Science And The Bible

Most people would be astonished to find out that science actually developed from a biblical worldview. Yet, the facts show that early scientists realized there was order in nature since a God of creation made the created order based on laws that governed the universe. It was that belief that spurred them on to discover the laws that the Creator had embedded within nature. The following articles describe that historic progression of the field of science.

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The Biblical Roots of Modern Science

A Christian worldview, and in particular a plain understanding of Scripture and Adam’s Fall, wasessential for the rise of modern science.

by Jonathan Sarfati


This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently revisedto appear in Creation 32(4):32–36.

Portrait by Godfrey Kneller, Wikipedia.org

Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727)

Many atheopaths1 and their compromising churchian allies claim that biblical belief and science are mortal enemies. Yethistorians of science, even non-Christians, have pointed out that modernscience first flourished under a Christian world view while it was stillborn inother cultures such as ancient Greece, China and Arabia. The historical basisof modern science depended on the assumption that the universe was made by arational Creator. An orderly universe makes perfect sense only if it were madeby an orderly Creator (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33). For example, evolutionary anthropologist and science writerLoren Eiseley stated:

‘The philosophy ofexperimental science … began its discoveries and made use of its methods in thefaith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universecontrolled by a creator who did not act upon whim nor interfere with the forcesHe had set in operation… It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of historythat science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes itsorigins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, andthat science today is sustained by that assumption.’2

But if atheism or polytheism is true, then thereis no way to deduce from these belief systems that the universe is (or shouldbe) orderly.

Furthermore, Genesis1:28 gives us permission to investigate creation,unlike say animism or pantheism which teach that the creation itself is divine.And since God is sovereign, He was free to create as He pleased. So where theBible is silent, the only way to find out how His creation works is toexperiment, rather than to rely on man-made philosophies, as did the ancientGreeks. So no wonder that sociologist and author Rodney Stark affirmed:

“Science was not thework of western secularists or even deists; it was entirely the work of devoutbelievers in an active, conscious, creator God.”3

Furthermore, sciencerequires that we can think rationally, and that results should be reportedhonestly, more teachings found in the Bible but do not follow fromevolutionism.4

Science in the Middle Ages

While this period usedto be called the “Dark Ages”, responsible historians recognize that it was farfrom dark. Rather, it was a period of great scientific advances, stemming fromthe logical thought patterns of the medieval Scholastic philosophers of theChurch, and the extensive inventiveness and mechanical ingenuity developed inthe monasteries. Small wonder that this period saw the development of water andwind power, spectacles, magnificent architecture, the blast furnace, and thestirrup.5

“As strange as it may sound, science will forever be in the debtof millenarians and biblical literalists”—Stephen Snobelen, Assistant Professorof History of Science and Technology, University of King’s College, Halifax,Canada

An enormous advance inphysical understanding was 14th-century logician John Buridan’s development ofthe concept of impetus, essentially the sameas the modern concept of momentum. Previously,Aristotle’s followers argued that a moving object required a force to keep itmoving, but Buridan proposed:

“…after leaving the armof the thrower, the projectile would be moved by an impetus given to it by thethrower and would continue to be moved as long as the impetus remained strongerthan the resistance, and would be of infinite duration were it not diminishedand corrupted by a contrary force resisting it or by something inclining it toa contrary motion.”

This is a forerunner of Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion.

So it’s not surprising that James Hannam, whorecently earned a Ph.D. on the History of Science from the University ofCambridge, UK, pointed out:

“During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church actively supported agreat deal of science, which it also kept control of when speculation couldimpinge on theology. Furthermore and contrary to popular belief, the Churchnever supported the idea that the earth was flat, never banned humandissection, never banned zero and certainly never burnt anyone at the stake forscientific ideas.”

