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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Science owes a debt to theology

Although we hear a lot today about faith and science being enemies, the scientific enterprise as we know it today wouldn't exist without Christianity and how it saw the world. This may seem surprising to you, but when you think about it, you can see how it makes perfect sense. Prior to the modern era, the primary view of how we can know things was based on the thinking of Aristotle, who believed that we can only start with things we know and simply reason to an outcome. This "First Principles" idea infiltrated much of science since Aristotle, until the 13th century, when a couple of Franciscan monks began to challenge the idea.1 What ultimately fuelled their investigation was the idea that the Christian God was a rational being, and therefore we could uncover His ways if we investigated his creation in a rational manner.

Asking a question about the function of the world

Is the world discoverable? Before we can begin any scientific enterprise, we must first know if it is ever possible to find the answer to certain questions we are asking. This is no trivial point. If you were to have all the latest brain scanning and most sensitive neurological equipment, you could tell a person is dreaming, but you could never tell what that dream is about. The question of content is outside of science altogether and must be reported by the dreamer. However, Christians such as Robert Grosseteste, Roger and Francis Bacon, and others knew they could begin to investigate the world scientifically, because God would create a world to work in a specific order.2 And since the Christian God isn't capricious, he wouldn't "change the rules" so to speak and change the laws of nature from one day to the next.

So today, when a scientist builds a hypothesis, he or she has already assumed that the world is really the way we experience it. But why is he or she justified in such an assumption? Remembering the hit movie The Matrix may help you get a clearer picture of my point. In The Matrix, most people believed they were living normal lives in a well-developed world when in reality they were simply being fed a computer simulation straight into their brains. The things they experienced weren't real, but a forgery. However, science assumes that we can talk about the real world and find out new things about it. Grosseteste and other Christians answered such objections by appealing to their theological framework: that God is the kind of God that wouldn't lie or change the rules on us. Science needs this grounding in theology to justify its assumption of consistency in experimental results.

Scientism dismisses theology as a fairytale

Of course, science's evil twin scientism would never acknowledge that Christian theism is the basis for the modern scientific enterprise. In fact, you many times hear scientism's claim that theistic beliefs are the enemy of science3; they hold back the true advancement and if we would only throw off the shackles of belief in God, we could somehow progress to a new era of scientific discovery.

Physicist Paul Davies, who is by no means Christian, reflected on why scientists should believe the laws of nature exist at all and why they're rational. He questioned his colleagues about them. Davies writes, "Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from 'that's not a scientific question' to 'nobody knows.' The favorite reply is, 'There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.' Davies goes on:

"All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn't be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed… The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science."4(emphasis added)
As Christians, we believe that God orders the universe and makes it discoverable. It offers reasons why we can trust our senses as reporting reality, and trust the fact that there are certain laws undergirding specific interactions in the world. Scientists assume a framework that theology grounds. This is why historian Lynn T. White writes:
"The preaching of a monk in the fastnesses of the German forests may seem far removed from the modern laboratory; yet the monk was an intellectual ancestor of the scientist. As the triumphant chant, 'I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,' rang through the new churches of the northern frontier, another foundation stone of the modern world was laid, the concept of an orderly and intelligible universe."5
To read the previous articles in this series, click here and here.

For the next article, click here.


1. For a good overview of this point, see Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004 218-219.
2. Schmidt. Ibid.
3. See MacKenzie, Richard "Is Faith the Enemy of Science?" where MacKenzie argues that it is. Lawrence Krauss responded affirminigly to MacKenzie and commented, "I have asked Richard if his recent purpose is to destroy faith or teach science, and he has indicated that destroying faith at the moment is a higher priority. I accept that argument, however for me the latter purpose, teaching science, is higher priority."
4. Davies, Paul. "Taking Science on Faith" The New York Times. 24 November 2007.
5. White, Jr., Lynn T. "The Significance of Medieval Christianity". The Vitality of the Christian Tradition, 3d ed., edited by George F. Thomas New York: Harper & Bros, 1944. 97.


  1. Just a minor point: It's possible to build neurological equipment sensitive enough to see the content of a person's dreams. We don't have such equipment yet, but we already know what it would take to build it.

    You said, "The question of content is outside of science altogether," but that's not true.

  2. Hi John,

    I'm going to challenge your assertion. I don't believe it's possible to see the content of dreams or any other thought. We assume very basic emotions, perhaps, but it will never be watching someone else think. If you have an article or journal paper to which you're referring, I'd like the reference so I can read more about it.


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