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What really interested me, however, is the concluding essay, in which Needham speculates why science never developed in China. And it is a mystery, one that many scholars have pondered. China's civilization had thousands of years of stable government. And it has a tradition that venerated scholars. China also had a history of many interesting inventions and engineers. Certainly, all the factors seemed lined up to aid in the blossoming of scince.
Yet science, not just mere technology, real science, with its organized effort to explain and understand nature, with its interest in abstract subjects and its testing of theories, only developed in the west. Why?
Needham suggests it was the way the Chinese viewed time. Across the entire of the western ancient world, as well as India and China, time was viewed as a great wheel, with one golden age with great technologies succeeded by a fallen era, when idea would be lost. Then the golden age would reappear, with all the same technologies.
What the west had was Christianity, which posited a time which was not a wheel, but which progressed. Christ, after all, came in historical time.
Alfred North Whitehead placed the reason the west developed science on Christian theology. This is what he stated: "There seems but one source...It must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God...Every detail was supervised and ordered; the search in to nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality".
From the very start, as shown in such Christian theologians as Tertullian and Augustine, Christians argued that there was a truth. Truth was God. And the truth could be discovered by rationality.Science in Traditional China : a comparative perspective Overview
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