Why Atheists Hold Back Scientific Advancement
It is often said that Christianity or religion in general is unscientific, or that Christians are victims of unscientific thought. A glance at the enormous Christian contribution to science whose very work is cited as proof against religion itself is enough to dispel that notion, but we’ll go much further than that in this text.
To begin with, let’s start with an overview of religious contribution to science. I won’t make the case that most scientists are Christians, they are not, nor that Christians are more likely to be scientists, they are not, only that most major scientific discoveries and developments were made by Christians. According to 100 Years of Nobel Prizes, a review of Nobel prizes awarded between 1901 and 2000 reveals that (65.4%) of Nobel Prizes Laureates, have identified Christianity in its various forms as their religious preference. Overall, 72.5% of all the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, 65.3% in Physics, 62% in Medicine, 54% in Economics were Christians. Just in case you think that this is indicative of bias in Nobel Prize selection or bias in the sample size Nobel Prize recipients are drawn from, read on:
To single out just a few of the most impactful individuals, without whom science would be rendered impotent:
Galileo Galilei, a genuinely pious Roman Catholic, who’s name literally means “of Galilee,” was persecuted by the Inquisition, a fact some view as showing that Galileo Galilei was against Christianity, ironically putting atheists in the odd position of agreeing with the Inquisition rather than Galileo. By any and all accounts Galilei was a devoutly religious man, and his work of course was based upon the precursor to his work, the Theory of Impetus, itself proposed by the Christian theologian John Philoponus.
Issac Newton, who’s contributions to math and science cannot be summed up in any brief description, was a devout but unorthodox Christian who spent a large amount of his time on theological pursuits, being the first to derive a date for the crucifixion of Christ, he also calculated a minimum date for the end of the world as predicted in Revelations, completed a stunning geometric analysis of Solomon’s Temple and proposed that the temple’s measurements given in the Bible are mathematical problems, considering it a complex code of symbolic and mathematical language, who wrote several treatises on Biblical interpretation and just generally spent a very large amount of his time focused on Biblical analysis. I’m not mentioning this to promote or defend the accuracy of his Biblical work, rather I am demonstrating he was very devoutly Christian. He was educated by the Christian Theologian Isaac Barrow. Referring to his most famous work, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, he said:
“When I wrote my treatise about our Systeme I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the beliefe of a Deity and nothing can rejoyce me more than to find it useful for that purpose.”
As many scientific discoveries were, Newton’s were motivated by his desire to understand more of the ineffable mysteries he believed in as a matter of faith. He was even religious to the level of contempt for the non-religious:
“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.”
While Newton was crazy, as all originators are, his scientific work was motivated by his religious beliefs according to his own word, and as such, should be considered a Christian accomplishments by any fair person, being done in the name of Christianity.
Gottfried Leibniz, often credited along with Newton for the discovery of calculus among countless other mathematic and scientific contributions, and referred to as was an ecumenical Lutheran Christian who did much of his work alongside Catholic John Frederick.
Georges Lemaître first proposed the big bang theory, he was a Jesuit-educated Catholic priest, mathematician, astronomer, and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain. He was the first to propose a theory of an expanding universe, which was confirmed by Christian Edwin Hubble. He was the first to derive what is now known as Hubble’s law, or the Hubble–Lemaître law, and made the first estimation of what is now called the Hubble constant.
Max Planck, the originator of quantum theory, was a devout Lutheran Christian. He said:
“It is the steady, ongoing, never-slackening fight against scepticism and dogmatism, against unbelief and superstition, which religion and science wage together.”
“There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other. Every serious and reflective person realizes, I think, that the religious element in his nature must be recognized and cultivated if all the powers of the human soul are to act together in perfect balance and harmony. And indeed it was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls.”
After his son was executed due to his heroic attempt to kill Hitler, he said:
“If there is consolation anywhere it is in the Eternal, and I consider it a grace of Heaven that belief in the Eternal has been rooted deeply in me since childhood. God protect and strengthen you for everything that still may come before this insanity in which we are forced to live reaches its end.”
