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.

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