The Creationist Tradition in the
History of Science


Western Theological SeminaryHolland
MI 49423

[From Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 45 (June 1993): 80]
©1993 by the American Scientific Affiliation

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Roger Bacon 1214 -1294

The historical relationship between Christianity and the physical sciences is often construed in terms of the causes of the origin of modern Western science. My own context in the study of history leads me to ask the question in terms of the meaning of science and criteria for legitimate scientific work. In order to answer these questions, materials are derived from a survey of the early Jewish and Christian beliefs about creation and their implications for life and work- what has been termed the "creationist tradition." The historic creationist tradition is summarized here under four headings. Three of these pertain to our view of the world and give theological meaning to natural science. The fourth pertains to our ministry in the world and provides important social and ethical criteria.

In this paper, I want to share some of the questions and partial answers that led to my writing Creation and the History of Science (Eerdmans, 1991). But I would like to explain the motives and the process as much as the results of my work. Accordingly, I shall be more personal in the first part of this paper than I could be in the book itself.

I am an historian of Christian thought and life, and I am interested in the ways in which Christian belief has provided a context within which people over the centuries have understood themselves, their times, and their work. The most important thing to know about historians is they are not themselves above history. The questions they ask are contextual: they reflect the concerns of the times and places in which they live. But this contextuality makes their work interesting. It speaks to issues that concern all who share their culture.

The time, place, and culture I am assuming here is one dominated by late twentieth-century secular science and technology. I shall begin by describing the contemporary issues that I have felt the need to explore before I turn to the history of Christian thought itself.1

Motives for Seeking Theology in the History of Science

First and foremost, there is the issue of meaning. All of us are products of the modern world. We are products of a culture in which there are no universally held beliefs about a transcendent order of any kind. It is a secularized world in which there is no "sacred canopy" overarching life and work.2 Our professions, our allegiances, and even our religious affiliations are largely determined by intra-mural standards that are generally assumed to stand on their own.

I grew up in an agnostic atmosphere. In my college years, during the early 1960s at Harvard University, I was exposed to a wide variety of belief systems. From my experience of family life and my observation of other people, I felt that there was an underlying meaning to it all, yet I had no explicit confession to articulate that meaning. I found myself in what psychologists would term a "double bind": I was not able to affirm any meaning in life, but I was not able entirely to deny it either.

It was in my study of physics that I found this double bind to be particularly strong. Physicists, like many other scientists and engineers, form a strong sense of identity with their profession and their community. They have professional values and a high degree of motivation. They celebrate the heroes and the great dramas of their discipline. Most remarkably, they contemplate an abstraction of the real world - an abstraction that is, at times, almost mystical - in full confidence that it may actually be applied to the real world. Yet, in my experience, physicists rarely discuss the supra-individual aspects of their community or the "mystical" aspects of their work. There is a marked discrepancy between what is experienced and what is verbalized.

This is the best explanation I can give for my own conversion from the study of natural science to historical theology. I needed to explore the values and beliefs that are implicit in physics and the other sciences - indeed, in modern Western culture as a whole - how they arose and how they related to the theological perspectives of earlier generations, like the doctrine of creation, in which the supraindividual and the mystical were explicitly recognized. In other words, my own progress has been from modern science to the creationist tradition, in order that I might understand how the historical progress came about in the other direction.

But there is a second issue that has troubled our time in a way that I as an historian must reflect. If the issue of meaning came out of the early 1960s, the contribution of the later '60s and early '70s was the threat of science and technology to various ecological and human values. Up until that time, many Christian apologists had proudly claimed that biblical faith was the basis of scientific development as though there were a one-to-one correspondence between Christianity and modern Western science.3 As I went through seminary and graduate school, however, I and my fellow students became aware of issues that were new for us: we became aware of the needs and claims of non-Western cultures; we became sensitized to the social and ideological commitments of Western science and technology even within our own culture; and we began to see the threat of pollution and destruction that came with modern technology even in its more peaceful strains.

