How Jesus Shaped the West: Science

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginningor start here for how Jesus shaped Science.

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Richard Dawkins has declared, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

He may not speak for all, but he captures a mood now common in the West that faith—and especially the Christian faith—is a hindrance to inquiry. Is he right? Are science and Christianity at war?

The scientific worldview we live and breathe seems so normal. From car repairs to dieting, and from weather forecasts to the latest iPhone, we take science and all of its benefits for granted. In doing so, we forget that it’s an entirely unique way of perceiving the world.

“The ancients had astounding insights into nature, but a culture of science didn’t arise in the ancient world.”

India had great surgeons like Sushruta who wrote a textbook on medicine six centuries before Christ, but medicine didn’t develop in India. Another Indian introduced a revolutionary concept to mathematics: the number zero. Yet in India, maths didn’t go on to become the language of science, as it later would in Europe.

Over 2,000 years ago, Eratosthenes measured the earth’s circumference with eyebrow-raising accuracy. Ancients from Greece, Egypt, China and the Muslim world had astounding insights into nature. They observed facts, developed their skills, and accumulated knowledge to pass on to others. Despite all of this, a culture of science didn’t arise in the ancient world.

Science arose once in history: in Christian Europe. We could shrug and move on. Or we could inquire as to why that is.

“In India, maths didn’t go on to become the language of science, as it later would in Europe.”

A growing band of historians are drawn to Whitehead’s thesis, agreeing with John Lennox that, “human beings became scientific because they expected law in nature; and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

We’ve become so accustomed to thinking of Jesus’ teachings as merely “spiritual” lessons. But Europeans of centuries past saw them as much more, believing Jesus spoke into every pursuit of life.

As such, Europe inherited from Jesus a set of assumptions about the nature of reality that no other culture had. See science only works if the following things are true:

Objective truth exists. Eastern faiths (and postmoderns) say that what’s true for you isn’t true for me. But who would bother experiment if the findings are true for some people and not for others? Jesus however insists that truth does exist and is knowable.

“Europe inherited from Jesus a set of assumptions about the nature of reality that no other culture had.”

The universe actually exists. Eastern philosophies taught that everything is an illusion. What point is there in studying an illusion? By contrast, the first declaration of Scripture is, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It actually exists, so it can actually be studied.

The universe is orderly. Greek, Roman and Hindu beliefs propose multiple gods competing to run the universe. But an enchanted world like this doesn’t lead people to search for “laws of nature”. If the planets are themselves gods, why would they follow established laws? The God Jesus spoke of, however, is a God of order, not chaos. And by inference, so is the world he created.

“Human beings became scientific because they expected law in nature; and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

People have confidence to investigate the world. Indigenous faiths taught that there were spirits in the trees, rivers and mountains—that creation itself is divine. So poking around trying to study these things could anger the spirits—and this is one of the reasons many cultures never tried.

Christians also believe in angels and demons, but in Genesis 1:28 they read God’s command, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” Because of this, Christians had courage to study the natural world.

“Science rests on uniquely Christian ideas, and it can’t work without them.”

People have free will. Atheism—the idea that the material world is all that exists—leads to the inescapable conclusion that we’re just slaves to our brain chemistry, so we have no free will.

C.S. Lewis asked: “If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents—the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts… are mere accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true?”

Jesus’ teachings assume a free will given to us by God, so we can think and reason freely and arrive at trustworthy conclusions.

“It’s no coincidence that almost all of the founders of modern science were Christians.”

People need correction. Many in the East see humans as divine, and believe that enlightenment comes by mystical experience. Islam rejects the idea Jesus taught, that humans are born with a tendency towards error and sin. But it turns out that the Christian doctrine of original sin, despised by so many, was foundational to the scientific method. Because we’re fallen, early Christian scientists insisted, our findings are in constant need of objectivity, facts, peer review, and skeptical testing.

People see themselves as caretakers of creation. Most worldviews see humans as merely part of nature—a cog in the machine. Atheism views us as sophisticated, hairless apes. But the West’s passion for science began when Christians read the Bible and rediscovered God’s call to have caring dominion over the creation.

Francis Bacon, founder of the scientific method said, “For man by the Fall fell from both his state of innocence and his dominion over creation. Both of these, however, can even in this life be made good; the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and sciences.”

“Atheism leads to the inescapable conclusion that we’re just slaves to our brain chemistry, so we have no free will.”

Embarrassing as it may be to the intelligentsia, science rests on these uniquely Christian ideas, and it can’t work without them.

Is it any coincidence then that almost all of the founders of modern science were Christians? Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most important scientists of all time, discovered the law of gravity, but also wrote over a million words about the Bible.

Science arose once in history: in the Christian universities of Europe. This isn’t because other cultures lacked ability: many individuals outside of Europe saw nature with a scientific outlook. But their civilisations’ belief systems didn’t allow a culture of science to flourish.

Peter Harrison, Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Bond University in Australia wrote, “It is commonly supposed that when in the early modern period individuals began to look at the world in a different way, they could no longer believe what they read in the Bible… [but] the reverse is the case: when in the sixteenth century people began to read the Bible in a different way, they found themselves forced to jettison traditional conceptions of the world. The Bible… played a central role in the emergence of natural science in the seventeenth century.”