And he thought that:
“Farsighted theologians are now working to mine the eternal metal from the teachings of Jesus and to forge it for all time.”
Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek, known today as “the Father of Microbiology,” was a devout Dutch Reformed Calvinist.
Francis Bacon, commonly called the “father of empiricism” whose very work is credited with developing the scientific method, was a devout Anglican. In his own words:
“Knowledge is the rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man’s estate” and “a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”
Otto Brunfels, now called “the father of botany” was a Protestant minister and William Turner, now called “the father of English botany,” was a devout Christian.
Francesco Redi, referred to as the “founder of experimental biology” and as the “father of modern parasitology,” who was the first person to challenge the theory of spontaneous generation, was a Jesuits educated devout Roman Catholic.
Albrecht von Haller, or “the father of modern physiology,” was a devout Protestant, who helped erect the Reformed church in Göttingen.
Antoine Lavoisier, “father of modern chemistry” known for his discovery of oxygen’s role in combustion, developing chemical nomenclature, developing the first periodic table of elements, and the law of conservation of mass, was a devout Catholic and vigorous defender of scripture.
Carl Linnaeus, “father of modern taxonomy” was a Lutheran minister who formalized binomial nomenclature, the modern system of naming organisms.
Joseph Priestley, a theologian and clergyman, discovered oxygen and invented carbonated water among many other contributions. He had to flee to the USA after a mob burned down his church due to his support for the French Revolution.
Hildegard of Bingen, considered the “founder of natural scientific theory in Germany” and was a pioneer in the field of constructed languages.
James David Forbes, who invented the seismometer, contributed greatly to conduction of heat and seismology. We measure the recordings today of the seismometer according to the Mercalli scale developed by Giuseppe Mercalli, a Catholic priest.
Charles Babbage, who originated the concept of a digital programmable computer, and is considered by many to be “father of the computer,” invented the first mechanical computer as well as his Analytical Engine, in which all the essential ideas of modern computers are found. Babbage says:
“In the works of the Creator ever open to our examination, we possess a firm basis on which to raise the superstructure of an enlightened creed. The more man inquires into the laws which regulate the material universe, the more he is convinced that all its varied forms arise from the action of a few simple principles … The works of the Creator, ever present to our senses, give a living and perpetual testimony of his power and goodness far surpassing any evidence transmitted through human testimony. The testimony of man becomes fainter at every stage of transmission, whilst each new inquiry into the works of the Almighty gives to us more exalted views of his wisdom, his goodness, and his power.”
James Clerk Maxwell formulated the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as different manifestations of the same phenomenon. Maxwell’s equations were the “second great unification in physics” after the first one discovered by another devout Christian, Isaac Newton. He was also the first to predict radio waves, and a founder of electric engineering. He also created the first durable color photograph in 1861. Einstein himself said in 1922: “I stand on the shoulders of Maxwell”.
Gregor Mendel was an abbot, “the father of genetics,” who of course discovered Mendelian inheritance and who coined the terms “recessive” and “dominant” as well as proved the existence of genes. Mendel’s work formed the basis of all modern knowledge of genes.
Heinrich Hertz, who was a lifelong Lutheran, and who most know due to the unit the ‘hertz’ being named after him, proved the existence of the electromagnetic waves among countless other contributions.
Johannes Kepler, best known for his laws of planetary motion and his role in the scientific revolution, had this to say:
“Those laws [of nature] are within the grasp of the human mind; God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts.”
James Prescott Joule, whose work led to the law of conservation of energy, which in turn led to the development of the first law of thermodynamics, and whose name is enshrined in the unit “Joule” was a devout Christian who peppered in countless references to God in his scientific works.
Louis Pasteur, who invented pasteurization, and created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax among countless other inventions which have probably saved your life.
Joseph Lister, a Quaker and later devout member of the Scottish Episcopal Church, discovered that surgery needed to be done using sterilized equipment, and is distinguished as the “father of modern surgery.” Despite his tragic sideburns, his name is now immortalized on the mouthwash Listerine, so I look at this man’s name every morning.
