Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

THE BIBLE: FOUNDATION OF MODERN SCIENCE

In this article, we will establish the following:-

  1. The worldviews of ancient and medieval civilizations were anti-science.
  2. Not surprisingly, science stagnated in pagan cultures
  3. The Bible, on the other hand, provides a worldview that includes the fundamental presuppositions of science
  4. Not surprisingly, modern science began where and when the Bible had a strong influence; the pioneers of modern science were people who believed that the Bible provided them the basis for and encouragement to pursue scientific knowledge.

Anti-science worldviews

The following are some prominent features of the worldviews of ancient culture.

Nature worship: If you believe that rivers, stars, animals and rain are gods, you won't scientifically investigate them to find out the laws governing their behaviour. This is why the Hindus and Chinese did not develop science.

Quarrelsome, fickle gods: If the universe is governed by childish gods and goddesses throwing tantrums all the time, it will not be governed by regular, consistent laws. This explains why Greek/Roman science and math stagnated. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, the Arab Muslims believed in a single god; however, he too was arbitrary (Koran 2:106, 16:101, 5:18) and prone to changing his mind at will. Islam therefore did not provide an impetus for science. Scientific work by Muslims was mostly borrowed from the Hindus and Greeks and was done despite Islam, not because of it.

Mind over matter: If you believe (like the classical Greeks) that matter is evil and manual labor is inferior, you won't do experiments. If you believe (like the Hindus and Buddhists) that the physical universe is an illusion or an artefact of a low consciousness level, you will not consider the physical universe worth investigating.

As you can see, ancient beliefs were anti-science.

Atheism escapes mention from the above list because atheism was not very prevalent in the ancient world. Atheists claim that atheism is the only scientifically appropriate worldview, but let us critically examine the implications of atheism for scientific investigation:-

  1. Atheism implies that there is no ultimate purpose or meaning to the universe. We are just a lucky accident. Why bother with investigating the universe then? If you ask an atheistic scientist today, he may say: "Oh, science is so exciting!", or "I'm hoping to understand this phenomenon; this will help in making better devices". Such incentives were absent before modern science was started.
  2. Atheism implies that our brains are merely the product of the motions of atoms. What basis do we have then for trusting our own thoughts? If you have no confidence in your own ability to think logically, you cannot do science. Atheists admit this.
  3. Atheism implies that the universe came to existence on its own without any Law-giver. Why should the universe be governed by laws then? Especially laws that are so precise and consistent that they can be mathematically expressed? The premise that the universe is governed by mathematical laws is the basis of all scientific work today. Atheists admit this

Thus, atheism is also anti-science. Theories to defend atheism, such as the Big Bang Theory and Evolution Theory are only speculation. If an ancient civilization with an atheistic worldview existed, it would not start the development of modern science.

Pagan civilizations: a scene of scientific stagnation

After describing math in ancient Babylonia and Egypt, one author says:

“All historically well known periods of great mathematical discoveries have reached their climax after one or two centuries of rapid progress following upon, and followed by, many centuries of relative stagnation.” - Otto Neugebauer, The Exact Sciences in Antiquity (New York, Dover Publications, 1969), p48

The Greeks made some progress in math and science but:-

“...perhaps the most interesting part about [Greek geometry] is that just at the precise stage of its development when it was about to become the most important and exciting the Greeks lost interest in it.” - William M. Ivins, Jr., Art and Geometry: A Study in Space Intuitions (New York:Dover Publications, 1964), p. 38.

The Hindus came up with zero, negative numbers, decimal notation, etc. but did not realize the significance of these inventions. In the fifth century, Aryabhata suggested that the earth goes around the sun. Sushruta was an ancient Indian surgeon. However, these discoveries did not develop into scientific astronomy or medicine.

The Arabs worked with trigonometry and algebra, borrowing some ideas from the Hindus. However, they too did not realize how much further these ideas could be taken.

The universal theme is: some progress, then stagnation and regression.

The Bible: Conceptual foundation for science

In contrast to the destructive nature of pagan religions, the Bible provides the fundamental premises needed in order to get science started.

Let me elaborate on some of the points in the article just linked to:-

What does the Bible say about God?

God is consistent (Numbers 23:19, Malachi 3:6). He's not a despot or moody person with ego problems like Jupiter and his gang.

What does the Bible say about the physical universe?

