Christian Pioneers of Modern Science

W. R. Miller has complied a fine list of quotes and resources in an Appendix over at Tektonics to emphasize the point that many of the greatest scientists in history were Christians or had Biblical presuppositions. Miller also points out that;

  • For most of these, their faith was the driving force behind their discoveries.
  • True self-sustaining modern science (not just engineering, logic or mathematics) was born within a Christian society.

Here’s the relevant section (read the whole thing here) :

Daniel Graves, author of Scientists of Faith and Doctors Who Followed Christ, writes: “Many of the sciences derive directly from the work of a Christian or were greatly influenced at their inception by a Christian. … It may seem an outrageous claim that Christians were seminal to much of what dominates modern scientific thinking, but it is true. There is hardly a science or scientific idea which cannot trace its inception as a viable theory to some Christian.”  A careful study of history reveals that technology and modern science was, in fact, pioneered by Christians.  The case is made by Dr. Ian Hutchison and Dr. Loren Eiseley (below) and at the essays found at the subsequent links.

Ian H.Hutchinson, Head of Department of Nuclear Energy.  Plasma Science and Fusion Center and Department of Nuclear Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA. ASA Conference, 4 August 2002.  “Science: Christian and Natural,” http://hutchinson.belmont.ma.us/asa2002/.

“Going further, though, I believe there is a constructive case to be made for the phrase Christian Science.

First, as represented by the theme of this conference “Christian Pioneers”, we should recognize that modern science is built upon the foundational work of people who more than anything else were Christians. Christians were the pioneers of the revolution of thought that brought about our modern understanding of the world. MIT, my home institution, the high-temple of science and technology in the United States, has a pseudo-Greek temple architecture about its main buildings. The fluted columns are topped not with baccanalian freizes, but with the names of the historical heroes of science (not to mention William Barton Rogers, the founder). A rough assessment was carried out by a few of us some years ago of the fraction of the people listed there who were Christians. The estimate we arrived at was about 60%.

Any list of the giants of physical science would include Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Boyle, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, all of whom, despite denominational and doctrinal differences among them, and opposition that some experienced from church authorities, were deeply committed to Jesus Christ.

Second, I observed over the years in my interactions with Christians in academia, that far from scientists being weakly represented in the ranks of the faithful, as one would expect if science and faith are incompatible, they are strongly overrepresented. The sociological evidence has been studied systematically for example by Robert Wuthnow [Robert Wuthnow, The Struggle for America’s Soul, Eerdmanns, Grand Rapids, (1989), p146.], who established that while academics undoubtedly tend to be believers in lower proportion than the US population as a whole, among academics, scientists were proportionally more likely to be Christians that those in the non-science disciplines. The common misconception that scientists were or are inevitably sundered from the Christian faith by their science is simply false.

Third, the question arises, why did modern science grow up almost entirely in the West, where Christian thinking held sway? There were civilizations of comparable stability, prosperity, and in many cases technology, in China, Japan, and India. Why did they not develop science? It is acknowledged that arabic countries around the end of the first millenium were more advanced in mathematics, and their libraries kept safe eventually for Christendom much of the Greek wisdom of the ancients. Why did not their learning blossom into the science we now know? More particularly, if Andrew White’s portrait of history, that the church dogmatically opposed all the “dangerous innovations” of science, and thereby stunted scientific development for hundreds of years, why didn’t science rapidly evolve in these other cultures?

A case that has been made cogently by Stanley Jaki [Stanley L. Jaki, The road of science and the ways to God, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, (1978).], amongst others, is that far from being an atmosphere stifling to science, the Christian world view of the West was the fertile cultural and philosophical soil in which science grew and flourished. He argues that it was precisely the theology of Christianity which created that fertile intellectual environment. The teaching that the world is the free but contingent creation of a rational Creator, worthy of study on its own merits because it is “good”, and the belief that because our rationality is in the image of the creator, we are capable of understanding the creation: these are theological encouragements to the work of empirical science. Intermingled with the desire to benefit humankind for Christian charity’s sake, and enabled by the printing press to record and communicate results for posterity, the work of science became a force that gathered momentum despite any of the strictures of a threatened religious hierarchy.

So I suggest that there is a deeper reason why scientists are puzzled about how one might pursue a Christian Science distinguished from what has been the approach developed over the past half millenium. It is that modern science is already in a very serious sense Christian. It germinated in and was nurtured by the Christian philosophy of creation, it was developed and established through the work of largely Christian pioneers, and it continues to draw Christians to its endeavours today.”