So in addition to the issue of meaning, there was for me the need for criteria. What are the real values that science and technology are supposed to fulfill? Can we learn anything helpful from the understanding of creation that inspired the rise of science in the first place? Can we go back to the theological tradition - back to belief in creation, in particular - and find any directives so implanted in the history of the tradition that we can require their fulfillment of all "good science"?

Of course, any one is free to criticize science and technology with whatever values they may choose. There is an entire field called "Science, Technology, and Society" (STS) devoted to such analysis and criticism. But are we as representatives of the Judeo-Christian tradition in a position to hold up to modern science an agenda out of which it has arisen and say, "These are the values that accompanied your birth and nurture. These are the values that brought you into being and sustained you in less hospitable times. These are the values that you will need if you are to fulfill your historic mandate and avoid being controlled entirely by external social and ideological factors."

Good historical writing is largely "objective," but the objectivity of history does not come from some kind of detachment from the stream of events. It comes from an ability to enter into that stream with a sense of bearings. It comes from an ability to articulate issues and value-conflicts that are implicit in the present situation in terms that transcend the present. History is a modern equivalent of the gift of prophesy. So would that all the Lord's people were historians! (Num. 11:29, adapted).

With this by way of introduction, let us now turn to the history of science itself.

The Spiritual Roots of Modern Science

Historians of science realize today that modern science had its origins not only as far back as the Renaissance and Reformation period, but farther back, in the medieval period itself. Catholic historians like Pierre Duhem and M. D. Chenu have documented the key developments of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries.4 More recently, historians of science like Richard Dales and Edward Grant have described what Dales has termed the "creationist tradition" of the Middle Ages as providing the background or matrix from which modern science arose.5

Even this brief introduction to the current discussion tells us two things. First, it tells us that debates about the reaction of the Catholic Church to Copernicus and Galileo and discussions of the religious convictions of Boyle and Newton are not decisive in determining either the issue of meaning or the issue of criteria. Figures of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, whether Catholic or Protestant, were working with ideas and problems that they held in common as a heritage from the Middle Ages. At the risk of offending other historians of the early modern period, I must say that the modern world is really the tail on the medieval dog, even when - especially when -  it is reacting against its image of what constitutes the "medieval" or the "scholastic."

But we can press the matter further. The medieval period was both innovative and traditional at the same time. It was highly innovative in matters of technique and interpretation, but it was also very traditional in matters of faith. The "creationist tradition" that it passed on to the early modern world was itself an inheritance from the world of Late Antiquity. In fact, there is a remarkable degree of continuity all the way from the Hellenistic period (the third century BC and after) through the Middle Ages to the early modern period (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries).

So the work of recent historians tells us a second thing: we not only have to look back beyond the early modern world to the medieval, but we have also to look back beyond the medieval period to its roots in the period of Second Temple Judaism and the early church. In this way historians can look back to early belief in creation from the perspective of modern science.

But we must be careful here. One cannot treat ideas as constants over a period of two thousand years. Nor can one treat ideas of one tradition as if they existed in isolation from those of other traditions. The writers of the Hebrew Bible wrote in a cultural milieu dominated by the mythologies of Egypt, Canaan, Anatolia, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. The writers of the New Testament and the early church also lived in an ecumenical period dominated by thought arising out of a variety of cultures, particularly the Hellenistic Greek, Egyptian, Syrian, and Iranian.

The interactions that took place from the third century BC to the third century AD were complex and are very difficult to disentangle. The work being done today on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Gnostic writings, and the Hermetic corpus is helping us better to understand the cosmopolitan arena out of which Second Temple Jewish and early Christian thought emerged. In addition to the religious traditions of Canaanite culture and religious influences from Egypt and Persia, there were significant stimuli from Platonism, Stoicism, Cynicism, and the Hippocratic and Neopythagorean traditions.

