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Religion Answers the Factual Questions Science Neglects

A good article by Keith Ward.

HT: Scot McKnight

Seven Days That Divide the World: John Lennox on Creation, Science, and Scripture

John Lennox’s latest book, Seven Days That Divide The World, launches next month. In it, he sets out to answer one of the most fiercely debated questions of our day: can science and the Bible co-exist? Writing for a popular audience, Lennox examines the Genesis account of creation and addresses some of the issues that typically arise when trying to understand the Biblical narrative in light of contemporary science.

A Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a recent visitor to New Zealand, Lennox argues in Seven Days that science and faith can in fact peacefully co-exist and that Darwinian evolution and young-earth creationism are not the only two positions available to Christians.

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Christianity, the Middle Ages, and the Birth of Science

The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (Regnery Publishing, 2011) is a new book by physicist and historian of science James Hannam that challenges the myth that the Middles Ages were a time of ignorance and superstition. He recently talked to The Daily Caller about the book:

 

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Science & Religion – Where the Conflict Really Lies

Former Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, Alvin Plantinga examines the question of whether evolution and theistic belief can co-exist. He argues that there is a deep and massive consonance between theism and the scientific enterprise.

 

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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

Contra Mundum: The Flat-Earth Myth

This month’s issue of the Investigate Magazine features a great article by Matthew Flannagan on the Flat-Earth Myth. It is common assumption in popular discourse and even within public education that, prior to Columbus, the Church taught that the world was flat. However, in his column, Matthew argues that this idea was fabricated by opponents of Christianity in the 19th century and is actually a historical revision. He maintains that the Flat-Earth myth has been thoroughly debunked by contemporary historians.

I recommend either getting a hold of the issue or reading it online here. If you’ve been following my recent “Conflict for the conflict thesis” posts, Matt’s article dove-tails nicely with that series and my central claim: Christianity encourages and does not oppose science or its success. Even apart from that, go read it – Matt’s writing is never dull, and his well-reasoned arguments are easy to comprehend.

Conflict for the Darwinian Dispute

Charles Darwin (1809–1882) is often portrayed as a believer struggling with doubt, reluctantly yielding to rational thinking in light of the evidence he found while journeying on the HMS Beagle in the Galapagos Islands. Wiker[1] points out that while Darwin’s ideas are well known, much of the story of his life is either unknown or mythical. To summarize just a few of his more relevant points;

First, evolution was less innovation and more popularization, having been believed by his father before him and his grandfather Erasmus Darwin. During Erasmus’ time there was a resurgence of interest in the philosophy of the ancient Epicurean philosopher Lucrecius, who propounded evolutionary ideas. Evolutionary thinking was already a part of the ethos of the age we call Modernism and Charles Darwin was a man who set out on the Beagle to find proof of evolution, rather than someone who reluctantly came to accept the idea because of the weight of the evidence.

Second, Darwin’s brief tenure studying theology was less from conviction or faith in God, and more to maintain a social acceptability by conforming to what was then considered to be stabilizing cultural norm – the church. His departure from that institution was less from lack of belief, and more to follow his true interest – the study of nature.

Third, Darwin’s thesis was not the bombshell it has been made out to be.[2] Many Christian’s of the day, including Charles Lyell (1797–1875)[3] easily accepted evolutionary ideas and yet remained critical of the Darwinian posturing toward God no longer being necessary to explain the origin and diversity of life. Darwin’s associate and co-discoverer of evolutionary theory Alfred Russell Wallace (1823–1913) became convinced that natural selection alone – without God – would not suffice. The beauty and intricateness of such a process, he thought, was too grand and astounding, and still could not explain human morality, rationality and even physical nature.[4]

Fourth, the idea that there was a thoughtless rejection of evolutionary theory on behalf of the church when Origin of Species (1859) and the Decent of Man (1871) were published is mainly rhetoric. Christian thinkers, both scientists and theologians, were for the most part civil and maintained friendly dialogue. Asa Gray (1810-1888), the American botanist at Harvard and Evangelical was one of these: a friend and long-time correspondent of Darwin who saw design and order in the natural world of evolution progress. Moore writes,

“There was not a polarization of “science” and “religion” as the idea of opposed armies implies but a large number of learned men, some scientists, some theologians, some indistinguishable, and almost all of them very religious, who experienced various differences among themselves. There was not organization apparent on either “side” as the idea of rank and command implies but deep divisions among men of science, the majority of whom were at first hostile to Darwin’s theory, and a corresponding and derivative division among Christians who were scientifically untrained, with a large proportion of leading theologians quite prepared to come to terms peacefully with Darwin. Nor, finally, was there the kind of antagonism pictured in the discharge of weaponry but rather a much more subdued overall reaction to the Origin of Species than is generally supposed and a genuine amiability in the relations of those who are customarily believed to have been at battle.”[5]

