genesis: a literal reading?
A literal reading of Genesis can be applied to separate words or to meaning. The right approach to Genesis is that the meaning of the text is literally true. A metaphor can be literally true in its intended meaning, but this does not indicate that the pictures used are true in isolation. Thus, the Fall is a description of temptation; it does not mean that a snake was cursed, losing its four legs there and then, and left the Garden slithering on its belly. The image signifies a deeper truth.
Conversely, Genesis was not one among various Babylonian creation myths. It was a commentary on those myths. Genesis is not a ‘myth’ in the sense of random story – one that can be ignored and brushed aside.
Genesis was not ancient science, but it was ancient theology. The images used in Genesis define what things are – that is to say – the essential qualities of beings: the Creator, the created and their origin.
Genesis does tell you how? – in a theological sense, and the whole Bible reveals why? True reflection is to arrive at the principles of the order given by God to creation.
If you can identify the principles, you can glimpse the purposes of God and, in addition, know the life of man – what it is and where it came from.
The principles are to grasp the reality of what God has created through understanding its origin, and this understanding directly glorifies God as it comes to the feet of the Reality of God Himself.
Through Word and by Spirit
The heart is moved by what we cannot put into words – but know this: life was created through word and by Spirit.
God spoke His intention and creatures came into being – from His mind they took flesh through the Spirit causing energy to put matter into the configuration of bodies with the breath of life in them. Creatures made as independent beings, set down in a place suitable for them to live.
The goodness of God is embodiment. Forms of life pass on life in lineages through the code of life – the most complex code ever produced by mind. The DNA code that directs the development of each life is, never-the-less knowable to science.
Wisdom, the handmaid to the Lord, gave birth to life such that nothing is only a material thing, and all things reflect God, the Creator at the origin of all things.
The greatest reflection of all is the heart that returns to God in word and in spirit, and becomes born of new life – the life given by God.
science born of faith – a history
Long article on the history of science by Clare Merry first written in 2012
I’m going to cover the whole history of science in quite a concise way. My thesis is that the ideas of science spring from faith in God, or in opposition to faith in God, but never come from the void.
I will give the life stories of many of the scientists who have contributed to scientific theory – many of these have been Christians. I will also name others who have influenced the course of science.
Some great scientists who are certainly worthy of a mention don’t appear in this short history because although they contributed to scientific factual knowledge, but did not write on scientific theory. I’ve tried to keep the focus on theories in science, the philosophy behind it and on Natural Theology.
This essay has brief sections, but is quite long; it is surprisingly short, however, compared to the 800 years of history it covers – I start my history with Thomas Aquinas born in 1224, and the rediscovery of Greek philosophers of the period 450 to 322 BC.
The aim of this essay, compiled from multiple sources, is to give an overview of the history of science noting down the relationship of ideas in science to religious faith – the faith of individual philosophers and scientists, and movements within the church.
Scientific theories may be theist or secular. During the 17th and 18th centuries scientific theories were theist – science sprang from knowledge of Creator and created, and the relationship between the two. During the 19th century intellectual revolutions took place, and in the 20th century modern science emerged as a largely secular enterprise. However, Christians remain at the forefront of discussion about science, and their Atheist opponents define themselves in opposition to Christianity – pause for thought: there is something there real enough to be opposed.
This history opens with the foundation of universities in Europe during the 12th century. They were founded for higher learning focussed to a high degrree on theology.
The University of Paris was founded between 1150 and 1170 and the University of Naples was founded in 1224. The University of Oxford in England became well established during the 12th century and the University of Cambridge was founded by the migration of students from Oxford there in 1209. From the 13th century onwards universities were established at Toulouse, Montpellier and Aix-en-Provence in France; at Padua, Rome and Florence in Italy; at Salamanca in Spain; at Prague and Vienna in central Europe; at Heidelberg, Leipzig, Freiburg and Tübingen in what is now Germany; at Louvain in Belgium; and at Saint Andrews and Glasgow in Scotland.
These early universities were corporations of masters and their students that received their charters by papal decree or under the imperial authority of emperors and kings. Until the end of the 18th century universities taught as a core curriculum the seven liberal arts: grammar, logic, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and music. Students then specialized in medicine, law or theology.
Universities in Italy, Spain and France were reorganized and secularized in 1870, 1876 and 1896 respectively, and became state financed. It was only in the 19th century that universities expanded the subjects studied from Latin, Greek and theology to include modern languages and literature. The sciences added to the curricula were physics, chemistry, biology and engineering. In the early 20th century newer disciplines were given a place including economics, political science, psychology and sociology.
Women began to be admitted to European universities in the second half of the 19th century, but they did not take degrees. At Oxford four women’s colleges were founded in 1878, 1879, 1886 and 1893. In 1920 women were made into full members of the university and allowed to take degrees. However, the number of places for women remained restricted through the 20th century; for example, at Oxford there were only five colleges for women out of a total of 38 colleges. It was only in the 1970s that colleges became mixed, giving equal opportunity to men and women.
When Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) went to university in Italy to study theology the ideas of Greek philosophers had come to European universities as texts translated from Greek to Arabic and then to Latin. There was a dialogue of ideas between Islamic philosophers living in Spain under the Moors and Latin-speaking scholars.
The intellectual movement in this medieval world is known as Scholasticism. As far as science was concerned, its main focus was on the philosophy of Aristotle. Aquinas became a Dominican friar and the most well-known theologian the Catholic Church has ever produced. Aquinas set about studying the writings of Aristotle after they had been translated directly from Greek into Latin, in order to avoid errors and misunderstandings. His life work was a new theology known as Natural Theology.
Aquinas’ writings constitute the Catholic Doctrine of Creation still in use today. The main doctrine is creatio ex nihilo – that God created out of nothing. What it means is that there was no initial period of matter in a state of chaos which was reordered by the divine being – as portrayed in other creation myths. In Biblical creation God creates both the material substance of matter and gives it its form.
The medieval period had the Greek Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire); the Roman Catholic Church which used Latin in Western Europe in what had once been the Roman Empire; and the newly expanding religion of Islam in the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. There was constant rivalry between Orthodox Constantinople and Catholic Rome, and a constant loss of territory to Muslim expansion.
The great library of Alexandria in Egypt housed the written knowledge of the ancient world. The idea of a library probably came to Ptolemy I the Saviour who ruled Egypt from 367 to 282 BC. It was a Hellenistic kingdom and the city was named Alexandria after Alexander the Great who was a friend of Ptolemy I. Alexandria became the centre of Greek culture until the kingdom ruled by Cleopatra ended with her death in 30 BC.
When the Ptolemaic dynasty fell Alexandria was invaded by Romans, the Palmyrene queen Zenobia, Coptic Christians and Arab Muslims under Caliph Omar. Each invasion led to the library being burnt down and dismantled bit by bit in the years 48 BC, 270 AD, 391 AD and 642 AD. It may be that many of the scrolls of Greek philosophers went up in flames, but it is also true that many or even most of the scrolls had been copied by scribes and these copies sent to other libraries in the Byzantine Empire where scholars could study them. The schools of Greek philosophy only finally closed when the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottomans.
In the 9th century Syrian Christians of the Orthodox tradition were living as remnants of what had been the Christian world of the Middle East prior to the rise of Islam in the 7th century. They formed a small enclave ruled by Muslim caliphs to whom they paid taxes, but they retained cultural autonomy and a lively intellectual life.
Within this much reduced Christian Byzantine Empire, Photius was made secretary of state and patriarch of Constantinople between 858-867 and 877-886. He became a leading figure in a Byzantine scholarly renaissance. Photius gathered a circle around him for readings in ancient Greek and Christian literature, medical and scientific works. He compiled Bibliotheca from readings in Greek literature.
Patriarch Photius defended the autonomous church traditions of the Byzantines against Rome. At a council in Constantinople in 867 he condemned and excommunicated the Latin Pope Nicholas I. This did not much please the Catholics, but later when Pope John VIII was in need of Byzantine naval assistance against the Muslim Moors who were harrying the coast of Italy, a settlement was reached. The settlement between Constantinople and Rome assigned Bulgaria to the Roman Church while Greek bishops still continued their presence there in 880. Unfortunately, Pope John VIII was murdered in 882, and his successor was not recognized by Constantinople. All of this led to the break between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Photius incidentally was made a saint of the Greek Orthodox Church.
During the 11th and 12th centuries a school of philosophy flourished in Constantinople under the leadership of Michael Psellus followed by various churchmen such as Michael the archbishop of Ephesus and Eustratius the metropolitan of Nicaea. Psellus conducted researches in every field of knowledge which earned him a great following of pupils, and he wrote an encyclopedia. This philosophy school dedicated itself to debates on the superiority of Plato or Aristotle.
The best-known Greek philosophers lived many centuries before the time of the Greek church – they lived in Athens during the 5th century BC when Ancient Greece was in the Classical period. Plato (428-348 BC) was a pupil of Socrates (470-399 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a pupil of Plato.
Socrates only spoke on what he had to say, he did not write it down. Not everyone in the Athenian democracy liked what he said. At age 70 Socrates was put on trial and sentenced to death by poisoning by a jury of his fellow citizens. Despite this Socrates is credited as the founder of Western philosophy.
Plato’s thought was rationalist and his motivation ethical; he devoted himself to the proposition that reason must be followed wherever it leads. Plato founded an Academy for the systematic pursuit of philosophical teaching in about 387 BC. This was the first school of learning in the Western world. Aristotle was a student and later a teacher at Plato’s Academy for 20 years. Aristotle later founded his own school called the Lyceum at Athens where lectures open to the public were held and one of the first research libraries was housed.
The Athenian Greek philosophers wrote on political theory and government; ethics – the pursuit of happiness and moral virtue; rhetoric – the art of persuasion; logic and geometry; the philosophy of science and causation; and metaphysics – the theory of Being: God and the nature of the soul.
It was Aristotle who showed a real interest in understanding the physical world. Aristotle’s observations of a wide variety of plants and animals were without precedent. He described small details in insects accurately and unusual fishes. He classified animals into genus and species, and named over 500 species of animal in his treatises. He described the anatomy, behaviour and embryos of animals.
The soul for Aristotle was a life principle since he believed that plants have a vegetative soul, animals have a sensitive soul and humans have a rational soul.
Aristotle was seeking an understanding of the world at every level, both physical and metaphysical. He developed a vision of the heavens that explained the courses of planets and stars, as well as attributing a spiritual meaning to their movements.
What strikes me is that the philosophers of the classical period of Ancient Greece – especially Plato and Aristotle attached their philosophy to a firm belief in One God, a God who can be clearly identified with the God of the Old Testament.
The Greek philosophers lived at a time when the whole of the Old Testament had already been written including the Law of Moses, the history books of Israel and the books of the prophets. The philosophers lived at the same time that the books written in Greek were being written – these are now called the Apocrypha and are conserved in the Old Testament of Catholic Bibles. They cover the period between 450 BC to the time of Jesus and the New Testament.
Many Apocryphal books have wisdom as their subject matter. It seems to me that there is a direct connection between the reflections of the writers of Biblical books on wisdom, and the reflections of the Greek philosophers on similar subjects.
The Church Fathers in the early phase of Christianity worked on bringing to bear ideas from Greek philosophy on New Testament revelation. St Ambrose believed that Plato had met the prophet Jeremiah in Egypt. This is impossible as there are 222 years between the birth of the prophet and the birth of the philosopher; however, it is possible that Plato met disciples of Jeremiah who succeeded him, as prophets had followings which continued after they died.
It is clear to me that the wisdom of the Greek philosophers came directly from light that had come from the Old Testament revelation of God which had gone out into the Mediterranean world from Israel. When Plato speaks of ‘The One’, the fundamental principle of unity and that the ‘Good is One’ he referred to the God of the Old Testament. The Greek philosophers were theists who discovered science through theism.
During the 9th century the caliph al-Ma’mun organized the Arabic centre of learning at Bagdad in the new Islamic empire of that region. Christian Syrian scholars were commissioned to translate the works of Aristotle from Greek and Syriac into Arabic, along with Syrian commentaries on the texts.
By the 10th century the Syrians themselves were undergoing enforced conversion to Islam, along with the adoption of Arabic in the place of Greek and Aramaic, although they retained some independent culture and use of their own language until as late as the 13th century. Other parts of the Byzantine Empire endured until the ancient Greek city of Constantinople, also known as Byzantium, fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 and was renamed Istanbul in 1930.
In the 9th century Islam was still a new religion seeking to understand itself. Islam was founded by the prophet Mohammed in about AD 622 starting at Medina. It was based on the book dictated by Mohammed and written in Arabic, the Qur’an.
The Qur’an teaches that the unity of God is proven in the design and order of the universe. Order is explained by the notion that every created thing has been endowed by the Creator with a definite and defined nature such that nature has a pattern. Geometric decoration is an Islamic thing for mosques and palaces.
One of the first Islamic philosophers was al-Farabi of Turkish descent who in the 10th century attempted to establish a relationship between Aristotelian logic and Islam. The three best-known Islamic philosophers were Avicenna, al-Ghazali and Averroes.
Between the 10th and 12th centuries Islamic philosophy flourished and was not the handmaid of theology. Islamic philosophers claimed that human reason, independent of revelation in holy books, was capable of discovering what is good and what is evil, and that revelation only corroborates the findings of reason.
While Muslim philosophers pursued learning in the sciences through Aristotelian philosophy, Muslim theologians were engaged in the clarification and defence of the principles of Islam against the beliefs of Gnostics and Manicheans from the East and Christians in the West. Internal theological battles raged since it was during this early period that the challenge of Shi-ism to Sunni orthodoxy reached its height. There were extremist Islamic groups scattered throughout the Islamic Empire that clashed views of theology.
