There is no modern science without Christianity

How often do you hear that Christianity is not compatible with science? The next time you hear that claim, refer the critic to this list of Christians in science and technology and ask how it’s possible that so many Christians were able to make significant contributions to science and tech in spite of that incompatibility:

John Philoponus
Bede the Venerable
Rabanus Maurus
Leo the Mathematician
Hunayn ibn Ishaq
Pope Sylvester II
Hermann of Reichenau
Hugh of Saint Victor
William of Conches
Hildegard of Bingen
Robert Grosseteste
Pope John XXI
Albertus Magnus
Roger Bacon
Theodoric of Freiberg
Thomas Bradwardine
William of Ockham
Jean Buridan
Nicephorus Gregoras
Nicole Oresme
Nicholas of Cusa
Otto Brunfels
Nicolaus Copernicus
Michael Servetus
Michael Stifel
William Turner
Ignazio Danti
Giordano Bruno
Bartholomaeus Pitiscus
John Napier
Johannes Kepler
Galileo Galilei
Laurentius Gothus
Marin Mersenne
René Descartes
Pierre Gassendi
Anton Maria of Rheita
Blaise Pascal
Isaac Barrow
Juan Lobkowitz
Seth Ward
Robert Boyle
John Wallis
John Ray
Gottfried Leibniz
Isaac Newton
Colin Maclaurin
Stephen Hales
Thomas Bayes
Firmin Abauzit
Emanuel Swedenborg
Carolus Linnaeus
Leonhard Euler
Maria Gaetana Agnesi
Joseph Priestley
Isaac Milner
Samuel Vince
Linthus Gregory
Bernhard Bolzano
William Buckland
Agustin-Louis Cauchy
Lars Levi Læstadius
George Boole
Edward Hitchcock
William Whewell
Michael Faraday
Charles Babbage
Adam Sedgwick
Temple Chevallier
John Bachman
Robert Main
James Clerk Maxwell
Andrew Pritchard
Arnold Henry Guyot
Gregor Mendel
Philip Henry Gosse
Asa Gray
Francesco Faà di Bruno
Julian Tenison Woods
James Prescott Joule
Heinrich Hertz
James Dwight Dana
Louis Pasteur
George Jackson Mivart
Armand David
George Stokes
George Salmon
Henry Baker Tristram
Lord Kelvin
Pierre Duhem
Georg Cantor
Henrietta Swan Leavitt
Dmitri Egorov
Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin
Pavel Florensky
Agnes Giberne
J. J. Thomson
John Ambrose Fleming
Max Planck
Edward Arthur Milne
Robert Millikan
Charles Stine
E. T. Whittaker
Arthur Compton
Ronald Fisher
Georges Lemaître
Otto Hahn
David Lack
Charles Coulson
George R. Price
Theodosius Dobzhansky
Werner Heisenberg
Michael Polanyi
Henry Eyring
Sewall Wright
William G. Pollard
Aldert van der Ziel
Mary Celine Fasenmyer
John Eccles
Carlos Chagas Filho
Sir Robert Boyd
Richard Smalley
Mariano Artigas
Arthur Peacocke
C. F. von Weizsäcker
Stanley Jaki
Allan Sandage
Charles Hard Townes
Ian Barbour
Freeman Dyson
Richard H. Bube
Antonino Zichichi
John Polkinghorne
Owen Gingerich
John T. Houghton
Russell Stannard
R. J. Berry
Gerhard Ertl
Michał Heller
Robert Griffiths
Ghilean Prance
Donald Knuth
George Frances Rayner Ellis
Colin Humphreys
John Suppe
Eric Priest
Christopher Isham
Henry F. Schaefer, III
Joel Primack
Robert T. Bakker
Joan Roughgarden
William D. Philips
Kenneth R. Miller
Francis Collins
Noella Marcillino
Simon Conway Morris
John D. Barrow
Denis Alexander
Don Page
Stephen Barr
Brian Kobilka
Karl W. Giberson
Martin Nowak
John Lennox
Jennifer Wiseman
Ard Louis
Larry Wall
Justin L. Barrett

Nobel laureates are highlighted in red.

roger-bacon-statue

Be sure to emphasize that it was Roger Bacon, a Franciscan monk, who originated the scientific method, and was thus the first modern scientist.

