Christianity and Civilisation: Science

Science as we know it today would not be the same without its Christian roots:

To speak of Western civilisation is to speak about Christian civilisation to a very large degree. Without Christianity (and the Judaism that preceded it), the West as we know it today would simply not exist. One of the most recent commentators to make this case is Tucker Carlson. A few weeks ago he gave a speech on how Western civilisation is under attack.

He emphasised how the secular left is really at war with Christianity itself. As he said in part: “Why are they doing this? The goal is to overthrow Western civilization. What is Western civilization? It’s Christian civilization. That’s what it is.”

Entire libraries are filled with the volumes documenting how so much of the West is the product of Christianity. Some months ago, I listed twenty top books on how Christianity made our world. It included titles such as How Christianity Changed the World and What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? That piece is found here:

Christianity and Science

Simply looking at the arena of science is enough to show any unbiased observer what a remarkable contribution Christians have made here. Even non-Christians have acknowledged all this. For example, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, in America’s Real War (Multnomah, 1999) put it this way:

“Well over 90 percent of all the scientific discoveries of the past thousand years have been made in nations where Christianity is the prevailing religion. Virtually every major discovery in physics, medicine, chemistry, mathematics, electricity, nuclear physics, mechanics and just about everything else has taken place in Christian countries.”

And consider this stunning remark by the atheist blogger Tim O’Neill from a decade ago:

It’s not hard to kick this nonsense to pieces, especially since the people presenting it know next to nothing about history and have simply picked up these strange ideas from websites and popular books. The assertions collapse as soon as you hit them with hard evidence. I love to totally stump these propagators by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one – scientist burned, persecuted, or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents usually scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong.

Of interest, this excerpt was taken from a book review he had penned. I happen to have the book, and it could easily have been included in my top 20 listing (along with many others). I refer to the very important volume God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam, (Icon Books, 2010). It was released in America as The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (Regnery, 2011).

Image of The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution
The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution by Hannam, James (Author) Amazon logo

There is so much that can be said about this crucial volume. Perhaps the best I can do here is simply quote from it, hoping that will encourage you to get a copy. In his introduction he says this:

Popular opinion, journalistic cliché, and misinformed historians notwithstanding, recent research has shown that the Middle Ages was a period of enormous advances in science, technology and culture. The compass, paper, printing, stirrups, and gunpowder all appeared in western Europe between 500 and 1500 AD. True, these inventions originated in the Far East, but Europeans developed them to a far higher degree than had been the case elsewhere….


Meanwhile, the people of medieval Europe invented spectacles, the mechanical clock, the windmill, and the blast furnace by themselves. Lenses and cameras, almost all kinds of machinery and the industrial revolution itself all owe their origins to the forgotten inventors of the Middle Ages. Just because we don’t know their names does not mean that we should not recognise their achievements.


Most significantly, the Middle Ages laid the foundation for the greatest achievement of western civilisation, modern science. It is simply untrue to say that there was no science before the “Renaissance.” Once medieval scholars got their hands on the work of the classical Greeks, they developed systems of thought that allowed science to travel far further than it had in the ancient world. Universities, where academic freedom was guarded from royal interference, were first founded in the twelfth century. These institutions have always provided scientific research with a safe home. Even Christian theology turned out to be uniquely suited to encouraging the study of the natural world, which was believed to be God’s creation.

In some 350 pages the Oxford and Cambridge historian of science discusses all this in great detail. Along the way many of the myths and misinformation so many modern secularists have about the Medieval Ages are put to rest. As but one example:

Another modern misconception about the medieval Christian worldview is that people thought the central position of the earth meant that it was somehow exalted. In fact, to the medieval mind, the reverse was the case. The universe was a hierarchy and the further from the earth you travelled, the closer to Heaven you came. . . . The hierarchical system gave people absolute directions of up and down, one towards the heavens and one down to earth at the bottom of the celestial ladder. To move the earth away from the centre of the universe was not to downgrade its importance but to raise it up to the stars.

