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.”

God Exists as Metaphysical Proposition

From Robin George Collingwood,  An Essay on Metaphysics

Chapter XVIII “The Proposition ‘God Exists’”

p. 185. “In the last chapter but one I had occasion to comment on the way in which a ‘logical positivist’, wishing to recommend the doctrine that ‘metaphysical propositions’ not being verifiable by appeal to observed fact are pseudo-propositions and meaningless, quoted as examples propositions about God, such as the proposition ‘God exists’. To him the proposition ‘God exists’ would seem to mean that there is a being more or less like human beings in respect of his mental powers and dispositions, but having the mental powers of a human being greatly, perhaps infinitely, magnified“.

p. 186. “I have no fear of being contradicted when I say that the meaning I suppose to be attached by this author to the proposition ‘God exists’ is a meaning Christian theologians have never attached to it, and does not even remotely resemble the meaning which with some approach to unanimity they have expounded at considerable length.”

p. 187. “If the proposition that God exists is a metaphysical proposition it must be understood as carrying with it the metaphysical rubric; and as so understood what it asserts is that as a matter of historical fact a certain absolute presupposition, to be hereafter defined, is or has been made by natural science (the reader will bear in mind my limitation of the field) at a certain phase of its history. It further implies that owing to the presence of this presupposition that phase in the history of natural science has or had a unique character of its own, serving to the historical student as evidence that the presupposition is or was made. The question therefore arises: What difference does it make to the conduct of research in natural science whether scientists do or not do not presuppose the existence of God?”

Then Collingwood shows that the metaphysical proposition ‘God Exists’ has played the crucial role in the foundations of classical physics.