If the critic has any response to this at all, it will likely be to wave his hand and respond that it is in spite of their professed Christian faith that they made their contributions. This is simply untrue; and while it’s not surprising that a critic of Christianity would be ignorant of both this list and of Christianity’s part in the development of modern science, it’s very surprising — to me, anyway — that Christians likewise tend to be ignorant of these facts.

The first time I showed this list to a Christian audience during one of my lectures, there was an audible gasp. Most Christians are not only unaware that the claim of incompatibility is flatly false, but that the long list of Christians in science and technology is a testament to the fact that modern science is a direct product of the Christian faith.

I’ll say it again: Not only is science fully compatible with Christianity, it is extremely doubtful that we would have modern science without Christianity.

Entire volumes have been written on this topic, but the claim essentially rests on two beliefs. There could never be modern science without:

1. the counterintuitive notion of linear time, which was inferred from the Bible by St. Augustine in the 4th century.

2. belief in a deliberately ordered and knowable creation by a rational being (Genesis 1; Psalm 19; Proverbs 8:22-24; Romans 1:20; many more). C. S. Lewis, in his critique of atheist rationality in The Case for Christianity, explained it this way:

Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. … Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought…

In contemporary terms, this is called the Boltzmann brain idea, which effectively says, in the absence of a conscious creative force, it is statistically much more probable that we are simply “brains in vats” hallucinating these experiences than that we actually inhabit a highly ordered universe. In other words, you have to have faith that even your perceptions and thoughts are accurately reflecting a reality that operates according to non-arbitrary and knowable rules. That’s a given in Christianity, but there is no reason to believe otherwise if you don’t believe in a rational conscious creative force behind the universe.

While it could be argued, in principle, that perhaps the following point is not absolutely necessary for the development of modern science, it nevertheless played a significant role:

3. belief that we must test everything (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and that we must study the natural world to better understand the character and purpose of God (Psalm 19; Romans 1:20). Mitch Stokes, in his biography of Isaac Newton, observed the following about Newton and his contemporaries:

For Newton, “To be constantly engaged in studying and probing into God’s actions was true worship.” This idea defined the seventeenth-century scientist, and in many cases, the scientists doubled as theologians.

Personally, I think it’s extremely doubtful that modern science could have emerged without this third principle, but I’ll save this for a later post.

One of the greatest achievements of modern atheism has been to divorce Christians from their scientific legacy. Modern science is one of the crowning achievements of Western civilization, built upon the foundation of Christian faith, belief, and purpose. But how many Christians are aware of this? Instead of questioning the source, many Christians have willingly accepted the lie that Christianity and science are mutually incompatible. This is the classic mistake of accepting an adversary’s frame. Christians must reject it by educating themselves on the history of their faith and the great part it played in the development of modern science.

4 thoughts on “There is no modern science without Christianity

  1. I think this is one of the big sins of the modern church: denying God His due praise and glory for the blessings we have within W. Civ, including (especially) science and technology.

    There is a movement in modern churches (at least protestant, evangelical ones) to ignore such things b/c they are “not eternal” or are considered “cares of the world.”

    I would submit that they are pursuits that are in explicit obedience to the Dominion Mandate, and that the revelations serve to honor the Creator. (Prov 25:2, Matt 17:20)

  2. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am an atheist. However, I am by no means unfamiliar with the number of scientists (past and present) that also had a faith (Christian, or otherwise). Nonetheless, I don’t believe this is what non-theists are, necessarily, aiming at when they raise this issue.

    My point is this: the faith, in a broad sense, of an A.N. Whitehead or John Polkinghorne, say, is much different than the faith, in a narrow sense, of a John Calvin or Ken Ham. That is, I don’t think non-theists would disagree that there are or have been scientists with faith-based beliefs. What they would, however, disagree with is the compatibility of a specific–albeit very vocal–fundamentalist faith with a scientific methodology.

    I agree with this. The justificatory methodology utilized by conservative, fundamentalist Christians is antithetical to that of the scientific method. Plenty of Christian’s do good, even excellent, science and, I would argue, this is largely due to the allowances that their less orthodox worldview–or, theology, if you prefer–make possible.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Cody.

    There are few people I disrespect more than Ken Ham. I don’t know what his motives are, but I do not think he is intellectually honest.

    I disagree about the orthodoxy of the Christian worldview being at odds with science, but this may just be a matter of semantics. Ham, and those like him, seem anomalous to me, and in a sense less orthodox than men like Newton and his contemporaries.

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