Did the Early Church Fathers reject scientific knowledge?

Did the Early Church Fathers reject scientific knowledge?

The Christian intellectual tradition began in second and third centuries A.D. among a small group of highly educated elites who dialogued with the varies pagan philosophies of the time.[1] Many of these thinkers were well educated in pagan philosophy before their conversion and worked to defend the core theology of the Christian message. In disciplines not specific to Christian theology, these intellectuals were methodologically men of their age.

The charge of Christian anti-intellectualism is traced to a few proof-texts from the Apostle Paul (Colossians 2:8 and 1 Corinthians 3:18-19) interpreted through the writings of Tertullian. However, Tertullian did not reflect the entirety of Christian thought on the usefulness of Greek philosophy (science). Christian apologists From Justin Martyr (c. 100– 165) to St. Augustine (354– 430) allied themselves with Greek philosophical traditions, especially Platonism and Neo-Platonism, that they considered congenial to Christian thought to help persuade pagans of the salvation truth found in Jesus Christ.[2]

During the first centuries A.D., Early Church Fathers like Tertullian and Basil did attack the pagan natural philosophy (science) that had once consumed their own thinking, yet employed arguments rooted in a Greco-Roman worldview to persuade those outside the Faith. Tertullian, for example, invoked the Platonic idea of a finite cosmos to reinforce his own cosmology. Christians were not ‘anti-science’ but institutionally represented the largest influence on the study of natural science and employed serious philosophical argumentation demonstrating a deep understanding and, in some cases, respect for it. [3]

St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in North Africa, continued in the tradition of Tertullian and Basil in his strong criticism of natural philosophy. However, his critique of philosophy was tempered by the utility he found in using it to fashion arguments that favored his Christian theology.[4] For Augustine, worldly knowledge was justified not by itself, but insofar as it was used as a means to achieve the greater ends of Divine knowledge. The early church esteemed a robust defense of the Faith over the handmaiden of natural science; however, low priority did not mean the Early Church Fathers had no value for natural science, during the patristic period the church was the most significant institutional influencer for the study of the natural sciences. Creation cosmology, the earth’s shape, and medicine are but three fields of study that demonstrate how the Early Church Fathers sought to integrate theology and natural science.

[1] David C. Lindberg, “Medieval Science and Religion,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, ed. Gary B. Ferngren (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), 47.

[2] Ibid., 48-49.

[3] Lindberg, “Early Christian Attitudes toward Nature,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, 50.

[4] Lindberg, “Medieval Science and Religion,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, 51.

Does history prove science and Christianity are incompatible?

Does history prove science and Christianity are incompatible?

How should we view the historic interplay between science and religion in general and, more specifically, between science and the Christian faith? There are four popular models commonly discussed. Of the four, the Dialogue Model is the ideal framework for understanding the historical relationship between science and religion. This model espoused by men like Thomas F. Torrance and John Polkinghorne states that science and religion cover overlapping domains sharing common ground in their presuppositions, methods, and concepts. This common ground, rooted in a philosophical realism, presupposes that empirical methodologies can work together to uncover real truths about the cosmos. The dialogue thesis of science and religion is supported by the following examples.

An openness of Christians to incorporating new scientific ideas can be observed in the story of Polish scientist Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) who published his treatise on a moving earth and fixed sun titled, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies, which he believed was the “handiwork of the Almighty Creator.” In part, Copernicus was persuaded to publish his work by the Lutheran astronomer from Wittenberg, Georg Joachim Rheticus (1514– 1574). This historic work was edited by another Lutheran clergyman who believed the interplay between experimental science, philosophy, and Divine revelation from the Scripture could be used to discover truth. Wittenberg, Germany became the leader in publishing and teaching about the Copernican system and helped educate the likes of Johannes Kepler (1571– 1630). Although lacking experimental proof, requisite to the rising Baconian philosophy of science, Kepler accepted the Copernican model believing it reflected the plain teaching of Scripture the trinity; God in the sun, Christ in the shell of fixed stars, and the Holy Spirit in the expanse of space.[1]

The above is one of many stories that demonstrate the validity of the dialogue model over and against the three alternatives methodologies: first, the Conflict or Warfare Model espoused by men such as James White and William Draper argues that science and religion cover the same domain using an irreconcilable methodology such that the truth of one must exclude the truth of the other, second, the Independence Model espoused by men like Immanuel Kant and Stephen J. Gould, which argues that science and religion cover distinct domains using understandably distinctive methodologies or by focusing on distinctive objects such that both can be true, but only if they remain in their distinct domains of knowledge, and third, the Integration Model espoused by men such as Auguste Comte, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Ian Barbour which argues that science and religion cover the same domain such that when united they form one all-inclusive portrait of reality.

