Author and journalist Michael Coren signs copies of his new book Heresy at a recent book launch. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Christianity and science do go together for Michael Coren

  • June 9, 2012

The following is excerpted from Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity © 2012 by Michael Coren, an award-winning columnist of The Catholic Register. Published by Signal, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

The idea that Christianity is somehow opposed to science, and that individual Christians cannot reconcile their faith to scientific discoveries, is a relatively modern canard, but successfully and damagingly promulgated, usually by people who know very little about science and its history, or about Christianity and Christians. It’s a part of the larger, “Christians are stupid” approach, usually offered by people who are inspired by talk shows rather than texts, and assume that because a television mini-series or popular novel has depicted Christians as being superstitious, foolish, reactionary and frightened of change, such must be the case. The science aspect of all this is particularly nauseating, not only because it is fundamentally untrue, but that it is thrown at Christianity at a time when society is arguably experiencing one of its most credulous and naïve stages and is only too willing to embrace any and every kind of non-scientific or anti-scientific nonsense, from alien invasion stories to ghost myths, and from conspiracy theories to supernatural animals. To paraphrase the great Christian writer G.K. Chesterton, when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in something else, they believe in anything else.

It is estimated that the majority of academics working in the scientific field in the world’s major universities today believe in God, and that many of those believers are Christian. The blurred vision, the distorted image, of Christianity and science being contradictory, at war with one another, or mutually exclusive, is largely a recent construct, emerging from the battle between modernism and traditionalism in the United States in the early 20th century. The new school of rationalism and secularism that informed, or infected, scientific debate at this period pushed some of the more raw evangelical theologians and leaders, and particularly those on the Protestant fundamentalist wing, into something of an intellectual ghetto.

Coren-HeresyOr to put it another way, slid them into a distinctly anti-intellectual mode. But they were and remain a small minority within world Christianity, albeit a minority with a loud voice, and one that is listened to all too readily and eagerly by a media anxious to discredit Christianity.

The history of Christianity is actually one of great encouragement of scientific research and has been responsible for many of the most important scientific advances.

A contemporary of Bacon’s was Johannes Kepler, another devout Christian, who was one of the most original and influential astronomers and mathematicians of all time, and certainly of his era. His scientific work in the areas of light and how we understand it changed the fundamentals of scientific research.

He established the laws of planetary motion about the sun, and this observant and committed Lutheran was close to giving us the laws of gravity a century before they would be formed. The man who actually did form those laws was another pious Christian, Sir Isaac Newton.

One of the two or three most important physicists in history, he was a dominant figure in mathematics, astronomy and so many aspects of scientific study. What is not always remembered — or is deliberately obscured — is that his fascination for numbers was largely inspired by his fascination with God’s plan for the universe. In Principia he wrote, “The most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”

So the world of science bursts, bulges, with Christians. But none of this matters when some bright spark with a grudge against God and Christianity can mention Galileo. It’s the ace in the pack, the big gun, the name to throw out there when all the secular arguments have been lost. Mind you, in my experience most of the people who insist on mentioning Galileo can’t actually spell his name correctly, and they certainly have no idea about what actually happened to him or why it happened in the first place. His case is used over and over again because critics can’t think of any other scientists who were mistreated by either the Catholic or Protestant churches. And in this instance they’re right. There may have been some people in the scientific world that did not enjoy Christian support and were even challenged by Christianity, but they were very few.

And compared with the number of scientists who were direct beneficiaries of Christianity, the number seems even more insignificant. The Christian Church has been the handmaiden of science and scientific discovery, and those who refer to Galileo tend to forget that Louis Pasteur, the inventor of pasteurization, was a devout Catholic, as was Alexander Fleming, who gave us penicillin. Or Fr. Nicolaus Copernicus, who first proposed the theory of the Earth revolving around the sun — this was precisely what Galileo stated, but Copernicus taught it as theory, not as fact.

Or Msgr. Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître, a Belgian Roman Catholic priest and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven, who proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. The Big Bang theory, by the way, was opposed by the secular, scientific world when it was first discussed, because it sounded too Christian. Who, then, had the open minds and who the closed?

In the field of acceleration, Fr. Giambattista Riccioli changed the way we understand that particular science; the father of modern Egyptology was Fr. Athanasius Kircher, and the Yugoslavian Fr. Roger Boscovich was the founder of modern atomic theory. The man considered the father of genetics is the great Gregor Mendel.

This University of Vienna–trained mathematician conducted a variety of complex experiments in the mid-19th century, the most famous and important of which was when he grew pea plants over an eight-year period and explored their genetic code with great and lasting success in the area of genetics. He was a Catholic monk and later became abbot of his monastery. The Lutheran convert Fr. Nicholas Steno was one of the founders of geology, and Fr. J.B. Macelwane’s Introduction to Theoretical Seismology was the first American textbook on the subject. It was Roman Catholic clergy who took Western science to China, India and Latin America.