Collingwood on Monotheism and Science

Maarten Hoenen in his fifth lecture on Voraussetzung und Vorurteil

has mentioned that Collingwood once compared monotheism with polytheism in respect to influencing  science. According to Collingwood, the modern reductionism (Theory of Everything) is similar to monotheism where everything should be explained through God.

I like this thought and below there are some results from my search in Google.


A Peculiar “Faith”: On R.G. Collingwood’s Use of Saint Anselm’s Argument
MJ O’Neill – The Saint Anselm Journal, 2006

I say “monotheistic science” following Collingwood’s contention that monotheism (Platonic or Christian), in contrast to Paganism, brings with it the idea that the universe is one, rationally ordered, and intelligible. See Essay on Metaphysics, Chapter XX.


Nancy Pearcey
Christianity Is a Science-Starter, Not a Science-Stopper

Historian R. G. Collingwood goes so far as to say, “The very possibility of applied mathematics is an expression . . . of the Christian belief that nature is the creation of an omnipotent God.”

There are more example and quotes about “monotheistic science” in this paper. The paper is quite interesting. See also her book “The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy”.


Rafe Champion’s notes and commentary on R G Collingwood’s “Essay on Metaphysics”

He suggests that the invention of monotheism was decisive for science because it made possible the idea of ‘one world’ which hangs together under the same set of principles; hence the disciplines can relate to each other instead of describing different worlds that are not penetrable by rival specialists.

“In a polymorphic science there is no sense in calling one science nearly or distantly akin to another. They are all just different. If anybody after a training in one science began to study another, his previous training would be valueless; he would have to start again at the beginning”.

Thales initiated a reform movement towards a monotheistic science and Aristotle’s Metaphysics is the high-water mark of this reformation. However his own metaphysics fell into error, especially his belief that merely by using our senses we learn that a natural world exists; he mistook a presupposition for a fact. According to Collingwood this error was corrected by Christianity, by the Patrists who formulated the metaphysics of the ‘Catholic Faith’ which provided the main or fundamental presuppositions of natural science ever since. This did not happen in time to save Rome which was weakened internally by metaphysical error.

‘The God of Plato “always geometrizes”. The natural science of the Renaissance represents a Pythagorian-Platonist reaction against the Aristotelianism of the Middle Ages; and Galileo’s pronouncement that the book of nature is written by God in the language of mathematics was a deliberate echo of Plato’s and a declaration of war on the Aristotelians’.  


John Byl
Matter, Mathematics, and God
Theology and Science, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2007

As R. G. Collingwood has noted, pure Platonism holds no hope for applied mathematics because it views the physical world as merely a rough copy of the ideal. Collingwood finds that, historically, the possibility of applied mathematics comes only with the Christian belief of a rational, omnipotent God who created the world according to a purposeful plan.”


05.05.2012 18:08:

I do not think that quantum mechanics changes something in this respect. I should say that I have just heard this in the lectures by Prof Hoenen, but I try to express briefly my current understanding.

So first if to look at different societies, modern science has started in Christian Europe. Not by Arabs, although a lot of knowledge went into Europe through them. Not in China. Why?

According to Collingwood (as Prof Hoenen has told) one can find a reason in Christianity. First, it is monotheism and this is quite important to infer inexorable scientific laws. Second trinity. For example Islam is also based on monotheism but it does not have trinity.

I should say that I am bad with trinity (I have to learn more about it yet) so I will just repeat what I have heard. Science needs a belief in the inexorable scientific laws but also another belief is important, that is, we are able to learn the scientific laws (the intelligibility of the world). The neuron spikes not only obey physics but then can also comprehend it. Somehow the trinity brings us the intelligibility of the world (and hence may help us to understand the trick that allows the neurons to comprehend physics).

Hence my decision to read Collingwood by myself and to think it over. The difference with Bruno is that Collingwood referred to such a study as metaphysics and not theology.