Out of all this, and in continuity with older traditions from the Hebrew Bible, came what Richard Dales has called the "creationist tradition" of the early Middle Ages6 My own work over the past twelve years has aimed at defining this tradition in the early Christian era and determining how it may have changed over the centuries in Western Europe in such a way as to lead to the basis of modern science in the late medieval and early modern periods.

My aim has been to develop a model of these developments in the Christian theology and history of science. Much more work needs to be done in the amplification, testing, and correction of this model. But let me share the results with you briefly and then conclude by coming back to the issues of meaning and criteria for science with which I began.

I find it convenient to summarize the creationist tradition in four basic themes. These themes can be derived inductively from a study of Jewish and Christian literature of the Hellenistic era, the second century BC to the fourth century AD (from Ben Sirach to Basil of Caesarea).7

The Comprehensibility of the World

The first theme is the comprehensibility (some would say the "intelligibility") of the world: the belief that the physical world is actually open to human inquiry and comprehension. There are three aspects to this belief.

(A) There is a lawfulness or wisdom or logic (the Greek logos, not necessarily the same as ordinary human logic) to the natural world - even in its most complex and most remote aspects. This idea has roots in the mythic traditions of the ancient Near East and was clearly associated with the idea of creation in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism.8 The most cited text in the early and medieval church was from the deuterocanonical Wisdom of Solomon: "Thou hast arranged all things by measure and number and weight" (Wis. 11:20).

(B) The human mind is capable of discerning the logic of the natural world - even in its more complex and remote aspects - and of mapping it out with logical, conceptual models of its own devising. In the post-Darwinian era, this super-adaptation of the human mind has been regarded as a great mystery, for instance, by Albert Einstein and Eugene Wigner.9 The writings of the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism, however, attributed to humans a special endowment - an image of God or a spirit from God - which provided a possible link between the structures of the world (created by God) and those of the human mind.10

(C) Both the logic of nature and the creative reasoning of humans are rooted in a transcendent order, a divine Logos or Wisdom that creates and upholds all things.11

The crucial point here is belief in the linkage between the natural and human orders at levels beyond ordinary, everyday experience - belief in the transparency of the natural order, or the power of the human mind, or both. This belief is by no means universal. It is not shared by all religions or philosophies. It is not widely attested in Chinese Taoism,12 for example, and it is directly contradicted in major texts of Vedanta13 In fact, there are times when we ourselves may be inclined to doubt the transparency of nature under the pressures of modern life and the inconsistencies of the artificial world we ourselves have constructed.

But the linkage between the depths of the human psyche and the depths of the cosmos was axiomatic in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism14 and in the Christian faith that sprang from them15 It meant that the natural world could be understood in principle, even if the resolution of many questions seemed to be impossible in practice in the absence of adequate technologies for exploration and experiment.

As new tools of observation became available in the European Renaissance, scientists like Johannes Kepler were guided by their faith in the comprehensibility of the world based on the creationist tradition. According to Kepler:

...God, who founded everything in the world according to the norm of quantity, also has endowed humanity with a mind which can comprehend these norms.16

Those laws are within the grasp of the human mind. God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his image so that we could share in his thoughts.17

The creationist tradition thus provided a faith in the comprehensibility of the world that gave meaning and hope to early modern scientists.

The Unity of Heaven and Earth

A second theme in the creationist tradition is the unity of heaven and earth - in other words, the unity of all things as created by one God and ruled by one Lord (Deut. 4:39; 1 Cor. 8:6). Like the first theme, this idea was not common to all traditions in the ancient world and so required special legitimation to establish it. Many ancient schools of thought drew a sharp line between the starry heavens and the terrestrial realm. Aristotle, for instance, developed two different kinds of physics for the two realms, one involving straight-line motions and the four ordinary elements, the other involving circular motions and a strange fifth element, the "quintessence," not found on earth.

