Christian Belief in a Postmodern World: The Full Wealth of Conviction

Others have tried to do what Diogenes Allen, Professor of Philosophy at Princeton Theological Seminary, does in his book but none with his breadth or effectiveness. That is, others have attempted to exploit for theism’s benefit the hard times now befalling the modern world’s emphasis on scientific reasoning and pure rationality, which for quite a while had placed Christianity (and religious belief in general) on the intellectual and cultural defensive.

Many of these earlier attempts made use of the Wittgensteinian concepts of “form of life” or “language game” to show that both science and religion depended on unproven assumptions and therefore rested equally on grounds without firm foundations. These kinds of attempts, however, could most always aim no higher than to make the world safe for fideism. And fideism is not to defend the faith. What makes Allen’s contribution special and important is his effort to examine in a philosophically rigorous way what we mean when we say Christianity is true.

He quotes Colossians 2:2 at the start of his book, but I Peter 3:15 is just as appropriate for what follows: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence. ” Allen is very clear whom he is writing for and what his intentions are: “to give those who have no faith compelling rational grounds to become seekers and to those who have faith a greater degree of assurance and understanding than they can attain while constrained by the modern mentality. ” He divides his book into three parts.

The first part begins with a mapping of our current intellectual terrain. In many ways, modernism committed the docetist heresy to human thought. It failed to see human thought as truly embodied and enculturated. Rather, human intellection consisted in pristine, pure rationality undisturbed by culture, bias, or the vagaries of historical situation. Modernism valued evidence and empirical confirmation and therefore strived to remain valueneutral to mirror a phenomenal world that was itself held value-neutral. The author challenges this way of human knowing and finds it insufficient and incapable of meeting the deepest needs of being human.

In so doing, he sheds light on the relation between science and religion. Much of this material is rather provocative intellectual history, including a particularly interesting analysis of the Galileo affair and how it was used for polemical purposes by those hostile to theism. The second part of the book examines faith, If there are good rational reasons to become a seeker, there are then good rational reasons to examine potential answers to the search. In this way, faith becomes “a response that is wholly reasonable. ” Allen borrows William James’s language of faith as “a forced and live option. Yet, the author is quick to caution that faith is not what happens when evidence fails us. The ‘leap of faith’ is not a broad jump away from the empirical, but rather a high jump toward another (higher) realm of knowing-the realm of the heart where our deepest needs are met and our deepest questions are addressed.

If it is rational to ask these questions (and Allen argued it was in the first part of the book), then it is rational to make this leap once it is recognized that it affords the only hope for “immense understanding of matters which concern us greatly. These issues lead the author to examine biblical revelation. Since much of revelation includes descriptions of God’s activity amid God’s people-indeed the whole concept of revelation presupposes contact between creator and created-Allen is led to the broader topic of divine activity in the world. He does, however, avoid certain knotty philosophical issues such as how an eternal deity relates to time, including how God may be said to answer prayers and what the extent of God’s knowledge is.

Perhaps this is too much to ask for from one chapter, though it is not an entirely inappropriate request from one seeking to give the strongest possible philosophical defense of Christian belief. Moreover, the chapter on divine activity seems to presuppose a view of human freedom found deficient in another context. Given what the author says in other places about human identity and practice emerging from community, one must question why he now emphasizes the self-determining character of creaturely freedom.

The last part of the book explores the relation between Christianity and other faiths. Although much of the discussion here is indebted to Simone Weil, given Allen’s project of showing how Christianity could be true in an increasingly pluralistic world that leaves many frustrated and leaning toward relativism, it is a necessary subject for him to address. The author is a clear writer conversant with a wide range of scriptural, literary, and scientific sources and proficient in his ability to move between them with graceful transitions.

He is also especially helpful to the reader in recapping points just completed and in previewing those yet to come so that the book truly does function as one sustained argument for “the intellectual viability of Christianity. ” It may not, as Allen persuasively argues, redound to the benefit of Christianity that God fills gaps in our knowing; but it most certainly redounds to the benefit of Christianity that books do. His does. Joseph M. Incandela THE CHRISTIAN ROOTS OF MODERN SCIENCE . . . . For many people science stands for rationality, evidence, knowledge, enlightenment.

