A brief history of fake atheist history.
Whether or not there exists such a thing as “fake news” (as Donald Trump suggests), there definitely exists such a thing as fake history. One particularly pernicious piece of fake history is the story that there exists a conflict between science and Christianity. This core tenet of atheist propaganda is perpetuated on the internet by the uninformed, and those with an atheistic agenda, but is not taken even the least bit seriously by legitimate scholars. Possibly the easiest way to realize that this alleged conflict does not exist is to recognize that both Oxford and Cambridge Universities have established institutes for the study of the interaction between science and religion in recent years. This is reflective of the increasingly rich and flourishing dialogue on this subject matter. Oxford University established the, and Cambridge University established the . Cambridge University historian of science Colin Russell harshly corrects those who hold the mistaken view that an alleged conflict actually exits:
“The common belief that the actual relations between religion and science over the last few centuries have been marked by deep and enduring hostility is not only historically inaccurate, but actually a caricature so grotesque that what needs to be explained is how it could possibly have achieved any degree of respectability.”
(C. A. Russell, “The Conflict Metaphor and Its Social Origins,” Science and Christian Belief, 1 (1989), 3-26.)
Without Christianity, there would be no science
Christian beliefs are often ridiculed by skeptics of Christianity as unscientific. But the problem with this stance is that science itself is a product of Christian beliefs. In point of fact, without Christianity, there would be no science. As I cite him in Without Christianity, There Would be no Science, Cambridge University historian of science Ronald Numbers writes:
“Generations of historians and sociologists have discovered many ways in which Christians, Christian beliefs, and Christian institutions played crucial roles in fashioning the tenets, methods, and institutions of what in time became modern science. They found that some forms of Christianity provided the motivation to study nature systematically; sociologist Robert Merton, for example, argued seventy years ago that Puritan belief and practice spurred seventeenth-century century Englishmen to embrace science. Scholars still debate what Merton got right and what he got wrong, and in the intervening years they have drawn a far more detailed portrait of the varied nature of the religious impetus to study nature.”
“Although they disagree about nuances, today almost all historians agree that Christianity (Catholicism as well as Protestantism) moved many early-modern intellectuals to study nature systematically. Historians have also found that notions borrowed from Christian belief found their ways into scientific discourse, with glorious results; the very notion that nature is lawful, some scholars argue, was borrowed from Christian theology.”
(Efron, N. 2010. Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion. p. 80.)
Philosopher William Lane Craig elaborates on the history of the fake history which underpins the widespread cultural belief that there exists a conflict between science and Christianity. As Craig notes, this falsehood has been “carefully nurtured by secular thinkers who had as their aim the undermining of the cultural dominance of Christianity in the West”:
Back in 1896 the president of Cornell University Andrew Dickson White published a book entitled A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. Under White’s influence, the metaphor of “warfare” to describe the relations between science and the Christian faith became very widespread during the first half of the 20th century. The culturally dominant view in the West—even among Christians—came to be that science and Christianity are not allies in the search for truth, but adversaries.
What has happened, however, in the second half of this century is that historians and philosophers of science have come to realize that this supposed history of warfare is a myth. As Thaxton and Pearcey point out in their recent book The Soul of Science, for over 300 years between the rise of modern science in the 1500’s and the late 1800s the relationship between science and religion can best be described as an alliance. Up until the late 19th century, scientists were typically Christian believers who saw no conflict between their science and their faith—people like Kepler, Boyle, Maxwell, Faraday, Kelvin, and others. The idea of a warfare between science and religion is a relatively recent invention of the late 19th century, carefully nurtured by secular thinkers who had as their aim the undermining of the cultural dominance of Christianity in the West and its replacement by naturalism—the view that nothing outside nature is real and the only way to discover truth is through science. They were remarkably successful in pushing through their agenda. But philosophers of science during the second half of the 20th century have come to realize that the idea of a warfare between science and theology is a gross oversimplification. White’s book is now regarded as something of a bad joke, a one-sided and distorted piece of propaganda.
Concepts with Christian origins are necessary for the conduct of science
Regarding historian Ronald Numbers’ above comments about the lawfulness of nature, please recall that the purpose of the scientific method is to discover regular, repeatable, and predictable (law-like) patterns in nature, such as the laws of physics, chemistry, and thermodynamics. This is why the scientific method demands that experiments be repeatable. Only a worldview which perceives nature as conforming to laws could give birth to the scientific method.