“Popular opinion,journalistic cliché and misinformed historians notwithstanding, recent researchhas shown that the Middle Ages were a period of enormous advances in science,technology and culture. The compass, paper, printing, stirrups and gunpowderall appeared in Western Europe between AD 500 and AD 1500.”6

Scientific jump after the Reformation

While Europe in theMiddle Ages had a Judeo-Christian world view, it took the Reformation torecover specific biblical authority. With this came the recovery of a plain or historical grammatical understandingof the Bible, recovering the understanding of the New Testament authors and most of the early Church Fathers.This turned out to have a huge positive impact on the development of modernscience. This is so counter to common (mis)understanding, yet it is welldocumented by Peter Harrison, then a professor of history and philosophy atBond University in Queensland, Australia (and one-time Andreas Idreos Professorof Science and Religion at the University of Oxford):

“It is commonly supposedthat when in the early modern period individuals began to look at the world ina different way, they could no longer believe what they read in the Bible. Inthis book I shall suggest that the reverse is the case: that when in thesixteenth century people began to read the Bible in a different way, they foundthemselves forced to jettison traditional conceptions of the world.”7

As Prof. Harrison explained:

“Strange as it may seem,the Bible played a positive role in the development of science. …

Had it not been for therise of the literal interpretation of the Bible and the subsequentappropriation of biblical narratives by early modern scientists, modern sciencemay not have arisen at all. In sum, the Bible and its literal interpretationhave played a vital role in the development of Western science.”8

Stephen Snobelen,Assistant Professor of History of Science and Technology, University of King’sCollege, Halifax, Canada, writes in a similar vein, and also explains thesomewhat misleading term “literal interpretation”:

Responsible historians recognize that the period that used to becalled the “Dark Ages” was far from dark.

“Here is a finalparadox. Recent work on early modern science has demonstrated a direct (andpositive) relationship between the resurgence of the Hebraic, literal exegesisof the Bible in the Protestant Reformation, and the rise of the empiricalmethod in modern science. I’m not referring to wooden literalism, but thesophisticated literal-historical hermeneutics that Martin Luther and others(including Newton) championed.”9

And Prof. Snobelenexplains the reason why: scientists started to study nature in the same waythey studied the Bible. I.e. just as they studied what the Bible really said,rather than imposed outside philosophies and traditions upon it, they likewisestudied how nature really did work, rather than accept philosophical ideas about how it should work (extending theirallegorizing readings of Scripture to the natural world8).

“It was, in part, whenthis method was transferred to science, when students of nature moved on from studyingnature as symbols, allegories and metaphors to observing nature directly in aninductive and empirical way, that modern science was born. In this, Newton alsoplayed a pivotal role. As strange as it may sound, science will forever be inthe debt of millenarians and biblical literalists.”9

Belief in the Fall of Adam: how it inspiredscience

Image Wikipedia.org

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon (1561–1626)

Prof. Harrison hasresearched another commonly overlooked factor in the development of science:belief in a literal Fall of a literal first man Adam. These founding modernscientists, including Francis Bacon,reasoned that the Fall not only destroyed man’s innocence, but also greatlyimpaired his knowledge. The first problem was remedied by the innocent Last Adam, Jesus Christ—Hissacrifice enabled our sin to be imputed (credited) to Him (Isaiah 53:6), andHis perfect life enabled His righteousness to be imputed to believers in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).But as for recovering what they believed to be Adam’s encyclopedic knowledge,they looked to science. Harrison explains:

“New [sic] literal readings of thecreation narratives in Genesis provided 17th century thinkers with powerfulmotivating images for pursuing the natural sciences.

“Adam was thought tohave possessed a perfect knowledge of all sciences, a knowledge lost toposterity when he fell from grace and was expelled from the Garden of Eden. Thegoal of 17th century scientists such as Francis Bacon and his successors in theRoyal Society of London was to regain the scientific knowledge of the firstman. Indeed, for these individuals, the whole scientific enterprise was anintegral part of a redemptive enterprise that, along with the Christianreligion, was to help restore the original race to its original perfection. Thebiblical account of the creation thus provided these scientists with animportant source of motivation, and in an age still thoroughly committed totraditional Christianity, the new science was to gain social legitimacy onaccount of these religious associations.”8