The philosopher Avicenna, in Arabic Ibn Sina was born in Iran in 980 AD. Under the influence of the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, Avicenna launched an inquiry into the question of being. He also wrote a book on the history of medicine.
In the thought of Avicenna God is wholly simple and one, and his essence is his existence. The existence of God is self-sufficient and not contingent upon anything else. The existence of God is necessary and eternal in itself. All creation is eternally dependent upon God. Creation consists of a chain of actual beings each giving existence to the one below it.
Like Aristotle, Avicenna believed that the heavenly bodies had intelligences and souls that were eternal while the earth was also eternal but constantly undergoing processes of generation and corruption in which matter takes on new forms.
Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) was also born in Iran. His philosophical studies culminated in him condemning the philosophers in general and Avicenna in particular for promoting speculative views contrary to the accepted teachings of Islam. Even so he defended the use of logic in theology. The writings of al-Ghazali gave rise to Sufism – Islamic mysticism.
Averroes, in Arabic Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), was born in Cordova, Spain. Averroes defended philosophy against Islamic theologians and wrote a summary of the works of Aristotle and Plato’s Republic. His writings were translated from Arabic into Hebrew by Jewish philosophers and into Latin by Christian philosophers. This gave rise to widespread Averroism in European universities during the 12th century.
Averroists believed in the double truth – that the truth of religious revelation and the truth of philosophy did not need to agree with each other. The double truth is thought to come from Averroes’ misguided Latin followers, and not from himself.
The opening that Averroes gave to philosophical pursuits was quickly to close in Spain when Islamic theologians gained power and imposed strict Muslim orthodoxy. Averroes himself promoted Shariah law of the Qur’an as he was chief judge at Cordova administering Shariah law.
Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), a Jewish philosopher who lived in Cordova as a contemporary of Averroes was one of the people to suffer under Shariah law. The Maimonides family pretended to be Muslims in public to escape execution. When things got too difficult, the family moved to Egypt where persecution of the Jews was less intense.
Maimonides studied medicine and became a physician. In Egypt his reputation as a physician became well-known and he was appointed as court physician to the sultan Saladin. Saladin was the celebrated Egyptian Muslim military leader, opponent of the Christian Crusaders. Saladin captured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187.
Maimonides wrote on Jewish law, philosophy and medicine. Maimonides found a way of reconciling the claims of empirical knowledge with those of revelation in the Bible. Today he is proclaimed as the greatest Jewish philosopher. The creed he wrote is now incorporated into the Jewish Orthodox liturgy. His major work in philosophy was entitled The Guide for the Perplexed. It was written in Arabic and later translated into Hebrew and Latin.
Some of the philosophers writing in Arabic in the Islamic world between the 10th and 13th century were Jews. Their constant concern was for a more rational philosophy of Judaism and an accommodation for science.
Isaac Albalag a Jewish Averroist of 13th century Spain believed in the two sets of truths – the religious and philosophical and that these are not necessarily in accord. He rejected the view that the world had a beginning and professed belief in what he called ‘absolute creation in time.’ This expression signified that at any given moment the continued existence of the world depends on God’s existence. He was accused of being a heretic as the Bible says that the world had a beginning.
The works of Aristotle reached the Latin West first by contact with Christian Orthodox Constantinople by some individual scholars such as James of Venice. Following this the works of Averroes in Spain were translated from Arabic into Latin in the 1220s. After this the Hebrew works of Jewish philosophers were translated into Latin.
Albertus Magnus made it his task to present all of Aristotle’s natural philosophy to the Latins by commentating on Arabic translations of the works. Higher education in the medieval period became centred on Aristotelianism.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) started studying theology at the University of Naples where he joined the Dominican Friars. He later continued studying at the University of Paris under Albertus Magnus. Aquinas began teaching theology in Paris in 1256.
Thomas Aquinas studied Aristotle in texts translated directly from Greek to Latin. He also studied the writings of St Augustine and knew the Bible verse by verse. What he established was a new natural theolgy with a realist view of reality, as opposed to an idealist position. The theology of Thomas Aquinas would underpin Western Civilization as he showed that each individual person had a soul that was separate. This was different to the former view, that individuals participated in a collective human soul.
Aquinas showed that knowledge of physical nature is a path to knowledge of God. He showed that God created the universe with order, and keeps it in being through His existence. In Summa Theologica he also dedicates a lot of space to speak about angels.
Aquinas opposed the Latin Averroists with their truth of faith and truth of reason, affirming that there is one single truth given by God.
Aquinas has been criticized for putting too much emphasis on reason, but, in fact, he followed the doctrine of St Augustine in seeing man as fallen and in necessity of grace. The Trinity for Thomas Aquinas was something of personal devotion, not just intellectual perception.
Philosophy was what al-Farabi called a state of mind dedicated to the quest and love of the highest wisdom. The philosophers all claimed that inner illumination was the source of their wisdom.
However, freedom of debate was not acceptable to the theocratic authorities of Islam, the Roman Catholic Church or Jewish orthodoxy. The window of opportunity for debate that had been wrenched open for a brief period was shut again by resurgent traditionalism during the 13th and 14th centuries. Revealed truth – what is written in the Bible or in the Qur’an was deemed the only source of truth and its interpretation was the exclusive domain of the religious authorities appointed to this task.
The Islamic philosophers were opposed by the rise of Islamic orthodoxy. Jewish philosophers were kept in check by Orthodox Jewish rabbis whose main interest was to impose the practice of laws upon the Jewish community. The Latin philosophers were opposed by the Roman Catholic hierarchy who feared an insufficient emphasis on the Augustinian theology of fallen humanity.
Aquinas who was teaching at the University of Naples, was summoned to see the Pope at the Council of Lyons in 1274 to explain himself. However, he died on the journey which, in the interests of becoming a saint was fortunate. Although 219 propositions, 12 of which were theses put forward by Aquinas, were condemned by the highest theological jurisdiction in Paris in 1277, Thomas Aquinas was canonized a saint in 1323. In 1567 he was made a doctor of the church and is now proclaimed by the Roman Catholic Church as its foremost philosopher and theologian.
The medieval period was marked by the Crusades in response to Muslim wars of expansion. The objectives of the Crusades were to check the spread of Islam, to retake control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, to recapture former Christian territories and to conquer pagan regions. The First Crusade was launched in 1095 and crusades continued until the 16th century when papal authority declined. Crusades took place amidst popular fervour with many participants joining crusades as a means of redemption and expiation for sins.
Power politics were being played out between the Papacy with its Holy Roman Empire and the feudal kingdoms of Europe. Deep divisions continued between the Eastern Church of orthodox tradition and Roman Church. Crusades to retake the Holy Land and secure the holy sites were a means of rallying popular religious feeling.
The 15th century was to herald a radical change in society. In 1453 Constantinople, the last outpost of the Christian Byzantine Empire fell to Muslim Turks and became part of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1492 the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella wrested Spain from Muslim rule when the last Moorish stronghold fell at Grenada. In the same year the expulsion of the Jews from Spain took place. Later that year Christopher Columbus discovered America and claimed it for Spain. South and Central America were to provide vast new resources for Spain.
South and Central America opened up extensive missionary grounds for Franciscan missions. The Franciscans expected that when Christ had been preached to the ends of the Earth, the end of the world would come.
In fact, the Roman Catholic world of medieval Europe did end shortly after this; the Protestant Reformation was the beginning of the end of the Holy Roman Empire and the global political power of Popes.
Within Catholicism a new intellectual movement arose in the 15th century known as Humanism. It originated among secular men of letters rather than clerics in Italy.
They were joined by Eastern scholars who fled to Italy at the fall of Constantinople bringing important books and manuscripts with them and a tradition of Greek scholarship.
Humanism spread through Europe among the new economic classes by the invention of printing books in the 15th century. The first printed books included literary and scientific works as well as religious texts.
Humanists such as Desiderius Erasmus in Praise of Folly (1509) encapsulated the moral essence of Humanism in its insistence on heartfelt goodness as opposed to formalistic piety. Humanism promoted art based on observation of the visible world combined with principles of balance, harmony and perspective. For artists such as Leonardo da Vinci art became a science – a means of exploring nature.
Humanism brought in the acceptance of diverse philosophical and theological ideas and it emphasized the dignity of man. The medieval ideal of a life of penance as the highest and noblest form of human activity was replaced by consecrating oneself to gaining mastery over nature. The effect of Humanism was to help people break free from the mental strictures of religious orthodoxy, to inspire free inquiry and criticism, and to inspire new confidence in the possibilities of human thought and creations.
Humanism in Catholic countries set the stage for the Reformation in Europe.
The Protestant Reformation started when an Augustinian monk and theologian called Martin Luther nailed Ninety-five Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517.
The Ninety-five Theses were an attack on the sale of indulgences. An indulgence was a monetary payment to get one’s time in purgatory reduced. Purgatory is a place where a soul goes to do time to cancel the debt for sins committed on earth; when time proportional to the sins has been done, the soul can be released to go to heaven. Belief in purgatory became widespread in the Roman Catholic Church in the 11th and 12th centuries; this belief was not shared by the Eastern Greek Church.
From the 12th century onwards the process of penance and salvation was increasingly bound up with money and the sale of indulgences. Partial indulgences reduced the time a soul would have to spend in purgatory and they specified the number of days, months and years that the time had been reduced by. Options for the obtaining of partial indulgences included going on pilgrimages instead of suffering in purgatory with the final approach to the place of pilgrimage done on one’s knees. The visiting of the relics of a saint on a particular festival day combined with placing money in the offertory box was another option. If one did not wish to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and had a lot of money, one could obtain a plenary indulgence by a good work such as paying for the building of a cathedral. For participation in a Crusade the Pope granted a plenary indulgence of “full remission of sins” so no purgatory had to be done at all. This helped in the recruitment to Crusades.
In the late 15th century the sale of indulgences was extended by the Pope to the release of souls from purgatory for relatives. This severed the link between the confession of one’s own sins to a priest, absolution and the obtaining of the indulgence, since one could simply buy an indulgence for one’s relatives without them going to confession.
The Reformation and counter-reformation
By 1520 the theological message that salvation is free; one does not have to do penance, and much less pay for salvation swept through Europe. The Protestant Reformation reformulated Christian doctrine, the basis to authority in the church and Christian practice.
Already by the mid-1520s a number of German cities and states had formally become Lutheran severing legal and administrative ties to Rome. The Anglican Church was founded in England in 1534.
The Roman Catholic Church held the Council of Trent in 1545-63 to try to save the situation, thereby launching the Counter-Reformation in Italy and Spain. The sale of indulgences was abolished in 1567, although the theology of obtaining indulgences to reduce time in purgatory remained intact.
The Council of Trent brought definitions of dogma for the first time in the history of the church and declared tradition to be a source of revelation along with the Bible. It reaffirmed the sacraments as mediators of grace and declared the church to be a hierarchical institution headed by the Pope. A large number of reform mandates were issued to meet the charges of laxness and corruption.
The Jesuits (Society of Jesus) founded in 1534 by Ignatius of Loyola pledged obedience to the Pope and to act as the church’s instrument for regaining ground lost to Protestantism.
Germany became divided up between Lutheran states, Calvinist states and those that remained Roman Catholic. Political conflicts were constant.
The military power of Revolutionary France spelt the end of the Holy Roman Empire when Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) led his army to occupy German lands in 1793. The imperial crown was finally laid down in 1806.
In the German states new Protestant universities were founded and some older schools were taken over by Protestants. The universities that remained Catholic became staunch defenders of the traditional learning associated with the Catholic Church. By the 17th century Protestant and Catholic universities were devoting themselves to defending correct religious doctrines, but a new interest in science had begun to sweep Europe.
The first university to renounce religious orthodoxy in favour of rational objective intellectual inquiry and the first where lectures were in German rather than in Latin was Halle founded by the Lutherans in 1694. This model was later adopted by many other universities.
The universities of Oxford and Cambridge founded under popes at the end of the 12th century and early 13th century were incorporated into the reformed Anglican Church in 1571 following the Protestant Reformation. At their foundation, like other universities, Oxford and Cambridge had faculties of divinity, law and medicine and also taught the ‘liberal arts.’
The reputation of Oxford University was based on theology and the liberal arts, but it also started to give a place to the physical sciences very early on. Roger Bacon also known as Frater Rogerus (1219-1292 ) a Franciscan conducted scientific experiments and lectured on sciences in Oxford between 1247 and 1257. Other Franciscans at Oxford involved with Scholastic science were Duns Scotus and William of Ockham. John Wycliffe (1330-1384) led a proto-protestant reformation.
Science of the stars
The first astronomer to revolutionize astronomy was Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543). He was a Polish Roman Catholic trained in medicine and church law, who practiced astronomy in his spare time when he was not exercising his office as a church canon.
Copernicus had been sent by his uncle who was a bishop in Poland to Italy to study canon law at the University of Bologna. In Bologna Copernicus stayed at the same house as the principal astronomer of the university who had the responsibility of issuing annual astrological prognostications for the city with special attention to the fate of Italian princes and their enemies. The contact Copernicus had with the university astronomer must have got him interested in astronomy.
At this time astrology and astronomy were subdivisions of a subject called the “science of the stars”. Astrologers, astronomers and mathematicians used mathematical techniques to construct models of the heavens and make tables of the motions of the heavenly bodies that would permit the construction of horoscopes and annual prognostications.
