Could Cold, Pagan Materialism Really Ever Explain the Universe?
The Christian Foundation of Modern Science
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To suggest that modern science had a Christian beginning would seem to most folks as absurd. This is true for several reasons. First we are propagandized daily with the “fact” that science and religion have nothing in common, but mix like oil and water. Second, the educational system in America leaves many of its victims totally incapable of critical thinking, thanks to progressive education icon John Dewey. Third, the complete trashing of religion in general, and Christianity in particular, has become an enormous goal of the secular culture, with much success currently.
And yet, it was well-known that in the groundbreaking science fellowship—London’s Royal Society—sat an unusual number of Puritans and other deeply religious persons. Further, some of the greatest scientific minds of early modern science’s age were profound Believers. And now we have a source explaining some of this apparent contradiction. A recent book suggests modern science was a direct result of a Christian worldview. Further, and more remarkably—that early scientist’s desire to regain the Adamic knowledge from the Garden was their chief aim. This is the subject of this essay.
I. History of Science: Ancient & Medieval
Many figures in history have been linked to “science,” going back to ancient Greece, such as famed Archimedes. But science historians like John Henry, in The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of modern Science, indicate the scientific method arose during the 17th century. Henry claims that those doing science-like investigations before this period lacked the worldview and scientific method of the first scientists.
Important science precursors were laid down in the Medieval Western world, according to James Hannam in The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution. Historian of science Hannam, ruefully addresses the typical scorn poured on the Medieval “Dark Ages,” claimed a time of illiteracy and appalling ignorance. He writes:
Denigration of the Middle Ages began as long ago as the sixteenth century, when humanists, the intellectual trendsetters of the time, started to champion classical Greek and Roman literature. They cast aside medieval scholarship on the grounds that it was convoluted and written in ‘barbaric’ Latin. So people stopped reading and studying it…
Edward Grant discusses science’s necessary precursors in The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional and Intellectual Contexts. He writes,
The creation of a societal environment in the Middle Ages that eventually enabled a scientific revolution to develop in the seventeenth century involved three crucial pre-conditions: (1 ) Transalation of Greco-Arabic works on science & natural philosophy into Latin, (2) Formation of the medieval university, & (3) Emergence of theologian-natural philosophers.
Hannam ultimately claims Medieval Christianity created the metaphysical cornerstone for modern science:
The starting point for all natural philosophy in the Middle Ages was that belief nature had been created by God. This made it a legitimate area of study because through nature, man could learn about its creator. Medieval scholars thought that nature followed the rules that God had ordained for it. Because God was consistent and not capricious, these natural laws were constant and worth scrutinising. However, these scholars rejected Aristotle’s contention that the laws of nature were bound by necessity. God was not constrained by what Aristotle thought. The only way to find out which laws God had decided on was by the use of experience and observation. The motivations and justification of medieval natural philosophers were carried over almost unchanged by the pioneers of modern science.
The notion science and the scientific method were not created by opposition to religion, like the Gallileo myth—but were even driven and formed by religious impulses is established in Stephen Gaukroger’s epic The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of Modernity 1210-1685.
The 1600s were the high point of England’s Puritan Revolution, culminating in the English Civil War of around 1650. This was arguably the most “Christian” point in British history, according to unparallelled 17th Century historian Christopher Hill, in The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution.
Hill points out that even the most seemingly atheist of writers, such as Thomas Hobbes, was still forced to express his ideas in biblical terminology and imagery, such was the gravitational pull of the society’s central source-book, the King James Bible. An example is Hobbes naming his magnum opus, Leviathan, after the whale of the Job and Jonah. Likewise, any scientific investigations in England at this time would have presumed some biblical warrant.
II. Adam as Original Natural Genius
A. Scientific Method & Sin
According to Peter Harrison’s groundbreaking The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science, the reason underlying the development of the new scientific-method is directly related to the fact it was Christians who launched the undertaking. It was based upon the book of Genesis and was related to Adam’s Fall from grace. This helps explain the unusually large number of Puritans who were members of London’s Royal Society, a fact which never squared with the general claim that modern science was a triumph of the Enlightenment against the silly Church’s authority.
