Science and Religion
by Mike Gray
Issue 206 – June 20, 2012
It is commonly supposed that when in the early modern period individuals began to look at the world in a different way, they could no longer believe what they read in the Bible. In this book I shall suggest that the reverse is the case: that when in the sixteenth century people began to read the Bible in a different way, they found themselves forced to jettison traditional conceptions of the world.
Had it not been for the rise of the literal interpretation of the Bible and the subsequent appropriation of biblical narratives by early modern scientists, modern science may not have arisen at all. In sum, the Bible and its literal interpretation have played a vital role in the development of Western science. Peter Harrison, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, Fellow of Harris Manchester College
Here is a final paradox. Recent work on early modern science has demonstrated a direct (and positive) relationship between the resurgence of the Hebraic, literal exegesis of the Bible in the Protestant Reformation, and the rise of the empirical method in modern science. I’m not referring to wooden literalism, but the sophisticated literal-historical hermeneutics that Martin Luther and others (including Newton) championed. It was, in part, when this method was transferred to science, when students of nature moved on from studying nature as symbols, allegories and metaphors to observing nature directly in an inductive and empirical way, that modern science was born. In this, Newton also played a pivotal role. As strange as it may sound, science will forever be in the debt of millenarians and biblical literalists. Stephen Snobelen, Assistant Professor of History of Science and Technology, University of King’s College, Halifax, Canada
The biblical presuppositions, without which modern science cannot function:
1. The universe is real (because it was created—Genesis 1), not an illusion as New Agers believe.
2. The universe is orderly, because God is a God of order not of confusion—1 Corinthians 14:33. But if there is no creator, or if Zeus and his gang were in charge, why should there be any order at all? If some Eastern religions were right that the universe is a great thought, then it could change its mind any moment.
3. Man can and should investigate the world, because God gave us dominion over His creation (Genesis 1:28); creation is not divine.
4. Man can initiate thoughts and actions; they are not fully determined by deterministic laws of brain chemistry. This is a deduction from the biblical teaching that man has both a material and immaterial aspect (e.g. Genesis 35:18, 1 Kings 17:21–22, Matthew 10:28). This immaterial aspect of man means that he is more than matter, so his thoughts are likewise not bound by the makeup of his brain. But if materialism were true, then ‘thought’ is just an epiphenomenon of the brain, and the results of the laws of chemistry. Thus, given their own presuppositions, materialists have not freely arrived at their conclusion that materialism is true, because their conclusion was predetermined by brain chemistry. But then, why should their brain chemistry be trusted over mine, since both obey the same infallible laws of chemistry? So in reality, if materialists were right, then they can’t even help what they believe (including their belief in materialism!). Yet often call themselves ‘freethinkers’, overlooking the glaring irony! Genuine initiation of thought is an insuperable problem for materialism ….
5. Man can think rationally and logically, and that logic itself is objective. This is a deduction from the fact that he was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27), and from the fact that Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the logos. This ability to think logically has been impaired but not eliminated by the Fall of man into sinful rebellion against his creator. (The Fall means that sometimes the reasoning is flawed, and sometimes the reasoning is valid but from the wrong premises. So it is folly to elevate man’s reasoning above that God has revealed in Scripture.) But if evolution were true, then there would be selection only for survival advantage, not rationality.
6. Results should be reported honestly, because God has forbidden false witness (Exodus 20:16). But if evolution were true, then why not lie?
While the usual secular materialist and therefore atheist account of the origin of modern science “proves” how Christian thought retarded its development, Rodney Stark, a Professor of Comparative Religion, paints a different picture:
India, China, Persia, Greece and Rome all had venerable traditions of scholarship but why did only Christian Europe develop science? Stark’s answer is simple but profound—the Christian God was rational, responsive, dependable and omnipotent and the universe was his personal creation in which his divine nature was put on display for man’s benefit and instruction. Among the passages most commonly cited by medieval scholars was: ‘Thou has ordered all things in measure and number and weight.’ Christians believed that science could be done and should be done.
… To illustrate the role of Christians in the rise of science, Stark researched ‘scientific stars’ from 1543 to 1680, the era usually designated as the ‘scientific revolution’, and came up with a list of the top 52. Of these, 26 were Protestant and 26 Catholic; 15 of them were English, 9 French, 8 Italian, 7 German (the rest were Dutch, Danish, Flemish, Polish and Swedish respectively). Only one was a sceptic (Edmund Halley) and one (Paracelsus) was a pantheist. The other 50 were Christians, 30 at least of which could be characterized as ‘devout’ because of their evident zeal. It is not until the time of Darwin that atheism appeared to accomplish anything significant in science (Halley’s work in astronomy and mathematics owed no debt to atheism). And the obvious flaw in Darwinism is that it ‘falls notably short of explaining the origin of species’. So atheism is left nakedly ideological, with all its attempts to wrap itself in science thwarted.