Archive for the ‘Christianity and science’ Category


New book available: Living On The Edge

October 22, 2013

Living On The Edge: a book for doubting Christians

Today Christians in the Western world are typically living in a post-Christian society. Christian beliefs are met with skepticism, and people see little reason to believe. Christians are confronted with daily challenges to their faith, and often struggle to understand the relevance of Christianity to modern life. Professional surveys indicate the following reasons why young Christians lose their faith.

  • Overprotective churches
  • Shallow church experience
  • Antagonism towards science
  • Simplistic teaching on morality
  • Christianity seems exclusive
  • Not treating doubters kindly

This 600 page book (written in English), addresses those concerns, providing evidence upholding and defending Christian beliefs and values, and proving they are relevant to the modern world. It is aimed at Christians struggling with faith and re-assessing their beliefs, as well as Christians who are interested in building a stronger faith. It is also useful for Christians who want a book to show their non-Christian friends that the Christian faith is reasonable.


Living On The Edge: challenges to faith

September 1, 2013

Today Christians in the Western world are typically living in a post-Christian society. Christian beliefs are met with skepticism, and people see little reason to believe. Christians are confronted with daily challenges to their faith, and often struggle to understand the relevance of Christianity to modern life.

The book ‘Living On The Edge: challenges to faith‘ (due to be printed in November 2013), addresses those concerns. For an overview of the book, click here.


Was Christianity responsible for the death of Greek science?

May 24, 2011

The Claim

Early Muslims repeatedly claimed for polemical purposes that Christianity brought Greek science to an end.[1] [2] [3] This view has become commonly accepted,[4] though the reality is different. [5]

Dating the Decline

Although estimates vary, historians of science typically agree that the decline of Greek science started before the Christian era.[6] [7] Farrington dates the decline from the 4th century BCE, [8] Seitz likewise,[9]  Ceccarelli from the end of the Alexandrian era in the next century (3rd century BCE),[10] Rana from 120 BCE,[11]and Toulmin and Goodfield from around the same era.[12]

Reasons for the Decline

Though reasons for the decline of Greek science involve a complex interplay of factors, historians of science suggest a range of causes which have nothing to do with Christianity.

Devreese and Berghe identify a stagnation in Greek science resulting from the uncritical systematization of previous research, which was accepted without challenge, stifling further development.[13]

The same suggestion is made by Cohen,[14] Pedersen,[15] and Toulmin and Goodfield.[16] Toulmin and Goodfield also note that increasing emphasis on the pagan mythological worldview, with its worship of the heavens and its religious explanations for natural phenomena, caused Greek science to lose ground. [17] [18]  [19]  [20]

Succeeding pagan philosophical systems contributed to disinterest in scientific enquiry during the Roman era.[21]  Similarly, Olson identifies Greek ideological reasons for the scientific decline.[22]

Lloyd, Cohen, and Gazale likewise suggest Greek science reached its limits for reasons within Greek civilization itself.[23] [24] [25] Lloyd’s comments include criticism of the pagan Greek cosmology and mythology, which led scientific inquiry into errors such as geocentrism.[26] [27] Haffner makes the same observation.[28] [29]

[1] ‘Like the Hellenes of late antiquity, who were convinced that the rise of Christianity meant the end of Greek science,77 Muslim authors blamed the decline of science and philosophy on the Christianization of the Roman empire.’, El-Cheikh, ‘Byzantium Viewed by the Arabs’, p. 106 (2004).

[2] ‘Writing in the Almohad court, Abu Yahya b. Mas’ada similarly places the blame for the decline of science on Constantine the Great:’, ibid., p. 108.

[3] ‘They all stress that the decline began in the fourth century A.D. and that Christianity was its root cause.’, ibid., p. 108.

[4] ‘The common assumption has been that Christianity was anti-intellectual, preferring faith instead of knowledge, and this was responsible for the decline of science from which it did not recover for a millennium’, Lestrel, ‘Morphometrics for the Life Sciences’, p. 66 (2000).

[5] ‘This is an oversimplification, as the picture is considerably more complicated (Lindbe, 1992).’, ibid., p. 66.

[6] ‘Nevertheless, it is agreed by most historians of ancient science that creative Greek science was on the wane, perhaps as early as 200 B.C., certainly by A.D. 200.‘, Lindberg, ‘Science and the Early Church’, in Lindberg & Numbers, ‘God and Nature: historical essays on the encounter between Christianity and science’, p. 30 (1986).