The insistence on a single physics for both heaven and earth was injected into Western thought by a long line of creationists. Athenagoras, Tertullian, Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, John Philoponus, and John of Damascus established the idea in the early church and passed it on to later Islamic and medieval Christian thinkers. It was suppressed temporarily during the resurgence of Aristotelianism in Western Europe in the thirteenth century, but then was recovered by leading natural philosophers of the fourteenth century like Thomas Bradwardine, John Buridan, and Henry of Langenstein. Nicholas of Cusa formed the bridge over which the idea of the unity of heaven and earth reached the Renaissance and early modern science. And the nineteenth-century quest for a unification of electricity, magnetism, and optics, culminating in the work of James Clerk Maxwell, was still inspired by this theological ideal.18

Nowhere has faith in the unity of nature been more severely tried than in the paradoxes of relativity and quantum theory. The laws and properties of nature at high speeds, in intense gravitational fields, and at the quantum level are so different from those we experience in our everyday, "Newtonian" world that they appear to exist in different worlds altogether. As Niels Bohr has argued, however, the new physics seeks higher degrees of unity and harmony at the same time that it attempts to be more comprehensive in its scope19 Even though he was not a confessing Christian, Bohr clearly exhibited the creationist faith in the unity of nature, which he inherited from his model, James Clerk Maxwell.20

The Relative Autonomy of Nature

A third theme in the creationist tradition is the relative autonomy of nature. Literally, autonomy means "governed by its own laws of operation." From this ancient belief we get the modern idea of physical law, which is usually dated from the mechanical philosophy of Descartes.21Nature operates in accordance with principles that not only make it comprehensible and unified, but make it regular and predictable.22

The ancient Near Eastern background for this idea was the analogy between the cosmos and the state. Just as a ruler could issue an edict that would become a law for all people by virtue of its publication and would continue in force until amended or repealed, a god like Marduk could pronounce a divine decree with the same kind of effect for all creatures.23 In the Hebrew Bible, the courses of the stars, the regularity of the seasons, and even the unruly elements were seen to exemplify the laws of the one true God.24

Jewish and Christian writers of the Hellenistic period heightened the sense of the relative autonomy of nature. The inherent dynamism of the heavens was captured by these lines from Jesus ben Sirach (Hebrew original, early second cent. BC):

When the Lord created his works from the beginning,
    and, in making them determined their boundaries,

he arranged his works in an eternal order,
    and their dominion for all generations.

They neither hunger not grow weary,
    and they do not abandon their tasks.

They do not crowd one another,
    and they never disobey his word. (Sir. 16:26-28)

Note that the autonomy of nature is viewed here as an expression of the power of God's word, not as its denial, as in modern Deism.

In the mid-fourth century (c. 360), Basil of Caesarea adapted a popular Stoic idea and compared the cycles of nature to a spinning top which continues in motion after the initial twist. Referring to the decree of God in Genesis 1:11, "Let the earth put forth vegetation...," he commented:

It is this command which, still at this day, is imposed on the earth and, in the course of each year, displays all the strength of its power to produce herbs, seeds, and trees. Like tops, which after the first impulse continue their evolutions, turning upon themselves, when once fixed in their center; thus nature, receiving the impulse of this first command, follows without interruption the course of ages until the consummation of all things. (Hexaemeron V.10) 25

This image of a spinning top or wheel was passed on to the Middle Ages by John Philoponus and various Syriac and Arab commentators as an example of what later became known as the conservation of momentum (in this case, angular momentum).

John Buridan was one of the first to expound the idea of momentum (or impetus) conservation in the Latin West (mid-fourteenth century). Significantly, Buridan used the same image and the same reasoning as Basil,26 though we are not sure whether he came to his conclusions independently or not.27 Then, of course, the idea was picked up by Galileo, Descartes, and Newton and became the basis of our classical mechanics.

