Is Christianity At War With Science? (10/20
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.
1561-1626: Francis Bacon: He is credited with developing the earlier forms of the scientific method into a complete system of investigation (still used today), and made important contributions to astronomy.
Bacon believed strongly that there was sufficient evidence in the natural world to prove the existence of God, and that miracles were unnecessary for the purpose:
‘I had rather believe all the fables in the Legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind. And therefore, God never wrought miracle, to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it.
It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.’
Francis Bacon, ‘Of Atheism’, Essay XVI, in ‘Essays Of Francis Bacon’, 1625
Bacon also believed that God reveals Himself through ‘two books’, one being the Scriptures and one being the natural creation. Bacon believed firmly that the two complimented each other, and would never be in contradiction.
Indeed, he believed that the natural creation was designed by God to help us understand ‘the true sense of the Scriptures’, and the power of God Himself:
‘…our Saviour saith, YOU ERR, NOT KNOWING THE SCRIPTURES, NOR THE POWER OF GOD; laying before us two books or volumes to study, if we will be secured from error; first, the Scriptures, revealing the Will of God; and then the creatures [creation] expressing His Power; whereof the latter is a key unto the former: not only opening our understanding to conceive the true sense of the Scriptures, by the general notions of reason and rules of speech; but chiefly opening our belief, in drawing us into a due meditation of the omnipotency of God, which is chiefly signed and engraven upon His works.’
Francis Bacon, ‘The Advancement Of Learning’, Book 1, Chapter 6, Section 17, 1605
This concept of the Scriptures and creation as being two complimentary books which God uses to reveal Himself to man, was a common theme in writings by Christians over the centuries.
Nevertheless, Bacon was well aware of the fear some had of a contradiction between the Bible and science, though he did not have that fear himself (regarding it as a weakness):
‘Some are weakly afraid lest a deeper search into nature should transgress the permitted limits of sober mindedness, wrongfully wresting and transferring what is said in Holy Writ against those who pry into sacred mysteries, to the hidden things of nature, which are barred by no prohibition.’
‘And others again appear apprehensive that in the investigation of nature something may be found to subvert or at least shake the authority of religion, especially with the unlearned.’
Francis Bacon, ‘Novum Organum’, chapter 89, 1620
‘But these two last fears seem to me to savor utterly of carnal wisdom; as if men in the recesses and secret thought of their hearts doubted and distrusted the strength of religion and the empire of faith over the sense, and therefore feared that the investigation of truth in nature might be dangerous to them.
But if the matter be truly considered, natural philosophy is, after the word of God, at once the surest medicine against superstition and the most approved nourishment for faith, and therefore she is rightly given to religion as her most faithful handmaid, since the one displays the will of God, the other his power.’
Francis Bacon, ‘Novum Organum’, chapter 89, 1620
1571-1630: Johannes Kepler: Applied the scientific method to his investigations of the natural world. He is called ‘the first theoretical astrophysicist’. He made important contributions to optics and astrophysics, and discovered laws of planetary motion which were named after him, the knowledge of which is essential to modern space research.
‘Here we are concerned with the book of nature, so greatly celebrated in sacred writings. It is in this that Paul proposes to the Gentiles that they should contemplate God like the Sun in water or in a mirror. Why then as Christians should we take any less delight in its contemplation, since it is for us with true worship to honor God, to venerate him, to wonder at him?The more rightly we understand the nature and scope of what our God has founded, the more devoted the spirit in which that is done.’
Johannes Kepler, ‘The Secret of the Universe’, 1596
‘May God make it come to pass that my delightful speculation [‘The Secret Of The Universe’] have everywhere among reasonable men fully the effect which I strove to obtain in the publication; namely, that the belief in the creation of the world be fortified through this external support, that thought of the creator be recognized in its nature, and that His inexhaustible wisdom shine forth daily more brightly.
Then man will at last measure the power of his mind on the true scale, and will realize that God, who founded everything in the world according to the norm of quantity, also has endowed man with a mind which can comprehend these norms.’
Johannes Kepler, letter to his teacher Mästlin, April 19, 1597
‘Those laws lie within the power of understanding of the human mind; God wanted us to perceive them when He created us in His image in order that we may take part in His own thoughts…’
Johannes Kepler, letter to Herwart von Hohenburg, April 9/10, 1599
1616-1654: Nicholas Culpeper: An English physician, Culpeper was constantly at war with the medical establishment of his day, objecting to their harmful ‘treatments’ (such as blood letting), their practice of diagnosing patients without seeing them (typically by visually examining samples of their urine, which Culpeper said was useless), their expensive fees (placing medical help beyond the resources of many people), and their insistence on keeping useful medical knowledge a secret within their profession:
‘They are bloodsuckers, true vampires, have learned little since Hippocrates; use blood-letting for ailments above the midriff and purging for those below. They evacuate and revulse their patients until they faint. Black Hellebor, this poisonous stuff, is a favourite laxative.
It is surprising that they are so popular and that some patients recover. My own poor patients would not endure this taxing and costly treatment. The victims of physicians only survive since they are from the rich and robust stock, the plethoric, red-skinned residents of Cheapside, Westminster and St James.’
Nicholas Culpeper, as quoted by O Thulesius, ‘Nicholas Culpeper, English Physician and Astrologer’, 1992, in the article ‘Nicholas Culpeper: Herbalist Of The People’ by Dylan Warren Davis, published in ‘The Traditional Astrologer’ magazine, issue 5, summer, 1994
Culpeper diagnosed his patients in person (sometimes as many as 40 in a day), treated them for little or no money in return, and translated medical texts from Latin into English for the benefit of the common people. His most influential and long lasting work was a book describing the medical uses of various herbs, which he sold for a mere three pence in order to provide as many people as possible with a helpful medical text with which they could treat themselves (an idea which outraged the medical establishment, which repeatedly sought to censor him and shut down his physician’s practice).
This herbal text (‘The English Physitian’, 1652), has been in print ever since it was first published, and is more successful than any other non-religious English text, becoming a standard herbal work for around 250 years in both England and North America (where it was taken by the early settlers).
His second most popular work was an important text on midwifery (‘A Directory For Midwives’, 1651), which contained sensible and intelligent advice for midwives, in an age when childbirth was extremely dangerous and medical knowledge on the subject was still poor:
‘No part of medicine is of more general importance than that which relates to the nursing and management of children. Yet few parents pay proper attention to it. They leave their offspring to the sole care of nurses, who are either too negligent to do their duty or too ignorant to know it.
I venture to affirm that more human lives are lost by the careless inattention of parents and nurses than are saved by physitians. A sensible lady therefore should read a medical treatise which will instruct her in the management of her children. A little knowledge about cleanliness and care can do more good than many costly potions from the apothecary.’
Nicholas Culpeper, ‘A Directory For Midwives’, 1651, as quoted in the article ‘Nicholas Culpeper: Herbalist Of The People’ by Dylan Warren Davis, published in ‘The Traditional Astrologer’ magazine, issue 5, summer, 1994
Culpeper’s bold and innovative work contributed greatly to the knowledge of herbal medicine, and useful advances in medical practice. An intensely religious man, he believed that the government of the day would shortly collapse, and be replaced by the reign of the saints with Christ (whom he expected to return soon).