No Science Apart From Christ
|Author: Dan Graves
BASED ON A SPEECH GIVEN 10-17-98 FOR
REVOLUTION AGAINST EVOLUTION
AT MOUNT HOPE CHURCH, LANSING, MI
Without Christ there would be no science. Apart from Christ science is ugly.
If those seem like bold statements to you, bear with me. What I intend to do is to zero in on the effect that sharing the mind of Christ has had upon science and should have on it. Before I am done, I think you will see this is not at all a fanciful approach. It is a fact that no civilization other than Christianity gave rise to true, self-replicating, testable science. Christian belief in Christ as creator made the difference.
Probably you would all agree with me if I said that what we believe affects what we think and what we do. Evidently many people do believe that, for the book Think and Grow Rich, sold well and spawned many imitations. Consider bloodletting as an illustration of what I mean. When people thought that bloodletting was good for health, they let blood, and caused a number of deaths in cases where patients were already anemic or depleted. Ideas have consequences.
Early Christians in the sciences believed that Christ was the agent of creation. That idea came from Paul and had consequences, too. Paul wrote our manifesto of Christ as creator:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17
A natural philosopher (I am using that term instead of scientist at this point, because the earliest “scientists” were natural philosophers)–A natural philosopher who believed what Paul said about Christ was going to think differently than a natural philosopher who believed that the universe is eternal or a god or an illusion or any of a number of other possible errors. Quite simply, if we believe Christ created the universe and holds it together, our ideas about the universe are going to be a good bit different than if we hold any other view. In a few moments we will look at how this belief worked out in the lives of specific scientists. No natural philosopher would believe the universe consisted of chance, chaos, and irrationality if he believed its order was established by a pure holy mind like Christ’s.
That follows because to the Christian, Christ is truth. When Jesus stood before Pilate, he said to him, “For this purpose I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Pilate, of course, retorted, “What is truth?” The Christian believes that Christ is the epitome of truth, the “way, the truth, and the life.” And on the strength of Christ’s word the Christian believes that the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth.
Many of the men who were influential in forming science were praying men. They sought truth on their knees. Christ was the head and they were part of the body. They believed that they could have the mind of Christ because Scripture declared they could. “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” I Corinthians 2:16. And these men believed–because they were students of the Bible–that we could “have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Paul taught that in Colossians 2:2. They sought that mind on their knees.
The Christian worldview is exceedingly important to the scientist. Whether we like it or not, we have to begin somewhere, believing something. That is what Augustine meant when he said “Believe that you may understand.” If everything is possible, nothing is possible. As a body needs bones to walk, so thought needs a framework, solid presuppositions. Even the materialist, the agnostic, the Marxist begin with some assumptions.
Let us review some of the Christian ideas which abetted science.
Truth can be known. Scripture teaches this and Augustine spoke much on it. Fuzzy logic denies it.
The Universe had a definite moment of beginning is now in its middle, and will have a definite end. It would be hard for a scientist to formulate a theory such as the Big Bang theory without a mental structure predisposing him to it.
God is infinite. This is mind-boggling, but I suggest that without this belief, infinity theory in mathematics would never have gotten off the ground. It is a historical fact that Christian believers such as Cusa and Cantor were formative of infinity theory.
Truth is higher than provability. Christians have long known we have to accept as God’s truth many things we can’t formally prove. Gödel, of course, gave a mathematical proof that for any formal system there will be at least one proposition which we can know to be true but which cannot be proven within the system.
There are other dimensions. Christians believe in heaven and hell. They believe Christ appeared through walls. These facts helped predispose mathematicians toward acceptance of multiple dimensions. We cannot explain quantum mathematics without extra dimensions.
Occam’s razor. The simplest, most elegant explanation which covers all known facts is to be preferred. This was an idea which appeared in Christian theology long before Occam.
It’s okay to get your hands dirty. Be a doer of the word, not just a hearer, says the Bible. Science cannot proceed on speculation alone.
God created the universe using weights, numbers, measures. Science has been chiefly advanced by better and better measurements. The Michelson-Morley experiments with light are a good example of this.
In prayer we communicate by invisible, inaudible means. The belief that such communication was possible was supposed to have given Marconi assurance to perform his radio experiments.
Every person is important to God. Mass production was largely an effort to make material goods available to all God’s children.
Mass distribution of ideas. God’s word is so important, we should all have access to it. Gutenberg set off the printing revolution with that concept.