The vision of the cosmos at this time was Aristotelian. Aristotle had proposed that the Earth was composed of combinations of four terrestrial elements: earth, water, air and fire. The Earth was the centre of the universe and around it moved the Moon, the Sun and the other planets in a succession of concentric crystalline spheres. These heavenly bodies were composed of the fifth element “quintessence”.
Aristotle believed the universe to be a single causal system whose fundamental principle is that everything is in motion because it is moved by something else.
Ultimately motion is caused by the Unmoved Mover and the motion it causes is everlasting and so the Unmoved Mover must be eternal. It could not be composed of matter or its existence would depend upon something else and so it must be pure actuality (enegeia). Aristotle was prepared to call the Unmoved Mover, God.
The description of the Unmoved Mover is pure philosophy, but Aristotle appears to have known about God in a way the Christian would understand, as he stated that: God as the final cause is an object of love, and the highest delight of a human being is in the pure philosophical contemplation of the eternity of God.
Aristotle believed that the heavenly bodies have souls and in their motion they seek to imitate the perfection of the Unmoved Mover by moving in perfect circles around the Earth, although they have the power to move elsewhere. Aristotle affirmed that while light bodies rise naturally away from the centre of the earth, heavy bodies move naturally towards it with a speed related to their weight.
When Copernicus looked at what the astronomers were proposing he was disturbed that they could not agree on the order of the planets. All agreed that the Moon and Sun encircled the motionless Earth and that Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were situated beyond the Sun in that order. However, Ptolemy of Alexandria (AD 100-170) placed Venus closest to the Sun and Mercury to the Moon, while others claimed that Venus and Mercury were beyond the Sun.
Copernicus postulated that if the Sun was at rest and the Earth and other planets were in motion around it, they would fall into an orderly relationship with Mercury closest to the Sun, then Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. This resolved the problem of observations of the many strange movements of the planets, however, it wiped clean the slate of Aristotelian natural philosophy. It was argued that a corrupted Earth could not be part of the perfect and imperishable heavens.
The model proposed by Copernicus is known as the Heliocentric System. It explained the Earth’s year as one annual orbit around the Sun and the day as one rotation on its axis. The long-term changes in the direction of the axis account for the precession of the equinoxes.
Copernicus withheld publication of his book De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium Libri Vi (Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs) for 36 years. When a short version of the Heliocentric Hypothesis was published in 1540 and 1541 it was published under the name of Georg Rheticus, a Lutheran from the University of Wittenberg, Germany who was his loyal disciple.
The final version of the book was published by a Lutheran printer in 1543 as Copernicus lay dying. Legend has it that a copy of the book was placed in Copernicus’ hands as he lay unconscious from a stroke, at which he regained consciousness, found he was holding his great book and then expired.
The opposition that Copernicus experienced from the Roman Catholic Church regarding his idea of a Sun-centred universe did not arise from the church defending the Bible against science – the church defended Aristotle. For if the heavens were not perfect and the planets not ordered as proposed in the geocentric models of the universe, the predictions of astrologers were utter nonsense, and it was this that upset them.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian natural philosopher, astronomer and mathematician educated at the University of Pisa.
One of the first things he did was to drop bodies of different weights from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to show that the speed of fall is not proportional to its weight as Aristotle had taught. Galileo devised a new law of falling bodies. Galileo discovered various things about motion and taught mathematics at the University of Padua.
In 1609 Galileo heard of a new instrument – the telescope and decided to make one for himself. Later that year he was observing the Moon’s phases at 20 times magnification. He discovered that the Moon’s surface is not smooth as had been thought, but rough and uneven. The following year he discovered four moons revolving around Jupiter which he named the ‘Medicean Stars’ and the telescope revealed many more stars than are visible to the naked eye. His book Sidereus Nuncius (The Sidereal Messenger) was dedicated to Cosimo II de Medici, the duke of Tuscany. Galileo was rewarded with an appointment as mathematician and philosopher to the grand duke and he adopted the life of a courtier and gentleman.
Controversy loomed when Galileo observed sunspots which he illustrated in engravings as belonging to the surface of the Sun. A German Jesuit and professor of mathematics argued that the sunspots were moons of the Sun in an attempt to save the perfection of the Sun. Trouble really came, however, when Galileo admitted adherence to the Copernican Hypothesis.
Galileo, a sincere Roman Catholic, believed that Biblical passages, if correctly interpreted, did not conflict with the findings of science. However, Biblical interpretation was forbidden to anyone except theologians approved by the authorities of the Counter-Reformation and the Inquisition had pronounced the Copernican Hypothesis to be heretical. (The Inquisition had been founded in 1542 following the Protestant Reformation to combat heresy). The book Epitome of Copernican Astronomy by Johannes Kepler was banned by the Inquisition, while Copernicus’ own work was suspended until corrected. Galileo was admonished not to hold or defend the Copernican theory.
In 1623 Galileo was in the process of publishing a book called Il Saggiatore (The Assayer) on the new scientific method in which he argued that the universe represents a book written in the language of mathematics. As the book was going to press, a friend and admirer of Galileo was named Pope Urban VIII and so he dedicated the book to the new Pope. Over the following months Galileo visited Urban VIII to tell him about his theory of the tides as proof of the annual and diurnal motions of the Earth. The Pope gave Galileo permission to write another book about theories of the universe with the proviso that the Copernican theory only be treated hypothetically.
The book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic & Copernican got past the censors of Florence and appeared in 1632. However, it had been written in the form of a dialogue between three characters discussing ideas, and Pope Urban VIII’s favourite argument had been put in the mouth of Simplicio, the character who was constantly ridiculed in the dialogue. The reaction against the book was swift – the Pope convened a special commission who found that Galileo had not treated the Copernican theory hypothetically. Galileo was brought before the Inquisition in 1633. He was pronounced suspect of heresy, condemned to life imprisonment and made to formally renounce his belief in a heliocentric universe.
Imprisonment did not prove quite as bad as it sounded since Galileo stayed with the Tuscan ambassador to the Vatican and then in a comfortable apartment in the Inquisition building during the trial. After the verdict, he was placed under house arrest in the palace of the archbishop of Siena and then moved to a villa in the hills above Florence. By then aged 70, he continued to write up his unpublished studies; his last book Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences was slipped out of Italy and published in the Netherlands in 1638.
The first astronomical observatories were established by religious authorities. In the Islamic world observatories were built at Damascus and Baghdad as early as the 9th and 10th century. The Vatican built a tower for observations in 1580 and an observatory in 1774. The first notable pre-modern observatory built in Europe was located at Uraniborg on the island of Hven in Denmark in 1576 and it was state-funded. The Uraniborg Observatory was the last of the primitive observatories in that it antedated the invention of the telescope. (The first optical telescope used to study the heavens was made by Galileo in 1609 using information from Flemish pioneers in lens-making). Uraniborg was run by the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) and produced the most reliable astronomical data to date including a catalogue of over a thousand stars using instruments such as quadrants.
One of the main reasons for religious authorities to establish observatories was to set the dates of religious festivals in the calendar. The Islamic religious festival of Eid (Id al-Fitr) which marks the end of Ramadan in the 10th month of the Islamic calendar revolves around the year since it is a lunar calendar.
The Pope decided on a reform of the Western Christian calendar to prevent the migration of Easter into other seasons. Since 325 AD Easter has been celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon after the spring equinox on March 21st. Thus, Easter can fall on any Sunday between March 22nd and April 25th. However, the Eastern churches use the Julian calendar established by Julius Caesar, while the Western churches both Catholic and Protestant use the Gregorian calendar and their Easter celebrations may differ in timing by up to a month even though both calendars have calendar months and leap years to keep months within their corresponding seasons. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII resolved the problem of the Julian calendar in which the year regressed by almost one day every century, by lopping out 10 days in October 1582 such that October 4th was followed by October 15th in that year.
The Pope had consulted with astronomers and used the information from observatories in the reform of the calendar for religious purposes. Tycho Brahe, on the other hand, ran his observatory in the interests of advancing knowledge in science.
Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was abducted as a child by a childless, wealthy uncle and brought up at his castle in Tostrup, Scania among the Danish nobility. His uncle financed his studies in law at the University of Copenhagen, however, aged only 14 he witnessed a total eclipse of the Sun predicted for the 21stAugust 1560. The ability to predict such an event fired the imagination of the young Tycho, and while continuing his studies in jurisprudence, he started to watch the stars at night becoming an amateur astronomer.
In 1572 Tycho Brahe observed a bright new star in the constellation Cassiopeia which he showed to be located beyond the Moon and therefore belong to the realm of fixed stars. This caused disquiet because according to the Aristotelian vision of the heavens, the fixed stars were perfect and unchanging. The bright star was, in fact, a supernova. Tycho Brahe gained a reputation in Europe as an astronomer with the publication of his book De Nova Stella in 1573.
Tycho immediately started making plans to establish an observatory in Germany which prompted the king of Denmark to grant him land and financial support to build the Uraniborg Observatory in Denmark. With a decline in royal favour under the succeeding king, Tycho Brahe left Denmark settling in Prague under the patronage of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II.
In 1600 Tycho invited Johannes Kepler to join his court at Castle Benatky near Prague. When Tycho suddenly died in 1601, Kepler succeeded him as imperial mathematician to the Emperor and he inherited Tycho’s observations.
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) came from a modest family in Germany. He won a scholarship to study at the Lutheran seminary belonging to the University of Tübingen and planned to become a theologian. While at university he formed a friendship with the professor of mathematics Michael Maestlin (1550-1631) who had once been a Lutheran pastor and had become one of the most talented astronomers in Germany. Maestlin was a follower of the Copernican Hypothesis and he lent a heavily annotated copy of Copernicus’ book to Kepler, and tutored him in the complex details.
Kepler quickly grasped the main ideas in Copernicus’ work and he had a personal revelation that Copernicus’ Sun-centred universe contained the mark of divine planning. From early on in his studies in the 1590s Kepler made it his mission to demonstrate rigorously what Copernicus had only guessed to be the case.
Copernicus, in the footsteps of Aristotle, was still attached to the perfection of circular movements of planets. Kepler followed this tradition himself until he examined the observational data left to him by Tycho Brahe in Prague. The precise observations permitted Kepler to discover that Mars moves around the Sun in an ellipse, rather than a circle. By analogy he proposed and verified that all planets move around the Sun in elliptical orbits. He presented his discoveries in New Astronomy in 1609.
Kepler is attributed with discovering the laws of planetary motion; however, he did not present his discoveries as laws. Kepler presented his ideas of the universe as celestial harmonies that reflected God’s design of the universe. He investigated the orbits of planets by use of geometric shapes.
In some ways Kepler demystified astronomy and astrology – for example, in place of the belief that the planets move because they have souls, he proposed that a single force emanating from the Sun causes the planets to move slower in their orbits in proportion to greater distance from the Sun. After reading William Gilbert’s book On the Magnet, Magnetic Bodies and the Great Magnet, the Earth (1600), he proposed that this single force is magnetism. In other ways Kepler’s astronomy was deeply religious and mystical in that he believed that the geometric sphere symbolized the Trinity – the geometric sphere of the visible, created world was a reflection of this divine mystery with God the Father as the centre; Christ the Son as the circumference; and the Holy Spirit as the intervening space.
Kepler did not break with astrology since he believed that all harmonies were geometrical including musical ones and that they derived from divisions of polygons to create just ratios; when the planets figured themselves into angles demarcated by regular polygons, a harmonic influence was impressed upon the human soul. The harmonious movement of the planets created a celestial music without sound. These ideas were expressed in his work Harmonies of the World published in 1619.
Although Kepler believed that Divine Providence had guided him to study the stars, he retained a profound sense that his vocation was a religious one. He wrote in a letter to Maestlin “I wanted to become a theologian; for a long time I was restless. Now, however, behold how through my effort God is being celebrated in astronomy.” However, the Lutheran church authorities were somewhat less enthusiastic about his religious vocation as a scientist than Kepler himself was.
Kepler published his book Epitome of Copernican Astronomy in 1618-21; it contained the arguments for the Copernican Hypothesis and Kepler’s harmonics and new rules of planetary motion. This creative work continued amidst growing personal troubles between 1611 and 1626 after he had returned to Germany and was at the University of Linz. This troubled time was marked by Kepler’s exclusion from the Lutheran communion due to beliefs deemed heretical, aggravated by his friendships with both Calvinists and Catholics. The Inquisition banned his book in an effort to prevent Roman Catholics from reading it, although Galileo probably had a copy. His first wife died and several of his children died while the others were made to go to mass by the Counter-Reformation authorities after 1625. Kepler’s mother fell victim to a charge of witchcraft in 1615. Kepler did everything at his disposal to save her life and her honour. She was exonerated in 1621, but died a few months later. Whether Kepler had been chosen for his mission by God or not, his life certainly bore the marks of persecution of the chosen.
Not a single woman has had a mention in this history. Women did not achieve fame; they achieved notoriety. A man who was a free-thinker was deemed to be a heretic, but a woman who did not conform was most likely deemed to be a witch.
Witch hunts were not a thing of the Middle Ages so much as of the time of the Renaissance. At the time of the Reformation and early Scientific Revolution between the late 14th and early 18th century, historians have estimated that about three-fourths of convicted witches were women.
At this time there was no cult of witchcraft. It appears that women who were not protected by a male family member were the most likely candidates for an accusation of witchcraft. Witch hunts stemmed from a long history of the church’s theological and legal attacks on heretics and they were conducted by both Roman Catholic and Protestant local courts of law.
Most witch hunts occurred in western Germany, the Low Countries, France, northern Italy and Switzerland; the prosecution of witches seldom occurred in Spain, Portugal or southern Italy. The last known execution for witchcraft was in Switzerland in 1782.
