In his excellent essay, Christianity and the Birth of Science, Michael Bumbulis offers the following overview of the founders of modern science and what the vast majority had in common—a theistic worldview:
“The founders of modern science were all bunched into a particular geographical location dominated by a Judeo-Christian world view. I’m thinking of men like Louis Aggasiz (founder of glacial science and perhaps paleontology); Charles Babbage (often said to be the creator of the computer); Francis Bacon (father of the scientific method); Sir Charles Bell (first to extensively map the brain and nervous system); Robert Boyle (father of modern chemistry); Georges Cuvier (founder of comparative anatomy and perhaps paleontology); John Dalton (father of modern atomic theory); Jean Henri Fabre (chief founder of modern entomology); John Ambrose Fleming (some call him the founder of modern electronics/inventor of the diode); James Joule (discoverer of the first law of thermodynamics); William Thomson Kelvin (perhaps the first to clearly state the second law of thermodynamics); Johannes Kepler (discoverer of the laws of planetary motion); Carolus Linnaeus (father of modern taxonomy); James Clerk Maxwell (formulator of the electromagnetic theory of light); Gregor Mendel (father of genetics); Isaac Newton (discoverer of the universal laws of gravitation); Blaise Pascal (major contributor to probability studies and hydrostatics); Louis Pasteur (formulator of the germ theory).
If an appreciation for math and the cause-and-effect workings of nature were sufficient to generate modern science, how does one explain the historical fact the founders of modern science were all found in a “particular” culture that just happened to be shaped by a Judeo-Christian world view? Instead of measuring energy in joules, why don’t we measure it in platos or al-Asharis?
Of course, the cynics would claim these men were not ‘really’ Christians. That is, they really didn’t ‘believe’ in Christianity, but they professed such beliefs because they did not want to be persecuted. This is the “closet-atheist” hypothesis. But it doesn’t square with the facts.
Many of the founders of modern science were also very interested in theology. If you read Pascal, this is obvious. Mendel was a monk. Newton often said his interest in theology surpassed his interest in science. Newton did end his Principles with:
This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being…This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God.” (end of excerpts)
As Charles Hummel notes,
Boyle set up Christian apologetics lectures. Babbage and Prout contributed to an apologetics series called the Bridgewater Treatises. Aggasiz, Cuvier, Fleming, Kelvin, and Linnaeus were what we now call ‘creationists.’ When I speak about Biblical beliefs that paved the way for science, I will use both Kepler and Pasteur to highlight two specific examples.
Furthermore, many of these founders of science lived at a time when others publicly expressed views quite contrary to Christianity – Hume, Hobbes, Darwin, etc. When Boyle argues against Hobbe’s materialism or Kelvin argues against Darwin’s assumptions, you don’t have a case of “closet atheists.”
Dr. Bumbulis states at the beginning of his paper that, “I intend to simply clarify why it is that one might rationally think the Judeo-Christian world view was important, even crucial, in the birth of science.” A modest claim indeed, as when one follows the historical evidence where it leads, it becomes quite clear that the theistic, and more specifically, the Christian worldview that was held by many, was ‘important, even crucial, in the birth of science.’ There were factors unique to Christianity that all came together in Western Europe to give the world its only case of scientific take off which has since seen its ideas spread to the rest of the world. Other civilizations failed in this regard. On this, Dr. Bumbulis posits the following:
“Many of the most important advances were made by Muslims in the Moorish Spain area, and other infidels.
I do not deny that other cultures contributed important ingredients, for I would never argue that the Christian world view alone was sufficient for the birth of modern science. But the fact remains that advances in mathematics and engineering do not count as modern science (as I am thinking of), for the Muslims and “other infidels” did not discover the laws of motion, the laws of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, the laws of chemistry, the laws of heredity, the law of biogenesis, etc. If you take any introductory undergraduate textbook in physics, chemistry, biology, genetics, physiology, paleontology, etc., it is not hard to point to the knowledge that is indebted to the work of these Christian scientists from Europe. But you would find very little that is indebted to Greek, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist philosophers (aside from tools like mathematics and Arabic numerals).