Now, if you put these first three themes together, you get something that looks very much like the thought-framework out of which early modern science arose. The comprehensibility of the world is the basis of our belief in the applicability of conceptual tools like mathematics to physical phenomena. The unity of heaven and earth supports the idea of a single set of laws for all natural phenomena. The idea of the relative autonomy of nature supports the belief that the same causes under the same conditions always produce the same effects.28 Conversely, fundamental assumptions of science like the applicability of mathematics, the unity of nature, and the consistency of causation are historically grounded in the creationist tradition. Thus far, the meaning of scientific work is clarified by the theological assumptions upon which it was founded.

From the Meaningful to the Merely Mechanical

Before passing on to the fourth and final theme of the creationist tradition, however, I should point out a significant alteration that took place in the idea of relative autonomy during the Latin Middle Ages - a shift to autonomy in the mechanical sense. I have described the idea of the dynamism of nature as having its roots in Jewish and early Christian literature. But the biblical idea was one of only relative autonomy for nature, not the complete autonomy we have come to associate with the modern, mechanical clock. 

For one thing, clocks never were autonomous in the ancient world, even in appearance. Both the water-clock and the sundial were rather variable in their rates of time-keeping. They required continual maintenance and recalibration to keep them functioning properly. It was not until the late-thirteenth and early-fourteenth centuries that mechanical clocks began to be developed, and not until the eighteenth century that they achieved the kind of regularity we associate with them today. So the kind of autonomy we now attribute to the cosmos is very much a projection of the kind of autonomy we are inclined to give to our modern machines. The autonomous "clockwork universe" that causes us such problems, both philosophical and practical, is really just a human artifact or "social construction."29

But there was also an independent shift in the very idea of autonomy through the Middle Ages. Beginning with the twelfth century, the operation of nature was viewed as disjunctive with the direct operation of God, the latter being confined to primary creation and what we would call "miracles." The early Christians had had a mystic sense of the physical law as the concrete expression of God's word. In medieval scholasticism this led to the idea of potentia Dei ordinata, the divine order in which nature operates in accordance with its God-given laws when God does not interfere in any way. When God did interfere in a "supernatural way," (say, in a miracle) God was exercising the divine prerogative of potentia absoluta, or absolute power over all things.

It is not the exact usage of technical terms like potentia ordinata and potentia absoluta that is important, so much as the fact that the sharp distinction between the two suggested that they were mutually exclusive (in principle, if not in historical fact). Aside from the origin of the cosmos and the occasional miracle (always bracketed in science), nature could be regarded as being autonomous for all practical purposes. Adelard of Bath clearly exhibited this tendency already in the early-twelfth century:

Truly, whoever thinks to abolish the innate order within nature is mad....For he who disposes is most wise and, consequently, is least of all either willing or even able to abolish the fundamental order in nature...and, among [natural] philosophers, it is agreed that any upsetting of this order is least likely to occur. (Natural Questions IV)30

This separation made it possible to study nature in a more detached way and to exploit it more freely than would otherwise have been the case.

I want to emphasize the difference between the early Christian idea of the relative autonomy of nature and the later medieval idea of potentia ordinata. Many champions of modern ecology pointed to the Judeo-Christian tradition as the source of our Western tendency to exploit nature. Apart from a misreading of Genesis 1, this criticism is generally based on ideas like those of Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, and William Derham, which presuppose a greater degree of autonomy to nature than the biblical or early Christian writers would ever have allowed.31 In fact, several intermediate steps have to be considered. For example:

(1) the shift from the Greek patristic outlook to Latin medieval culture, particularly with Augustine and Boethius;

(2) the desacralization of royal power associated with the investiture controversy of the late eleventh century;

(3) the incipient naturalism of Adelard, William of Conches, and others in the twelfth century;

(4) the impact of Aristotelian cosmology in the thirteenth century;

(5) the development of linear perspective and mechanical technologies in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; and

(6) the rise of the mechanical philosophy in the seventeenth century.

