William Harvey was a physician and scientist in the 16th and 17th centuries who was the first to demonstrate how the circulatory system worked. He described how the arteries, veins, valves, lungs, and heart worked to circulate blood – and he was amazed at God's design and purpose in the systems of the body. He enjoyed studying how God had made things to work.
Harvey considered science a godly vocation and was motivated by the idea that the Creator had made things in an orderly way that could be understood and studied.
Harvey’s primary achievement, the explanation of the circulation of the blood, was occasioned in part “by asking why God put so many valves in the veins and none in the arteries.” He believed that nature does nothing “in vain.”
He was physician to King James 1 and King Charles. He was also the first to propose that humans and mammals reproduced by a sperm fertilizing an egg.
It takes some imagination to grasp how radically different ancient worldviews were from our Western perspective. Much of what we now take for granted as being common sense was not actually common throughout human history. Rather, our particular worldview was built over time on a foundation of unique ideas, and Rodney Stark, author of How the West Won, argued in a recent radio interview that it’s the Western view of God that made the biggest difference for us:
It’s pretty obvious…that the Judeo-Christian concept of God held the key to the rise of the West, and that is the belief in a rational Creator God, because that had the implication, then, that the creation was itself rational—that is to say, it obeys rules. The rules are reasonable, rational. Consequently, since humans have the ability to reason, it might be possible to discover the rules of the creation. And that was the whole basis of science.
Science only happened in the West. And the reason it happened [is] because only in the West was science plausible. Elsewhere, it was thought that the universe was eternal, that it was mystical, that it was beyond understanding and human comprehension. We could meditate on it, but we couldn’t try to discover the rules that made it work.
People like Newton believed that there were rules to be discovered, and the marvelous thing, of course, is there were rules that could be discovered.
So in one sense, the greatest scientific theory of all is that the universe is rational. And it’s been tested again and again, as people have discovered these rational rules by which everything works. That’s the key to the whole rise of the West.
Very often, atheists will lump all ancient religions together, imagining that any belief in the supernatural necessarily conjures up a chaotic, unpredictable universe in the minds of the believers. But it was actually the opposite with Christianity. It was only a belief in the biblical God that rescued people from a chaotic-universe mindset.
Atheists need to use their imaginations to strip away what our culture has unreflectively absorbed from Christianity and think about how they would see the world if Christianity had never existed.
Imagine if at the beginning of human history every human being had a naturalistic understanding of the universe—everything was thought to have come together randomly, as atoms happened to bump into atoms, with no reason for its existence. No design, no purpose to the way the universe developed. That foundational idea would have invoked not the view of today’s naturalist scientist (whose view grew out of our culture’s ancient Christian belief in an ordered universe), but a worldview every bit as chaotic as any that rested on capricious gods. Who, in a culture developing under a belief in a meaningless, random universe where something might at any moment come out of nothing, would have thought to search for rational, predictable natural laws?
An atheistic understanding of the universe does not naturally lead to the pursuit of science, nor does a supernatural view automatically lead there. Only in a culture with a belief in a rational, orderly, sovereign Creator—where it’s believed a reasonable mind is behind things—would science be likely to appear. And a look at world history backs up that conclusion.
Now let’s take this one step further: No worldview other than one with a Creator would likely have brought people to science, and yet it turns out that science is an accurate way of discovering truth about our world—that is, the scientific laws predicted by a worldview with a biblical concept of God, and unexpected in any other worldview, actually exist.
"For some, the wonder may be that a monk contributed anything at all to science. Don't people in monasteries spend all their time praying, singing, and fighting off dirty thoughts? Not so the friars of the St. Thomas Monastery in Brno, the Czech Republic." Gregory Mendel, the father of genetics, entered the monastery in 1843, uneducated but intelligent. The abbott recognized his intelligence and sent him to the University of Vienna. When he returned to the monastery, he engaged in the rigorous intellectual life there. "St. Thomas was a vibrant center of science and culture. Its friars taught and researched in philosophy, mathematics, mineralogy, and botany. The library housed many scientific works."
Mendel subjected the basic observations of how attributes are inherited to scientific and mathematical rigor. He studied one trait at a time in his pea plant experiments, describing how dominant and recessive genes work. He is part of a legacy of scientists who believed God created an orderly world that we could study and know.
Well, this is the most literal playing out of Romans 1:18-21* I’ve ever seen. From David Klinghoffer:
The Wall Street Journal salutes the research of Boston University psychologist Deborah Kelemen. She has discovered that it's possible with Darwinian storytelling to suppress common sense in children of the kind that leads them to recognize artifacts of intelligent design in nature.
