Christianity traces its origins to over two thousand years ago. The era in which it began was extraordinarily different than modern times. This has proved to be an evolving issue that Christianity, specifically Catholicism, must adapt to. The development of modern science has particularly tested Christianity; so, have Enlightenment and postmodernism ideas. The Church has had to reshape and redefine many aspects of the religion.
The scientific revolution challenged many ideas and theories stated in the bible and upheld by the church. One of the first challenges the Church faced was the heliocentric theory proposed by Nicholas Copernicus and Galileo Galilee. The two astronomers studied the stars and proposed solid evidence to support their theory. However, the bible states that the universe is in a geocentric model. The Catholic Church deemed the heliocentric model as heretical. This caused both Copernicus and Galilee to be excommunicated from the Church. Later, John Paul II stated that the bible has boundaries; the bible is not meant to teach science and science is not meant to teach theology; therefore, affirming Copernicus and Galilee’s theory. Sr. Isaac Newton’s new science also tests Christianity by explaining events in nature through mathematical laws. This essentially removed God from the universe. God was no longer responsible for the universe’s perfect balance or for events in, what is now considered, physics. The Church recognize the validity of the laws and provided a defense by declaring that the laws were in such perfect equilibrium because God intended for them to be that way. This allowed for God to once again be part of the physical events in world. One of the largest scientific disputes that continues to present times is the dispute over the theory of evolution. Charles Darwin challenged two Christian beliefs. One theory was the theory that humans descended from more primitive organisms. This theory contradicted Genisis. Genisis states that God created humans and they are decedents of Adam and Eve. One defense the Catholic Church provided was the defense that Pope John Paul II provided for the heliocentric debate; the bible is not intended to teach science. Another defense that the church provided was that the human body was descended from primitive organisms, but the human spirit was created by God. The other belief that Darwin challenged was the age of the world. Darwin claimed that the world is older than what is stated in Genisis. Again, the Church stated that the bible was not intended to teach scientific theories. To this day there is still a debate over whether or not evolution should be taught in schools. The new developments in science challenged many Christian beliefs. These controversies caused many scientists to hold back the publishing of their scientific findings due to fear of excommunication from the Church. Pope John Paul II allowed for more scientific findings to be more widely accepted. The debate between science and the bible caused many people to question their faith and reject Christianity due to their acceptance of scientific theories. Today the Church is more accepting of new scientific findings therefore allowing more people to believe in science and Christianity.
Christianity particularly struggled during the Enlightenment period. This period spun off from the excitement of the scientific revolution. The period was marked by skepticisms and rationalism brought about by the rational thinking of the scientific felid. The success of new scientific thinkers caused people to begin to turn to reason and science for the answer their hard questions. Scientific reasoning concluded that nature was controlled by the mathematical laws discovered by Isaac Newton during the scientific revolution. Due to these reasonable, easy to understand scientific laws, rational thinkers concluded that there was no other way to achieve an understanding of truth and reality without reason. There was no need look towards supernatural beings in order to understand the universe, morality, or human nature. Therefore, Enlightenment thinkers promoted a religion that more simplistic, analytical, and that did not enlist the help of supernatural beings. They saw Jesus as just mealy a moral teacher not the Son of God. Voltaire went as far as to deny any supernatural aspect of Christianity. The critical skepticism of the thinkers put a strain on the Church. The Church had to defend Jesus as the Son of God, his miracle actions, and his resurrection from the dead. Rationalists saw Christianity as an obstacle in human progression due to its ignorance and repressive authority. The religious authorities during the period were seen as though they took away personal freedom. Therefore, Enlightenment thinkers were opposed to priests and the clergy due to their oppressive nature. Marquis Condorcet, an Enlightenment thinker, believed that the future would bring three things; national equality, individual equality and freedom, and the perfection of humans. He also believed that humans are inherently good. The idea that original sin did not taint human nature was a common belief during the Enlightenment period. Humans, rather, diminished their nature through ignorance, superstition, and political tyranny. Humans could overcome these evils by education, skepticism, and dogmatic religion. However, some individuals in France took the Enlightenment ideals to the extreme. These radicals revolted against and killed the monarchy. They also attempted to replace Christianity with an Enlightenment religion. Edmund Burke believed that after the French revolution, the Enlightenment movement cause for the destruction of tradition and values. A Catholic response to Enlightenment was the romantic movement. This defense claimed that reason alone could not be the only avenue to the understanding of everything in the universe. There needed to by mystery, beauty, and wonder in the world; all things that rationalism lacked. The romantic movement can be seen through its large impact on the fine arts. Another reason rationalism was tested was the brutal wars that occurred in the twentieth centry. These wars caused people to doubt the inherent goodness in humanity. Though Enlightenment ideals were disputed, two Enlightenment ideals remain to the present day; the power that the government possesses is from those who are governed, and the importance of individual rights. In the west, Enlightenment increase the number of atheists and the acceptance of atheists. The toleration and persistence of atheists still can be felt to this day.
Postmodernism is another movement that sparked a debate within the Church. Postmodernism is derived from modernism. The movement consisted of the recognition of the boundaries of reason and science. A prominent belief was nihilism. Nihilism was the belief of extreme skepticism and the belief that values are worthless. The rejection of values meant that there was a rejection of religion especially Christianity. Nietzsche, a postmodern thinker, claimed that Christianity promoted a slave morality of Christians. This slave morality caused for the downfall of humanity. Following Nietzsche was the philosopher Jacques Derrida. Derrida developed a way of reading texts called deconstruction.