Christianity and Technological Advance - The Astonishing Connection
by T. V. Varughese, Ph.D
Without question, "technology" has now become the new magic word in place of the word "science." Since technology represents the practical applications of science, it is clearly consumer-oriented. Herein is bright economic promise to all who can provide technology.
In terms of technology, our present world can be divided into at least three groups: countries that are strong providers of technology, both original and improved; countries that are mass producers because of cheaper labor; and countries that are mostly consumers. Without a doubt, being in the position of "originating" superior technology should be a goal for any major country. The difficult question, however, is "how."
An obvious place to start suggests itself. Why not begin with the countries that have established themselves as strong originators of technology and see if there is a common thread between them? The western nations, after the Renaissance and the Reformation of the 16th century, offer a ready example. Any book on the history of inventions, such as the Guinness Book of Answers, will reveal that the vast majority of scientific inventions have originated in Europe (including Britain) and the USA since the dawn of the 17th century. What led to the fast technological advances in the European countries and North America around that time?
The answer is that something happened which set the stage for science and technology to emerge with full force. Strange as it may seem, that event was the return to Biblical Christianity in these countries.
According to Alfred North Whitehead and J. Robert Oppenheimer, both renowned philosophers and scientists of our era (but not Christians themselves), modern science was born out of the Christian world view. Whitehead said that Christianity is the "mother of science" because of the insistence on the rationality of God. Entomologist Stanley Beck,though not a Christian himself, acknowledged the corner-stone premises of science which the Judeo-Christian world view offers: "The first of the unprovable premises on which science has been based is the belief that the world is real and the human mind is capable of knowing its real nature. The second and best-known postulate underlying the structure of scientific knowledge is that of cause and effect. The third basic scientific premise is that nature is unified." In other words, the epistemological foundation of technology has been the Judeo-Christian world view presented in the Bible.
This may sound incredible to some because of the popular feeling that science and religion don't mix. Didn't Christianity vehemently oppose Galileo and Copernicus when they proposed the modern models for the solar system?
The truth, however, is that the real conflict was not between Christianity, as presented in the Bible, and science. In fact, the true conflict was not between science and religion at all, but between the existing scientific view and a new scientific view. The geocentric world view held at that time was not based on the Bible but on the Ptolemaic system which was rooted in the views of Plato and Aristotle.
Historians have observed that the foundations for modern science were laid as early as the thirteenth century when scholars like Roger Bacon showed that Aristotle made certain mistakes about natural phenomena. Medieval science was based on authority -- primarily of Aristotle -- rather than observation. It developed through logic, rather than experimentation. Both Copernicus and Galileo challenged Aristotle's authority, using experimentation in the spirit of modern science. The Biblical emphasis of the Reformation, just prior to this, had already paved the way for dropping Aristotle's authority; it also encouraged the rational investigation of our world.
Perhaps the most obvious affirmation that Biblical Christianity and science are friends and not foes comes from the fact that most of the early scientists after the Renaissance were also strong believers in the Bible as the authoritative source of knowledge concerning the origin of the universe and man's place in it. The book of Genesis, the opening book of the Bible, presents the distinctly Judeo-Christian world view of a personal Creator God behind the origin and sustenance of the universe (Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:17; etc.).
Among the early scientists of note who held the Biblical creationist world view are Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), and Samuel Morse (1791-1872) - what motivated them was a confidence in the "rationality" behind the universe and the "goodness" of the material world. The creation account in Genesis presents an intelligent, purposeful Creator, who, after completing the creation work, declared it to be very good (Genesis 1:31). That assures us that the physical universe operates under reliable laws which may be discovered by the intelligent mind and used in practical applications. The confidence in the divinely pronounced goodness of the material world removed any reluctance concerning the development of material things for the betterment of life in this world. The spiritual world and the material world can work together in harmony.
Genesis also gives another important motivation for the investigation of the laws of nature and application of it to technology. That is the divine mandate given to man to subdue the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). Obviously, the discovery of the laws of nature is the key to harnessing the powers of nature for man's use and control. Herein is the key to the motivation for developing technology. Genesis 4 records the earliest technological developments by man (4:21-22).
