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Reclaiming the Christian

Roots of Modern Science

Ken Yeh
November 25, 2008
What do you know about the history
of science and Christianity?
• Medieval Christians believed that the Earth was
flat, until Columbus proved the Church wrong.
• Galileo Galilei proved scientifically that the Earth
revolved around the sun, thus confirming
Copernicus’ theory of heliocentrism.
• The Scientific Revolution was a triumph of reason
over religion, as the early scientists applied science
to undermine the authority of the Church.
The Church and Science at War?

The general belief is that Christians have always

been opposed to science, holding instead to “anti-
scientific” views such as:
 A flat Earth
 Geocentrism
 Supernatural Creation of the Universe
The Church and Science at War?
Concludes historian of science Colin Russell in “The
Conflict Metaphor and its Social Origins,”

“The common belief that… the actual relations

between religion and science over the last few
centuries have been marked by deep and enduring
hostility… is not only historically inaccurate, but
actually a caricature so grotesque that what needs to
be explained is how it could possibly have achieved
any degree of respectability.” (quoted in Lennox,
God’s Undertaker)
John Draper,
History of the Conflict
Between Religion and Science
Roman Christianity and
Science are recognized
by their respective
adherents as being
absolutely incompatible;
they cannot exist
together; one must yield
to the other; mankind
must make it’s choice –
it cannot have both.
Andrew Dickson White,
A History of the Warfare
of Science with Theology
in Christendom (1896)
In all modern history,
interference with science
in the supposed interest
of religion, no matter how
conscientious such
interference may have
been, has resulted in the
direst evils both to
religion and to science.
E. Thomson, neuroscientist,
review of A History of the
Warfare of Science with
Theology in Christendom on

“[B]ased on historical
evidence, religious
thinking *in science*
only stunts the
creativity and logical
thought processes of
The Flat Earth Myth
The Flat “[Columbus] felt he would eventually
reach the Indies in the East. Many

Earth Europeans still believed that the

world was flat. Columbus, they

Myth in thought, would fall off the earth.”

America Past and Present (Scott

Textbooks Foresman, 1983), 98.

“The European sailor of a thousand years

ago also had many other strange beliefs.
He turned to these beliefs because he had
no other way to explain the dangers of the
unknown sea. He believed . . . that a ship
could sail out to sea just so far before it fell
off the edge of the sea. . . . The people of
Europe a thousand years ago knew little
about the world.” We the People (Heath,
1982), 28-29.
Columbus’ Conflict with the Church
Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with
Theology in Christendom

The warfare of Columbus the world knows well: how the

Bishop of Ceuta worsted him in Portugal; how sundry wise
men of Spain confronted him with the usual quotations
from the Psalms, from St. Paul, and from St. Augustine;
how, even after he was triumphant, and after his voyage
had greatly strengthened the theory of the earth's
sphericity, with which the theory of the antipodes was so
closely connected, the Church by its highest authority
solemnly stumbled and persisted in going astray.
The disagreement with Columbus was
over the size of the Earth, not its shape

4,450 km 22,000
Early Christian Thinkers on
the Shape of the Earth
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Summa Theologica

“Both an astronomer and a physical scientist

may demonstrate the same conclusion, for
instance that the earth is spherical; the first,
however, works in a mathematical medium
prescinding from material qualities, while for the
second his medium is the observation of
material bodies through the senses.”
Early Christian Thinkers on
the Shape of the Earth
Nicole Oresme (1323-1382), a French Roman Catholic
Bishop, proposed several playful paradoxes dealing with
a round and rotating earth, including one that established
the principle behind changing time zones and the
international date line for east-west travels.
Oresme’s teacher, Jean Buridan, discussed the rotation
of the Earth.
All three of these Middle Age thinkers wrote as if the
round earth was common knowledge, not something that
still needed to be established.
Earth’s Shadow during a Lunar Eclipse
Thomas Aquinas:
"In [lunar] eclipses
the outline [of the
earth] is always
curved: and, since
it is the interposition
of the earth that
makes the eclipse,
the form of this line
will be caused by
the form of the
earth's surface,
which is therefore
Astronomical Observations
Johannes de Sacrobosco (1195-1256), an
English monk, wrote in his astronomy textbook
used for many centuries:
“That the earth, too, is round is shown thus.
The signs and stars do not rise and set the
same for all men everywhere but rise and set
sooner for those in the east than for those in
the west; and of this there is no other cause
than the bulge of the earth.”
Observations of a Ship’s Mast
• Sacrobosco also described how the
dropping of a ship’s mast below the
horizon as it sailed away was another
proof of the spherical shape of the earth.
This brief survey of early
Christian thinkers shows us that
the Church was not against the
concept of a spherical Earth,
and rather than being ignorant
and opposed to scientific
knowledge, many Christians
thinkers were in fact at the
forefront of scientific progress.
“Our determination to believe the
Flat Error arises out of contempt
for the past and our need to
believe in the superiority of the
Jeffrey Burton Russell,
Inventing the Flat Earth
The Trial of Galileo
The Trial of Galileo
• The trial of Galileo is much more
nuanced and complex than the
simplistic “science versus the
church” caricature painted by the
popular press.
• Charles Hummel, The Galileo
Connection: Resolving Conflicts
between Science and the Bible
Popular Myths about the
Trial of Galileo
• Galileo was tortured and abused by the
Inquisition until he recanted his belief in
• Galileo was able to prove scientifically that
the Earth moved around the sun.
• Galileo was trying to undermine the
authority of the church through his
scientific work.
Galileo’s “prison”: The Villa Medici
Ptolemaic versus Copernican System

