I often hear that conservative Christianity is opposed to “real” science and that if Christians had anything to do with it, science would never have arisen. The great problem with statements like the one above is that they are false. The belief that Christianity is somehow opposed to science has been repeatedly defeated, and yet it seems to rear its ugly head often.
Many authors and books take up the task to defend the Christian faith against her enemies by showing that many of the commonly held beleifs about Christianity and science are false. Rodney Stark, for instance, in his book, For the Glory of God spends an entire chapter showing how Christianity led to the rise of science. He writes,
In contrast to the dominant religious and philosophical doctrines in the non-Christian world, Christians developed science becaue they believed it could be done, and should be done. As Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) put it during one of his Lowell Lectures at Harvard in 1925, science arose in Europe because of the widespread “faith in the possibility of science…derivative from medieval theology.”
He goes on to argue that science arose in Europe because, in contrast to other (especially atheistic) worldviews, Christianity provided the “fundamental theological and philosophical assumptions” necessary for its genesis. Christianity beleived in a truth that could be discovered and in a God who encouraged such discovery. The God of Christianity created a lawful universe that functioned within those laws. Islam, on the other hand provides a picture of Allah that discouraged scientific advances,
Allah is not presented as a lawful creator but has been conceived of as an extremely active God who intrudes on the world as he deems it appropriate. Consequently, there soon arose a major theological bloc within Islam that condemned all efforts to formulate natural laws as blasphemy insofar as the dnied Allah’s freedom to act.
Further, Stark shows that the “Copernican Revolution” was not exactly a ground-shaking revolution from the supposed “Dark Ages” but was instead the natural outworking of a scientist building on the ideas and accomplishments of others before him who happened to be Christian scholastics. According to Stark,
The term “Scientific Revolution” is as misleading as “Dark Ages.” Both were coined to discredit the medieval Church. The phrase “Dark Ages” is of recent origins, probably first used by the British historian Henry Thomas Buckle (1821-1862) in his History of Civilization in England (1859).
Contrary to what many of us have been taught in high school, the church was not opposed to the science of Galileo (though there was a political issue and a serious personality conflict) and Galileo was not opposed to the church. Copernicus was not the first to suggest that the sun was the center of the universe. The “Dark Ages” were not ages of ignorance and stupidity, merely a different kind of learning that did not focus on the Greek and Latin classics and philosophies. And, finally, no one in Columbus’ time believed the earth was flat. This concept is soundly refuted here and in this Jeffrey Burton Russell’s Inventing the Flat Earth.
Christianity and science do not stand opposed to each other, but Christianity and naturalism do. The conflict then, is not over science but over worldviews. Christianity certainly argues that God’s world is worthy of our investigation because God is glorified in truth, and in a greater understanding of God’s creation, humanity is better served and God is glorified. A better and more complete critique of Christianity vs. Naturalism in science is offered by Plantinga in Where the Conflict Really Lies.
Christians need not fear science and must not blindly accept the arguments that science and faith cannot be joined together. They were joined together at the genesis of Science and there is no reason for them to be separated today.
Another book to consider on this subject is The Savior of Science by Stanley L. Jaki