Witch hunts were set in motion by a Papal condemnation in 1484 of witchcraft as Satanism, the worst of all heresies, and publication of a book in 1486 that blamed witchcraft on women. Both Protestants and Catholics pursued prosecutions both in secular and ecclesiastical courts because they shared a theological worldview derived from the early Christian fear of Satan.
The Inquisition actually restrained and reduced the number of witch trials because it applied strict judicial process to the trials, for example, it investigated whether charges resulted from personal animosity toward the accused. The Inquisition provided for the whipping, banishment or house arrest instead of death of first offenders.
By the late 16th century many prosperous professional people had been accused of witchcraft. As a rising class in society, they had a personal interest in curtailing witch hunts. The legal use of torture declined in the 17th and 18th centuries and the wars of religion between the 1560s and 1640s turned people away from religious intensity; with this witch hunts started to decline. Eventually, when people of new rising professional classes wanted the right to think for themselves free from accusations, witchcraft trials stopped.
Medieval science to modern era science
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) has often been proclaimed as the first person to say that science has a method and to outline this method, the inductive method. In many ways this is true, but Francis Bacon an English, only nominally Protestant adherent who had studied law at the University of Cambridge had a predecessor called Roger Bacon (1214-1292).
Roger Bacon was the pupil of Robert Grosseteste who was the fist chancellor of the University of Oxford. Robert Grosseteste (c. 1175-1253) led the University of Oxford into a reputation for the teaching of physical sciences as well as theology. Grosseteste was interested in the behaviour of light by mathematical means (optics) and in scientific method. He suggested that one should observe individual events in nature and advance a general law called a “universal experimental principle” which accounts for these events; then experimentation should be used to verify or falsify the principle. He studied rainbows and comets by observation and mathematics. His treaty De Luce (On Light) published in 1215-20 presents light as the basic form of all things and God as the primal, uncreated light.
Roger Bacon studied at Paris University and then conducted scientific experiments and lectured at Oxford University between 1247 and 1257. He wrote about mathematics, astronomy, optics, alchemy and languages. He made gunpowder and proposed flying machines.
Roger Bacon made mathematical and experimental methods the key to natural science as he strove to create a universal wisdom embracing all sciences organized by theology. He proposed that knowledge is acquired through both reasoning and experience, but certitude comes from experience. In the mind of Roger Bacon man gains experience through the senses and also through an interior divine illumination that culminates in mystical experience.
Francis Bacon was Lord chancellor for James I. He wrote Advancement of Learning in 1605. Francis Bacon advocated new methods that would allow man to gain mastery over nature. The method he proposed was to draw up Tables of Discovery such that facts could be ordered and the true causes of phenomena be established.
Francis Bacon was anxious to detach the state from religion, and disentangle science from religion. Biologists seeking to secularize science in the 19th century gave a great deal of recognition to Francis Bacon as a founder of modern science.
However, the Baconian insistence on the use of method in science could be attributed as much to Roger Bacon – the Doctor mirabilis (Doctor wonderful) in the 13th century as to Francis Bacon who lived 350 years after him in the 16th / 17th century. Francis Bacon lived when change was being brought about by the Protestant Reformation, unlike Roger Bacon who lived the life of a Franciscan monk in Pre-Reformation Catholic England.
The dominant philosophy of the second half of the 17th century was that of René Descartes (1596-1650). He was a French philosopher, mathematician and scientist who lived much of his life in the Dutch Republic. He was a Catholic who had Protestant Huguenot influences on his thinking.
René Descartes was the first thinker to emphasize the use of reason to develop the natural sciences. This is the foundation of modern philosophy. It came to him as a series of visions sent by God when alone on a cold night in 1619. The vision showed him the basis to analytical geometry. From this he decided that his life’s work would be the pursuit of true wisdom for he saw that by finding a fundamental truth and proceeding with logic, it would open the way to all science.
He is famous for the basic truth: “Je pense, donc je suis.” “I think, therefore I am” is the argument for the existence of the human soul. Descartes gave a rational thought-out argument for the belief that each person has a soul. The nature of the soul is to think.
Descartes, the father of modern philosophy baptized the modern era into a certain dualism between God the Creator and the mechanistic world of his creation; between mind as a spiritual principle and matter as spatial extension. ( I would say that this is a Biblical view).
Thus, the soul is not derived from the power of matter, but is created expressly. The soul is intimately united to the body to form the true man; it is not simply lodged in the body. When the body dies, the soul leaves the body and lives on as it is immortal. The attributes of the soul are understanding and reason as made in the image of God; the soul is mind.
This Cartesian view of the soul is identical to the conclusions of Thomas Aquinas as written in Summa Theologica, although later Thomists may not have understood this to be the case – if there had been true understanding in the church, Descartes’ books would not have been banned.
Cartesianism became popular among learned gentlemen and highborn ladies in continental Europe during the 17th century. At this time Catholic universities continued to teach Scholasticism and the Roman Catholic Church put Descartes’ works on the Index of Forbidden Books. Cartesianism was promoted, however, in liberal Dutch universities.
The Mechanical Philosophy
The Mechanical Philosophy, as opposed to Aristotelianism or the views of occult forces of the medieval age, is now the generally-accepted, unspoken philosophy to which the majority of people in modern society adhere.
In the Roman Catholic world of the Middle Ages the physical and biological world was generally viewed as a stage on which the history of spiritual persons is acted out and their salvation or damnation determined. The stage of nature is only by chance the setting for a spiritual history. Man was viewed as a foreigner playing a brief role on earth, only to escape as quickly as possible into the realm of spirit and the realm of God. In this world, nature was symbolic in its meaning.
The founders of modern science lived in post-Reformation Europe and were mostly Protestant Christians. These natural philosophers, as they were called during the 17th and 18th centuries, set themselves the task of understanding the natural world and describing the natural world in a way that severed the new sciences from the magical and superstitious notions of the medieval age. These pioneers embraced the new Mechanical Philosophy. They became the founding fathers of physics, chemistry, geology and a newer version of astronomy by investigating the mechanisms by which the natural world works. The idea that the various aspects of the natural world run independently without the propulsion of occult forces, but simply due to the properties of matter itself was fundamental to their project.
In Britain Robert Boyle (1627-1691) became the champion of the Mechanical Philosophy. Robert Boyle was a British aristocrat living in Ireland and devout Anglican. He became the founding father of chemistry through his experiments, but also made discoveries in physics and earth sciences. Boyle’s faith in God was lived through his science as he considered that making discoveries in science was a form of devotion to God. He aired his views on the relationship between the new science and Christianity in The Christian Virtuoso (1690).
Robert Boyle considered the medieval personification of nature to be idolatrous as it placed an agent – much like a goddess – between God and the world He made. It was customary to project human mental activities onto nature at that time (this fashion seems to have come around again). Boyle argued that it is far superior theologically to explain natural phenomena by describing the mechanical properties and powers given to unintelligent matter by God at the creation.
The philosopher Henry More coined the term Mechanik Philosophy in 1659. Boyle endorsed this label as he wrote: only the Mechanical Philosophy underscores the sovereignty of God and locates purpose where it properly belongs – in the Creator’s mind, and not in some imaginary ‘nature’. The discovery of the works of God was based, for Boyle, on the foundation of this new philosophy.
Boyle saw the Mechanical Philosophy as a powerful ally for religion. He promoted the design argument as he admired the wisdom of God in observing the exquisitely fashioned parts of animals both great and small.
Isaac Newton (1642-1727) English physicist and mathematician was a Unitarian believer with strong belief in God as Creator.
During the 16th century various movements coalesced to form the Unitarian Church. The belief was in one God rather than the Trinity, on rational beliefs, on universalism and in freedom of conscience. The church started in Poland and Transylvania, with meetings formerly starting in England in 1774 organized by the clergyman Theophilus Lindsey and the scientist chemist Joseph Priestley (1733-1804).
Most people know that Isaac Newton discovered gravity after interaction with a falling apple, and the resulting theory was used to explain the working of the solar system. Newton formulated three laws of motion that govern our universe – a universe that functions in accordance with laws that can be mathematically calculated.
Rational creation was the centre of his science. In Newton’s view the solar system had its origin in an act of creation that set the planets orbiting around the Sun. Since his mathematical calculations showed him that the planets would eventually be drawn into the Sun by gravity, he proposed that God makes periodic adjustments to keep the planets in their orbits. In this way he could believe that the solar system could continue its existence unchanged for eternity in accordance with the order set up and maintained by the will of God.
In Isaac Newton’s day the solar system was the known universe. He felt it was necessary that the solar system remain unchanged forever, as in the view of society at that time, the universe was infinite through time and had no beginning.
Newton’s strong religious beliefs did not prevent him from doing science, on the contrary, belief that order in nature is a manifestation of the wisdom of God was an impulse towards doing science to discover the workings of this order.
Isaac Newton had discovered the works of René Descartes and other mechanical philosophers when he was an undergraduate at Trinity College (ironic for a Unitarian), Cambridge, even though these works were not included in the curriculum of his degree course. Newton’s thoughts were set in motion by the new view of the Mechanical Hypothesis that physical reality was composed of particles of matter in motion, and that the phenomena of nature result from the mechanical interactions of these particles.
After Newton’s reimagining of physics, discoveries were labelled as the ‘laws of nature’ and science was about elucidating the order of nature.
The recognition that order in nature is God-given also gave an impulse to systems that would bring order to human thought and understanding. You cannot know a thing if you cannot think a thing – in order to think you need categories and classifications of what is like and what is distinct.
The 18th century brought to the fore attempts at natural classifications of the natural world based on the actual relationship of those things to each other. John Ray made an early attempt at the classification of plants with his book Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation (1691).
The classification of plants and later of animals still in use today was devised by the Swedish botanist Carl von Linné (1707-1778) better known as Linnaeus. Linnaeus introduced binomial nomenclature in 1753 in Species Plantarum. In this work each genus of plant was typified as a generitype with a genus name and each species given a memorable epithet, thus creating a two-word name in Latin to identify each species.
In order to classify all the European plants and all the plants sent to him from all over the world, Linnaeus had to memorize the traits of each genus, family and order of plants. He accomplished this extraordinary feat of memory motivated by the desire to reveal “the wondrous works of the Creator” as stated in the preface to his book.
Systematic classification brought about a simplification in plant and animal classification. It allowed the same Latin names to be used by scientists and horticulturalists from any country all over the world and identify the same thing. In this way science could become a global system of knowledge.
In the 18th century theology and science went along hand in hand. The properties of water was also a favourite theme for natural theology. See, for example, Johann-Alberto Fabricius (1734) Hydrotheologie: Or an attempt through observing the properties , distribution and movement of water, to encourage human beings to love and admire the benevolence of the powerful Creator.
The Royal Society
The new scientific enterprise in Britain was associated with the founding of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge in 1660. The Royal Society is the oldest national scientific society in the world and its journal, Philosophical Transactions is the oldest scientific journal in continuous publication. Among the twelve founder members there was Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, Bishop John Wilkins, and two courtiers Sir Robert Moray and William 2nd Viscount Brouncker, who became the first president of the Royal Society. Robert Hooke was appointed curator of experiments to the Royal Society in 1662.
Later on Sir Isaac Newton became the president of the society between 1703 and 1727. Election to the Royal Society’s fellowship has always been a coveted accolade for scientists in Britain, and since 1945 women as well as men have been eligible for this honour.
The founding of the Royal Society with its members’ adherence to the Mechanical Philosophy preceded the beginning of the Industrial Revolution by some fifty years. The Industrial Revolution in Britain involving the manufacture of cheaper goods rather than individually crafted goods started in 1710 and led to industry and machine manufacture. It was chiefly based on iron, coal and textiles, but also new metal alloys and the use of bricks for building. The Industrial Revolution was about capital investment in industry, it went alongside science and brought with it a new society.
The Mechanical Philosophy in which the universe was envisaged as a huge machine or clock in which all natural phenomena were accountable by mechanical or clockwork motion was associated with the atomistic view.
According to the atomistic view, the material world is composed of minute particles which are indivisible, immutable and too small to be visible. These atoms would be qualitatively identical, although distinct in shape, size and motion. The multiplicity of visible forms in nature would depend upon differences in atoms and in their configurations. Observable changes must be reduced to changes in the configurations that involve the motions of atoms.
In the 17th century Atomism did not constitute a physical theory because no observation of atoms was possible as a factual basis to the theory. Thus, at this time Atomism was a philosophy. In the 19th century the Chemical Atomic Theory supposed that each chemical element had its own specific atoms and each chemical compound had its own molecules of fixed combinations of atoms.
In the 20th century nuclear physics showed that atoms do indeed exist. They are composed of subatomic particles and so cannot be considered indivisible as they were before. Thus, Atomic Theory became a scientific theory based on observation.
The mechanistic view of things still holds with Atomic Theory – that all observable changes can be reduced to changes of configuration at the level of atoms. The bedrock of reality is found in the motion of atoms.
Laws of nature and the Law-Giver
The laws of nature designed by God was the link between science and religion in the 18th and 19th century.
The belief that God created physical matter, the solar system, and life as they are and as we find them requires no further explanation. Thus, the early scientists endeavoured to gain understanding and explain the attributes and functioning of the systems of nature without referring to their origin, since it was generally accepted that they had been created as such by God. They often couched descriptions of processes in nature in terms of laws.
The operation of laws presupposed a Law-Giver – the God of the Old Testament who had given the laws of the Old Covenant to Israel and given the laws of nature to the universe. Thus, science included all the descriptions of how systems work and the laws of nature. Instead of the term ‘law’, the term principle is sometimes used instead possibly to get away from the Law-Giver.