To move the world, Archimedes said he needed a long lever and a fulcrum to rest it on. To the natural philosopher with faith, the fulcrum of thought was God’s revelation in Christ. Revelation gave science a framework–its bones–a skeleton which has proven true to the facts, I might add. The Christian natural philosopher could, for instance, be sure the world had a beginning because God said he created it. Accepting just that one doctrine wipes away a host of errors. We’ll look at some of those in a few minutes.
Jesus taught us that we can do nothing apart from him. In context of all scripture, it is clear he meant nothing of eternal value, nothing which would last, nothing which would stand in the day of judgment when our works are tested by fire and found to be either precious metal or stubble. If Christian doctrine is correct, a natural philosopher on his knees is going to have a more profound impact on science than any other philosopher. Show me another civilization which believed that kind of thing when it approached science and I’ll show you a civilization which created science. There is none.
WAS THERE REALLY NO EARLIER SCIENCE?
Some of you may be protesting in your minds that what I have said is not true. The Greeks had science, you will say. Look at Euclid’s geometry. The Maya had a better calendar than the West; the Chinese invented the cannon.
To clear up any seeming contradiction, let me define science before we go further.
By science I do not mean scientism. I am not speaking of the kind of scientific idea common to a certain type of science fiction or in Bacon’s New Atlantis in which science and technology become a religion, the solution to all of man’s problems.
By science I do not mean speculation or logical systems. The Greeks had plenty of speculation, plenty of logic. But they had no way to resolve differences between their differing schools. They didn’t know what to do with something that didn’t fit, such as irrational numbers. They had to sweep such things under the carpet. Although Aristotle performed experiments, the Greeks never grasped the principle of testing every idea and throwing away or modifying the bad. To them an experiment might discover something new, but was not for the purpose of proving or demolishing a system. Their proto-science worked like the alchemy which grew out of it. Its approach can be summarized in these words: “Try everything: something might work!”
By science I do not mean technology. The Chinese had plenty of technology. Somehow they never arrived at underlying principles. It never added up to more than a faulty division into Yin and Yang.
By science I mean an experimental, rational, self-replicating, self-perpetuating method which arrives at practical, testable results. I mean starting with a hypothesis, consciously formulating an experiment or experiments to test that hypothesis, and then correcting the hypothesis in light of experimental findings. I mean development of a world view on the basis of discovered knowledge.
CHRISTIAN THOUGHT IMPORTANT TO THE FORMATION OF SCIENCE
We are now going to look at how this worked out in practice. We will examine a few Christian lives that show how putting Christ and his ideas at the center of thought led men to science.
Let us begin with Augustine. Augustine of Hippo was the greatest theologian of the early church and the most influential thinker of the Middle Ages (in the West at least.) It is important to note that Augustine argued we should take the Bible literally anywhere that its commonsense meaning and context allowed literalism. Some parts are obviously poetical. The Eastern theologians, by contrast, adopted many allegorical and fanciful interpretations. It was no fluke that the literal West, rather than the allegorical East developed science. The more solid your starting point (if it is true), the better your bones, so to speak, the more leverage you have in research.
As most of you know, Augustine converted out of Manicheism into Christianity. Now the Manichees believed a common enough idea of their time: matter was evil and only the mental and spiritual world good. Augustine never quite got over that error, but coming to Christ changed his views a good deal. Because Christ was incarnated in a material body matter could be good. He came to realize that God had created the world good and therefore matter retained elements of good despite the entrance of sin at the fall. Matter therefore was worth studying. Augustine might say about the sensible world “These things of the senses are to be utterly shunned and the utmost care must be used lest while we bear this body our wings be impeded by their snare” but his acceptance of the good in matter was essential to the development of science. In discussing the command to love, he says, “Natural philosophy is here, since all the causes of natural things are in God the Creator.”
Augustine’s influence on science went further than that, of course.Whether you accept the Big Bang theory or not, it would be impossible to hold it apart from some idea of history like Augustine’s. His City of God, City of Man gave us history with a beginning, middle, and end rather than a long anecdote. Augustine saw history as purposive. Islam, Marx, Toynbee, Spengler, even the evolutionists all used an Augustinian model (which is the Judeo-Christian model) when they built their world schemes.
What Augustine did for the formation of philosophy is hard to estimate. Read his words “Everybody who knows that he is in doubt about something, knows a truth, and in regard to this he knows he is certain. Therefore he is certain about a truth. Consequently everyone who doubts if there be a truth, has in himself a true thing on which he does not doubt…” Where have you seen that before? It is the opening argument of Rene Descartes Meditations which he sums up in the succinct words “I think, therefore I am.”
