Old Dogma, New Tricks


In the Beginning • The Deadly Foe of Scientific Inquiry • The Fire Ignited by a Faith Millennia Old • The Lord Our God, the Lord Is One • The God of Order and Not of Confusion • A Free and Unconditioned Creator • Principally in the Endeavor to Know Him • Fighting the Fall • Be in Some Part Repaired

In the Beginning

“In the beginning,” says the Bible, “God created the heavens and the earth.”

The divine architect, we read, was rather pleased with his work: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Later on, in the New Testament, we find that “in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” and that “the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Gen 1; Col 1; Heb 11)

The Christian doctrine of creation is a richer one than many might have thought. It says that God built his cosmos entirely from scratch: creatio ex nihilo. It says he worked alone—“The Lord your God, the Lord is One”—there are no other gods. It says creation was both functional and delightful: “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” It says the universe displays his power, his majesty, and his inventiveness: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Deut 6; Eccles 3; Ps 19).

God may be one, but he is also three—and all the members of the godhead partook in the project. The wonderful culmination of their work—the masterpiece of the Father, Son, and Spirit—was humanity itself. “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,” said the Trinity, breathing life into Adam and Eve.

None of God’s other creatures could claim the imago dei, or divine image—not even the vast host of angels who sang before his throne. Adam and Eve, thriving in the beauty of Eden, were magnificent. They were peerless on the Earth—except, of course, for those precious times when God himself walked alongside them in the garden.

“God blessed them,” Genesis explains, “and said to them, ‘Be fruitful.’ ” He imposed only a single rule: there was a tree that was out of bounds—“for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen 1-2).

One rule, however, proved to be one too many. Humanity—proud, we-know-better humanity—rebelled against its perfect creator. This cataclysmic rejection of God resulted in a disharmony never before known to either heaven or Earth: “Cursed is the ground because of you,” said God to his image bearers, “through painful toil you will eat food from it.” Our ancestors and our world lay groaning under God’s judgment—they, along with nature, were now subject to his curse (Gen 3).

The Fall of humanity had changed everything.

And then, through the darkness, shone the light of God’s mercy: “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” he declared to those who had joined the ever-growing rebellion. They could be won back, he said, and he himself would bring it about: “I will forgive their wickedness,” God promised, “and will remember their sins no more” (Jer 31).

So the Trinity enacted a rescue plan: a plan that had always been in place, even before the foundation of the world. For God’s intention in creation—from beyond the beginning—had been to demonstrate to his creatures the great depths of his “everlasting love.” It had been for his children, having fallen into desperate trouble of their own making, to be forgiven, and saved, and restored. “They will be my people,” he ordained, “and I will be their God” (Jer 32).

Yet their rebellion could not be left unpunished, for that would be an appalling cosmological injustice. God could not simply write off the Fall as if it had never happened. Here, then, was a cosmological tension: God is love; God is just.

The solution—the from-the-depths-of-eternity-planned solution—was divine self-sacrifice: God the Son would leave the glory of heaven, become human, and live out a life of suffering on the cursed Earth. He would walk, in the darkness and mess, among his broken people. Jesus, the anointed one, “made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil 2:7-9).

He would teach his fallen ones of the glorious image they bore—the imago dei—and of its almost unlimited potential. He would live the sinless life he had called them to live—even though he, in this incarnation, would be subject to all the same struggles and temptations as they were. He would love them, and love them perfectly.

With this first stage of his mission complete, the Son would then voluntarily take onto himself the guilt for humanity’s Fall: “Greater love has no one than this,” he told his disciples, than “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15). He would be punished instead of them: he would die in their place. And, since his inherent worth was greater than that of all of creation, his sacrifice would be all-sufficient. The great price for the rebellion was paid.

Three days later, the Son was raised to a resurrection life by the Father, through the dynamic power of the Spirit—the Trinity was “making everything new.” The wonderful invitation was issued worldwide: humankind could “be reconciled to God” (Rev 21; 2 Cor 5).

“A new and living way [has] opened for us,” writes the jubilant author of the book of Hebrews, “let us draw near to God . . . having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” The death and resurrection of Jesus had fought back against the Fall, and there was now hope on the Earth again: “If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here!” (Heb 10; 2 Cor 5).