The world view held in many cultures, however, is different from the Biblical creationist view. Religions influenced by dualistic philosophies view the material world with suspicion and hostility. The material world is considered evil, while the spiritual world is considered good and noble. Renouncing this world became the mark of holiness. Equally detrimental to the development of science were world views that did not have a concept of a supreme personal Creator God. Some of the ancient civilizations, for example, which did develop some mathematics and technologies, did not develop general scientific theories, because of the absence of a creationist perspective that gives confidence in the existence of rational laws in nature. This clearly explains the lack of interest on the part of these cultures in scientific research and technology. It also shows how the Reformation, with its return to Biblical Christianity, spurred a phenomenal interest in fundamental research and technology. The great scientific advances and the industrial revolution that followed bear this out.
The rise of North America to dominance in technology is related to the Judeo-Christian foundation with which it started. The founding fathers of the United States of America were theists who believed in a Creator who gave moral rules by which to live. The work ethic they practiced also contributed to the rapid progress of the country. In this ethic, all honest work was regarded as dignified, not just the "white collar" jobs. This also has Christian roots. Jesus, the founder of Christianity, Himself chose the profession of a carpenter prior to His ministry. Along with this work ethic, there was also the right climate for initiating research. The free-enterprise system allowed individuals and private groups to carry on research and to develop technology.
There is no question that technology has given us untold blessings. But technology has also been used for monstrous destruction and human misery. This should alert us to the fact that technology, by itself, is not the means of salvation. Releasing the technology genie has caused our world to go out of control. The apocalyptic vision of some superdictator controlling humanity, using the incredible power of the computer or the atom, is no longer a laughing matter. The potential for deception through technology, coupled with the illegal use of technology, has also become a serious concern.
How can we hold in check the wrong use of technology? Here again, Christianity offers its powerful contribution. Jesus summed up the right law to live by in human relationships thus: "Love your neighbor as yourself." a powerful principle, indeed. It allows no justification for using technology to bring harm to others. On the positive side, this law encourages us to develop that which serves humanity. The ethical standards of Biblical Christianity also include the practice of honesty and integrity. The need for these in the handling of technology is being increasingly recognized.
The rise of evolutionist philosophy in the 19th century has led to the erosion of the epistemological and ethical foundations of sound technological advance. The collapse of moral absolutes resulting from it sets the stage for selfish and harmful use of technology. This poses a threat to the economic welfare of countries where easy credit is available and the appetite for more and more technological gadgets is insatiable.
There are hopeful signs, however. Evolution theory itself has now collapsed under scientific scrutiny. Further, the foundations have not been totally abandoned by scientists. They have been carrying on their research as usual, as if they believe in the design and orderly laws of the universe -- a belief that has its roots in the Judeo-Christian world view. The gospel of Christ cannot only hold in check the destructive use of technology by its emphasis on loving others as ourselves, but also provides the antidote for selfish greed, which is behind our runaway buying habits. Jesus emphasized that the abundance of things does not produce happiness.
Back in 1832, Darwin, during his famous trip on the "Beagle," visited Tierra del Fuego, the southern coastal region of South America inhabited by savage barbarians and observed man at his worst. Their depravity was shocking to him. Darwin swore that the Fuegian savages were untamable. Within a few years, however, the Fuegian savages were converted, through the efforts of a missionary sent by the South American Missionary Society who brought the gospel to these people. They were radically transformed into a rational and civilized people. Darwin was very impressed by the success of the Missionary Society. Keen to spread the blessings of civilization, Darwin sent donations to the mission for several years. Thirty-five years after his visit to Tierra del Fuego, he proudly accepted the invitation from the South American Missionary Society to become its honorary member.
That power to transform individuals and nations is still available. The "Good News" Jesus brought is that the power to love others as ourselves is available to all, from the Creator. When we have that love, technology will be a blessing to all.
- Francis A. Schaeffer: How Should We Then Live (Revell, 1976), p. 132.
- Henry M. Morris, Biblical Basis for Modern Science (Baker, 1991), p. 30.
- Schaeffer, p. 131.
- Henry M. Morris, Men of Science, Men of God (Master Books, CA, 1988), 107 pp.
- Adrian Desmond & James Moore, Darwin (Warner Books, 1991), pp. 574,575.
* At time of publication, Dr. Varughese was Associate Professor of Computer Science in the School of Management and Technology, National University, Irvine, California, and adjunct professor of Physics at ICR.
Cite this article: Varughese, T. V. 1993. Christianity and Technological Advance - The Astonishing Connection. Acts & Facts. 22 (11).