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Have Christian’s been anti-scientific?

Many sociologists and historians have argued that the worldview most responsible for the birth of modern science was Christianity. Why is that? There were some scientific discoveries in the non-Christian world, such as in ancient Greece and throughout the middle-ages in Islam countries, but these were mostly advances in technology and few and far apart. There is however nothing comparable to the scientific revolution that took hold in Western Europe in the 16th Century. What explains this rapid advance and increase in scientific discoveries? What makes Western Europe in the 16th Century different to anywhere else?

C.S. Lewis, 1898 – 1963, “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. [1]

Medieval philosophers and theologians laid the groundwork before the scientific revolution. Here is a sample of two well-known theologians from many.

Augustine, 354-430Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that? Why, heaven and earth shout to you: “God made me!” [2]

Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274Since human beings are said to be in the image of God in virtue of their having a nature that includes an intellect, such a nature is most in the image of God in virtue of being most able to imitate God; [3]Only in rational creatures is there found a likeness of God which counts as an image .. As far as a likeness of the divine nature is concerned, rational creatures seem somehow to attain a representation of [that] type in virtue of imitating God not only in this, that he is and lives, but especially in this, that he understands. [4]

Because of this groundwork, an intellectual milieu arose which made the scientific revolution possible. The revolution breaks out in the 16th Century because Christians were convinced:

  1. That the universe was created by God,
  2. That because human beings are created in God’s image we can understand the universe;
  3. That learning about the creation tells us something about the creator; and
  4. That understanding the universe is a form of worship.

There were other factors, of course. These other factors include the development of the printing press, eye-glasses, periods of relative peace, contact with Islam which preserved ancient writings of Greek thinkers, the Protestant reformation that breaks with tradition and invigorates debate. So Christian belief was not sufficient for the scientific revolution, but it was a necessary one, for it alone could provide the following foundational, key elements.

  • Intelligibility, for if the universe is not fundamentally rational, then you’re not going spend years of your life trying to understand its laws. There would be no laws to understand. It would be an irrational universe.
  • Capability, for if humans aren’t capable of understanding the universe, why waste you time trying to understand it. You can’t understand the irrational.
  • Desirability, for if it’s not good to understand the universe, why would you want to? There would be no motivation to get you started on the right track.

Below you will find many quotes, in historical order, of the great scientific innovators, speaking in their own words, giving an account of these three elements.

Some atheistic thinkers have claimed that their Christian beliefs were irrelevant. For instance, Michael Shermer, the long-time editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine, says that one might as well claim that all the great art in medieval Europe was done by Christians, or they they were all dog owners.[2] The claim is that their theistic, specifically Christian, beliefs were incidental to their scientific work, rather than foundational. After hearing the scientists speak for themselves, it is difficult not to conclude that these atheists have failed to actually listen to the argument and truely evaluated the available historical evidence.

Footnotes:

  1. C. S. Lewis goes on, “In most modern scientists this belief has died: it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it. Two significant developments have already appeared—the hypothesis of a lawless sub-nature, and the surrender of the claim that science is true. We may be living nearer than we suppose to the end of the Scientific Age.’” Lewis, C.S., Miracles: a preliminary study, Collins, London, p. 110, 1947.
  2. Augustine, De Civit. Dei, Book XVI
  3. Aquinas, Ia q.93 a. 4
  4. Aquinas, Ia q. 93 a.6
  5. See this debate with Michael Shermer and David Wood, https://youtu.be/PMWKm40-dnM?t=1807, for Wood’s response see https://youtu.be/PMWKm40-dnM?t=3048.

Quotes

Nicolaus Copernicus, 1473-1543

“To know the mighty works of God. To comprehend his wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate in degree, the wonderful workings of his laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the most high, to whom ignorance cannot be more gratifying that knowledge.”

Mathematician, Astronomer; formulated the Copernican model of the solar system.

Tycho Brache, 1546-1601

“Those who study the stars have God for a teacher.”

Last of the “naked-eye” astronomers, compiled the astronomical data that would later be used by Johannes Kepler.