The Journal notes that quite apart from religious instruction, kids are primed to see life as reflecting "intentional design." It's intuitive. The corrective is to catch them at an early age and train them to see things in a Darwinian light….
The initiative to program children is repeatedly referred to as "intervention," a term used in psychological counseling to refer to an attempt to thwart counterproductive, dangerous thoughts or behavior. The intuitive response of human beings, seeing design in nature, is implicitly compared to destructive patterns of abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, and the like!
Given that bizarre premise, suppressing design thoughts becomes the preferred solution.
*"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened."
It's funny that many secularists believe that Christian myths about Jesus evolved over time until they were written down generations later. This is the thesis in Bart Ehrman's latest book. It's not accurate. It's funny because there are things believed by some of the same secularists that actually are myths that evolved over time to create the impression that Christianity is a science stopper and anti-intellectual. One of these myths is about the scientific revolution that was purportedly initiated by Copernicus and the supposed subsequent opposition from the church to his heliocentric theories.
The myth begins with the notion of the "dark ages," a time when the church suppressed education. It's just not true. Scholarship was alive and well prior to Copernicus. In fact, scholars were working on heliocentric theories before Copernicus. He learned these in university and built on them when he published in final work. His theory didn't emerge from a dark vacuum, but from rich science that had been nurtured in the universities, many of them established by the church.
In fact, Copernicus himself was a canon of the church, raised and guided by his uncle who was the bishop of Warmia. Many of the scientists involved in the scientific revolution were Christians. Nancy Pearcey shares this from Rodney Stark's research:
Sociologist of religion Rodney Stark identified the 52 figures who made the most significant contributions to the scientific revolution, then researched biographical sources to discover their religious views. He found that among the top contributors to science, surprisingly only two were skeptics (Paracelsus and Edmund Halley).
Stark then subdivided his subjects once again into those who were "conventional" in their religious views (that is, their writings exhibit the conventional religious views of the time), and those who were "devout" (their writings express a strong personal investment). The resulting numbers show that more than 60 percent of those who jumpstarted the scientific revolution were religiously "devout." Clearly, holding a Christian worldview posed no barrier to doing excellent scientific work, and even seems to have provided a positive inspiration.
The idea that the church opposed Copernicus' ideas and persecuted those who taught his ideas is a useful myth built on a kernel of fact. Some Christians did disagree with the idea that the earth was not the center of the universe because they thought it contradicted what the Bible taught. But this was not a widespread response, and many dropped their opposition when they looked at it more closely. In fact, Copernicus' theory was taught in Christian institutions early on. The Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy reports:
Though Martin Luther initially rejected Copernican cosmology, Philip Melanchthon, who collaborated with Luther and was an intellectual leader of the Reformation, had it taught at the University of Wittenberg, which eventually became a center for study on Copernicus' ideas.
Christoph Clavius, a Jesuit and leading astronomer who helped develop the Gregorian calendar, taught Copernican mathematical models early on.
Pope Clement VII reacted positively to a talk he heard about Copernican theories.
Pope Paul III never indicated his response and the church had no official position in 1600. It's often assumed that Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600 because he had adopted Copernican cosmology, but he was actually condemned for other issues.
Johannes Kepler, a committed Christian, wrote the first openly heliocentric book after Copernicus and built on his work to develop a more accurate model of the solar system.
Einstein said of Michael Faraday "that he, of all people, had made the greatest change in our conception of reality." He was one of the most famous scientists of his time.
Faraday lived from 1791 to 1867 and discovered many of the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry. He discovered electromagnetic induction and the laws of electrochemistry, and invented the first dynamo, converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. He isolated benzene as a fundamental component of organic chemistry. Throughout his career, he lectured at the Royal Society. His lectures on the latest scientific discoveries were very popular. He was well known for being able to explain complex scientific ideas to Victorians hungry for the latest scientific knowledge.
Faraday was an elder in his church, a member of Sandemanians. He believed in the literal interpretation of Scripture, and believed that the uniformity of God's creation made scientific inquiry possible. He believed that the revelation of nature pointed to the Creator, and the revelation of Scripture pointed to the Savior. He was actively engaged in church activities.
Faraday's peace and security was not in his worldly fame but in the Lord Jesus Christ. In 1861 Faraday wrote to a scientist friend: Since peace is alone in the gift of God; and as it is He who gives it, why should we be afraid? His unspeakable gift in His beloved Son is the ground of no doubtful hope.