Tychonian System
But the Tychonian system could explain
all of the observed phenomena
Cardinal Robert Bellarmine,
Letter on Galileo’s Theories, 1615
I say that if there were a true demonstration that the sun was in the
center of the universe and the earth in the third sphere, and that the
sun did not travel around the earth but the earth circled the sun, then it
would be necessary to proceed with great caution in explaining the
passages of Scripture which seemed contrary, and we would rather
have to say that we did not understand them than to say that
something was false which has been demonstrated. But I do not
believe that there is any such demonstration; none has been shown to
me. It is not the same thing to show that the appearances are saved
by assuming that the sun really is in the center and the earth in the
heavens. I believe that the first demonstration might exist, but I have
grave doubts about the second, and in a case of doubt, one may not
depart from the Scriptures as explained by the holy Fathers.
Galileo affirmed the
need for a conclusive
“Yet even in those
propositions which are not
matters of faith, this authority
[of the Bible] ought to be
preferred over that of all
human writings which are
supported only by bare
assertions or probable
arguments, and not set forth
in a demonstrative way”
(quoted in Hummel, The Galileo
Connection, p. 107)
Galileo’s “killer proof” that the Earth moved
around the sun—presented in his Treatise on
the Tides (1616)—was the motion of the tides.

The only problem was, his proof was

wrong. Other scientists who considered his
argument concluded that it made no sense.
Galileo never intended to undermine
the authority of the Church
• Galileo’s battle was with Aristotelian scientists
• Galileo was trying to prevent the church from
becoming irrelevant in clinging on to an obsolete
understanding of the world.
• Galileo promoted heliocentrism in opposition to the
Aristotelian geocentric universe, not against Scripture.
• Galileo saw no conflict between science and theology
• Galileo developed an early apologetic for apparent
conflict between science and theology
Galileo maintained his
devotion to the Church,
even after his trial
“I have two sources of perpetual
comfort—first, that in my writings
there cannot be found the faintest
shadow of irreverence toward the
Holy Church; and second, the
testimony of my own conscience,
which only I and God in Heaven
thoroughly know. And he knows
that in this cause for which I
suffer… none, not even the
ancient Fathers, have spoken
with more piety or with greater
zeal for the Church than I.”
(quoted in Hummel, The Galileo Connection, p. 124-125)
A Rational
A critical component to the
rise of modern science is a
belief in the rationality of
the universe. It was the
Christian belief in an
infinite, eternal, and
personal God who made
this universe which gave
the fathers of modern
science a basis for the
rationality of the universe.
A Rational
To men like Galileo,
Kepler, Newton, and
Bacon, the creation
was orderly and
uniform because it
was created this way
by an orderly and
rational God.
“The chief aim of all
investigations of the external
world should be to discover
the rational order and
harmony which has been
imposed on it by God and
which He revealed to us in the
language of mathematics.”
(Defundamentis Astrologiae
Certioribus, Thesis XX, 1601)
Isaac Newton
“This most beautiful system of the
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….
In him are all things contained and
moved.” Principia
Isaac Newton
Writes historian John Hermann

“The whole form of

Newtonian science practically
forced men, as a necessary
scientific hypothesis, to
believe in an external
(quoted in Pearcey and Thaxton, The
Soul of Science, p. 91)
The Laws of
Presbyterian theologian Thomas Derr
“As the creation of a trustworthy God,
nature exhibited regularity, dependability,
and orderliness. It was intelligible and
could be studied. It displayed a
knowable order.”
(quoted in Pearcey and Thaxton, The Soul of Science)