The Christian worldview declares that nature follows the laws instituted by God. As Robert Boyle, the founder of modern chemistry (and a Christian), put it: “The nature of this or that body is but the law of God prescribed to it [and] to speak properly, a law [is] but a notional rule of acting according to the declared will of a superior.” Or, as James Joule, the propounder of the first law of thermodynamics (also a Christian), put it: “It is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.” Or, as Sir Isaac Newton put it in what is widely regarded to be the most important scientific work of all time, The Principia:
“Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and everywhere, could produce no variety of things. All that diversity of natural things which we find suited to different times and places could arise from nothing but the ideas and will of a Being, necessarily existing.”
What answer does atheism provide to the question of how an inanimate thing can be compelled to follow a law (or “regularity,” or whatever term one prefers)? Only various versions of “matter follows laws because it just does.” But it just does is not an explanation. Rather, it is a fatal explanatory failure. Christian apologist Nancy Pearcey correctly characterizes the tendency of atheists to concoct just-so explanations as “just-so storytelling.”
And the stance that Christian belief is a necessary ingredient for science is not limited to historians of science. Prominent scientists have also taken notice of this truth. Indeed, the very person credited with establishing the scientific method, the 17th century scientist and philosopher of science Sir Francis Bacon, was himself a Christian. Bacon wrote:
“It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy brings about man’s mind to religion: for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.”
(Sylva Sylvarum Century X (1627))
Similarly, physicist Paul Davies, winner of the 2001 Kelvin Medal issued by the Institute of Physics and the winner of the 2002 Faraday Prize issued by the Royal Society (amongst other awards), writes:
“People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature–the laws of physics–are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they came from; at least they do not do so in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least partly comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.”
(, Paul Davies’ Templeton Prize address, August 1995)
There can be no doubt: Atheism is quite fashionable in current day academia. But, as Davies elucidates above, even a hardened atheist scientist must borrow elements of Judeo-Christian theology in order to perform science. As discussed above, how can the atheist worldview explain why matter so consistently follows natural laws? In short, atheism cannot explain this orderliness of the universe, but rather, must merely assume it to be a brute fact. But to accept brute facts without explanation is, well…brutish. Biochemist Melvin Calvin, winner of the 1961 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of the Calvin Cycle, echoes Davies’ above points:
“As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion . . . enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely, that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science.”
(Melvin Calvin (1969), Chemical Evolution (pg. 258))
Peter Harrison, former Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University, corrects popular misconceptions about a so-called conflict between Christianity and science, and elaborates on the historical fact that Christianity has been crucial to science, in his essay Christianity and the Rise of Western Science:
There are contemporary controversies about evolution and creation, for example, which are thought to typify past relations between science and religion. This view is reinforced by popular accounts of such historical episodes as the Condemnation of Galileo, which saw the Catholic Church censure Galileo for teaching that the earth revolved around the sun.
Adding further credence to this view of history are a few recent outspoken critics of religion who vociferously contend that religious faith is incompatible with a scientific outlook, and that this has always been the case.
In spite of this widespread view on the historical relations between science and religion, historians of science have long known that religious factors played a significantly positive role in the emergence and persistence of modern science in the West. Not only were many of the key figures in the rise of science individuals with sincere religious commitments, but the new approaches to nature that they pioneered were underpinned in various ways by religious assumptions.
The idea, first proposed in the seventeenth century, that nature was governed by mathematical laws, was directly informed by theological considerations. The move towards offering mechanical explanations in physics also owed much to a particular religious perspective.
The adoption of more literal approaches to the interpretation of the bible, usually assumed to have been an impediment to science, also had an important, in indirect, role in these developments, promoting a non-symbolic and utilitarian understanding of the natural world which was conducive to the scientific approach.
Finally, religion also provided social sanctions for the pursuit of science, ensuring that it would become a permanent and central feature of the culture of the modern West.
Fake atheist history surrounding the Galileo affair must be corrected
“Hold it,” I can almost hear atheist readers of this post shouting, “The church’s suppression of Galileo’s scientific insights show that Christianity was a hinderance to science!!” This, however, is another widely held historical misconception. Oxford University mathematician John Lennox corrects the fake history surrounding the Galileo affair in his article Can You be a Scientist and Believe in God?:
“But wasn’t Galileo persecuted by the church?” asked another member of my Siberian audience. “Surely that shows there is no concord between science and faith in God.”
In my reply, I pointed out that Galileo was actually a firm believer in God and the Bible and remained so all of his life. He once said that “the laws of nature are written by the hand of God in the language of mathematics” and that the “human mind is a work of God and one of the most excellent.”
