Posted by jlwile on August 31, 2012
It’s popular these days to claim that science and Christianity are incompatible. Of course, no one who spends any amount of time learning the history of science can be fooled by such a claim, because the history of science makes it very clear that modern science is a product of Christianity. Specifically, because early Christians understood that the world was created by a single God who is a Lawgiver, it made sense to them that the universe should run according to specific laws, and those laws should be the same everywhere in the universe. In addition, because they believed they had been given the image of God, they thought it was possible to understand those laws. That’s what prompted the revolution that produced science as we know it today.
For example, Morris Kline discusses Sir Isaac Newton in his book, Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty. He explains why Newton believed that the same laws which govern motion on the surface of the earth should also govern motion in the heavens:1
The thought that all the phenomena of motion should follow from one set of principles might seem grandiose and inordinate, but it occurred very naturally to the religious mathematicians of the 17th century. God had designed the universe, and it was to be expected that all phenomena of nature would follow one master plan. One mind designing a universe would almost surely have employed one set of basic principles to govern related phenomena.
Morris Kline was a mathematician, but I recently ran across a scientist who says essentially the same thing.
His name is Dr. Melvin Calvin. I already knew of him, because he was the first to explain the Calvin Cycle, which is the process by which most plants take in carbon dioxide and incorporate it into a larger organic molecule that forms the basis of the photosynthetic process. While photosynthesis depends on light, the reactions that make up the Calvin cycle do not require light. As a result, they are sometimes called the “dark reactions” of photosynthesis. In 1961, Dr. Calvin won a Nobel Prize for his explanation of these “dark reactions.”
In his book, Chemical Evolution, Calvin talks about the first and strongest tenet of science:2
The fundamental conviction that the universe is ordered is the first and strongest tenet. As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation of modern science.
Now why would Dr. Calvin say something like that? Was he promoting his own religion? That’s doubtful. In an interview about his upbringing, he said this about his parents:3
They were Jews, both of them. Russian Jews. They didn’t keep any religious practices. When I grew up I was without religion; a-religious, not anti-religious.
I cannot find any writings by him or any references about him that indicate he ever changed from the way he was brought up. Thus, Dr. Calvin was most likely a-religious. However, he knew enough about the history of science to give credit where credit is due.
1. Morris Kline, Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty, Oxford University Press 1980, p. 52.
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2. Melvin Calvin, Chemical evolution:Molecular Evolution Towards the Origin of Living Systems on the Earth and Elsewhere, Oxford University Press 1969, p. 258.
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3. David W. Swift, SETI Pioneers: Scientists Talk about Their Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, University of Arizona Press 1990, p. 123.
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