Sadly for most of us, the school year is underway. Our minds have been forced out of hibernation and back into backpacks and lockers stuffed with homework.
Many of us are already taking classes such as World History or US History. Lately in these classes, as well as in English, we have been learning a lot about the so-called "Enlightenment" and its effects on society. From this stems the point of this post…
This week we learned that Enlightenment thinkers (like Voltaire, Diderot, and Gibbon) taught that true science required the defeat of religion. Okay, no surprise there. As the Enlightenment thinkers were almost entirely ardent atheists and humanists, it is no surprise that they strongly disliked religion.
While learning about the "Enlightenment," I have found that many people have the wrong idea about what happened and its implications on religion. Many people have the idea that Enlightenment thinkers disproved religion in favor of reason and science. This is not the case at all.
I was VERY surprised to learn, though, that scientists like Galileo, Isaac Newton, and Francis Bacon showed that you could believe in natural laws and observation rather than God and religion. I must admit, when I first heard my history and English teachers say this, I was a bit puzzled. Perhaps they, as well as some of you, are unaware that these scientists were devout Christians. These scientists did not prove that you could believe in natural laws rather than God, but rather that natural laws came directly from God. For these men, natural laws were proof that God existed, proof of order in the universe.
Some of you may be skeptical that these men were devout Christians.
Many of us have heard of the "Galileo Controversy" in which the church officially censored his teaching of the heliocentric model. The church as an entirety, though, was not against his views, as many of us have simply assumed from this censorship. In fact, many church officials regarded his view well. Even through all of this, he still believed the Bible and that it supported his views. For more information on the "Galileo Controversy" see: The Galileo affair: history or heroic hagiography?
Sir Francis Bacon is credited with establishing the "scientific method" and helping to found the Royal Society of London. How could he be a devout Christian? Let's read a quote from Bacon:
"There are two books laid before us to study, to prevent our falling into error; first, the volume of the Scriptures, which reveal the will of God; then the volume of the Creatures, which express His power"
He was a devout believer in the Bible. He believed that the scientific method is the observation and study of God's world and the natural laws He uses to govern it.
Surely Sir Isaac Newton, being one of the greatest scientific minds to ever live, should know better than to believe in God. Perhaps you will be surprised by the astonishing fact that he wrote more about the Bible than he did about science. His belief that science leads to a greater understanding of God shaped his entire life. In his book Principia, he wrote:
"This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being. … This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called "Lord God"… or "Universal Ruler". … The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect."
- Principia, Book III; cited in Newton's Philosophy of Nature: Selections from his writings, p. 42.
So did Sir Isaac Newton prove that God is not necessary? No, in fact exactly the opposite; he believed that investigation and natural laws helped in the understanding of how God upholds the universe. In fact, Newton was strongly against atheism:
"Opposition to godliness is atheism in profession and idolatry in practice. Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors"
- A Short Scheme of the True Religion, manuscript quoted in Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by Sir David Brewster; cited in Newton's Philosophy of Nature, p. 65, Ref. 2.
Even today, we find manuscripts proving over and over Newton's religious fervor. In fact it appears from his writing that he was especially interested in the book of Daniel in the Bible (see Papers reveal Newton's religious side, USA Today). For more information on Sir Isaac Newton and his belief in the Creator God, see Sir Isaac Newton (1642/3–1727).
So was Voltaire right when he taught that science required the defeat of religion? Perhaps he needs to read-up on his history, as virtually every branch of science was started by a devout Christian (i.e. Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Johann Kepler, Isaac Newton, Carolus Linnaeus, etc). Also, the overwhelming majority of sixteenth and seventeenth century scientific leaders were Christians who believed it science's duty to comprehend the Bible. Through my searching, the best list of Christian (creation) scientists is located here: Creation scientists and other biographies of interest.
We shall end this post with a statement from the USA Today article mentioned above:
'The Newton papers, Ben-Menahem said, also complicate the idea that science is diametrically opposed to religion. "These documents show a scientist guided by religious fervor, by a desire to see God's actions in the world," she said.'
- Papers reveal Newton's religious side, USA Today
Until the next post and the next newsletter issue,