Posted by jlwile on April 15, 2011
I received an E-MAIL from a student a few days ago. He had just finished Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s book, The Grand Design, in which the authors claim that God is not necessary in order to explain the universe. While I have not read the book yet, reviews (even from non-Christian sources) are far from flattering.
The student informed me that Hawking and Mlodinow credit the Ionian Greeks with the discovery of natural laws. This confused him, because in my book, Exploring Creation with General Science, I make it very clear that modern science was born out of Christianity. This is because the concept that nature operates according to strict laws is a natural consequence of the fact that it was created by a Supreme Lawgiver. Without the concept of a law-giving Creator, there would have been no reason to search for natural laws. Indeed, as Dr. Stanley Jaki tells us:1
…the Christian belief in the Creator allowed a breakthrough in thinking about nature. Only a truly transcendental Creator could be thought of as being powerful enough to create a nature with autonomous laws
The search for the laws that govern nature was inspired by Christianity, and as a result, modern science is a product of Christianity.
So what of the Ionian Greeks? Did they do something related to natural laws? Not really. They did do something related to science, however, and their contribution should not be downplayed. Nevertheless, it needs to be put in the proper context.
It was with the Ionian Greeks that the scientific idea was born, and it can be traced back among them with some clearness to the sixth century BC…It was thus not the practice of science which the Greeks invented, but the scientific idea, the conception that the world was knowable inasmuch and in so far as it could be investigated.
So the Ionian Greeks got science started. They believed you could understand the world by investigating it. However, the idea that everything in the world operated by fixed laws was not a Greek idea. It was a Christian idea.
A good way to see how important the Christian worldview was for the development of science is to examine the differences between how technology and science developed in Europe and how they developed in China. A science historian by the name of Joseph Needham asked a question many years ago. This question, sometimes called “The Needham Question,” essentially asked why Europe was able to overtake China in terms of science and technology, despite the fact that ancient China was technologically advanced compared to ancient Europe. After investing several years in the study of the development of science and technology in China, he reluctantly came to the conclusion that there were three main reasons. The first two reasons dealt with Chinese jurisprudence and bureaucracy, and:3
Third, the autochthonous idea of a supreme being, though certainly present from the earliest times, soon lost the qualities of personality and creativity. The development of the concept of precisely formulated abstract laws capable, because of the rationality of the Author of Nature, of being deciphered and re-stated, did not therefore occur.
In the end, then, without the idea of an Author of Nature who was creative and a law-giver, science could not develop properly.
Modern science is a product of Christianity, and anyone who says that Christianity and science are incompatible is really just revealing his or her ignorance of the history of science.
1. Stanley Jaki, Christ and Science (Real View Books: Royal Oak, Michigan), 2003, p. 23
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2. Charles Singer, “Historical Relations of Religion and Science,” in Science Religion and Reality (Kessinger Publishing, LLC, Joseph Needham, ed.), 2000, p. 92
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3. Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China: History of Scientific Thought, Vol. 2 (Cambridge University Press), 1991, p. 582
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