The “new” came via the Holy Spirit, who would make his home in each individual believer: “He will guide you into all the truth,” Jesus promised. For God, as Spirit, is everywhere—he is omnipresent—so he could live in the hearts and minds of Christians, no matter where they were in the world. He would gently repair their broken consciences; he would tenderly restore them to their right minds. He would call them to live better lives (John 16).

This, then, is the grand story of Christianity. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” we are warned; yet God “demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The headline is this: with God’s help, the devastation of the Fall can be undone—one person, or behavior, or thought at a time. And, one day, God will take his welcomed-back creatures to a newly made and perfect heaven, for all eternity (Rom 3, 5).

“No longer” says the Apostle John about this idyllic future, “will there be any curse” (Rev 22).

The Deadly Foe of Scientific Inquiry

Hang on a second—what is all this about prohibited trees, and divine curses, and rising bodies, and why, exactly, is it in a book about science? The ideas mentioned in the previous section seem about as far away from proper physics or correct chemistry as the goop lab was—if not further. After all, goop did, at the very least, manage to reference quantum mechanics, and frequency, and energy (albeit rather farcically). How, though, could the Holy Spirit ever help with hydrodynamics? Who needs to reflect on the resurrection before they can research resistivity? Isn’t religious dogma—to put it simply—just about the polar opposite of real science?

Well, that was certainly the Draper and White line, as we know. Conflict declared emphatically that: “From the time of Newton to our own time, the divergence of science from the dogmas of the Church has continually increased.”1

Warfare wholeheartedly agreed: “from the supremacy accorded to theology, we find resulting that tendency to dogmatism which has shown itself in all ages the deadly foe . . . of scientific inquiry.”2

Their claim that dogma and science are mortal enemies has become so commonplace within modern culture that it now seems rather obvious—a truism, almost. The Nobel Prize–winning chemist Harry Kroto, a fellow of the Royal Society, went all in on it when explaining why biologist Michael Reiss—a practicing Christian—was not fit to work for the organization:

Unfortunately Reiss, who is, apparently, a very nice guy, was in the wrong job. He, together with all religious people—whether they like it or not, whether they accept it or not—fall at the first hurdle of the main requirement for honest scientific discussion because they accept unfounded dogma as having fundamental significance.3

Kroto is not alone. Nowadays, we can easily find his Draper and White–inspired stance repeated in popular non-fiction books, TV documentaries, assorted school and university course texts, magazines, bestselling novels, YouTube videos, and every corner of the internet. There is one place, however, that we will never come across it: the academic literature of the history of science.

And that’s because it is wrong.

The Fire Ignited by a Faith Millennia Old

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was, perhaps, the arch-atheist—no intellectual has ever attacked God with as much insight and self-consistency as the German philosopher did in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Interestingly, however, he did not take the same line as Kroto and his cronies. Instead, he carefully pointed out that even the very concept of “honest scientific discussion” actually owes its existence to Christianity:

Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as science “without any presuppositions” . . . a philosophy, a “faith,” must always be there first of all, so that science can acquire from it a direction, a meaning, a limit, a method, a right to exist . . . we men of knowledge of today, we godless men and anti-metaphysicians, we, too, still derive our flame from the fire ignited by a faith millennia old, the Christian faith.4

If Nietzsche is right, then this is a crushing blow to Draper, and White, and Kroto, and the rest of the gang. But is he? Was Christianity really the crucible in which modern science first began to glow? If so, how? How does the Bible provide science with its “presuppositions”? How does its account of creation, fall, loss, and redemption give science “direction,” or “meaning,” or “method”? How does Scripture grant science a “right to exist”?

Maybe it just doesn’t—maybe Nietzsche is mistaken. The thing is, though, that he is backed up by a whole body of recent research in the field. Peter Harrison, for example, is one of the most respected historians of science and religion working today—and, in one passage about the formation of Kroto’s Royal Society back in the mid-1600s, he writes:

Whereas we often tend to think of religious influence manifesting itself unhelpfully in the content of scientific ideas, far more important is the manner in which religion lent social legitimacy to scientific activities and institutions, provided motivations for key individuals in those institutions and, not least, informed their goals and methods.5

What is actually going on here? If Christian doctrine inspired scientists—if it gave them their philosophical underpinnings, suggested their methods to them, legitimized their work, and drove them onward toward their findings—then how, exactly, did it do it?

The Lord Our God, the Lord Is One

We shall begin with a simple and central claim of Christianity: that there is only one God.6 This core belief—monotheism—may appear to have nothing to do with science, but it does. In fact, it might just be a vital ingredient of it. How so?

