Christianity and Science – What History REALLY Tells Us

This is part of a stained-glass window called "Education." It is found in room 102 of Linsly-Chittenden Hall at Yale University, and it portrays science and religion in harmony. (click to see the entire piece)

You hear it all the time. Science and Christianity are in conflict. For example, Dr. Thomas Henry Huxley once wrote:1

The science, the art, the jurisprudence, the chief political and social theories, of the modern world have grown out of Greece and Rome—not by favour of, but in the teeth of, the fundamental teachings of early Christianity, to which science, art, and any serious occupation with the things of this world were alike despicable.

and that was back in 1899. My favorite atheist, Dr. P.Z. Myers, says it more succinctly:

Christian faith is at odds with science

The problem, of course, is that such statements are demonstrably false. Indeed, as I have written before, historical scholarship has shown that modern science is a product of Christianity (see here and here).

I recently ran across an excellent essay by Dr. Michael Keas that makes this point very well. I strongly recommend that you read it in its entirety, but there are two quotes from it that I would like to highlight.

Early in the essay, he discusses the long-debunked notion that people in the middle ages believed the earth was flat. As Diana Waring and I point out in one of our talks, even the ancient Greeks understood that the earth is a sphere, and no Christian writer of any repute ever suggested otherwise. Nevertheless, the myth persists because many “educators” are more interested in pushing their own views than serious scholarship. In any event, Dr. Keas makes a point about this fiasco which I find particularly telling:

But the Flat Error persists, such that, in the two decades I’ve spent teaching astronomy and its history, I’ve found that most college students believe that Columbus discovered the earth’s sphericity and thereby defeated medieval ignorance. I’ve also found that my own students (prior to taking my courses) have been less able to defend the earth’s sphericity than medieval university students were. So which age is actually darker?

It is commonplace for people today to look back on people in medieval times (or earlier) and laugh at the stupidity of such “ancient savages.” However, along with Dr. Keas, I find that many of today’s college students are not as well-educated as the typical university student was back in those days. Indeed, an argument can be made that the ancients might have been smarter than we are today.

The essay ends with a very interesting quote. I have long held the position that the rejection of a creator God by many scientists has harmed the cause of science. Dr. Keas puts it more starkly:

Could such a naturalistic faith eventually undermine the foundations of science, to which the Judeo-Christian tradition has contributed so much? If so, then we might find ourselves living in the real Dark Ages of scientific history.

I honestly think that’s a real possibility. There is a quote that has been attributed to G.K. Chesterston, but I cannot confirm that he actually said it. Regardless of who said it, I think it is very true:2

When a Man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.

Unfortunately, such a situation is devastating to science, and the rise of such nonsense as the multiverse hypothesis and the idea that something can naturally form out of nothing are symptoms of this devastation.

REFERENCES

1. Israel Smith Clare, Hubert Howe Bancroft, and George Edwin Rines, Library of Universal History and Popular Science, The Bancroft Society 1910, p. 433
Return to Text

2. Mark A. Driscoll, A Call to Resurgence, On Mission LLC 2013, p. 38
Return to Text

2 Comments

  1. S.J. says:

    Here’s a website debating the source of the supposed Chesterton quote you mention: http://www.chesterton.org/discover-chesterton/frequently-asked-questions/cease-to-worship/

    The best they could come up with is that it’s a mashup of quotes from two different Chesterton stories:

    (1) “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense. [“The Oracle of the Dog” (1923)]

    (2) You hard-shelled materialists were all balanced on the very edge of belief – of belief in almost anything. [“The Miracle of Moon Crescent” (1924)]

    Regardless of who actually came up with it, the statement is very relevant.

    1. jlwile says:

      Thanks, S.J. It makes sense that it is a mashup of other quotes, since I could never find it in Chesterton’s writings. Some also attribute it to C.S. Lewis, but I know it is not in any of his writings. I suppose some people attribute it to Lewis because he was such a fan of Chesterton.