Christianity’s Ties to the Scientific Method

Christianity was the fertile soil in which scientific method and modern science began to grow

History of science, Isaac Newton and physics. The science of light, optics. Light refraction and scientific research in physics.

I have heard a number of people assert that Christianity gave birth to the scientific method. Perhaps, the first time I heard that claim was from John Lennox, the famous Oxford University professor of mathematics. I was intrigued, but I didn’t take the time to research his claim at the time.

I have heard the claim repeated multiple times, most recently by Dr. Michael Guillen the astrophysicist, former Harvard professor and TV personality. In fact, he devoted a podcast to the subject, so I took my opportunity to learn more.

I did some of my own research as well. Wikipedia, for instance, has a page on scientific method. It begins with Aristotle and focuses on rationalism as the basis for scientific method.

Properly speaking, rationalism is not a method. It is a philosophy, a way to approach the world. Rationalism and Aristotelian though seem to have helped led the way to the development of the scientific method.

Aristotle’s inductive-deductive method that depended on axiomatic truths and the “self-evident concepts” developed by Epicurus would would be jettisoned for something more like the modern scientific method beginning around the 16th Century. Perhaps, this is why Guillen doesn’t mention them.

After those early pioneers, Wikipedia mentions some great Muslim thinkers who were influenced by Aristotle, but placed “greater emphasis on combining theory with practice” and “the use of experiment as a source of knowledge”. Guillen starts with these early “flashes” of scientific method in the Muslim world, including and Avicenna (Ibn Sina) Averroes (Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rušd)

These men of the Islamic Golden Age pioneered a form of scientific method, but the inertia did not continue. Likewise, Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides), the great Jewish theologian, physician, and astronomer displayed a flash of scientific light. He urged “that man should believe only what can be supported either by rational proof, by the evidence of the senses, or by trustworthy authority”, foreshadowing a future scientific posture, but is prescience did not yet take hold.

Dr. Guillen credits Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon with the formation of principles of scientific method that “caught fire” in Christian Europe beginning in the 1200’s. “Concluding from particular observations into a universal law, and then back again, from universal laws to prediction of particulars”, Grosseteste emphasized confirmation “through experimentation to verify the principles” in both directions.

Roger Bacon, Grosseteste’s pupil, “described a repeating cycle of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and the need for independent verification”, including the recording of the way experiments were conducted in precise detail so that outcomes could be replicated independently by others. This became the foundation for the importance of peer-review in science, says Guillen.

Wikipedia mentions Francis Bacon and Descartes, who Guillen skips to get to Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton. Bacon and Descartes emphasized the importance of skepticism and rigid experimentation, eliminating the Aristotelean dependence on first (axiomatic) principles.

Galileo Galilei introduced mathematical proof into the process and continued to distance science from reliance on Aristotelean first principles. Galileo and Newton formulated the terms of scientific method that would inform modern scientists ever afterward.


That the two latter men were men of faith, along with Grosseteste (Catholic Bishop) and Roger Bacon, his student, is significant. So were Maimonides and the Islamic thinkers before him men of faith.

Guillen emphasizes the fact that these men who pioneered the way to modern science were devout religious believers at the same time. Guillen also observes that science did not really take off until the 17th Century. The trailblazers of the modern scientific method were religious men, and the scientific method caught fire in Christian Europe during that time, lead, chiefly, by men of faith.

Why did science catch fire in Christian Europe and not in other parts of the world? Why not in the Islamic or Jewish world? Or the world of the eastern religions? This is question Guillen poses, and he provides a possible answer.

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What We Can Learn from the Letter to Diognetus

Map of the Roman Empire, 2nd century AD. Publication of the book “Meyers Konversations-Lexikon”, Volume 7, Leipzig, Germany, 1910

Fellow blogger Joel Edmund Anderson wrote a short summary of the Letter to Diognetus on his blog, Resurrecting Orthodoxy (March 19, 2022). This is part of his series on early church fathers.

I feel like we tend to believe that we have advanced from our peers centuries ago, and I am ever skeptical of that advancement. I tend to believe the writer of Ecclesiastes:

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Yes, we have made great technological advancements, but how different are people, really? I direct your attention to the Ukraine where Russian bombs fall on hospitals, schools and people fleeing a war with very questionable motivations.

Lest we be too smug, more people died at the hands of despotic rulers in the 20th Century than all the previous centuries combined.

But, I don’t want to preach, and I don’t exempt myself from my personal indictment. I am not exempt. People are still people, and we have a tendency to do bad things.

On this point, though, I like reading the thoughts of ancient minds to remind myself of the ways in which we tread the same ground. The Letter to Diognetus is a good example, and I commend the article I have linked for your consideration.

Joel Edmund Anderson observes that the Letter to Diognetus is the first communication (in records we have) attempting to explain Christianity to pagans. It was written early, around 130 AD, and it distinguishes Christianity from Judaism and from paganism.

Who is Diognetus? What was the occasion for the letter? Was the letter sent unsolicited? Did Diognetus inquire about Christianity? Was it the product of a discussion? Who wrote the letter? We don’t know.