Dr. Loren Eiseley (1907-1977), a Professor of anthropology, a science history writer and evolutionist, concluded that the birth of modern science was mainly due to the creationist convictions of its founders.

“It is the CHRISTIAN world which finally gave birth in a clear articulated fashion to the experimental method of science itself … It began its discoveries and made use of its method in the faith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a Creator who did not act upon whim nor inference with the forces He had set in operation. The experimental method succeeded beyond man’s wildest dreams but the faith that brought it into being owes something to the Christian conception of the nature of God. It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption.” [Loren Eiseley, Darwin’s Centenary: Evolution and the Men who Discovered it, Doubleday: New York, 1961 p:62]

Kenneth Scott Latourette, Sterling Professor at Yale University, wrote,

“Across the centuries Christianity has been the means of reducing more languages to writing than have all other factors combined. It has created more schools, more theories of education, and more systems than has any other one force. More than any other power in history it has impelled men to fight suffering, whether that suffering has come from disease, war or natural disasters. It has built thousands of hospitals, inspired the emergence of the nursing and medical professions, and furthered movement for public health and the relief and prevention of famine. Although explorations and conquests which were in part its outgrowth led to the enslavement of Africans for the plantations of the Americas, men and women whose consciences were awakened by Christianity and whose wills it nerved brought about the abolition of slavery (in England and America). Men and women similarly moved and sustained wrote into the laws of Spain and Portugal provisions to alleviate the ruthless exploitation of the Indians of the New World.

… By its name and symbol, the most extensive organization ever created for the relief of the suffering caused by war, the Red Cross, bears witness to its Christian origin. The list might go on indefinitely. It includes many another humanitarian projects and movements, ideals in government, the reform of prisons and the emergence of criminology, great art and architecture, and outstanding literature.”

[A History of Christianity, Vol. II, originally published by HarperCollins Publishers 1953, revised 1975, pp.1470,1471].

Other links (provided by Miller) for further reading:

Eric V. Snow. Christianity, A Cause of Modern Science? Explains the historical research of Duhem, Jaki, and Merton. http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-298.htm or http://www.rae.org/jaki.html

David F. Coppedge.   The World’s Greatest Creation Scientists from Y1K to Y2K, http://creationsafaris.com/wgcs.htm

Christianity and the Birth of Science: Why modern science arose in Christian Europe and not in other cultures.  Dr. Michael Bumbulis proposes four evidences and anticipates objections. http://www.ldolphin.org/bumbulis/

Luther and Science: An essay on relation of Protestant thought to the advancement of science, and an important refutation of the claim that Luther and his followers ridiculed and repressed Copernicanism: http://www.leaderu.com/science/kobe.html

T. V. Varughese, Ph.D. Christianity and Technological Advance: The Astonishing Connection, http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-245.htm

Ben Clausen on the origin of science, and examples of believers, with bibliography: Christianity Aiding the Development of Science, http://www.grisda.org/bclausen/papers/aid.htm

Colin Russell, Professor of History of Science and Technology, The Open University, England; Chairman – Vice President, Christians in Science.  “Without a Memory,” http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1993/PSCF12-93Russell.html. From Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 45 (March 1993): 219-221.

Christianity is for Weak, Stupid People? – The Role of Reason for Christians http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/reason.html

4 replies
  1. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    the Christian world view of the West was the fertile cultural and philosophical soil in which science grew and flourished. He argues that it was precisely the theology of Christianity which created that fertile intellectual environment.

    I agree that the Christianity was important for the emergence of modern science. But it was not Christian theology. What was christianity doing for 1600 years – with the same theology – such that it not only did not create science, but was not even at the forefront of epistemological advancement.
    Again: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_golden_age#Scientific_method
    What is it that Islam had while christianity was going nowhere? There is clearly much more to it than just religion, and definitely more to it than theology.

  2. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Other Readers.

    I have answered Other Simon’s objection (that it was not Christian theology that was important for the emergence of Modern science) and the quasi-proof he offers for this claim (the Islamic Golden Age of Science) at some length in another post called Conflict for the Darwinian Dispute in comment # 4 December 2009 at 10:03 pm, to which the post above serves as an Appendix.

    Here, I add to that answer the suggestion that it is impossible to separate Christianity from Christian theology. If so, Other Simon’s objection doesn’t even make the minimal standard of coherence.

  3. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    If so, Other Simon’s objection doesn’t even make the minimal standard of coherence.

    Heh. I am reminded of the kind of fundamentalism which can’t admit even the slightest weakness. Such a pity.

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