Tuesday, July 18

Science: the Fruit of Christianity

When the Royal Society was chartered by Charles II on this day in 1662, it was the first scientific society in history. Interestingly, devout Christians, with their interest in God's providencial creation, were most responsible in bringing it into existence. In fact, its membership was overwhelmingly Puritan in makeup.

The Society originally grew out of the meetings of the so-called "invisibles" who gathered at the home of Katherine Boyles. Earlier, she had supported the Parliamentarians and Puritans in the revolt against Charles I. Of deep intelligence, piety, and charity, she welcomed the group into her house so that she might share in the new scientific findings as the blessed fruits of Christian civilization.

The other stalwarts of the Society were likewise quite conservative in their theological inclinations. Theodore Haak, a professor at the largely Puritan Gresham College, initiated those early meetings of the "invisibles." He was a champion and sponsor of new scientific research and encouraged scientific patronage.

The chief architect and secretary of the Royal Society after the Restoration was John Wilkins, whose evangelical inclinations later led him to become a bishop and to prepare apologetic arguments in defense of the inerrancy of Scripture.

John Willis also helped inaugurate the Society. Considered one of the greatest physicians of his generation, he was so strong in his attachment to the Church of England that he was cold-shouldered at the royal court which inclined to Romanism. Among his many charities, he funded a clergyman to conduct worship services at hours when average working men could attend.

Likewise, Robert Boyle was also a devout believer. He not only engaged in a series of apologetics projects, he endowed a lecture series to defend Christianity, assisted persecuted Welsh clergymen, and subsidized Scripture translation. An innovative chemist, he developed Boyle's Law of Gases and wrote a book which debunked the pseudo-sciences of alchemy. He is often called the Father of Modern Chemistry.

Perhaps the most accomplished man of his day, Christopher Wren was also a founder of the Society. Best known for rebuilding St. Paul's Cathedral, he was an anatomist who prepared the drawings for Willis' Cerebri Anatome, a geometer (Newton classed him among the best), a physicist (pioneering a number vital impact studies), a meteorologist, and a surveyor. He attempted some of the first blood transfusions and made microscopic studies of insects.

Since each of these founders were sincere Christians, it is not surprising that the motto adopted by the new organization was, "Nothing by mere authority." The history of the Society affords further evidence that modern science, rather than being contrary to Christianity, is in fact its natural fruit.


David Ethell said...

Amen to that! Even in the Christian college I attended as a Physics major it was a constant battle to assert, among a largely evolutionistic science faculty, that the Bible in fact was the foundation of science rather than an enemy which had to be syncretistically married through "theistic" evolution.

Only a presupposition of an orderly God and hence and orderly universe allows any advance in the study of science.

Karen said...

Dr. Grant,
It seems to me the motto,"Nothing by mere authority", is a challenge to Christianity rather than a support. We Christians take everything on the authority of God's Word. Would you explain this a bit more, please?

gileskirk said...

Karen: Actually, the motto is a challenge to the autonomous authority of either the pronouncements of "the experts" or the assumptions of "tradition." It was more a statement about particular methodology than of universal epistemology. Therefore, it was a challenge to man's authority not to God's.

Occidoxy said...

I agree. God has authority in one sense, but in another He merely lives, moves, has His being and this is enough to make something so. Authority after DeCartes meant that objective standards outside of God existed. Our God is more than an objective standard. He is the All-objective being.

Karen said...

So it was the mere authority of man apart from God that they were challenging. Thank you. I just wonder what the particular methodology you mentioned is.

gileskirk said...

Karen: Well, the "particular methodology" was what we call the "scientific method," which was the heart and soul of the Society.

Karen said...

Thank you for your patience with my ignorance. Are you saying that the atmosphere of the day back in 1662 was that the pronouncements of the experts and the assumptions of traditions were not open to investigation through the scientific method? Was it rule by the experts through intellectual intimidation? Was the society saying that this is our Father's world which is open to scientific inquiry to discover truth?

gileskirk said...

Karen: Yes, that's it.