A few years ago, famous astrophysicist and atheist Lawrence Krauss made the bold claim that “All scientists should be militant atheists.” As dramatic as that sounds, he’s not the only one who thinks that. The idea that science is opposed to faith is seen by many as the default position now. How can science and rationalism coexist with faith and miracles? It didn’t used to be like this. Many of the greatest scientific minds in history were not only Christians but motivated by their Christianity. Is Christianity anti-science? These 5 scientists didn’t think so.
For the record, I am not here to put these men on pedestals. Many of them had questionable personal lives and even theology. My point is not to show them as theological teachers or role models but to say that their significant impact on the scientific community was not hindered by their belief in God.
Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
You may not see Bacon on many lists of scientists. People generally consider him to be more of a philosopher. However, Bacon gets credited for developing the scientific method in the first place. His writings were some of the most influential throughout the scientific revolution. The emphasis on observation and inductive reasoning as a means of gaining empirical research changed the western world.
One might expect that kind of empiricism would make him less religious than your average 16th-century statesman. Instead, Bacon saw the pursuit of knowledge as consistent with his faith. “Knowledge is the rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man’s estate. He even went as far as to say, “a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”
Robert Boyle (1627-1691)
Boyle helped to bring about one of the most significant changes in scientific history. He is seen as the first modern chemist. Boyle’s work changed the world, helping it to transition from alchemy to chemistry. You can still find Boyle’s Law in current chemistry textbooks and classes.
Everyone in 17th century England believed in God, though, right? How serious was he? It turns out, very serious. He said, “a deeper understanding of science was a higher glorification of God.” He wrote extensively about God, theology, and how the study of science could further his glory. For him, science and Christianity were inseparable.
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726)
Of all the men on this list, Newton probably needs no introduction. He is one of the most influential physicists ever, up there with Einstein. Every math major can thank him for inventing calculus. Look at any list of the man’s discoveries, and you cannot help but be impressed.
One might be more impressed by the amount of time he put into theology. While he may not have had the most orthodox theology, seemingly rejecting trinitarian views, he clearly believed in God. Newton saw no contradiction between God and science. When one of the greatest scientists of all time spends more time studying and writing about theology, it speaks volumes against Krauss’s militant atheism notion.
Gregor Mendel (1822-1884)
Remember back to high school biology and learning about genetics through those weird boxes about pea plants? That all started with Mendel. A mathematician and biologist, Mendel is considered the father of the study of genetics. Although his work mainly went unappreciated in his time, it continues to be foundational in biology.
You should know that Mendel was also a Catholic Augustinian friar. The brilliant scientist not only believed in God but taught and led others about him. Although writings of his are somewhat scarce, a few of his sermons still exist today. If the friar and later abbot moonlighting as a scientist saw any conflict between the two, he made no mention of it.
Sir William Lawrence Bragg (1890-1971)
By far the most recent of the men listed here, Bragg may be less familiar to you. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1915 for his development in the study of X-ray crystallography. At the time, he was only 25, making him the youngest winner of the award.
Sometimes skeptics respond to lists of scientists like this by saying that maybe Christianity helped science get off the ground, but we have outgrown it. The modern scientist no longer needs it. For a relatively recent scientific mind, Bragg had this to say. “From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hand are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.” Bragg may not have been as actively involved in theology as some of the previous men on this list. Still, he made his views clear and how they connected with his scientific research.
Is Christianity anti-science? Considering many of the most influential scientists in history were devout theists, I don’t think so. These 5 men only scratch the surface. Of course there are and will always be Christians who are anti-science, but that tells you nothing about whether or not the belief itself is compatible with science.
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