Today the idea that God set up laws has a disembodied feel to it. The original idea in the 17th century that God created laws went hand in hand with the idea that God directly created matter and life to set the system up. Since then there has been a disconnection between the beginning or origin, and the functioning or running of things. This has led to confusion about the role of God. The running of a system is a separate question from the setting-up of a system.
Most of the early founders of modern science, who believed in the Mechanical Philosophy and Atomism as far as the running of the system was concerned, also believed that God had set up the systems in the first place. They often engaged in the description of the workings of physical systems in scientific treatises as a way of glorifying God. This means that the founders of modern science were, in fact, Creationists.
There was, however, the odd renegade scientist such as the Frenchman the Marquis de Laplace (1749-1827). Pierre-Simon Marquis de Laplace wrote Exposition du Système du Monde in 1796 on celestial mechanics. It included his Nebular Hypothesis which attributed the origin of the solar system to the cooling and contraction of a gaseous nebula. This theory still holds today as the generally offered explanation for the origin of the solar system.
Laplace was the son of a peasant farmer – it was probably for this reason that he escaped execution in the French Revolution of 1789. He was made into a marquis after the Revolution. When asked by Napoleon why he had not mentioned God in his book on astronomy, replied “I had no need of that hypothesis”.
The French Revolution
The French Revolution was the overturning of traditional society in France between 1789 and 1799. It brought with it the ideas of Western liberal democracy. After the establishment of the First French Republic the king Louis XVI was executed in 1793. This physical abolishment of royalty was followed by the Reign of Terror when 16 600 aristocrats and any other ‘counter-revolutionaries’ were beheaded.
The ideals of the revolution were those of the Enlightenment: equality, freedom, separation of church and state, democracy and secularism. The science of Enlightenment emphasized the scientific method and reductionism – that a complex system is the sum of its parts.
Two thinkers leading up to the revolution were Voltaire and Immanuel Kant:
Voltaire whose real name was Francois-Marie Arouet (1694-1778) is known for his criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, promotion of freedom of religion and advocacy of civil liberties. This landed him in prison several times and temporary exile to England. He managed to get back to France and continue to write satirical works.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German Enlightenment philosopher who stressed the moral element in natural religion. For him moral principles are not the result of revealed truth, but originate from the structure of man’s reason.
Moving towards the 19th century the dimension of time started to exercise the minds of thinkers. It became apparent through the study of geological strata that the earth had a history and that it had gone through a number of distinct phases marked by different collections of fossils. It was conceived in the minds of thinkers such as Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) and the French aristocrat Jean-Baptiste de Monet Chevalier de Lamarck (1744-1829) the notion of an evolution of succeeding forms of life. If an evolution had taken place, then what we see around us had not been created by God such as we find it.
An influential book in Britain made the case for evolution on the basis that the fossils in geological strata demonstrate a gradual ‘ascent’. The book was entitled Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation published in 1844. It was published anonymously for fear of opposition by Robert Chambers, Scottish autodidact.
Robert Chambers speculated on the plausibility of a transmutation of species. He had formed this idea after reading The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, A Fragment written by Charles Babbage in 1837. (This was an ironic title used because the book was an answer to the eight previous Bridgewater Treatises).
Charles Babbage (1791-1871 ) a polymath at Cambridge university originated the concept of a digital programmable computer. His Analytical Engine makes him the father of the computer. Babbage presented God as the divine programmer setting up complex laws as the basis on which to produce new species.
In sciences relating to life or the newly coined term biology – term coined by Lamarck, Creationists were still largely at the forefront. Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), French zoologist and statesman advanced the science of comparative anatomy and animal classification. In Le Règne Animal Distribué d’après son Organisation (The Animal Kingdom, Distributed According to its Organization) (1817) Cuvier placed animals into four anatomical types with distinct body plans; the radiates, mollusks, articulates and vertebrates.
The grand scheme of creation was also followed by Louis Agassiz (1807-1873). Agassiz was Swiss but moved to the USA where he had an enormous influence as a biologist who encouraged observation. His speciality was fishes, both living and fossil. He also discovered that glaciers formed many features of the landscape, and that Europe and North America had been affected by an ice age in major ways.
Both Cuvier and Agassiz believed that the totally distinct forms of the four basic types of animals showed that they had been created as such by God with no transmutation from one basic type into another basic type through evolution being possible. The species of animal belonging to each basic type would have been created separately, and the similarity of type existed due to the plan of creation in the mind of God.
Cuvier pointed out that species belonging to each of the four types existed in each layer of strata in the geological record, although they were not the same species. Cuvier was the chief proponent of Catastrophism which interpreted fossils as resulting from extinctions caused by huge floods, the last of which was Noah’s flood. Cuvier and his followers believed that following each extinction event, the earth was repopulated by the creation of a new set of species belonging to the four anatomical groups. The anatomical form of each species fitted it perfectly to the habit and function for which it was designed. The creation of species as a geological succession indicated that there had been repeated acts of creation over time. This was the belief of Progressive Creationists of the 19th century.
Thus, Creationists claimed that the adaptations found in animals and plants were designed such that they could fulfil their allotted role in the economy of nature. The great diversity of adaptations and functions displayed the wisdom of God in their creation. They argued that evolution could not take place because each species was so well coordinated functionally and structurally for its own special purpose that it could not survive any significant change or transmutation as evolution was then named.
The emphasis was upon the creation of species of plants and animals. Linnaeus, the father of systematics, in his earlier works propounded the belief that species were the original entities of creation, while varieties had arisen due to “the work of Nature in a sportive mood”. By the end of his life, Linnaeus had reached the conclusion that the natural orders of plants were the original works of creation with the progenitors of the modern genera hybridizing among themselves to produce the modern species. Hence, by the 1760s and 1770s Linnaeus came to see species as the “daughters of time” (Stearn 1957, page 159).
A historical figure whose contribution has been confusing and equivocal is that of Richard Owen (1804-1892), British anatomist and palaeontologist who first gave the dinosaurs their name.
Owen saw homologies in comparative anatomy as evidence of descent. Homology refers to corresponding bones in modified form in different organisms. Owen presented his Theory of the Archetype and Homologies of the Vertebrate Skeleton in 1848 and On the Nature of Limbs in 1849. He included a diagram of the conceptual archetype from which all vertebrates were derived.
Owen proposed that all vertebrates were derived from the archetypal vertebrate by an innate creative power or a developmental force. This did not equate with a belief in evolution. He made vague statements on the possible derivation of one species from another. His work descended into a series of bitter disputes with rivals and attempts to discredit The Origin of Species and its supporters.
The overall opinion of naturalists and collectors of the early 19th century, many of whom were clergymen, was that species had been created and were fixed, while varieties of plants and animals had arisen through natural processes. Domestication by Man had produced many varieties of animals such as the different breeds of cattle, pigs, horses, dogs and pigeons, and cultivation had produced many varieties of plants both as crops and for gardens. This made it obvious that some degree of change was possible.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) came on the scene when evolution was in the air although no one had found an explanation for change. Darwin’s contribution at this pivotal point in history was in many ways in line with the Mechanical Philosophy of the early scientists. He sort to describe a mechanism (Natural Selection) as a law of nature, with the dimension of time and gradual change (evolution), and he did not reject or find this contradictory to belief in creation by God (creation of the first form or forms of life). However, other philosophical developments were already underway before the publishing of On the Origin of Species in 1859.
Philosophy of Materialism
The Philosophy of Materialism got underway in 1848. The fundamental dogma of Materialists was the proclamation that the universe is eternal. According to this world view the universe was infinite in extent and infinitely old; this meant that the universe was uncreated and imperishable.
The date 1848 corresponds to a failed revolution in Germany involving Communist type Socialists and the writing of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (1818-1883) with Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) as co-author. However, it was Engels, rather than Marx who addressed himself to matters concerning science and the philosophy of science.
Historical Materialism is a theory of history proposed by Karl Marx which predicts the downfall of Capitalism due to the struggle of the working class and the eventual triumph of Communism. Dialectical Materialism is a philosophy of science which proclaims that matter is uncreatable and indestructible, and that matter is necessarily coupled with motion. The writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels came to fruition in the Communist regimes of the 20th century.
Karl Marx was German from a Jewish family. Friedrich Engels came from a German Protestant family. Engels’ family owned a textile factory in Barmen, Germany and a cotton plant in Manchester, England. Engels worked in his family’s business in Manchester. He did not allow his success in business to stand in the way of being a revolutionary in his spare time; on the contrary, when he was able to sell his partnership in the business, he used the profits to finance himself and Karl Marx in their promotion of Communism.
Marxist philosophy was messianic – a combination of Jewish Messianism and Christianity, but without God and an Atheist turning against God.
Engels’ principle writing concerning science was Anti-Dühring (1878). This was a rejection of Dühring’s ideas because they left room for a creative God. Karl Eugen Dühring, a German professor had written in 1875 that the universe can only contain a finite number of objects (stars) and space must be limited. Dühring believed that an actual infinity was a contradiction and only an uncompleted infinity could exist. Thus, the universe was finite in past time, but infinite in future time. We will see shortly that belief in spatial and temporal infinity was associated with Materialism and Atheism, while belief in a finite universe was associated with Theism.
The Philosophy of Materialism was coupled to a view of evolution in the writings of Herbert Spencer (1820-1903). Spencer, an English evolutionary philosopher rejected religion and offered philosophy in its place to provide guiding principles in science and society. He wrote The Synthetic Philosophy which comprised volumes on philosophy, biology, psychology, sociology and ethics from an evolutionary point of view completed in 1896. In the first volume First Principles (1862) Spencer explained cosmic and biological evolution through a process of self-creation. Spencer reinterpreted Darwin’s writings and repackaged the ideas as Social Darwinism and ‘survival of the fittest’ which eventually became part of the ideology of the Nazi regime in Germany.
At the same time that the Philosophy of Materialism was being promoted by Atheists, the Laws of Thermodynamics were being formulated by Theists such as William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) (1824-1907, Scottish), James Joule (1818-1889, English), James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879, Scottish) and Max Planck (1858-1947, German). In general, the British proponents of thermodynamics believed that the implications of their science showed that God had created the universe. The German proponents of thermodynamics, who included Rudolf Clausius (1822-1888) and Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894), if they had personal beliefs on the subject, did not voice them. Max Planck did not believe in a personal God as Christians do.
The work of James Clerk Maxwell was built upon the discoveries of the English physicist and chemist Michael Faraday (1791-1867). Faraday was the son of a blacksmith and he became apprenticed to a bookbinder aged 14, and he read the books that he bound and so was an autodidact. He managed to secure a place as laboratory assistant to Sir Humphry Davy in 1812. This was the start of Faraday becoming one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century with his discovery of various chemical elements and his work on electricity. He was the first to produce an electric current from a magnetic field. Faraday’s life was guided by his adherence to a Christian sect called the Sandemanians who were an off-shoot of Scottish Presbyterians.
James Clerk Maxwell in The Theory of Heat (1871) argued that the First Law of Thermodynamics on the conservation of energy proclaims that the universe did not obtain energy from itself. The energy of the universe came into existence a finite period of time ago, supplied by an “ultramundane principle”. Likewise, Maxwell stated that the Second Law of Thermodynamics precludes an eternal cyclic universe believed to exist by Materialists since if the world had existed for an eternity, it would already have reached a state of equilibrium, and the universe is still very far from equilibrium. Thus, Maxwell used thermodynamics to argue that the universe is finite, and has not always existed. There is an impossibility of eternal motion.
James Clerk Maxwell and Peter Guthrie Tait (1831-1901), Scottish physicist and mathematician, by scientific logic were led to the conclusion that the visible universe was brought into existence by an intelligent agent residing in the unseen. These physicists believed that God had created the physical matter of the universe and had injected energy into the universe, thereby setting it in motion.
Engels like other Materialists saw the universe as cyclical – the belief in the eternal cycle of cause and effect without beginning and without end. Engels rejected the concept of irreversibility in the entropic running-down of the universe. In correspondence with Marx he stated that irreversibility was incompatible with Dialectical Materialism since this philosophy required eternal recurrence as a fundamental pattern of nature. In 1880 Engels declared that the Second Law of Thermodynamics was wrong (which, of course, it was not).
The investigations of James Clerk Maxwell and Max Planck during the 1870s into the physics of matter led to them establishing the permanence of matter. Maxwell’s observation of the uniformity and permanence of atoms and molecules inspired him to think that this strongly indicated that the smallest particles of matter were divinely created. Maxwell believed that the molecule is a “manufactured article” –manufactured by God. It is for this reason that Maxwell rejected any notion of ‘inorganic Darwinism’ (although biological Darwinism is a separate issue). Maxwell was a devout Evangelical Christian whose science inspired his faith as much as his faith inspired his science.
NB This knowledge helped inspire me with the notion of Nanocreation.
In 1900 Max Planck proposed the Quantum Theory of radiation. This theory revolutionized the scientific understanding of atomic and subatomic processes.
However, while Thomson, Tait and Maxwell believed that atoms came into existence through an act of creative power and then remained permanent, others took the permanence of elementary matter as an indication that matter was eternal and uncreated. Thus, from 1870 this argument was used to promote Materialism and Atheism.
William Thomson usually known as Lord Kelvin was clear that the laws of physics lead back in time to a limit – a point in time subject only to the will of a Creator. He commented, but did not publish his thoughts that what his research showed was that God alone could create or annihilate energy, and only He could reverse the transformations of energy in nature to build up life.