And of course Augustine wrestled with ideas of time and eternity. I am convinced that Einstein’s relativity theory could only have come out of centuries of preliminary thought. Augustine was at the fountainhead of that thought.
He opposed astrology as irrational.
He said the basis of science must be mathematics.
Augustine talked a lot about light: an inner light, God’s light. “I entered into the innermost part of myself, and I was able to do this because you were my helper. I entered and I saw with my soul’s eye (such as it was) an unchangeable light shining above this eye of my soul and above my mind. It was not the ordinary light which is visible to all flesh, nor something of the same sort, only bigger, as though it might be our ordinary light shining much more brightly and filling everything with its greatness. No, it was not like that; it was different, entirely different from anything of the kind…It was higher than I for it made me…He who knows truth knows that light, and he who knows that light knows eternity…” “Light is the queen of colors…”
Augustine’s emphasis on light led to its study hundreds of years later by Grosseteste, Dietrich of Freiburg and others. Of course the Arabs studied light, too, but none of them saw light the way Grosseteste did when he recognized that it was somehow preliminary to and formative of everything else. When we talk about Grosseteste we’re talking about a bishop who invented a primitive big bang theory 700 years ago and who was also of considerable influence on the reform brought about by John Wyclif and the development of scientific study at Oxford.
Yes, the Arabs wrote on the geometry of light, but they would not have written as Lemaitre did “it must have all begun with light.” Lemaitre, a priest, developed the first scientific creation theory from Einstein’s equations, which Gamow and others refined into the Big Bang theory.
The great Christian physicist Maxwell began with light. Light still is key to science. It is a particularly Judeo-Christian concept.
BENEDICT, BOETHIUS, AND CASSIODORUS
People like to say that Christianity kept science in chains for centuries. The contrary is true. That there was any science at all during the so-called Dark Ages is owing to Christians. When the barbarians invaded Rome it wasn’t pagans who fought like crazy to salvage learning for posterity. As a matter of historical record, it was Christians.
One of those Christians was Benedict who set his monks to copying manuscripts. Another was Boethius, who made an almost superhuman effort to translate as many of the Greek classics into Latin as he could so they wouldn’t be lost to posterity. He alone of the men of his age had the foresight to see what was coming. Why did Boethius make the effort? He was prompted, I believe, by the Holy Spirit . The Christian view taught him to persevere in face of great outward distress. If you don’t believe me, consider this: it was while he was on death row he wrote a serene classic which was the most popular philosophy book of the Middle Ages. The Consolation of Philosophy. As an example of its influence, Alfred the Great , fighting for his kingdom against the Vikings, saw it as the best medicine for his embattled nation and translated it into Anglo-Saxon.
It was Boethius who gave Cassiodorus the impulse to do his great work of preservation. Cassiodorus was another great Christian statesman of the late 5th century Rome. He founded two monasteries with the primary purpose of preserving the literature of the West by copying it.
Boethius kept alive important ideas of philosophy, such as questions of chance, free will versus determinism, and God as outside of time. Science is still trying to settle the issues Boethius raised.
We jump fifty years and come to John Philoponus, a theologian who showed better than any early Christian thinker what Christ was going to mean to science when it came to fruition. Philoponus opens my book Scientists of Faith.
Philoponus showed just how valuable it is to have creationist “bones” for your thought. He began with a single verity from revelation: that God created the universe ex-nihilo–out of nothing physical. This was contrary to the teachings of all other ancient philosophies and religions. It meant at once that the universe was probably all made of the same kind of stuff. It refuted Aristotle’s nonsense about a special celestial matter and spirits moving the stars and affines: each thing being attracted to its proper place. It led him to impetus theory. Revelation led him to postulate that the universe would end. He was on the right track on every count because he listened to the scriptures.
A thousand years before Galileo, Philoponus suggested dropping unequal weights from a tower and said their speed of fall would differ very little. Unfortunately for the West the Arabs conquered Alexandria and took Philoponus’ works with them. They were lost to us for a time. But Galileo knew Philoponus’ work.
Now we’re going to skip several centuries of Christian thinkers. During those centuries a new mentality was being forged, a mind which would develop science. In order for that to happen, a civilization had to arise in which most people knew without thinking that the world was created good by a rational mind, that understanding was revealed to us by a loving savior, and that it was worthwhile to spend time on material things.