Well, a monotheistic worldview—in the vast majority of studied cases—has led its holders to expect both consistency and regularity in the natural world. This, in turn, has led to them going and looking for them—and, ultimately, to the discovery of laws in nature. But what, precisely, is the underlying cause of this strong monotheism–natural law link?

Here is one theory: societies or individuals who picture the world as governed by many gods can tend to think of their environment as the unpredictable product of supernatural chaos. Such a world is not open to rigorous and methodical investigation by us humans—for it is, instead, entirely subject to the whims and fancies of a host of inconsistent, inscrutable, or even capricious spirits. The true reasons behind a physical event, then, are unclear—and matters could easily play out very differently the next time. Science, in such a scenario, is a non-starter.

By contrast, monotheism gave rise to one of the cornerstones of modern science: the belief that an experiment conducted on a Monday will give results that are still usable on a Tuesday, since the same God is in total charge of his universe on both days. Natural philosophy, under such assumptions, becomes a viable activity—and one from which we might expect some meaningful findings.

Yet isn’t there a hole in the logic here? Why should one supreme God mess around with nature any less than a panoply of lesser deities would? Couldn’t a single omnipotent being cause just as much pandemonium—indeed, more—than a collection of lower gods might?

The answer, of course, is yes—but this is not the type of God that Christian monotheism has typically championed. Instead, the God of the Bible is one of order and of rationality; a ruler who breaks his imposed laws only in the most exceptional of circumstances. Historian of science Mark Worthing puts it this way:

One might think that monotheism, especially those forms with strong affirmations of God’s sovereignty, would have been little different to polytheism . . . didn’t monotheism simply roll up the functions of the various competing deities into one package? But this is not what happened . . . in most cases belief in one God—especially an all-powerful, all-knowing sovereign God, led people to look increasingly to natural causes. An all-powerful, sovereign God, while certainly capable of intervention—indeed of miracle—would create and govern the world in such a way as to ordinarily follow regular and therefore comprehensible patterns.7

In practice, then, what a culture believes is going on “up there” can have a very real effect on what it believes is going on “down here.” Christian monotheism, thanks to its accompanying notion of a sensible and consistent God, proved itself to be a good foundation for science—it “led people to look increasingly to natural causes.” Here, then, is a case of a seemingly unscientific statement of faith actually being rather helpful to the rational and scientific thinker.

And it is not the only one.

The God of Order and Not of Confusion

Christians, throughout history, have asserted that God made everything, and that he made it all out of nothing.8 From this one point of dogma flow many secondary conclusions: that God was not compromised by having to use pre-existent material; that creation is God’s own entirely bespoke design; that everything around us is the product of a perfect and rational mind; that the world—in its original form, at least—was carefully and meaningfully constructed and is, as God himself put it, good.

All of these considerations turn out to have positive implications for science—indeed, they have provided it with a warm and cozy environment in which to thrive. For, if nature is God’s handiwork, and if God is reasonable, then his universe should be reasonable, too. And reasonable universes, of course, are both easier and more enjoyable to study.

What’s more, the Bible says that God has made us humans in his “likeness”—that our minds are in some way similar to his. This is, scientifically speaking, also good news—for if our minds can be in step with the architect of the universe, it follows that we might be able to comprehend his blueprints. Science, then, is worth a shot: we, as God’s special creatures, have at least a chance of comprehending our surroundings.

It was this line of thinking, for instance, that inspired Johannes Kepler toward his famous mathematical analysis of planetary orbits. Writing in 1604, he explained his underlying philosophy:

For the theatre of the world is so ordered that there exist in it suitable signs by which human minds, likenesses of God, are not only invited to study the divine works, from which they may evaluate the Founder’s goodness, but are also assisted in inquiring more deeply.9

Kepler attributed his astronomical successes to the doctrine of creation—he could only make his discoveries, he said, because God had made the world “ordered” and “suitable” for study, and had then given him a God-like mind which was, by its very nature, “invited” and “assisted” in exploring the cosmic structure. Newton was one of many others to agree with Kepler—he also felt his feats were wholly dependent on the character and conduct of his creator:

The world, which to the naked eye exhibits the greatest variety of objects, appears very simple in its internall constitution when surveyed by a philosophic understanding. . . . It is the perfection of God’s works that they are all done with the greatest simplicity. He is the God of order and not of confusion.10

The same can be said for the likes of Boyle, Hooke, Descartes, and nearly all of the main players in the so-called scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. These pioneering natural philosophers believed their created minds could uncover the laws of created nature precisely because God had designed the former to be discerning and the latter to be discernible.

