How does Christianity give a basis for science?
In these politically correct times, this may not sit well with some people, but many non-Christian historians of science acknowledge that Christianity largely provided the right worldview and philosophical foundation for modern science to get started. Here’s some of their points:
1. Monotheism removed the “gods” and “spirits” from physical stuff, so one could safely study nature without incurring a god’s wrath. Polytheistic cultures could not separate their gods from their material manifestations, so there was the risk of displeasing somebody if you didn’t treat them appropriately, or of dealing with a capricious god/material who was having a “bad hair day.”
2. The God of Christian and Jewish monotheism said that he established the heavens and earth to run via fixed, regular patterns (laws), that were not going to change (Allah is more fickle). Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Faraday, and other early scientists explicitly mention this motivation: Although the world seems a bit chaotic, we should be able to discover the patterns/laws of nature that God established, if we work at it.
3. Studying nature was seen as a way to gain wisdom and to glorify God. Most other religions shun the physical world as evil or illusory, but for the Christian, nature is worth studying so that we can appreciate our Creator more and because we can use our knowledge to relieve suffering and help others (this is the origin of the public hospital). Thus, while theology (the study of God) was the highest academic discipline in early universities, natural philosophy (the study of God’s handiwork, today called “science”) came next.
Certainly some technology and mathematics developed elsewhere (gunpowder and paper in China; algebra in Arabia), but the extended systematic study of the natural world that characterizes modern science developed in western Christian regions where these worldview factors provided the right perspective and motivation for science to flourish.
Science today maintains these same philosophical foundations, although it is dominated by naturalistic assumptions which provide little basis for them. The naturalist cannot presume that the laws of physics will be the same 15 minutes from now, other than that they have been constant in the past (in multiverse theory, there’s no requirement that the laws of physics stay constant over time). Helping others occurs when it is profitable – financially. So, both professionally and personally, a scientist with a Christian perspective has the advantage.
John Bloom, Ph.D. is a professor of Physics and the Director of the Science and Religion Program at the Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
Professor Bloom's recommended reading on this question:
Bloom, John, The Natural Sciences: A Student’s Guide.
James Hannam, God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science.