05.05.2012 20:30:

I have also always thought that trinity is completely illogical. I guess that even now I do not see the logic. Yet, the claim is that it is somehow allows us to take intelligibility for granted.

Do you know another reason to believe in intelligibility?

I am no an expert on Newton, but I would say that he did believe in trinity. According to Prof Hoenen, the logic of trinity was at that time basically in the blood. He gave several examples including even Marx. According to Prof Hoenen, the logic in Marx’s Capital is the same as the logic of trinity.

05.05.2012 23:34:

To me the logic of trinity is perverse in the same extent as quantum mechanics.

I am afraid that the conflict between Christianity and science that you describe is not consistent with historical facts. According to Prof Hoenen, who is an expert on Middle Age, science and theology has been developed rather like a brother and a sister. No doubt, that one can observe a fight for the power between different intellectual groups (this happens between relatives as well) but this is quite different from what your are talking.

06.05.2012 22:06:

For science to be started in a sense that you have mentioned, the society should reach a certain limit of development. I am afraid that you forget about this simple fact. Science in the middle ages has started from logic, grammatic, etc. Without this there would be no science that you mean.

Again, the science has developed in the Christian Europe. This could be coincidence but one cannot exclude that this was destiny. You are talking about skeptical inquiry but you do not want to apply it for all questions. I am afraid that you take some answers just from ideological considerations, not from historical research.

The favorite authors of Prof Hoenen are Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas von Aquin. I like a lot On Truth by Anselm of Canterbury. Prof Hoenen has demonstrated nicely that his work influenced many thinkers in the West a lot that pondered on what is truth.

Right now I listen to Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch. The book is not bad but the style is just terrible: “I know the truth because this truth (that I know) is objective.” Anselm and Thomas in this respect were more clever.

07.05.2012 19:52:

You are wrong. With the trinity logic you can find for example an answer why human language allows us to describe events that has happened long before the life has been created.

How for example the equations of quantum mechanics (that are certainly a creation of a human mind) can describe the Universe when there was no life?

This is why, according to Prof Hoenen (Collingwood) trinity was an important ingredient of culture. With trinity a human being can understand the inexorable equations of Nature (or at least this was the belief at that time).

07.05.2012 21:49:

For the development of science, it is necessary to have a believe that equations discovered by a human mind could be used for the whole history of Universe. At that time, this belief came from trinity.

The logic of trinity is more complex, it concerns that words can explain Nature. I will report on this more, when I will work out Collingwood’s An Essay on Metaphysics. Roughly speaking “In the Beginning was the Word”. The trinity, by the way, is not the invention of Christianity, it comes from ancient times.

You have mentioned that you have another explanation why neuron nets not only obey the physical laws but they also can comprehend the physical laws. Could you please sketch it?

07.05.2012 22:21:

I would suggest you to consider Soviet Union under Stalin when military atheists took the power over. I guess that the absolute number of victims was even more.

Just one examples. Nikolai Vavilov – a famous biologist working in genetics (compare his fate with that of Copernicus and Galileo)

Late 1930s – Lysenko, who has conceived a hatred for genetics is put in charge of all of Soviet agriculture
1940 – arrested for allegedly wrecking Soviet agriculture; delivered more than a hundred hours of lectures on science while in prison
1943 – died imprisoned and suffering from dystrophia (faulty nutrition of muscles, leading to paralysis), in the Saratov prison.

09.05.2012 08:47:

It could be partly institutionalized provided that power given for science is limited.

The point in my example was that when a person could acquire unlimited power, than even a skeptical thinker would quickly become a dictator.

In general, there is always fighting between different intellectual groups and the only difference is in allowable means in the fight that are accepted by a society.

08.05.2012 21:48:

I believe that you have mentioned a book of your friend in this respect. I would be very much interesting in learning what modern science says about this.

In general, this implies that the physical laws must allow the neural nets to comprehend the physical laws, that is, there is some constraint on possible physical laws.