But let me finish with a few paragraphs from his closing chapter:

Much of the technology we take for granted today, like the computer upon which this book was written, would not exist but for the achievements of modern science. In the Middle Ages, technology and engineering did not owe anything to natural philosophy. The relationship was the other way around. Technical advances gave natural philosophers clues about how the world worked as well as providing the equipment that they needed to investigate it. They could not point to any practical benefits of their work, still less applications that proved their theories were correct. This meant that they needed other ways of justifying their activities.


The metaphysical cornerstone of modern science is often overlooked. We take it for granted and we do not worry about why people began studying nature in the first place. Today you can enhance the credentials of any outlandish theory you like by labelling it ‘scientific’, as advertisers and quacks well appreciate. But back in the Middle Ages, science did not enjoy the automatic authority that it has today.


To understand why science was attractive even before it could demonstrate its remarkable success in explaining the universe, it is necessary to look at things from a medieval point of view. The starting point for all natural philosophy in the Middle Ages was that nature had been created by God. This made it a legitimate area of study because through nature, man could learn about its creator. Mediaeval 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 mediaeval natural philosophers were carried over almost unchanged by the pioneers of modern science. Sir Isaac Newton explicitly stated that he was investigating God’s creation, which was a religious duty because nature reflects the creativity of its maker.

Let me again quote O’Neill from his review of this valuable volume: “This is a marvelous book and a brilliant, readable, and accessible antidote to ‘the Myth’. It should be on the Christmas wish-list of any Medievalist, science history buff, or anyone who has a misguided friend who still thinks the nights in the Middle Ages were lit by burning scientists.”

This is just one of so many books we could examine to see the role that Christianity played in the development of the West, including in the area of science. Indeed, simply to list many of the well-known scientists who also strongly believed in God would make the case. Consider just some of them:

Physics—Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Kelvin, Damadian
Chemistry—Boyle, Dalton, Ramsay
Biology—Ray, Linnaeus, Mendel, Pasteur, Virchow, Agassiz, Chain, Paulescu
Geology—Steno, Woodward, Brewster, Buckland, Cuvier
Astronomy—Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Herschel, Maunder
Mathematics—Pascal, Leibnitz, Euler

As the Oxford mathematician and Christian John Lennox once put it: “Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Mendal, Pasteur, Kelvin, and Clerk-Maxwell were all theists, most of them Christians. Their belief in God, far from being a hindrance to their science, was often the main inspiration for it.”

Hannam of course discusses most of these individuals. The bogus claim that Christianity is somehow anti-scientific is simply the stuff of irate misotheists who refuse to see that without Christianity modern science simply would not have been born. As I stated in a previous piece on this:

Some religions, like Judaism have made many contributions to the civilised world. Others have been much less involved in Western progress. As [historian Rodney] Stark and others have demonstrated, only those religions that have had a place for reason and logic have had a real impact on science, progress and technology. The Judeo-Christian worldview certainly gives reason a good run.


Thus important thinkers such as Alfred North Whitehead and Robert Oppenheimer – neither of them Christian – have argued that modern science could not have developed were it not for the Christian worldview that provided the soil from which it arose. The greatest achievements of Western civilisation are mainly, but not completely, the results of the Judeo-Christian mindset.

It is hoped that this piece will be the first in an irregular series of articles on Christianity and Civilisation. I hope to next look at the area of music and the great composers, so stay tuned.

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10 Replies to “Christianity and Civilisation: Science”

  1. Clearly ‘science’ has turned against Christianity claiming that the Bible and Christianity are unscientific myths and miracles. Ironically real science clearly points to the necessity of a miracle-working God.

    Naturalistic science, in excluding God, leads to contradictory conclusions: Conservation of matter+energy demands an eternal universe; in direct contrast, increase in entropy/chaos/disorder demands that the universe had a beginning or it would have died by now.