[1] Owen Gingerich, “The Copernican Revolution,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, ed. Gary B. Ferngren (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), 101.

Creation is Not Science

Creation is Not Science

Creation is not science. That might be a shocking statement to those who know me, but before you rush to the comments section to post your anger (or agreement), let me begin with two important aspects of my biography. I am a devoted follower of Jesus Christ who believes in the authority and reliability of the Christian Scripture. As a disciple of Jesus, I believe that God created the universe, the earth, and everything that lives on the earth. I am an Elder, but unlike most in a pastoral role who discuss science, I am also educated as a Scientist. I studied Engineering at Penn State University. My studies included the disciplines of Physics, Math, Chemistry, and Thermodynamics (by far my favourite subject). With this understanding of my background, I offer the following for your consideration.

  1. Creation Theory is not science. But before all the evolutionists get too excited…
  2. Evolution Theory is not science either.

Both of these theories are rooted in philosophical worldviews that, at this point in history, are abusing the principles of science. I realize how radical that sounds, but let me at least try and give my primary rationale. Borrowing from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester, Rochester NY, we have this simple four-step summation of one approach to the scientific method.

  1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
  2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
  3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
  4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.

Given this simple statement of the scientific method (which can vary from one scientific discipline to another), I conclude that neither Creation or Evolution make good subjects for science because they are both claimed as historical events that cannot be observed through repeatable and demonstrable experimentation. Science can not prove Abraham Lincoln existed, it cannot prove the war of 1812, it cannot prove King James was King, and it cannot prove the reality or falsity of any historical event. Historical research is not the function of science.

Does anyone really think embarrassing videos like this one with Kirk Cameron represent the voice of the scientific method?

The video may be an interesting philosophical argument, but it is not science. It does not disprove evolution and it certainly does nothing to prove the origins of the universe. I show this to you because, in my humble opinion, the scientific quality of this video is on par with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Now, this does not imply these theories are equal. Nothing I have written so far implies science cannot speak to the probability of each theory. Let me offer you the argument made by Dr. Orestis Palermos, Research Explorer from the University of Edinburgh School of Philosophy where he offers some great insight in the following video transcript from his Coursera lecture.

Within western society, there is a tendency to raise science to a special epistemic status. Science is always taken to be better than fairy tales, myths, and of course, religion. If a claim is supposed to be scientific, then it is supposed to constitute some kind of absolute truth that will always be true and which is impossible to deny. So, for example, many times, in order to support a claim, we say that this is a fact that is scientifically proven. But is this attitude towards science correct? What if science is not the kind of secure, absolute knowledge that scientists make it out to be, and which most of us accept unreflectively? And, if science can be questioned then how does it compared with other predictive and explanatory devices like myths and religion? A particularly interesting case in point is whether creationism should be taught alongside evolutionary biology as part of the standard curriculum in the schools in the United States of America. The standard approach to this long standing debate is to claim that evolutionary biology as opposed to creationism is scientific. Therefore, we have a good reason to teach the one but not the latter. Evolutionary biology is science, creationism is pseudoscience, and obviously we should always prefer disciplines that are scientific. However, upon further reflection it is not quite obvious whether this claim is actually valid. For the second half of the 20th century, the best philosophers of science, philosophers like Sir Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend, attempted to explain what science consists in and how it differs from myths and religion. And no matter how hard they tried, eventually, the debate died out with their realization that science, much like religion, requires faith. To choose one scientific theory over another, is simply a matter of aesthetics and the hope that this theory and not the other is going to work out better. But there is no way to disprove or prove in theory. And since there is no way to prove it or disprove it, then there is no point where it becomes irrational for a scientist to stay with a failing theory. So, the best example of this is the case of heliocentricism. Heliocentricism was first put forward about 2,000 years ago. And for about 1,600 years, it was a failing theory. However, at some point, Kepler and Galileo decided to take it up. And even though it was failing for 1,600 years, they managed to convert it into a very successful theory. The choice, however, to do so, was not because the theory was a good one, since obviously it was failing for a long time. But simply because they liked it and for some reason they had faith in it. So, scientists choose to stay with a theory simply because they have a faith in it. So both science and religion seem to require faith, which means that it is not so easy to distinguish between creationism and evolutionary biology. Moreover, even by the most rigorous standards for distinguishing between science and pseudo-science, what is known as Imre Lakatos’ Sophisticated Falsification, it was seen that evolutionary biology and creationism are actually, on a par. So, creationism may not be scientific but then again, neither is evolutionary biology which appears unable to predict anything but only provides an explanation for the phenomena after the fact have taken place. Parenthetically, this is what is known within philosophy as an ‘ad hoc hypothesis’ – to introduce an explanation in a  hypothesis, only in order to explain something that is already known and not to provide an explanation or a prediction for something new. And most philosophers of science agree that introducing such ad hoc hypothesis within science should always be avoided because it turns a scientific theory into pseudoscience. However, both evolutionary biology and creationism are guilty of introducing such ad hoc hypotheses. And so it would seem that neither is scientific. Now, add to this the fact that genetics, which is a special discipline of evolutionary biology, is facing a number of anomalies and that, like any other discipline in the past, in any other scientific field, is most likely to change in the future and it becomes even less obvious why evolutionary biology and genetics should be taught in schools as scientifically proven theories but reject creationism as being pseudo-scientific. So, this lecture delivered by Professor of Philosophy and Theology Conor Cunningham from the University of Nottingham, will go over some of themes in an accessible and captivating way. The lecture purposely avoids to put forward any conclusion but it raises a number of interesting questions.