[7]At the end of the second century, when the great Hellenistic kingdoms declined, falling directly or indirectly under the sway of Rome, science seems to have fallen into a state of stagnation. True, the Greek part of the Roman Empire would witness the rise to fame of such great scientists as the physician Galen and the geographer and astronomer Ptolemy, but the golden age of Greek science and, for that matter, of Greek philosophy, had passed.’, UNESCO, ‘History of Humanity: From the seventh century B.C. to the seventh century A.D.’, p. 199 (1996).

[8] ‘Benjamin Farrington, Greek Science (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), would push the decline of Greek science even earlier, to the fourth century BC.’, Lindberg, ‘Science and the Early Church’, ibid., p. 45.

[9] ‘The highly innovative period of Greek science which lasted from about 500 BC to about 300 BC and, in a very real sense reached something in the nature of a termination with the rejection of Aristarchus’ solar-centered planetary system, was followed not so much by stagnation as by ferment of a very different kind from that which had taken place earlier.’, Seitz, ‘The Science Matrix: the Journey, Travails, Triumphs’, p. 22 (1998).

[10]The end of the Alexandrian era marked the eclipse of the ancient Greek science, and the systematic study of the design of machines became stagnant for a long period of time.’, Ceccarelli, ‘Distinguished Figures in Mechanism and Machine Science’, p. 5 (2007).

[11]After about 120 BC, the Greek Science started to lose its originality. Little of worth was produced after 200 A.D.’, Rana, ‘Geographical Thought: A systematic record of evolution’, p. 50 (2004).

[12]It was not only that the first enthusiasm had gone: in addition, from 100 B.C. on, men began to doubt more and more whether after all rational inquiry alone could uncover the workings of the Heavens. And since this problem had been something of a touchstone for natural philosophy, failure in this direction had wider repercussions.’, Toulmin & Goodfield, ‘The fabric of the heavens: the development of astronomy and dynamics’, p. 130 (1999).

[13] ‘One of the reasons why Greek science came to a halt is that the ideas of leading philosophers were accepted as decisive, while empirical tests were barely pursued.’, Devreese & Berghe, ”Magic is no magic’: the wonderful world of Simon Stevin’, p. xiv (2008).

[14]In short, after A.D. 200 much effort is being spent on preserving the results of scientific inquiry achieved in earlier times, but (with the sole exceptions of Diophantos in the 3rd, Proklos in the 4th, and Philoponus in the 6th century A.D.) the original spirit of fresh research has meanwhile been lost.’, Cohen, ‘The Scientific Revolution: a historiographical inquiry’, p. 253 (1994).

[15]Backed by their enormous library, Alexandrian scholars turned more and more to the systematization of past results. They were brilliant compilers, editors, and encyclopedists. Only Ptolemy’s eminent and creative work in astronomy is an exception. When with the advent of Plotinus (third century A.D.) neo-Platonist philosophy captured the minds of creative thinkers, the tide had turned. Later commentators like Proclos or Johannes Philoponus might occasionally venture new ideas of lasting value, and the writings of Simplikios must be regarded as an original contribution, as well as useful to a better understanding of traditional doctrines; but, in general, Hellenistic science had become stagnant.’, Pedersen, ‘Early Physics and Astronomy: A historical introduction’, p. 151 (1993).

[16]‘Greek astronomers began to limit their ambitions, and to concentrate on doing those things that they were already good at doing. They became satisfied with making small amendments to existing mathematical theories; filling in details rather than branching out in new directions. Since the progress of science demands that we should always be trying to solve the problems that have so far defeated us, and not just go on applying the techniques we already have, later Greek scientists in this way contributed positively to the decline of their subject.’, Toulmin & Goodfield, ‘The fabric of the heavens: the development of astronomy and dynamics’, pp. 130-131 (1999).

[17]‘By A.D. 200, astrology had recovered all the ground it ever lost, and had effectively displaced rational astrophysics.’, ibid., p. 130.

[18] ‘Compare Ptolemy’s position, as stated here, with the attitudes of the earlier Greek natural philosophers. We are half-way back to the Babylonians.’, ibid., p. 143 (1999).

[19] ‘The original Greek ambition to explain heavenly happenings in terms of causes familiar to us on Earth has been abandoned.’, ibid., p. 144.

