The Christian Foundation of Science

We've lost the flag.

The Disciplines of Knowing: The Sciences (2)

The scientific revolution owes its beginnings to Christianity.

All Your works shall praise You, O LORD,
And Your saints shall bless You.
They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,
And talk of Your power,
To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts,
And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.
Your kingdom
is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion
endures throughout all generations. Psalm 145.10-13

Not surprising
It does not surprise us to know that the modern scientific revolution, and all the many, amazing, and useful discoveries and technologies that go with it, have their roots in the Christian worldview.

While ancient Greeks and others dabbled in scientific speculation, Christians in the period following the Reformation laid down the bricks and mortar upon which the high rise of modern science has been constructed. And while many have sought to deny those foundations, and others are trying to move the edifice of science onto different and sandy ground, the historical fact remains. The pioneers of the scientific revolution knew God; they understood the world as His creation, and realized that as such, creation must be both knowable and infused with purpose; they took the Scriptures seriously and submitted their minds and methods to them; they labored conscientiously and diligently for the glory of God; and they made the seminal discoveries and developed the initial protocols and technologies which allowed the scientific enterprise rapidly to advance and expand.

From Copernicus to Galileo to Newton, Linneaus, Ray, and many more, the first Christian “natural philosophers” were men who believed God, accepted the authority of Scripture, were convinced that understanding the creation would both glorify God and benefit humankind, and pursued their work as a calling from God to know Him and make Him known.

For this reason alone, Christians should maintain an active interest in science, for it offers abundant opportunities for engaging the mind of God and leading us more deeply and consistently into the Treasury of all knowledge and wisdom, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Science and the knowledge of God
How can science help us grow in the knowledge of Christ? Reformation thinkers such as John Calvin gave early scientists all the impetus they needed to apply themselves religiously to the study of creation. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion (I.v.2), Calvin wrote, “In attestation of His wondrous wisdom, both the heavens and the earth present us with innumerable proofs, not only those more recondite proofs which astronomy, medicine, and all the natural sciences are designed to illustrate, but proofs which force themselves on the notice of the most illiterate peasant, who cannot open his eyes without noticing them.”

Creation veritably shouts the Presence of God, and calls us to seek in created things a richer, fuller knowledge of God and His glory. Early Christian scientists developed the protocols and tools that allowed human beings to penetrate the mysteries of the created order in new and more expansive, exciting, and beneficial ways. They proved the truth of the teaching of men such as John Calvin, who continued, “It is true, indeed, that those who are more or less intimately acquainted with those liberal studies are thereby assisted and enabled to obtain a deeper insight into the secret workings of divine wisdom.”

Divine wisdom issues from Christ as the Wisdom of Proverbs 8, Who calls to all people, that they might seek, know, love, and serve the Lord, and prove the value of His wisdom for all aspects of life.

But to gain the wisdom science can provide, we must at all times remember and resort to the foundations of scientific thinking, and not allow ourselves to be wooed, misled, and deceived by those who insist that other foundations are more reliable and true. When European thinkers, in the 18th and 19th century, began to insist that science could get along just fine without God, they did not abandon the Christian foundations of science – for the entire enterprise would collapse without such teachings as the omnipotence and faithfulness of God, the orderliness of creation, and the reliability of reason within the bounds of revelation – but they pretended to have discovered other foundations that allowed them to leave God aside and, ultimately, banish Him forever. Thus, the scientific enterprise continues to borrow on the original investment of Christian thinking, without acknowledging its debt; at the same time, it presumes to build an edifice of science and technology devoted only to the betterment of man, without reference to God. We need only to mention some of the dead ends to which that kind of thinking has led: Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Love Canal, abortion, euthanasia.

Yes, science has accomplished much and still does much good. But this is in spite of its foolish theories and because it remains rooted in its Christian foundations.

A flag captured

Secular, naturalistic, evolutionary thinking has captured the flag of the modern scientific enterprise. Yet it still occupies the hill first established by Christian thinkers. How has this happened? It’s a story of Christians – at every level in the church – failing to pay attention to, care for, and advance their heritage; while, at the same time, those who were accumulating the data and discoveries of science erected new altars and offered their achievements to the god of reason and human happiness.

As David Pilbeam has noted concerning the work of science (“Rearranging Our Family Tree,” Human Nature, June 1978), “At any time we are at the mercy of two things: data and theory. Theory shapes the way we think about, even perceive, data. Theory can be explicit, but a great deal of it is implicit; we are unaware of many of our assumptions.” Christians today have assumed that science is no friend of faith. They have assumed that if we give rein to science, religion will suffer. They have assumed that Christianity is not a faith to be troubled with the details and diligence of science, and that if we simply ignore it, we won’t be affected by it.

What has happened instead is that, by failing to hold fast to our Christian assumptions about God – creation, knowledge, human good, and other Scriptural assumptions – dangerous assumptions, ideas, and practices have captured the flag of science. Now, evolution, greed, manipulation, narcissism, convenience, and more dominate the scientific endeavor, which continues operating on the foundations laid by Christian thinkers; and these assumptions are bending the work of science toward creating a human utopia before it’s too late.

The longer Christians remain ignorant of the sciences, or uninvolved in studying them, the more their children will be indoctrinated into a secular and merely humanistic theory of life, bolstered by science, which seeks to persuade them that the religion of their parents and forebears is of merely personal value in the modern world, but unnecessary for addressing the larger issues of life.

We must recapture the flag of science by returning to its Scriptural foundations and engaging scientific thinkers today – many of whom are doing amazing work with enormous potential for good – so that we may show in the work of science, evidence of God’s work and a summons to seek God’s wisdom for the progress of God’s Kingdom and glory.

For Reflection
1. Does it matter that the science taught to school children omits any need for God? Explain.

2. Why are scientific thinkers so eager to be done with God as a foundation and goal of the work of science?

3. What are some ways that Christians could begin both to appreciate the good work of science and to encourage that work to more Christ-honoring ends?

Next Steps – Conversation: Talk with a few believers about how they try to keep up with the world of science, and why.

T. M. Moore

Science has been taken captive by the secular temper of the times, and we need to understand how this has happened. Our book, Understanding the Times, is a valuable guide to understanding the world we live in and how we as Christians can understand how to live in it. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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