In order to understand the avid rejection of evolutionary theory by some Christians one needs to understand that another science appeared in the nineteenth century. Higher criticism leveled its gaze on the orthodox view of scripture and with the philosophical assumptions of the Enlightenment and Modernism challenged much of Christian belief. There was no official response given by the church on Higher criticism, Evolutionary theory or Darwinism, however individuals within the church did deem to respond to these intellectual challenges. Responses were indeed inevitable if merely by virtue that these ideas became engrained in the culture. These responses can be categorized into four distinct groups: the Liberal response, the Neo-Orthodox response, the Evangelical response and the Fundamentalist response.

The Liberal response to Higher criticism was acceptance. Liberals rejected the authority of the Bible and traditional Christian orthodoxy and therefore did not consider conflict with science possible[6] – science and religion were non-overlapping magisteria. The Neo-orthodox response was dialectical, and so to a lesser extent did the same as the Liberals and accepted the insights.

The Evangelical response was that of accommodation. This was in the tradition of Calvin and in-line with Augustine who advocated perceived conflicts could be reconciled with better interpretation of either the Bible or of nature. John Calvin (1509–1564) the French theologian gave to science two gifts. First, he encouraged the study of nature. Nature demonstrated the wisdom of God and provided proofs of his glory.[7] Second, he removed the need to interpret the bible literally. By offering people a hermeneutic of “accommodation” he made the emergence of the natural sciences possible[8] and firmly grounded a tradition within evangelicalism allowing science to be integrated with the scripture.[9]

Evangelicals therefore attempted harmonization with the insights of Higher criticism, which would eventually yield new insights in theology, and breakthroughs in historical Jesus research. For evolutionary biology harmonization meant a variety of differing positions like Theistic Evolution[10] and Progressive Creationism.[11]

It was the reaction of Fundamentalism that was to have the most profound influence on the way the relationship between science and Christianity were perceived. Higher criticism and Darwin’s popularization of evolutionary theory elicited a negative reaction by some who felt that society was becoming more and more depraved in their thinking. Fundamentalism, distinguished by cultural isolationism and a dogmatic biblical literalism, decided to judge science by the Bible. Evolution is therefore a fraud. This response represents a “circling of the wagons” and as evolutionary theory gained prominence it created a siege mentality. This is why many describe Fundamentalism as obscurantist, insular and militaristic.

Essentially Fundamentalism is Evangelicalism on the defensive, though there is a range of responses to both sciences encapsulated by the term.[12] All refuse the Grand Evolution story for its atheistic implications, but there are a great variety of opinions to the extent which evolution has played a role in the development of the diversity of life. Some criticize evolution on the basis of flaws in theory, others dogmatically refuse in principle and offer no more explanation. Some in the twentieth century sought to re-interpret the evidence without the Rationalist and Materialistic presuppositions and developed Creation Science, which for the most part that militantly rejects evolution in favor of a young earth and a literal 24-hr/six-day creation period.

It is Fundamentalism that fueled the Creation/Evolution controversy in the twentieth century, and this is nowhere more typified by the Scopes Trial (referred to now as “The Monkey Trial”) in 1926. John Scopes was put on trial for teaching evolution, and backed by the ACLU,[13] lost when the Tennessee law was upheld, but the fall-out from media sensationalism at the time lent credit to the Conflict Thesis. The influence of that media storm made it the subject of a play Inherit the Wind (1955) later adapted to a movie in 1960. The idea that science and religion are at war is still very much a part of the general public’s consciousness, even though it is not “religion” as such, but one specific branch of Christian belief that insists on literal interpretations.[14]

Today the relationship between science and Christianity is very healthy. It is believed the renaissance of Christian philosophy over the last fifty years has been so successful the effect has been the resurrection of Natural Theology, including powerful refurbishment of the teleological arguments.[15] The increasingly powerful Intelligent Design movement can be viewed as an effect of this renaissance in Christian thinking. The so-called “New Atheism” is an aberration to the general trend (perhaps also a reaction to it) and represents a movement out of touch with the higher echelons in academia that rejects the Conflict Thesis.[16] There are many other models that are used to describe the relationship between science and religion, but as Brooke says “general theses are difficult to maintain.”[17]