These factors have pressed the idea of the relative autonomy of nature into a very different mold than it originally had in its biblical context - and all before the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The Ministry of Healing and Restoration

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The fourth theme in the creationist tradition, the ministry of healing and restoration, is the most practical of the four, and yet the least commonly recognized.32 It concerns the lives, as well as the beliefs, of those who confess divine creation.

Of course, there are healing traditions in all civilizations and in all religions. No civilization could survive without one. But for the most part, nonbiblical traditions have seen the possibilities for healing as very limited when compared to the Judeo-Christian tradition that gave rise to early modern medicine. This limitation is related to differing views of creation. For many traditional religions and philosophies, creation took place out of a preexistent matter (whether the matter was independent of God or somehow alienated from God's own substance). The recalcitrant character of this matter placed constraints on the act of creation itself and made the possibility of recreation, especially in the case of the corruptible human body, very unlikely. For many nonbiblical traditions, in fact, the posssibility of recreation was not considered important.

The dynamic character of the early Christian communities, on the other hand, was deeply rooted in their belief in the totality of creation (including all matter) and the consequent possibility of recreation. Early Christians looked for the resurrection of the body, not just the liberation of the soul. In fact, the doctrine of creation ex nihilo (creation without preexistent matter) was directly related to belief in the resurrection of the body (e.g., 2 Macc. 7:28; Rom. 4:17-21).

We are dealing here with the very heart of Christianity. New Testament Christians believed that they had received the gift of the Spirit. The very Spirit who had hovered over the primordial waters of creation and who had raised Jesus from the dead, was empowering the healing of broken bodies through the use of simple folk medicine and faith in Jesus as risen Lord.33 Closely associated with the ministry of healing was a calling to sacrificial service: the early Christians took Jesus as their model of preaching and healing for the benefit of others.

The ideas of creation, resurrection, and a life of service to others were the basis of the early Christian ministry of healing. Various accounts in the ante-Nicene literature show how early Christians performed healings and acts of charity as a demonstration of the truths of creation and resurrection.34 Consider the following argument of Irenaeus against Gnostics who denied these basic beliefs:

It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practicing deception upon any nor taking any reward from them.

....directing her prayers to the Lord, who made all things, in a pure, sincere, and straightforward spirit, and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles [virtues] for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error. (Against Heresies II.xxxii.4-5)35

The truth of the gospel was validated by Christians' ability (wisdom and power) to heal human illness and by their concern for the welfare of others in both body and in soul. Irenaeus assumed that these characteristics were so obvious that they would be recognized by his readers. Would that the same would be so evident in the church today!

The history of the ministry of healing can be traced from the early church through the beginnings of the monastic movement and the founding of the earliest public hospitals down to the establishment of medical schools and hospitals in the Middle Ages. But, again, some attempt must be made to differentiate stages along the way.

In the early church, healing was a direct expression of the Christian belief in creation, whether it was accomplished by means of traditional medicine or by faith alone. This early work led to the institutionalized social and medical ministries of fourth-century fathers, which still had a strong theological grounding. A good example is Basil of Caesarea, who is credited with founding the first public hospital in Western history (early 370s). According to his associate, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil was inspired by faith in the same God who had empowered Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, and patterned his work after the healing ministry of Christ:

Others have had their cooks and splendid tables and the devices and dainties of confectioners and exquisite carriages and soft, flowing robes. Basil's care was for the sick and the relief of their wounds and the imitation of Christ, by cleansing leprosy, not by a [mere] word, but in deed. (Oration XLIII.63)36

Basil's belief in creation could be expressed through the use of institutional medicine and was not restricted to what we view as miraculous.

The relation between belief in creation and the ministry of healing was eloquently expressed by John Chrysostom, who was instrumental in the founding of two early hospitals in Constantinople. As Chrysostom reasoned with his parishioners in one of his sermons:

In this way [by caring for the poor], we shall have God for our fellow-worker, and we ourselves shall be workers together with God. For God brought the poor from not being into being, and you will prevent them, after they have been brought into life and being, from perishing with hunger and other distress, by tending them and setting them upright...(Homily on Romans XIV.11).37

For early theologians like Basil and Chrysostom, creationist faith was determinative even in what we might regard as secular medicine and social service.

