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.

* * *

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.

* * *



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.

Evolution is Science. Creation is Religion.

Creation and evolution—that hot potato. Congratulations for following the link here: you’re braver than most.

As Christians, which side do we take? If we’ve lingered in the majesty of Genesis 1, our instinct of course says creation. If we’ve conversed with the science-minded, it seems unthinkable to deny evolution.

In the characteristically blunt, but helpfully clear words of well-known evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”

evolution n. the theory that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form.

So science has settled it: God must have created using evolution. Phew, that was an easy dodge. Science, theology and reputation intact. Right? Not so fast.

Remember the naturalists from my previous post—the ones who, before conducting their science, made the philosophical leap of faith that everything in the world arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural explanations are excluded? The ones who said, “even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic”?

They are evolution’s loudest proponents. And Christian, they find the phrase “God created using evolution” just as absurd, laughable and offensive with or without those two magical words on the end. If you’re hoping to impress them, it’s not working.* It can’t—they’re naturalists, remember?

Naturalism n. the philosophical belief that everything in the world arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural explanations are excluded.

That being the case, why not give yourself permission to consider “the impossible”: that they might be wrong not only about the universe’s first cause, but also about the course of its development.

Could it be that their prior commitment to a Godless universe—before a lab coat was even donned—left them with no choice but slow changes and vast eons to explain life’s origin and diversity? That these ideas don’t represent the findings of science, but rather the findings of naturalism? That in the words of geologist and close friend of Darwin, Charles Lyell, scientists advocating evolution in those heady days (and God forbid, in our day too) were in fact looking to “free science from Moses”?

No coincidence that it’s naturalists also leading the charge that “evolution is science while creation is religion”. I’m convinced this dichotomy is as cooked-up as the one that insists God retreats as science advances. For two reasons:

FIRST, “evolution is science while creation is religion” rests on a false division of science. That division looks like this:


In this reckoning, science is logical, dealing with reality—while anti-science is illogical and deals with superstitious nonsense. Science is interested in things such as the study of gravity and the biochemistry of cells, whereas anti-science is interested in the Easter bunny and the fairies at the bottom of the garden. Science delivers smartphones and the space shuttle: anti-science gives us belief in a flat-earth and a return to the dark ages. The intent of this false division is of course to paint creation as a farce and its proponents as buffoons. Little wonder you ducked for cover.

A more honest division of science, as it pertains to evolution and creation, looks like this:


Operational science deals with observed, repeatable experiments in the present, while historical science is dealing with unique, unobserved, unrepeatable events from the past—think CSI. It is in fact observational science that is interested in things such as the study of gravity and the biochemistry of cells, while historical science is interested in things like the relatedness of organic life and the formation of stars and planets. Observational science alone delivers smartphones and the space shuttle: historical science delivers hypotheses about the origins of the universe, earth, life and humans.

When a childish and manipulative division is replaced with a practical and realistic alternative, what we in fact see is that both creation and evolution are as scientific as one another. But they are a special breed of science, one bound to speculation (or revelation, in the case of Genesis) about singular, unrepeatable events of the distant past. If creation is dismissed as unscientific, by definition, evolution must be also. If evolution is scientific, so too creation. They stand or fall together. Let that sink in.

SECOND, “evolution is science while creation is religion” conceals the enormous scientific impossibilities of evolutionary theory. While theories of creation have their obstacles to overcome—such as how light can be seen from stars that are millions of lightyears away, and why radiometric dating gives vast ages for rocks and fossils—it is also time for evolutionary theory to have a long, hard look at itself.

“The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of palaeontology.”—Stephen Jay Gould

The chance origin of the DNA code, novel biochemical pathways, sex, and even life itself are a complete mystery. Not in the sense that science is yet to discover them, but in the sense that the scientific data already available makes such ideas jaw-droppingly untenable. I know you mean well, but “God did it” can’t rescue the theory. Consider the following:

// The evolutionary family trees that adorn textbooks are based on imagination, not fossil evidence. The expected countless millions of transitional fossils, acknowledged by Charles Darwin as a significant weakness of his theory, still remain “missing” today. All we have, even after a century and a half of fossil digs, is an embarrassingly small handful of highly disputed candidates. Famous evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould, wrote, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of palaeontology”.

// “Living fossils” are a major evolutionary problem. Fossil ostracodes (“seed shrimp”) that have been dated at 425 million years old look identical to ostracodes alive today. In the same period of time, all land plants are supposed to have evolved, and some form of worm is said to have developed into all the species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals (including us) alive today. Examples of such “living fossils” abound and have evolutionists scratching their heads.

// Dinosaurs are said to have lived and died out tens of millions of years before humans existed; yet ancient cave paintings and carvings of them have been discovered in diverse parts of the world. Dozens of cultures give independent accounts of uncannily dinosaur-like “dragons”—the book of Job being such an example. And more recently, blood vessels, blood cells and soft tissue have been found in Tyrannosaurus Rex bones that “should” have turned to stone long, long ago.

// Diamonds are found so deep in earth’s rock layers that they’re said to have taken billions of years to form. Yet radiocarbon, an isotope able to survive 50,000 years at most, has been found in many diamond samples. Not to mention the fact that diamonds, identical to these, can now be made in the lab in as little as twelve hours.

The scientific data already available makes the chance origin of the DNA code, novel biochemical pathways, sex, and even life itself jaw-droppingly untenable.

The claim that “evolution is science while creation is religion” might be effective in silencing dissent, but like the “Science vs Religion” concoction, it simply doesn’t align with reality. Not only is creation just as scientific as evolution; evolution is just as religious as creation. In the minds of the committed, it’s an unquestionable dogma that no evidence can overturn. Science philosopher Karl Popper acknowledged that “Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme.” Michael Ruse, evolutionist and science philosopher conceded that “Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.”

With good intent, Christians who want to honour the broad brush strokes of Scripture and the claims of the scientific consensus affirm evolution and acknowledge God as its cause. But not only does this position fail to make us any more sophisticated in the eyes of evolution’s most zealous defenders, the naturalists: it unquestioningly adopts a theory, 150 years young, that has become riddled with insurmountable problems.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We all agree. But maybe, just maybe, the rest of the chapter and its six “evening and morning” days is worth another look.

*Consider Richard Dawkins: “I think the evangelical Christians have really sort of got it right in a way, in seeing evolution as the enemy. Whereas the more, what shall we say, sophisticated theologians who are quite happy to live with evolution, I think they are deluded.”