The Foundation of Modern Science Is:
The Biblical Worldview
- R. Totten (c) '99
In popular opinion, there has long been a widespread impression that science and the scientific method has always been at odds with the Biblical Worldview --always needing to fight against "religious ignorance." Though there have been many instances of science in conflict with religion around the world, when it comes to the Judeo-Christian Theistic worldview, that general impression is actually far from the truth. In reality, modern Western science was founded upon Judeo-Christian presuppositional foundations from the Bible. And whatsmore, the scientific method today --with an emphasis on logical experimenation and mathematical formulation-- still operates on those assumptions.
In their book, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Crossway,'94), Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton explain how, in all the history of mankind, the modern scientific method and philosophy originated in only one culture (& religious worldview), and that is: --in Christianized Western Europe.
In balance, however, Pearcey and Thaxton note that it is true that several ancient cultures --such as the Arabs (along with India's mathematics), the Egyptians and Chinese-- did come up earlier with more advanced levels of practical technology, mathematics and learning than medieval Europe did, but still, because of their worldviews, those more technically advanced cultures did not come up with "modern science as a systematic, self-correcting discipline" (p.21, my emphasis). --Also, it should be remembered that the various technological advancements of Islamic culture developed within the worldview of the Quran, which was written down after Mohammed engaged in extensive discussions about the Bible with both Jews and Christians as he developed his theology and worldview, and so, much of the biblical worldview was foundational to the Quran, which benefited Islamics.
In agreement with this, science writer Loren Eiseley (a non-Christian) maintains that the most curious thing about the modern scientific method and philosophy, is that mankind has come up with it at all, because it is not "natural" to mankind. Worship of nature comes more naturally to people, as well as superstition.
--In contrast, however, science "demands some kind of unique soil in which to flourish," says Eiseley, and he (somewhat reluctantly) identifies that soil as "the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear, articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself" (Darwin's Century, '61, p.62, my emphasis). Up through the middle ages and until the 1800s, modern science (and its method) was shaped and developed largely by discussions about nature among Bible-believing Christians, such as Buridan, Copernicus, Kepler, Paracelsus, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Boyle, Linnaeus and Cuvier. -- (See lists of great scientists and inventors below).
So, why did modern science arise only out of Western Europe's Judeo-Christian worldview? Pearcey and Thaxton explain that the reason is because only that worldview of the Bible provided the key presuppositions required for modern science and its methods :
* * *
- 1. Nature is Real, not Imaginary
The Bible speaks of nature and the universe as being real. God created them, and they are real entities. --This point may seem too obvious to bring up, but a few worldviews consider material things to be unreal or imaginary. For instance, Eastern Thought (esp. much of Hinduism and Buddhism) teaches that any distinct object (such as a rock, a person or a planet) is an illusion ("maya"). Small wonder that science did not grow out of such worldviews, because, obviously it would be a nonsensical waste of time to study and analyze an illusion.
However, since the biblical view sees the things of nature as realities, they are therefore possible objects of study and understanding.
- 2. Nature is a "Thing", not a God
According to Biblical teaching, there is nothing in the natural created order which is part of God himself. This being true, the scientist with a biblical worldview may study and use all of nature in scientific and technological endeavors without "attacking" God's own being.
Contrast this to Eastern religions, which are basically all pantheistic or polytheistic worldviews, where anything and possibly everything may be a god or a part of god (or the "One"). --Or compare the biblical view to pagan Animism which believes that all natural things --both animate and inanimate (such as rocks, plants, animals, thunder or planets)-- are indwelt and "animated" by some form of spiritual and divine life-forces within them, which shape all reality. --In such worldviews, a person conducting science might be (for example) dissecting a god or its body, which would be an horribly impious offense of sacrilege. Such views undoubtedly destroyed the possibility of modern science in the cultures which held them.
--In contrast, the Bible teaches that the universe and the natural order is God's creation... objects and forces, not part of God himself. Therefore, says science historian R. Hooykaas, Judeo-Christianity "un-deified" nature, and this was an essential pre-condition for the endeavor of modern science to exist.
Of course, the fact that nature is a created "thing" does not mean people should be free to harm and abuse nature ...on the contrary, we --as stewards-- are to respect a protect these things which have been put in our charge.)
(A NOTE of CONCERN: In recent years, as a few scientists are tending back toward an "Eastern" worldview --including pantheism-- which is actually regressive, and promises to be a threat to an effective scientific method.)
- 3. Nature is Worth Studying
The Bible speaks of the creation as being "good", and so, it is not only real, but it is worth studying; There is value in understanding nature. Material things may be used for the benefit of man (and to the glory of God), so, science can be a worthwhile endeavor. John Calvin said, "there is need of art and more exacting toil in order to investigate the motion of the stars, ...to measure their intervals, and to note their properties." Kepler, van Helmont, Newton and many other Bible-believers felt that the diligent study of science was a good gift from God which was a service which would bring Him glory.
- 4. Nature is Unified and Orderly
The sovereign God of the Bible is eternally dependable and orderly in his own character, and therefore, Christians expected nature and the universe to exhibit unified dependable "laws" of behavior. Copernicus said the universe was "wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator." Natural law implies that the forces of nature are, for the most part, reliably predictable from year to year ...e.g. the properties of gravity, and the speed of light, etc., should not normally be expected to change significantly from year to year. If this were not true, the objects of study might change radically from day to day, so that no coherent course of study would be possible. Historian Carl Becker writes that the concept of "natural law" was not derived from observations of nature; rather, it was first hypothesized from belief in the Biblical God before observations of nature confirmed it. --Today, many people take this point for granted, but A.R. Hall points out that both the ancient Western and Asian worlds had no concept of "natural law," until it finally came about from Christians in the Middle Ages, and Hall says that it constituted "a notable departure" from anything that had preceeded it.
