There are at least three subject areas that societies around the globe and throughout history have excelled at: mathematics, philosophy and technology. I can think of examples like indigenous Central-South Americans, various Asian populations and the Greco-Roman world. As breathtaking as these may be, each of these subjects are very natural for human achievement and advancement: we count, we think and we make. None are being minimized, but none of these are our crowning achievements. Something much more complex and successful would take that title: Western Civilization.
Without western civilization, you would most likely be a slave or a serf. Without western civilization, you would have less rights and justice. Without western civilization, you would most likely be living in abject poverty. Without western civilization, you would not have free market capitalism nor the industrial revolution. Without western civilization, you would have no university. Without western civilization, superstition would reign. Without western civilization, there would be no science.
We take for granted the progress of western civilization’s unnatural institutions: the promotion of freedom, reason, the free market system and the scientific method. I’m not being bombastic.
But here’s the twist, Western Civilization started only once in history and in only one place in the world: Medieval Christian Europe. Canadian Psychologist Jordan Peterson correctly claims, and I paraphrase, “The Bible is central to western culture and is the central document to western culture.” Simply put, without Jesus, we would never have our Bible and without our Bible, we would never have Western Civilization and without Western Civilization, we would have no science.
kNOw God, kNOw Science
Christian medieval Europe was the perfect utopia for science. Brilliant European Christians led the fight against superstition and irrationality by promoting reason, progress and biblical worldview. Many fields of science must thank Christians as being their progenitors. Here are just a few of them:
- Joseph Lister – Antiseptic Surgery
- Louis Pasteur – Bacteriology
- Isaac Newton – Calculus
- Johann Kepler – Celestial Mechanics
- Robert Boyle – Chemistry
- Georges Cuvier – Comparative Anatomy
- Isaac Newton – Dynamics
- John Ambrose Fleming – Electronics
- James Clerk Maxwell – Electrodynamics
- Michael Faraday – Electro-magnetics
- Lord Kelvin – Energetics
- Henri Fabre – Entomology of Living Insects
- William Herschel – Galactic Astronomy
- Robert Boyle – Gas Dynamics
- Gregor Mendel – Genetics
- Louis Agassiz – Glacial Geology
- James Simpson – Gynecology
- Leonardo Da Vinci – Hydraulics
- Blaise Pascal – Hydrostatics
- Louis Agassiz – Ichthyology
- John Ray – Natural History
- Matthew Maury – Oceanography
- John Woodward – Paleontology
- Rudolph Virchow – Pathology
- Johann Kepler – Physical Astronomy
- Carolus Linnaeus – Systematic Biology
- Lord Kelvin – Thermodynamics
- Georges Cuvier – Vertebrate Paleontology
The “Ten Commandments” of Science
Before scientists can do science, however, they have to believe certain non-scientific ideas. One has to assume such things like order in nature, uniformity in nature, value of hard work, truth, progress, freedom, ethics and a promotion of progress. Some ancient civilizations may have held to some, but not others. However, Judeo-Christian worldview held all.
This is not to say philosophy, technological advancements and mathematical progress of other cultures did not help. Yes, the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese and the Mohammedans contributed too. But they never started the scientific enterprise because their overall beliefs stymied such progress.
Ultimately, the essential factor was Christianity’s assumptions and presuppositions, period. Below are ten foundational Christian worldview beliefs that helped ground science.
1) We assume we have rational and reasonable minds
We need more than just rational minds to study the universe, we must also assume that our minds are rational. The Christian worldview asserts that we were created by a rational God with a rational mind (1 Corinthians 2:16). God is presented as logical, the essence of logic. John uses the Greek word Logos (same root as logic) to describe Jesus (John 1:1). Jesus would point out logical fallacies, such as a false dichotomy (Mark 12:19-27) and would make logical arguments (John 5:19–46). Since it teaches we are created in his image, we too must have rational minds. Thus, we can think God’s thoughts after him, looking at the wonders of his creation.
Plus, not only was Jesus rational, but Paul was a first rate philosopher, being trained by the best Pharisaical philosophers. Paul’s writings contain many logical arguments. For example, his argument in 1 Corinthians 15 concerning the Resurrection and the truth of Christianity.
Contrast this to Islam, Allah is unknowable and capricious. If true, why would we expect rationality in Islam? Materialists also fail, while they now claim to be the rational ones, they have no grounding. Undirected and naturalistic process in a tooth and claw world don’t seem to create rational beings.
What a historically novel idea, a knowable and accessible nature! The early fathers of science not only assumed they could study and understand God’s creation, but that nature was rationally created.
However, if your “god” is unknowable, why would its creation be knowable? If you did not believe that there was definite understandable order in nature, as some of the Chinese seemed to have thought, why study it?
3) We assume ethics and morality
Truth, ethics and morality are foundational in the Christian worldview, thus you need to be honest and follow truth. Science is designed to force the researcher to follow the truth wherever it leads, even though it may not always be successful. Thus, honesty, credit, peer review, critique and experiment replication are essential in the scientific world.
Contrariwise, within a materialistic framework, ethics and morality are subjective. Darwinian ethics can’t explain intent and motive in morality, only actions in a subjective way. Nor can it tell us that we are supposed to do right in the future. Sure, doing right may help us survive and pass on our genes here and now, but nothing constrains us to do this in the future. There is no grounding for morality and truthfulness.
4) We assume a cause and effect world
We don’t think our world is arbitrary, rather we think we live in a cause and effect world. Nor do we think that events in the natural world have some sort of metaphysical causes, such as sound making “sound spirits” when trees fall, rather the trees themselves somehow caused the sound. Creation is also not pantheistic nor filled with “nature spirits” or “gods” that will cause things to randomly happen. Also, since “god”, “the gods” or “spirits” are not part of nature, it’s not “taboo” to study nature.