[20]‘Aristotle’s physical distinction between the changeable Earth and the changeless Heavens was now taken with full theological earnestness; things in the Heavens were once again made objects of worship, as they had been in Babylonian times;’, ibid., p. 145.

[21] ‘The Stoics had some valuable scientific ideas, particularly in connection with matter-theory, but for many of them the Divinity of the Heavens – which for Aristotle was a theoretical insight – was important rather as a profound religious truth. On this basis, some of them even built up a sophisticated kind of star-worship, teaching that a man’s soul escaped at death from his body, to be reunited with his own personal star. (Plate 5.) They believed that all natural events were causally determined, but this belief encouraged not scientific enquiry so much as faith in divination. Among the Romans, the serious alternative to Stoicism was the philosophy of Epicurus. This doctrine did no more than Stoicism to encourage scientific work: if anything, the Epicureans were even less interested in questions of astronomy. They turned men’s attention right away from the Heavens, arguing that what went on in the sky was of no concern to men, whose proper business was with the problems of life on this Earth. The Roman poet Lucretius, who popularized Epicurus’ views in the first century B.C., even dismissed the idea of the Antipodes and treated the sphericity of the Earth – which had been a commonplace in Athens for several centuries – as an entirely unproved speculation.’, ibid., p. 147.

[22] ‘But among the significant factors, one must surely acknowledge the fact that for ideological reasons, Greek scientists seldom sought ways of developing practical consequences from their discoveries.’, Olson, ‘Science Deified and Science Defied: The Historical Significance of Science Vol. 1: From Bronze Age to the Beginnings of the Modern Era, ca 3500 B.C. to A.D. 1640’, p. 144 (1983).

[23] ‘It is far from self-evident that Greek science, on the eve of its decay, still possessed an inherent capability for further growth. Rather, there are signs that Greek science had indeed reached the limits set to its natural progress:’, Cohen, ‘The Scientific Revolution: A historiographical inquiry’, p. 396 (1994).

[24] ‘Altogether, to the small extent that Lloyd seeks to explain the lack of continuous growth displayed by Greek thought on nature, he ascribes it to “the weakness of the social and ideological basis of ancient science.”’, ibid., pp. 253-254.

[25] ‘That view is not entirely fair, and the decline of Greek science should not be attributed solely to the Roman conquest. Its seeds must be sought within the Greek civilization itself. According to L. Brunschwig, “The science of antiquity lacked what we regard today as the very condition of knowledge: the connection between calculation and physical experimentation.”‘, Gazale, ‘Number: from Ahmes to Cantor’, p. 37 (2009).

[26] ‘Nevertheless, despite the fertility in ideas, and despite the development of criteria and methods, the dominant cosmological view remained anthropocentric. The victory of geocentricity over heliocentricity was both a symptom and a cause of this.’, Lloyd, ‘Methods and Problems in Greek Science: Selected Papers’, p. 161 (1993).

[27] ‘The anthropocentrism of Greek cosmology and science is in certain respects at least, a weakness.’, ibid., p. 162.

[28] ‘The fundamental reason for the stillbirth of science in ancient Greece was a world view ‘steeped in the idea of eternal cycles.’ According to Aristotle, everything general, including ideas, recurred cyclically, and this undermined the concept of time.’, Haffner, ‘The Mystery of Reason’, p. 155 (2001).

[29] ‘The Great Year was a circular barrier for the Greek mind and deprived it of insights and aspirations which were necessary for the growth of science.’, ibid., p. 155.


Who was Hypatia?

May 5, 2011

The Myths

Hypatia has been depicted as a revolutionary woman scientist,[1] the last of the ancient pagan scientists,[2] a representative of feminist values,[3] and the designer of the astrolabe and hydrometer.[4] [5] Her death has been considered exemplary of the intolerance of religion,[6] and the death of Greek science.[7] [8]

The Facts

Hypatia was a neo-Platonist lecturer and scholar in 4th century Alexandria (Egypt), who taught mathematics and astronomy to members of the privileged elite[9] as part of the mysteries of Neoplatonism.[10]

She was not the first woman ‘scientist’[11] or mathematician.[12] [13] [14] Her position as a teacher of men did not threaten the existing social or religious order.[15] She did not invent the astrolabe,[16] [17] and there is no evidence she invented the hydrometer.[18]

Her brutal murder by a Christian mob was due to political power play, not conflict between Christianity and paganism or science.[19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24]

Her earliest historian (a Christian), praised her and condemned her murderers.[25] She is quoted as having expressed many rationalist ideals,[26] [27] [28] [29]  [30] but these are all fictional. [31] [32] [33] [34] [35]

[1] ‘Hypatia of Alexandria (ca. 370–415) Egyptian astronomer, philosopher, teacher, and mathematician regarded as the first woman scientist, and the first woman to contribute to the study of mathematics.’. Todd, ‘The Facts on File Algebra Handbook’, p. 66 (2003).