I imagine the letter wasn’t unsolicited. Writing utensils and parchment, papyrus or whatever medium was used then not in abundant supply in the 2nd Century. Writing was an effort.

That the letter was preserved speaks, perhaps, to the way the letter was received. Whoever received this letter thought it was valuable enough to keep it and preserve it.

As I read the summary of the letter today, though, I am interested in several points made in the letter and how they relate to us 19 centuries later.

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Drinking Living Water & Embracing the Unseen: of Science and Faith

My inspiration this morning comes from “the woman at the well” and Galileo. They are separated by about 1500 years, but their stories resonate together for me this morning.

The theme is inspired by the question: “How should we read Scripture?” A closely related question is, “How should we understand science and faith?” Those questions were relevant over 2000 years ago; they were relevant 500 years ago; and still they are relevant today.

Michael Guillen, in his book, Believing is Seeing, reveals how logical and trans logical thinking are different tools, and each have a place in the intellectual toolbox. Logic is necessary to understand simple, “trivial” truths, but “profound” truths require trans logical thinking.


We err to apply logic to every problem. Simple matters are the province of logic, but complex matters require trans logic. As much as we might want to keep complex matters simple, we cannot gain insight into more complex matters without a willingness to go beyond the familiar confines of simple logic.

For Guillen, the necessity to stretch beyond simple logic to more complex trans logical thinking was understood, among other things, in the realization that dark matter and dark energy make up 95% of the entire universe. In other words, 95% of the universe is invisible to us! (p. 9)

If we insist on limiting ourselves to things that we can see, touch, feel, smell, and hear, we must give up on 95% of the universe!

If we are not willing to give up on 95% of reality, we must be willing to adapt. We must let go of our insistence that everything be reduced to what we can affirm with our senses and to what will fit into simple formulas and logical constraints.

Guillen sees a parallel in “stretching” that scientists must do to grapple with the unseen world at the edges of simple science and the Bible that teaches on more “spiritual” things:

“’What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived’ —
    the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.”

1 Corinthians 2:9

What the Spirit of God can reveal to us is somewhat similar to the stretching the scientist must do in his thinking to understand things like dark matter and dark energy, quarks, quantum entanglement and other mysteries of science that defy Aristotelian logic and conventional principals. For those people who like to live with their feet planted solidly on the ground and with certainty anchoring their beliefs, the prospect of revelation by God’s Holy Spirit is like a black hole. We dare not venture too close for fear of being sucked in to the eternal unknown.

Yet, God not only invites us in; He insists that we venture close to understand Him.

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.”

1 Corinthians 2:10-13

The difference between logic and trans logic in science and the study of the edges of the physical world have application to the metaphysical world in the encounter of the woman at the well with Jesus. I will lay out the similarities I see below.

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Jonathan Haidt and the Erosion of American Democracy by the Corrosive Waters of Social Media

Something went terribly wrong, very suddenly. We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth.

Courthouse Towers and Tower of Babel. Moab, Utah

Jonathan Haidt wrote this week in the Atlantic, “The story of Babel is the best metaphor I have found for what happened to America in the 2010s, and for the fractured country we now inhabit.” He says,


“Something went terribly wrong, very suddenly. We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past.”

I resonate deeply with this.

Haidt observes that we are “becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history.” Many people talk about the tribalism of our times, but Haidt suggests that tribalism isn’t the most accurate description of what is going on. Haidt finds the clearest understanding of the polarization of our times in the story of the Tower of Babel:

“Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community. It’s a metaphor for what is happening not only between red and blue, but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.”

Haidt focuses blame on social media. He identifies 2011 as “the year humanity rebuilt the Tower of Babel” with Google Translate symbolically bridging the confusion of different languages. He says (for “techno-democratic optimists”), “[I]t seemed only the beginning of what humanity could do.”

Around the same time, Zuckerberg proclaimed “the power to share” a catalyst to transform “our core institutions and industries”. He may have been prophetic, but I doubt he envisioned such a corrosive change.

Haidt, something of a social scientist, himself, says, “Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories.” Social media substantially weakens all three of these fundamental building blocks of a cohesive society.

It started harmlessly with the sharing of personal information to stay connected, but it quickly morphed into a kind of personal performance and branding platform. Along the way it developed into powerful weaponry at the fingertips of anyone and everyone at once.

The “Like” and “Share” buttons became commodities of individual enterprise and personal combat. Algorithms exposed (and exploited) the emotional currency of heightened individuality and the power of anger.

“Going viral” fed the hopes of Internet junkies like the possibility of a jackpot snares gambling addicts in its steely fingers, and the stakes were just as high. Haidt says, “The newly tweaked platforms were almost perfectly designed to bring out our most moralistic and least reflective selves. The volume of outrage was shocking….” The rapidity and its ability to spread was more virulent than COVID, or the plague.