“For many champions ofthe new learning in the seventeenth century, the encyclopaedic knowledge ofAdam was the benchmark against which their own aspirations were gauged. …

“The experimentalapproach, I shall argue, was deeply indebted to Augustinian views about thelimitations of human knowledge in the wake of the Fall, and thus inductiveexperimentalism can also lay claim to a filial relationship with the traditionof Augustinianism.”10

Objection

Some atheopaths admit that science was in effecta child of Christianity, but now claim that it’s time science grew up and cutthe apron strings. However, none other than former UK Prime Minister MargaretThatcher answered that type of claim:

“I think back to manydiscussions in my early life when we all agreed that if you try to take thefruits of Christianity without its roots, the fruits will wither. And they willnot come again unless you nurture the roots.

“But we must not professthe Christian faith and go to Church simply because we want social reforms andbenefits or a better standard of behaviour; but because we accept the sanctityof life, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrificeof Christ expressed so well in the hymn:

“‘When I survey thewondrous Cross, On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count butloss, And pour contempt on all my pride.’”11

Summary

·        Atheopaths oftendisparage the Bible, especially its account of creation. Yet …

·        Science requires certainpresuppositions to work at all, and these are found in the Bible.

·        Europe in the MiddleAges, with its general Christian world view, advanced greatly in science andtechnology.

·        The Reformation, withits emphasis on the authority of Scripture and a historical-grammaticalunderstanding, led to a great leap forward in science as such methods werecarried over into the study of nature.

·        Belief in a literalfirst man Adam and his Fall inspired science as a means to rediscover knowledgeAdam had before the Fall.

·        It is futile to expectcontinued fruits of the scientific enterprise while undermining the roots inbiblical Christianity.


References

1.     Leading misotheist Richard Dawkins often callstheistic religion a ‘virus of the mind’, which would make it a kind of diseaseor pathology, and parents who teach it to their kids are, in Dawkins’ view,supposedly practising mental child abuse. But the sorts of criteria Dawkinsapplies makes one wonder whether his own fanatical antitheism itself could be amental pathology—hence, “atheopath”. Return to text.

2.     Eiseley, L., Darwin’s Century: Evolution and the Menwho Discovered It, Doubleday, Anchor, NewYork, 1961. Return to text.

3.     Stark, R., For the Glory of God: How monotheismled to reformations, science, witch-hunts and the end of slavery, Princeton University Press, 2003; see alsoreview by Williams A., The biblical origins of science, Journal ofCreation 18(2):49–52,2004; <creation.com/stark>. Return to text.

4.     Sarfati, J., Why does science work at all? Creation 31(3):12–14, 2009; see earlier version on this site. Return to text.

5.     Carroll, V., and Shiflett, D., Christianity onTrial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry, ch. 3, Encounter Books, 2001; see review by Hardaway, B. and Sarfati, J., Journal of Creation 18(3):28–30, 2004 <creation.com/trial>. Return to text.

6.     See Hannam, J., God’s Philosophers: How the MedievalWorld Laid the Foundations of Modern Science, 2007; <http://jameshannam.com/Godsphilosophers.pdf>. Return to text.

7.     Harrison, P., The Bible, Protestantism and the riseof natural science, Cambridge UniversityPress, 2001; see review by Weinberger, L., J. Creation 23(3):21–24, 2009 (in press). Return to text.

8.     Harrison, P., The Bible and the rise of science, Australasian Science 23(3):14–15, 2002. Return to text.

9.     Snobelen, S., Isaac Newton and Apocalypse Now: aresponse to Tom Harpur’s “Newton’s strange bedfellows”; A longer version of theletter published in theToronto Star,26 February 2004; isaacnewton.ca/media/Reply_to_Tom_Harpur-Feb_26.pdf. Return to text.

10.  Harrison, P., The Fall of Man and the Foundations ofScience, Cambridge UniversityPress, 2007, introduction. Return to text.

11.  Thatcher, M., Christianity and Wealth,Speech to the Church of Scotland General Assembly, 21 May 1988. Return to text.

 

http://creation.com/biblical-roots-of-modern-science