[2] ‘Alic, Margaret. Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of women in Science from Antiquity Through the Nineteenth Century. Boston: Beacon and London: Women’s Press, 1986. Examines biographical and scientific evidence to reveal the lives and accomplishments of women in natural and physical sciences and mathematics. The material dealing with Hypatia claims for her the roles of the last important pagan scientist in the western world, and the representative of end [sic] of ancient science.’, Magill, Moose, & Aves (eds.), ‘Dictionary of World Biography: The ancient world’, p. 583 (1998).

[3] ‘Little known for centuries, Hypatia emerged in the nineteenth century as a symbol for feminists of the historical suppression of women’s accomplishments.’, McIntyre, ‘Hypatia’, in Traver (ed.), ‘From polis to empire, the ancient world, c. 800 B.C.-A.D. 500: A Biographical Dictionary’, The Great Cultural Eras of the Western World, p. 205 (2001).

[4] ‘Synesius refers to two mechanical devices, a hydrometer and a silver astrolabe, that he and Hypatia invented‘. Rosser, ‘Women, Science, and Myth: Gender beliefs from antiquity to the present’, p. 13 (2008).

[5] ‘Synesius of Cyrene (North Africa) a student of Hypatia, credited her with the invention of apparatus for distilling water and measuring the level of liquids.’, Lumpkin, ‘Hypatia and Women’s Rights in Ancient Egypt’, in Van Sertima (ed.), ‘Black Women in Antiquity’, p. 155 (1984).

[6] ‘Usually interpreted as an illustration of barbaric religious fanaticism and intolerance for humanistic inquiry,’, Naylor, ‘North Africa: a history from antiquity to the present’, p. 51 (2009).

[7] ‘Her death presents the perfect symbol of the end of the classical world, the end for a long time of the possibility of disinterested scientific inquiry.’, Whaley, ‘Women’s history as scientists: a guide to the debates’, p. 19 (2003).

[8] ‘Van der Waerden reiterates the theme that Alexandrian science ceased with her death:’, Dzielska, ‘Hypatia of Alexandría’, p. 25 (1995).

[9]They were from wealthy and influential families; in time they attained posts of state and ecclesiastical eminence. Around their teacher these students formed a community based on the Platonic system of thought and interpersonal ties. They called the knowledge passed on to them by their ‘divine guide’ mysteries. They held it secret, refusing to share it with people of lower social rank, whom they regarded as incapable of comprehending divine and cosmic matters.’, ibid., p. 105.

[10] To her disciples Hypatia was a medium of divinely revealed truths.

[11] In Hypatia’s day there was actually no such thing as a ‘scientist’ in the modern sense of the term, only the ‘natural philosopher’, who studied the natural world and typically combined observations with religious and philosophical commentary.

[12] ‘She [Dzielska] also unearths a number of references to women in the late Greek philosophical world, which show Hypatia’s example to be not so unusual as had been thought.’, Hodgkin, ‘A history of mathematics: from Mesopotamia to modernity’, p. 72 (2005).

[13] ‘(Incidentally, Hypatia is not the earliest known woman mathematician; Pappus had directed a polemic against a female teacher of mathematics named Pandrosion, and a certain Ptolemais is quoted in Porphyry’s commentary on Ptolemy’s Harmonics.)’, Jones, ‘Later Greek and Byzantime mathematics’, in Grattan-Guinness (ed.), ‘Companion Encyclopedia of the History and Philosophy of the Mathematicla Sciences’, volume 1, p. 65 (2003).

[14]Hypatia, after all, wasn’t the first woman philosopher. The Project on the History of Women in Philosophy amply documented that there were many women philosophers before Hypatia; she didn’t come along unti lafter the fourth century A.D. Among those who preceded her were numbers of Pythagorean women philosophers from the sixth to the third or second century B.C. and others -‘, McAlister, ‘Hypatia’s Daughters: fifteen hundred years of women philosophers’, p. x (1996).

