Science: Child of the Biblical Worldview
by Richard Peachey (based largely on Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton. 1994. The Soul of Science. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books)
Various ancient cultures, such as China, were able to produce a high technology — but only Christianized western Europe generated true science based on the scientific method (experimental method). As many historians of science have acknowledged, scientific thinking and experimentation are encouraged by a variety of features inherent in a biblical worldview. In the discussion below, each facet of the scientific view of nature is shown to correspond to a revealed truth about God.
1. Nature is real, not an illusion / God is Creator
• Psalm 33:6,9; Genesis 1:7,9,11,15,24,30 — "And it was so." Objects in nature have real existence. This contrasts with (e.g.) Hinduism, which teaches that the everyday world of material objects is maya, an illusion.
2. Nature is good, not inherently evil / God is good
• Genesis 1:4,10,12,18,21,25,31 — "it was (very) good." The ancient Greeks often equated the material world with evil and disorder — manual labour was relegated to slaves, while philosophers sought a life of leisure to pursue 'higher things.' Many historians believe this is one reason the Greeks did not develop an empirical science, which would require practical, hands-on observation and experimentation.
". . . there has never been room in the Hebrew or Christian tradition for the idea that the material world is something to be escaped from, and that work in it is degrading. Material things are to be used to the glory of God and for the good of men."
— Mary Hesse, British philosopher of science (Pearcey and Thaxton, p. 23)
"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 spirit."
— Johannes Kepler, seventeenth century astronomer (Pearcey and Thaxton, p. 23)
3. Nature is to be enjoyed and investigated, not worshiped / God is One, and is distinct from his creation
• Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15,16,19,20; Exodus 20:1-4; Romans 1:25; I Kings 4:29-34.
Nature is a garden, not a god. "The monotheism of the Bible exorcised the gods of nature, freeing humanity to enjoy and investigate it without fear. When the world was no longer an object of worship, then—and only then—could it become an object of study." (Pearcey and Thaxton, p. 24)
"The veneration, wherewith men are imbued for what they call nature, has been a discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior creatures of God: for many have not only looked upon it, as an impossible thing to compass, but as something impious to attempt, the removing of those boundaries which nature seems to have put and settled among her productions; and whilst they look upon her as such a venerable thing, some make a kind of scruple of conscience to endeavor so to emulate any of her works, as to excel them." [emphasis added]
— Robert Boyle, seventeenth century chemist (Pearcey and Thaxton, p. 251)
4. Nature is reliable, not disorderly / God is faithful
• Genesis 8:22; Psalm 104:19-24.
"As I try to discern the origin of that conviction [that the universe is ordered], I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely, that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science."
— Melvin Calvin, Nobel prize-winning biochemist (Pearcey and Thaxton, p. 25)
5. Nature is lawful, not irrational / God is Law-giver
• Jeremiah 31:35-36; Psalm 19:1-2,4b-11.
"The phrase 'laws of nature' is so familiar to the modern mind that we are generally unaware of its uniqueness. People in pagan cultures who see nature as alive and moved by mysterious forces are not likely to develop the conviction that all natural occurrences are lawful and intelligible. . . . As historian A. R. Hall points out, the concept of natural law was unknown to both the ancient Western world and the Asian world. When the concept finally arose in the Middle Ages, Hall says, it signified 'a notable departure' from anything that had gone before." (Pearcey and Thaxton, p. 26)
6. Nature is precise, not capricious / God is fully in control
• Hebrews 11:3; Job 42:1-2.
"The Biblical God created the universe ex nihilo and hence has absolute control over it. Genesis paints a picture of a Workman completely in charge of His materials. . . . In all other religions, the creation of the world begins with some kind of pre-existing substance with its own inherent nature. As a result, the creator is not absolute and does not have the freedom to mold the world exactly as he wills." (Pearcey and Thaxton, p. 27)
"Matter in the Platonic sense, which must be 'prevailed upon' by reason, will not obey mathematical laws exactly: matter which God has created from nothing may well strictly follow the rules which its Creator has laid down for it. In this sense I called modern science a legacy, I might even have said a child, of Christianity."
— C. F. von Weizsacker, noted twentieth century physicist (Pearcey and Thaxton, p. 28)
7. Nature is intelligible by man / God created man in his image
• Genesis 1:26; Psalm 8.
"Belief in a rational order in nature would have no practical benefit for science were it not accompanied by the belief that humans can discover that order. . . . Joseph Needham, a student of Chinese culture, asks in his book The Grand Titration why the Chinese never developed modern science. The reason, he said, is that the Chinese had no belief either in an intelligible order in nature nor in the human ability to decode an order should it exist." (Pearcey and Thaxton, p. 29)
8. Nature must be studied and experimented on in order to gain knowledge / God created freely, and his ways are above our ways
• Isaiah 44:24; 55:8-9.
Aristotle (followed by Thomas Aquinas) stressed logic and deduction, rather than observation and experimentation. Such an approach tended to confine nature to what human thinking could rationally deduce. Christians influenced by Aristotle viewed the universe as "a necessarily determined emanation from God’s reason, instead of a free creation of His will" (Pearcey and Thaxton, pp. 31-32). Early scientists, such as Van Helmont, Boyle, and Newton, rejected Aristotelian thinking and supported a "voluntarist theology," which held that God created freely, unrestrained by any predetermined restrictions or logical necessities.
"As historian John Hedley Brooke puts it, 'If the workings of nature reflected the free agency of a divine will, then the only way to uncover them was by empirical investigation. No armchair science, premised on how God must have organized things, was permissible.' Science must observe and experiment." (Pearcey and Thaxton, p. 33)
9. Nature ought to be studied, in order to glorify God and benefit man / God has commanded man to subdue nature and to love one another
• Genesis 1:26; 2:19-20; Romans 13:8-10.
". . . as science historian P. M. Rattansi argues, it is now generally accepted that the Christian concept of moral obligation played an important role in attracting people to the study of nature. . . . In his words, Protestant principles 'encouraged a commitment to the study of God's "Book of Nature" as complementing the study of the book of God's word. They imposed a religious obligation to make such study serve the twin ends of glorifying God and benefiting fellow-men.' " (Pearcey and Thaxton, pp. 35-36)