Dr. Palermos goes on to conclude with some very poignant questions worth our consideration and we utilize scientific methodologies to explore creation and evolution theories.

  • Does the epistemic parity between creationism and evolutionary biology mean that neither of them should be taught as part of the standard curriculum?
  • Or should we teach both, but with the intellectually honest attitude that neither is quite scientific?
  • And then, does this mean that we should trust and pursue both to the same extent?
  • Or should we invest our efforts to develop the most plausible hypothesis in a way that will finally make it stand out from religion?
  • Isn’t it better to be honest about the status of our best scientific theories, such that future students can know their limits and attempt to improve them, rather than dogmatically believing that they amount to proven knowledge when, in fact, they’re far from it.

Oh, and for the record, Creation Theory is not the same as Intelligent Design Theory, and for all those Christians excited about it, you should really take a closer look at what you are endorsing. You may be surprised!

Okay… now that I have made everyone mad, I will stop.

What have we wrought?

What have we wrought?

Is God real? Is faith in God delusional? Ravi Zacharias argues three approaches to fashioning a reasonable worldview; Total Objectivity/Transcendence, Total Determinism, and Semi-Transcendence. Only the latter is the hope of producing a systemic coherent scientific and religious worldview. Following are some quotes to consider.

We are living now, not in the delicious intoxication induced by the early successes of science, but in a rather grisly morning-after, when it has become apparent that what triumphant science has done hitherto is to improve the means for achieving unimproved or actually deteriorated ends.
Aldous (Leonard) HuxleyEnds and Means: an Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into Methods Employed for their Realization (1937), 310.
“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning – the Christian meaning, they insisted – of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.”
Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means
Many of the most fundamental claims of science are against common sense and seem absurd on their face. Do physicists really expect me to accept without serious qualms that the pungent cheese that I had for lunch is really made up of tiny, tasteless, odorless, colorless packets of energy with nothing but empty space between them? Astronomers tell us without apparent embarrassment that they can see stellar events that occurred millions of years ago, whereas we all know that we see things as they happen. … Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.
 Richard C. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons” in: The New York Review of Books, 9 January 1997, p. 31
“Has anyone provided proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close. Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close. Have our sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close. Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough. Has rationalism and moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough. Has secularism in the terrible 20th century been a force for good? Not even close, to being close. Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy in the sciences? Close enough. Does anything in the sciences or their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even in the ball park. Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.”
David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions
“So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over–a weary, battered old brontosaurus–and became extinct.”
Malcolm Muggeridge, Vintage Muggeridge: Religion and Society
When a general principle is advanced, it collapses quickly into absurdity. Thus Sam Harris argues that “to believe that God exists is to believe that I stand in some relation to his existence such that his existence is itself the reason for my belief” (italics added). This sounds very much as if belief in God could only be justified if God were to call attention conspicuously to Himself, say by a dramatic waggling of the divine fingers.
If this is so, then by parity of reasoning again, one might argue that to believe that neutrinos have mass is to believe that I stand in some relationship to their mass such that their mass is itself the reason for my belief.
Just how are those neutrinos waggling their fingers?
A neutrino by itself cannot function as a reason for my belief. It is a subatomic particle, for heaven’s sake. What I believe is a proposition, and so an abstract entity—that neutrinos have mass. How could a subatomic particle enter into a relationship with the object of my belief? But neither can a neutrino be the cause of my belief. I have, after all, never seen a neutrino: not one of them has ever gotten me to believe in it. The neutrino, together with almost everything else, lies at the end of an immense inferential trail, a complicated set of judgments.
Believing as I do that neutrinos have mass—it is one of my oldest and most deeply held convictions—I believe what I do on the basis of the fundamental laws of physics and a congeries of computational schemes, algorithms, specialized programming languages, techniques for numerical integration, huge canned programs, computer graphics, interpolation methods, nifty shortcuts, and the best efforts by mathematicians and physicists to convert the data of various experiments into coherent patterns, artfully revealing symmetries and continuous narratives. The neutrino has nothing to do with it.
[In Semi-Transcendance] humanity is able to move outside of itself to a legitimate degree and what it ends up doing really in the ability to move out of itself to a legitimate degree it is then able to measure its pronouncements by external testing, external verification for correspondence and coherence. When you make a statement you can check it out correspondingly to be true. When you build a system, you can look at it as a systemically coherent worldview. This is the way it is in our courts of law. This is the way it ought to be in a scientific lab itself. When you make a statement it is measured against a referent. When you put together a system it ought to be coherent and brought together. Total Transcendence is logically, biologically, and ideologically impossible. Total Determinism is self-defeating. The Semi Transcendent way is the only way we are able to half rise outside of yourself make meaningful statements about reality and measure them up against the truth as they really correspond.
The Cultural Conflict of Science and Religion