Haidt lauds the framers of the Constitution for designing a republic built on “mechanisms to slow things down, cool passions, require compromise, and give leaders some insulation from the mania of the moment….” Haidt recalls Madison’s warning of “the innate human proclivity toward ‘faction’” so “inflamed with ‘mutual animosity’” that people are “more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.’”

Haidt recalls also that Madison warned of a human tendency toward “factionalism” that can fan “the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions” into passions that ignite our most violent conflicts. Social media has ultimately proven him right.

Thus, Haidt says, “Social media has both magnified and weaponized the frivolous,” chipping away at our trust. The loss of trust makes every decision and election “a life-and-death struggle to save the country from the other side”.

The sagging number of people who have faith in their elected officials hangs at an all time low. In my lifetime, the United Sates of America has gone from a high of 77% trust in the federal government (1964) to a low of 17% in 2019. (See Public Trust in Government: 1958-2021, by PEW Research May 21, 2021)

Social media has corroded trust in government, news media, institutions and people in general. Some claim that social media may be detrimental, maybe even toxic, to democracy, which requires “widely internalized acceptance of the legitimacy of rules, norms, and institutions” for survival. “When people lose trust in institutions”, says Haidt, “They lose trust in the stories told by those institutions.”

Insiders have been warning us of “the power of social media as a universal solvent, breaking down bonds and weakening institutions everywhere”, while offering nothing in return but the chaos of utter freedom and will. Haidt references movements like Occupy Wall Street, fomented primarily online, that “demanded the destruction of existing institutions without offering an alternative vision of the future or an organization that could bring it about”.

We have become a society of “people yelling at each other and living in bubbles of one sort or another”, says former CIA analyst Martin Gurri, in his 2014 book, The Revolt of the Public. The people behind the social media giants may not have intended such a result, but they have “unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together”.

Haidt claims he can pinpoint the proverbial fall of the American Tower of Babel to the intersection of “the ‘great awokening’ on the left and the ascendancy of Donald Trump on the right”. Haidt doesn’t blame Trump for the fall; he merely exploited it. Trump proved that outrage is the currency of the post-Babel economy in which “stage performance crushes competence” and Twitter overwhelms newspapers and the nightly news, fracturing and fragmenting the truth before it can spread and take hold.

“After Babel”, Haidt says, “Nothing really means anything anymore––at least not in a way that is durable and on which people widely agree.” Haidt is particularly morose on the prospect of overcoming the rapid dissolution of the American democracy. Unfortunately, I share his pessimism. How did we get here? How do we move forward?

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The Danger of Religiosity, Political Expediency and the Weight of the Cultural Moment

We can be so caught up in our own lives and the world around us that we fail to recognize the God who gave us life and created the world.

I have been reading through the Gospel narratives leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus during Lent. My reading included the following passage that jumped out at me:

“Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.” 

John 18:28 ESV

I will get the point, but first we need to build in a little context. This passage describes a passing moment leading up to the crucifixion after Judas betrayed Jesus in the garden. Jesus was taken, first, to the palace of Annas (John 18:13) and then to Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest. (John 18:14)

After Caiaphas questioned Jesus, Jesus was taken to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. The High Priest wanted Jesus put to death for blasphemy, but only the Roman state had authority to impose capital punishment.

Caiaphas was the High Priest who presided over the Sanhedrin, the official religious body recognized by the Romans. Caiaphas was made the High Priest by the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus. Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, had presided over the Sanhedrin before Caiaphas.

They were the official heads of the ruling group of religious leaders in First Century Judea in the time of Jesus, the Sanhedrin. They stood between the Romans, who conquered and controlled the region, and the Jewish people on matters of the Jewish religion.

During this tumultuous time, a group of violent men, the Zealots, who were opposed to Roman rule threatened to upset the political balance and peace. Similarly, the growing, unpredictable following of Jesus posed a threat to the Sanhedrin’s position as trusted middlemen trying to preserve peace and the status quo.

Potential disruption threatened the delicate balance. The Sanhedrin tried to walk the line between the threat of the Roman Empire on the one side and the Zealots and others who might provoke the Romans to tighten their grip on Judea, dismiss the Sanhedrin from their power position, and clamp down on the freedoms of the Jewish people they ruled.

Tensions were not just a threat to the Sanhedrin, who were officially given some overlapping authority the Romans; they were legitimately a threat to the well-being of all the Jews in Judea. Thus, we read in John that Caiaphas advised “advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people”. (John 18:14)

The suggestion was based on practical expediency. Though Jesus wasn’t a Zealot, he was very popular among the people, likely including the Zealots who hoped Jesus would spell the end of the Roman occupation.

The concerns of the religious leaders were no doubt heightened to a critical level when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey in triumphant celebration greeted by a “great crowd” that lined the streets, waiving palm branches and shouting,

“Hosanna!…. Blessed is the king of Israel!”

John 12:12

I am going to get to the danger of religiosity, political expediency and the weight of the cultural moment as the title to this article promises. First, however, I want to develop the backstory a bit further. To do this, we need to jump forward several months in time.

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