Alvin Plantinga views Christian belief as fundamentally congruent with science and only peripherally hostile.[18] Gary Ferngren summarizes,

“While some historians had always regarded the Draper-White thesis as oversimplifying and distorting a complex relationship, in the late twentieth century it underwent a more systematic reevaluation. The result is the growing recognition among historians of science that the relationship of religion and science has been much more positive than is sometimes thought. Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization. If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule”[19]

Concluding then, Christianity has been an overwhelming boon to the scientific endeavor.[20] Kenneth Samples writes:

“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.”[21]

Christianity provides a philosophical foundation for the success of science and today enjoys a fruitful conversation that has endured since the seventeenth century. Although many people presuppose and implicitly if not explicitly accept the Conflict Thesis, this is largely dead in academia. A particular type of Christian belief, namely Fundamentalism, remains reactionary towards a particular type of science, namely evolution. The broad mainstream accepts science as useful to theology, particularly in supporting the project of Natural Theology. When difficulties arise harmonization with a hermeneutic of “accommodation” can be attempted. The relationship is best described as a flourishing dialogue rather than with militaristic terms.

Footnotes

[1] Benjamin Wiker. The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (2009)

[2] Dr. Matthew Flannegan argues evolutionary theory, if correct, only undermines a specific teleological argument for God’s existence and the rest of Christian theism is still on solid ground.

[3] The eminent scientist and founder of modern geology

[4] Talk with Greg Koukl and Dr. Benjamin Wiker, Stand to Reason.

[5] Quote found at God and Nature: p7-8, quote from Moore, Post-Darwinian Controversies

[6] David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, University of California Press (April 29, 1986) p. 14.

[7] In order than no one might be excluded from the means of obtaining happiness, God has been pleased, not only to place in our minds the seeds of religion of which we have already spoken, but to make known his perfection in the whole structure of the universe, and daily place them in our view, in such a manner that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to observe him. . . To prove his remarkable wisdom, both the heavens and the earth present us with countless proofs – not just those more advances proofs which astronomy, medicine and all the other natural sciences are designed to illustrate, but proofs which force themselves on the attention of the most illiterate peasant, who cannot open his eyes without seeing them. (Institutes I.v.1-2)

[8] Alister E. McGrath. Science and Religion, (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1999) p. 11

[9] “Prior to the nineteenth century there was a widespread agreement in the West, particularly in Protestant Christian circles, that resolution to these questions could be achieved by combining insights from both science and Scripture in a unified field of knowledge. If such an integrated view on the level of method and reference was established, it would become the focal point on which the understanding of life depended. Consequently, science and the Christian faith were presumed to be on the same die, mutually compatible, and dealing with the discovery of truth through a uniform epistemology.”

Diepstra, George R. and Gregory J. Laughery. “Interpreting Science and Scripture: Genesis 1-3” European Journal of Theology, 18:1, p. 6.

[10] There is a wide range of opinion encapsulated in this broad category, but generally means God created the first life and got the evolutionary ball rolling, but then left the process alone.

[11] Again, this is a broad category, but generally means God was involved and intervened in the process of creation.

[12] The term is also employed to describe a quagmire of other things, such as theological positions and hermeneutical methods, social agendas and political associations, etc., which make the title an honorific, a slur, and without context too vague for proper use.

[13] American Civil Liberties Union

[14] Alister E. McGrath. The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998) p. 22.

[15] The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, pp. 69-85. Ed. M. Martin. Cambridge Companions to Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 2007  also Quentin Smith, “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism” Philo 4/2(2001): 3-4.

[16] “God Is Not Dead Yet.” Christianity Today. July, 2008, pp. 22-27.

[17] John Hedley Brooke. Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) p. 5

[18] He also convincingly argues that it is naturalism that is fundamentally hostile and only peripherally congruent. (Science and Religion: DVD, Naturalism ad absurdum).

[19] Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. p. ix

[20] Kenneth Samples, “The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science” (http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/christianscience.shtml; Retrieved 27 Jan, 2009), 1998.

[21] Ibid., See also Stuart McEwing, “The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science” (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2009/the-historic-alliance-between-christianity-and-science/; Retrieved 27 Nov, 2009)

Conflict in the Newtonian Worldview

In the first article of this series I gave a history of the Conflict Thesis and described its origin. In the second I have shown how Galileo’s role in the Copernican controversy is not a good example of conflict between science and religion, any such attempt being an overly simplistic and therefore a wholly inadequate description. This article will briefly sketch – very briefly – the period from Galileo in the seventeenth century to the first half of the nineteenth century in terms of the supposed conflict between science and region.