Lord Kelvin, whose work in mathematical analysis resulted in units of kelvin being named after him, was a devout Christian who went daily, not weekly to Church and was a member of the Christian Evidence Society.
Wilhelm Röntgen, who discovered x-rays, spent the majority of his retirement devoted to Bible studies.
George Washington Carver, an American agricultural scientist and inventor who made enormous contribution to crop alternatives to cotton and methods to prevent soil depletion, was a devout Christian.
Karl Landsteiner discovered the major blood types, and converted to Christianity from Judaism when he was 22.
Pascual Jordan, who was the inventor of Jordan algebra, required to study quantum theory, as well as developing early quantum theory in conjunction with Max Born. While these two are not as impactful as others on this list, and indeed one is Jewish, I thought it interesting that Pascual Jordan joined the Nazi party and died as a rightfully rejected pariah, whereas Max Born, a Jewish man, won the Nobel prize and had sex with Olivia Newton John’s grandmother. This entry is included as a good reminder to not to be racist.
William G. Pollard, while not well known outside of Christian circles, was a Priest who worked on the Manhattan project and was the first to propose God acting through quantum indeterminacy.
Ernest Walton was the first person to split an atom, ushering in the nuclear age. The son of a minister married to the daughter of a minister, he believed that his study was a duty to God. John Dalton, a devout Quaker, also introduced the atomic theory to chemistry.
“One way to learn the mind of the Creator is to study His creation. We must pay God the compliment of studying His work of art and this should apply to all realms of human thought. A refusal to use our intelligence honestly is an act of contempt for Him who gave us that intelligence”
Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who deserves to be mentioned here as she was robbed of a Nobel prize, and certainly a mention on this webpage is the second best prize, was the first to observe radio pulsars in 1967 despite being excluded from the Nobel prize given to the discovery of pulsars.
Thomas Hodgkin, a Quaker, was one of the most prominent pathologists of his time and a pioneer in preventive medicine, whom Hodgkin’s disease is named after. Perhaps more importantly he contributed greatly to abolition and founded the Aborigines Protection Society in 1837, which eventually merged to become what is now Anti-Slavery International.
Nicolaus Copernicus, a priest paid a benefice by the Holy See, who was one of four candidates to become the Bishop of Warmia, formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than Earth at the center of the universe among other contributions to science.
This is a small selection out of a sea of scientific originators, but the idea is pretty clear. It’s almost arrogant for secular scientists to stand on the shoulders of Christian scientists and proclaim that Christianity or all religion is unscientific. If I were to expand the very brief above list to include all revolutionary Christian scientists, let alone all revolutionary religious scientists, I would have to devote my life to completing such a list.
So where does the notion of Christians being against science come from? One constant source are the particular denominations and sects that actually are against science – creationists and the ironically named Christian Scientists as a start – but of course Christians are no more responsible for them than atheists are for North Korea, or any other group that includes it’s atheism as a core attribute. The idea that Christianity is unscientific simply because there are some Christian groups who are unscientific, requires no more refutation than the equally stupid statement that all atheists are evil just because some atheist groups are evil. Those who deal in these kinds of “guilty by association” classifications are falling prey to the same logical errors common to racists and religious bigots.
