Originally posted in Christian Apologetics Alliance: Go There!
you ever been called a “Flat-Earther,” or compared with the Catholic
Church persecuting Galileo? Well, no matter how inaccurate these ad
hominem attacks are, they still can be damaging. It is a foregone
conclusion in many circles of Academia that Christian thought is the
enemy of scientific rationality. However, I would love to ask the
question, “Where did scientific rationality actually grab a foothold in
modern Western culture?” In addition, let’s explore why scientists
believe scientific inquiry and advancement should be used for the
betterment of mankind. The answer to these postulations might surprise
We start our little investigation where all good stories begin:
Ancient Greece. For all intents and purposes, Ancient Greece is the
birthplace of Western society and culture. Democracy, civil planning,
warfare, and many forms of entertainment find their origins in the Greek
city-states. Though, for this article we turn our attention to
classical mastery of science. It is easy to argue that the Greeks were
peerless to any other civilization in history when it came to
mathematical and scientific theory. Even the Bible acknowledges this
fact in Acts 17:21,
“For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time
in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing,” and in 1 Corinthians 1:22, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.”
Many examples abound of scientific prowess among the Greeks. Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth and the distance of the sun from the Earth with alarming accuracy. Hero of Alexandria is credited with inventing many different devices, not least of which includes the steam engine and the vending machine. Hippocrates is considered “the Father of Western Medicine.” Pythagoras,
to the chagrin of many an algebra student, developed the Pythagorean
Theorem and translated musical notes into mathematical theory.
Why mention all of these ancient men of science? I do this for two
reasons: (1) to show the Greeks as truly amazing scientists and (2) to
ask an important question. With all the scientific discovery and inquiry
during antiquity, why has tangible advancement only been witnessed
within the last 700 years? The answer to this question is multi-faceted.
Many theories abound as to why the Scientific and Industrial
Revolutions happened in more modern times rather than in classical
times. One view is that the Greeks viewed science in a very
philosophical and theoretical sense as compared to a modern practical
sense. Ancient scientists did not usually think of ways to apply their
discoveries and their pursuits were based mostly on the accumulation of
knowledge. I would agree with this assessment and I would like to
explore another avenue of thinking.
History shows us something very interesting and monumental in
reference to the beginning of modern scientific thinking. The advent of
knowledge coincides with many important events within the Christian
Church and European history. One of the precursors to the so called
“Scientific Revolution” is the Renaissance
which is French for “re-birth.” The Renaissance is a time period when
Europeans rekindled their interest in the classics and began to
intellectually transform themselves from the Middle Ages into the time
of the Industrial Revolution. An interesting thing to note is that this
renewed interest in classical work fits into the time period of the
Turkish conquests of Byzantium (Eastern Roman Empire) culminating in the
fall of Constantinople in AD 1453. During this time period Greek
scholars from Byzantium took their works and fled to Western Europe.
The fleeing of Byzantine scholars was just one piece of the puzzle.
The invention of the printing press around the same time helped to
spread Greek ideas to the public. Yet another event happened just over
60 years after the fall of Constantinople: the Protestant Reformation
in 1517. With the Reformation, came the availability of the Word of God
to the masses and this, in turn, brought a whole new understanding to
Christianity. The printing press also helped to bring the Bible to the
public like never before. A Counter Reformation by the Catholic Church
led to more reform and further freed Christianity from a superstitious
and Religious prison.
Without the preceding events, it is doubtful a scientific revolution
could have happened under the climate of a Europe in medieval limbo.
With the advent of new Christian thought came attitudes and ethics
straight from the Bible which could be seen as advantageous for a
burgeoning intellectual culture. Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7
and similar passages of the Word provide us examples of the
relationship of God and knowledge. I believe these scriptures were very
influential in bringing about a new air of rational inquiry in combining
both Christian thought with a scientific mindset. Thus, many of the
scientists of the time could justify exploring theories and the like
because they knew God and knowledge went hand in hand.
1 Thessalonians 5:14,
“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the
feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” The passage
in 1 Thessalonians 5:14
is, in my opinion, one of the verses instrumental in changing Western
views of humanity toward each other. This more compassionate worldview
helped to usher in a new era where science was not just some theoretical
endeavor but a way to better humankind. This view of compassion even
extends through modern society because the sentiment is engrained so
tightly into Western thinking that even non-believers have the want to
better the world.