Stephen Hawking lauds Galileo as the person responsible, perhaps more than any other single person, for the birth of modern science.[1] Galileo’s influence on science was more than a beleaguered theory. Gonzalez explains;

“…Galileo proposed . . . a strictly empirical and mathematical method for the observation of the universe. This was probably his greatest contribution to the development of modern science.”[2]

It was Isaac Newton (1643-1727) who went further than Galileo by applying the same empirical and mathematical method. He managed to show that a broad range of observational data conformed to certain principles. Like the cogs of a clock the universe was a grand machine[3] running according to “laws of nature.” The theological entailments of the “mechanistic” worldview that came to be attributed to Newton were two sided.

First, it cleared the path for Deism, for it was seen that the direct and miraculous intervention of God was no longer needed to explain the universe.[4] Rationalism and skepticism were already a part of the milieu of the age, and Deism was the application of these to religion. There were Deists present before Newton, such as John Locke (1632-1704), but their thought gained in influence when this Newtonian ethos was also imbibed in the culture. The result was thinkers like and David Hume (1711-1776) in Britain, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Voltaire (1694-1778) in France, and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) in America – all famous Desist. Philosophies that were anti-Christian in flavor, such as Scientism and Empiricism found in this new age of scientific discovery a modicum of credibility, which led to an increasing disengagement with ecclesial authority and Christian doctrine; especially on revelation, miracles and the divinity of Jesus. Brook notes;

“In an age when unprecendented confidence was placed in the power of human reason, the methods and achievements of the sciences were a powerful resource for those who, with a variety of motives, launched their assault on established Christianity. But to reduce the relations between science and religion to a polarity between reason and superstition is inadmissible, even for that period when it had such rhetorical force. It was often not the natural philosophers themselves, but thinkers with a social or political ax to grind, who transformed the sciences into a secularizing force.”[5]

Second, it immediately suggested design, and provided a philosophical foundation for the Natural Theology that would blossom in the nineteenth century.[6] William Paley (1743-1805) was one among many who was impressed with Newton’s work and the idea of the universe working as a clock works unaided. Set against the background of the burgeoning Industrial Revolution and people’s interest in machines, Paley rescued the Newtonian clockwork metaphor that was hijacked by Deists and argued that watches require watchmakers. Rather than implying Deism, Paley saw that mechanism implies contrivance: watches require watchmakers: laws need lawgivers. His Natural theology; or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1805) is widely regarded as the most significant contribution to the teleological argument.[7] It had a profound effect on English culture in the first half of the nineteenth century, and was required reading for Cambridge University applicants until the twentieth century.[8] Paley’s arguments and other publications were direct responses to David Hume’s (1711-1776) critiques. These employed observations of the world as demonstrations of divine agency.

There was a mixed response, therefore, to the “mechanistic” worldview. Science was being used by Christians to help prove – or at least demonstrate the plausibility of – the theological thesis of God’s nature and existence. Science was also used being used in conjunction with anti-Christian philosophies accompanying the Enlightenment to disprove theological theses – or at least demonstrate their implausibility. The conflict between science and religion then (if it ever existed) historically was only because science combined with philosophies that were surplus and separate to it.[9] For Newton the notion of a conflict between science and religion was alien, for he viewed both as complimentary interests. The mechanistic worldview that was given the name the “Newtonian” worldview because it was produced by his achievements, was not one held by him.

This is evident in that Newton distinguished himself with more than scientific and mathematical genius; he was also a dedicated theologian who hoped his work in natural philosophy (or scientific studies for the modern ear) would encourage people to believe in a deity. The motivation for his work, it is argued, was to show God’s activity in the world[10] rather than an absentee architect. He was like Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), who famously said;

“I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him. 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 all else, of the glory of God.”[11]

Moreover, Newton had a profound impact on the philosopher, America’s greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards, who was no small enthusiast of observing and investigating nature and saw no conflict there. Many Puritans in the New World like Edwards were impacted by Newton, and went on to make significant contributions to science, their Christian faith providing the motivation, conceptual framework, and ethical values required for the scientific endeavor to succeed. This was also true for the culture as a whole, for Christians built the first universities providing higher learning and education for a broad range of people to whom it was previously unavailable.