Lord Kelvin was one of the most revered physicists of the late 19th century, knighted for his discoveries which included finding absolute zero – this made his name into a measurement of temperature. In 1864 Thomson calculated by heating up balls of iron that the age of the earth was between 20 and 400 million years old. He said this was not old enough for evolution by natural selection to be possible. This led him to criticize Charles Darwin’s “vaguely vast age” for the earth. This brought down fierce opposition upon Lord Kelvin from Darwin’s supporter T. H. Huxley.
In the early 20th century entropic arguments which indicate the finitude of the universe were taken up by Catholic scientists and philosophers. It could be shown that the laws of entropy from thermodynamics could not be applied to an infinite universe and the idea of an infinity of celestial bodies was absurd. Thus, in accord with Catholic Tradition, Catholic philosophers asserted that true infinity is an attribute that belongs to God alone and therefore cannot be ascribed to the physical universe. The only absolute and uncaused being is God. A Catholic mathematician wrote, “God alone is infinite, outside him everything is finite” (Kragh 2008, page 83).
Catholics of the 20th century countered Atheists with the Entropic Creation argument which is as follows: given that we do not live in a high-entropic world, and assuming that the law of entropy is valid for the whole universe, entropy can only have been increasing for a finite period of time. This indicates that the universe had a beginning, and if it had a beginning it presumably originated in a creative act (Kragh 2008, page 1 and 211).
By this time Dialectical Materialism had become the official scientific dogma of the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution of 1917. One year before this – 1916 the Theory of General Relativity was published by Albert Einstein (1879-1955) who was from a German Jewish family.
Theory of General Relativity and the expanding universe
In the on-going argument between Theists and Atheist Materialists the Theory of General Relativity was a God-send. General Relativity introduced the concept of spacetime and the geometry of spacetime showed that the universe is expanding. Expansion means that the universe started smaller than it is now. It started expanding at a certain point in time – the universe had a beginning and was finite. This was the beginning of modern cosmology and the end of the Philosophy of Materialism in the West.
In the Soviet Union and Communist China (whose Revolution took place in 1949) belief in a universe infinite in extent and duration was upheld as an Atheist article of faith. Scientists there became dedicated to thinking up speculative cosmologies and using rhetoric to denounce developments in the capitalist West. Ideological constraints were finally loosened in Communist countries in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1927 Georges Lemaître, a Belgian Catholic priest and astronomer proposed that the universe had expanded from a primal atom. This was a finite model of the universe as Lemaître shared Catholic thinkers rejection of any actual infinite apart from God. By 1931 the expansion of the universe became generally accepted. This theory later became known as the Big Bang Theory.
In 1951 Pope Pius XII was able to proclaim in the address Un Ora that modern physics and astronomy point to the existence of a transcendent Creator – the Unmoved Mover. The Big Bang Theory was seen as support for Christian Theism. The Pope characterized the Big Bang as “the well-founded deduction as to the epoch when the cosmos came forth from the hands of the Creator.”
No more was heard of Materialism, although some people think it’s got something to do with shopping. The ascribing of infinity to nature did not die completely however. It is popular today to propose that there have been an infinite number of universes that have popped out of big bangs. This avoids the conclusion that there was a beginning in which the constants of physics were set so precisely that our universe appears to have been uniquely created. These theories collectively known as the Multiverse are highly speculative; they could be described as pure philosophy or fact-free science.
While modern cosmology put an end to the Philosophy of Materialism, the history of biology has followed its own path becoming dominated by the Philosophy of Naturalism. I will have to return to the 19th century to take up the story.
Design in creatures
David Hume (1711-1776) Scottish Enlightenment philosopher opposed the design argument of 18th century scientists and strove to found a naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis to human nature.
William Paley (1743-1805) Anglican clergyman apologist and academic rose up to counter naturalistic philosophies. He is famous for the watchmaker analogy as part of the divine designer argument in a book published in 1802. The natural theology Paley proposed was based on the teleological argument: complex functionality in nature with the traits of design is evidence for an intelligent creator.
The Bridgewater Treatises were another attempt to promote belief in Christianity with the design argument. Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater on his deathbed commissioned the writing of treatises to explore “the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation.” The treatises were published between 1833 and 1840 by eight Christian scientists each writing about their own field. Their object was to show the hand of God in the design of nature.
The examples given by those promoting the design argument aimed to demonstrate the wisdom of God in fitting each creature perfectly to its environment and to its function. They also showed that the physical environment was set up in an orderly way. For example, water is fit for its purpose of providing a medium for life.
The apologetics use of these examples was to show the folly of failing to recognize God’s hand in the way things are made. Ironically, however, each example was taken up by evolutionists to show that adaptation through processes of evolution had produced the fit between the creature and its habitat. Thus, what had been presented as design, was, in their view only apparent design.
Charles Darwin had received encouragement from one of the writers of the Bridgewater Treatises. While at Cambridge Darwin was encouraged by William Whewell. He quotes Whewell on science being founded on a natural theology of a creator establishing laws in the title pages of On the Origin of Species.
William Whewell (1794-1866) was an Anglican priest and scientist at Cambridge. He wrote the third Bridgewater Treatise on astronomy and general physics. One of Whewell’s main contributions was as a wordsmith – he coined the terms scientist, physicist, linguistics, catastrophism (the former view of geology) and uniformitarianism (the modern view of geology).
The X-Club and the Philosophy of Naturalism
The Philosophy of Naturalism was introduced into the field of biology by the activities of members of the X-Club which was founded in 1864 and continued its activities through to the 1890s. The members of the X-Club included Herbert Spencer already mentioned, evolutionary philosopher; William Kingdom Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and promoter of the Philosophy of Monism (see footnote); John Tyndall (1820-1893) Irish physicist and Materialist; Francis Galton (1822-1911) cousin to Charles Darwin, explorer and Eugenicist (see footnote); and Thomas H. Huxley (1825-1895) English biologist and tireless advocate of evolution.
Footnote: The Philosophy of Monism asserts that God and the universe are one. Pantheism is usually monistic. Belief in divine immanence aspires to humans finding contact with the divine being directly without the mediation of any institution. Contact with nature can be thought of as contact with the divine. By contrast traditional Christianity is dualistic with God and the created order viewed as being separate. In Classical Theism God is transcendent and the path to God is fraught with difficulties requiring mediation in the overcoming of sin.
Footnote: Eugenics: The term eugenics was coined by Galton in 1883. Eugenicists believed in the improvement of humans by selection of the more intelligent. Galton advocated selected marriages to produce a gifted race. Compulsory sterilization of the insane and retarded was promoted by eugenicists in the USA until 1970. Today genetic screening is an option for people who have genetic diseases in their background with embryos found to be carrying a genetic disease being aborted.
The X-Club members dedicated themselves to the recruitment of scientists to their scientific cause which was to make science into a profession and divorce it from the Church. (At this time the connection between universities such as Oxford and Cambridge and the Anglican Church was very close. Until the mid 19th century only Anglicans could attend these universities and daily worship in the college chapels was compulsory until the early 20th century). The result of X-Club activities meant that the clergymen amateur naturalists of the 19th century were soon no longer to be found.
In 1869 Thomas H. Huxley coined the word ‘agnostic’ meaning that one could know nothing of ultimate reality, whether spiritual or material. Agnostic has come to mean that a person does not know whether God exists or not. From there it is a small step to becoming an Atheist who denies the existence of God.
Huxley’s counterpart in Germany was Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) who promoted evolution and the Theory of Descent as an all-encompassing philosophical scheme that admitted no teleology, which is meaning or purpose in evolution. Haeckel reconstructed the human ancestral tree to demonstrate Man’s evolution from the lower animals supplying missing links where required.
Biology now became evolutionary biology with the application of Darwin’s ideas of Natural Selection. Huxley linked belief in evolution with belief in Scientific Naturalism. The main tenet of Naturalism is that everything that exists in the universe can be explained by natural processes guided by evolution. Naturalism is a philosophy since it proposes a definition of reality and this one excludes God.
This new philosophy overtook science as the members of the X-Club took up the presidencies and other leading roles in the Royal Society and other scientific associations in Britain.
After an initial negative reaction, Liberal Anglican clergymen reacted by accepting Darwin’s theory and accommodating the new ideas to their religious beliefs. The Reverend Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) a novelist and social reformer whole-heartedly accepted Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and promoted these ideas in the Church. Aubrey Moore (1848-1890), an Anglo-Catholic clergyman and curator of Botanical Gardens was one of the first Christian Darwinians. His influence got evolution accepted in the Church.
Frederick Temple (1821-1902) was present at the famous debate between Thomas Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce which took place in 1860. Temple welcomed evolution and the idea that “creatures could make themselves …..”. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1896 until his death.
William Inge (1860-1954), dean of St Paul’s Anglican cathedral between 1911 and 1934 promoted Liberal Anglicanism with Deism as the enemy. His aim was to encourage Christians to accept the Theory of Evolution, which although it looked like a foe, he deemed to be a friend.
In the realm of science, Inge advocated for an atemporal creation in the form of a continual dependence of creation upon God. In this way he avoided the creation of the world at a definite time in the past. He said that a beginning to the universe was a naive Deistic doctrine.
As noted before, the options are that you either believe in the brute fact of the existence of matter and that it has existed since eternity, or you believe in God, the Creator of matter and life. In this second case, it is God who has existed from eternity and at creation matter came into existence giving a beginning to time.
Some Christians, however, adopted the belief that God did not create matter at any point in time or before time, and therefore matter was created but is also eternally existent. This would mean that the universe is cyclical with no beginning and no end. If matter were eternal, then creation could be continuous. Hence, the belief in Continuous Creation is founded on the idea of the eternal universe. (This is not the Biblical view, however, as the Genesis account clearly states that God’s work of creation was completed and ceased when it was complete).
In order to found the idea of Continuous Creation and equate it with Evolution, it was necessary to do away with the early Christian founders of science who promoted the idea that God designed creatures with purpose, so that purpose could be transferred to the idea of Evolution. Thus, in the 20th century, liberal churchmen, looking back at the history of science dubbed all those with a belief in divine creation as Deists. They cut the tethers of the church to Creationism so that the church, like a ship, could sail the high seas of modernized science. The storms of the new Atheism got worse and constantly washed overboard more and more of what the church stood for.
Asthe church grappled with science and evolution the label Deist was applied to any physicist who believed that God had designed and created the universe; any chemist who noted that the properties of matter had been made perfect for life; and any biologist who saw the order given to creatures as a sign of intentional creation. Newton was called a Deist, Boyle was called a Semi-Deist and Linnaeus who believed that God created orders of plants was left alone because his system was useful.
Deist was used as a label of contempt by Anglicans. The Catholic Church threw Deists, heretics and Atheists all into the same bag without distinction. There were people happy to use this label for themselves – to denote an adherence to natural religion rather than to church dogma.
What the Deists of the 18th and 19th century actually had in common was that they conducted their experiments in science in accord with reason, and did not take revelation as a guide or the teaching of the church as a boundary. They were all free-thinkers, side-stepping church authorities to get their work published. They generally condemned excesses of religious asceticism or fanaticism. They chose religious tolerance and an exchange of ideas between people with diverse views.
The charge levelled at the so-called Deists was that because they believed that God created systems and that these systems now run without the need for any supernatural intervention (the Mechanical Philosophy), that God is no longer present to this world or active in it. Deist belief is characterized as God creating nature, then nature functioning like a machine, leaving God as distant, absent and no longer involved.
It is certainly true that in the writings of early modern scientists, God appears in the preface but does not appear again in the text of a scientific treatise. This is because the aim of these writings was to establish scientific facts, and not to discuss how this relates to theology.
What is clear is that God was present to these scientific thinkers in the inspiration phase of their work, so He was present to them personally. This does not tie in with the idea of belief in an absent God. Also, Deists did not form a Deist church or spirituality because they were members of the Anglican Church, some other Protestant church, Unitarian assembly or occasionally Catholics or Jews. They lived their personal faith in the context of established churches.
By the end of the 18th century Deism became the dominant religious attitude of intellectual, upper class Americans. The first three presidents of the United States held Deistic convictions. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) diplomat at the time of American independence and scientist working on electricity put forward Deistic views. The other two presidents were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
In America the original spirit of 18th century Deists remained alive, while in France Baron d’Holbach paraphrased English Deists leaving in their attacks against religious practices at the time, while editing out their desire to glorify God and their devotion to Jesus Christ. His purpose was to present them as Atheists doing secular science.
Likewise in Britain the label Deist was a way of putting down those who believed that creation had a beginning and was designed, so the church could modernize itself and become acceptable to secular society.
Darwin always insisted that Natural Selection merely produced a world in which those organisms which survived were better adapted than those which perished – nothing more. But when Theists took up the idea of Evolution by Natural Selection, they brought ‘meaning’ back in by believing that God guided Natural Selection according to His own purposes and that God had caused the evolution of mankind.
Despite the dominant Philosophy of Naturalism, science did not become the exclusive domain of Agnostics and Atheists. Some Theistic Evolutionists, as they became known, became prominent NeoDarwinists in the 20th century.
Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) Russian born, but later lived in the USA was a geneticist and evolutionary biologist. He attended the Eastern Orthodox Church and believed that God created through evolution. Dobzhansky was one of the main contributors to the formulation of The New Synthesis which combined evolution by Natural Selection with the laws of heredity discovered by Gregor Mendel an Austrian botanist and Catholic monk. Mendel had presented the results of his experiments with peas in the monastery garden at the Brünn Society for the Study of Natural Science, Moravia, later the Czech Republic in 1865.