Religion in contrast, stands for backwardness, conservism, superstition, authoritarianism, and is regarded as the enemy and rival of science. These are extreme characterizations, but however much the extremes are toned down, the general impression is that some hostility, some incompatibility, some rivalry between religion and science exists. I Starting in 1934 with three seminal articles by Michael B. Foster, and with increasing tempo during the past twenty years, a study of the history of science has radically changed the picture of the relatioin between Christianity and science.

We have begun to realize that for its very birth science owed a great deal to Christianity. Rather than being a rival, Christianity is one of the major contributors to its rise. Yet just the opposite picture has been dominant for more than two hundred years. So let us briefly point out some of the ways Christianity contributed to the rise of science and the deep harmony between them, and then explain how the opposite picture–one of essential incompatibility–developed and why it continues to dominate the public mind, even among the highly educated. The rise of science is one of the great puzzles of history.

We take its existence for granted, yet is is a very recent phenomenon. There have been several great civilizations, with highly organized cities, impressive achievements in poetry, drama and politics, yet nothing that we would call science developed in them. There was technical skill, for example, in metal work, ceramics, and perfume making, but no detailed understanding of the behavior of matter expressed in mathematical terms. There was impresive observation and recording of the stars, but no comprehensive understanding of their motions. Classical science began to take a clear shape in Europe in the late sixteenth century.

The result of the work of many individuals, it is a breathtaking achievement that makes Western civilization unique and has deeply affected every other extant civilization. The vision of the universe and the power it gives us are so startling that historians have been forced to ask, Why did science not arise in ancient Inida, Egypt, China, or Greece, especially in Greece? After all ancient Greece had many of the ideas we have used in our science, and the contribution of the Greeks was essential to the rise of science. Why did we succeed where they failed?

Investigation of this and other questions have changed our estimate of the relation of Christianity and science. The older picture of Christianity as the implacable enemy of science has begun to give way because it has been increasingly recognized that Christianity was a major factor, perhaps an essential ingredient in the rise of science. Many civilizations had some of the ingredients that seem to be necessary for the rise of science. For example, they had sufficient technology to make the apparatus needed for elementary experiments; they had sufficient mathematics for measurement and calculation.

But what they did not have was a set of attitudes toward the material world, a set of attitudes which are vital for the development of science. Christianity had those attitudes. Some of those attitudes were native to Christianity itself; some of them Christianity found in the ancient Greeks. But Christianity perserved those insights. More and more it seems that it was these attitudes which were part of the mental furniture of the people of Christian Europe, including a few geniuses, which enabled western Europe to create what no other culture has ever created–science. Matter is a good, not an evil

Christinaity was the bearer fundamental attitudes . . . First, it is essential to be interested in the material world. Christians have a strong “other worldly” sense, that is, they believe that the entire universe depends for its existence on a perfect being, but they also believe that nature is good, or more specifically that matter is good. This has not always been the case. There is an ambivalent attitude toward matter in much of ancient Greek thought, and the Gnosticism of the early Christian era considered matter to be evil. But Genesis 1 makes abundantly clear that the creation is good.

However much our world is marred by sin, the physical universe is innocent. It is the human will, not the natural world, which is at fault. Nature is consistent Second, Christians believe that nature is orderly; that it behaves in a consistent and rational way. If something measures a certain size on day, it will be the same size the next. If a liquid freezes at a particular temperature, liquid of the same kind will always freeze at that temperture. Nature is orderly because it is created by a good and rational God. Ancient Greek thought, most of which also stressed that nature is orderly, was significantly modified by Christianity.

For Christians nature’s order, though regular, does not have to be the way it is. It could have been ordered differently by God. Its actual order is just one possible out of many. This led to the gradual realization that we could not just think up a rational blueprint and then say that because it is rational nature has to be that way. Because there is more than one possible rational order, we have to examine nature closely to discover what order is actually in operation. Ancient Greek thought assumed that a single rational natural order could be discovered by sheer thought–or at least mostly by thought.

Nature must be that way in spite of the fact that it might appear to be different. The Greeks failed to respect observed fact as having authority. Even Aristotle who did respect observed fact, especially in biology, did not recognize the hallmark of modern science, quantitative fact. But Christianity, with its notion of a personal God as Creator, whose wisdom is reflected in the created order but not bounded by it, after much struggle in the Middle Ages to free itself from Greek rationalism, came to emphasize that the order we observe depends on the choice of an intelligence.