So it is more the case that science was grown and nurtured by Christians rather than pitted against religious thinkers. Newton and Edwards, among many others intellectuals the Enlightenment, understood that seeking scientific truth was a Christian enterprise that showed not only the beauty and wonder of God’s creation but, by extension, God Himself.[12] Dissenting voices were not entirely absent – there were those who thought science disproved religious claims, but theirs was a science wedded to dispositions and ideologies that were anti-Christian to begin with.

The next installment in this series will be on the great English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1822) and on the response to evolutionary theory.


[1] Stephen Hawking “Galileo and the Birth of Modern Science.” American Heritage’s Invention & Technology, Spring 2009, Vol. 24, No. 1, p. 36

[2] Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. 3. (Nashville; Abingdon Press, 1987) p. 319-20

[3] “Newton was able to demonstrate that a cast range of observational data could be explained on the basis of a set of universal principles. Newton’s success in explaining terrestrial and celestial mechanics led to the rapid development of the idea that the universe could be thought of as a great machine, acting according to fixed laws.” Alister E. McGrath. Science and Religion, (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1999) p. 17

[4] Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. 3. (Nashville; Abingdon Press, 1987) p. 319-20

[5] John Hedley Brooke. Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) p. 13

[6] Alister E. McGrath. Science and Religion, (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1999) p. 18

[7] Ibid. p. 99.

[8] Willaim Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian truth and apologetics, Third edition. (Grand Rapids, Ill.; Crossway 2007) p. 256.

[9] Religion, specifically Christianity, also combined with philosophies that were separate and surplus to is as well. For example, in “Conflict for Copernican Controversy” it is explained that the Catholicism made itself the guardian of Aristotelian philosophy and Ptolemaic geocentricism.

[10] Richard L. Gorsuch, Integrating psychology and spirituality? (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002) p. 16.

[11] Alan L. Gillen, The Genesis of Germs: The Origin of Diseases and the Coming Plagues, (New Leaf Publishing Group, 2007)

[12] To work in the sciences, for the Christian, imbibes a spiritual dimension that could be seen as worship. Nature reveals God in a sort-of third testament.

Conflict for the Copernican Controversy

Italy, in the early decades of the seventeenth century was the centre of the Copernican controversy. Today the perception of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) is of a brilliant thinker unjustly persecuted and condemned by the church, the enemies of scientific progress. A champion of truth disgraced by those whose religious dogma is a hindrance to true knowledge of the world. But serious historians refuse to view the case as one of “science versus religion.” History is never so simplistic. It defies white-hat/black-hat renderings, as adherents of the conflict thesis try to make it out to be.

Galileo’s actions should be understood in relation to the volatile backdrop of the counter-reformation. By stridently defending the heliocentric model of the solar system with both observational and scriptural data, he embroiled himself in dispute with the Catholic Church. Catholicism had made itself the protectors of the Aristotelian philosophy and the Ptolemaic view of geocentricism,[1] and at the time was reacting against the innovations of Protestantism that were undermining the church’s traditional magisterial authority. Conceding Galileo’s new biblical interpretation was to undermine their strongest polemic that tradition was unchangeable, which would lend credibility to the Protestant movement.[2]

His major defense of the Copernican theory was initially received with sympathy within certain circles in the church, partly because Giovanni Ciampoli, who was a papal favorite, held him in high regard. Galileo lost support when Ciampoli fell from power in Rome, and this opened the door for Galileo’s condemnation.

Part of the problem was Galileo’s prickly personality, but the crux issue at stake was how the Bible should be interpreted. The official response was based on two considerations. First, by affirming the Bible should be interpreted according “to the proper meaning of the words.” In other words with a more literal approach, instead of an approach of “accommodation.”[3] Each method of interpretation had had a long history of use and was considered legitimate, but the debate now came to bear on certain passages that traditionally considered should be interpreted literally. Second, by affirming that the Bible should be interpreted “according to the common interpretation and understanding of the Holy Fathers and of learned theologians.” The argument here was that no one else of note in the past has adopted this new interpretation.[4] Thus it was dismissed as an innovation.

McGrath points out;

“Appreciation of this point is thought to have been hindered in the past on account of the failure of historians to engage with the theological (and more precisely, the hermeneutical) issues attending the debate. In part, this can be seen as reflecting the fact that many of the scholars interested in this particular controversy were scientists or historians of science, who were not familiar with the intricacies of the debates on biblical interpretation of this remarkably complex period.”[5]

The affair is one which historians and philosophers of science still debate regularly. There is now general agreement however that, though Galileo’s views were eventually vindicated, he was overstepping the line by insisting his model was the way reality really was. At the time he did not have the evidence to support that claim,[6] so the church wanted to moderate his idea as one interpretation that equally explained the phenomena.