The other contributors to The New Synthesis which was the foundation of NeoDarwinism in the 1920s and 1930s were Ronald Aylmer Fisher (1890-1962) British statistician and geneticist, professor of eugenics at University College, London; Sewall Green Wright (1889-1988) American geneticist; J. B. S. Haldane (1892-1964), a Marxist British biologist who lived in the USA; Julian Huxley (1887-1975) grandson of T.H. Huxley, biologist, eugenicist and Secular Humanist (see footnote); and John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) British evolutionary biologist and geneticist, member of the British Communist Party, he worked on Game Theory and the evolution of sex. The main work of these biologists was on population genetics and gene frequencies.
Footnote: Julian Huxley belonged to the British Eugenics Society, the British Humanist Association and the International Humanist and Ethical Union. These humanist groups believed that there should be a move away from a God-centred towards an Evolutionary-centred pattern.
The Cosmic Christ
Tension between the Philosophy of Naturalism and Christian belief was never far away. There have been diverse attempts at a resolution involving all sorts of concepts. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) a French Jesuit priest and palaeontologist proposed one of the most extraordinary.
Fr Teilhard de Chardin helped excavate Peking Man in China in the 1920s, and classify it as a part ape, part human before writing Le Phénomene Humain in 1938-40, published in 1955.
Teilhard de Chardin was a NeoDarwinist who believed in orthogenesis which is the belief that evolution is directional and goal-driven. He employed science in a global scheme in which the cosmos, life and human beings are part of an evolution depicted as an ascent toward higher consciousness. In this scheme Christ has a cosmic body that extends throughout the universe. The cosmic spiral flux of love-energy in the universe culminates at the end of time in the fulfilled universe detaching itself from its material matrix and in mystical ecstasy attaining the Omega point which is God.
These heights of evolutionary mysticism attracted a large following among Catholics, but did not find favour with the Pope. Several of Teilhard de Chardin’s books were censured by the Roman Holy Office (modern day equivalent of the Inquisition). However, Teilhard de Chardin’s writings became part of the general Catholic acceptance of evolution.
The official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church now accepts evolution in non-specified terms, but proclaims the direct creation by God of the human soul for each human being at the moment of conception.
New Age movements
Beliefs relating to a cosmic evolution towards a state of higher consciousness have become part of modern paganism.
Teilhard de Chardin’s spiritualization of evolution had a profound influence on the forming of New Age movements in the 1970s.
Cosmic evolution guided to its end by the Cosmic Christ changes Christ into a force rather than a person. It was only one small step to replace ‘Cosmic Christ’ with ‘Cosmic Energy’.
Life from non-life
In the second half of the 20th century theories started to appear to try to explain the origin of life. Since the Philosophy of Naturalism admits only natural causes as explanations, it was proposed that life arose from non-life by a process of natural selection in a Primeval Soup that supplied all the ingredients for life on the early earth. This theory was proposed by Alexander Oparin (1894-1980) of the Soviet Union and the Marxist J. B. S. Haldane, British biologist living in the USA. The concept of natural selection rather than being applied to physical traits belonging to an organism was now applied to the selection of organic molecules in a primeval sea as future components of cells.
This new extension of the concept transformed natural selection more than ever before from being conceived as a mechanism that modifies things, to being conceived as a force that brings things into being. The origin of life field has been characterized by more proof of non-feasibility than success in experiments to produce the complex organic molecules of life from their components. Experiments only ever produced some goo resembling over-cooked toffee; nothing ever crawled out of the test-tube – but most people don’t know this.
Therefore, when natural selection became the explanation for the origin of life and the existence of different life forms, in addition to explaining the modification of living organisms, it became a force more than a mechanism. As a force it has been attributed with the same creative power as God.
Western philosophy started out with God as the primary cause and natural processes as secondary causes. The idea of life coming from non-life conflates primary cause with secondary causes so they are one. What emerges is a return to pantheism.
Biblical Creationists stepped into the fray in the early 1960s when they recognized natural selection when viewed as a force is a spiritual stronghold. They put forward Creation Science or Scientific Creationism based on the ideas of George McCready Price (1870-1963) who was a Seventh Day Adventist. The aim of Creation Science was to prove that the first book of the Bible, Genesis, is literally true. Young Earth Creationism quickly dominated the Creationist scene due to the influence of Henry Morris. Young Earth Creationists believe that the earth and ‘heavens’ were created in six literal days or six periods of a thousand years. Under this theory, geological formations are explained by the effects of Noah’s Flood taken to be a worldwide flood. There ensued an on-going battle between Evangelical Creationists and Evolutionists.
Politically correct science
Creationists were met by a formidable enemy in the form of Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) American palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist. Described by the Encyclopedia Britannica as a polemicist, he sort out controversies wherever he could find them. By the 1990s Gould had published over a hundred articles in scientific journals and popular magazines on diverse scientific subjects, never failing to take a pot shot at Creationists and prove them wrong. Thus, the battle field was a good way of getting articles published. Everything he touched on became a question of ‘political correctness’ – God help you if you got on the wrong side of the PC argument.
S. J. Gould proposed ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ for science and religion. This just made religion irrelevant to any question being raised. He was raised in a secular Jewish household in the USA.
Therefore, part of the church rejected science and evolution as a form of idolatry that denies God. Another part of the church followed the Atheist NeoDarwinists wherever they led, but believed that chance only appears to be chance, but in fact, chance is non-random and so guided by God. The Papacy was well pleased with the Big Bang since they always knew there was a beginning to time, and said they’d leave the rest up to the experts, since only the meaning of human life matters anyway.
The Intelligent Design movement of the 1990s onwards took a subtler approach than Creationists. Intelligent Design theorists argue for the existence of a Designer on scientific grounds alone; they do not try to promote any defined interpretation of the Bible. Adherents of Intelligent Design include both Roman Catholics and Evangelicals so there is a wider appeal. However, the battle lines are drawn up with evolutionists of any persuasion.
Proponents of the design argument today include William Dembski (born in 1960) American mathematician, theologian, Baptist Church member; Michael Behe (born in 1952) American biochemist, Catholic; John Lennox (born in 1943) Ireland, mathematician, Protestant Christian apologist.
The New Atheism
Both Creationism and Intelligent Design are being opposed by vociferous Atheists many of whom follow the philosophical ideas put forward by Richard Dawkins, British biologist who was Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford between 1995 and 2008.
In his understanding of evolutionary biology, Dawkins attributes an independent existence to laws of nature such as natural selection apart from the organisms upon which natural selection acts. He uses subtle rhetoric to personify the evolutionary process. The Selfish Gene (1976) contains a (dubious) philosophy of genetics rather than any facts of genetics.
In The Blind Watchmaker (1986) Dawkins takes up the analogy put forward by William Paley in 1802 of a watch being designed by a watchmaker. He claims that apparent design can be produced by evolution just as easily as real design by the creator of any designed object or the observed design of creatures could be designed by God. If design simply results from blind processes there is no necessity to believe in God.
In his latest book The God Delusion (2006) Dawkins makes a construct of a religious way of thinking in order to knock it down. Dawkins has taken Atheism to the extreme of setting up science –as he conceives it –against all religions in general, but Christianity in particular. His followers have moved from Atheism to militant Atheism.
Recent Theistic Evolutionists
Alister McGrath (born 1953) Christian apologist – former Atheist, now an Evangelical Anglican took on Richard Dawkins. McGrath published a reply to Dawkin’s provocative book The God Delusion in The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine in 2007.
The watchword of Alister McGrath is ‘consonance’: there is a harmony between belief in the God of the Bible and what modern science has ascertained about the traits of the physical universe in recent research. Alister McGrath shows that observations of the Fine-Tuning of the universe can open the mind to the rational God of revelation.
Fine-Tuning rests on recent observations made in physics that the value of certain free parameters in physics – the fundamental physical constants – are highly improbable. These constants have caused the universe to produce stable matter, and matter that could become the components of life. It is as if the universe were made to contain life.
The first person to be knocked back by Fine-Tuning was an Atheist doing research into the origin of the elements, thought to be formed within stars. Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) astronomer specializing in stellar nucleosynthesis predicted an energy level in the carbon atom. This specific energy level would allow carbon to form in stars, (and it would also prevent carbon from disintegrating into another element). The energy level was found. Why would this be the case if everything evolved randomly through chance?
In 1981 Fred Hoyle wrote “Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom ….. a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.” In 1984 Fred Hoyle wrote about carbon-based life in The Intelligent Universe. His belief was that life came to earth from space having been created by aliens as there is no way it could have evolved on earth.
The laws of physics which are regularities are based on constants that have specific values – only an intelligence with a purpose in mind could decide upon those values. The person to define these is also an Atheist. Martin Rees (born in 1942) Astronomer Royal, formulates the fine-tuning of the universe in terms of six dimensionless physical constants:
- the ratio of the electromagnetic force to the gravitational force which affects protons and the duration of the universe
- strength of the strong nuclear force which affects the conversion of hydrogen into helium
- omega the critical density of the universe affecting its expansion
- lambda or the cosmological constant, the vacuum energy of space
- Q, the gravitational energy that affects the formation of stars
- D, that there are three spatial dimensions of spacetime
A new form of Providence
Another prominent Theistic Evolutionist is Denis Alexander (born 1945). He is a molecular biologist and Baptist. He writes about biological evolution with the view that evolution is simply the method that God has chosen to create living things. Alexander quotes
Aubrey Moore “For the Christian theologian the facts of nature are the acts of God.” (Alexander 2008, page 172).
Alexander suggests that Evangelical Christians should baptize evolution into their Christian world-view and cease to view it as a sinister intruder. It is the process that God has chosen, by His sovereign will, to bring into being all the amazing biological diversity in the natural world (Alexander 2008, pages 181-182). He puts forward the view in an analysis of Biblical texts that a Biblical Doctrine of Creation is mostly not about origins, but about God providing for His creatures on a daily basis and sustaining creation through Providence.
Providence is the truly ancient concept of God in which God causes everything to happen by direct fiat. The ancients believed that God or the gods caused the Sun to rise on the horizon and set in the evening by pushing it up or pulling it down. In this vision God is constantly at work, ceaselessly making natural phenomena happen in a positive way when pleased and a destructive way when angry and full of wrath for the sins of humanity.
The new application is that God’s providential purposes and handiwork is to be traced throughout the long evolutionary process (Alexander 2008, page 181).
This new Creation Theology is associated with the concept of the immanence of God, rather than the traditional Christian view of God being transcendent. In the view of Denis Alexander an immanent God is a God who is intimately involved in continued creative activity in relation to the universe through evolution. “If the immanence of God in the created order means anything, then it means God’s working through all the processes of the evolutionary process without exception, …..” (Alexander 2008, page 187).
The traditional definition of God being immanent was that you could know God through contact with nature as God was in everything. The new use of the term is that God is busy evolving everything. In this way there is a type of God-evolution force continuously causing things to come into being.
(The Bible itself teaches that contact with God comes through His Holy Spirit in a person to person relationship although God’s handiwork may be admired in nature).
The becoming of creatures that make themselves
John Polkinghorne (1930-2021) Anglican vicar and physicist, scientist-theologian
was a much-loved and celebrated speaker at science-faith conferences.
In the thinking of John Polkinghorne the universe had no temporal beginning. In his revised natural theology Creatio ex nihilo means that the universe is rescued from nothingness and held in being at all times. In Creatio continua the work of the Creator in the mode of divine immanence means that God is present in the evolutionary process as the source of its fruitfulness. He claimed that creation is not about temporal origin, but about ontological origin – the question of why it exists, not how it exists.
John Polkinghorne followed Charles Kingsley and Frederick Temple (liberal Anglicans mentioned earlier) in saying that the right theological way to think was that while God could no doubt have produced a ready-made creation, the Creator had chosen to do something cleverer than that in making a world in which ‘creatures could make themselves.” (2009, page 169).
His evolutionary thinking was that “Evolutionary process is the shuffling exploration of potentiality, as creation’s inherent fruitfulness is brought to birth through creaturely happenstance.” (2009, page 169).
Commenting on the phrase ‘chance and necessity’ (Concept of Jacques Monod (1910-1976), Fench biochemist in Chance and Necessity 1971) Polkinghorne wrote that chance – historical contingency is God’s gift to creation of the power to make itself; lawful necessity is God’s gift of dependability. Fruitfulness and frustration are both consequences of the resulting interplay.” (1998, page 95). In a world in which creatures ‘make themselves’ there is both great good and an inescapable shadow side.
The most original idea he puts forward relates to the new creation at the end of time. Polkinghorne writes in The God of Hope and the End of the World (2002, page 116) that Christ’s resurrected body implies that the new creation does not arise from a radically novel creative act ex nihilo, but as a redemptive act ex vetere, out of the old.”
A consequence of this understanding is that it clearly establishes the value of the old creation, since it affords the raw material for eschatological transformation into the new creation. What this means is that the becoming of this world is relevant to the next world ruled by God.
John Polkinghorne was conscious of the pit-falls of this way of doing science and doing Christianity as he pointed out in 1998 (page 77). “that the task is to accept the scientific story at its own level but to propose an alternative meta-interpretation of that story, read out from the belief that behind it lie the creative purposes of God.” He warned that the concept of continuous creation should not merely be a pious gloss imposed on a natural evolutionary story. That is not good enough, he writes. But isn’t metaphysics just gloss? Let’s see what others say.
Graeme Finlay another contributor to the journal of Christians in Science (CiS) called Science & Christian Belief writes in 2004:
“Scientific explanations relate to mechanism; theological explanations to agency and purpose. This is why it has been said that, to the theist, God is the cause of everything, but scientifically the explanation of nothing.” (Finlay 2004 page 7).