We have to experiment, measure, observe to determine as best we can what order our universe actually has and to revise our theories inlight of observed facts. Christianity with its conviction of a wise and personal God encourages empirical science, and is more harmonious with empirical science that much of Greek rationalism. The operations of nature resemble the work of an artist more than that of an engineer or a craftsman. We cannot predict what a character in a novel will do because the actions of characters are not necessary, i. . , deducbile from previous actions. But a character’s actions will not be arbitrary either.

Unexpected actions will occur but they will “make sense” in terms of the situations and various other personalities involved in the story. Likewise, the Christian understanding of God as rational encourages a search for order in nature but an order that is not necessary. Rather, it is contingent, that is, dependent on the action of a wise God who could have created a quite different, yet orderly, universe. Nature can be known

Third, science is only possible if we think that nature can be understood by the human mind. Christians believe that God’s creation can be understood to a significant extent. A rational God does not create an irrational universe. So an order is there to be found . . . Science is humane Finally, the results of our investigations are to be shared. Science is above all a communal affair. Christians inthe seventeenth century were aflame with the idea that we can serve one another with a better knowledge of nature . . . A knowledge of nature would enable us to improve human life on earth.

For example, Christian laypeople felt it their responsibility to study nature and so improve medicine, thereby reducing pain and saving life. Bacon went so far as to say that it was our taks to restore creation to its prefallen state by the application of knowledge . . . The presence of these and other attitudes together in one culture is apparently unique. Ancient Greek thought was vital for the development of our science, and in the Middle Ages Christianity was the heir, preserver, and developer of Greek thought.

In spite of severe tensions, there was enough harmony for Christianity to receive, modify, and finally absorb much of Greek thought and infuse it with its own native convictions into a workable, consistent outlook. A famous text, frequently quoted in the Middle Ages, symbolizes this receptivity: “But thou has arranged all things by measure and number and weight” (Wisdom of Solomon 11. 20) . Christianity was able to absorb the mathematical approach to nature which was favored by the Pythagoreans and Archimedes, thinkers who deeply influenced the great scientific pioneers Kepler and Galileo (1564-1642).

Christianity, by absorbing so much of Greek thought, provided the environment in which a few people of genius half-created and half-stumbled onto what we now call classical science. The positive role played by Christianity in the origins of classical science has only very recently been recognized in the academic community, but even there, eminent scientists can be found who still assert the earlier belief that the effect of Christianity onsicne was wholly negative. It is still not generally known to most educated people nor to those responsible for educating people nor to many who disseminate ideas.

But it is making headway and is increasingly recognized by historians of science. It is now to be found in textbooks such as Ian Barbour’s Issues in Science and Religion and White and Shapiro’s The Emergence of Liberal Humanism. One of Michael Foster’s pioneering essays in Mind (1934) has recently been reprinted in an anthology used by the Open University in Britain, Science and Religious Belief, edited by C. A. Russell. II Nonetheless, we must admit in all honesty that Christianity was also restrictive.

And its restrictiveness gives plausibility to the picture of a fundamental antagonism between Christianity and science. Part of the restricitiveness was due to Aristotelianism. Aristotle’s view of the heavens andhis entire theory of motion stood in the way of the rise of science. Much of Aristotle’s thought had become part of Christian thinking. It took some hard thinking on the part of some Christias, such as Galielo and Descartes, to separate what was essential to Christianity from the views of Aristotle.

And many Christians were prejudiced against the new science largey because of their Aritotelianism. But this mixture of Christianity and Aristotle does not explain the powerful, deep, and widespread view in Western society that science and religion are foes, nor the widespread view the Christianity is really an outworn creed which opposed the enlightenment offered by science. To explain this we need to turn to the trial of Galileo by a special comission appointed by Pope Urban VIII. The condemnation of Galileo: a false picture

In 1633, after twenty years of increasing tension, Galileo was tried for heresy and forced to recant, and the Copernican or heliocentric hypothesis that the earth goes around the sun was condemned. The condemnation of the Copernican hypothesis did not come about however, because of an inherent conflict between science and religion. As we shall see, it is impossible to account for the trial of Galileo and the condemnation of the Copernican hypothesis in terms of an inherent clash between religion and science over the heliocentric hypothesis Galileo, 1564-1642

It has been fregquently said that there was such a clash because the new Copernican theory removed the earth from the center of the universe. As Sir James Jeans, a major physicist, put in his Physics and Philosophy (1936) “his home was not the majestic fixed centre of the universe round which all else had to revolve. ” The theory seemed to reduce people’s importance. But this is untrue. However often it is repeated in textbooks and by eminent people like Jeans. In Aristotle the earth is indeed the center of the universe, but it is also the lowest place in the universe.