Galileo may have been branded a heretic but his sentence was reduced to house arrest, which amounted to a comfortable retirement where he could entertain guests, carry on his scientific research and publish further works that solidified his place in the pages of history as the founder of modern physics. Not an altogether bad way for a 68 year old to spend the remaining ten years of his life.

This is no more than a brief summary of Galileo and his role in the Copernican controversy, but enough has been said to conclude that painting the affair as one battle in the war of “Science versus Religion” is inadequate. History is often a far more complicated and tangled web than is made out to be, and is not suited to oversimplifications such as those given by proponents of the conflict thesis – as Galileo might call them, Simplicio.[7]


[1] David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, University of California Press (April 29, 1986) p. 150

[2] Alister E. McGrath. Science and Religion, (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1999) p. 12

[3] As a nursemaid accommodates a small child by scooping him up to reach what is on the table, so the Bible accommodates with its language to speak so that every one can understand.

[4] In 1615 the Carmelite friar Paolo Antonio Foscarini published Lettra sopra l’opinione de’ Pittagorici e del Copernico (Letter on the opinion of the Pythagoreans and Copernicus) which argued that the heliocentric model of the solar system was not incompatible with the Bible. Galileo adopted a similar approach of “accommodation”

[5] Alister E. McGrath. Science and Religion, (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1999) p. 12

[6] (Craig, audio blog “Scientific Intolerance” 2008-02-25) William Lane Craig. “Scientific Intolerance” http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5887

The Ptolemaic system explained better certain features of the observational astronomy than did the Copernican-heliocentric model of the solar system.

[7] Meaning “Simple-minded.” Galileo put the words of Pope Urban VIII into the mouth of a character of that name, a thinly veiled criticism of a very powerful supporter. His famous work Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was a attack on Aristotelian geocentricism and advocated the Heliocentric worldview.

Conflict for the Conflict Thesis

When you think of the relationship of faith and science, what images come to mind? Images of bloody battles, war and violence are conjured by the press and the sensationalism of the media. Many view faith and science as strident adversaries. Science and Christian belief are incompatible, so it is thought, and neither can live while the other survives. But is this an accurate way to view that relationship?

I want to examine an event that lies at the origin of this understanding and briefly consider how this image of conflict has developed in the history of faith and science.

The event at the heart of this understanding is the Oxford Union debate in 1860 between Samuel Wilberforce, the Lord Bishop of Oxford, and the botanist T. H. Huxley (also known as “Darwin’s Bulldog”). This debate took place one year after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. It was an exchange between congenial opponents, with polite society in attendance. Michael Ruse comments, ‘Reports from the time suggest that everybody enjoyed himself immensely, and all went cheerfully off to dinner together afterwards.’ There are mixed views on who was the winner on the day, but most seem to favor Huxley.

The event, which should have passed into obscurity, gained notoriety years later when legendary accounts were circulated. The classical example was published in 1898 (nearly thirty years later) in the form of an autobiograpghical memory from Mrs Isabella Sidgewick, published in Macmillian’s magazine;

“I was happy to pre present on the memorable occasion at Oxford when Mr Huxley bearded Bishop Wilberforece . . . The Bishop rose, and in a light scoffing tone, florid and fluent, he assured us that there was nothing in the idea of evolution; rock pigeons were what rock pigeons had always been. Then, turning to his antagonist with a smiling insolence, he begged to know, was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed decent from a monkey?”

So the image of the event that arose later is of a magnanimous Huxley condescending to Wilberforce who was shown to be an ignorant, simple, and somewhat arrogant cleric. But this is at odds with the facts. The Sidgewick statement contradicts accounts published closer to the meeting. Wilberforce’s criticisms of evolutionary theory were extensive and chiefly scientific in nature, partly developed from the criticisms of Alfred Russell Wallace (1823–1913), who was the co-discoverer of evolution through natural selection. Wilberforce was no simpleton, being a fellow of the Royal Society. Darwin, who did not attend due to illness, valued his critique and responded seriously to it.[1] Wilberforce thought he had done well in the debate, though his slur on Huxley, it must be admitted was ill considered and Huxley took the advantage that was handed to him.