In order for science to happen the church had to limit speculation. The church issued condemnations of heretical thoughts. Those condemnations, such as the condemnation of 1277, helped channel thought into paths which led to science simply because the mind of Christ cannot contradict itself. Those condemnations were chiefly against speculation that the universe was infinite in duration. It forced natural philosophy to consider limits and that was beneficial to science especially as it led to measurement.
The centuries we are skipping included an act which remains a parable for the triumph of Christian rationality: Boniface chopping down the sacred oak of the Germans. With that act, he figuratively replaced superstition with Christian rationalism.
We are skipping whole centuries in which former pagans threw off parochialism and assimilated the idea that they could borrow the best ideas of every culture, even the ideas of the pagans, because every creature made of God has some worth because it was made good. Christians could accept the best of other cultures, because their belief in common grace taught them that natural reason was not dead in the pagans.
We are skipping the centuries in which Irish monks copied manuscripts they couldn’t read, trusting that someday someone would be able to read them again (preserving precious lore), centuries in which theologians taught that it was not demeaning to work with the hands (you need to use your hands in scientific experiment), centuries in which a Christian bishop formulated the scientific method (giving science a methodology), centuries in which scholars wrote lists of difficult questions that needed to be answered (focusing scientific inquiry), centuries in which mathematicians produced the first accurate formulae in physics (beginning the process of quantification which is so essential to science). It was all a very slow progress, but the key thing to remember is, it was Christians making the progress while the rest of the world slumbered. There is no indication that older cultures–some had been around for thousands of years–were ever going to develop true, self-replicating science. They went on and on as they always had. We are going to skip a whole millenia and come this side of the Reformation.
Which brings us to Robert Boyle. Boyle was born in the seventeenth century. When Robert Boyle became a Christian, old Greek ideas brought down by way of alchemy and mixed with a good deal of pseudo-magical nonsense were still much of what we had for science. Even the Christian Kepler was full of mystical nonsense. The Greek ideas retarded his progress for many years.
I choose Boyle rather than Galileo as our prototype scientist, because his life is a parable of his times. He so hungered for truth he had a real struggle with the so-called science of his day because it contradicted the Bible. This created real stress in him. He felt all truth must be God’s truth and if creation contradicted the Bible, then God was against God. His distress was so severe, it was only by God’s grace he was able to prevent himself committing suicide. Eventually he decided what we had to do was throw out the old pseudo-knowledge and accept only what we could prove. He was convinced that experimental science could not disagree with scripture. (Some of our fearful friends in the Creationist movement could take lessons from that.)
And so he did experiments and wrote scientific papers. His papers set the example for all science papers which have followed. In them he showed what he hoped to prove or disprove, described his equipment, his premises, his experiments and his conclusions. He mathematized his findings. The alchemists were always secretive. Boyle did open air science. He was in on the founding of the first scientific society in history–the Royal Society.
An interesting thing happened. Hume and other agnostics attacked Boyle’s work on atheistical and aristotelian principles. Boyle wrote a refutation of their atheistical attacks. In it he included a valuable piece of science which you learned in chemistry class: Boyle’s Law of Gases. His concept of truth bore practical fruit.
It bore more fruit. Boyle exploded alchemy with a clear refutation called The Skeptical Chemyst [sic]. Alchemy was bad science because it was closed, secretive, untestable, selfish, magical. Hermes, not Christ, was its patron.
But Boyle was influential in another way. He was a science popularizer. His idea of truth was a particularly Protestant idea: truth was to be shared with everyone. Every man was a potential member of Christ’s body. So Protestants wanted to put the Bible in every man’s hands. It wasn’t to be a closed book. In the same way, they wanted the knowledge of God’s other revelation–nature–to reach every man. So Boyle tried to make all of the new discoveries comprehensible to the layman. Because of Boyle’s attitude science entered the very air we breathe. Christianity–overt or assimilated–drove early science. But what about today?
APART FROM CHRIST SCIENCE TURNS UGLY
Does Christianity still foster science?
Although Christianity no longer openly drives the work of most scientists, the worldview Christianity created has to a large extent entered the bones of science. Most scientific discoveries still come in the formerly Christian areas of the world.
Much archaeological and linguistic advance comes about because of Christian efforts.
On the whole, however, science’s bones are showing signs of calcium loss. Science without Christ is ugly.
There is a deplorable hubris in much scientific thought. Scientists worship the fruits of their minds and technologists the works of their hands. We worship the machine. The ancients were wiser than we; they worshipped animals. The simplest animal ever created is orders of level higher than the most elaborate machine. If worship of animals led to horrible barbarism, think what worship of the machine will do. Huxley’s Brave New World is a parable of what life might be like in a machine world. Horrible as his picture is, it is not as bleak as our reality is fast becoming.