Everything above the earth is greatly superior, in fact made of a superior kind of matter. To be at the center is no honor. It is to be at the bottom. Yet book after book, even today, says that Copernicus upset Christianity by displacing the earth from the center of the universe. The philosophes The problems introduced by the new astronomy, and later by the new mechanistic physics are far more subtle and far-reaching, as we shall see, than this simple-minded approach reveals.

I only mention this frequently repeated mistake to suggest that the trial of Galileo was not caused by Copernicus’ theory that the sun is the center of the universe. The trial was indeed shameful, as the article on Galileo in The New Catholic Encyclopedia freely admits. It was a major event at the time; it did, for example, cause Descartes to withhold publication of his new cosmology. Still, it was the way Galileo’s trial was used in the next century by the French philosophes, or social critics, that stamped it so deeply and firmly in the Western mind as evidence of an inherent conflict between Christianity and science.

The philosophes, a group which included Voltaire, claimed that the trial was a prime example of Christianity’s opposition to reason and of the church’s opposition to free inquiry, and an attempt by the church to preserve its privileges. They pictured Christianity as essentially oppressive, authoritarian, and supersititious; science as the unveiler of truth; and Galileo as a humble, honest, noble servant of humanity. This incorrect picture, created in the eighteenth century, has proved to have great endurance in the academic community and among Marxists.

The philosophes used the trial for political propaganda against thepower and wealth of the ruling classes and the Roman Chruch in eighteenth century France. They were political reformers, captivated by the idea of creating heaven and earth. Newtonian mechanics convinced them that because physical nature could be understood, so too could human nature and society. We could discover the laws by which the human mind and society operate. Then, through a scientific education, we could produce a better world–even utopia.

The only things which stood in the way were the tyranny of despotic rulers and their supporters, which included the nobility and the Roman Catholic Church. The church was especially an enemy because of its doctrine of original sin, which seemed to imply that progress was iimpossible, and because its “superstitions” darkened people’s minds. The philosophes claimed that the church and the nobility, each with their vast holdings of land, conspired to keep the people in ignorance so that they could be ruled more easily . . .

The philosophes’ picture of Christianity as the inherent opponent of progress was adopted in the next century by Karl Marx. He continued the crusade against religion in the name of science. Science for him included not only physics and the new Darwinism, but also his own laws of history and society. Just as Newton had found the laws of motion, and Darwin the laws of biological evolution, Marx had found the scientific laws of history and society. Progress was now seen to be inevitable, and religion was a barrier to and an opponent of scientific and human progress which had to be and would be removed.

What is the truth about the trial of Galileo? Scholars have gone over the data again and again. There are still many unanswered qeustions, but it does seem clear that there was no fundamental clash between Christianity and the theory that the universe revolves around the sun. Arthur Koestler in his outstanding popular history of science, The Sleepwalkers, admits that he is no more capable than anyone else of writing an objective history of the trial. Before he discusses it, he openly states his biases. Among my earliest and most vivid impressions of History was the wholesale roasting alive of heretics by the Spanish Inquisition, which could hardly inspire tender feelings toward that establishment. ” Koestler also admits that he finds thepersonality of Galielo equally unattractive, partly because of his insufferable behavior toward Kepler, the only major astronomer who at some riks supported him publicly at an important time.

Koestler continues, It seems to me, then, that insofar as bias enters into this narrative, it is not based on affection for either party in the conflict, but on resentment that the conflict did occur at all . . It is my conviction that the conflict between Church and Galileo (or Copernicus) was not inevitable; that it was not in the nature of a fatal collision between opposite philosophies of existence, which was bound to occur sooner or later, but rather a clash of individual temperaments aggravated by unlucky coincidences. In other words, I believe the idea that Galileo’s trial was a kind of Greek tragedy, a showdown between “blind faith” and “enlightened reason,” to be naively erroneous. A series of accidents and incompatible personalities led to a miserable clash–and the stronger party won.