Furthermore, the popular, simplistic version of this story has been massaged to support an atheist worldview. In reality, Galileo initially enjoyed a great deal of support from religious people. The astronomers of the powerful Jesuit educational institution, the Collegio Romano, initially endorsed his astronomical work and fêted him for it. However, he was vigorously opposed by secular philosophers who were enraged at his criticism of Aristotle.
This was bound to cause trouble; however, let me emphasize, not at first with the church. In his famous “Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina” (1615), Galileo claimed that it was the academic professors who were so opposed to him that were trying to influence the church authorities to speak out against him. The issue at stake for the academics was clear: Galileo’s scientific arguments were threatening the all-pervading Aristotelianism of the academy.
In the spirit of developing modern science, Galileo wanted to decide theories of the universe on the basis of evidence, not on arguments based on an appeal to the current ruling theories in general and the authority of Aristotle in particular. Galileo looked at the universe through his telescope, and what he saw left some of Aristotle’s major astronomical speculations in tatters. Galileo observed sunspots, which blemished the face of what Aristotle taught was a “perfect sun.” In 1604 Galileo saw a supernova, which called into question Aristotle’s view that the heavens were unchanging—“immutable.”
For those still reluctant to accept that science is a Christian creation, here is a list of just a few of the many devout Christians who are/were absolutely crucial scientific contributors:
1) Sir Joseph J. Thomson, the founder of atomic physics.
2) Max Planck, the founder of quantum physics.
3) Sir Isaac Newton, who requires no introduction.
4) Gregor Mendel, the founder of modern genetics.
5) James Clerk Maxwell, the founder of classical electromagnetic theory (whose contributions to science are regarded to be of the same magnitude as those of Newton and Einstein).
6) Louis Pasteur, the founder of microbiology and immunology.
7) Robert Boyle, the founder of modern chemistry.
8) Allan Sandage, the father of modern astronomy.
9) Wehner von Braun, the founder of space science.
10) John Ray, the English naturalist who is regarded by many to be the founder of modern biology.
11) Werner Heisenberg, the founder of quantum mechanics (which is absolutely crucial to modern science).
12) Michael Faraday, the British scientist who made crucial contributions to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry.
13) Alexander Fleming, the Nobel Prize-winning British bacteriologist who discovered the life-saving antibiotic penicillin.
14) Sir Francis Bacon, the 17th century scientist and philosopher of science who is credited with discovering and popularizing the scientific method, whereby the laws of science are discovered by gathering and analyzing data from experiments and observations.
15) Ernest Walton, who won the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics for his “atom smashing” experiments done at Cambridge University in the early 1930s, and so became the first person in history to artificially split the atom.
16) James Joule, propounder of the first law of thermodynamics (on the conservation of energy). He also made important contributions to the kinetic theory of gases. The unit of heat known as the “Joule” is named after him.
17) Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, the eminent English astronomer, physicist and mathematician known for his groundbreaking research in astrophysics. Eddington was the first person to investigate the motion, internal structure and evolution of stars, and is widely regarded to be one of the greatest astronomers of all time.
18) Charles Babbage, the mathematician and inventor considered to be “the father of the computer” for his invention of the first computer.
Citations from the above mentioned individuals appear below, as excerpted from Quotes About God to Consider…If You Think Science Leads to Atheism
“As we conquer peak after peak we see in front of us regions full of interest and beauty, but we do not see our goal, we do not see the horizon; in the distance tower still higher peaks, which will yield to those who ascend them still wider prospects, and deepen the feeling, the truth of which is emphasized by every advance in science, that ‘Great are the Works of the Lord’.”
—Sir Joseph J. Thomson, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who is recognized as the founder of atomic physics. Thomson was a devout Christian.
(In Presidential Address to the British Association, as quoted in Arthur L. Foley, ‘Recent Developments in Physical Science, The Popular Science Monthly (1910), 456)
“Both religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations… To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view.”
“There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other. Every serious and reflective person realizes, I think, that the religious element in his nature must be recognized and cultivated if all the powers of the human soul are to act together in perfect balance and harmony. And indeed it was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls.”
—Max Planck, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who made the crucial scientific contribution of founding quantum physics. Planck was a devout Christian and a member of the Lutheran Church in Germany.
