Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Christians discovered and invented science

Isaac Newton has been described as the greatest scientist of all timeA common view is that there is a perceived conflict between Christianity and science. But this is erroneous because Christians discovered and invented science.

This post is based on a book by Dominic Statham.

Science

Scientists seek to gain knowledge of the laws which govern how the natural world works. They describe these laws rather than explain them. For example, we don’t know what gravity is or why there is attraction between positively and negatively charged particles although we can describe these behaviors. And science can’t tell us where these laws come from.

All science is tentative and subject to change. In science it is impossible to prove a hypothesis to be true, but it is possible to disprove it by showing that just one test turns out to be negative.

So, there are boundaries and limits to science that few people are aware of today.

Christians discovered science

Science flourished in the seventeenth century and only in Western Europe. For example, Copernicus argued that the earth revolves around the sun rather than the sun around the earth. Kepler discovered three laws of planetary motion. Galileo discovered the properties of pendulums. Descartes and Snell discovered the law of refraction. Boyle was the father of modern chemistry. Newton discovered three laws of motion and the law of gravity. These were all Christians who were motivated to discover the order and harmony of the universe which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics. They believed that their minds created by God were capable of understanding some of the rest of His creation.

This revolution in thinking was inspired by the understanding that the universe was an act of creation and the work of an intelligent Designer. Modern science arose out of a belief in biblical creation and scientific thinking was made possible as people saw nature as having been designed. It was assumed that there are laws of nature, promulgated by God and discoverable by human minds. Also, that the universe possessed order and behaves consistently and could be interpreted by rational minds.

Three of Einstein’s heros were Newton, Faraday and Maxwell (Appendix A). Newton has been described as the greatest scientist of all time. Faraday has been described as the greatest experimental scientist ever. And Maxwell was the most fruitful physicist since Newton. All these famous scientists were devout Christians, and they held the Bible in high regard.

Real science arose only once and that was in Europe. The leading scientific figures in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were overwhelmingly devout Christians who believed it their duty to comprehend God’s handiwork (Stark, 2003, p. 123, 126–127). So the pioneers of science were Christians who explored God’s creation.

Christians invented science

Bacon is often referred to as the “father of modern science” as he developed the principle of inductive reasoning used extensively by scientists today.

The experimental method of science developed in the Christian world and not in the Chinese, Indian or Muslim world or where animism or pantheism teach that the creation itself is divine. Science never developed in these cultures because it was inconsistent with their worldview. In pagan thinking, nature is to be worshipped and feared, whereas the Bible implies it can be understood.

And as an atheist, Einstein expected “a chaotic world which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way” (Einstein, 1954). If it is understood that the universe “just happened” or has “just always been”, rather than being the creation of a rational God who endowed it with natural laws, why should anybody think that it would be orderly and its working comprehensible?

The Reformation, with its emphasis on the authority of Scripture and a historical-grammatical understanding, led to a great leap forward in science as such methods were carried over into the study of nature (Sarfati, 2009). When in the sixteenth century people began to read the Bible in a different way, they found themselves forced to jettison traditional conceptions of the world. So, the Bible and its literal interpretation have played a vital role in the development of Western science. They studied how nature really did work, rather than accept philosophical ideas about how it should work (see Appendix B).

The reformation preceeded the scientific revolutionThe scientific method presupposes that the universe is orderly and behaves consistently, being governed by natural laws – and this is what would be expected from the Christian worldview.

The Christian foundation of science

The God of the Bible is orderly; for example, He made the sun and moon to serve “for signs and for seasons, and for days and years” (Gen. 1:14; 1 Cor. 14:33). He is also consistent (e.g. Isa. 46:10-11; 1 Sam. 15:29; Mal. 3:6; Jas. 1:17), faithful (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:9; Num. 23:19; 2 Tim. 2:11-13) and a law-giver (e.g., Jas. 4: 12).

Since God reveals Himself (in part) through what He has created (Ps. 19: 1; Rom. 1:18-20), it would be expected that His creation would display these aspects of His nature and would point to His glory and greatness.

The God of the Bible is the lawgiver in both the moral and physical realms. He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses (Ex. 20:3-17) and wrote the requirements of the law on the hearts of people so that they “by nature do what the law requires” (Rom. 2:14-15). He is the one who gathered the waters together (Gen. 1 :9) and “assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress His command” (Prov. 8:29). He “made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder” (Job 28:26).