Some Native Americans, however, thought nature was embedded with spirits. For example, survivalist Tom Brown Jr., raised by a Native American grandfather, still teaches you should ask the plant forgiveness before harvesting. Why would you study nature if you had to “destroy” your plant or animal “brother” or “sister?”
5) We assume both naturalistic and mental causes
Science only advances when we follow the evidence. What if the evidence leads to a supernatural cause? Modern science rejects such answer because it assumes naturalism. However, the first scientist did not have this problem. They set out with the scientific method to understand nature’s laws and follow the evidence. They were theists who robustly eschewed “metaphysical naturalism.” Their openness to agent causative events, however, did not stymie their findings. Rather, it more than likely helped pave the way for other study that assume agent causation like SETI, anthropology, archaeology, information science and forensics.
Actually, artificially mandating naturalism slows scientific progress. Outlawing the answer of number 4 may sound intellectual, but if this is done 2 + 2 will always yield wrong answers. The twentieth century’s failure to provide a naturalistic explanation of the origin of life is a prime example: researchers hit the proverbial “brick wall.” Same with the origin of the universe. Assuming things pop into existence without a cause is irrational. Some supernatural, outside our universe cause, seems to be the most rational answer. The evidence loudly points to the Creator, not naturalism.
Science is based off the assumption that time is linear, the universe had a beginning and will have an end. Biblical ideas assume progression from Creation to Judgment day, Genesis to Revelation. One can’t but help think of passages like, “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” (Isaiah 44:6) and “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” (Rev 22:13).
However, cyclical view of time or an endless repeating cyclical universe gives no help to science. Consider ancient cultures such as many Native Americans and eastern societies. They assumed a wheel of time, time was cyclical consisting of repeating ages that happen to every being.
7) We assume uniformity in nature
Science only works if there is regularity and uniformity in nature. But we can only seek for it if we assume that’s how nature works. The fathers of science assumed God’s nature was orderly and regular, not capricious, thus his creation would have regularity and order. They read things like “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8) and “Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth….” (Jeremiah 33:25).
If this was true, they should be able to find laws that could be counted upon and they could discover regular patterns in nature. In other words, God was the creator and lawgiver and man can discover these laws. They assumed that forces of nature were usually reliable and will not change much from year to year, day to day and minute to minute. This is why the laws of gravity and light are the same wherever you are in the world. It also explains why there is structural and genetic homology in biology. Without uniformity in nature, and the assumption of its existence, we could not make hypothesis and predictions, and then test them.
In a naturalistic worldview, there is no reason to think that uniformity in nature even exists. Why would a universe that came about through chance, random natural process, explosions, mutations, etc., have uniformity?
In addition, philosopher David Hume pointed out the problem of induction. Scientists assume uniformity in nature because the past shows uniformity. But that is circular, thus it can never be proven. This means that the conclusions of science must be taken on faith. So there are no adequate grounds to assume uniformity in nature, unless you assume God grounds order, as I do.
Islam struggles too, teaching Allah is capricious. If so, his creation must also be capricious because “Allah wills” this or that to happen, randomly! Why assume uniformity in nature? Polytheistic religions don’t help either, many gods fight over how the universe should be made, thus you get a mixed up disaster with no uniformity.
8) We assume the need for experimentation
Intuition is good and useful, but not powerful enough to understand our complex world. It needs to be augmented with observation and experimentation to more accurately understand the world. The reason why is that the Christian God is assumed to be a free agent to create as he wills. In addition, his ways and thoughts are above ours. As fallen humans, we also have a limited understanding, and our thinking may not totally understand how God’s creation works. Because of this, we need investigation to confirm or falsify our ideas.
This is why the ancient Greeks never started science: they assumed intelligence, thought and their first principles would be sufficient to understand and explain the workings of the world. While this may be true at one level, examination and experimentation is also required for many concepts. Chinese also had some aborted attempts at science, but their philosophy of tranquility stagnated the enterprise.
9) We assume nature is real
Strange as it may sound, the belief that nature is real and not just abstract is essential. If you don’t think nature is real or that you can really interact with it, why study it? In Christianity, God is real and he really created a real universe. On the other hand, some eastern thought viewed nature as being more or less an illusion and unreal. This stagnated the scientific advancements.
10) We assume nature has value and worthy of study
As a whole, our contemporary culture assumes that nature has value and we should study it. We want to know the truth about it so we can live better and take better care of nature. Christians thought that nature had value and worth since its God’s creation. Thus, our time is well spent understanding the works of God’s hands. It was viewed as a good gift from God and science would bring him glory. We were also given the dominion mandate from God, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Gen 1:31a) “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Gen 1:28).
In eastern thought, however, if nature is unreality and inferior to us, it was not worthy of our time to study. Native Americans thought nature contained spirits, thus a taboo to study. The Roman elite thought hard work was for the slaves, thus study of the world would be beneath one’s dignity.
Science, as noted above, along with freedom from slavery, free market capitalism, advanced technology, the industrial revolution and the university system were all born out of western civilization, grounded on the Christian worldview. This was not arbitrary, nor was it just a natural flow of human endeavors. Rather, these progressive ideas were really grounded upon Christian assumptions. Christians assumed things, such as an orderly universe, uniformity in nature, the value of hard work, the promotion of truth, progress was good, freedom was essential and ethics were important. While some ancient civilizations may have believed some of these, it was only the Judeo-Christian worldview that held to all of these, propagating the scientific revolution.
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