During the early Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the ethic of medical care was gradually divorced from its theological moorings. This process was facilitated by some of the more pessimistic tendencies of the Augustinian tradition and by the twelfth-century dichotomization of natural and supernatural orders that we noted earlier. In spite of a theological renewal in the late Middle Ages and the Reformation, by the eighteenth century the art of medicine was almost entirely secular, as it has remained to this day - even for many of those who practice it in the context of Christian institutions.

Even so, the basic ideals underlying modern medicine are the same as those inherited from the creationist tradition: (a) that basic health care (if not perfect health) is an attainable ideal for all people; and (b) that the best criterion for all human arts and sciences is the amelioration of the human condition. Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Paris-based Doctors of the World are just two examples of medical associations that consciously exemplify these ideals.

The benefit of others was the criterion that early Christians derived from the life and teachings of Jesus. It was the criterion they used to argue their case against irresponsible magical practices of their time (e.g., Matt. 7:21-23; Acts 13:6-10). It was the criterion that was picked up and publicized by early modern scientists like Francis Bacon (that science should be pursued not for reputation or profit, but "for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man's estate"38 and used to win for themselves a solid social and political backing. And it is the criterion to which we must appeal even today in order to differentiate between good science and bad science from a theological perspective.

In this paper, I have gone back to the idea of creation and exegeted its significance in the early church in order to trace its role in the development of modern science. Having begun by moving from science to creation, I have retraced my steps from the creationist tradition back to modern science. The point is not that Christian faith deserves some kind of recognition for its contributions to this history. Nor is it that the church deserves criticism for its failure to direct the process with more insight. The point is rather that we may find our own bearings, both in a sense of meaning in what we are doing today and in a set of criteria to guide us towards the future, by tracing our theological roots and contemplating the great theological beliefs that inspired the beginnings of the scientific tradition. If we are to see our civilization through the crises that lie ahead, we may need to discover the creationist tradition again.


1 In my experience, the issues I address are more of interest to non-believing scientists that they are to believers who are not trained in the sciences. So they are quite different from those presupposed by Howard Van Till in his review of my book, "Can the Creationist Tradition Be Recovered? Reflections on Creation and the History of Science", Perspectives 44 (Sept. 1992), 178-85. It is this difference of context rather than any divergence in philosophy, I believe, that accounts for our differing emphases in evaluating the "creationist tradition."

2 Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967).

3 E.g., Reijer Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972.)

4 Pierre Duhem, Le système du monde (10 vols., Paris: Hermann, 1913-59), abridged ET entitled Medieval Cosmology (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985); M.-D. Chenu, Nature, Man, and Society in the Twelfth Century (French ed. 1957; ET Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1968).

5 E.g., Richard C. Dales, "A Twelfth-Century Concept of the Natural Order," Viator 9 (1978), 179-92; Edward Grant, "The Condemnation of 1277, God's Absolute Power, and Physical Thought in the Late Middle Ages," Viator 10 (1979), 211-44.

6Dales, "A Twelfth-Century Concept," 191-2; idem, "The De-Animation of the Heavens in the Middle Ages," Journal of the History of Ideas 41 (Oct. 1980), 533-4.

7 For greater detail, see my Creation and the History of Science (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), ch. 1.

8 E.g., Gen. 1; Job 28:25-26; Ps. 104; 148; Prov. 8:27-30; Isa. 40:12.

9 Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (London: Alvin Redman, 1954), 46, 52; Eugene P. Wigner, "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences," Comm. in Pure and Applied Mathematics 13 (Feb. 1960), reprinted in idem, Symmetries and Reflections (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1979), 222-37. See also John Barrow, Theories of Everything (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 8, 199-200; Paul Davies, The Mind of God (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 20, 24, 108, 149, 152, 153, 155, 232.