Giordano Bruno, 1548-1600

“Thus is the excellence of God magnified and the greatness of his kingdom made manifest; He is glorified not in one, but in countless suns: not in a single earth, a single world, but in a thousand and thousand, I say in an infinity of worlds.”

Mathematician astronomer, Dominican friar; first to recognise that stars are distant suns with their own planets.

Francis Bacon, 1561-1626.

“A little philosophy inclines man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy brings men’s minds to religion.”

Philosopher, Scientist, Father of empiricism; Philosophical pioneer of the scientific method.

Galileo Galilei, 1564-1642.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use. When I reflect on so many profoundly marvellous things that persons have grasped, sought, and done I recognise even more clearly that human intelligence is a work of God, and one the most excellent.”

Father of modern observational astronomy.

Johannes Kepler, 1571-1630.

“Our piety is the deeper, the greater is our awareness of creation and its grandeur. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it befits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”

Mathematician, astronomer; best known for his laws of planetary motion.

William Harvey, 1578-1657

“The examination of the bodies of animals has always been my delight: and I have thought that we might thence not only obtain an insight into the lighter mysteries of nature, but there perceive a kind of image or reflex of the omnipotent creator himself.”

Physician; first to fully describe blood circulation in humans.

Rene Descartes, 1596-1650

“I see plainly that certainty and truth of all knowledge depends uniquely on my awareness of the true God. To such an extent that I was incapable of perfect knowledge about anything else until I became aware of him.”

Mathematician, Philosopher, scientist: Father of modern philosophy, Father of analytic geometry; wrote early texts on optics, anatomy and psychology.

Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662.

“There are two kinds of people one can call reasonable: those who serve God with all their heart because they know him, and those who seek him with all their heart because they do not know him.”

Mathematician, physicist, philosopher, inventor; Pioneer of probability theory.

Robert Boyle, 1627-1691.

“The vastness, beauty, and orderliness of heavenly bodies: the excellent structure of animals and plants: and other phenomena of nature justly induce an intelligent, unprejudiced observer to conclude a supreme, powerful, just and good author. In the book nature, as in a well-contrived romance, the parts have such a connection and relation to one another, and the things we can discover are so darkly and incompletely knowable by those who perceive them, that the mind is never satisfied until it comes to the end of the book.”

Father of modern Chemistry. Pioneer of the experimental method.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, 1632-1723.

“It is to be hopes the enquirers into natures works by searching deeper and deeper into hidden mysteries will more and more place the discoveries of the truth before the eyes of all so as to produce aversion to the errors of former times, which all those who love the truth ought diligently to aim at. For we cannot in any better manner glorify the Lord and creator of the universe than that, in all things, how small forever they appear to our naked eyes, which yet have received the gift of life and power of increase, we contemplate the display of his omniscience and perfections with the utmost admiration.”

Father of microbiology; first scientist to observe and describe microorganisms.

Isaac Newton, 1643-1727.

“Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors.”

Physicist, Mathematician; discovered calculus: Most famous for his three laws of motion: Considered by many to be the greatest scientist in history.

Carl Linnaeus, 1707-1778.

“Theologically, man is to be understood as the final purpose of the creation, placed on the globe as the masterpiece of the works of omnipotence, contemplating the world by virtue of sapient reason, forming conclusions by means of his senses. It is in his works that man recognises the almightily creator, the all-knowing, immeasurable and eternal God, learning to live morally under his rule.”

Physician, botanist, zoologist: Father of modern taxonomy, pioneer of modern ecology.

Joseph Priestly, 1733-1804.

“The mind of man will never be able to contemplate the being, perfections, and providence of God without meeting with inexplicable difficult ties. … If any person, discouraged by these difficulties, should think to relieve himself by rejecting all religion, natural and revealed, he will find if he reflect at all, that he has miserably deceived himself, and that he is involved in greater perplexity than ever.”

Chemist, philosopher, theologian: credited with discovering oxygen, wrote texts on electricity, conductivity, and optics.

Edward Jenner, 1749-1823.

“I am not surprised that men are thankful, to me, but I wonder that they are grateful to God for the good which he has made me the instrument of conveying to my fellow creatures.”

Physician, father of immunology: Developed first vaccine (vs. smallpox): saved more lives than any other human being in history.

John Dalton, 1766-1844.