He created the sun to govern the day and night (Gen. 1:16), and “commanded the morning … and caused the dawn to know its place” (Job 38: 12). He created the stars to mark the seasons (Gen. 1:14), knows “the ordinances of the heavens”, and established “their rule on the earth” (Job 38:33). He continually “upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3).

In the Bible, God’s commands to nature are often expressed in legal language. For example, the Hebrew word huq (Strongs #2706) is used in both Proverbs 8:29 and Job 28:26. Its verbal form means to ‘engrave’ or ‘legislate’ and is often used in the context of God giving moral and ritual laws. To the Hebrews, the courses of the planets, the oceanic tides and the universe in general were regular and predictable because they were determined by the God of the Bible who is faithful and sure. They were governed by an unchanging God, and hence behaved consistently from one day to the next.

There being one eternal creator God (e.g., Dt. 4:35 and Ps. 90:2) would indicate uniformity (consistency) across space and time, and humanity being made in God’s likeness (Gen. 1:26-27) would suggest that it is possible for us to understand at least some of what God has made.

Our having been given dominion over the creation (Gen. 1:26-28) and our having been commanded to love God with our minds (Lk. 10:27) also provides moral justification for studying it (see also Prov. 25:2). Indeed, to do so would bring glory to the Creator (1 Ki. 4:30-34). As explained by Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University,

“Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as His personal creation, thus having a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting human comprehension … the rise of science … was the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: Nature exists because it was created by God. To love and honor God, one must fully appreciate the wonders of His handiwork. Moreover, because God is perfect, His handiwork functions in accord with immutable principles. By the full use of our God-given powers of reason and observation, we ought to be able to discover these principles.” (Stark, 2003).

Conclusions

Modern science was pioneered by Christians – they discovered and invented it. This was because the Christian worldview provided the foundation for science.

Bible verse above the main entrance to the Cavendish Laboratory, University of CambridgeAppendix A: Cavendish laboratory

The Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge was opened in 1874 as a laboratory for experimental physics. As of 2019, 30 Cavendish researchers have won Nobel Prizes. Professor James Clerk Maxwell, the developer of electromagnetic theory, was a founder of the laboratory and the first Cavendish Professor of Physics. Due to overcrowding in the old buildings, the laboratory moved to its present site in West Cambridge in 1974.

Did you know that there is a verse from the Bible above the main entrance to the laboratory? It was carved in Latin on the doors of the first laboratory at the instigation of James Clark Maxwell. And it was written in English above the doors to the new laboratory in 1973. The verse is:

“The works of the Lord are great; sought out of all them that have pleasure therein” (Ps. 111:20).

“Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them” (NIV).

This shows the Christian heritage of science at the prestigious Cavendish Laboratory.

Appendix B: The Protestant Reformation and the scientific revolution

According to Owlcation, “Though what is now known as the Protestant Reformation that began in 1517 appears on the surface to have nothing to do with the Scientific Revolution, in a roundabout way it does. This revolution in religion helped set the tone for generations, allowing them to question the wisdom of the ancients and seek new ways of thinking. The reformation of the church began with the German monk Martin Luther (1483-1546), who protested the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, thus marking the beginning of the religious reformation.

This event is important in the history of science because it marks the beginning of the questioning of the dogmas and doctrines of the powerful Roman Catholic Church. This desire to question authority spilt over into the area of natural philosophy (science), allowing progress in the sciences to proceed.”

References

Einstein A, 1954, “Physics and reality”, in Ideas and opinion, translated by Bargmann s, Bonanza, NY, p. 292.

Sarfati J, 2009, “The biblical roots of modern science. A Christian world view, and in particular a plain understanding of Scripture and Adam’s Fall, was essential for the rise of modern science”, Creation, 32(4), 32-36.

Stark R, 2003, “For the glory of God: How monotheism led to reformations, science, witch-hunts and the end of slavery”, Princeton University Press, Oxford, p. 147, 157.

Statham D, 2021, “The wonder of science – Exploring the creation/evolution debate”, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, USA, Part 1: Science and faith.

Acknowledgement

This post is based on a book, “The wonder of science – Exploring the creation/evolution debate”, by Dominic Statham.

The appendix comes from “Owlcation”.

Posted, June 2022

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