Christianity and the Rise of Modern Science
(A Radical Departure from
Greek and Medieval Science)
The following is my
condensed version of the text from “Christianity and the Rise of
Modern Science” by Henry Stob in his book, Theological
Reflections (pages 3-8). Emphases are mine. I have inserted
in parentheses a few transitional words to assist in the flow of
Modern natural science…
arose in Christendom during the century that produced the
Protestant Reformation…. Is (then) modern natural science the
offspring of Christianity?… Was it cradled in the Reformation?…
(We) must be
careful neither to claim nor disclaim too much.
… modern science arose in
Europe … only after the continent was Christianized… it arose
independently in no other part of the earth…. In its pure
form, it articulates the Christian (Biblical) mind, but it is
not divorced from the (Greek) scientific tradition which
culminated in Aristotle, nor is it a stranger to the Latin sense
of order which was transmitted to the Middle Ages by the Stoics.
Its lineage is complex.
Modern natural science
did not … arise when Roman Catholic understanding of
Christianity was dominant in Europe. This suggests that
something was needed which neither medieval Christianity nor the
revived paganism of the humanistic Renaissance could or did not
There is no doubt
that certain Christian
(Biblical) principles, tending to stimulate men’s interest in
God’s creation, but lying dormant or compromised during the
Middle Ages, were disclosed and vigorously proclaimed in the
Reformation. There is no doubt that the Reformation
tended to draw men into a study of nature, for among the
pioneers of the new science were numerous adherents of the
evangelical faith…. But (there were) also loyal sons of the
Roman Church…. (This) new understanding of Christianity … was
not entirely new… it worked as a leaven throughout the Christian
Church…. It is perhaps best to say that it was Christianity that
supplied the firm foundation for modern natural science… that
the Reformation was used by god to delineate this foundation
(so) as to dispose men to build on it the vast structure of
… three points of doctrine
-- the teachings concerning God, man, and nature in their
interrelations -- appear to impinge most immediately upon the
Nature Is A Revelation of
1) A fundamental
affirmation of Christianity is that nature is a revelation of
God… in Christian (Biblical) teaching, God is the all-knowing
one who created all things after the counsel of His plan…
nature proclaims the “admirable wisdom” of God…. It means that
nature is shot through with rationality and (is) thus
God was for Plato and
Aristotle intelligent enough… but he was not infinite and
omnipotent… there existed … independent and essentially
intractable matter… a natural thing … could not be completely
known, even by God; it always retained a residue of
irrationality and unintelligibility. This is one reason why a
natural science, as distinct from a philosophy of essences, was
never developed among the Greeks.
(This Greek notion) … in
its attenuated medieval form was abandoned by the Protestant
Reformation … (opening the way) for natural science to go
forward. Science, if it is to proceed with vigor and
confidence must believe that a recognizable pattern is to be
found in nature… modern science is animated by this belief….
The origin of this belief is plain… the conception of God as
perfect and flawless intelligence….
… that revelation …
entails that … (nature) ought to be known. That it ought to be
know, and diligently studied, the Reformers never ceased to
declare… (Nature is) a book to be read… a discourse to be heard…
the traces of God’s steps, the pattern of His wisdom, the signs
of His power, and the evidences of His glory in nature…
… Bacon, Boeckman, Boyle,
Harvey, Newton, and Ray -- men of massive intellect, consuming
curiosity, and Christian piety -- … helped (to) determine the
structure and direction of modern science… In the nineteenth
century, it was …. Davey, Faraday, Joule, Kelvin, and Maxwell….
(all making) the same patient enquiries of nature that the
conscientious theologians made of Scripture.
… theologians and
scientists might sometimes arrive at incompatible conclusions,
but both sorts of men knew that the message of nature and
Scripture was of one piece, and that where a difference
appeared, a mistake in reading had been made.
(At this point, Dr. Stob
briefly mentions that the Bible is not a textbook on science.
However, I think that he says too little here for the reader to
get a solid grasp of the issues involved.)
Nature Is Subject to Man
2) A second fundamental
affirmation of Christianity is that nature is subject to man….
The idea that man, through science, is called upon to “control”
or “subjugate” nature comes, of course, from the Scriptures…
pressed upon the consciousness of men by the reformers…. “God
said to them, … ‘fill the earth and subdue it; and have
… the aim of science in
Christian (Biblical) perspective is not merely “control,” ….
(but) also “understanding.” And, even more importantly, it is
“praise.” It is significant that Psalm 8, which celebrates
the “Kingdom of Man,” ends with the words, “O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is thy name in all the earth.” This indicates that
“control” must always be by man in subjection to God, by man…
who in religious fear stands humbly before his Maker, and who in
strict obedience to God’s law of love, directs his dominion
towards the betterment of man (and the necessary conservation of
nature -- Ed).