(Religion and Natural Science (Lecture Given 1937) Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. F. Gaynor (New York, 1949), pp. 184)
“Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and everywhere, could produce no variety of things. All that diversity of natural things which we find suited to different times and places could arise from nothing but the ideas and will of a Being, necessarily existing.”
—Sir Isaac Newton, who is widely regarded to have been the greatest scientist of all time, as cited in Principia Mathematica, which is widely regarded to be the most important scientific work of all time. Newton was a devout Christian.
“Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection in various forms. He appeared to Mary Magdalene so that they might take him for a gardener. Very ingeniously these manifestation of Jesus is to our minds difficult to penetrate. (He appears) as a gardener. The gardener plants seedlings in prepared soil. The soil must exert a physical and chemical influence so that the seed of the plant can grow. Yet this is not sufficient. The warmth and light of the sun must be added, together with rain, in order that growth may result. The seed of supernatural life, of sanctifying grace, cleanses from sin, so preparing the soul of man, and man must seek to preserve this life by his good works. He still needs the supernatural food, the body of the Lord, which received continually, develops and brings to completion of the life. So natural and supernatural must unite to the realization of the holiness to the people. Man must contribute his minimum work of toil, and God gives the growth. Truly, the seed, the talent, the grace of God is there, and man has simply to work, take the seeds to bring them to the bankers. So that we “may have life, and abundantly.”
—Gregor Mendel, who is regarded as “the father of modern genetics,” partly due to his pioneering work on plant hybridization. Mendel was also an Augustinian friar (Catholic priest). The above is an excerpt from an Easter sermon which he delivered. The text is undated, but it was delivered in a moment after he became an abbot in 1867. The excerpt is found in Folia Mendeliana (1966), Volume 1, by Moravian Museum in Brünn. It was first made public by the.
“I have looked into most philosophical systems and I have seen that none will work without God.”
“Science is incompetent to reason upon the creation of matter itself out of nothing. We have reached the utmost limit of our thinking faculties when we have admitted that because matter cannot be eternal and self-existent it must have been created.”
—Physicist and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell, who is credited with formulating classical electromagnetic theory, and whose contributions to science are considered to be of the same magnitude to those of Einstein and Newton. Maxwell was a devout Christian.
(James Clerk Maxwell, W. D. Niven (2003). The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell, p.376, Courier Corporation.)
“The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. Science brings men nearer to God.”
“In good philosophy, the word cause ought to be reserved to the single Divine impulse that has formed the universe.”
“Little science takes you away from God but more of it takes you to Him.”
—Louis Pasteur, the founder of microbiology and immunology. Pasteur was a devout Christian.
(Pasteur, as cited in Lamont 1995; see also Tiner 1990, 75, Pasteur, as cited in Guitton 1991, 5; see also Yahya 2002.)
“God [is] the author of the universe, and the free establisher of the laws of motion.”
—Physicist and chemist Robert Boyle, who is considered to be the founder of modern chemistry. Boyle was a devout Christian.
(Robert Boyle (2000). The Works of Robert Boyle: Publications of 1674-6.)
“I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing.”
–Astronomer Allan Sandage, winner of the Crafoord Prize in astronomy (which is equivalent to the Nobel Prize). Sandage is considered to be the father of modern astronomy, and was widely regarded to be the world’s greatest cosmologist until his death in 2010. He came to belief in God as a result of his science, as he announced at a conference on the origin of the universe in 1985. He also became a Christian.
(Willford, J.N. March 12, 1991. Sizing up the Cosmos: An Astronomers Quest. New York Times, p. B9.)
“The vast mysteries of the universe should only confirm our belief in the certainty of its Creator. I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.”
“They (evolutionists) challenge science to prove the existence of God. But must we really light a candle to see the sun? They say they cannot visualize a Designer. Well, can a physicist visualize an electron? What strange rationale makes some physicists accept the inconceivable electron as real while refusing to accept the reality of a Designer on the grounds that they cannot conceive Him?”
“God deliberately reduced Himself to the stature of humanity in order to visit the earth in person, because the cumulative effect over the centuries of millions of individuals choosing to please themselves rather than God had infected the whole planet. When God became a man Himself, the experience proved to be nothing short of pure agony. In man’s time-honored fashion, they would unleash the whole arsenal of weapons against Him: misrepresentation, slander, and accusation of treason. The stage was set for a situation without parallel in the history of the earth. God would visit creatures and they would nail Him to the cross!”
