Remembering the Christian roots of science1
Published: 12 April 2018 (GMT+10)
Recently, Professor Mike Klymkowsky of the University of Colorado–Boulder, uploaded a blog titled, ‘Go ahead and “teach the controversy:” it is the best way to defend science.’2 In this he laments the unwillingness of some to accept what he claims are “rigorously established scientific conclusions,” one of which, of course, is evolution. This, he believes, is due to the failure to realise that “a foundational principle of science is that the natural world can be explained without calling on supernatural actors”. Also part of the problem, he thinks, is the belief in “the existence of a supernatural entity that cares for people, at least enough to create them”.
Much of the trouble, he argues, has arisen from a failure to teach science properly. However, he says that the solution is only to teach the controversy if “teachers understand the science and its historical context”. Sadly, there can be no doubt that it is Professor Klymkowsky who does not understand these.
Science and scientism
His first mistake is his failure to distinguish between science and scientism. The basis for science is not the acceptance that there is no Creator God. Rather is it is belief that the natural world behaves consistently from one day to the next because it is governed by natural laws. Klymkowsky’s science is really scientism, which is the blind faith that everything, including the origins of the universe and life, can all be explained by natural processes.
His second mistake arises from his lack of knowledge of history: modern science arose, not out of atheism, but the very opposite. Many of the early scientists were Bible-believing creationists and, according to Peter Harrison, formerly Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University, it was their Christian worldview that provided the basis for their scientific work. As he makes clear, part of what made science possible was “the theologically informed assumption that there are laws of nature, promulgated by God and discoverable by human minds.”3
Without certain beliefs, science could never have got started. Unless it is accepted that the natural world is orderly, behaves in the same way from one day to the next, and can be understood by people, science simply cannot be done. And as leading historians of science will admit, this essential understanding of the world was provided by the Bible.
How the Bible led to science
Firstly, the God of Scripture is revealed as rational. The Psalmist declares Him to be the “LORD God of truth” (Psalm 31:5 KJV) and Jesus is said to embody truth, wisdom and knowledge (John 14:6; 1 Corinthians 1:24; Colossians 2:3). The apostle Paul “reasoned from the scriptures” which are the Word of God (Acts 17:2; 2 Timothy 3:16). The God of the Bible is also orderly, for example, having made the sun and moon to serve as “signs and for seasons, and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14; 1 Corinthians 14:33). He is also consistent (e.g. Isaiah 46:10-11; 1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), faithful (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:9; Numbers 23:19; 2 Timothy 2:11-13) and a law-giver in both the moral and natural realms (e.g. James 4:12; Job 28:26).
Since God reveals Himself (in part) through what He has created (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:18–20), it would be expected that His creation would display these aspects of His nature. There being one eternal Creator God (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:35 and Psalm 90:2) would indicate consistency across space and time, and man being made in God’s likeness (Genesis 1:26–27) would suggest that it is possible for us to understand at least some of what God had made. Our having been given dominion over the creation (Genesis 1:26–28) and our having been commanded to love God with our minds (Luke 10:27) also provides moral justification for studying it. (See also Proverbs 25:2.) Indeed, to investigate our world brings glory to the Creator (1 Kings 4:30–34; Luke 12:27).
As explained by Professor Rodney Stark, “Christians developed science because they believed it could be done and should be done” (emphasis original);4 see also The creationist basis for modern science.
Would atheism ever have given rise to science?
In response to some feedback to his blog, Klymkowsky wrote,
“The issue with creationism/Intelligent Designers is that their view explains nothing, predicts nothing, and is just not useful for a working scientist … it is waste of time to consider it.”
How wrong he is. As discussed above, biblically informed beliefs about God led to the prediction that the universe would have the characteristics necessary to do science, that men’s minds were capable of this and that scientific endeavour would be fruitful. This was never a prediction of atheism. If it is understood that the universe ‘just happened’ or has ‘just always been’, rather than being the creation of a rational God who endowed it with natural laws, why should anybody think that it would be orderly and its workings comprehensible?
Contrary to the view often expressed by secularists, there is no conflict between biblical faith and science. Rather, Christian beliefs provided the basis for science, making possible medicine, sanitation, transport, communications and all the other technologies that have so radically improved our quality of life.
References and notes
- This article first appeared in Prayer News, CMI-UK/Europe, October 2017. Return to text.
- Klymkowsky, M., Go ahead and “teach the controversy:” it is the best way to defend science, PLoS Sci-Ed, blogs.plos.org, 24 May 2017. Return to text.
- Harrison, P., God’s, Man’s and Nature’s: Laws of Nature, Moral Order, and the Intelligibility of the Cosmos, ISSN-2045-5577; lse.ac.uk, 2011. Return to text.
- Stark, R., For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts and the End of Slavery, Princeton University Press, Oxford, p. 147, 2003. Return to text.