There is also a strong tendency, almost a rule really, for those who don’t have a shared belief in any ideology unexplained by science, to conceptualize “science” into a somewhat esoteric entity in and of itself, attacking those who question any concept currently considered a scientific truth as heretics. This tendency is so strong, one wonders if scientists who are religious seem far more able to make new discoveries merely due to their religious beliefs providing a sort of vaccination against the above tendency. To the rare few who reject both science and Christianity, the dogmatic aspects of both seem equally illogical, as explained by the always interesting but often wrong Robert Anton Wilson:
“I coined the term irrational rationalism because those people claim to be rationalists, but they’re governed by such a heavy body of taboos. They’re so fearful, and so hostile, and so narrow, and frightened, and uptight and dogmatic … I wrote this book because I got tired satirizing fundamentalist Christianity … I decided to satirize fundamentalist materialism for a change, because the two are equally comical … The materialist fundamentalists are funnier than the Christian fundamentalists, because they think they’re rational! … They’re never skeptical about anything except the things they have a prejudice against. None of them ever says anything skeptical about the AMA, or about anything in establishment science or any entrenched dogma. They’re only skeptical about new ideas that frighten them. They’re actually dogmatically committed to what they were taught when they were in college. …”
Without getting too esoteric myself, I think we can agree that expanding what you know requires you to acknowledge what you don’t know, and the ability to believe, whether because of direct experience or just simple faith, in a reality that you cannot directly prove is an example of real humility, the kind that tends to result in more accuracy than the chronically certain, who limit their belief to what they can directly prove, drawing their own borders that they cannot cross.
As summed up succinctly in Proverbs 26:12, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Those who cannot expand their understanding of reality to encompass concepts not fixed and material, will always claim there is some logical insurmountable problem to doing so. As in Proverbs 26:13, “The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets. ” Regardless of the imaginary lions placed in their way, Christians have a habit of making enormous advances in science and mathematics, and I expect they will continue to do so, to everyone’s enormous benefit.
I’m somewhat bemused by those who claim that believe in Christianity is unscientific, due to it’s subjectivity. That is to say, since the various beliefs that make one a Christian are subjective, in the mind, and the very real, to those who experience them, interactions cannot be objectively verified in the material world, therefore to some Christianity must be false. Yet all reality as experienced occurs by definition in the mind. Look around at your surroundings, and try to find a blue object. For me, it is a blue hat. Blue of course, does not exist objectively, it is just a conceptualization your mind uses to categorize objects that reflect a certain wavelength of light more than other wavelengths of light. If you were to try to explain the concept of blue to a being without eyes that would be easy enough as long as they had some connection to their ventral occipital lobe, we could just as easily feel blue or have blue registered as the output of any physical sense, but to explain blue to a being without the parts of the brain responsible for it would be impossible. Even on a human to human level, blue is not objectively real, only the fact that many perceive blue is objectively real. Yet does blue’s lack of material existence objectively make it fake? Disassociating what exists objectively to what humans perceive objectively will reveal virtually all that is objective is subjective by a broader definition.
Perhaps that disassociation will never be required for pragmatic purposes, unless we ever encounter an alien species with different brains and senses at least, but even without it we can get a good idea of how little we can perceive with our limitations, by imagining those with less senses than us, as imagining a being with more senses is impossible for most including myself.
Imagine a lesser being, who instead of living in our three dimensional world, lives in a two dimensional world. You can look at a piece of paper or some other flat object if it helps – he can only see in front of him, behind him, and to the sides of him. Up or down in his world does not exist, even via imagination, except through complex theoretical mathematics hinting at it. He exists on a single plane, his senses built for a 2d world. If you drew a dot on a piece of paper to represent this 2d man, and then placed your thumb, index and middle finger around him, on the piece of paper, he would perceive the possible and ordinary, three new creations in his world, while having no idea that what he is seeing is impossible according his reality, as those three new entities are actually a part of whole.
Perhaps if your hand was able to write on this paper in a way the 2d man would understand, this 2d man might believe, and try to convince his 2d friends that there were three separate entities that were actually all just the same entity, perhaps he would name each finger and explain that they are all actually HandGod, even though all three belonging to a separate whole is impossible in the world his senses limit him to. He might call this the FingerTrinity.