Richard Dawkins couldn’t be more wrong. It was in fact the teachings of Jesus that drove Europe’s curiosity to study the world and view it scientifically. Centuries later, every culture—and Dawkins himself—has reaped the benefits.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Medicine.

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In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.

26 thoughts on “How Jesus Shaped the West: Science

      1. Interesting article. You might find this off topic, I’m not particularly science inclined. You see my background is in English, writing and literacy specifically. Which is why i find it interesting that one of the defenses the article uses is that the Bible was misinterpreted. It makes me wonder if we have reached peak understanding of the Bible or if in 500 years people are going to look back and say “those poor things, didn’t know how to read the Bible, this is how you are supposed to truly interpret it.” As someone who studies and appreciates the art and practice of writing, of conveying meaning, it blows my mind that the most perfect book, written by the most perfect author had been misinterpreted for so long, by both those who don’t believe and those desperate to follow every word alike. That it can be misinterpreted at all seems shocking.

      2. Hey byblacksheep. While the Bible can be misinterpreted, the point I wished to make was rather that during the early modern era, it was once again taken seriously by people, which was an important factor in the beginnings of science. Interpretation is both a science and an art. There are rules of language and grammar that enable us to understand with pretty good accuracy what the original authors intended to say (science). There are also fashions of thought and issues of the day that cause us to apply that meaning in specific ways (art). I think good interpretation uses the best of both. I think we are at a peak of understanding, but that our ability with both the science and the art of interpretation can keep being refined. The problem isn’t that we lack the information or skills as a human race to interpret well, but that we don’t care. Postmodernism has gutted the practice of interpretation by insisting that the author doesn’t get to decide what s/he meant, the reader does. This is the greatest cause of misinterpretation of every text, including the Bible. We can interpret the Bible accurately and with relevance if we choose to. Hope this helps!

      3. I’m aware I have strayed from your original intentions, but I’m afraid I would be unable to contribute much of anything in a conversation predominately about science. What is within my area of expertise is interpreting text although admittedly not the Bible specifically.

        I wonder if the Christians in Galileo’s era thought they were at peak understanding of the Bible, and what they thought of the interpretation prowess of the Christians 500 years before them.

        Hey, did you know that 500 years ago the leading theological view wasn’t that the snake in the garden was Satan, rather they believed the snake was a half woman half snake demon named Lilith, she is even painted on the Pope’s ceiling and sculpted into the cathedral of Notre Dame (of hunchback fame). Crazy right? Imagine what people will say about contemporary Christian beliefs 500 years from now. And it begs the question if they will be more accurate then we currently are, or if the pendulum will swing back into the absurd.

        Its not that the Bible can be misinterpreted, its that the Bible is so easily misinterpreted and not even by heretics, but by people who actually want to follow its meaning. In my field, a writer whose target audience so thoroughly and so often misinterprets his text, well I would consider him a very flawed writer. What does it say about God, the Bible, and Christianity that it took 2,000 years to reach peak understanding of the Bible?

        I know I’m off topic, you have my apologies. Just things I think about.

      4. Sounds like issues we won’t easily resolve here! The Catholic Church in Galileo’s era were more concerned with upholding a pagan belief (Aristotle and Ptolemy) than they were with correctly interpreting Scripture. More on this at

        No I didn’t know about the Lilith idea. Anyone who cared to actually read what the Bible says and understand it on its own terms would have been able to put that one to lie though!

        In saying that we’re at a peak now, what I mean is that it has always and will continue to improve. That doesn’t mean we started at zero. People in Jesus’ and Paul’s day were perfectly capable of understanding what it meant. We’re more removed from them culturally but have lots at our disposal to correctly interpret it if we choose to.

        Psalm 14 makes it clear that it’s in the heart, not the head, that “the fools says there is no God”. People will always find reasons to reject what God has said about himself. Postmodernism and its self-contradicting theories about literature is just another one in a relentless queue of them. But to the heart that seeks God, he will be found.

  1. Atheists characteristically attempt to deny the critical influence of Christianity in the development of the most just, most prosperous, most technically advanced civilization in human history.

    Christian Western Civilization is the only civilization in human that progressed past pillage and conquest as the means of acquiring wealth; and the slave and beast of burden as engines of the economy.

    Atheists, following their fundamental religious doctrine, think Western Civilization just happened all by itself.

    And when you ask them to name someone, anyone, besides Galileo that was punished by the Church in the name of anti-science…

    …all you get is crickets…

    …or a hurricane of pure nonsense.

    The fact is, the Catholic Church was the champion of science, art, architecture and all things beautiful.

    It was the Christian worldview that led to the foundation of modern science, in fact.

    Atheism, based on pure superstition and ignorance is, in fact, severely retrograde and heartens back to prehistory before man came down out of the trees.

  2. Good thoughts – particularly about people needing correction. Unfortunately for scientific progress, many scientists claim that their works and beliefs are beyond correction.

    1. Agreed @Zazzaqa. In certain fields of science, arrogance seems to trump the scientific method. Perhaps science is always in need of the insights from Jesus that shaped it. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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