Why does science work at all?
Many anti-Christians claim that Christianity and science have been enemies for centuries. This is the opposite of the truth. Informed historians of science, including non-Christians, have pointed out that modern science first flourished under a Christian worldview while it was stillborn in other cultures such as ancient Greece, China and Arabia.1
This should be no surprise when we ask why science works at all. There are certain essential features that make science possible, and they simply did not exist in non-Christian cultures.2
- There is such a thing as objective truth. Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). But postmodernism, for example, denies objective truth. One example is, “What’s true for you is not true for me.” So maybe they should try jumping off a cliff to see if the Law of Gravity is true for them. Another postmodern claim is, “There is no truth”—so is that statement true?; or “We can’t know truth”—so how do they know that?
- The universe is real, because God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1). This sounds obvious, but many eastern philosophies believe that everything is an illusion (so is that belief an illusion as well?). There is no point in trying to investigate an illusion by experimenting on it.
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.A postmodern claim is, ‘We can’t know truth’—so how do they know that?
It is impossible to prove from nature that it is orderly, because the proofs would have to presuppose this very order to try to prove it. Also, in this fallen world with natural disasters and thunderstorms and general chaos, it is not so obvious that it was made by an orderly Creator. This is a major message of the book of Ecclesiastes—if we try to live our lives only according to what is “under the sun”, the result is futility. Hence our chief end is to “Fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
A fundamental facet of science is deriving laws that provide for predictable outcomes. This is possible only because the universe is orderly.
Since God is sovereign, He was free to create as He pleased. So the only way to find out how His creation works is to investigate and experiment, not rely on man-made philosophies as did the ancient Greeks.
This is illustrated with Galileo Galilei (1564–1642). He showed by experiment that weights fall at the same speed (apart from air resistance), which refuted the Greek philosophy that heavy objects fall faster. He also showed by observation that the sun had spots, refuting the Greek notion that the heavenly bodies are “perfect”. (See also p. 49.)Many eastern philosophies believe that everything is an illusion (so is that belief an illusion as well?).
Another example is Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), who discovered that planets moved in ellipses around the sun. This refuted the Greek philosophies that insisted on circles because they are the most “perfect” shapes; this didn’t match the observations, so they added an increasingly cumbersome system of circles upon circles called epicycles.
But when it comes to origins as opposed to today’s processes, God has revealed that He created about 6,000 years ago over six normal-length days, and judged the earth with a globe-covering flood about 4,500 years ago. It’s thus no accident that Kepler calculated a Creation date of 3992 BC, and Isaac Newton (1643–1727), probably the greatest scientist of all time, also strongly defended biblical chronology.
Man can and should investigate the world, because God gave us dominion over His creation (Genesis 1:28); creation is not itself divine. So we don’t need to sacrifice to the forest god to cut down a tree, or appease the water spirits to measure its boiling point. Rather, as Kepler said, his scientific thoughts were “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”
Many other founders of modern science also saw their scientific research as bringing glory to God. Newton said:
“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being. … This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called ‘Lord God’ Παντοκράτωρ [Pantokratōr cf. 2 Corinthians 6:18] or ‘Universal Ruler’. … The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect … ”.3
“Opposite to godliness is atheism in profession and idolatry in practice. Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors.”4
Man can initiate thoughts and actions; they are not merely the results of 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.The 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 they often call themselves “freethinkers”, overlooking the glaring irony. Genuine initiation of thought is an insuperable problem for materialism, as is consciousness itself.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 (John 1:1–3). 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 what God has revealed in Scripture.6) But if evolution were true, then there would be selection only for survival advantage, not necessarily for rationality.
Results should be reported honestly, because God has forbidden false witness (Exodus 20:16). But if evolution were true, then why not lie? It is not that surprising that scientific fraud is an increasing problem.7
Note, it’s important to understand the point here—not that atheists can’t be moral but that they have no objective basis for this morality from within their own system. The fanatical atheistic evolutionist Dawkins admits that our “best impulses have no basis in nature,”8 and another atheistic evolutionist, William Provine, said: “Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods (worth having) exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.”9
It is thus no accident that science has flowered since the Reformation, where the Bible’s authority was rediscovered. And it is no accident that the country with the strongest remnants of Bible-based Christian faith, the USA, leads the world by a mile in the output of useful science.
