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.

Continue reading “Christianity’s Ties to the Scientific Method”

An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences, Part 2

If you lose your fear of dying, you also lose your fear of living.

A woman dies and her spirit arises.

I have done two articles on Dr. Michael Guillen’s treatment of near-death experiences (NDEs) based on his podcast, Science + God with Dr. G. Dr. Guillen is an astrophysicist who taught physics at Harvard and earned his degrees from Cornell University under the tutelage of men like Carl Sagan and Fred Hoyle.

He is no slouch when it comes to science, and his beloved science led him to question the materialistic worldview he assumed to be true. As his worldview expanded with the quantum entanglement of scientific discoveries that pushed those once fixed boundaries, he continued on a journey that eventually led him to faith in a Creator, God.

Dr. Guillen’s current interest in NDEs is understandable. It didn’t take much convincing for Dr. Guillen to determine that NDEs are real, but his interviewee in episode #48 of the podcast, Dr. Bruce Greyson, the Chester Carlson Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, was not as eager, initially, to explore them. He didn’t have room in his own materialistic worldview for NDEs, but the curiosity of his scientific mind propelled forward.

Dr. Greyson has studied NDEs, now, for about 50 years, and the data he has accumulated is significant. In this second article on the interview of Dr. Greyson, I want to begin with the question posed by Dr. Guillen to Greyson: whether the near-death stories people tell are “all over the map”? Greyson did not hesitate with his response:

“They are not all over the map. There are similarities in what people tell us, not only between different individuals but between different cultures and religions. A lot of people tell the same stories. We find near-death experiences from people in Ancient Greece and Rome that sound like they could have happened yesterday.”

The consistencies have been categorized over many years by researchers. They have examined the different types of NDEs and tried to correlate them with environmental factors, such as lack of oxygen and over-stimulation by drugs. Greyson says, however, “We don’t find any correlations at all.” His conclusion from these analyses is that categorizations according to environmental factors “don’t mean anything”.

For these reasons, Greyson treats all NDEs as the same phenomenon. He says the same types of phenomena seem to occur regardless of who has experienced them. Gender, ethnicity, cultural background and religiosity (or the lack thereof) don’t seem to factor into it. “Atheists describe the same things as Catholics do,” says Greyson.

It isn’t the differences, but the common outcomes, that intrigue him as a psychiatrist. He says, the most interesting thing to him is the effect NDEs have on the experiencers.

Dr. Greyson says, “I make my living trying to help people change their lives, and it’s very difficult to do.” The NDE experiences that take a few seconds or a few minutes at most “totally transform someone’s attitudes, beliefs, values, and behavior. That’s a powerful experience.”

Dr. Greyson says that the data shows that NDEs are a universal phenomenon. He won’t speculate whether NDEs indicate some universal reality, something universally going on with physical bodies, or something that is a universal psychological trait. He says, “We don’t know the answer to that.”

As Greyson continues with the interview, it is evident that his scientific training and the skepticism familiar to his materialistic worldview guide him forward with caution. He is not quick to speculate, but he is candid about the things that appear to be evident from the volume of data.

Continue reading “An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences, Part 2”

An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences: Part 1

The first part of an interview with a secular, materialist scientist who studies near-death experiences.

In the second episode of a two-part series near-death experiences (NDEs), Dr. Michael Guillen interviewed Dr. Bruce Greyson, the Chester Carlson Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, on the subject. I wrote about the first episode in which Michael Guillen reviewed evidence that NDEs are “real”.

They really happen, and they happen all over the world, in all cultures of the world, and going back in time. We have enough data to indicate that they are a real phenomenon with certain characteristics that can be studied in the data.

In his second episode focusing on NDEs, Dr. Guillen, an astrophysicist, interviewed Dr. Greyson, who has studied NDEs for decades with scientific rigor and published many articles in peer-reviewed journals. I have linked the 40-minute conversation here:

Guillen began by asking for a definition of near-death experience. Greyson defined them by saying they are “profound, subjective experiences” that people have when they are on the threshold of death.

