Is Christianity in Conflict with Science? – Religion and the Scientific Revolution

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Is Christianity in Conflict with Science?

The new Cosmos TV show presents science in an interesting way but it also seems to have an agenda to put down religion.  Even the hosts of a non-faith-based podcast I listen to have commented on how they don’t think the show needs to take up after religion like it has.  But is Christianity at odds with science?  Is there an inherent conflict between the two?  I don’t believe so.  While there have been some historical conflicts,  it was actually the religious faith of many of the leaders of the scientific revolution that inspired their scientific research. Cosmos has been happy to point out the conflicts but has left out the positive influence of religious belief on the scientific revolution, so let’s take a quick look at that.

Design

Religion and the Scientific Revolution

Sir Isaac Newton is recognized as one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution.  So what moved him to his scientific studies?  As Casey Luskin puts it, Newton “believed in a loving, truthful personal God who would create an orderly, intelligible universe that he wanted us to discover and enjoy.”  It was these religious beliefs that inspired him to study the laws of nature.

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Historian John Hedley Brooke writes this,

“Any suggestion that what was revolutionary in seventeenth-century thought was the complete separation of science from theology would be disqualified by Newton himself, who once wrote that the study of natural philosophy included a consideration of divine attributes and of God’s relationship with the world. … Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton saw the study of nature as a religious duty. A knowledge of God’s power and wisdom could be inferred from the intelligence seemingly displayed in the designs of nature. Newton affirmed that the natural sciences had prospered only in monotheistic cultures… He believed the universality of his laws was grounded in the omnipresence of a single divine Will.”

Ian G. Barbour wrote that, “Newton himself believed that the world-machine was designed by an intelligent Creator and expressed God’s purposes.”

Barbour explains how profound an influence religion had in inspiring science in England during the crucial early stages of the scientific revolution.  These English scientists were…

ps 19-1-2“mainly from Anglican (Church of England) and Puritan (Calvinist) backgrounds. The charter of the Royal Society instructed its fellows to direct their studies “to the glory of God and the benefits of the human race.” Robert Boyle (1627-1691) said that science is a religious task, “the disclosure of the admirable workmanship which God displayed in the universe.” Newton believed the universe bespeaks an all-powerful Creator. Sprat, the historian of the Royal Society, considered science a valuable aid to religion.”

Astronomer Johannes Kepler, another great figure in the early history of modern science, is frequently quoted as saying, “O God, I am thinking Thy thoughts after Thee.”  His strong theological convictions prompted him to find a connection between the physical and the spiritual, and his scientific discoveries led him to believe he had uncovered God’s plan for the universe.  He wrote,

“The heavenly motions are nothing but a continuous song for several voices (perceived by the intellect, not the ear)… It is, therefore, no longer surprising that man, in imitation of his creator, has at last discovered the art of figured song, which was unknown to the ancients. Man wanted to reproduce the continuity of cosmic time within a short hour, by an artful symphony for several voices, to obtain a sample test of the design of the Divine Creator in His works, and to partake of his joy by making music in imitation of God.”

Galileo Galilei, while often known for his controversy with the church, was in fact a devout Christian.  He said, “God is known by nature in his works, and by doctrine in his revealed word.”

Nicolas Copernicus, who formulated the model with the Sun at the center, rather than the earth, wrote,

“To know the mighty works of God, to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful workings of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.”

 

Summing it all up, Michael Keas of the Discovery Institute puts it this way,

“Are Christianity and science at war with one another? Not according to leading historians…  The truth is that science and biblical religion have been friends for a long time. Judeo-Christian theology has contributed in a friendly manner to such science-promoting ideas as discoverable natural history, experimental inquiry, universal natural laws, mathematical physics, and investigative confidence that is balanced with humility. Christian institutions especially since the medieval university, have often provided a supportive environment for scientific inquiry and instruction.

Why have we forgotten most of the positive contributions of Christianity to the rise of modern science? This cultural amnesia is largely due to the influence of a number of anti-Christian myths about science and religion. These myths teach that science came of age in the victory of naturalism over Christianity.”

 

For a detailed response to each episode of Cosmos see posts by Casey Luskin at  evolutionnews.org.  My thanks to him for several of these quotes.

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