Just to show you how far man’s worship of his works goes, let me ask you a question. How many of you read Science Fiction? Have any of you read Budrys Michaelmas? Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? Van Vogt’s The Weapon Shop? Each of those stories was guilty of a serious heresy: putting a machine in place of the Holy Spirit. One line from Van Vogt’s Weapon Shop will illustrate this. “We have a machine that lets us know if anyone is lying.” Now that is ugly.
Science has man worshipping himself. I tuned into a science show on PBS a couple years ago. “Man is god” intoned the narrator. That is undiluted New Age thought at public expense. Where is separation of church and state when you want it? Consider just how ugly that claim is. It’s arrogant. Let me remind you that no scientist has yet turned grass into milk in the laboratory! Where is the glory of God? If we are proud of what we accomplish making computers, how much more should we be proud of God who made our far more versatile and self-replicating minds.
Scientists who don’t believe in Christ believe in creation; we call them Materialists or Naturalists (with a capital N) in the sense that they hold nature to be everything, a god. I almost titled this presentation, I DON’T BELIEVE IN CREATION, because I don’t. I believe in the creator. Carl Sagan put his trust in creation–although he wouldn’t call it “creation.” So do many others.
Ideas have consequences. False beliefs have consequences. If you don’t believe that, look at some of the things being done in the name of medicine. Without the mind of Christ to guide them, Nazi scientists did some pretty horrible experiments on people. Our medicine has also taken a turn in the Nazi direction. It is becoming ugly.
Our science has given us a technology of destruction. How far will scientists go without Christ? Christ appeared to John on the Isle of Patmos and gave him a revelation which shows the whole world madly following an antichrist who will work false miracles, even calling fire down from heaven. Paul says that evil men will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. Already we see science perverted to bring us false news, distorted reality, some of it in fun, some in deadly serious. Either way it leads to ugliness.
We need to hold to Christ the living truth if we want to escape the deception that is coming to the entire world. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Otherwise some coming magician with the skill of David Copperfield will rise to power and lead us down false paths. Otherwise we are going to be hoaxed by clever TV producers when TV is in the hands of a corrupt world government.
Here is another thought: from the time Einstein gave us his mathematics until the a-bomb required only a few decades. We now have the mathematics of infinity and multiple dimensions. Someone is going to figure out how to use that math or some other obscure branch of mathematics to exploit powers the average Joe doesn’t yet know about. Science isn’t as open as Boyle made it. Even if it were open, it has become so technical most of us can’t understand. Technologies may be developed which appear as miraculous to us as our technology does to a stone age cannibal. Will you be deceived? Without Christ you will. The very elect would be deceived if that was possible, said Jesus.
WHY TODAY’S SCIENTIST NEEDS CHRIST
The scientist needs Christ for the same reason Boyle did. He needs him so he can make a choice between a morass of possibilities. Quantum mechanics can be explained by eight or ten theories. Which is the best explanation? The Copenhagen interpretation is essentially Buddhist. Another interpretation says that the universe divides every time a quantum choice is made. When you get right down to it, that is ugly science, a violation of Occam’s Razor, multiplying entities unnecessarily. The scientist who really believes in Christ is going to shy away from ugly and false interpretations and select the best interpretation which agrees with scripture; and he is going to be proven right.
The scientist today needs Christ for the same reason Michael Faraday needed Christ. Without the moral resistance of Christ he is going to go astray in his use of his ability. Faraday was offered big money to develop chemical weapons during the Crimean War. He refused. No money could lure him to do evil because he had Christ in his heart. I wish we could say that of our scientists. The horrors they have created are down right ugly.
I could go on to discuss rational environmentalism versus scare environmentalism. The point is, we are in a post-Christian world. A people who reject Christ reject the one who sent him. A people who will not believe in God do not believe nothing, they believe anything. This holds true for scientists, too, and many of them hold ideas which are completely irrational and ugly.
The skeptic can always argue that if this had been different or that had different, some other culture would have developed science. In reality only Christianity did. Only Christianity led to true science and only Christianity, fully embraced, can turn men away from destructive science. We need a Christian worldview in science today. We need to remember that through Christ the world was created and only through him has any chance of redemption. If we are to have science and if it isn’t to be ugly science, it needs to return to its maker–the one who knows it from the inside out and who through love set out to redeem it.