“Although I know of no reference to Christ ever commenting on scientific work, I do know that He said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Thus I am certain that, were He among us today, Christ would encourage scientific research as modern man’s most noble striving to comprehend and admire His Father’s handiwork. The universe as revealed through scientific inquiry is the living witness that God has indeed been at work.”
—Werner von Braun, the father of space science and the most important rocket scientist involved in the development of the U.S. space program.
(Religious Implications of Space Exploration: A Personal View, Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina, November 22, 1971.)
“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”
“In the history of science, ever since the famous trial of Galileo, it has repeatedly been claimed that scientific truth cannot be reconciled with the religious interpretation of the world. Although I am now convinced that scientific truth is unassailable in its own field, I have never found it possible to dismiss the content of religious thinking as simply part of an outmoded phase in the consciousness of mankind, a part we shall have to give up from now on. Thus in the course of my life I have repeatedly been compelled to ponder on the relationship of these two regions of thought, for I have never been able to doubt the reality of that to which they point.”
—Werner Heisenberg, who was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics for the creation of quantum mechanics (which is absolutely crucial to modern science). Heisenberg was a devout Christian, publishing and giving several talks reconciling science with his faith. He was a member of Germany’s largest Protestant religious body, the Evangelische Kirche.
(Hildebrand, “Das Universum,” 10., as cited in: Joseph, Selbie. The Physics of God (p. 187). New Page Books.)
“Yet even in earthly matters I believe that ‘the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead,’ and I have never seen anything incompatible between those things of man which can be known by the spirit of man which is within him, and those higher things concerning his future, which he cannot know by that spirit.”
—Michael Faraday, the British scientist who made crucial contributions to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. Faraday was a devout Christian.
(Jones, B. 1870. The Life and Letters of Faraday: Volume II. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 325-326.)
“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.”
—Sir Francis Bacon, the 17th century scientist and philosopher of science who is credited with discovering and popularizing the scientific method, whereby the laws of science are discovered by gathering and analyzing data from experiments and observations. Bacon was a devout Christian. The above citation is from his book Of Proficience and Advancement of Learning Divine and Human.
“One way to learn the mind of the Creator is to study His creation. We must pay God the compliment of studying His work of art and this should apply to all realms of human thought. A refusal to use our intelligence honestly is an act of contempt for Him who gave us that intelligence.”
— Physicist Ernest Walton, who won the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics for his “atom smashing” experiments done at Cambridge University in the early 1930s, and so became the first person in history to artificially split the atom. Walton was a devout Christian.
(V. J. McBrierty (2003): Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton, The Irish Scientist, 1903-1995, Trinity College Dublin Press.)
“It is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.”
—James Joule, propounder of the first law of thermodynamics (on the conservation of energy). He also made important contributions to the kinetic theory of gases. The unit of heat known as the “Joule” is named after him. Joule was a devout Christian.
(J.P. Joule, in a paper found with his scientific notebooks, as cited in: J.G. Crowther, British Scientists of the Nineteenth Century, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1962, p. 139.)
“We all know that there are regions of the human spirit untrammeled by the world of physics. In the mystic sense of the creation around us, in the expression of art, in a yearning towards God, the soul grows upward and finds fulfillment of something implanted in its nature. The sanction for this development is within us, a striving born with our consciousness or an Inner Light proceeding from a greater power than ours. Science can scarcely question this sanction, for the pursuit of science springs from a striving which the mind is impelled to follow, a questioning that will not be suppressed. Whether in the intellectual pursuits of science or in the mystical pursuits of the spirit, the light beckons ahead and the purpose surging in our nature responds.”
— Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, the eminent English astronomer, physicist and mathematician known for his groundbreaking research in astrophysics, as quoted in his classic work. Eddington, a devout Christian, was the first person to investigate the motion, internal structure and evolution of stars, and is widely regarded to be one of the greatest astronomers of all time.
“In the works of the Creator ever open to our examination, we possess a firm basis on which to raise the superstructure of an enlightened creed. The more man inquires into the laws which regulate the material universe, the more he is convinced that all its varied forms arise from the action of a few simple principles… The works of the Creator, ever present to our senses, give a living and perpetual testimony of his power and goodness far surpassing any evidence transmitted through human testimony. The testimony of man becomes fainter at every stage of transmission, whilst each new inquiry into the works of the Almighty gives to us more exalted views of his wisdom, his goodness, and his power.”
—Charles Babbage, the mathematician and inventor considered to be “the father of the computer” for his invention of the first computer. Babbage was a devout Christian.
(Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, Charles Babbage (1864), pp. 396–402)