But it has been made to appear that Christianity is an oppenent of science and that there is an inherent conflict between science and Christianity. This became a cornerstone of modern culture, which still huants us today and is officially sponsored by Marxist governments. The relations of Galileo to the Roman Catholic Church are very complex and there is no need to go into them deeply here. But a few of the major points will help substantiate and illuminate the interpretations I have given to the controversy and its significance.

Copernicus’ book, On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres,, was published in 1543 (the year he died). It attracted very little attention, partly because it was unreadable and partly because, as he himself recognized, the orbits he assigned to the planets were hopelessly inadequate, even with the retention of some of Ptolemy’s epicycles. But the main reason was that it contained a disclaimer in the preface (added by Osiander) to the effect that that he had placed the sun at the center of the universe only for the ease of making mathematical calculations.

It was not a claim about the actual position of the sun in relation to the planets and stars. This was no different from the use made of Ptolemy’s astronomy itself at that time. Because of the preface, Copernicus did not pose a serious threat, even though he personally believed that the sun was at the center of the universe. Kepler was the first important astronomer to support the heliocentric hypothesis in his Mysterium Cosmographica (1597) which appeared fifty-four years after publication of Copernicus’ book and fifteen years before Galileo endorsed in writing the heliocentric hypothesis in 1613.

Up to 1616 the Roman Catholic Church encouraged the discussion of the Copernican hypothesis by Jesuit astronomers who were among the most progressive. Galileo’s discoveries: comets, sunspots, and pockmarks Galileo first attracted major public attention in 1610 at the age of 46 when he published Star Messenger. It was notable largely because he pointed out that the moon was pockmarked (with craters, as we now know). This broke with the Aristotelian cosmology in which everything above the earthly sphere is held to be perfect.

This was not the first astronomical observation which went against Aristotle, but nonetheless it was an important one. Another important discovery that Galileo made was that Jupiter had four moons. This meant that not everything in the heavens went around the earth. Again, although this was startling, it was not unprecedented. Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), a peerless astronomical observer believed the planets orbited around the sun and the sun orbited around the earth. In 1611 Galileo visted Rome in triumph. The Jesuit astronomers had confirmed his observations.

They accepted sunspots, the existence of comets beyond the sphere of the moon, and that the moon was pockmarked; in short, that the Aristotelian cosmology was seriously flawed. They themselves were moving away from the geocentric toward Tycho’s system, which was a sort of halway house between Aristotle and Copernicus. The Roman Catholic Church’s position at that time was that Copernicus’ system was to be discussed freely and openly as a hypothesis but was not to be put forward as established truth. In fact, it was not established truth until Newton’s Principia Mathematica was published three-quarters of a century later (1687).

In 1613 Galileo published his Letter on Sunspots, which by its claimthat the sun decayed, drove another nail into the coffin of Aristotelian cosmology, which held that the heavenly bodies were eternal. This was the first time that Galileo put into print his support for Copernicus. The Letter on Sunspots was praised by several cardinals, including Pope Urban VIII, who brought Galileo to trial twenty years later! Clearly more than an astronomical theory caused him to move from praise to condemnation. How did the controversy arise that led to condemnation?

Three phases in the controversy must be distinguished. First Galileo published his Letter to Castelli in 1615 . . . It was provoked bya pedant who criticized the Copernican hypothesis and was intended to silence theological objections to Copernicus. Galileo gave his views on how Scripture was to be intepreted in those very few passages that implied that the earth did not orbit around the sun. The letter was submitted to the Holy Office, which ruled that it was unguarded in its expressions but otherwise not objectionable.

Soon after this, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) expressed the unofficial but general attitude of theologians toward the new astronomy. The Copernican hypothesis was not established. Scripture was therefore not to be adjusted to a nonliteral sense in order to conform with it. As the fathers of the church had taken the passages literally, the church was to continue to do so until and unless knowledge of nature was such as to require a nonliteral interpretation of the few passages in question. Copernicus’ work was to be given, temporarily the status of a hypothesis.

Bellarmine’s position on the interpretation of Scripture actually went considerably further than the fathers. Unfortunately, Friar Tommasto Campanella’ eloquent plea for scientific freedom–written shortly after Bellarmine’s Letter to Foscarini, at the request of Cardinal Boniface Gaetani, and containing the best understanding of the issues at the time went largely unnoticed. The second phase was initiated by Pope Paul V, who became impatient with the controversy and in 1616 ordered the Congregation of the Holy Office to look into the Copernican hypothesis.

