Statements about Science that Bother Me Part 3

Statements about Science that Bother Me Part 3

Religious ideas have no place in science!

While ardent secularists often express this sentiment today, the historical roots of modern science are deeply tied to religion in general and to Christianity in particular.

Christianity uniquely and decisively shaped the intellectual climate that gave rise to modern science (roughly three and a half centuries ago). It is even correct to say that modern science was born in the cradle of Christian civilization. Not only were virtually all of the founding fathers of science devout Christians (including Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, Steno, Pascal, Faraday, and Mendel), but the Christian worldview provided a basis for modern science to emerge and flourish. In effect, the Christian worldview supported the underlying principles that made scientific inquiry both possible and desirable.

The Christian cultural perspective provided the philosophical framework that was needed to launch science—a necessary conceptual structure that was conspicuously absent from other influential cultures of the past.

Renown physicist and popular science writer Paul Davies traces some of Christianity’s impact upon modern science in his Templeton Prize address “Physics and the Mind of God:”

“In the ensuing three hundred years the theological dimension of science has faded. People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible… . However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as lawlike order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.”

Since modern science arose from within the matrix of Christian theism (in 17th century Europe), couldn’t theologians legitimately comment on the theological foundations of science without being formally trained in the natural sciences? Of course they can!

When secularists assert that religious ideas have no place in science, they seem blatantly unaware of the historical role that Christian theology played in shaping, encouraging, and sustaining the general character and presuppositions of modern science.

While some declare that only scientists are qualified to speak about science, this claim is deeply shortsighted. The modern scientific enterprise depends upon philosophical, logical, mathematical, and theological assumptions, therefore certain well-informed nonscientists may have important things to say about science without themselves being trained scientists.

Unfortunately, too many scientists and nonscientists fail to appreciate the message that historians and philosophers of science have to convey about how the powerful scientific enterprise arose. Not to mention the necessary philosophical and theological assumptions needed to sustain it.

For an introduction to the philosophy of science from a Christian perspective, see Del Ratzsch, Science & Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective.

To trace the historical connection between science and religion, see Alister E. McGrath, Science & Religion: An Introduction.

For an essay on science’s relationship to historic Christianity, see chapter 14 of my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions.

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