[15] ‘The highly public nature of Hypatia’s career was consistent with the African tradition of Egyptian women,’, Lumpkin, ‘Hypatia and Women’s Rights in Ancient Egypt’, in Van Sertima (ed.), ‘Black Women in Antiquity’, pp. 155-156 (1984).

[16] ‘The invention of the astrolabe is usually attributed to Hipparchus of the second century BC. But there is no firm evidence to support this view. It is however certain that the instrument was well known to the Greeks before the beginning of the Christian era.’, Sarma, ‘The Archaic and the Exotic: studies in the history of Indian astronomical instruments’, p. 241 (2008).

[17] ‘It is generally accepted that Greek astrologers, in either the 1st or 2nd centuries BCE, invented the astrolabe‘, Krebs, ‘Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance’, p. 196 (2004).

[18] *In fact her student Synesius wrote her a letter telling her how to make one for him, and explaining how to use it; ‘I am in such evil fortune that I need a hydroscope. See that one is cast in brass for me and put together. The instrument in question is a cylindrical tube, which has the shape of a flute and is about the same size. It has notches in a perpendicular line, by means of which we are able to test the weight of the waters. A cone forms a lid at one of the extremities, closely fitted to the tube. The cone and the tube have one base only. This is called the baryllium. Whenever you place the tube in water, it remains erect. You can then count the notches at your ease, and in this way ascertain the weight of the water.’ Fitzgerald, ‘The Letters of Synesius of Cyrene’, p. 99 (1926).

[19] ‘As the Czech historian Maria Dzielska documents in a recent biography, Hypatia got caught up in a political struggle between Cyril, an ambitious and ruthless churchman eager to extend his authority, and Hypatia’s friend Orestes, the imperial prefect who represented the Roman Empire.’, Lindberg, ‘Myth 1: That the Rise of Christianity Was Responsible For the Demise of Ancient Science’, in Numbers (ed.), ‘Galileo Goes to Jail: and other myths about science and religion’, p. 9 (2009).

[20]her death had everything to do with local politics and virtually nothing to do with science. Cyril’s crusade against pagans came later. Alexandrian science and mathematics prospered for decades to come.’, ibid., p. 9.

[21] ‘That Synesius, a Christian, maintained such close ties with the Greek intellectual traditions and with his teacher Hypatia, suggests that a hybrid amalgam existed between the intellectual pagan and intellectual Christian traditions.’, Wessel, ‘Cyril of Alexandria and the Nestorian controversy: the making of a’, p. 54 (2004).

[22] ‘Among Christian intellectual elites, this Neoplatonic variety of paganism posed no real threat to their theological views. Such easy coexistence between certain pagan and Christian intellectuals suggests that Hypatia’s paganism per se may not have angered Cyril as much as John of Nikiu claimed.’, ibid., p. 54.

[23] ‘Hypatia was a pagan, but she had a lot of students who were Christians and maybe even a few Jewish students.’, Moore & Bruder, ‘Philosophy: the power of ideas’, p. 85 (2001).

[24]Pagan religiosity did not expire with Hypatia, and neither did mathematics and Greek philosophy. (Dzielska 1995, p. 105).’, Hodgkin, ‘A history of mathematics: from Mesopotamia to modernity’, p. 72 (2005).

[25] Socrates Scholasticus, ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ (c. 439).

[26]Hypatia was unimpressed with what she called religious superstition. She once described how she felt “truth” was different from religious beliefs: “Men will fight for superstition as quickly as for the living truth – even more so, since superstition is intangible, you can’t get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.”‘, Donovan, ‘Hypatia: Mathematician, Inventor, and Philosopher’, p. 43 (2008).

[27] ‘Making matters even worse, Hypatia made public statements against organized religion: All formal… religions are delusive [able to easily mislead people] and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final.’, p. 48.

[28] ‘As Hypatia explained, “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”‘, p. 43.

[29]She also warned about the dangers of teaching children myths and fairy tales: Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing. The mind of a child accepts them, and only through great pain, perhaps even tragedy, can the child be relieved of them.’, ibid., p. 42; this is sometimes understood as advice against teaching religion to children.

[30] This has derived support from Lynn Osen’s ‘Women in Mathematics’ (1975), which ironically does not attribute these statements to her at all, but to her father Theon; ‘”All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final,” he told her. “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all” (Hubbard 1908, p. 82).’, Osen, ‘Women in Mathematics’, p. 24 (1975).

