‘historical and cultural context’ she writes;
In late ancient neoplatonism, the study of the mathematical arts was regarded as a necessary premise to gain understanding of the divine ‘ratio’ governing the cosmos, which could not be perceived by the senses. Neoplatonism had a distinctive influence on Christian authorities such as Augustinus of Hippo (354 – 430) and Boethius and, through them, on Latin medieval philosophy.
As all good academics Ms. Borrelli gives a list of references in a footnote for those readers who wish to follow further the claim made here. One of them is to Steve McCluskey’s Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe. Fetching Mr McCluskey’s volume from its place on my bookshelf I quickly found the following;
Plato’s Timaeus was the most “physical” of Plato’s books, focusing on the mathematical basis of the universe and the creation of the cosmos by a divine craftsman. This notion of a divine creator was one of the elements in Plato’s thought that had appealed to early Christian writers, making Plato their philosopher of choice.
(Bold emphasis in the quotes mine.)
That the world/universe is rational and mathematical and can as such be encrypted was a concept held by many Christian scholars in the European High Middle Ages and Renaissance but it was not a ‘Christian concept’ but rather a Platonic one.