History records that it was the Christian worldview that spawned the quest for scientific knowledge in the West during the Middle Ages and especially during the scientific revolution. The rise of science in the Western civilization is unique in world history. As Rodney Stark observes in his work "Victory Of Reason",
Real science arose only once: in Europe. China, Islam, India, and ancient Greece and Rome each had a highly developed alchemy. But only in Europe did alchemy develop into chemistry. By the same token, many societies developed elaborate systems of astrology, but only in Europe did astrology lead to astronomy. Why?
The answer lies in the West’s Christian worldview of God, creation and humanity. As I noted earlier here, the Islamic claim that "Arab scholars were advancing the frontiers of knowledge long before Newton emerged from his study. From flying machines to theoretical physics, the Koran inspired them all" is pure propaganda. Only the Christian worldview provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of scientific inquiry. Science requires a significant number of philosophical assumptions just to even conduct empirical investigation.
The non-Christian worldview ultimately fails under the weight of numerous internal contradictions. Of course unbelievers can be proficient in science (and usually do so very well), but they cannot account for the very science they are doing without relying on the “borrowed capital” from the Christian worldview. Cornelius Van Til argues that unbelievers use the good gifts of God, which are spread throughout creation and on which they unknowingly depend in their thought and life, without giving God the glory. Non-Christian scientists avoid utter nihilism and skepticism in science only by being inconsistent with their own worldview and borrowing elements of God’s revelation in the Christian worldview.
And just what are these borrowed elements from the Christian worldview? What are some of the most important presuppositions without which scientific investigation is impossible? A brief list of such presuppositions presented by the Resurgence web site includes:
- The uniformity of nature. The laws, properties, or characteristics of objects and phenomena of a particular class do not vary over distance or time. Nature should be regarded as uniform.
- Induction. Since nature is considered uniform, one may, from a limited number of objects/phenomena of a class, properly induce generalizations about all objects/phenomena of that same class.
- Ontological/epistemological realism. Nature has an objective existence as an interdependent system, and is both intelligible and accessible to the human intellect.
- Mathematical realism. Nature can be described accurately by the use of mathematics.
- Methodological, epistemic, and ethical values. Examples of these would be the common claims that some methods constitute good science, others bad or pseudo-science; good theories have certain characteristics; and scientists ought to report accurately and honestly.
- The reliability of the human mind and sensory faculties. The human mind and senses “fit” the natural world, and the use of the laws of logic aids discovery of truth and tends to falsify error.
- Ontological/conceptual categories. Observed phenomena and entities are defined a priori by known classes such as objects, facts, events, etc. and are construed in a scientific tradition as planets, waves, species, etc.
- The usefulness/adequacy of human language to describe nature. Nature corresponds to the mind in such a way that human language closely “fits” nature.
- The existence of singularities, ultimate boundary conditions, and brute givens. Certain features/constants of the cosmos are simply taken for granted (eg. the mass of a proton, some values for forces, free acts of moral agents, etc.).
The atheist worldview cannot account for the uniformity of nature on which to base the scientific process. David Hume taught that to say the future will be like the past is to beg the question. Therefore, since the uniformity of nature is an unjustified assumption in the atheistic worldview, there can be no basis upon which to engage in scientific activities. Bertrand Russell succinctly states the problem of assuming the uniformity of nature in The Problems of Philosophy:
The problem we have to discuss is whether there is any reason for believing in what is called ‘the uniformity of nature.’ The belief in the uniformity of nature is the belief that everything that has happened or will happen is an instance of some general law to which there are no exceptions... But science habitually assumes, at least as a working hypothesis, that general rules which have exceptions can be replaced by general rules which have no exceptions... Have we any reason, assuming that they (scientific laws) have always held in the past, to suppose that they (scientific laws) will hold in the future.
Without a basis for the uniformity of nature there is no basis for induction. Russell continues that the business of science is to find uniformities, such as the law of gravitation and the laws of motion. Is it possible to formulate general laws of science in a world with no basis for the uniformity of nature? Russell conclusively answers this in the negative by writing:
Experience might conceivably confirm the inductive principle as regards the cases that have been already examined; but as regards unexamined cases, it is the inductive principle alone that can justify any inference from what has been examined to what has not been examined. All arguments which, on the basis of experience, argue as to the future or the unexperienced parts of the past or present, assume the inductive principle; hence we can never use experience to prove the inductive principle without begging the question. Then we must either accept the inductive principle on the ground of its intrinsic evidence, or forgo all justification of our expectation about the future.
Christians however, are not left with such a problem precisely because the uniformity of nature and induction are compatible with the Christian worldview. God, who is providentially in control of all events, has revealed to humans that we can count on regularities in the natural world. Because of this regularity, the endeavors of science will be fruitful. Science would be impossible without the truth of the Christian worldview.
Kenneth Samples in "Without a Doubt" (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), pp. 192-94) summarizes ten powerful ways the Christian worldview - alone, unlike all other worldviews - spawned scientific inquiry. As summarized by Doug Groothius in "Christian Apologetics" (InterVarsity Press, 2012-06-18) here they are:
- The physical universe is an objective reality, which is ontologically distinct from the Creator (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1).
- The laws of nature exhibit order, pattern and regularity, since they are established by an orderly God (Psalm 19:1-4).
- The laws of nature are uniform throughout the physical universe, since God created and providentially sustains them.
- The physical universe is intelligible because God created us to know himself, ourselves and the rest of creation (Genesis 1–2; Proverbs 8).
- The world is good, valuable and worthy of careful study because it was created for a purpose by a perfectly good God (Genesis 1). Humans, as the unique image bearers of God, were created to discern, discover and develop the goodness of creation for the glory of God and human betterment through work. The creation mandate (Genesis 1:26-28) includes scientific activity.
- Because the world is not divine and therefore not a proper object of worship, it can be an object of rational study and empirical observation.
- Human beings possess the ability to discover the universe’s intelligibility, since we are made in God’s image and have been placed on earth to develop its intrinsic possibilities.
- Because God did not reveal everything about nature, empirical investigation is necessary to dis cern the patterns God laid down in creation.
- God encourages, even propels, science through his imperative to humans to take dominion over nature (Genesis 1:28).
- The intellectual virtues essential to carrying out the scientific enterprise (studiousness, honesty, integrity, humility and courage) are part of God’s moral law (Exodus 20:1-17)