… “control of nature” is
an authentic Biblical idea, and … is in modern science only
because it was first in Christianity. Because it is a Christian
(Biblical) idea, the Christian is justified neither in
lamenting the existence of technology nor in setting arbitrary
limits upon man’s jurisdiction. The splitting of the atom,
the exploration of space, the colonization of habitable planets,
the sowing of clouds to make rain -- all this and more is the
prerogative of the man who in subjection to God is lord of
Nature Is Created:
Departure from Greek Thinking
3) A third fundamental
of Christianity is that nature is created. This entails at
least two further affirmations: nature has a beginning and
nature is contingent.
A) In the view of Greek
science, nature was an organism that grows, and not a thing
or machine that is made. Nature was a self-generating, eternal,
divine being, that had no beginning. It was the living,
throbbing, but impersonal reproductive matrix from which all
things -- even the gods-- arose and into which they were
periodically resolved…. Greek science put the emphasis not on
efficient but final causes. Not beginnings, but ends were in
focus. In modern science, the opposite is true. Final causes,
considered as immanent explanatory principles, have been
banished altogether, and explanations are made in terms of
efficient causes only.
The reason for this shift
is basically a Christian one…. nature is not divine, but
creaturely; not eternal, but temporal; not self-generating, but
made. The events and processes that occur in it are not
self-caused, but they occur through the play upon them of a
power from without. The ultimate conception of their behavior is
the transcendent God, who in and with time made nature out of
The banishment from nature
of innate final causes was a great gain for science and it was
effected directly by the Christian teaching concerning creation.
By the force of that teaching, which was compromised in medieval
times by a foreign alliance with Greek modes of thought, the
Reformers effected the death of Greek animism…. the way was
opened for the development of the classical Newtonian physics,
and indeed for every later development in modern science.
…. Bacon, Descartes, and
Newton “did not suggest that there are no final causes, but only
that these are not the concern of natural science. Nor did they
mean that there is no purpose in nature, but only that such a
purpose cannot be discovered by scientific, experimental, and
empirical methods.” (Quote from A. F. Smothers, Modern
Science and Christian Belief, page 23).
B) Greek science, like
Greek thought generally, was rationalistic. The Greek mind
supposed that it knew beforehand what things were like… Whereas
the Hebrew knew he had to be told by God himself what He was
like, the Greek supposed that he already possessed a pattern of
perfection in terms of which he could challenge every claimant
to deity. In science, too, the Greek proceeded apriorily. He
supposed he knew for example, that there cannot be any change in
heavenly bodies and that they cannot move except in circles. In
the words of Professor Hooykaas, for the Greeks, “that which is
not comprehensible is hardly real, and what is not logically
necessary but contingent is considered a defect in nature,
hardly worth to be studied.” But, he continues, “the Christian
physicists of the seventeenth century -- Pascal, Boyle, Newton
-- did not recognize an intrinsic necessity of physical events.
In their opinion, regularity of the sequence of events depends
wholly on the will of God.” (Free University Quarterly,
It was when this
conception entered fully into the consciousness of men through
the mediation of the Reformers that authentic empiricism was
born. Modern science is nothing if not empirical, but the origin
of this feature is found in Christianity. In the Christian view
of God is the creator and nature is radically contingent. What
happens in it the scientist can learn only through careful
observation. What can or cannot happen in it he does not know
beforehand because here, as everywhere, he must wait upon God’s
*All bolding for emphasis
Other Authorities Who
Believe That Christianity Caused the Development of Modern
1. Rodney Stark.
"The long heritage of rational Christian theology was the basis
for the Scientific Revolution and the rise of the West."
One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 17. In
The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom,
Capitalism, and Western Success (page 14), Stark cites 10
authors who agree with Christianity causing the rise of modern
2. A. N.
Whitehead, Pierre Duhem, and Stanley Jaki.
"Duhem's conclusion (was) that the failure of Greek science was
due to the influence of such theological doctrines as the
divinity of the heavens and the eternal recurrence of all... an
influence which ... was operative in other ancient cultures, as
well.... (Duhem gave) overwhelming documentation of a solid
interest in science from the twelfth century onward, and of the
support given that interest by the Christian theism of the
medievals. Duhem's scholarly testimony to that theism
could but remain systematically overlooked amid the positivist
resurgence of the 1930s.... Duhem had already massively
documented Whitehead's statement that medieval theism was a
crucial factor in the emergence of science." (Stanley
Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago,
IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), 13-14.)
3. Toby E. Huff.
The Rise of Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West.
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd Ed. 2003).
4. Grant, Edward.
The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages:
Their Religious, Institutional, and Intellectual Contexts.
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
Harrison, The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science,
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). In this
book Harrison explores the beginning of modern science as the
rediscovery of Augustinian thinking about the Fall of Man and
its distortion of an understanding of the natural universe in
which man lives. Natural science, then, became the quest
to understand how man's thinking had been distanced from his
account of this world in which he lives.
5. Gary B. Ferngren,
ed. Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction
(Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).
6. David N.
Livingstone, D. G. Hart, and Mark A. Noll, eds.
Evangelicals and Science in Historical Perspective (New
York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999).
7. R. Hooykaas.
Religion and the Rise of Modern Science. (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972).