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pillars.JPGWestern civilization is built on four pillars: Greek philosophy, Roman law, Christian theology, and modern science. These four pillars have a unifying element that has helped move Western civilization steadily forward, but science—with its exclusive interest in the material and its ability to radically alter how we live—has also become a means of attack by those who want to undermine ethics, society, and faith.

Greek philosophy showed a preference for reason and concern for how to live life well, which accounts for its relevance across the centuries. It was unafraid to call Greek paganism into question—which almost certainly helped make Greece fertile ground for Christian missionaries—and proved surprisingly adept even at theories that in later years would come under the heading of “science” (e.g., Democritus on the composition of physical matter: “The first principles of the universe are atoms and empty space.”).

Roman law focused on social order. It bound together an empire sprawled across three continents by providing both peace to subject nations and the benefits of empire to the ruling class. It continued as the basis of law long after the fall of Rome, from Ethiopia to England as well as in the churches of both East and West.

Christian theology readily draws from both these pillars due to its dual emphasis on the salvation of the soul (individualism, humanism, personal relationship with God) and membership in the mystical body of Christ (hierarchy and communal solidarity). It provides a spiritual and eternal importance to the issues considered by the Greeks and Romans, tending toward an elevation of what has gone before rather than an elimination of it. Particularly in the West, Christian philosophy is based on Aristotle and canon law draws especially from the Code of Justinian.

Modern science, with its exclusive interest in the material, is rightly seen as a counter-balance with Christianity’s emphasis on the spiritual. However, secularists tend to overstate the tension between the two while underestimating the extent to which raw materialism places science at odds with the whole of the Western tradition. For example, where the Greeks understood ethics and human nature as the highest pursuits of their philosophy, the science of psychology has been used to deny both morality and the human soul, turning man into nothing more than an animal and the mind into little more than a machine. This conflict is not essential to modern science. Understood as the pursuit of knowledge in its particular sphere, it has contributed a great deal, but made into an all-encompassing replacement for philosophy, common good, and religion, it has at times become a Frankenstein’s monster.