Instead, the Puritans and other Calvinists were convinced of the deadly effects of sin, especially regarding the impact on human reasoning as a result of Man’s Fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. A legend had built up over the years, that when Adam had named the animals, he did so from an encyclopedic understanding. Regaining this Adamic knowledge was key to the early scientist’s development of the scientific method.
B. Adam’s Wisdom
Belief in Adam’s original brilliance was attested to by the ancient Jews. For example, a book called the Sepher Raziel, written in 17th century England, was an encyclopedia with a plethora of information. It was purported to be named after the Angel Raziel who was the supposed intermediary between Adam and God. This is no doubt a work of Talmudic cabbalism, known as a Solomnic girmorie—a book of magic, although many kinds of information are contained therein. It claims itself to be the oldest book in existence. But this tome is an example of the high opinion that Adam was held in by the Jews, who assumed of him that greatest knowledge before the Fall. Here is an excerpt:
Therefore I Saloman (King Solomon) will expound or make plaine & open this Booke which is of a great power & of a great vertue. I Salomon put such a knowledge & such a distinction, & explanation in this booke to evry man that readeth or studieth it, that he know whereof he was and from whence he came...
What is important to remember is the towering opinion that the 17th century intellectuals had for Adam and his knowledge. According to Harrison, the belief in Adam’s unparalleled genius involving the natural world was a powerful phenomenon up to the creation of the Scientific Method. He writes,
What is of enduring significance in these documents, however, is that they bear witness to a long-standing Western tradition that accorded to Adam a God-given encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world. That such manuscripts could still be accorded credibility in certain quarters during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries provides an indication of how powerful and pervasive was the tradition of the Adamic wisdom.
Foundational for the idea Adam had superb God-given knowledge on the natural world was based upon how Genesis describes God bringing all the animals by Adam, who then named each. According to legend, he named them based upon deep knowledge of their kind. Says Genesis 2:19 KJV
And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought [them] unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that [was] the name thereof.
C. Adam’s Fall Into Ignorance
When Adam sinned in the Garden and joined Eve in biting the apple, great was the impact. Obviously, Eve and Adam became mortal at that point, according to the story. But Adam also lost his place in the world and had to head out on his own with Eve and start over. Writes Harrison about the view of the Church Fathers (Patristic Fathers) on this event,
Adam lost the control of his own rational powers. The Fall had wrought a dramatic inversion of the natural hierarchical relationships. At a cosmic level Adam had rebelled against God. This insurrection was mirrored in the newly created world where animals became wild and no longer acknowledged Adam’s authority. Even the earth itself became barren and no longer provided abundant food. At a psychological level, Adam’s passions rebelled against his reason, resulting in a loss of self-control, and the forfeiting of that encyclopedic knowledge that made possible the naming and subduing of his erstwhile subjects.
III. Development of Modern Science
A. Augustine’s Pessimism
Harrison claims it was the Reformer’s fixation on St. Augustine’s low opinion of man after the Fall, which was accepted by Luther and Calvin as a truism which drove scientists to seek foolproof methods. And depending upon one’s relation to the Reformed, Calvinist low view of mankind after the Fall would influence how foolproof of a method needed to trust scientific results.
B. Bacon’s Bits
Sir Francis Bacon was an extraordinarily important figure in early modern science, despite being one of the top lawyers and politicians of his day. But Bacon was also wholly a child of the 17th century and therefore saw the foundation of all learning the Bible. Stephen A McKnight says in The Religious Foundations of Francis Bacon’s Thought that Bacon wanted to create an “instauration,” or program for reforming and advancing learning as to bring “relief to man’s estate.”
Key to Bacon’s thought, found in such books as The Great Instauration and The New Organon, is the centrality of religious concepts in his major philosophical works. McKnight claims Bacon’s notion of the reform of learning comes from the Bible, particularly the Genesis account of the Creation and the Fall. Bacon’s thoughts were foundational to the early Royal Society. When Bacon commented upon the implications of the Reformation, he claimed it provided a foundation and direction for the recalibration of all other studies, or a “a renovation and a new spring for all other knowledges.”