Characteristics include a sense of leaving the physical body and an overwhelming sense of peace and wellbeing. They sometimes include an experience of leaving this physical realm and an experience of some other dimension or realm. People often describe encounters with other entities they interpret to be deities or divine beings. They often involve a review of their own lives in detail, and many of them conclude with a decision to return to life or being “sent back” against their will. 

Dr. Greyson speculates that the experiences suggest some sort of intermediate state between life and death. All of this may seem particularly unscientific, though.

These conclusions seem like the stuff of pseudoscience or metaphysics, but Dr. Greyson grew up in a scientific household with a materialistic worldview. He had no spiritual or religious familiarity. His background is science, and he still admits that he is more comfortable with a materialist mindset in which the physical world is all there is and everything else is simply fantasy.

Dr. Greyson’s has been trained and works within a scientific framework, but he no longer dismisses NDEs as fantasy. Something happened in his life that caused him to spend the last 50 years studying the phenomenon to try to make sense of it.

Continue reading “An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences: Part 1”

“If I Were God….”: An Exploration of the Human Heart and Need for God

Photo Credit to Tyler Drendel, a sunrise at Fermi National Laboratory in Batavia, IL

The last episode of the Unbelievable? Podcast (May 21, 2022) featured Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins on Biology, Belief and Covid: Can science and faith be reconciled? Justin Brierly has set the standard for facilitating thoughtful, civil conversations on opposing views of the world, like faith and atheism.

In this particular conversation, Francis Collins, the former head of the Human Genome Project and well-known scientist who professes religious faith, just finished explaining briefly why he came to believe in God at the age of 27. Richard Dawkins, the very well-known scientist and “new atheist”, responded this way:

“If I were God and I wanted to create life, maybe even human life, which is part of the expectation of a religious person, I think I would not use such a wasteful, long-drawn-out process. I think I would just go for it. Why would you choose natural selection, which has the possibly unfortunate property that it could have come about without you? Why would God have chosen a mechanism to unfold His design and chose the very mechanism that would make Him superfluous?

Dawkins speculated that God might have thought, “I wonder what would happen if I set up a primeval, self-replicating molecule and leave it to see what happens.” Dawkins called such an experiment “interesting” and sympathized with the thought of God experimenting in that way. Then he added, “If I wanted to make complex life, I wouldn’t choose that astonishingly wasteful, profligate – cruel actually – way of doing it.”

Dawkins focused on the suffering that comes from competition and evading starvation. He focused on the weeding out process of some animals starving to death, being eaten by predators and succumbing to disease. Dawkins summarized, “It is not a benign process at all.”

Dawkins admitted that this line of thinking is “not a good argument”, but it is what “struck” him as Francis Collins was talking. Indeed, I have heard Richard Dawkins say similar things in debate and in his writings. This line of thinking is obviously compelling to him, good argument or not.

I don’t want to be overly critical of Dawkins. I am not here to blast him or judge him. We all have a judge, I believe, and it isn’t me!

Dawkins is not an ignorant man, obviously. He is a foremost scientist who is a very poignant and elegant communicator and champion of the evolutionary paradigm. His many books and body of work speak to his exceptional intelligence. As people go, he is at the top of the food chain in scientific knowledge and understanding.

Francis Collins is good company for Dawkins, having advanced the relatively new science and understanding of human DNA, perhaps, further than any person before him. Yet, these two men have diametrically opposed views of whether God exists. Neither of them is an intellectual slouch.

I am writing, though, on what Richard Dawkins said. Just as Dawkins was “struck” by what Collins said to respond in the way he did, I am struck to respond by what Dawkins said.

His instinct or intuition or line of thought – whatever you want to call it – was to consider, “If I were God….” Dawkins gravitated toward comparing what he would do if he were God and the world as it exists. Dawkins’s point is, ultimately, that he finds the world as it exists not to live up to what he would have created if he were God.

Let’s examine that line of thinking.

Continue reading ““If I Were God….”: An Exploration of the Human Heart and Need for God”

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.

Continue reading “Drinking Living Water & Embracing the Unseen: of Science and Faith”