“I’m a quaker.”

Chemist, meteorologist, physicist: pioneer of modern atomic theory, formulated law of partial pressures known as Dalton’s Law.

Michael Faraday, 1791-1867.

“The book of nature which we have to read is written by the finger of God.”

Physicist, chemist, inventor: Father of electromagnetism: discovered benzene: the “Farad” (unit of capacitance) names for him.

John William Draper, 1811-1882.

“Religion must relinquish that imperious, that domineering position which she has so long maintained against science.”

James Joule, 1818-1889.

“It is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.”

Physicist: Pioneer of thermodynamics: the “Joule”” (a unit of energy) is names after him.

Gregor Mendel, father of modern Genetics; formulated what are known as Mendel’s laws of inheritance. Also an Augustinian friar.

Louis Paseur, 1822-1895.

“Posterity will one day laugh at the foolishness of modern materialistic philosophers, the more I sudy nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the creator, I pray while I am engaged at my work in the laboratory.”

Chemist, microbiologist: Pioneer of bacteriology.

Lord Kelvin, 1824-1907.

“I believe that the most thoroughly science is studied, the further does it take us from anything comparable to atheism.”

Engineer, inventor, physicist: Pioneer of thermodynamics: the “Kelvin Scale” of absolute temperatures is named after him.

James Clerk Maxwell, 1831-1879.

“I think that men of science as well as other man need to learn from Christ, and I think that Christians whose minds are scientifically are bound to study science that this view of the glory of God may be as extensive as their being is capable of.”

Physicist: Pioneer of electromagnetism: His equations rank alongside those of newton and Einstein in significance.

Andrew Dickson White, 1832-1918.

“There was borne in upon me a sense of the real difficulty – the antagonism between the theological and scientific view of the universe and of education in relation to it.” –

Thomas Edison, 1847-1931.

“I do not believe in the God of the theologians: but that there is a supreme intelligence I do not doubt.”

Inventor holding more than 1000 U.S. Patents.

Nikola Tesla, 1856-1943.

“The gift of mental power comes from God, divine being, and it we concentrate out minds on that truth, we become in tune with this great power.”

Engineer, Physicist, inventor; The “Tesla” (Unit of Magnetic flux density) is names after him.

Max Planck, 1858-1947.

“Religion and natural science are fighting a joint battle in an incessant, never relaxing crusade against scepticism and against dogmatism, against disbelief and against superstition, and the rallying cry in this crusade has always been, and always will be: ‘on to God!’”

Physicist: Pioneer of quantum theory: won the 1918 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Albert Einstein, 1879-1955.

“In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for support of such views.”

Physicist: Developed the General theory of relativity and the worlds most famous equation.

Niels Bohr, 1885-1962.

“The fact that religions through the ages have spoken in images, parable, and paradoxes means simply that there are no other ways of grasping the reality to which they refer. But that does not mean that it not a genuine realty.”

Physicist, philosopher: Won the 1922 Nobel Prize for his research on the structure of atoms.

Werner Heisenberg, 1901-1976.

“Where no guiding ideals are left to point the way, the scale of values disappears and with it the meaning of our deeds and sufferings, and at the end can lie only negation and despair. Religion is therefore the foundation of ethics, and ethics the presupposition of life.”

Physicist: Best known for his uncertainty principle: Won the 1932 Nobel Prize in physics “for the creation of Quantum Mechanics.”

Maurice Wilkins, 1916-2004.

“The connections between religion and science have been very big in the history of science. … In other times one could see very clearly the connections between science and religion as, for example in the seventeenth century with the rise of Protestantism.” –

Molecular Biologist, physicist: Shared the 19762 Nobel Prize with Watson and Crick for his contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA.

Anro Penzias, 1933-

“Astronomy leads us to a unique event. A universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say “supernatural”) plan.”

Astronomer, physicist: Discovered the cosmic Microwave background radiation that supported the Big Bang Model: Won the 1978 Nobel Prize in physics.

Lawrence Principe, 1962-

“The idea that scientific and religion camps have historically been separate and antagonistic is rejected by all modern historians of science.”

Professor of the history of science, medicine, and technology at John Hopkins University.

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