What was it then that precipitated such legendary accounts thirty years later? It is important to consider a few factors offered by the sociological perspective. In nineteenth century England, the relationship between science and religion represented the struggle of two opposing classes: the church parsonage with its traditional religious conservativism and the bourgeoning parsonage of the scientists struggling for acceptance and their own place in society.[2] For centuries, clergy had been some of the most intelligent people there were. Because higher education was a requirement for most denominations, it was the clergy and ministers who were the intelligentia in all manner of fields – including the sciences. But the span of hundred years saw a complete about-face in the public perception of the clergy. By the end of the ninetieth century, with the rise of modernism and occurence of the industrial revolution, it was now the scientists who were considered the wisest.

However, it was the publication of two books that introduced the perception of conflict into public consciousness; the first by John William Draper called History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) and Andrew Dickson White’s book History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). These books were the birth of the Draper/White thesis, better known as the Conflict Thesis. Lindberg and Numbers note;

“White’s Warfare apparently did not sell as briskly as Draper’s Conflict, but in the end it proved more influential, partly, it seems, because Draper’s strident anti-Catholicism soon dated his work and because White’s impressive documentation gave the appearance of sound scholarship.” [3]

The influence of the conflict thesis that these books championed was profound. However, the scholarship of these books was soon to come under heavy criticism. In 1908 Walsh wrote a damning appraisal that stops just short of calling Draper and White outright liars. He writes;

“…the story of the supposed opposition of the Church and the Popes and the ecclesiastical authorities to science in any of its branches, is founded entirely on mistaken notions. Most of it is quite imaginary. Much of it is due to the exaggeration of the significance of the Galileo incident. Only those who know nothing about the history of medicine and of science continue to harbor it. That Dr. White’s book, contradicted as it is so directly by all serious histories of medicine and of science, should have been read by so many thousands in this country, and should have been taken seriously by educated men, physicians, teachers, and even professors of science who want to know the history of their own sciences, only shows how easily even supposedly educated men may be led to follow their prejudices rather than their mental faculties…”[4]

The conflict thesis in the earlier half of the twentieth century remained popular though not undisputed. When scientific historiography matured in the 50’s[5] new scholarship produced a barrage of research on the topic. White and Draper were utterly refuted and the conflict thesis was dead in academia by the 70’s. Its final downfall is attributed to Frank Turner’s book Between Science and Religion (1974) and James Moore’s penetrating essay “Historians and Historiography” in the book Post-Darwinian Controversies (1979).

Colin Russel notes;

“Draper takes such liberty with history, perpetuating legends as fact that he is rightly avoided today in serious historical study. The same is nearly as true of White, though his prominent apparatus of prolific footnotes may create a misleading impression of meticulous scholarship”[6]

Though images of warfare still linger – at least at the popular (non-academic) level, many people recognize today that the history of Christianity and science reveals a rich and complex interaction that has been more beneficial than detrimental.

There is, for instance, no doubt that modern science was born in a Christian milieu. Christianity furnished thinkers of the Renaissance with a worldview that permitted them to believe the universe could be understood. A rational God had created a rational universe, and given men rational minds to comprehend it. There were other factors that contributed to the birth of the scientific revolution,[7] but Christianity was a very important one.[8]


[1] There was not a polarization of “science” and “religion” as the idea of opposed armies implies but a large number of leaned men, some scientists, some theologians, some indistinguishable, and almost all of them very religious, who experienced various differences among themselves. There was not organization apparent on either “side” as the idea of rank and command implies but deep divisions among men of science, the majority of whom were at first hostile to Darwin’s theory, and a corresponding and derivative division among Christians who were scientifically untrained, with a large proportion of leading theologians quite prepared to come to terms peacefully with Darwin. Nor, finally, was there the kind of antagonism pictured in the discharge of weaponry but rather a much more subdued overall reaction to the Origin of Species than is generally supposed and a genuine amiability in the relations of those who are customarily believed to have been at battle.

God and Nature: p7-8, quote from Moore, Post-Darwinian Controversies

[2] Alister E. McGrath. The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998) p. 21-2.

[3] David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, University of California Press (April 29, 1986) p. 3.

[4] James Joseph Walsh, The Popes and Science; the History of the Papal Relations to Science During the Middle Ages and Down to Our Own Time, Fordam University Press, New York 1908, p.19

[5] David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, University of California Press (April 29, 1986) p. 6.

[6] Colin A. Russell: The Conflict of Science and Religion in Encyclopedia of the History of Science and Religion, New York 2000, p. 15

[7] Such as the influence of Neo-Platonism, and a climate of skepticism created in part by the Protestant reformation and the erosion of political authorities.

