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“In Augustine’s influential view, then, knowledge of the things of this world is not a legitimate end in itself, but as a means to other ends it is indispensable. The classical sciences must accept a subordinate position as the handmaiden of theology and religion—the temporal serving the eternal. The knowledge contained in classical sciences is not to be loved, but it may legitimately be used. . . .
“Does endowing scientific knowledge with handmaiden status constitute a serious blow against scientific progress? Are the critics of the early church right in viewing it as the opponent of genuine science? I would like to make three points in reply.
(1) It is certainly true that the fathers of the early Christian church did not view support of the classical sciences as a major obligation. These sciences had low priority for the church fathers, for whom the major concerns were (quite properly) the establishment of Christian doctrine, defense of the faith, and the edification of believers.
But (2), low or medium priority was far from zero priority. Throughout the Middle Ages and well into the modern period the handmaiden formula was employed countless times to justify the investigation of nature. Indeed, some of the most celebrated achievements of the Western scientific tradition were made by religious scholars who justified their labors (at least in part) by appeal to the handmaiden formula.
(3) No institution or cultural force of the patristic period offered more encouragement for the investigation of nature than did the Christian church. Contemporary pagan culture was no more favorable to disinterested speculation about the cosmos than was Christian culture. It follows that the presence of the Christian church enhanced, rather than damaged, the development of the natural sciences.”
— David C. Lindberg in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, ed. Ronald L. Numbers, 16, 17.