IS CHRISTIANITY AGAINST LEARNING, SCIENCE AND DISCOVERY?
Before I begin, I first want to emphasize that the purport of this article is not to attempt to reconcile science with scripture or say both could coexist (Even if I believe they can as long as the Bible is read fairly, in its proper immediate context and in its overall context of Christ) neither is it to pass the Bible as a book of amazing scientific wonder (which I believe is in no way shade or form its point or aim). This article focuses on the claim that Christianity gets in the way of our attempt to understand the world around us. To put it in the atheist’s tongue, “We cannot explain this…therefore God”.
What the atheist means by the above claim is that the Christian’s mind is narrow as a result of his shutting out any inquiry into the workings of nature because of his belief that God is responsible for them. This however could not be farther from the truth. If this is the case, then Christians would not have been at the forefront of education from the Cathedral schools and kindergartens to the world’s foremost Universities. (Please refer to my article titled “Why modern civilization and humanity are indebted to the Christian faith- not atheism”). Could the premium which Christians all through the years have placed on learning not be an offshoot of the premium their world view places on it?
From the book of Genesis, it is recorded that God created man in His own image and likeness. Man was given the assignment to be fruitful, multiply and dominate the earth. This was not a purely reproductive thing as the goal of this fruitfulness was to dominate and subdue the earth, it follows that man has the God given ability and license to learn about and discover his domain. Viewed from this lens, scientific breakthrough and advancement is proof of God-given capacity for learning and discovery, a major content of man’s tool box for conquering the earth.
Secondly, study of the works of God, learning and acquisition of knowledge are Biblical concepts,
“The works of the Lord are great, studied by all who have pleasure in them” (Psalm 111:2)
“I applied my heart to know, to search and seek out wisdom and the reason of things” (Ecclesiastes 7:25)
Thirdly, the quest for learning and discovery is a hallmark in the key figures of the Bible. Moses for instance, was said to be,
“learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians…” (Acts 7:22)
Daniel was enrolled to be taught all the literature and language of the Chaldeans (Daniel 1:3–5), remember a pre-requisite of the role was that those chosen had to have knowledge and be quick to understand. Daniel flourished in this role, to the point he was promoted to the chief of the wise men and astrologers (Daniel 2:48). His excellent spirit came not only by an operation of God’s spirit on him, but also by his reading and study of books (Daniel 9:2).
Solomon’s wisdom was said to exceed the wisdom of all Egypt and all the men of the east (1 Kings 4:30–34). The men of the east were the foremost thinkers of the era and Egypt even historically speaking were pioneers of medical and scientific knowledge at the time, so Solomon’s wisdom was not restricted to matters of God and religion. The fact that the queen of Sheba came with difficult questions to ask him (1Kings 10:1–3) and was thoroughly impressed with his answers is further testament to this assertion. We see some of his travails in amassing earthly wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes. Again, like Daniel, he was also a keen learner and seeker of knowledge.
Same is true of the apostle Paul whose advice to Timothy (1Tim 4:13) was first of all that the latter continue to read. In another portion, he instructs Timothy to bring some of his books to him in prison (2Tim 4:13). This was the same Paul who quoted Athenian poets to the Athenians on Mars Hill (Acts 17:28), he had absolutely no problem interacting with the Greek Philosophers who again were the foremost thinkers of his time, further evidence of his depth of study.
When Jesus Christ taught, one of his audience’s reaction was how he knew the things he was teaching having never studied (John 7:15). They marveled asking, what wisdom is this? (Mark 6:1–3). This is the same Jesus that kept asking the Jews, “Have you not read?..” (Matt 12:3, 12:5, 19:4) and instructed them “Go and learn what this means…” (Matt 9:13). Granted a lot of this was in the context of the Jewish scriptures and matters of God.
What have we learnt so far? God gave man a mandate that requires learning and discovery, key figures in the Bible were men given to study/knowledge and the Bible places a premium on acquiring knowledge and getting wisdom. These are the mindsets that have propelled Christians to the forefront of learning and discovery.
Also, contrary to the atheist’s assertion that belief in God closes the mind, belief in God actually provides an impetus for learning and discovery. Galileo put it this way,
“God is known by nature in His works, and by doctrine in His revealed word”.
In other words, Galileo believed he could know the nature of God by studying the works of God. Sharing the same sentiment as the Psalmist who said the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalms 19:1–6).
Johannes Kepler described scientific research and endeavor as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” and as a result urged those who undertake this to give glory to God and not their own minds. Again, we see here that Kepler felt that by studying the works of God, he was glorifying God. If there is a creative mind behind the universe, we expect to find order in it, it is within this framework of the premise of order in the universe that science functions.
In conclusion, the Bible is not against learning, science or discovery. It in fact expects same,
“…many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (Daniel 12:4)
Rather it encourages man to know. To know God first, and this would form the basis/foundation of any other kind of knowledge. To learn of God first, and this would be the basis of learning about anything else. As C.S. Lewis said,
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else”.
Christianity has contrary to shutting minds, provided lenses through which scientists have seen the world and made ground-breaking discoveries.