The Cultural Conflict of Science and Religion

It is fair to say that the world today sees science in conflict with religion. These two disciplines are assumed to exist in conflict. But, as Dr Mark Harris, Senior Lecturer in Science and Religion as the University of Edinburgh has observed, this conflict may be a reflection of our culture more than a truth about science and religion. In a recent lecture, Dr. Harris concludes,

As a physicist who’s still working in the research field (although less often than I’d like since being distracted by philosophy and theology), I’m passionate about science. But I think that we need to do a lot more to think about the place of science in our culture, alongside other ways of seeking knowledge, not just the religious. I actually think that the challenges between science and religion actually concern the status and the public understanding of science. Science is not well understood in our world, sometimes even by its own practitioners, who can display a real lack of understanding of the history and philosophy of their own disciplines. Moreover, professionals working in the science and religion field, people like me, talk about other kinds of relationship between science and religion than conflict: relationships like independence, or consonance, or complementarity, even integration. All of these flavours of relationship demonstrably have an element of the truth, as much as does conflict, and it very much depends upon which scientific idea you’re looking at, which religion, which doctrine, and so on. And this is another reason why it’s a fallacy (or at least a myth) to say that science and religion are in conflict – I immediately want to come back and say well which science do you mean, which scientific theory, and which religious belief? There’s a great deal of complexity and nuance here which I simply can’t go into, but I do want to flag it up.

So, just to sum up what I’ve said. I believe that science gives us a distinct way of looking at the world and knowing about it, and one that’s of unique importance, but I regret the fact that in order for this to be self-evident to us, it needs to be supported by the spurious idea that science and religion are in conflict. I think that idea says rather more about us as a society than it does about science and religion.

The Saturn Problem

The Saturn Problem

The ongoing study of Saturn is adding to the long list of scientific data undermining conventional Solar Nebula theories. Saturn’s rings, the most distinctive aspect of this planet, are similar in scale to a sheet of paper that is as wide as San Francisco. Evolutionary models predicted that due to the massive number of collisions and corresponding loss of relative motion, the rings should be moving in precise circles and on the same plane. However, contrary to what naturalistic models predict, images from Voyager 1 in 1980 showed that there are spokes and braids inside the rings. The variation of shape is a problem for Old Universe models. NASA scientist Jeff Cuzzi is one person making this same observation. He writes, “After all this time we’re still not sure about the origin of Saturn’s rings,” The planet itself is supposed to be 4.8 billion years old, but based on recent evidence, Cuzzi says, “there’s a growing awareness that Saturn’s rings can’t be so old.”


The small moons orbiting Saturn’s  outermost regions provide more evidence of a young planet. These moons are gaining angular momentum which will eventually collapse the outer rings and the outer moons will be flung into space. Cuzzi concludes. “This is a young dynamical system.“

This evidence of youth is also evident in Titan’s methane atmosphere. Physics tells us that sunlight breaks methane down into Ethane. The Cassini probe was sent to explore Jupiter’s moon Titan and found no evidence of the oceans of methane and ethane predicted; the surface of the moon is dry. This lack of methane on the surface belies the significant amounts of methane and ethane in the atmosphere. Therefore, Titan contains too much atmospheric methane and not enough ethane, to be billions of years old.

Scientific exploration has done a great deal to help us understand the failure of evolutionary models to explain the reality and origins of our universe.

The heavens declare...

A great place to start your own study of astronomy and cosmology is this series by Spike Psarris who was previously an engineer in the United States’ military space program. He entered that program as an atheist and an evolutionist. He left it as a creationist and a Christian. His website, and these 3 videos, help explose the bankruptcy of the evolutionary model, especially in astronomy.


Pin It on Pinterest