[8] “The full historical picture is complex: science, philosophy, and theology are inextricably intertwined. To single out one factor as the sole cause is to misrepresent the actual situation. Voluntarist theology neither “caused” modern science nor acted as the simple cause of a particular kind of science. It was a rather one factor, albeit a very important one, in giving modern science its strong empirical bent.”

Mark A. Noll. Evangelicals and Science in Historical Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) p. 89

The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science

January 15th, 2009, Robin Lloyd, Senior editor for LiveScience.com wrote a popular news article discussing the Jesse Preston of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her colleague Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago psychological experiments on the trouble with reconciling Science and Religion. Her conclusions highlight the need for careful thought on integration.

When it comes to the ultimate questions, it’s really just one thing at a time, Preston says. People rarely think about these problems, however, so most people live their lives without paying much attention to how the universe started or how life began, Preston said. 1

Salman Hameed responds to her findings,

However, Hampshire College science historian Salman Hameed says Preston and Epley’s framing of the issues and interpretation of their findings are bound up in a particular view of science and religion known as the “conflict thesis.” Yes, sometimes particular scientific and religious claims conflict, but there are numerous examples of individuals, such as Isaac Newton, who saw no inherent conflict between their scientific and religious convictions, Hameed said.

The experiment’s results actually may reveal cultural forces – a specific way of thinking about science and religion – dating back to the 19th century, Hameed said, and these have shaped people’s thinking about science and religion. 

If society has been primed that science and religion have been in conflict, and that is the dominant narrative, then maybe all we are seeing is the effect of that priming, rather than the actual conflict,” Hameed said. Society and journalists like conflict stories because they grab attention, but science and religion interactions are more complex and defy over-simplistic oppositional categories, he said. 2

Reasons to Believe respond in their latest podcast of Science News Flash, 21 Jan 2009. There Kenneth Samples references the article of his, The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science 3. He serves as RTB’s Vice President of Philosophy/Theology.

Kenneth Samples gives four reasons why historically science and Christianity have been allies rather than enemies. Contrary to the claims of the “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens science and Christianity are not at war, but enjoy a healthier dialogue today than they ever have. The “Conflict thesis” suffers from a lack of support from historians and philosophers of science, and serves today as sensationalist fodder from the news media. 

Samples writes,

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. 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. 4

The four reasons he supplies are as follows. 

(1) The intellectual climate that gave rise to modern science (roughly three centuries ago) was decisively shaped by Christianity.

(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.

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.5

(3) The philosophical presuppositions foundational to the study of science are rooted in Christian theism’s claims of an infinite, eternal, and personal creator who has carefully ordered the universe and provided man with a mind that corresponds to the universe’s intelligibility. This Christian schema served as the intellectual breeding ground for modern science.

 

Christian philosopher Greg L. Bahnsen argues not only that naturalism fails to justify its underlying presuppositions but also that naturalists illegitimately rest their scientific endeavors on Christian theistic principles. Naturalists borrow from Christianity. Consider this insightful observation by physicist and popular author Paul Davies:

People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature-the laws of physics-are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they came from; at least they do not do so in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least partly comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.6

One may wonder if science would have arisen had the dominant metaphysical views of the time been naturalistic and materialistic. Would naturalism have been able to sustain the scientific enterprise that Christian theism generated? The eminent Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga gives his opinion: “Modern science was conceived, and born, and flourished in the matrix of Christian theism. Only liberal doses of self-deception and double-think, I believe, will permit it to flourish in the context of Darwinian naturalism.”7, 8

 

(4) The prevailing scientific notions of big bang cosmology and the emerging anthropic principle seem uniquely compatible with Christian theism.

 

Footnotes:

1. Robin Lloyd, “God and Science: An Inner Conflict” (http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20090115/sc_livescience/godandscienceaninnerconflict; Retrieved 27 Jan, 2009), 15 Jan 2009

2. Ibid. 

3. Kenneth Samples, “The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science” (http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/christianscience.shtml; Retrieved 27 Jan, 2009), 1998.

4. Ibid. 

5. Ibid. 

6. As cited in Michael Bumbulis, “Christianity and the Birth of Science,” August 4, 1998, p. 21, http://www.ldolphin.org/bumbulis/

7. Alvin Plantinga, “Darwin, Mind and Meaning”, November 17, 1997, p. 8, http://www.veritas-ucsb.org/library/plantinga/Dennett.html

8. Kenneth Samples, “The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science” (http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/christianscience.shtml; Retrieved 27 Jan, 2009), 1998.