In fact, if you survey other non-Christian cultures, their inability to generate modern science renders this clue all the more powerful. For these cultures not only lacked the Christian world view’s perception of Nature *and* God, they held to a view that prevented the birth of science. In this view, the Universe was eternal, necessary, cyclical, and organismic. One could argue that this view of the Universe followed from reason and observation (like Geocentrism). But Christianity gave men a larger reason to deny this type of cosmology, and in doing so, it paved the way for the birth of science.
I don’t think it can be overemphasized as to how detrimental cyclical thinking was to the birth of science. And what made the cyclic views even worse was their close tie to the animistic/organismic view of the Universe. This feature was shared by the Hindus, the Aztecs, the Mayans, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Chinese. A detailed analysis of all these cultures, in this light, would make my case all the more obvious. Consider the Chinese.
When one contrasts the theistic worldview with that of the non-theistic worldview, it becomes quite evident as to why scientific inquiry arose from a theistic, creator God belief system. The challenge that needs to be put forth to the devotees of scientism is this: if the pervading worldview of medieval Europe was as opposed to reason and investigative research as they propose, why was it in Europe and at this time, rather than anywhere else, that science arose? This question must be answered along with, given that nearly every one of the founders and pre-founders of science were unusually devout (although not altogether orthodox in their beliefs) even by the standards of their own time, why did they make the scientific breakthroughs rather than their less religiously minded contemporaries?
Could the answer be that their (the theists) perception and/or worldview of the universe, is as the apostle Paul states, “…for what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV), and that the non-theist/scientism/atheist worldview discounts the theistic, creator God worldview a priori, and as such, “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…(Romans 1:21-25 ESV)
Johannes Kepler, German astronomer and contemporary of Galileo, was a devout Christian. His discovery of the three laws of planetary motion laid the foundation for Newton’s theory of gravity. The following quotation from Kepler exemplifies the theological underpinning of his science, of that which he regarded as, “thinking God’s thoughts after him”. In The Secret of the Universe he wrote:
As we all know, context is key, and if one doesn’t have the proper context, which leads to a distorted perception, that which doesn’t correspond to reality, then this persons context of the world will be both incoherent and inconsistent. As William Lane Craig has posited in his excellent paper, The Absurdity of Life Without God, “If God does not exist, then life is futile. If the God of the Bible does exist, then life is meaningful. Only the second of these two alternatives enables us to live happily and consistently.”
The following statement made by philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell, is one of the most depressing expressions that I have ever read, and one that I see as typifying the inconsistent scientism/atheist worldview of man’s ultimate destiny—prepare yourself for a depressing read:
These ‘truths’ Mr. Russell? Your ‘scaffolding’ in which these ‘truths’ are allegedly found, is one built on the incoherent and inconsistent worldview of yours, and sad to say, many others who have embraced said worldview, those who have not been willing to follow the evidence were it leads. How sad and full of hopelessness it is.
“Therefore, it seems to me that even if the evidence for these two options were absolutely equal, a rational person ought to choose biblical Christianity. It seems to me positively irrational to prefer death, futility, and destruction to life, meaningfulness, and happiness. As Pascal said, we have nothing to lose and infinity to gain.”
May we go forth with the hope, faith, love and truth of the Gospel, so that the ‘unyielding despair’ of those such as Bertrand Russell, may be lifted from their shoulders and that the light of His truth may shine brightly within their hearts and minds.
Science and Faith Are Not Enemies-Prof. John Lennox
God, Science & the Big Questions-William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, John Lennox
Does Science Contradict Religion?-Philip Vander Elst, here
Christianity and the Tooth Fairy-Prof. John Lennox, here
Are Science and Christianity at War?-Biologos, here
Can Science Account for Everything? Some say yes, but the answer is…-by Lane-article, here
 Michael Bumbulis, Christianity and the Birth of Science, http://www.ldolphin.org/bumbulis/
 Ibid, Bumbulis
 William Lane Craig, The Absurdity of Life Without God, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-absurdity-of-life-without-god#ixzz3YEfIwhcn
 Ibid, William Lane Craig