[31] ‘The most creative is the exciting account of Hypatia’s educational training and life composed by Elbert  Hubbard in 1908, who made up most of it to compensate for the lack of historical evidence. He even invented quotations that he attributed to Hypatia, and had a suitably ‘ancient’-looking picture of her in profile drawn to illustrate the piece.’, Cohen, ‘Philosophical Tales: being an alternative history revealing the characters, the plots, and the hidden scenes that make up the True Story of Philosophy’, p. 47 (2008); all quotations attributed to Hypatia or her father are the invention of Hubbard, who had no historical training.

[32] ‘”All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final,” said Theon to Hypatia. “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”‘, Hubbard, ‘Little journeys to the Homes of Great Teachers: Hypatia’, pp. 82-83 (1908).

[33]Said Hypatia, “Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child-mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after-years relieved of them. In fact, men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth – often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you can not get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.”’, ibid., pp. 84-85.

[34] ‘In his ability to see the good in all things Hypatia placed Plotinus ahead of Plato, but then she says, “Had there been no Plato there would have been no Plotinus, and although Plotinus surpassed Plato, yet it is plain that Plato, the inspirer of Plotinus and so many more, is the one man whom philosophy cannot spare. Hail Plato!!”‘, ibid., p. 93

[35] ‘”To rule by fettering the mind through fear of punishment in another world, is just as base as to use force,” said Hypatia in one of her lectures.’, ibid., p. 99.


The Two Books: Historic harmony of Bible & nature

April 19, 2011

The Bible describes nature as a reliable witness to God and His truth in harmony with the written word of Scripture; Psalms 8 [1] & 19,[2] [3] [4] Acts 4:16-17,[5] [6] [7] Romans 1:19-20.[8] [9] [10]

Early Jewish expositors understood this,[11] and Jesus taught it also.[12] In Christianity the principle became known as the ‘two books’.[13]

  • c.130-202: Irenaeus[14]
  • c.160-225: Tertullian[15]
  • c.251–356: Anthony the Abbot[16]
  • c.329-379: Basil of Caesarea[17]
  • c.347-407: John Chrysostom[18]
  • c.354-430: Augustine[19]
  • c.580-662: Maximus the Confessor[20]
  • c.810-877: John Scotus Eriugena[21]
  • c.1096-1141: Hugo of St Victor[22]
  • 1090-1153: Bernard of Clairvaux[23]
  • c.1140-1214: John Abbot of Ford[24]
  • 1217-1274: Bonaventura[25]
  • 1214-1294: Roger Bacon[26]
  • 1385-1436: Raymond of Sebond[27]
  • 1561: Belgic Confession[28]
  • 1571:1630: Johannes Kepler[29]
  • 1564-1642: Galileo Galilei[30] [31]
  • 1605-1682: Thomas Browne[32]

In the 19th century the ‘two books’ principle [33] [34] [35] was used as the reason for interpreting Scripture using scientific knowledge.[36] [37] [38]  [39]

[1]In the vast expanse of the creation that witnesses to God’s glory and greatness, the singer becomes conscious of the utter depths of his being as a human., Kraus, ‘A Continental Commentary: Psalms 1-59’, p. 182 (1993).

[2] ‘There is no speech or language, where their voice is not heard — meaning that, whatever the language or dialect of a people, they can still hear and comprehend the message of God as told by creation, told in a language that all can understand.’, Tesh & Zorn ‘Psalms’, College Press NIV commentary, p. 190 (1999).

[3] ‘The narration of the heavens is “word” (אמר) and entails “theological knowledge.”so also a knowledge concerning the Creator and his work is transmitted by the heavenly powers’, Kraus, ‘A Continental Commentary: Psalms 1-59’, p. 270 (1993).

[4]But the speech of the heavens and firmament, of day and night, has a twofold thrust: it is addressed to God as praise, yet it is also addressed to mankind as a revealer of “knowledge” (v 3).’, Craigie, ‘Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 1-50’, p, 180 (2nd ed. 2004).

[5] ‘the notion that God’s providential care can be demonstrated by the beneficence of nature’, Pervo & Attridge, ‘Acts: A Commentary on the Book of Acts’, Hermeneia, pp. 357–358 (2009).

[6] ‘it should have been possible for men to realize that he existed, since he had given testimony to himself in the world of nature by providing good things for men.’, Marshall, ‘Acts: An introduction and commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 5, p. 253 (1980).