However, the Western world is largely living on the capital of its Christian heritage. But the push to indoctrinate students into evolution, and therefore atheism (at least for all practical purposes), undermines these Christian foundations of science (cf. Psalm 11:3). Thus evolutionary teaching will not improve science, but destroy it.
“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being.”—Sir Isaac Newton
References and notes
- Stark, R., For the Glory of God: How monotheism led to reformations, science, witch-hunts and the end of slavery, Princeton University Press, 2003; see also review by Williams A., The biblical origins of science, Journal of Creation 18(2):49–52, 2004;
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- I acknowledge Sean Wieland’s input into such a list. Return to text.
- Principia, Book III; cited in; Newton’s Philosophy of Nature: Selections from his writings, ed. Thayer, H.S., Hafner Library of Classics, New York, USA, p. 42, 1953. Return to text.
- A Short Scheme of the True Religion, manuscript quoted in Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by Sir David Brewster, Edinburgh, p. 347, 1855. Return to text.
- Thompson, B. and Harrub, B., Consciousness: the king of evolutionary problems, CRSQ 41(2):113–130, 2004. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Loving God with all your mind: Logic and creation, Journal of Creation 12(2):142–151, 1998;
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- Bergman, J., Why the epidemic of fraud exists in science today, Journal of Creation 18(3):104–109, 2004. Return to text.
- Evolution: The dissent of Darwin, Psychology Today, 30(1):62, January/February 1997. Return to text.
- Provine, W.B. (Professor of Biological Sciences, Cornell University, USA), Origins Research 16(1/2):9, 1994; Darwin Day at the University of Tennessee, Dr William Provine (abstract),
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I have some questions re your article “Why does science work at all?”
Jonathan Sarfati responds: Indeed they are fair questions.
NR: I think your argument about science having flourished only under a Christian background is very powerful and I'd like to be able to defend it consistently.
JS: A worthy aim.
NR: 1°) Islam is a monotheistic culture, with a God very similar to YHWH (at least at 1st glance), who similarly is said to have created an orderly world. And indeed, as far as I know, Arabian science was the most advanced one in the Middle Ages. So why is it that it didn't flourish in this culture?
JS: One major difference is that Allah is unknowable, not the God of order revealed in the Bible. Most scientific advances in the Muslim world were by non-Muslims under its rule. See for example Christianity, Islam and science: Was modern science birthed by Islam? The book One Human Family has a lot more.
NR: 2°) You say: “It is thus no accident that science has flowered since the Reformation, where the Bible’s authority was rediscovered.” While I'm Protestant and I fully agree that Reformation was a return to biblical authority, I don't understand how Catholicism hindered scientific progress.
JS: That was not my argument. I develop this particular point more in The biblical roots of modern science: A Christian world view, and in particular a plain understanding of Scripture and Adam’s Fall, was essential for the rise of modern science.
NR: 3°) You also say: “And it is no accident that the country with the strongest remnants of Bible-based Christian faith, the USA, leads the world by a mile in the output of useful science.” There’s no disagreeing that USA is the leading country when it comes about science, but don't Japanese folk put quite a good fight at it too ? Yet, if there is a country renowned for its anti-Christianity, it’s Japan.
JS: However, even Japan prospered only as it opened up to the West. Dr Thomas Sowell’s books on races and culture have documented that when Commodore Perry appeared in a Japanese harbor in the 1850s, the Japanese realized that they were no match for the West in culture or strength. So they made peace, and there were moves even to promote American heroes in Japanese schools. The centuries-old shogunate fell and the Meiji Restoration ensued.
Japanese immigrants to mainland US from the Meiji period tended to become loyal patriotic Americans, and some served with valour on the Allied side. There was some reactionary anti-westernism in later periods, which led to WW2, and the Japanese immigrants to Brazil were from those periods so generally took an anti-Allies position.
In general, Japan is now like much of the West—living off the Christian capital.