The Historic Alliance of Christianity and Science
By Kenneth R. Samples
The influential British mathematician-philosopher Bertrand Russell once remarked, “I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as I am that they are untrue.” In his popular and controversial work Why I Am Not A Christian, Russell leveled the charge that Christianity, in particular, has served as an opponent of all intellectual progress, especially progress in science.1 Since Russell’s time, other outspoken advocates of a naturalistic worldview have echoed Russell’s claim, asserting that Christianity is incompatible with-even hostile to-the findings of modern science. Many in our culture view Christianity as unscientific, at best, anti-scientific at worst.
Conflicts between scientific theories and the Christian faith have arisen through the centuries, to be sure. However, the level of conflict has often been exaggerated, and Christianity’s positive influence on scientific progress is seldom acknowledged.2 I would like to turn the tables by arguing for Christianity’s compatibility with–and furtherance of scientific endeavor and arguing against the compatibility of naturalism and science.
(1) The intellectual climate that gave rise to modern science (roughly three centuries ago) was decisively shaped by Christianity.3 Not only were most of the founding fathers of science themselves devout Christians (including Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, and Pascal),4 but the Christian worldview provided a basis for modern science both to emerge and to flourish. Christian theism affirmed that an infinite, eternal, and personal God created the world ex nihilo. The creation, reflecting the rational nature of the Creator, was therefore orderly and uniform. Further, humankind was uniquely created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-7), thus capable of reasoning and of discovering the intelligibility of the created order. In effect, the Christian worldview supported the underlying principles that made scientific inquiry possible and desirable.
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Eminent historian and philosopher of science Stanley Jaki has argued that science was “stillborn” in other great civilizations outside Europe because of prevailing ideas that stifled scientific development, e.g., a cyclical approach to time, an astrological approach to the heavens, metaphysical views that either deified nature (animism) or denied it (idealism).5
(2) The principles underlying the scientific method (testability, verification/falsification) arise from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. The experimental method was clearly nurtured by Christian doctrine.6 Because the Christian founders of modern science believed that the heavens genuinely declare the glory of God (Ps. 19: 1), they possessed both the necessary conceptual framework and the spiritual incentive to boldly explore nature’s mysteries. According to Christian theism, God has disclosed Himself in two dynamic ways: through special revelation (God’s redemptive actions recorded in the Bible – “God’s book”) and through general revelation (God’s creative actions discoverable in nature – “God’s world”). Puritan scientists in England and in America viewed the study of science as a sacred attempt to “think God’s thoughts after Him.”7
While Christians have plenty of room to grow in the virtues of discernment, reflection, and vigorous analysis, the wisdom literature of the Old Testament consistently exhorts God’s people to exercise them, and the New Testament teaches the same message (see Col. 2:8; 1 Thes. 5:2 1; 1 Jn. 4: 1). These principles served as the backdrop for the emerging experimental method…