“Christians are anti-science” has long been a derisive trope hurled by atheists at the community of believers. Lately the accusation has morphed from a metaphysical attack into a political one aimed at anyone who doesn’t buy into modern progressive ideology. Most notably, orthodox Christians.
Out walking recently, I passed by a house displaying a smattering of political yard signs. One was in support of the current Democratic presidential ticket, a couple were for local Democratic candidates, and one was a more general declaration of ideological beliefs. It read, “in our home, we believe: Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, No Human is Illegal, Science is Real, Love is Love, Kindness is Everything” (emphasis mine). Setting aside for a moment the blaring internal inconsistencies in that litany of woke affirmations, to lump a belief in science in with them speaks to a staggering level of historical ignorance. I will leave my critique of the sign’s broader political commentary for another day. In this writing I want to set straight the historical record. To wit: Christianity is not the enemy of science, it is its progenitor.
Pre-Christian View of the Natural World
The ancient Greeks are generally thought of as the fathers of science. That is true, up to a point. Certainly, modern man owes a debt to the great thinkers of old, many of whose legacies are with us today: Hippocrates (medicine and healing), Aristotle (taxonomy, zoology and philosophy), Euclid (mathematics) and Archimedes (physics) to name a few. But mighty thinkers as they were, they didn’t give birth to science as we think of it today. Not because they weren’t mentally equipped to do so, but because they weren’t spiritually equipped.
Although we see in these men Western Civilization’s first attempt to identify and harness a logical order underlying the natural world, they were able to manage only a glimpse. Though their intuition was correct, their culture rejected the idea and it wasn’t brought to fruition. There was no general sense among the ancients that the universe was rational. Theirs was a world of pagan gods whose whimsical actions served their own enigmatic ends while humans were left to bear the brunt: war, plagues, natural disasters, etc. And so, their nascent scientific revolution was over before it began.
Worse yet, much of the knowledge gained during that time was lost following the sacking and collapse of the Roman Empire. European barbarian tribes like the Vandals, Visigoths, Saxons and others ravaged the continent and plunged the world into a thousand years of darkness. What ancient knowledge survived is a product solely of the efforts of the early Christian church whose monks worked to preserve it in monasteries throughout Christendom.
Christians to the Rescue
As the church’s influence expanded so too did the movement towards education. Eventually the barbarian-ravaged European continent began to gentrify, and tribal villages expanded into towns and cities with primary and secondary schools. By the 12th century we see the establishment of formal universities, many of which are still operating today, most famously Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Notably, nearly every university founded during this period was established, or at least sanctioned, by the church.