C.S. Lewis, Miracles

“Men became scientific because they
expected Law in Nature, and they
expected Law in Nature because they
believed in a Legislator.”
Science Revealing
the Glory of God
Morris Kline, Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty,
quoted in The Soul of Science by Nancy Pearcey
and Charles Thaxton:

“The search for the mathematical laws of

nature was an act of devotion which would
reveal the glory and grandeur of His
handiwork.... Each discovery of a law of
nature was hailed as evidence of God's
brilliance rather than the investigator's.”
“Since we astronomers are
priests of the highest God
in regard to the book of
nature, it befits us to be
thoughtful, not of the glory
of our minds, but rather,
above all else, of the glory
of God.”
“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.”
I give you thanks, Creator
and God, that you have
given me this joy in thy
creation, and I rejoice in the
works of your hands. See I
have now completed the
work to which I was called.
In it I have used all the
talents you have lent to my
Harmonies of the World, quoted in Pearcey and Thaxton, The Soul of
Science, p. 23
The Birth of Modern Science
Loren Eiseley, Darwin’s Century
“We must also observe that in one of those strange
permutations of which history yields occasional rare
examples, it is the Christian world which finally gave birth
in a clear articulate fashion to the experimental method of
science itself.”
Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton , The Soul of Science (p. 20):
“Far from impeding the progress of science, Christianity
had actually encouraged it—that the Christian culture
within which science arose was not a menace but a
midwife to science.”
Believers Who
Led the Way in Science
• William Foxwell Albright, archaeologist
• Charles Babbage, creator of the computer
• Francis Bacon, father of the scientific method
• Robert Boyle, founder of modern chemistry
• John Dalton, father of modern atomic theory
• Leonhard Euler, mathematician
• Jean Henri Fabre, chief founder of modern entomology
• Michael Faraday, founder of electromagnetic induction and field theory
• William Thomson Kelvin, thermodynamics
• Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, co-inventor of calculus
• James Clerk Maxwell, electromagnetic theory of light
• Gregor Mendel, father of genetics
• Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph
• Blaise Pascal, mathematician and hydrostatics
• Louis Pasteur, formulator of the germ theory of disease
• William Mitchell Ramsay, archaeologist
“For the holy Bible and the
phenomena of nature
proceed alike from the
divine Word…”
“We conclude that God is
known first through Nature,
and then again, more
particularly, by doctrine, by
Nature in His works, and by
doctrine in His revealed
The Two Books of
God’s Revelation
Sir Francis Bacon, The
Advancement of Learning,
‘To conclude, therefore, let no
man … think or maintain that a
man can search too far or be
too well studied in the book of
God’s word, or in the book of
God’s works; divinity or
philosophy; but rather let men
endeavor an endless progress
or proficience in both.’
God reveals Himself in 2 ways:
Through the Bible (special revelation)
and in nature (general revelation)

If the God of the Bible is the God of nature,

then facts from both should agree since they
have the same Source.
The Testimony
of Nature
Romans 1:20
For since the creation of
the world God’s invisible
qualities—His eternal
power and divine nature
—have been clearly
seen, being understood
from what has been
made, so that men are
without excuse.
The Testimony
of Nature
Psalm 19:1-2
The heavens declare
the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the
work of his hands.

Day after day they pour

forth speech;
night after night they
display knowledge.
two books: Nature & Scripture
God Au
r of th
o or
Auth of

Nature Agreement Scripture





Science Theology
two books: Nature & Scripture
• A tool for resolving conflicts between
science & theology God

• Hope:
• Nature and Scripture are both from Nature Scripture

God and must agree (all truth is

God’s truth)
Science Theology
• Strategy:
• don’t throw out one and keep the
other (don’t ignore some of God’s
• keep pursuing both science and
theology until the underlying unity
of Nature and Scripture becomes
Fallibility of Interpretation
theologians are not infallible, in the interpretation of
Scripture. It may, therefore, happen in the future, as it
has in the past, that interpretations of the Bible, long
confidently received, must be modified or abandoned,
to bring revelation into harmony with what God
teaches in his works. This change of view as to the
true meaning of the Bible may be a painful trial to the
Church, but it does not in the least impair the
authority of the Scriptures. They remain infallible; we
are merely convicted of having mistaken their
Points of
We need to beware of tying our
faith too closely to a particular
interpretation of nature
On the other hand, we must not
hold so dearly to a particular
interpretation of Scripture that
we are unwilling to allow
convincing scientific evidence to
reform our interpretation.
Points of
Use the sciences as a tool
to discover more about God
and the Bible and the
beautiful creation.
Use the facts of nature
(remember, they are from
God) to bolster or correct
your own biblical