History From the Beginning
The Roots of Modern Science in the Medieval Period and the Protestant Reformation
In the Christian era the biblical concept of a rational and reliable created world spread throughout Europe and was intermixed with the ancient pagan pantheistic ideas. With the Renaissance beginning in the fourteenth century, there was an awakening of interest in the ancient cultures. The theologians of the Roman Catholic Church had long regarded the writings of Aristotle, the pagan Greek philosopher and naturalist, as authoritative. In this period the early founders of modern science began to conduct scientific research. The medieval philosophers had generally continued to espouse remnants of the Eastern pantheistic ideas about the natural world. The able experimentalist, Van Helmont, argued that the natural world was imbued with will, with inclinations to change and to progress. Nevertheless, he made some important discoveries in biology.
The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century turned the minds of both the people and the scholars back to the Christian Scriptures, to the Bible which the Protestant Christians held to be the Word of God, the final source of authority for the Christian Church. The biblical world view sees the natural world as created by God from nothing and as separate from but upheld by God, the infinite-personal Spirit. Thus there is no place in the biblical world view for belief in animistic spirits in the rocks, trees and animals. The world was created to be orderly, lawful and to some extent knowable by man. It was created so as to reveal the power, wisdom and deity of its Creator, and to show forth His glory. Therefore, experiments repeated under controlled conditions could be counted on always to yield the same results. This was a reproducible, rational and purposeful world which was worthy of careful systematic study. And this study could be conducted for the glory of God, the Creator of the world and of the human race. The method of modern empirical science could now be developed and applied on a wide scale. "Empirical" refers to that which is observable with the natural senses or with material instruments.
The pantheistic or animistic view of the world died hard, however. One of the important early scientists who did much to clear away the old false ideas was a Puritan Christian in England, Sir Robert Boyle. He is best known, perhaps, for his discovery of Boyle's Law of Gases. This law states that when a body of gas is kept at a constant temperature, its volume varies inversely as the pressure applied to it. Thus, if the pressure is doubled or tripled, the gas is compressed, respectively, to one-half or one-third of its original volume. But Boyle was also a distinguished thinker in theology and philosophy. He did a great deal to establish the biblical view of a reproducible world, devoid of any influence by personality or personal will in the physical objects which scientists study. He reasoned from a biblical perspective, holding a high view of the Bible as the infallible and authoritative Word of God. Other Bible-believing Christian scholars and scientists who helped lay the philosophical and theoretical foundations for modern science included Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Francis Bacon.
On the continent Kepler, building on the theory of Copernicus and the precise observations of Tycho Brahe, used mathematical analysis to show that the planets move in elliptical orbits around the sun. Galileo used the newly developed telescope to discover striking evidence that the earth indeed revolves around the sun, and not vice-versa. This idea clashed with the official views of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which had determined that the Bible must be interpreted to agree with the Greek pagan philosophers, notably Aristotle. Galileo argued ably in his book, Dialogues, that nothing in the Bible requires one to believe ideas which plainly contradict the real facts which can be observed with the natural senses with which God has endowed man. Galileo at no point argued against or deprecated the Bible. He did, however, oppose the elevation of pagan Greek philosophers to be the final authority for interpreting the Bible and controlling the minds of scientists. Critics of biblical Christianity today are wrong when they attempt to enlist Galileo in support of their claim that the Bible contradicts true science.