It is commonly believed that there is a war between modern science and Christianity, but such a view has long been discredited by historians and sociologists. No less a figure than Steven Shapin, Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, notes that
In the late Victorian period it was common to write about the “warfare between science and religion” and to presume that the two bodies of culture must always have been in conflict. However, it is a very long time since these attitudes have been held by historians of science.
Moreover, Gary Ferngren, a professor of history at Oregon State University, adds that
Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour.
It is certain that there is a war between Christianity and atheism, but to portray the Christian faith as being at war with science is nonsense, because the Christian faith pursues, embraces and delights in all truth, since it teaches that all truth is from God. Natural science is simply one aspect of the universe of truth: the truth about the natural world, which God created and upholds. Accordingly, there can never be any truth or fact found by natural science that is inimical to the Christian faith. Neither is there, strictly speaking, such a thing as ‘Christian science’ because such a term implies that truth can be institutionalized, whereas truth is universal, and should be universally disseminated and applied.
From what quarter, then, did false ideas arise about Christianity and science being in opposition? Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University, identifies 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 adds ‘…there is no inherent conflict between religion and science, but…Christian theology was essential for the rise of science.’
What is really going on in our day is that the proponents of atheistic naturalism are redefining science in their own terms, and then using corrupt science forged on their own anvils as propaganda tools and weapons against theists. Denying promotion, resources, funding, equipment, and publishing opportunities to those who will not serve the atheist agenda are now commonplace tactics. It is brazen to the extent that prominent atheist scientists, Nobel laureates among them, openly promote the view that those who believe in God have not the necessary intellectual integrity to be scientists, and so quite openly conspire and lobby for the denigration and expulsion of theists from positions of influence. It is increasingly apparent that the only scientific beliefs being widely promoted today are those that serve the religion of atheism, and airtime and media opportunities are being more and more denied to those whose results, hypotheses and theories will not fall into line with that agenda. All of this can be described as trying to institutionalize science in the service of atheism. The collateral damage, of course, is the destruction of science itself. Thus it is far closer to the truth to state, as Alvin Plantinga has done, that
People like Dawkins hold that there is a conflict between science and religion…the truth of the matter, however, is that the conflict is between science and naturalism, not between science and belief in God…
Because we, like all men, live through times of change, our own perceptions distort the reality that over the last 100 years the rate of scientific and technological advance has slowed dramatically compared to the previous 400 years. Why? Because atheistic naturalism, which has come to dominate the scientific community, is steadily degrading the very basis for scientific endeavour. The reason why the effects of this corrosion have not yet been felt or seen to the degree that might be expected is because of the strength of the foundations laid by Christian principles upon which atheism still depends. But as the rot becomes advanced we can expect the decay and collapse of science to be rapid.
So much in our culture is taken for granted without appreciating the foundation and rationale of its ethics, values and principles of working. Yet whatever one believes about the behaviour of the universe is a matter of faith, including concepts as fundamentally important to scientific pursuit as the existence of laws of nature and of cause and effect. For the Christian, their existence is a matter of revelation; the atheist has no basis for belief in their existence other than blind faith in his own materialist principles; and the Muslim has traditionally denied their existence. The renowned Muslim philosopher al-Ghazali wrote that any observed relationship between cause and effect was merely a delusion, as all actions and phenomena are immediate interventions of Allah without second causes. Therefore the very ideas of established laws of nature and second causes were regarded within Islam as blasphemous, as were the normal scientific questions of ‘how’ and ‘why’, rather than just the ‘what’. It is not difficult to imagine the deadening effect this had on scientific endeavour. How different from the spirit of the Christian reformer, John Calvin, who, in his commentary on Jeremiah, could speak of the creator God ‘who fixed all the laws of nature which remain unchangeable’, and whose ‘faithfulness as to the laws of nature changes not’.
Scientific treatises in Arabic found their way to western Christendom in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Those with a Christian worldview imagined their authors to be masters who must have been held in highest esteem in the societies from which they came. Nothing could be further from the truth: many of them had been in hiding, in exile, pilloried, persecuted, and condemned, and had needed to operate covertly. As Sa’id al’Andalusi had remarked already in the eleventh century, the pursuit of the rational sciences had become a tainted and dangerous exercise in the Muslim world. For three hundred years Islam was a minority religion in the Arabic-speaking world, when many of the best scientists were neither Arabs nor Muslims, but merely wrote in Arabic, the lingua franca. But a dominant Islam tolerated only those studies that could be put to the service of its religion, principally medicine, arithmetic (for dividing inheritances), astronomy and geometry (for calculating times and directions for prayers). What we today term the natural sciences were branded the ‘foreign sciences’ by Muslims, and were not taught in the madrasas. Philosophy, logic and the natural sciences, insofar as they were not in the service of strictly religious matters, were deprecated and variously described as ‘useless’, ‘ungodly’, ‘repudiated’, ‘forbidden’, and ‘unbelief’. Whatever could not be institutionalized was rejected.
If science could not be taught in the Islamic world, neither could it easily be disseminated because the printing press was resisted by Islam until well into the nineteenth century, and possession of printed material was banned from as early as 1485. In fact, the first mass-produced material printed in Arabic in the Arab-speaking world was the Bible – on a press imported into Beirut by American missionaries in the mid-nineteenth century, four hundred years after the widespread use of printing in the Christian world.
Toby Huff succinctly sums the matter up with respect to the necessary conditions for science to flourish:
Insofar as science is concerned, individuals must be conceived to be endowed with reason, the world must be thought to be a rational and consistent whole, and various levels of representation, participation, and discourse must be available. It is precisely here that one finds the great weaknesses of Arabic-Islamic civilization as an incubator of modern science.
Islam was defective on all three counts, and the parallels with atheism are too close to be overlooked. Of the three necessary conditions that Huff identifies, the first two are articles of the Christian faith (cf. Westminster Confession of Faith Chapters IV and V), which atheism has no reason to believe, and the third, which atheists are desperately attempting to restrict, is a product uniquely of Christian ethics and society. The prognosis for science in the hands of atheists is not promising, and Christians will eventually need to rescue science from the trashing that atheists are giving it.