    So, God hating scientists waved their magic wands and invent the Big Bang that supposedly turned absolutely nothing (no matter, energy, time, space or intelligence) into the universe and life for no reason or cause. That’s illogical blind faith belief in miracles with no miracle worker. But it’s even worse: they propose billions of years of evolution during which sterile dead matter somehow became alive and eventually became intelligent. But, ironically, intelligence must have been present before life on earth.

    Life requires the simultaneous availability of an intelligent DNA language, with a biological ‘hardware’ systems to write, store, read, copy and action the DNA software programme, all packaged safely in a living creature. Even the ‘simplest’ life has to have all that mind-blowingly complex and delicate biological machinery packaged safely in a living organism before it is alive. So the first ‘simple’ life must have been created by a highly intelligent god – otherwise the God-haters must rely on fantastic miracles with no miracle worker.

    The atheists’ miracle workers are Aeons of Time and Chance: but time and chance are their worst enemies. Most essential components of a ‘simple’ living cell are fragile and quickly disintegrate; so even if the right components could happen by chance, they would disintegrate before all the required pieces were in the same place in working order at the same time.

    Some Christian apologists, such as John Lennox, accept aeons of time and replace Chance with God. However, the aeons of time places death, disease and extinction before Adam and Eve, and making it very hard to believe God’s declaring in Genesis “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” and then blaming Adam for the curse of sin on all of creation. I think it takes less faith to believe God when he wrote on stone with His own finger: “For in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.”

  2. About 20% of Nobel prize winners have a Jewish background and many of those would be for science related areas. Muslim background winners are few and far between and mainly for the Nobel Peace prize.

  3. Yes the clear evidence from socialist nations is that atheistic thought holds nations and scientific development back. This, to me, is very evident in the way evolutionary thought has held back the understanding of genetics with the many misconceptions leading to thinking the wrong way and slowing development.

    It now appears genes work on a multilevel system akin to but far in advance of, a computer operating system with multilevel, interacting software. We have now seen how this epigenetic effect was actually what resulted in the various finch beaks which Darwin wrongly attributed to mutations.

    Epigenetic is what results in every cell, of the trillions which make up a human body, knowing what its purpose in life is, apparently from its known, physical position and despite every human cell having the same DNA.

    Cells each have separate, task-specific databases relating to the information they need to perform their specified function. A fairly obvious example is the databases the immune system cells have, which is distributed to the various immune cells so they can identify pathogens and act accordingly with each immune cell acting independently and intelligently.

    In this way every cell in the body is intelligent and we now know this intelligence even reacts to the intelligence in the various symbiotic cells. Human intelligence is definitely not restricted to the brain as atheistic thought has wrongly suggested.

    Compare what we now know about genetics to what Darwinian theory predicted and it should become clear how a theistic approach would always have been better than an atheistic one. Atheistic thought has held the science back and continues to do so largely because it simply is not based on truth nor respect for that truth.

  4. Thanks, Bill. Happy new year to you.
    Three comments, if I may:
    1. I find Robert Grosseteste very interesting. He was bishop of Lincoln in the mid-C13th (died 1253), and apart from being (almost) a Protestant before the Reformation, his scientific pursuits were far ahead of his time: his researches in geometrical optics led to the development of the lens, and hence spectacles and (eventually) the telescope and microscope; and he believed (rightly) that light was a wave motion, and thus he was able to explain refraction. Geometrical optics as he discerned it is still taught in every textbook of physics to this day.
    2. You mention John Dalton, the pioneer of modern atomic theory, but I would go back further, into the previous century when Jonathan Edwards (the Calvinist Revival preacher) wrote, during his time at Stockbridge in the 1750s, a treatise “On Atoms”, in which he laid the theological basis for atomic theory. The background here goes back to Aristotle, whose valueless objections to the atomic speculations of Democritus held sway for centuries, while “atomism” was at the same time associated with atheism. It was Edwards, in his little noticed work today, that put atomic theory on a solid theological basis, and swept aside its atheistic overtones, paving the way for Dalton, though I’m not sure if Dalton was familiar with Edwards’ work.
    3. Your post above is timely, because I for one have been interested in, and even a devotee of science all my life, and I lament and deplore the way the left, and the green movement have hijacked it in the interests of (i) evolution, a superstitious theory about how the world made itself, and how a primordial “singularity” (next to nothing) somehow exploded and became everything; (ii) a political agenda and a religion of nature-worship, (iii) superstitious pantheism. As a result science, God’s gift to humanity when man honours the Creator, is now being withdrawn, as the formerly Christian West descends into superstition. The radical left even regards science as a “Western construct”!

