In this and future posts we will show that the rise of modern science was entirely reliant on Christian theology. That modern science arose in Western Europe at the zenith of its Christian influence is incontrovertible; but this correlation is insufficient in itself to imply a causal relation (that’s the correlation fallacy highlighted in former posts). We note that wherever flickerings of science have appeared elsewhere (e.g. in Muslim, Chinese, Indian, ancient Greek and Persian cultures) they have never got any traction in the long term, and it was only in Christian societies that science took root and flourished. But this observation, though adding circumstantial evidence, doesn’t get to the heart of why Christian theology is so important for science. In this post we will touch on some of the reasons why Christian theology was necessary for modern science. Future posts will deal with the failure of other religions and worldviews (including atheism) to give birth to or sustain science, and why such worldviews ultimately destroy true science.
Modern atheistic science is arrogant that it alone holds the key to real scientific endeavour. We must realize that, in the scale of things, atheists have only been taken seriously in science for less than a century. But that’s long enough to see the fruits of their destruction of science, which they merely snatched from Christianity and could never have developed themselves. To give a historical corollary, Islam also stole the clothes of the more advanced civilizations it subjugated, and some sort of science guttered within Islam for some centuries before they burned it out. Likewise, atheism will extinguish real science, and it will need to be recovered one day from the smouldering ruins by bold Christian scholars.
Rodney Stark, Professor of the Social Sciences, and former Professor of Sociology and Comparative Religion, reminds us that
…the claim of an inevitable and bitter warfare between religion and science has, for more than three centuries, been the primary polemical device used in the atheist attack on faith. From Thomas Hobbes through Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, false claims about religion and science have been used as weapons in the battle to “free” the human mind from the “fetters of faith”…
Stark agues that
…there is no inherent conflict between religion and science, but…Christian theology was essential for the rise of science…[T]he leading figures in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries overwhelmingly were devout Christians who believed it their duty to comprehend God’s handiwork. [italics original]
Turning to an assessment of the so-called Enlightenment, Stark notes that it was
…conceived initially as a propaganda ploy by militant atheists and humanists who attempted to claim credit for the rise of science. The falsehood that science required the defeat of religion was proclaimed by such self-appointed cheerleaders as Voltaire, Diderot, and Gibbon, who themselves played no part in the scientific enterprise – a pattern that continues.
When we speak of science, we differentiate it from technology. With a Christian heritage these go very much hand-in-hand, but it was not always so. Technology has been developed in all sorts of cultures without reference to Christian theology or science. But technology does not answer the questions why or how. There are many practical reasons why technology is encouraged (often military), and many technologies have been discovered serendipitously. But in non-Christian worldviews, the questions why or how have been regarded as unimportant (Chinese culture) or blasphemous (Islamic culture). Yet science – the method of organized effort to formulate explanations of natural phenomena – is a tremendous driver for technology, which explains why Christian society in the Middle Ages pulled ahead and left other cultures behind, such as Chinese and Islamic, who had superior technology, but no formal scientific method.
The foundations on which modern science arose, which were essential to its development, are manifold. Here are a few of the Christian distinctives that gave birth to and underpin modern science:
1. A linear view of time and history for this universe: there is a beginning (Creation); a pivotal centre (the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ); and an end (Second Coming).
2. The universe is not eternal or cyclical.
3. The universe was not necessary, and a universe that was not necessary, but has been created, must exist for a reason. A necessary universe does not arouse curiosity. Since, being not necessary, the universe could have been created in a different form, there must be reasons why it exists in its present form.
4. Neither man, nor tradition, has ultimate authority.
5. There is one, creator God, transcendent and not part of his creation.
6. Division between natural and supernatural. The natural world is not made in the image of God. Man is not a reflection of the natural world but is made in the image of God; the image of God in man is supernatural.
7. A rational God, who has created a rational universe amenable to rational investigation. Man, made in God’s image, is rational and capable of understanding a rational creation.
8. The universe is subject to law.
9. The incarnation: God entered the natural realm in the person of Jesus Christ, who took natural flesh to his (supernatural) divine nature.
10. The possibility of ‘thinking God’s thoughts after him’ (Kepler); having ‘the mind of Christ’, and the witness of the Holy Spirit.
11. The Bible conferred a consistent worldview in which scientists could discuss univocally and with the same presuppositions.
12. Motive: honest and thorough exploration of God’s creation brings glory to him.