The Biblical Roots of Modern Science Part 2

The Biblical Roots of Modern Science Part 2

Dec 20, 2016, 10:42 AM |

Scientific jump after the Reformation

While Europe in the Middle Ages had a Judeo-Christian worldview, it took the Reformation to recover specific biblical authority. With this came the recovery of a plain or historical grammatical understanding of the Bible, recovering the understanding of the New Testamant authors and most of the early Church Fathers. This turned out to have a huge positive impact on the development of modern science. This is so counter to common (mis)understanding, yet it is well documented by Peter Harrison, then a professor of history and philosophy at Bond University in Queensland, Australia (and now Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford):

"It is commonly supposed that when in the early modern period individuals began to look at the world in a different way, they could no longer believe what they read in the Bible. In this book I shall suggest that the reverse is the case: that when in the sixteenth century people began to read the Bible in a different way, they found themselves forced to jettison traditional conceptions of the world."

As Prof. Harrison explained:

"Strange as it may seem, the Bible played a positive role in the development of science... Had it not been for the rise of the literal interpretation of the Bible and the subsequent appropriation of biblical narratives by early modern scientists, modern science may not have arisen at all. In sum, the Bible and its literal interpretation have played a vital role in the development of Western Science."

Stephen Snobelen, Assistant Professor of History of Science and Technology, University of King's College, Halifax, Canada, writes in a similar vein and also explains the somewhat misleading term "literal interpretation":

"Here is a final paradox. Recent work on early modern science has demonstrated a direct (and positive) relationship between the resurgence of the Hebraic, literal exegesis of the Bible in the Protestant Reformation and the rise of the empirical method in modern science. I'm not referring to wooden literalism, but the sophisticated literal-historical hermeneutics that Martin Luther and others (including Newton) championed."

And Prof. Snobelen explains the reason why: scientists started to study nature in the same way they studied the Bible. Just as they studied what the Bible really said, rather than imposed outside philosophies and traditions upon it, they likewise studied how nature really did work, rather than accept philosophical ideas about how it should work (extending their allegorizing readings of Scripture to the natural world).

"It was, in part, when this method was transferred to science, when students of nature moved on from studying nature as symbols, allegories and metaphors to observing nature directly in an inductive and empirical way, that modern science was born. In this, Newton also played a pivotal role. As strange as it may sound, science will forever be in the debt of millenarians and biblical literalists."

 Extracted from the Creation Magazine Vol. 34 No. 4  2010