  • "Jehovah has founded the earth by wisdom; He has established the heavens by understanding;" - Proverbs 3:19
  • "Do you know the ordinances [laws] of the heavens? Can you appoint their authority over the earth?" - Job 38:33 [God is speaking to a guy called Job around 2000 BC]

In other words, God has created a universe that functions -logically- on the basis of LAWS. This reminds me of Richard Feynman, the Nobel winning physicist at California Institute of Technology. In his famous Lectures in Physics he says discovering things in physics is like watching a chess game. You don't know the rules, but you try to figure out the rules by watching the players make their moves. Good, but who told you there are rules? It is the Bible (and no other ancient book) which states that the universe is based on LAWS.

How worthwhile is it to explore nature according to the Bible?

The Bible commends people like Solomon who did a lot of scientific study (1 Kings 4:29-34), endorses the use of metallurgy (Deuteronomy 8:9), and commends diligence and skill in what we do (Proverbs 22:29, 2 Chronicles 34:12). According to the Bible, the alleviation of human suffering and the improvement in the quality of life are worthy goals.

The above discussion leads to three conclusions:-

  1. Scientific research is feasible because natural phenomena occur in accordance with laws that God has ordained, rather than the random trials of nature or the whims of pagan gods.
  2. Mathematics is going to be helpful in science and engineering, because mathematics is governed by consistency, and God claims to be consistent, so He must have created a consistent universe.
  3. Scientific research is worthwhile because it is likely to be beneficial to us, and it helps us understand the wonders of creation (Psalm 19:1)

Notice: all these three conclusions are basic premises of modern science!!! All three arise in the Bible!!!

To summarize: Only a Biblical worldview provides the philosophical basis for science.

A Bible-based culture: scene for the start of modern science

Virtually all the scientists you come across in a high school textbook were from Europe. This is because after thousands of years of stagnation, science finally took root in Europe about 1500 AD onwards. How did this happen?

  1. The printing press was invented in 1456; the first book to be printed was the Bible.
  2. From 1517 onwards, the Reformation swept through Europe. Martin Luther (who was the first "best selling author") and other leaders of the Reformation encouraged people to read and believe the Bible.
  3. Consequently, more and more people in Europe read the Bible and were influenced by it. Some of these people laid the foundations of modern science. A few examples:-

Roger Bacon (1220-1292): Although he was from a rich family, he joined the Franciscans, a religious group devoted to simple living, Bible Study, charity, and learning. He pioneered the use of mathematics and experimentation (rather than ancient Greek claims) in science. He wrote Opus Major, a science encyclopedia. Can you imagine any secular scientist today writing an encyclopedia for free? Roger Bacon did it because he believed that learning science was worthy because it glorified God and fulfilled God's intention for man as expressed in Genesis 1:27-30.

Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543): He established that the planets go around the sun. Copernicus articulated his debt to his Christian heritage that motivated him in the cultivation of his worldview outlook:

"For the divine Psalmist surely did not say gratuitously that he took pleasure in the workings of God and rejoiced in the works of His hands, unless by means of these things as by some sort of vehicle we are transported to the contemplation of the highest Good." Copernicus, The Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres, trans. Charles Glenn Wallis (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 6. The biblical source of this quote is Psalm 111:2, “The works of the Lord are great, studied by all who have pleasure in them.”

"For He Himself has let man take part in the knowledge f these things and thus not in a small measure has set up His image in man. Since he recognized as very good this image which He made, He will so much more readily recognize our efforts with the light of this image also to push into the light of knowledge the utilization of numbers, weights and sizes which He marked out at creation. For these secrets are not of the kind whose research should be forbidden; rather they are set before our eyes like a mirror so that by examining them we observe to some extent the goodness and wisdom of the Creator." - Epitome astronomiaer Copernicanae published between 1618 and 1621 

"[I am reaching out for] the mechanism of the universe wrought for us by a supremely good and ordered Creator, the system – the best, and most orderly artist of all framed for our sake"

Francis Bacon (1561-1626): He wrote:

  • "There are two books laid before us to study, to prevent our falling into error: first, the volume of the Scriptures [the Bible] which reveal the will of God; then the volume of Creation, which expresses His power".
  • "For as all works do shew forth the power and skill of workman . . . so it is of the works of God; which do shew the omnipotency and wisdom of the maker" - The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. J. Spedding, R. L. Ellis, D. D. Heath, 6:212

Francis Bacon pioneered the scientific method. He emphasized that scientific progress requires experimentation and observations about the real world, and not blind submission to ideas that appealed to ancient Greek thinkers.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727): He was perhaps the greatest scientist of all, but he wrote more on the Bible than on science! Here are some of the things he said:-

"I find more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane [secular] history whatsoever"

"This most beautiful system of sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the council 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 want to be called Lord God...or Universal Ruler...And thus much concerning God; to discourse whom from the appearances of things does certainly belong to Natural Philosophy [that is, science]" Newton, The Principia, p. 440-442

"...whence arises all that Order and beauty which we see in the World? ...How came the Bodies of Animals to be contrived with so much Art, and for what ends were their several Parts? Was the eye contrived without Skills in Opticks, and the Ear without Knowledge of Sounds? . . . . And these things being rightly dispatch’d, does it not appear from Phaenomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent, ...And though every true Step made in this Philosophy brings us not immediately to the knowledge of the first Cause, yet it brings us nearer to it, and on that account is to be highly valued.
Newton, Opticks, pp. 369-370.


