Christianity and Science

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.

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4 Responses to “Christianity and Science”


  1. 1 Anton Cleav February 20, 2009 at 4:46 am

    I agree that: “to portray the Christian faith as being at war with science is nonsense.” Although I do concede that there are extremist opinions on both sides of the ‘supposed’ debate. I think that when the final moment in the progression of space, time, evolution, creation – or whatever else you wish to call it – finally occurs, any who might be able to evidence that instant will find that God and the science that He created are in perfect harmony. After all- and in retrospect, a round earth was not such a heresy as some supposed.

  2. 2 Ron Russ March 23, 2011 at 8:00 am

    @Anton,
    This website has a fine analysis of Flat Earth history.

    http://www.veritas-ucsb.org/library/russell/FlatEarth.html

    Ancients had multiple deities, a/o defective philosophies, and
    could not succeed at starting science. When Islam got the ancient knowledge, the concept of the number “0” and thus had a single deity in charge, all things were ready: why didn’t science start under Islam? Great point in this essay! Their deity was too involved- if a process was begun, could the result be expected to be the same? No, it all depended on the will of Allah. What a science stopper.
    No matter how much Islam was ahead of Europe, it was fortunate that Europe was not swallowed up in Islam, for science would not have started (nor would slavery have ever ended.) Ron Russ

  3. 3 Simon December 6, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Thank you for your very interesting article. I enjoy your articles very much. Have you read any of Rudolf Steiner’s works? – he has hundreds of books relating to Christology and spiritual science which bases itself on natural science. Check it out if you haven’t already – a man ahead of his time and a lot of what you say is similar to his ideas.

    ScientistForTruth replies

    Thank you for your encouragement.

    Steiner’s views are a very long way from my own position with regard to Christianity. For example, with respect to Christology (that you mention), Steiner’s view that Christ ‘incarnated’ into the man Jesus at his baptism, so that Jesus was merely a ‘Christ bearer’ is an ancient heresy, roundly condemned by the church. Steiner’s views, in the main, can be described as gnostic. And they are a mish-mash of different religions, including paganism, together with spiritism and clairvoyance. He is certainly not a man ahead of his time: his views are practically indistinguishable from gnosticism and mystery religions of 1800 years ago.

    Here is something that Steiner said in Materialism and the Task of Anthroposophy that is entirely in line with his writing, but anyone can see is completely ‘off the wall’:

    Thus, since the eighties of the nineteenth century, heavenly beings are seeking to enter this earth existence. Just as the Vulcan men were the last to come down to earth, so Vulcan beings are now actually entering this earth existence. Heavenly beings are already here in our earth existence…Since the last third of the nineteenth century, we are actually dealing with the influx of spirit beings from the universe. Initially, these were beings dwelling in the sphere between moon and Mercury, but they are closing in upon earth, so to say, seeking to gain a foothold in earthly life through human beings imbuing themselves with thoughts of spiritual beings in the cosmos…Spirit beings are seeking to come down into earth existence and must be received. Upheaval upon upheaval will ensue, and earth existence will at length arrive at social chaos if these beings descended and human existence were to consist only of opposition against them. For these beings wish to be nothing less than the advance guard of what will happen to earth existence when the moon reunites once again with earth…The beings I have spoken about will descend gradually to the earth. Vulcan beings, Vulcan supermen, Venus supermen, Mercury supermen, sun supermen, and so on will unite themselves with earth existence. Yet, if human beings persist in their opposition to them, this earth existence will pass over into chaos in the course of the next few thousand years.

  4. 4 Nasrudin December 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Peace..
    I want to thank you for your blog ..and your answers to the atheists.I agree that the real problem those people have is their limited definition of science.

    As for this article I can’t judge how was the relation between science and the church since I don’t have enough knowledge about the subject.
    However, I doubt, according to your way of defending your case whether you are in a good position .after all If you have some good arguments you should put it rather than choosing the easy way…comparing church to Islam.

    any way let’s examine your evidences
    you said
    “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’.”

    well , I can say I’m a fan of Imam al Ghazali books, I can say also that Imam al Ghazali did not deny causal relations in nature
    1 because it’s mentioned in the holy Quran.
    2 because muslims (including Imam al Ghazali) use it as an evidence of God existence
    .
    contrary to the dominant opinion among some researchers, the Sunni Islamic school actually did not deny causal relations,
    but rather they denied the “natural deterministic causality”.

    Therefore your deduction here
    “. Therefore the very ideas of established laws of nature and second causes were regarded within Islam as blasphemous”
    has no basis.

    Muslim always have the curiosity and religious motivation to know more about the laws of universe…Allah’s laws of universe.

    You also said
    “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.”

    although I know this is false I’ll give you the chance to cite your resources (I hope they are primary).

    May Allah guide us to the right path.

    ScientistForTruth responds

    Thanks for your comments. I have not claimed that Islam does not believe in causation, but that al-Ghazali taught that causation was by direct intervention of Allah without secondary means and causes. I think what I have summarized of al-Ghazali is completely fair, as I will now demonstrate. Al-Ghazali gives examples, for example he denies that decapitation can be the cause of death, or that a lighted match applied to cotton causes it to burn. Al-Ghazali approaches this by denying necessity, and stating that since Allah can prevent a decapitated man from dying, then he does not die by necessity, therefore decapitation cannot be the cause of death because death only ensues by the will of Allah and by direct intervention. But just to demonstrate that I’m not making this up, as justification for my comment that al-Ghazali’s position is 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” I will now give you exact citations from his work The Incoherence of The Philosophers (albeit in English):

    The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary, according to us…[including] everything observable among connected things in medicine, astronomy, arts, and crafts.

    …The first position of the philosophers is to claim that the agent of the burning is the fire alone, it being an agent by nature and not by choice – hence incapable of refraining from acting according to what is in its nature after contacting a substratum receptive of it. And this is one of the things that we deny.

    The one who enacts the burning in the cotton, causing separation in its parts, and making it ashes, is Allah. As for the fire, which is inanimate, it has no action.

    …They have no proof other than observing the occurrence of burning upon contact with the fire.

    Observation, however, only shows the occurrence of burning at the time of the contact with the fire, but does not show the occurrence of burning by the fire and that there is no other cause for it.

    So, for al-Ghazali, it is not fire that burns and reduces things to ashes, not even by any natural properties that Allah imparts to fire: it is the solely the direct action of Allah. Moreover, what is normally understood as ‘causation’ is merely an illusion of things in temporal and spatial proximity: it is Allah who is the direct cause of every effect. This is what is termed primary causation, and it is a denial of secondary causation, just as I said.

    The second paragraph you object to (i.e. that whatever could not be institutionalized in Islam was rejected) is not dealing with any one writer, so it would be very lengthy to cite primary sources. Moreover, this is a distillation of historical fact, which cannot be drawn from direct quotes from primary sources (the historical development exceeds the length of any lifetime, anyway). A historical reflection such as this would take far more than a few ‘proof texts’ from primary sources, though the case could be made on the basis of many and varied primary sources, but is beyond the scope of this post. If you are interested, you could begin with a study such as Toby Huff’s The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West.


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