Robert Boyle, for example, was perhaps the first recognizably “modern” chemist—but he argued that the reason he could predict particle motion was because God had set everything up for him to do so:

It is intelligible to me that God should . . . impress determinate motions upon the parts of matter, and that . . . he should by his ordinary and general concourse maintain those powers which he gave the parts of matter to transmit their motion thus and thus to one another.11

Note that Boyle’s God does not control matter arbitrarily, but in such a way that it behaves consistently—and also that Boyle believes this is “intelligible” to him. In such statements of faith are the seeds of modern science.

This doctrinal logic did not die out with the Kepler–Boyle–Newton generations. Two hundred years later, Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell—two of the most important thinkers of all time, and the main developers of electromagnetic theory—were drawing on the same theological ideas as their predecessors. Both Faraday and Maxwell felt they were reading words that had been “written by the finger of God,” explains MIT physicist Ian Hutchison. It would be nonsense, he says, to think that their religion somehow got in their way: “On the contrary, their spiritual beliefs were essential parts of the strength of character and the view of nature that empowered them to make their transformative contributions to science.”12

Indeed, the self-same phenomenon is alive and well in the twenty-first century—for many of the very best practitioners today say that their science is both undergirded and driven by their religious beliefs. Oxford’s John Lennox insists “it is the existence of a Creator that gives to science its fundamental intellectual justification.”13 Acclaimed engineer and computer scientist Rosalind Picard agrees: “the existence of simple orderly mechanisms are not only consistent with God’s nature, they are a reflection of it.”14 Eminent quantum physicist John Polkinghorne writes that because “we are creatures made in the divine image, then it is entirely understandable that there is an order in the universe that is deeply accessible to our minds.”15

Theologian and literary historian Rebecca McLaughlin has considered all this in the round. She concludes that the doctrine of creation is effectively “the first hypothesis of modern scientists,” and spells it out as follows: “If a rational God made the universe and endowed humans with an intelligence that echoed his own, perhaps his image-bearing creatures would be able to discern his laws.”16

This long-established and well-attested relationship, however, seems to be entirely lost on both Draper and White. Somehow, Conflict manages to get the whole church-dogma-led-to-natural-law situation both upside-down and inside-out: “The Christian was convinced of incessant providential interventions; he believed that there was no such thing as law in the government of the world.”17

Warfare’s account is less blunt, and dangerously subtle. A skilled diplomat, White used sleight of hand to transform Newton—a deeply religious thinker who had both espoused and relied upon traditional doctrine—into some sort of anti-dogmatic hero: “[Through] Newton, had come a vast new conception, destined to be fatal to the old theory of creation, for he had shown throughout the universe, in place of almighty caprice, all-pervading law.”18

White, in order to serve his greater purpose of ridding religion of dogma, invented a battle between “all-pervading law” and the “old theory” of Scripture—when, in reality, one was derived from the other. He made them enemies when they were friends. Rather depressingly, his rhetorical trick proved to be highly effective. Nowadays, the supposed enmity between scientific law and Christian doctrine is taken by many as a given. As a piece of persuasive writing, Warfare has been extraordinarily successful. As an accurate record of the historical interplay between science and religion, however, it is sorely lacking.

So, in our continued effort to try and retrospectively right some of White’s wrongs, we shall plough on—for the Church’s teaching on creation had yet one more pro-science string to its bow, and one that brought about another intellectual leap forward. The key idea was this: things didn’t have to be this way.

A Free and Unconditioned Creator

Something rather strange happened in Paris back in AD 1277. Indeed, a whole series of odd events took place, many of which appear to play straight into the hands of overly enthusiastic conflict thesis advocates such as Gibbon, or Sagan, or Tyson. These incidents are worth more than a moment of our time, for they will lead us to some surprising conclusions—including the seemingly paradoxical discovery that Church dogma can, on occasion, be remarkably undogmatic.

In thirteenth-century Europe, much of the academy was dominated by Aristotle. Recent reacquaintance with his 1500-year-old work in the West had resulted in the voracious study of it, and the famed theologian Thomas Aquinas was one of many thinkers flying the philosophical flag for his ancient counterpart. Indeed, the Grecian was fast becoming an unlikely darling of the Church.