- 5. The Natural Order is Mathematically Precise
Science historians have also traced this idea to the Biblical teaching on creation. Christians figured that the almighty God of the Bible created the universe "ex nihilo," meaning "out of nothing," and therefore he had complete control over the end result, which the orderly Creator would make into some sort of precise and logical structure. This is why Rene Descartes said the mathematical laws scientists looked for were "legislated" by God in the same way a king makes laws in his kingdom. R.G. Collingwood writes, "The possibility of an applied mathematics is an expression, in terms of natural science, of the Christian belief that nature is the creation of an omnipotent God" (An Essay on Metaphysics, '72, p.253).
The work of astronomer J. Kepler illustrates this beautifully, because he struggled for years over the small difference of eight minutes between the observed orbit-time of Mars, compared to what the calculated time should have been if the orbit were circular in shape. This "small" discrepancy drove Kepler to postulate that the orbit was elliptical instead of round. He hit upon this because of a conviction that God's work in designing nature must be mathmatically precise and logical --otherwise Kepler would not have worried about it, and would not have decided against a two thousand year-old belief in circular orbits. Kepler spoke of those eight minutes gratefully, as a "gift of God."
By contrast, for example, the Greeks expected a good amount of imprecision and "fuzziness" in nature, because their concept of a creator (demiurge) was an inferior deity who had to "struggle" against the stubborn properties of matter. Greeks thought, therefore, that nothing in the physical world could be described with exact precision, by mathematically precise concepts. In addition, they thought the material world was somewhat evil and disorderly, ---and so, many historians believe these are the major reasons why the ancient Greeks never developed anything like an experimental scientific method using empirical facts.
- 6. Human Minds can Discover and Understand the Natural Order
The Bible teaches that man is made "in the image of God," which means (among other things) that man is personal, creative and imaginative, and able to "step back" (transcend) and rationally analyze and develop knowledge about many realities of nature and existence.
But in contrast, in his book, The Grand Tradition ('69), J. Needham --an expert on Chinese culture-- maintains that the Chinese never developed modern analytical science, because they did not think there existed either a definite understandable order in nature, nor the human ability to figure it out. To the Chinese, whatever order did exist in nature "was not an order ordained by a rational personal being, and hence there was no guarantee that other rational personal beings would be able to spell out ...laws which he had previously formulated" (p.327).
On the other hand, in Christian Europe, scientists did have such a guarantee, because they believed that a rational and orderly Creator had made everything --including man as a rational personal being. The resultant outcome is that, to a meaningful extent, man can "think God's thoughts after Him", and thus understand much of the rationally logical order of nature. --Note, however, that this possibility of "orderly thinking" is not a perfect picture, because of "the Fall" of man into sin, which left man's spirit dead towards God, his understanding impaired --and the creation damaged, dying, and condemned to decay and entropy (Romans 8:20-21).
So, the charge that the Bible and Judeo-Christianity is hostile to science, is basically a completely inaccurate notion ...which was a deceptive fiction, whatsmore. In fact, in his book The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers, Carl Becker shows that Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire, Condorcet, Hume, Montesquieu and Gibbon intentionally endeavored to discredit Christianity by portraying it as an "enemy" of science. Likewise, in the 1800s, A. Comte and A. White carefully combed through Western history for examples of Christians who resisted change in scientific concepts. ---However, these "triumphalist" writers were actually not being honest enough to bring out that almost all such resistance was from "status quo" science, and that change in scientific views often meets resistance during any period of history. But despite such ideological efforts at deception, the facts of science history are now dismantling these false stereotypes of "anti-scientific" Christianity.
Although people from all major non-biblical worldviews employ modern scientific methodology today, those people have the framework of the worldview of Biblical truth to thank for this original connection to reality. ---However, if non-biblical worldviews and philosophies take over, this would create a threat to good science.
Pearcey and Thaxton sum it up: "The Christian religion ...has motivated, sanctioned, and shaped large portions of the Western scientific heritage. Modern Christians ought to drink deeply at the well of historical precedent. If we do, we will never feel intimidated by positivists and others who deny that religion has any role in genuine scholarship. In the broad scope of history, that claim is itself a temporary aberation ---a mere blip on the screen, already beginning to fade" (p.248).
Christians can confidently obey the Lord's call to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2Cor. 10:5).
Great Scientists working from a biblical worldview
(...who established the modern scientific method)
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) - Hydraulics, Anatomy
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) - Celestial Mechanics, Astronomy
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) - Hydrostatics, Fluid Pressure
Robert Boyle (1627-1691) - Chemistry, Elements, Gas Volume & Pressure, Scientific Method
Isaac Newton (1642-1727) - Calculus, Laws of Gravity & Motion
John Woodward (1665-1728) - Paleontology
Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) - Systematic Biology Classification
Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) - Comparative Anatomy, Vertebrate Paleontology
Michael Faraday (1791-1867) - Electromagnetics, Field Theory
Charles Babbage (1792-1871) - Computer Science
Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) - Ichthyology, Glacial Geology
James Joule (1818-1889) - Reversible Thermodynamics
Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) - Genetics
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) - Bacteriology, Germs cause Disease, Law of Biogenesis
Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) - Thermodynamics, Energetics
William Ramsay (1852-1916) - Isotopic Chemistry
And considering many others working from a biblical worldview of nature, read down through a list of
Notable Inventions and Discoveries from the past 800 years.
And you, dear reader, are loved and valued by God, who sent Jesus Christ to pay the death-penalty for the sins of anyone who will surrender and entrust their life to him. (see John 3:16 and Rom. 10:9).
Blessings to you!
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