10 Christian Beliefs that Ignited the Scientific Revolution

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

(These were taken from both the ICR and the Creation websites.)

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 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.

2) We assume the universe is knowable, rational and accessible

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.

Creation must be somewhat knowable and rational since the Creator is knowable and rational. This came from the Bible which teaches that we can know and understand God, at least to some extent (John 17:3).

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 hear 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 an 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.

6) We assume a linear view of time

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 concept 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.

Conclusion

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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DR Jerry
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DR Jerry

Great layout for Western Civilization

DR Jerry
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DR Jerry

Great Synopsis.

Chip Anderson
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Thank you for the great post.

Mike
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Mike

Is God the author of confusion? Genesis 11:9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. 1 Corinithians 1:27 God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. And why pick on Islam, what about Jainism or Ruism, of course these teach about enquiry and learning, more than your Christianity does. Any religion that answers questions with Faith, is one that is unscientific and illogical. I think the… Read more »

Jim Kinnebrew
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Your quote reveals how little Mr. Sagan knew of biblical Christianity. The God of the Bible is infinitely more than we can ever conceive. Scientific exploration confirms what the believer has always known in this regard. Small-minded men may have used the power-structure of organized religion to obstruct the truth, but the God of the Bible has always been declared glorious by the things that He created (Psalm 8, Psalm 19, Romans 1, etc.). It is a sad thing that Prof. Sagan did not respond to the wonders of creation in the way that God intended us to respond. Sadly,… Read more »

Bryan
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Bryan

The Bible made many specific claims about the universe between (3000 BC-100 AD) that revealed it was far grander and more immense than any other intellectuals in history realized, exactly as Sagan asked. Biblical and historical faith is btw, based entirely on evidence, facts and proof. Countless scholars show this. VERY briefly the Bible speaks of a created universe with subsequent expansion and a round/spherical earth hanging on nothing. Biblical cosmology speaks of God creating the universe (Hebrews 1:2) the movement of the stars after that beginning (Job 38:31), ~15 verses speak of an expansion stretching from that beginning (Isaiah… Read more »

Krillian
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Krillian

Hey Bryan, great summary:) Have you ever heard the late RC Sproul argue that God does NOT exist? I think you’d like and agree with the “why” behind his argument. Cheers.
https://www.ligonier.org/blog/rc-sproul-proves-god-does-not-exist/

Bryan
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Bryan

The vast majority of scientists on all sides agree that the universe had a beginning. And since a person cannot create himself, and a world cannot create itself, a universe also cannot create itself. It must have someone or something else that brought it into being. If something does not exist, it of course cannot do anything at all, let alone bring itself or anything else into existence. Thus a Designer of some kind is required once we are sure that there was a beginning to anything. Arno Penzias, co-discoverer of the microwave background radiation and 1978 Nobel Prize recipient… Read more »

Brian
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Brian

Science has always been the product of intelligence and enquiring minds and had very little to do with Christianity and, were it not for Galileo Galilei who narrowly escaped death for his theory, Christianity would still be insisting that the sun revolved around the earth. Science started thousands of years ago when primitive people began to grasp lunar cycles and seasons and figured out how to count, with the concept of zero being a huge advance. The knowledge that the earth was round and its dimensions long pre-dated Christianity. The reality is that every worthwhile invention and discovery in the… Read more »

Holyking100
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Holyking100

I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong, (and you definitely know more about this topic than me) but there are 2 things I would like to point out. Firstly, the idea that the universe was geocentric came from Ancient Greece. It was seen as a stable idea because well there were no telescopes at the time. After all if you look up at the sky, it looks like the sun moon and stars are going in a cycle around the earth, so the Greeks just assumed that that was happening. Christians would later adopt this A: because they also saw all… Read more »

Kathryn Findley
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Kathryn Findley

Science recognizes five things. Time, force, motion, space and matter. Gen. 1:1, In the beginning(time), God (force), created( motion), the heavens(space), and earth ( matter). The Bible proves science not science proves the Bible.

claire
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claire

I AGREE! Science actually agrees with Christianity tho… they don’t recognize it…