The Big Question 17: Is Christianity Responsible for Holding Back Education Throughout History?
Sep 15, 2021 40
Yes, I’ve heard some people say that Christianity has been responsible for holding back knowledge and learning throughout history. It’s a rather recent complaint against Christianity, because in the past, people knew their history better.
In fact, no single group in human history has contributed more to education than Christians have.
The university is generally regarded as an institution that has its origins in Christianity. All of the universities in Europe were Christian institutions until modern times. One hundred of the first universities founded in the USA had Christian foundations.
One of the reasons why Christianity has led in the area of education has been its emphasis on the written word of the Bible. Christians invented the idea of the book, as we know it today. And that’s why Christianity has, from its beginnings, emphasised the importance of literacy. This, together with the Protestant Reformation, were key factors in the invention of the printing press.
Many of the world’s languages were first set to writing by Christian missionaries in order for people to read the Bible. Christians have also been responsible for the development of both private and public libraries in Western society, which had a huge impact on the development of learning and culture.
Has Christianity been responsible for holding back education?
I know that today there’s all sorts of debates about whether religion should have any role at all in public schools. However, the reality is that the idea of universal education, and of the public school system was a Christian idea to start with. Christians were also responsible for championing the education of women at a time when education was usually only for men.
You might also be surprised to know that Christianity has been the inspiration and even the source of modern science, from its beginning. Why? Because Christians believed that God created the universe according to natural laws, in an orderly and rational way, and so to study the natural world was to admire the work of God. And this was close to a religious duty!
That’s why it was their Christian faith that led Copernicus to conclude that the sun, and not the earth, was at the centre of the universe; that led Johannes Kepler to discover the nature of the solar system; and that resulted in James Clerk Maxwell reducing electromagnetism to a set of elegant equations.
I’d recommend some more education in the history of and influences on western civilisation. Then people might not be so quick to say that Christianity is responsible for holding back knowledge.