Editor's note: Christian History 134, Science and Technology
For this editor’s letter, you’re going to hear from two editorial voices, because we have differing backgrounds on this issue.
I (Jennifer) grew up in a household with a chemist-turned-United-Methodist-pastor for father. As far as I knew, science and faith went hand-in-hand. But as I grew older, I learned that many scientists and Christians have assumed an aggressive posture toward each other. Highly popular media portrayals of scientific topics have reinforced the conflict.
I (Chris) recall this unsettling discord in my youth between scientific exploration and faith. In fact when editing issue #76 on The Christian Face of the Scientific Revolution, I wrote:
Before I started working on this issue, I had always harbored (though fancying I knew better) a vague, unsettling notion that the things of science and the things of God are somehow incompatible . . . [and] an equally disturbing sense that, throughout its history, the church had seen science as a potential threat to the faith. . . . [This idea is] a pretty disruptive poltergeist in the mental house of any modern Christian who suffers with it.
Creation is a gift
Yet if we actually look at church history, we find a very different story. From the very earliest years of the Christian church, creation was taken to be a gift, made and given to us humans by a good God. And human reason was seen as an important part—even the most important part—of the image of God implanted in us at creation. The world is a place of beautiful order and regularity, shaped by God and everywhere reflecting his glory and his supreme intelligence (we told that story at length in issue #119, The Wonder of Creation), and God in Genesis mandates that we use reason to work with the raw materials of creation for human flourishing.
Furthermore, the Scientific Revolution was led by people of faith who pursued scientific and technological innovation out of Christian motives and understandings; and the Christian preparation for that Scientific Revolution turns out to have been particularly intense and effective during the medieval period in the West—when Christians founded the university and laid the groundwork for modern science.
The thinkers we discuss in this issue—ranging from the late ancient period through the twenty-first century—knew that mathematical and naturalistic explanations do not preclude theological ones and that scientific understanding does not rule out awe and wonder. In fact it may aid them. They saw their study of science as reflecting their deeply rooted faith and their faith as being enriched by their increasing understanding of the scientific world. They weren’t scientists in spite of being Christians; they were scientists because they were Christians first. Issue #76 has some more good words for us to remember:
We live this science. Even the confirmed Luddites among us find our lives entangled, improved, and burdened a hundred ways each day by modern science. And we live, or try to live, this faith. That is, we know we have our being in God—and should have our minds conformed to Christ—while at our computers, in our cars, at the doctor’s office, and everywhere else science meets us.
Let the stories of these faithful innovators guide and inspire you as you seek to have your mind conformed to Christ in your own work and life. CH
P.S. We thank Robert Bishop for his assistance in brainstorming for this issue.
By Jennifer Woodruff Tait and Chris Armstrong
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #134 in 2020]
Divine power, wisdom, and goodness
The medieval flourishing of natural philosophy in ChristianityJames Hannam
Has Christianity always warred with science?David Lindberg
The condemnations of 1277
Debates over Aristotle’s role in scientific explorationJames Hannam
To make whole
Hildegard of Bingen, naturalist and apothecaryGlenn Myers
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