In brief: science is worth doing because it verifies the existence of God and brings us closer to a knowledge of Him.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716): This master-of-all-trades is best known for his notation in calculus which was better than the cumbersome notation that Isaac Newton invented. He took great efforts to help Christian refugees fleeing Roman Catholic persecution. 

“...it is especially in sciences . . . that we see the wonders of God, his power, wisdom and goodness;  . . . that is why, since my youth, I have given myself to the sciences that I loved.” - Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Leibniz Selections, ed. Philip P. Wiener. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951), p. 596.

Edmund Halley (1656-1742): This pioneer astronomer emphasized that God created the laws that govern planetary and stellar motion.

Galilei Galileo (1564-1642):He laid the foundations for the study of motion. He also pioneered telescope making and made astronomical observations. Consider some of his statements:-

“I give thanks to God, who has been pleased to make me the first observer of marvelous things unrevealed to bygone ages . . .” [Writing to a friend at the Tuscan Court at January 30, 1610]

“God is known . . . by Nature in his works, and by doctrine in His revealed Word [that is, the Bible]....And to prohibit the whole science [that is, empirical science as opposed to Greek philosophizing] would be but to censure a hundred passages of holy Scripture which teach us that the glory and greatness of Almighty God are marvelously discerned in all His works and divinely read in the open book of heaven.” [Writing to the Grand Duchess Christina in 1615]

Notice his point: Scientific investigation should be allowed because it is worthwhile. What makes it worthwhile? It showcases God's glory.

Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689): He was called "The English Hippocrates" for his pioneering success in medicine. His Observationes Medicae (1676) was the standard text on medicine for nearly two hundred years. He believed that God had designed nature, so cure was possible with natural factors. He spoke of the "remedies which it has pleased Almighty God to give to man to relieve his suffering".

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630): He laid the foundations of modern astronomy. Consider an excerpt from his Harmonice Mundi:

"I give thanks to Thee, O Lord Creator, Who hast delighted me with thy makings and in the works of thy hands have I exulted. Behold! Now, I have completed that work of my profession, having employed as much power of mind as Thou didst give to me: to the men who are going to read those demonstrations I have made manifest thy glory of Thy works, as much of its infinity as the narrows of my intellect could apprehend."

Robert Hooke (1635-1703): Let him tell us why he did what he did:-

"[the business and design of the Royal Society is] To improve the knowledge of natural things, and all useful Arts, Manufacture, Mechanick practices, Engynes and Inventions by Experiments...To examine all systems, theories, principles, hypotheses, elements, histories and experiments of things natural, mathematical, mechanical, invented,recorded , or practiced, by any considerable author ancient or modern. In order to the compiling of a complete system of solid philosophy for explicating all phenomena produced by nature or art, and recording a rational account of the causes of things. All to advance the glory of God, the honor of the King, the Royal founder of the Society, the benefit of His Kingdom, and the general good of mankind." - Cited in C. R. Weld, History of the Royal Society (London, 1848), 1:146-147 and cited in A. Rupert Hall, From Galileo to Newton (New York: Dover Publications, [1963- 1981), p. 132.

Robert Boyle (1627-1691): His father was one of the richest men in the world. He is one of the founders of chemistry. He learned Latin, Hebrew and Greek to understand the Bible better. He paid for Bible translations into foreign languages, and gave away thousands of Bibles at his own expense. His collection of devotions, Occasional Reflections, was extremely popular. He refused high government titles, preferring to be known as "Mr Robert Boyle, a Christian gentleman". He wrote The Boyle Lectures to establish the truth of Biblical Christianity and refute atheism.

Christian Huygens (1629-1695): King Louis XIV made this optics pioneer the first president of the Royal Academy of Science. But when Louis began enforcing Roman Catholicism in France, Huygens, whose religious beliefs were close to the Bible, chose to leave Paris for The Hague; he would rather lose his position and professional privileges than compromise his Christian convictions.

Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712): He was a co-founder of plant anatomy. He had to quit Cambridge University because he happened to be studying there during the reign of Charles II, who wanted admission to be restricted to followers of the (non-Biblical) Anglican Church whereas Grew and his family were "nonconformists" - Biblical Christians. He argued that similarities in various organisms indicated that they were all designed by a single Creator.

Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778): Pioneer in botany and taxonomy, his first work was helping his professor write a book on plants in the Bible. He believed that his classification system of plants (which was later applied to animals also) derived from God's original plan in making different organisms.

Leonard Euler (1707-1783): He conducted family devotions and preached sermons from the Bible. He also wrote 800 research papers and 31 books. His name occurs virtually everywhere in mathematics and science.

Lord Kelvin (1824-1907): This pioneering British mathematician, physicist and engineer said:

“If you study science deep enough and long enough it will force you to believe in God.” 

William Herschel (1738-1822): This pioneer astronomer once said: "The astronomer who isn't devout must be insane"

John Dalton (1766-1844): He is known for his atomic theory and law of gas pressures. He was strongly influenced by his Quaker background (the Quakers were a Christian group).

Michael Faraday (1791-1867): This pioneer of electromagnetism was an elder in his church. For him, science and the Bible were like two sides of the same coin, because he believed that both originated from God.

Charles Bell (1774-1842): An expert surgeon and neurology pioneer, he wrote a treatise titled, "The Hand, as Evincing Design". He maintained that unique features in human beings pointed to a Creator. His essays on natural theology (nature as proof of God's existence) were required reading in Cambridge University for most of the century.

James Maxwell: The biggest figure in classical electromagnetism. The following prayer was found in his notes after he died:

"Almighty God, Who hast created man in Thine own image, and made him a living soul that he might seek after Thee, and have dominion over Thy creatures, teach us to study the works of Thy hands, that we may subdue the earth to our use, and strengthen the reason for Thy service; so to receive Thy blessed Word, that we may believe on Him Whom Thou hast sent, to give us the knowledge of salvation and the remission of our sins. All of which we ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.” 

As you can see, Maxwell believed that doing science was cooperating with God's purposes in creating us.

John Ray (1627-1705): This botanist has been called the founder of English natural history. He was a "non-conformist", that is, he refused to be part of the Anglican Church because he wanted to follow the Bible, and not the (contra-Biblical) teachings of the Anglican Church. In his book Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation, he argued that the study of nature is worthwhile because nature was created by a wise God, and therefore would showcase His wisdom.

Jean Henri Fabre (1823-1915): This French anti-evolutionist scientist was the pioneer of entomology (the study of insects). This is how he described the inspiration for his work:

“We cannot refrain from proclaiming the necessity of a sovereign Mind, the creator and instigator of order and harmony…to the glory of God the Creator.” – Fabre, Life of Jean Henri Fabre, p8-9

The founders of most science branches were Christians.

The conclusion is evident: Modern science was birthed because the Bible laid the foundation for it. The pioneers of modern science were clearly motivated to do what they did because they believed the Bible.

Specific scientific discoveries inspired by the Bible

The Bible speaks about watery paths of the seas (Psalm 8:8). Mathew Fountain Maury is known as the ‘pathfinder of the sea’. He is the father of today’s oceanography. At Richmond, Virginia in the United States, there exists a statue of Maury holding charts of the on one hand, and the Bible on the other. Until Maury’s time there were no charts or sailing lines. He pursued his search after hearing the reading of Psalm 8:8. After hearing the verse, he is said to have exclaimed, ‘It is enough-if the word of God says there are paths in the sea, they must be there, and I am going to find them.’ Within a few years, he prepared his charts. His ‘Physical Geography of the sea’ was the first text book of modern oceanography.

Luke Howard, English businessman and amateur meteorologist lived at a time when people thought that it was senseless to study clouds. But Howard believed the Bible, which says that God is a God of order (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40). He went on to classify clouds. Since his classification was so useful, he was elected to the Royal Society of London - though he never claimed to be a scientist. 

Conclusion

There you have it: the Bible provided the philosophical foundation for science, and that is why modern science was birthed in Judeo-Christian Europe, amidst decay and stagnation in all other cultures. This is just what to expect if you accept what the Bible says about itself: that it is God's revelation to man. God's word must be the best guide to God's world. The Bible's contribution to science is just one facet of the great influence for good that it has been, and this influence is evidence for the Bible's divine origin.
"Science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview. ..even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of a law-like order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us." - Paul Davies, Templeton Prize Address, 1995. Davies is agnostic.