It supported Bellarmine’s positioin but did not mention Galileo himself in any decree. However the Congregation ordered Galileo to appear before it, and Bellarmine instructed Galileo not to hold or defend the Copernican hypothesis. Galileo promised to comply. The vital question, however, is whether the Congregation itself formally issued an absolute injuction, forbidding Galileo even to discuss Copernican astronomy. The trial in 1633 turns largely on this question; for if there was such an unjuction, then Galileo was technically guilty of disobedience.

For several years Galileo stayed out of major public disputes. But in 1623 when Cardinal Barberini, with whom Galileo was on good terms, became Pope Urban VII, Galileo began to reconsider his situation. In 1624 he had six long audiences with the new pope. Galileo was so encouraged that two years later–without Urban’s knowledge–he decided to take the risk of composing a proof of the Copernican system. It took him four years to complete the task. In 1632 he published his Dialogue of Two Chief World Systems.

It immediately caused a storm. One of the scientific disadvantages from which Galileo suffered was the fact that there was no observable stellar parallax. That is to say, if the earth were in orbit around the sun, when the earth was at diagonally opposite points of the orbit, the stars should appear at different positions. But no such displacement was then observable. The only two possible explanations were either that the stars were immensely more distant than was thought to be possible or the earth did not move.

In place of stellar parallax, Galileo offered a theory about the tides, seeking to explain their rise and fall as caused by the earth’s motion around the sun. This theory, of course, proved false. In addition, Urban VIII believed that he had been made to appear a fool because he thought that one of the incompetent speakers in the Dialogues was intended to represent him. He felt personally betrayed and insulted by a former friend and, quite apart from the personal embarrassment, he could not ignore what appeared to be a deliberate affront to the office of the papacy.

Some public action was mandatory. Galileo was brought to trial for heresy in 1633, technically for having disobeyed the decree of the Congregation of the Index (which in 1611 had stated that the Copernican system was to be treated as a hypothesis, not an absolute fact), [as well as] Bellarmine’s admonition, and the much-disputed strict injunction (that he was not even to discuss the Copernican system ) allegedly issued to Galileo by the Holy Office. After his recantation, Galileo continued his scienctific work, and in 1636 he published his masterpiece on terrestial motion.

Over and above the personalities involved in the dispute with Galileo and the issue of authority, why was the church so concerned with the Copernican hypothesis? Christian theology and indeed the human imagination from Shakespeare to the common people were very strongly engaged by the Aristotelian worldview. The notion that the universe is infinite could virtually paralyze with fear a man as sophisticated as Kepler. It was going to take time for the churches, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, to adjust to a very different world.

Anyone who has had responsibility for an organization, even a small one, knows how important time is. An idea may be a good one, but sometimes to insist on its being effected immediately leads to miserable conflict between those with the idea and those with the responsibility for what happens should it be implemented. It must be remembered that Copernicus’ idea was not yet known to be true; certainly the details were hopelessly inaccurate. For the church to intervene on a scientific matter at that time did not mean the same as it would today were it to take aposition on some scientific theory.

Science then did not have the hallowed status it has since been accorded. Nor was there any body of knowledge or procedures supported by an authoritative insitution, an academy of science for example, as in our day. . . . If we keep some of this in mind, then we can avoid some of the self-righteousness that is often displayed when people talk about the trial of Galielo. To expect utterly dispassionate treatment by the authorities in his day is unrealistic. The entire episode fills one with sadness because of its fateful consequences for the Western world to this day.

It became the centerpiece of a distorted portrait of the relatioinship of science and religion. It led to a picture of inevitable conflict when, in fact, as far as the nature of science and Christian doctrine themselves are concerned, the confrontation need never have taken place. Nothing in the ideas involved made it inevitable. No one is forced to make a choice between a life lived according to science or according to religion. Yet that disjunction has troubled the West ever since that infamous trial was interpreted and used by the philosophes.

Only today, and still all too slowly, is the distortion being corrected by historical study. That study is also beginning to reveal the essential contribution of Christianity to the origins of science. Instead of being an implacable opponent, Christianity is increasingly being seen as one of the vital contributors to the mentality which created classical science. Beginnings of modern science Christian pioneers It is significant that the early pioneers in modern science were men of deep Christian faith.