It helped that Aristotle’s position could, if viewed from a suitable angle, appear monotheistic, and that much of his thought dovetailed quite neatly with that of Christianity—or, at least, it would if interpreted in the right way. Aquinas and others adored Aristotle’s logical and holistic worldview, and longed to harness it for Christian purposes. Reason was the thinking Christian’s champion, the Aristotelians argued—reason would lead us to truth.

Not everyone was convinced, however, and underneath this apparent academic bliss there was the distinct rumble of division. For, as much as Aquinas and the gang had sought to blend Aristotle with Scripture and tradition, some of it really didn’t fit. The Aristotelian cosmos, for example, was eternal in both directions, whereas the Bible described a clear beginning and a clear end. Other issues also rankled, such as the nature of the soul; suffice to say, there was still quite a bit to be washed and ironed out.

In France, though, the clergy were not all that keen to do Aquinas’s laundry for him—instead, they voted to throw his garments aside and buy some nice new outfits to take their place. Edward Grant, a veritable giant in the academic world of the history of science, takes up the story:

The Church tried initially to ban the natural philosophical works of Aristotle (in 1210). When that proved unsuccessful, there was an effort (in 1231) to delete the offensive parts of Aristotle’s philosophy by censorship, but this was never carried out. Finally, in 1277, the bishop of Paris issued a condemnation of 219 articles. . . . Many, if not most, of the condemned articles were drawn from Aristotle’s natural philosophy. Some twenty-seven articles condemned different versions of the eternity of the world.19

“Aha!” cries Jerry Coyne; “I told you so!” yells Catherine Nixey. For here, as plain as the nose on A. C. Grayling’s face, we have dogmatic theology squeezing the life out of rational science—and destroying classical thought as it does so.

But not so fast—for that isn’t how matters played out.

Perhaps we should let Grant continue:

The most significant aspect of the Condemnation of 1277 was not the condemnation of Aristotle’s offensive ideas about Christian doctrine, but rather the condemnation of his ideas that seemed to limit God’s absolute power to do whatever he pleased short of a logical contradiction. . . . They firmly believed that for God Aristotle’s natural impossibilities were all “supernaturally possible.”20

Well, this is interesting. What Grant is saying is that it was Aristotle who was overly dogmatic, and that the Church was being far more open-minded. Aristotle had declared some occurrences to just be downright impossible—even if they were allowable by logic. The churchmen of Paris didn’t like this; they felt that all possibilities should be kept on the table. So, in a counterstrike, they banned those statements that banned those statements (read this twice). Here are some examples of what they got rid of:

34. That the first cause [God] could not make several worlds.

48. That God cannot be the cause of a new act, nor can he produce something anew.

49. That God could not move the heavens [or Earth] with a rectilinear motion; and the reason is that a vacuum would remain.

141. That God cannot make [a property] exist without a subject nor make several dimensions exist simultaneously.21

Under Aristotle, it was impossible for there to be more than one world-or-universe; or for any particle, force, or field to come into existence; or for the Earth to move through space; or for there to be multiple dimensions overlapping one another. Even if God willed any of these things, he said, they would still never happen. The Church—in Paris, at least—disagreed: God could do whatever he wanted to, they maintained, whatever Aristotle might think.

Grant explains the hugely beneficial long-term effect of this debate:

After 1277, [Christian philosophers] not only chose to imagine that all of Aristotle’s natural impossibilities were possible, as well as others that he had never considered, but they assumed, hypothetically, that God had actually performed them . . . they entered the realm of “let’s pretend” and began to discuss topics that were literally out of this world, which stirred their imaginations in remarkable ways. The major consequence of all this was that hypothetical and counterfactual discussions became a vital part of medieval natural philosophy. The medieval imagination was free to “probe and poke around”. . . . Their achievements were destined to influence some of the major figures of the Scientific Revolution.22

Once again, then, we find that the truth is the precise opposite of the Conflict–Warfare fiction: Christian dogma, rather than putting the blinkers on thinkers, opened up their minds to new possibilities. It was, therefore, a significant source of genuine and playful freethought about nature.