C. Early Scientific Breakthroughs
Of course, all of the Scientific Method did not appear full born, as if popped out of the head of Zeus. Luther’s colleague Melanchthon was taken by math as being closer to a fool-proof study. This in turn influenced young Johannes Kepler in his study of heavenly bodies. The Bible itself was said to contain a foundation for the study of nature, although of perfect application, but limited scope.
Robert Barclay, an early 17th century Quaker scientist, used a type of seeker “inner-light” argument which claimed that in studying the natural world, we must base our insights upon God’s inspiration. This assumed mankind’s inner direction was perfect. Others began to talk of “experimental knowledge,” (meaning at the time—experiential) where such ideas could be conjectured and tested, as inspired by the inner-dwelling of God’s Spirit. The issue of making more reliable education became an important one for Protestants, who believed all of mankind’s senses and abilities were damaged in the Fall.
IV. Bacon’s Atlantis, Salomon’s House & the Royal Society
A. Organum versus Novum Organum
Francis Bacon presents the first systematic attempt to overcome Adam’s shortcomings left to us by the Fall. He considers defects in our eyes, ears, general perception, problems with language and memory. For example, while Adam had a kind of x-ray vision in which to examine things, we must make do with superficial analysis. Bacon wrote his Novum Organum as a response and replacement of Aristotle’s Organum, since he disliked the pagan’s approach to the natural world.
B. New Atlantis & Salomon’s House
Bacon was struggling with how to cope with mankind’s massive shortcomings, versus Adam’s universal ability to understand the world. In his Utopian book, New Atlantis Bacon hit upon the idea of making a state-run body who would oversee and collect scientific data. This was Salomon’s House, and would be responsible for collecting and testing science, while testing nature itself. In the work he writes,
“Ye shall understand (my dear friends) that amongst the excellent acts of that king, one above all hath the pre-eminence. It was the erection and institution of an Order or Society, which we call Salomon’s House; the noblest foundation (as we think) that ever was upon the earth; and the lanthorn of this kingdom. It is dedicated to the study of the works and creatures of God. Some think it beareth the founder’s name a little corrupted, as if it should be Solamona’s House. But the records write it as it is spoken. So as I take it to be denominate of the king of the Hebrews, which is famous with you, and no stranger to us.
Being duly influenced by Bacon’s view that science needed a corporate structure—a Salomon’s House—to thrive, the Puritan-dominated Royal Society was formed July 16th, 1662. It’s ideological patron was considered Francis Bacon. The Puritan purpose behind this groundbreaking group was a restoration of man’s original, Adamic facilities in order to herald in the Millennium, the return of Christ to earth for his Thousand-Year-Reign.
This vision was found in works such as Samuel Hartlib’s Utopian Puritan work—Macaria. This proclaimed the coming return of an Eden-like earth. Such sentiments were in keeping with Bacon’s incipient apocalypticism, predicting man’s reason and abilities would only be fully restored at the end of time. Distillations of Bacon’s ideas by members date to the beginning of the Royal Society and well describe foundational aspects of the Scientific Method, such as Hooke’s Microphagia.
The new scientists also developed a hope that their studies might reveal the original Adamic language, lost after the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9.
D. Notable Fellows—Isaac Newton & His Theology
Many famous scientists and other writers became members of the Royal society, such as Robert Boyle and John Locke. Arguably the greatest scientist in history, Isaac Newton, was a member. He eventually became president of the Royal Society. His annus mirabilis, the miracle year, saw him achieve probably more scientific breakthroughs than any other person in history. Says one source,
In 1665, when Isaac Newton was 23 years old, he returned to his native village for two years to escape the plague that had closed down Cambridge University. He later wrote these years were his most fruitful & creative, & recalls in particular that in 1666 he developed the integral calculus, experimentally verified the composite nature of light, & refined his gravitational theory to the point that he was able to satisfy himself through calculation that the earth’s gravity holds the moon in orbit.
Yet, Newton’s favorite subject for his entire life was theology, and he wrote many works on the topic. In fact, he wrote over a million words of theology, proving even the greatest early scientists were also painstaking Christians in their personal lives, as well.