  5. I think a primary motive of the devil is bluffing. Whatever his weakest point he pretends to be his strongest point. For example, the worldwide flood that Noah experienced has some of the most obvious and undeniable evidence (fossils, massive sedimentary layers, fossil trees through “millions” of year of strata etc). Rather brazenly, the devil goes out of his way to make geology look like his strong point, as if geology supposedly contradicts the Bible. It doesn’t. In fact, the flood is one the strongest points in the Bible’s history. Christians do not need to shrink back and be embarrassed about Noah’s Ark and the Flood but understand that it is by far the best way to explain the geology we see all around us. Nowadays, the same goes for DNA research. In Darwin’s day one might almost be excused for thinking that algae is hardly any different from coloured green water. But today, with our fast-growing knowledge and experience with things like epigenetics, it is clear that the abstract programming of DNA systems requires a designer. There has never been any proof that claimed evolutionary processes can even come up with the idea of abstraction, let alone programming, error checking & repair, growth & duplication, immune defenses, and so on. Today, tinted green water is a long, long way from algae, and getting longer every day – as scientists study the marvel of life. Atheists are rapidly running out of excuses.

  6. Thanks Bill.

    The converse of the above.

    The full title of Charles Darwin’s original book > “On The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”.

    Following the resulting trauma across the world, associated with the concept of “favoured races” the sanitised version of the publication is now titled, “The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection”

    Marx, Hitler, Stalin, Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes were influenced by Darwin’s theories.

  7. Here are two more solid titles by historians of science examining how Judeo-Christian beliefs were instrumental in the development of experimental science.

    HOOYKAAS, Reijer (1972) Religion and the Rise of Modern Science. Scottish Academic Press Edinburgh 162 p.

    JAKI, Stanley L. (1974/1986) Science and Creation. Academic Press New York 367 p.

    One scholar bringing somewhat unexpected support to the idea of a causal relationship between Judeo-Christian cosmology and scientific realism is Joseph Needham, a marxist historian who spent many years studying the development of Chinese civilization and technology (ancient and contemporary). Needham, who for the most part considers that environmental and socio-economic factors have played a predominant role in the non-development of a theoretical science in China, seems to have been forced by simple facts out of the orthodox (marxist) theoretical framework to pay attention to the effects that certain metaphysical presuppositions may have had on the birth of science. He noted:

    “My colleagues and I have engaged in a rather thorough investigation of the concepts of laws of Nature in East Asia and Western culture. In Western civilization the ideas of natural law in the juristic sense and of the laws of Nature in the sense of the natural sciences can easily be shown to go back to a common root. Without doubt one of the oldest notions of Western civilization was that just as earthly imperial law-givers enacted codes of positive law to be obeyed by men, so also the celestial and supreme rational Creator Deity had laid down a series of laws which must be obeyed by minerals, crystals, plants, animals and the stars in their courses. There can be little doubt that this idea was intimately bound up with the development of modern science at the Renaissance in the West. If it was absent elsewhere, could that not have been one of the reasons why modern science arose only in Europe; in other words, were medievally conceived laws of Nature in their naïve form necessary for the birth of science?”

    Needham, Joseph The Grande Titration. U. of Toronto Press Toronto 1969 p. 35-36

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