Even now, the idea that God is wholly unconstrained plays its part in the philosophy of science. Donald Mackay (1922–1987), a decorated physicist and neuroscientist, said this profoundly freeing doctrine still benefits those working in laboratories today:

The God of the Bible is no mere craftsman. . . . He is a free and unconditioned Creator: the giver of being to a world of His own devising whose nature could neither be defined nor fully deduced by reference to any first principles. . . . Biblical theism, by denying that we can lay down in advance what the world ought to be like, offers positive encouragement to the experimental approach to nature that we now take for granted as “scientific.”23

The belief in a “free and unconditioned Creator” meant that scientists had to expand their mental horizons, and then check their ideas by experiment to find out what God had actually done. This aspect of the doctrine of creation, therefore, helped to initiate and then support the much-lauded scientific method—the same one which is now taught, as a matter of routine, to children worldwide. Yet how often, we might ask, are they ever taught about its philosophical and theological origin?

One suspects—thanks in no small part to Messrs. Draper and White—that the answer is “rarely.”

Principally in the Endeavor to Know Him

One of those who most firmly asserted that God could create entirely as he pleased was the mighty philosopher and mathematician, René Descartes (1596–1650). The Frenchman’s belief in God’s intellectual freedom led him, in turn, to his own: Descartes was happy to challenge previous thinkers such as Aristotle, and even more so to reject them. As a result, he came up with several brand new ideas of his own—including his famous proof of his own existence: “I think, therefore I am.”24

What is of most interest to us right now, however, is the motivation behind his work—for why did Descartes bother to think in the first place? Well, as a devout Catholic, he gives his reason plainly:

I think that all those to whom God has given the use of this reason have an obligation to employ it principally in the endeavour to know him and to know themselves. That is the task with which I began my studies; and I can say that I would not have been able to discover the foundations of physics if I had not looked for them along that road.25

In other words, Descartes wanted to study the world so that he could have a better relationship with God. This is in keeping with the idea that God had given humanity two books by which to know him: the book of Scripture, and the book of nature. Such a view was espoused by Bacon, Newton, Boyle, Hooke, and, if we are being honest, pretty much every natural philosopher of the period—as we saw in our previous chapter. The fundamental idea can be traced back at least as far as the New Testament, in which St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Rom. 1:20).

Margaret Osler (1942–2010) built a career analyzing the thinking, motivations, and intentions of the big hitters of the scientific revolution—perhaps no one knows what made them tick better than she did. Her conclusions are striking:

The Bible was a powerful source of teleological thinking. According to the Old Testament tradition, God created the world ex nihilo by his power and will . . . his wisdom and power are evident in the creation. A biblical verse frequently quoted by early modern natural philosophers proclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”26

Why did these “early modern natural philosophers” study the world? Because they wanted to know the God who had made it—and, in turn, they wanted to make him known to others, so that they might be blessed by the knowledge themselves. Robert Boyle, again, is a good example: in his will, he left money to fund a series of scientific lectures with the specific purpose of “proveing the Christian religion” to those who were currently unconvinced. These lectures, incidentally, still run today, and are given by some of the biggest names in the business.27

So far, then, dogma seems to be far more of a blessing to science than either Draper or White would have us believe. But what of the more heavily theological concepts of the Fall, or of original sin, or of the redemption of the world? Surely such notions are just about as unscientific as they come—are they not?

Fighting the Fall

According to the Bible, Adam and Eve ate an apple and then everything went pear-shaped. Their decision to reject God’s love, authority, and wisdom was a disastrous one for humanity; it resulted in violence, pain, suffering, and loss. Humankind had fallen—fallen out of relationship with its creator, and fallen out of harmony with his creation.

Jesus, as we have seen, stepped in to rescue his people from their self-made mess—and, once they were forgiven and restored, called them to live better lives than they previously had been living. St. Paul took up this line of thought, and instructed those in the earliest churches to “walk in the way of love” and “live as children of light,” while “always giving thanks to God” for their salvation (Eph 5:2, 8, 20). The Church had been given a mission: they were to fight back against the darkness that had been brought about by their own rebellion; they were to declare war against the spiritual, moral, and physical effects of the Fall.