For Copernicus, the first astronomer of the scientific revolution, God was personally responsible for all the activity in the heavens. His radical ideas were contained in his book On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, which was published in 1543, the year of his death. The regularity he was discovering in the movements of the planets was, for him, a manifestation of the faithfulness of a loving Creator. “It is significant that the early pioneers in modern science were men of deep Christian faith” Galileo (d. 1642) invented the hydrostatic balance and discovered the laws of dynamics from observation of falling bodies.

However, he is chiefly known for his achievements in astronomy. His discovery of the four satellites of Jupiter on January 7, 1610, with the aid of the newly invented telescope, revolutionised the study of astronomy. He has been called the first modern scientist and his work confirmed the observations of Copernicus. He regarded his science as illuminating the work of the Creator. For all his quarrelling with the church he remained a devout Christian until he died. Kepler, the German astronomer, a contemporary of Galileo, was also a devout Christian.

His discovery of the three laws of planetary motion laid the foundation for Newton’s theory of gravity. He regarded his study of the physical universe as “thinking God’s thoughts after him”. In The Secret of the Universe he wrote: Here we are concerned with the book of nature, so greatly celebrated in sacred writings. It is in this that Paul proposes to the Gentiles that they should contemplate God like the Sun in water or in a mirror. Why then as Christians should we take any less delight in its contemplation, since it is for us with true worship to honor God, to venerate him, to wonder at him?

The more rightly we understand the nature and scope of what our God has founded, the more devoted the spirit in which that is done. The baton of scientific leadership passed in the next generation to Newton, born in the year of Galileo’s death. Though he had problems with the Christian view of the Trinity, he was a strong believer. As a member of the Anglican Church he was involved in distribution of Bibles to the poor and the construction of new churches. He actually wrote more than a million words on the Bible and theological topics, more than he wrote on science.

His well-worn Bible, with marginal notes in his own handwriting, is in the Wren Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. He became the foremost mathematician in Europe. He published Principia mathematica in 1667, “a book that transformed the course of western science”. His work gave new direction to optics, mechanics and celestial dynamics. His work on gravity established the Cambridge reputation for mathematics. His studies of light produced the first reflecting telescope. His invention of calculus gave science the mathematical tool it needed for further exploration of the trails he blazed.

Biblical foundations How was it that the Christian faith aided the scientific approach of many of the original thinkers of those times and enabled them to break with the preconceptions of the past? In his 1925 lectures, Alfred North Whitehead had said that Christianity is the mother of science because of “the medieval insistence on the rationality of God”. Because of the confidence of the early scientists in this rationality, they had an “inexpungable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles.

Without this belief the incredible labours of scientists would be without hope. ” Newton wrote in Principia: 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 the Lord over all. “This God also declared that all he has created is good… therefore his works are worthy of study” This God is not only intelligent, but also faithful and worthy of trust, as the Scriptures often declare.

His faithfulness is expressed in the regularity and order of the created world, a regularity that could be expressed scientifically as “laws”. Newton is noted for his formulation of the law that governed the motion of the celestial bodies – his famous law of universal gravitation. This God also declared that all he has created is good, a word that occurs seven times in Genesis 1. Therefore his works are worthy of study. The central theme of Protestant theology at that time was the glory of God, and they saw this partly in understanding his creation.

The early Christian scientists also saw it as their task to take seriously the command given in Genesis 1:28 to subdue the created order. A further factor was undoubtedly the Christian view of progress in history which is implied in God’s first command to “replenish the earth and subdue it. ” The idea of progress is inherent in applied science. The Christian view of purpose in history, which had a beginning, and which will end with the second coming of Christ, is very different from the cyclical view, with constant repetition, common to some other major religions.

This sense of the rationality of God, the faithfulness of God, the goodness of his creation and his purposes in history underlie much of what surfaced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and largely grew out of the Reformation, though we have seen that its beginnings go back to the early Christian centuries – indeed, to the Bible itself. The Book of God’s Word & the Book of God’s Works One of the results of the Reformation was a new sense of freedom. People felt free from the old traditions, whether ecclesiastical, political or philosophical.

