The claim has been made, in recent years, that the Christian faith stands in opposition to the scientific enterprise. Christians are labeled as “science deniers”, among other things. Is this historically accurate?
First, I would like to make an acknowledgement. There are those who hold a Christian worldview who have no inclination to learn anything about science, those who are ignorant of science, and those who are skeptical of or refute the claims made by science. However, the same can be said of people who ascribe to any other worldview, whether that worldview affirms any particular religion or no religion. This fact in itself does not render any particular worldview more valid than any other. We must assess each particular worldview on the strengths of its particular truth claims, and not on the variability of those who hold it.
As I have stated in previous articles, I like science. I know many other Christians who do as well. In fact, many of those most theologically knowledgeable among my denomination hold degrees in science and engineering. I do however, firmly believe that some scientists draw unreasonable conclusions from their collected data. For instance, climate science seems to be particularly susceptible to this. Consider the following article: Over 4.5 Billion people could die from Global Warming-related causes by 2012 This article was first published in 2007, and is just one of many examples of climate alarmism caused by overblown conclusions reached by scientists interpreting limited data. So we see that some degree of skepticism about scientific claims seems to be justified.
However, I firmly believe that science (and here I mean that process by which scientists collect their data, the Scientific Method) and Christianity are not only compatible but are complimentary. Thankfully, I am not alone in this belief. Many of the great scientific pioneers of history were motivated to learn more about God’s creation by their Christian worldview and not in spite of it. Take a moment to read how, in their own words, their Christianity inspired their thirst for knowledge.
Galileo Galilei was an Italian physicist, mathematician, engineer, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the scientific revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations and support for Copernicanism. Galileo has been called the “father of modern observational astronomy”, the “father of modern physics”, the “father of science”, and “the Father of Modern Science”. He was one major individuals that caused astronomers to shift to a heliocentric (the earth revolves around the sun) view of the galaxy. Galileo once said:
“The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.”
Sir Isaac Newton was an English physicist and mathematician (described in his own day as a “natural philosopher”) who is widely recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), first published in 1687, laid the foundations for classical mechanics. Newton also made seminal contributions to optics and shares credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the invention of calculus. He also formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, which dominated scientists’ view of the physical universe for the next three centuries, and Newtonian physics are still used today in designing air and spacecraft. Newton once said:
“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being…This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; … He endures for ever, and is every where present; and by existing always and every where, he constitutes duration and space.”
Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen. Pascal’s earliest work was in the natural and applied sciences where he made important contributions to the study of fluids, and clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum by generalizing the work of Evangelista Torricelli. Pascal also wrote in defense of the scientific method. Pascal once said:
“The God of Christians is not a God who is simply the author of mathematical truths or of the order of the elements; that is the view of heathens and Epicureans. He is not merely a God who exercises His providence over the life and fortunes of men, to bestow on those who worship Him a long and happy life. That was the portion of the Jews. But the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Christians, is a God of love and of comfort, a God who fills the soul and heart of those whom He possesses, a God who makes them conscious of their inward wretchedness, and his infinite mercy, who unites Himself to their inmost soul, who fills it with humility and joy, with confidence and love, who renders them incapable of any other end than Himself.”
James Clerk Maxwell was a Scottish mathematical physicist. His most notable achievement was to formulate the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as manifestations of the same phenomenon. Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism have been called the “second great unification in physics” after the first one realized by Isaac Newton. Maxwell once said:
“O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth, who hast set thy glory above the heavens, and out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast perfected praise. When we consider Thy heavens and the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou has ordained, teach us to know that Thou art mindful of us, and visitest us, making us rulers over the works of Thy hands, showing us the wisdom of Thy laws, and crowning us with honour and glory in our earthy life; and looking higher than the heavens, we may see Jesus, made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, that He, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man.”
There are others who could be quoted (Kelvin, Kepler, Bacon, Carver, Copernicus, and MANY more) but I think you get the picture. These fathers of science never saw the scientific enterprise as an enemy, but as a way to find out more about God’s creation. As Christians, we should not be afraid of science properly applied, and we should be vigilant to recognize when science oversteps its bounds ( 1 Timothy 6:20).
I’d love to discuss these things with you. Any questions and comments that are in line with this page’s Commenting Policy will be published and responded to (to the best of my ability).
For more information on how I keep my worldview informed please go to Cross Roads Church.
(Note: the historical facts and quotes stated here are common public knowledge and widely available on many different websites and in many different books. Feel free to investigate these facts for yourself.)