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Don Stewart :: Has Christianity Opposed the Advancement of Science?

Don Stewart
As we conclude our introductory questions on the Bible and science it is necessary to address a common misconception: Bible believers are opposed to the advancement of science. It is a popular perception that those who believe the Bible and what it says about matters of science and nature are enemies of truth and scientific advancement. The late science writer Isaac Asimov stated:

With creation in the saddle American science will wither. We will raise a generation of ignoramuses. We will inevitably recede into the backwaters of civilization.

Three past incidents are usually cited to show the Christians opposition to scientific advancement: the dispute of the church with Galileo, the creation/evolution debate between T.H. Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, and the infamous Scopes monkey trial.

Galileo

At the time of Galileo, (the 17th century), the common belief was that the earth was center of our solar system. Galileos use of the telescope brought conclusions that were based upon scientific observation. He taught that the sun, not the earth, was the immovable center of our solar system. This conclusion contradicted the accepted philosophical views of his day. But it is important to note, it did not contradict what the Bible had said about the matter. Scientist James Reid explains the arguments used against Galileo.

It would not be fair to consider Galileos case without asking why the authorities of the day could use the Bible to support their arguments against him. The facts of the matter however, show that there werent many Biblical references used. Galileos enemies turned more to politics and the science of the day, than they did to the Bible. As indicated, they were worried more about upsetting the older "scientific" theories of the day (James Reid, Does Science Confront the Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971, pp. 44,45).

The churchs mistreatment of Galileo gave the perception that Christianity was against scientific advancement and Galileo is hailed today as a scientific martyr. Yet the problem was not with the Bible and science. Arthur Koestler writes:

The Galileo affair was an isolated, and in fact quite untypical, episode in the history of the relations between science and theology . . . But its dramatic circumstances, magnified all our of proportion, created a popular belief that science stood for freedom, the Church for oppression of thought (Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers, 1986 edition, London: Penguin Books, p. 533).

Huxley/Wilberforce

About a year after the publication of Charles Darwins book The Origin of Species, a confrontation took place that set the stage for the modern creation/evolution controversy. In June 1860, at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, a special meeting was held to discuss Darwins views.

Bishop Samuel Wilberforce addressed the scientific association and spoke against the theory of evolution while English biologist T. H. Huxley defended Darwin. For the last hundred years the story has been told how Huxley won the debate against the ignorant bishop. But this view has been challenged in recent years. It seems the bishop was not the ignorant and ill-informed individual that history has usually characterized him. After the debate Wilberforce wrote a critique on the Origin of Species which Darwin himself described as "uncommonly clever and which makes very good sense."

Because there were no written accounts taken at the meeting any descriptions we have are from memories of those who attended. The story that circulated was of Huxleys brilliance and the bishops incompetence. Because of the way the incident was reported, many rejected the biblical position as being scientifically absurd. Within ten years, scientific opinion throughout the world had changed from supernatural creationism in favor of mindless evolution.

Scopes Trial

An incident occurred early in the twentieth century that furthered the rift between Christianity and the scientific community. In 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee, a young high school teacher named John Scopes was put on trial for teaching the theory of evolution. Scopes was defended by the famous Clarence Darrow while William Jennings Bryan argued the case for the state of Tennessee.

Evidence?

One of the pieces of evidence presented for the case for evolution was the tooth from Nebraska man. A molar found in Nebraska in 1922 was identified as having come from an important transitional form between man and his primate ancestors by at least four well-known scientists: H. Cook, H. F. Osborn, H. H. Wilder, and G. E. Smith. Osborn declared, on the day he first saw the tooth:

The instant your package arrived I sat down with the tooth, in my window, and said to myself: It looks one hundred percent anthropoid . . . It looks to me as if the first anthropoid ape of America has been found (cited by Bolton Davidheiser, Evolution and Christian Faith, Nutley, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: 1969, p. 347).

However, in 1927 the molar was correctly identified as belonging to a pig:
The men from the museum also found more of the fossil material for which they were looking, and it turned out that the tooth of an animal which had previously been named Prosthennops. This was very embarrassing, because Prosthennops was a peccary, which is a type of pig (Davidheiser, Evolution and Christian Faith, p. 348).

Result

Unfortunately, Nebraska man was used as one of the "proofs" of evolution at the trial. Though the creationist position won in the courtroom, it was dealt a further blow in the eyes of the world. They perceived the church as persecuting a helpless biology teacher, as well as not accepting the clear evidence for evolution. Scientist Henry Morris sums up the result:

The bells had tolled for any scientific belief in special creation. The Scopes trial (1925) had ended in a nominal victory for the fundamentalists, with the teacher Scopes convicted for teaching evolution in the high school, contrary to Tennessee law. In the press, however, Clarence Darrow and his evolutionist colleagues had resoundingly defeated William Jennings Bryan and the creationists. Evolution henceforth was almost universally accepted as an established fact of modern science and special creation relegated to the limbo of curious beliefs of a former age (Henry Morris, The Troubled Waters of Evolution, San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1974, p. 9).

Modern Science And Christianity

These three instances have blurred the truth that modern science arose in a Christian context. Near the end of the nineteenth century, Emil Dubois-Reymond, professor of medicine at the University of Berlin, said:

Modern science, paradoxical as it may sound, has to thank Christianity for its origin (cited by Eric Sauer, The King of the Earth, Palm Springs: Ronald N. Haynes Publishers, 1981, p. 86).

Scientist/theologian John Klotz writes:

It should be very evident that modern science could only have developed in the environment of the Judeo-Christian emphasis on the orderliness of creation. The gods of the many religions are erratic. They play cat and mouse with man. They tantalize him and change the rules. Their actions are not predictable, and consequently the universe is not regular and predictable (John Klotz, Studies in Creation, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1985, p. 11).

The late Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer concluded:

What we have to realize is that early modern science was started by those who lived in a consensus and setting of Christianity. A man like J. Robert Oppenheimer, for example, who was not a Christian, nevertheless understood this. He said that Christianity was needed to give birth to modern science [On Science and Culture Encounter, October 1962]. Christianity was necessary for the beginning of modern science for the simple reason that Christianity created a climate of thought which put men in a position to investigate the form of the universe . . . .

The early scientists also shared the outlook of Christianity in believing that there is a reasonable God, who has created a reasonable universe, and thus man, by use of his reason, could find out the universes form (Francis Schaeffer, Escape From Reason, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1968, pp. 30,31).

Summary

Because people took the Bible seriously modern science and its scientific laws were formed. The belief that a reasonable God had created a universe of order birthed modern science. Scientists such as Newton, Pascal, and Faraday were creationists who believed the Creator had established laws for people and the natural world. It is, therefore, incorrect to say that Christianity opposes the advancement of scientific knowledge.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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