The scientists said they were free from the preconceived ideas of Greek philosophy, and they would submit their ideas to the Book of Nature, just as they submitted all matters of faith to the Book of Scripture. As God was the author of both there could be no conflict between them, other than that which arose from human misunderstanding. Galileo wrote that “the world is the work and the Scriptures the word of the same God. ” Or as Kepler put it: “The tongue of God and the finger of God cannot clash. ” This was a common theme.

Francis Bacon, lawyer, philosopher, and the founder of the new scientific approach in England, who was made Lord Chancellor in 1618, declared in his Proficience and Advancement of Learning: “The scientists said they were free from the preconceived ideas of Greek philosophy, and they would submit their ideas to the Book of Nature” Let no man think or maintain that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the Book of God’s Word or in the Book of God’s Works. (Interestingly enough, this quote appeared opposite the title page of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Bacon also stated in Novum Organum that natural philosophy (science) is: after the word of God, the surest remedy against superstition, and the most approved support of faith. Kepler felt himself to be “a high priest in the book of nature, religiously bound to alter not one jot or tittle of what it had pleased God to write down in it. ” That is why he took seriously the eight minutes of divergence from the circular in the orbit of Mars, which he discovered by observation. He revealed the motivation for his work when he wrote:

Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it befits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above else, of the glory of God. They were following the lead given in the Bible 2,000 years or more earlier: “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). Lord Rayleigh prefixed this text to his collected scientific papers and it is carved on the great door of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. It was put there at James Clerk Maxwell’s request, one of the greatest scientists of his day.

It was he who laid the foundations of field theory in physics that led to relativity theory. The old ideas that had been appropriated from Aristotle – the earth was perfectly round; it was the centre of the universe; it was immovable; the sun was a perfect sphere without spot or blemish; air fell upwards, et cetera – had gone out with the Middle Ages. As people continued to study the universe in the light of these principles, taking seriously what they saw, the foundations of true science were well and truly laid.

Puritan influence The influence of Christianity in the early days can be seen very clearly in the formation in 1660 of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, normally known just as the Royal Society, which was very significant in the promotion of scientific advances. Most of its members were professing Christians. It began with informal gatherings in Gresham College, a Puritan College in London. Seven of the ten scientists who formed the nucleus of those meetings were Puritans.

In 1663, sixty-two per cent of the members were clearly Puritan in origin – at a time when Puritans were only a small minority in England. Robert Boyle, the “father of chemistry” and one of the founders of the Royal Society, left the sum of 50 per annum in his will for a series of eight lectures to be given against unbelievers in some church in London. There were also important scientists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who were Roman Catholics. Nineteenth century Moving on to the early nineteenth century, the number of pioneer geologists who were Bible-believing Christians is noteworthy.

Among them were William Buckland, who held the chair of geology at Oxford, and his counterpart at Cambridge, Adam Sedgwick. Both were leading churchmen. They maintained contact with the famous French geologist, Baron Cuvier, another Bible-believer. In the mid-nineteenth century, the most famous Christian geologist was probably Hugh Miller. His brilliant field research on the geology of the Western Highlands gained him the presidency of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh. He wrote a number of best-selling books on geology, including Footprints of the Creator.

The highly regarded Edward Hitchcock, president of Amherst College in Massachusetts, is also worthy of mention. He also held the chairs of natural theology and geology there. His lectures on the age of the earth were famous. “It could still be said in the mid-nineteenth century that most of the world’s scholars and scientists were still professedly Christian” The basis of physics was established by men of Christian faith: Newton, Gauss, Faraday, Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, to name a few. The outstanding early botanist, John Ray (d. 1705), declared: The treasures of nature are inexhaustible…

If man ought to reflect upon his Creator the glory of all his works, then ought he to take notice of them all and not to think anything unworthy of his cognisance. Atheistic science, which followed on from the French Revolution, reached Britain in the 1820s. However, it could still be said in the mid-nineteenth century that most of the world’s scholars and scientists were still professedly Christian. The British Association for the Advancement of Science was formed in 1832. Clergymen were active in its formation and provided three of its presidents during the first five years.

At a meeting of the Association in 1865, a manifesto was drawn up and signed by 617 men, many of whom were of the highest eminence, in which they declared their belief not only in the truth and authenticity of the Holy Scriptures, but also in their harmony with natural science. The original document is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. In his very helpful book, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born, D. James Kennedy gives a list of some of the outstanding Bible-believing scientists who gave the lead in founding the following branches of science.


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