Article: Is Christianity At War With Science? (17/20)August 11, 2007
The following is a continuing list of Christians down through the centuries who, far from being constantly at war with science (commonly called ‘natural philosophy’ in previous times), took an active interest in seeking to understand how the universe worked. The first page in this list is here.
1789-1857: Augustin Louis Cauchy: A French mathematician whose extreme Catholic views made him enemies, but whose skill in mathematics produced major contributions to the field. He wrote over 700 mathematical papers, was a pioneer in mathematical analysis, developed the wave theory in optics, and contributed significantly to algebra, physics, calculus, number series theory, and geometry. His work was highly influential in the development of 19th century mathematics.
1800-1861: Lars Levi Læstadius: A strict Swedish Lutheran, Læstadius was an accomplished botanist who served on a number of expeditions. Læstadius made a number of botanical discoveries, and was recognised internationally, belonging to several botanical societies. He is also well known for his influential religious revival in Lapland, leading social reforms in the underprivileged village of Karesuando, which was plagued by alcoholism and violence. Læstadius’ successful reformation of the village has been honoured by the production of an opera, and the award ‘Man of the Millennium’ by local Laplanders.
1793-1864: Edward Hitchcock: A renowned 19th century geologist, Hitchcock was responsible for building the scientific reputation of Amherst College, where he was Professor of Natural Theology and Geology. He made significant contributions to geology and palaeontology.
During the 19th century the developing field of geology raised questions regarding the age of the earth. As geological discoveries indicated the earth was older than 17th century theologians had suggested, Hitchcock was one of a number of Christians who enthusiastically embraced the scientific evidence, and argued convincingly that an ‘old earth’ was no challenge to the Biblical account of creation in ‘The Religion Of Geology And Its Connected Sciences’ (1851).
Ironically the 19th century battle over the age of the earth was not between secular scientists attempting to convince obtuse and obstinate Christians, but almost entirely between Christian geologists and scientists being opposed by fellow Christians who could not reconcile an old earth with their interpretations of Scripture.
This conflict between Christians over the age of the earth became one of the most significant theological controversies of the 19th century, and contributed disproportionately to the later view that Christianity and science were at war. In reality this was a dispute between Christians over interpretation, not a dispute between Christianity and science. Christian geologists were fearlessly leading the way in developing geological science, and the majority of Christians saw no incompatibility between the Biblical record and an earth older than 6,000 years.