It was precisely this mission that was on Francis Bacon’s mind as he imagined his New Atlantis. He dreamed of a community committed to bringing back Eden and everything good that came with it—including, of course, our harmonious relationship with nature. Adam and Eve, he believed, had once lived in unspoiled unity with their surroundings; they had owned perfect knowledge of God’s creation. After the Fall, they had lost it. But, said Bacon, God’s great gift of science could help their offspring to win it back:

Man by the fall fell at the same time from his state of innocency and from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses however can even in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and sciences.28

Bacon was not the only one to think this—in fact, his view was ubiquitous. Peter Harrison summarizes what he found to be the combined mindset of Bacon and his scientific contemporaries:

In order to recover the knowledge of nature lost as a consequence of the Fall and to regain our dominion over natural things, we [i.e., Bacon et al.] presently need special measures to overcome our fallen conditions. These are provided by the kind of experimental science practised by the Royal Society.29

There was, however, a problem. The Christian dogma that the likes of Bacon and Hooke assented to included the belief that our rational minds had fallen along with our moral selves—and so we could not, therefore, trust our intuition alone. Logic and reason were still useful, of course, but they were marred; they offered no guarantee of the truth on their own. The Fall had impaired us—we could be mistaken in our deductions.

The solution to this problem—as Harrison hinted at—was “experimental science.” A physical trial or demonstration could act as a secondary source of information, or as a safety net underneath a theory, or simply as pleasing confirmation that one’s scientific suspicions were indeed correct after all. American–Israeli philosopher of science Noah Efron highlights the power of this seemingly unlikely connection:

Augustine’s notion of original sin (which held that Adam’s Fall left humans implacably damaged) was embraced by advocates of “experimental natural philosophy.” As they saw it, fallen humans lacked the grace to understand the workings of the world through cogitation alone, requiring in their disgraced state painstaking experiment and observation. . . . In this way, Christian doctrine lent urgency to experiment.30

From the religious dogma of Adam’s and Eve’s fallen minds, then, we get the need for practical science sessions. Who would have thought it? Perhaps Genesis chapter 3—forbidden fruit, talking snakes, cursed ground, and all—should be written out, in full, over laboratory doors worldwide.

Be in Some Part Repaired

The original-sin-led-to-experimental-practice connection is not the only unexpected leg-up that Christian doctrine gave to modern science. The doctrine of God’s omnipresence, for example, meant that Newton was prepared to allow his gravity to act across the enormous distances of space, and without obvious bodily contact—a possibility that, up until that point, had been considered highly philosophically suspect. Since God was in some sense everywhere, Newton reasoned, He could bring these things about, and even use natural causes to do so. The great physicist’s theology, therefore, was crucial to his model—without it, it is not at all clear that he would have persisted.31

The doctrine of the Trinity, too, has made scientists think deeply and then act upon those thoughts. John Polkinghorne, the aforementioned quantum physicist, wrote that “there are aspects of our scientific understanding of the universe that become more deeply intelligible to us if they are viewed in a Trinitarian perspective.” Nature’s logical ordering, he says, comes from the word of God (Jesus), while its vibrant life hails from the Holy Spirit—and both of these, he suggests, are grounded in the constancy and the power of the Father.32

Nearly four centuries before Polkinghorne, Kepler also drew on the inherent notions of unity and diversity among the Father, Son, and Spirit—and went looking for the same sort of interplay in the heavens. Historians of science Peter Barker and Bernard Goldstein write that “theology plays a central role in Kepler’s scientific thinking” and that “Kepler’s first book cannot be understood without acknowledging its religious dimensions . . . similar issues underlie Kepler’s demonstration that the orbit of the planet Mars is an ellipse.”33

As much as Conflict and Warfare might protest otherwise, then, there is simply no escaping the truth: Christian dogma has actually played a major part—indeed, many have even argued the major part34—in establishing the foundations of the science that is so successful today. Draper and White, in setting their literary attack dogs on doctrine, made a terrible mistake—and, as a result, they have done both religion and science a significant disservice.

And now, of course, the damage has been done. We have reached the point where a Nobel laureate feels totally at ease writing an editorial in a national newspaper about why his colleague, purely by virtue of being a Christian, is unfit to work in the sciences. We have reached a point where the Royal Society—which owes its existence to biblical teachings—was so unwilling to tolerate Christianity that Reiss, the target of Kroto’s piece, did indeed have to stand down.

How did it come to this? How did Conflict and Warfare, with their horribly misjudged intentions and their woefully inaccurate storytelling, come to dominate the world of science and ideas? What happened to launch their conflict thesis into the stratosphere when its flaws were so serious and so obvious? And what—if anything at all—can be done about it now?

Perhaps we should draw on a stiff dose of the optimism that inspired Francis Bacon and others all those years ago; perhaps—with the help, of course, of a sufficiently open-minded and willing scientific community—the devastation wrought by Draper and White really can “even in this life be in some part repaired.”

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