[7]Jewish teachers agreed that nature testifies to God’s character (this is biblical; cf. Ps 19:1; 89:37)’, Keener, ‘The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament’, (1993).

[8] ‘This refers to what may be known of God by observing the creation’, Abernathy, ‘An Exegetical Summary of Romans 1-8’, p. 72 (2nd ed. 2008).

[9] ‘Stoic philosophers argued that the nature of God was evident in creation… Jewish people scattered throughout the Greco-Roman world used this argument to persuade pagans to turn to the true God.’, Keener, ‘The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament’, (1993).

[10]in addition to revealing himself in Christ and in the Scriptures, God has also revealed himself to everybody through nature and history.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition’ (4th ed. 1994).

[11] ‘The day when rain falls is greater than [the day of] the Revival of the Dead, for the Revival of the Dead is for the righteous only whereas rain is both for the righteous and for the wicked’, Talmud Babylon, Tractate Taanith, folio 7a (Soncino Press ed. 1973).

[12] Matthew 5: 44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

[13] Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373), Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-394), John Cassian (c.360-435), Pelagius (c.354-420/440), Vincent of Beauvais (c.1190-c.1264), Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), Thomas of Chobham (c.1255-1327), Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), Thomas of Kempis (1380-1471), and Louis of Granada (1505-1588), were others holding this view.

[14] ‘He is to Us in This Life Invisible and Incomprehensible, Nevertheless He is Not Unknown; Inasmuch as His Works Do Declare Him.’, Irenaeus, ‘Against Heresies’ (4.20), in Roberts, Donaldson, & Coxe, ‘The Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume I: Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325’, p. 487 (1997 ed.).

[15] ‘He, as I suppose, who from the beginning of all things has given to man, as primary witnesses for the knowledge of Himself, nature in her (manifold) works’, Tertullian, ‘Against Marcion’ (5.16), Roberts, Donaldson, & Coxe, ‘The Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume III: Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325’, p. 464 (1997).

[16] ‘My book, O philosopher,’ replied Antony, * is the nature of things that are made, and it is present whenever I wish to read the words of of God.’, Socrates Scholasticus, ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ (4.23), in Walford & Valois, ‘The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Surnamed Scholasticus, or the Advocate’, p. 238 (1853).

[17]continuously contemplating the beauty of creatures, through them as if they were letters and words, we could read God’s wisdom and providence over all things’, Tanzella-Nitti, ‘The Two Books Prior to the Scientific Revolution’, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (57.3.237), September 2005.

[18] ‘This it was which the prophet signified when he said, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” … Upon this volume the unlearned, as well as the wise man, shall be alike able to look;’, Chrysostom, ‘Homilies Concerning the Statues’, (9.4, 5), in Schaff,  ‘The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Volume IX’, p. 401 (1997 ed.).

[19]It is the divine page that you must listen to; it is the book of the universe that you must observe. The pages of Scripture can only be read by those who know how to read and write, while everyone, even the illiterate, can read the book of the universe.’, Tanzella-Nitti, ‘The Two Books Prior to the Scientific Revolution’, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (57.3.237), September 2005.

[20]the natural law and the written law have the same dignity and teach the same things, in a way that one of them has nothing more, nothing less than the other’, ibid., p. 237.

[21] ‘Theternal light manifests it to the world in two ways, through Scripture and through creatures.’, ibid., p. 246.

[22] ‘this whole visible world is a book written by the finger of God’, ibid., p. 239.

[23] ‘since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made, as if this sensible world were a public book, in which everyone is able to read God’s wisdom’, ibid., p. 247

[24]there is the book of creatures, the book of Scripture and the book of Grace’, ibid., p. 241.

[25] ‘By the book of nature shows itself as the principle of power; by the book of Scripture as the principle of restoring.’, ibid., p., 240.

[26] ‘Our Saviour says, “Ye err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God;”* thus laying before us two books to study, if we will be secured from error; viz., the Scriptures, which reveal the will of God, and the creation, which expresses his power; the latter whereof is a key to the former’, Bacon, ‘Advancement of Learning’, in ‘Advancement of Learning and Novum Organum’, p. 27 (rev. ed. 1900).

[27]there are two books given to us by God, the one being the book of the whole collection of creatures or the book of nature, and the other being the book of sacred Scripture.’, Hess, ‘God’s Two Books: Special Revelation and Natural Science in the Christian West’, in Peters & Bennett, ‘Bridging Science and Religion’, p. 123 (2003).