This simplistic example is, obviously, not given here as proof but merely as proof of concept. It’s easy to imagine a being who’s senses confine them to a 2d world, it’s harder to imagine ourselves in this position of lower sense-ability, or limited in even more unimaginable ways. Yet it’s not lost on many Christians, or those who are religious in other ways, that concepts considered physically and scientifically impossible for much of human history – such as the existence of other realities, laid over concurrently upon the one we can perceive – are now considered scientific fact, with the accepted and popular String Theory requiring the existence of at least 10 dimensions. How is it that so many throughout every stage of human history without exception could perceived, intuitively, a fact that is only just now being barely proved by the most advanced science of our modern age – the existence of other realities we cannot perceive? Is it just coincidence? An argumentatively effective but logically unsound refutation by the most dogmatic rationalist might sound like this: “The various forms and personifications of these realities certainly are not proven.” While that’s technically correct, it’s missing the thought, which is that with absolutely no external input whatsoever, countless humans all over the world were able to be certain of other realities and catalog their interactions with intrusions from said realities. Like a fish cannot see water, many don’t realize the significance of this, because they are used to speculations of other worlds and realities, not realizing there is no logical or evolutionary reason for this to exist as a primary belief in nearly every person throughout history.
Why did evolution result in man having religion as a default belief? Contrary to atheist arguments, religion needs no outside impetus to propagate. If you were to stumble upon a group of tribesman, unconnected on a remote island, any betting man would bet they have a religion of some sort. There has never been a native group discovered in the history of planet earth that did not have an associated religion upon discovery. It is atheism, not religious belief, that requires a unique set of circumstances to appear. Since religion is so intrinsic to humanity, why should the refinement of religion into codified creeds such as Christianity, so that believers can associate under a single banner, be so offense to some? The rejection of all experiences that are not mundane and ordinary is illogical, as all experience are valid insofar as they happen to the individuals reporting the experience, not to be dismissed as being ‘in the mind’ as all experience is. Truth or relative truth only emerges over long periods of time when sufficient consensus is reached among whatever segment of the population is interested in that particular truth, and clearly 2.5 Billion people have decided upon Christianity to explain their experiences or as the outcome of their beliefs. Like any belief system, Christianity should be judged based by the output of it’s actions at large, but opponents of Christianity are quick to label all good that comes from Christians as being attributed to some other source, in this case science, at the same time refusing to label the correct portion of the good from science as being Christian.
This cognitive dissonance they hold, due to their belief that Christians are unscientific and handicapped, is contrasted with the reality that most major contributions to their branch of science were and are from Christians, and it results in a need to reconcile their beliefs, which usually manifests itself in an attempt to bring true what they want to. That is to say, they will aggressively reject and avoid any Christian influence within science and reject insofar as they can any religious assimilation or overtly Christian contribution to science, in an attempt to make their belief that Christians are un-scientific true.
Of course this text should not be confused with a defense of the overtly antagonistic-to-science beliefs of various denominations, for a text of that nature you can refer to the rest of the internet, instead this text is a defense of Christianity at large. This defense is necessary because many outcomes are the result of self-fulfilling prophecies, and if it is always said that Christianity is unscientific, many Christians will become unscientific. One wonders how many of the Christians who reject science only did so because they were told that they could not believe in science and their Christian beliefs, and decided to reject the former and keep the later. Equally depressing to myself as a Christian are those were told that the same choice was mandatory, and rejected Christianity.
This choice is a false dichotomy, and I hope sooner rather than later it’s understood by those antagonist to theism that if you ask a person to reject their religious beliefs, which are often built upon direct experience, or reject science, which the average person has a passing familiarity with, they will reject science which is to nobody’s benefit. Being confident in one’s belief means that you’re not offended by examinations against the belief, and trying to stifle research against your belief is an admission you are not confident in it. This is true regardless of whether it is a Christian fundamentalist group banning the teaching of evolution, or a dogmatic atheist group banning Christianity, as was the case in the Soviet Union. As the Soviet Union discovered, those who underestimate Christianity do so to their own disadvantage. The 106,300 Russian clergymen executed during the Great Purge did not make Russians even slightly more intelligent, in fact the opposite effect can be observed.
I think perhaps the most succinct summation of this lack of conflict was given by Stephen Jay Gould, who called it “nonoverlapping magisteria.” That is to say, these are separate areas of inquiry, and neither needs to neuter the other to survive, rather they only need to be unified insofar as they are intertwined, which is rare, being separate areas of inquiry.
The answer to the question given in the title, “Is Christianity Un-scientific,” is of course no.