God of the gaps
Theistic Evolutionists are very keen to avoid the charge of believing in a ‘God of the gaps’. This means using God to explain the things that science has not yet explained. The gaps are gaps in NeoDarwinist theory.
The argument is that if you propose that God guides evolution in a real and tangible way, when science advances sufficiently to fill the gap in understanding, God gets pushed out. To avoid this problem Theistic Evolutionists claim that creation is a ‘seamless whole’ requiring no intervention by God.
Thus, creation is entirely metaphysical and has no real element to it at all. This is supposed to remove the fear of God being squeezed out.
Relocation of causes
Whereas for Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) the Catholic philosopher of natural theology,God was the primary cause and natural processes were secondary causes, Theistic Evolutionists have transferred God to being the final cause alone.
Theistic Evolutionists in the 19th century introduced final causes into science. This is the belief that evolution is guided by the final cause which is God’s overall purpose. God’s overall purpose in their minds was that Man would evolve from animals.
This view has now been replaced by God’s knowledge that evolution through emergent properties and constraint will produce the right overall result – human beings were bound to evolve in any case. Thus, God’s foreknowledge is the final cause, and all intermediate causes are purely material in what things are made of and efficient in the immediate causes that produced them.
“Science describes material and efficient causes. These address the physical conditions and mechanistic processes which give rise to all the phenomena in the world: from subatomic particles to galaxies; from minerals to living things. Theology sees beyond this physical network: to final causes, which arise in the minds of God and of people.” (Finlay, 2004, page 7).
In the 1990s an intrinsic unpredictability was found in the quantum world of subatomic particles. Chaos Theory was also formulated.
Maybe there was not causal closure in physical processes. Maybe this meant that divine interaction with the world was possible after all. Could God guide a physical process?
The philosophical version of Quantum Mechanics, the Uncertainty Principle, and Chaos Theory appeared to give God a foothold as an unseen agent. There was the possibility of divine intervention in the course of unfolding Continuous Creation by God acting at the quantum level. God could be active in fruitful potentiality in an evolving universe if He subtly flipped subatomic particles in an unseen way.
The immanence of God giving evolutionary direction by mysteriously guiding random events through quantum effects or constraints was appealing to some, and totally dismissed by others.
Evangelicals who took up belief in evolution were bothered that Creationists monopolized the term ‘creation’ so some changed the label ‘Theistic Evolutionist’ to ‘Evolutionary Creationist’. But it signifies exactly the same thing.
Fine-Tuning is very popular as it gives the universe the potentiality to produce life, but absolutely nobody would say that the matter able to become part of life was made by God, nor would they say how this material turns into life.
Theistic Evolutionists took the line of attacking ‘Deists’ for their belief in a divine creation at a point in time. The advantage of this was that all the Deists of the 17th and 18th century were dead so they couldn’t answer back. Anyone who understands science and puts forward a belief in actual creation gets the ‘D word’ – this means if you believe in creation, you are not a proper Christian, but a dreaded Deist.
There is some irony that the God of Deists was reputed to be so absent, but the God of Theistic Evolutionists is far more aloof having no interaction with created things at any point in time, not even in their origin.
There’s also the other ‘D word’: Dualist. If you believe that individual humans have souls and that mind is different to matter, that makes you a dualist, and this is very intellectually unfashionable. To compound the problem, the Catholics brought back use of the word ‘my soul shall be healed’ as a response in mass in 2010. This emphasizes the fact that the Roman Catholic Church does not do ‘fashionable’; they hang on to the traditional belief in a soul.
Evolutionary Creation is glossy compared to other alternatives, but it is gloss. Under the surface of the gloss is secular, atheist scientific theory. Much of this theory is sinking into chaos as esoteric forces take over.
Summary and recap
In this article we have covered the founding of universities starting in the 12th century and the discussions between Orthodox Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Latin philosophers concerning the nature of reality. Learning was based on the rediscovery of Greek philosophy preserved by Byzantine Orthodox Christian scholars from where it passed to the Islamic world and then the Latin world of Catholic Christianity.
Historical movements led towards the Protestant Reformation and Catholic counter-reformation of the 16th century.
There had been proper attempts at scientific reflection and scientific observation during the medieval period of the 13th and 14th centuries, but these had not flourished within the world of medieval symbolism.
The well-known thesis that the Protestant Reformation was the precondition for the development of modern science is borne out. The new society provided an opening for new ideas. The Christian search for truth of devout Bible-reading Protestants led to the first expressions of modern science as a search for true knowledge of the created world.
The first scientists brought astronomy out of astrology in the 15th and 16th century; the Mechanical Philosophy became the corner-stone of science in the 17th century; and laws of nature became the language of scientific understanding in the 18th century.
The founding fathers of astronomy, physics and chemistry did science to glorify God the Creator. They were later called Deists as a derogatory term.
Life forms were classified in natural classifications showing the relationships between things, giving rise to the question: what were the units of creation, and to what degree can living things become changed through time? It was well-known that mankind could produce varieties of domestic animals and garden plants. Linnaeus identified orders of plants as the units of creation.
Earth sciences such as geology, palaeontology and biology started in the early 19th century as further ways to explore the wisdom of God. Creatures were seen as designed and purposefully fitted to their functions in nature. But the newly discovered dimension of deep time was now exercising the minds of thinkers.
Various types of Progressive Creationism were proposed to accompany Catastrophism in geology – which showed that various mass extinctions of life on earth had occurred. Other geologists proposed that rock strata accumulated very gradually over vast amounts of time.
Evolution was in the air when Darwin proposed that it occurred through natural selection in 1859.
From the mid-19th century the history of physics and astronomy takes one line, while the history of biology and earth sciences takes another line.
The Philosophy of Materialism and its universe of eternal matter was defeated first by the science of thermodynamics with its concept of entropy which shows that the universe had a beginning. Secondly, the Philosophy of Materialism was defeated in the 20th century with the Theory of General Relativity showing that the universe is expanding – which also shows that it had a beginning.
Materialism was banished from Western science, but upheld in Soviet Union science. Materialism then returned to physics under the guise of the Multiverse – an infinite series of universes popping up simultaneously or consecutively. This is pure philosophy, not evidence-based science. It’s sister philosophy is the Anthropic Principle that says we are here because we just happen to live in the universe that contains life – by definition – if we didn’t we wouldn’t be here discussing it.
In the second half of the 19th century biology became increasingly dominated by the Philosophy of Naturalism promoted by X-Club members led by T. H. Huxley. Their project was successful in secularizing science.
In the 20th century the church in crisis took the line of compromise with secularism – liberal Anglicans took on evolution as a form of continuous creation such that evolution became God’s method of creation.
By the 1950s Marxist biologists brought the additional idea that natural selection could bring life from non-life. No known law of chemistry could explain this. At this point natural selection was no longer a mechanism for modifying existing life forms and producing new species, but a force bringing life itself into existence.
Many Catholic and Anglican Christians then went for the Cosmic Christ where the Christ is the god of the evolutionary force.
Evangelical Christians opposed the whole ‘science of evolution’ project in the 1960s onwards with Biblical Creationism based on a literal reading of Genesis. Some Creationists later became followers of Intelligent Design.
Meanwhile other Christians who were Theistic Evolutionists found acceptance in the secular scientific community. They made contributions to NeoDarwinism and the New Synthesis which is Darwinian natural selection combined with the science of genetics, and studies in population genetics.
Biblical Creationists became ‘fair game’ for any Atheists promoting themselves in science. Theistic Evolutionists then came under attack themselves from militant Atheists trying to prove the total irrelevance of God with the idea that science is the only source of truth.
The present day is probably seen in too much detail to be able to draw any real conclusions out of it. It’s quite hard to end a history in the present day – we only know what happened by what came next – but none of us know what is coming next. Thus, my history of science and faith is left hanging – suspended between heaven and hell, awaiting salvation of some sort.
Conclusion on the thesis that science is born of faith
Scientific theory does indeed often appear to spring from an internal dialogue of science with faith on the part of the thinker. I think my thesis that science is born of faith is upheld. Debate is also certainly necessary as the ‘sounding board’ to ideas.
It is also the case that people who once had a faith can turn against it and take up science instead of faith. Atheism needs Theism as the thing to fight against – kicking a void would not be a sane thing to do. Theism must be something, and not nothing if you can oppose it.
Many Christians work in science today. They have adopted Methodological Naturalism to get by. This means that all the methods used by science are purely material, but the personal meaning attributed to science as an activity is theistic – Christians in science often feel they have a God-given vocation.
There are no more prefaces to scientific books praising the wisdom of the Creator; science done to the glory of God in the past, is now done to the triumph of secularism.
Much of science today entails analysis of data to establish facts, but I do feel that Christians are being swept along with scientific theories which underneath have an Atheist agenda. This puts Christians in survival mode.
Thomas Aquinas and those who followed him before the Reformation located God in metaphysics as Creator and in physics as Creator. It was one meaningful whole. After the Reformation and with the rise of the Mechanical Philosophy investigation into the working of things changed the focus, but in fact, made the light of faith shine stronger as the intricacies of nature revealed the mind of God.
Evolution swept away meaning traditionally attributed by Theists to the world around them – nature ceased to be seen as the handiwork of God and became the realm of blind forces.
(NB Evolution is, in fact, various concepts – which I discuss elsewhere. There are both valid and invalid views of evolution).
Faith set the ball rolling that would give rise to modern science, but now modern science, set free from church, has set itself up to extinguish faith. It is now being positioned as the object of faith. Christians certainly have a future in science, but the path is not an easy one under the present secular conditions.
Breaking the link to God in the genesis of what exists, is to break free from logic itself. Science cut from the tethers of the Word now floats free on the sea of uncertainty, the indeterminate and ill-defined.
True science springs from faith and always has done. Today there is a large amount of error. However, it is my belief that despite everything and often outright opposition, all paths eventually return to God Creator of both the matter of the universe and the life within it.
Agassiz, Louis (1874) Evolution and Permanence of Type. The Atlantic Monthly Pages 92-101. www.Sacklunch.net/old books/AGASSIZ.HTM
Alexander, Denis (2008) Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? Monarch Books
Davis, Edward B. (2007) Robert Boyle’s Religious Life, Attitudes, and Vocation Science & Christian Belief Vol. 19 (2) October 2007, pages 117-138.
Descartes, René (1637) Discourse on Method and The Meditations Penguin Classics Translation and introduction by F. E. Sutcliffe (1968).
Finlay, Graeme (2004) Evolving Creation Telos Books New Zealand
Harrison, Peter (2009) The Bible, Protestantism and the Rise of Natural Science: A Rejoinder Science and Christian Belief Vol. 21 (2) Oct 2009, pages 155-162.
Harrison, Peter (1998) The Bible, Protestantism and the Rise of Natural Science Cambridge University Press
Kragh Helge S (2008) Entropic Creation: Religious Contexts of Thermodynamics and Cosmology Ashgate Publishing Ltd
Polkinghorne, John (1998) Science and Theology: an Introduction Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), London, Britain; Fortress Press North America.
Polkinghorne, John (2002) The God of Hope and the End of the World SPCK
Polkinghorne, John (2009) Scripture and an Evolving Creation Science and Christian Belief Vol. 21 (2) Oct 2009, pages 163-173.
Stearn, W. T. (1957) Carl Linnaeus Species Plantarum: A Facsimile of the first edition 1753 Volume 1 with an Introduction by W. T. Stearn. The Ray Society, London.
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre (1955) Le Phénomène Humain
The Phenomenon of Man (1959) Harper and Row
(Reprints Harper Perennial 1976, 2008).
Encyclopedia Britannica 2011 Standard Edition: Agassiz, (Jean) Louis (Rodolphe); Aquinas, Thomas, Saint; Aristotle; Aristotelianism; Astronomical observatory; Atomism; Averroës; Avicenna; Bacon, Francis, Viscount Saint Alban (or Albans), Baron of Verulam; Bacon, Roger; Boltzmann, Ludwig Eduard; Boyle, Robert; Brahe, Tycho; Byzantine Empire; Cambridge, University of; Chambers, Robert; Copernicus, Nicolaus; Counter-Reformation; Crusades; Cuvier, Georges Baron; Deism; Descartes, René; Engels, Friedrich; Eugenics; Faraday, Michael; Fisher, Sir Ronald Ayler; Galileo; Galton, Sir Francis; Ghazali, al-; Gould, Stephen Jay; Gregorian calendar; Hooke, Robert; Hutton, James; Huxley, Sir Julian (Sorell); Huxley, T.H.; Id al-Fitr; Indulgence; Industrial Revolution; Islam; Joule, James Prescott; Judaism; Kepler, Johannes; Kingsley, Charles; Luther, Martin; Maimonides, Moses; Maxwell, James Clerk; Newton, Sir Isaac; Ninety-five Theses; Owen, Sir Richard; Oxford, University of; Pantheism; philosophy, Western; Photius, Saint; Planck, Max; Plato; Reformation; Renaissance; Royal Society; Spencer, Herbert; Syria; Tait, Peter Guthrie; Tyndall, John; University; Uraniborg; Western philosophy; Witchcraft.
Alister McGrath; Aristotle; Bridgewater treatises; Cartesianism; Charles Babbage; David Hume; Denis Alexander; Isaac Albalag; John Wycliffe; Library of Alexandria; Michael Behe; Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; Plato; René Descartes; Richard Dawkins; Socrates; William A. Dembski; William Paley; William Whewell
This article was written by Clare V Merry in 2012 with additions over a number of years, edited in July 2021 to put on the website.