[28] ‘Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God * We know him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse. Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word’, the Belgic Confession (rev. ed. 1619, in Schaff, ‘Creeds of the Evangelical Protestant Churches’, volume 3, p. 384 (1876).

[29]Since we astronomers are Priests of the Most High God with respect to the book of nature, it behooves us that we do not aim at the glory of our own spirit, but above everything else at the glory of God’, Tanzella-Nitti, ‘The Two Books Prior to the Scientific Revolution’, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (57.3.248), September 2005.

[30] ‘Galileo famously said “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.”’, Lissitz, ‘The Concept of Validity: revisions, new directions, and applications’, p. 96 (2009).

[31] ‘the glory and greatness of Almighty God are marvelously discerned in all his works and divinely read in the open book of heaven.’, Galilei, ‘Letter to Madame Christina of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany: Concerning the Use of Biblical Quotations in Matters of Science’ (1615), Drake (trans.).

[32]there are two books from Nature whence I collect my divinity. Besides written one of God, another of his servant, nature‘, Browne, ‘Religio Medici’ part one, in Roberts (ed.), ‘Religio Medici And Other Essays By Sir Thomas Browne’, p. 21 (1st rev. ed. 1902).

[33] ‘The Advocate: For the Testimony of God as it is Written in the Books of Nature and Revelation CONDUCTED BY JOHN THOMAS, M.D. The invisible attributes of God, even his eternal power and divinity, since the creation of the world, are very evident; being known by his works.—PAUL. All scripture given by divine inspiration, is profitable for doctrine, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect—completely fitted for every good work.—PAUL.’, Thomas, The Advocate, volume 4, title page (1837).

[34] ‘THE ADVOCATE will, therefore, exercise himself to the best of his ability and judgment, in setting forth the manifold wisdom of God as inscribed on the brilliant pages of those two interesting volumes.”’, Thomas, The Advocate, volume 3, (1835-1836).

[35] ‘Coming now to man himself, we find in him a subject common to both revelations—an object in nature subject to her and a subject of scripture inseparable from it.’, The Christadelphian, (2:115), 1865.

[36]NATURE makes no false impressions, and just so the Bible. …The inconsistency spoken of between nature and scripture, arises not from antagonism, but from the misinterpretations of both. It is man’s interpretation of the one set against man’s interpretations of the other. It is not nature versus scripture, but false science against true theology, or false theology against scientific fact.’, WDJ, ‘The Bible as a Law of Life and Immortality’, The Christadelphian, (1:93), 1864.

[37] ‘Every thing in art and science are but copies of the workings of God’s spirit in nature. And it is by the study of nature and by meditation, on the discoveries which have been made as communicated to him through books, that man acquires his knowledge in the science of life, and so inhales this inspiration of God’s spirit.’, WDJ, ‘The Bible as a Law of Life and Immortality’, The Christadelphian, (2:161), 1865.

[38] ‘Some scientific men, we believe, view the Scriptures through the distorted medium of “confessions of faith” and doubt them, and theologians view science and call it false, because it does not take to their turn-pike road.’, Roberts, ‘The Christadelphian, (1:93-94), 1864.

[39] ‘That the earth had a history anterior to the six days’ work, is certain, from both scripture and nature. Geology proves the existence of forms of life long before the Mosaic creation; and the Bible tacitly affirms a pre-Adamite order of things,’, Roberts, ‘Were There Human Beings Before Adam?’, The Christadelphian, (48. 5:172), 1868.


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.

Article here.


Article: Is Christianity At War With Science? (16/20)

August 3, 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.

1822-1906: Henry Baker Tristram: An Anglican priest and ornithologist, who spent years in the Middle East. A number of birds are named after him in recognition of his ornithological contributions. An avid author, he produced works on a range of subjects, and many of his books had to do with his great interest in the history of the Middle East, especially as it related to the Bible:

  • The Great Sahara (1860)
  • The Land of Israel, a Journal of Travels with Reference to Its Physical History (1865)
  • The Natural History of the Bible (1867)
  • The Daughters of Syria (1872)
  • Land of Moab (1874)
  • Pathways of Palestine (1882)
  • The Fauna and Flora of Palestine (1884)
  • Eastern Customs in Bible Lands (1894)
  • Rambles in Japan (1895)

The last work listed here (somewhat incongruously), was the result of a trip to Japan to visit his daughter, working there as a missionary.

Article here.