Why was modern Science born in Europe, not in China or Egypt? Why did the scientific revolution take off from the 16th Century?
Sociologist Peter Harrison studied the lives and writings of every pioneer of modern science. He came to some surprising conclusions. Some atheists, for example, believe it was godless rationalism that led to scientific thinking. Actually, rationalism is precisely what kept science stuck in a medieval rut.
No scientist today believes one sentence of Aristotle’s Physics, because he used logic, not empirical observation, as his method of finding truth. His book on Physics is philosophy, not science.
Aristotle said that if you drop two balls from a cliff, one twice as heavy as the other, the heavier ball will fall twice as fast. This seemed logical. Therefore, for two thousand years, no one tested it until Galileo actually dropped two balls from the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Muslim intellectuals such as Avirroes followed Aristotle and taught that if Observation contradicts Logic, something had to be wrong with observation. Jesus, on the other hand, asked skeptics to observe his works.
Francis Bacon is called the Father of New Science because he proposed that logic must submit to the authority of observation. If the heavy and light balls fall at the same time, then Logic had to be revised. Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity met that need.
Galileo, Bacon, and Newton pioneered modern science because they put observation above logic and followed the Bible’s teaching that God reveals as well as conceals truth [Proverbs 25:2]. Science is God’s treasure Hunt. He wants us to seek truth.
The Bible says God existed before Creation. He created the logical laws we observe, but He is not bound by them. God is free. If He wanted to, He could incarnate as a human baby through a virgin. Our logic cannot pre-determine what God can or cannot do. Instead, we must go out and observe what He has in fact done.
As a Sociologist, Peter Harrison wanted to understand why this new scientific attitude became a revolution from the 16th Century. He learnt that the single most important factor behind the scientific revolution was the inductive method the Reformation employed in studying the Bible. The Medieval Church could not produce science because it followed Plato’s subjective, allegorical method of studying ancient texts.
The Reformation changed the science of interpreting a text because the Bible called the Church “the pillar and ground of the truth.” [1 Timothy 3:15] The church was not the source of Truth. It was to be the truth’s student and teacher. Truth had greater authority than the church.
The Scientific Revolution took off when this Protestant hermeneutic of reading the Bible literally was applied to the study of nature. Christian scholars, both Roman Catholics as well as Protestants, knew that God had written two books. The Bible was the book of God’s word, while nature and history constituted the book of God’s works. God was the author of Scriptures and nature, therefore, both had to be studied “literally”, inductively, objectively.
This worldview inspired Christian universities to study nature. That is why at the entrance of the world’s first scientific laboratory, the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, is inscribed Psalm 111:2: “Majestic are the works of the Lord. Those who delight in them study them.”
That desire to study the works of God produced modern science.