10 E.g., Gen. 1:26-28; Job 32:8; Wis. 7:15-22; 9:1-4; Sir. 17:1-11.

11 E.g., Ps. 104:24; Prov. 3:19-20; 8:22; Jer. 10:12; 51:15; Sir. 1:9; 43:26; Wis. 1:7; 8:1; John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-20; Heb. 1:2-3.

12Joseph Needham, The Grand Titration (London: Allen & Unwin, 1969), 35-37, 46, 322-7; Derk Bodde, Chinese Thought, Society, and Science (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press, 1991), 344.

13E.g., the Khandanakhandakhadya, attributed to Sri Harsha. According to an abstract of this important text, "The thesis upon which the entire work is based is that nothing can be explained, neither any factor or worldly phenomena.... All is inexplicable; no adequate explanation can be provided of anything" (Indian Books Centre Newsletter, Dec. 1989, p. 2a).

14E.g., Philo, On the Creation 77-78, 82. The imaginary explorations of the cosmos in apocalyptic literature also attest to this transparency.

15E.g., The Preaching of Peter, Athenagoras, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustine. Texts are available on request.

16 Letter to Herwart von Hohenburg, 19 April 1597, quoted in Gerald Holton, Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1973), 84.

17 Letter to Herwart von Hohenburg, 9 April 1599, quoted in A. C. Crombie, Augustine to Galileo (2nd ed., 2 vols. Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1961), 2:195. For more on this subject, Job Kozhamthadam, The Discovery of Kepler's Laws: The Interaction of Science, Philosophy and Religion (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1993), should be most helpful.

18 Kaiser, Creation, 90-93, 278-82, 298-99.

19 Niels Bohr, "Newton's Principles and Modern Atomic Physics," in The Royal Society of Great Britain, Newton Centenary Celebrations (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1947), 57; Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge (New York: Wiley, 1958), 82.

20 Kaiser, Creation, 296-7, 301-3; cf. Bohr, "Newton's Principles," 61; idem, "Maxwell and Modern Theoretical Physics," Nature 128 (24 Oct. 1931), 691a.

21 Edgar Zilsel, "The Genesis of the Concept of Physical Law," Philosophical Review, 3 (May 1942), 245-79.

22 Howard Van Till focusses on this theme in his review of my book and offers the alternative heading, "functional integrity"; "Can the Creationist Tradition Be Recovered?", 179-80. Elsewhere I have also defended the idea of the "integrity of creation"; "The Integrity of Creation and the Social Nature of God," to be published in Reclaiming the Covenant, ed. Calvin DeWitt (Madison: A-R Editions, forthcoming).

23 Henri Frankfort et al., Before Philosophy (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1949), ch. 5.

24E.g., Ps. 148:1-12; Jer. 31:35-36; 33:20-21.

25 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff (14 vols., Buffalo and New York, 1886-90), 8:81b. Many historians see the idea of the clockwork universe as originating with the modern world and fail to note this earlier material; e.g., Colin A. Russell (Cross-Currents: Interactions between Science and Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 56-58.

26 Buridan, Questions on the Heavens and the Earth II.xii.6-7, quoted in R. C. Dales, The Scientific Achievement of the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1973), 116-17.

27 Some historians have argued that the medieval West did not have access to the relevant Arabic texts; e.g., A. C. Crombie, Augustine to Galileo, 2:66-74. But the idea could have been transmitted through al-Ghazali's Intentions of the Philosophers, which contained a summary of Avicenna's philosophy, which was based, in turn, on John Philoponus; Fritz Zimmermann, "Philoponus's Impetus Theory in the Arabic Tradition," in Philoponus and the Rejection of Aristotelian Science, ed. Richard Sorabji (Cornell: Cornell Univ. Press, 1987), 122-4, 129.

28 See, e.g., Davies, The Mind of God, 195-8, on these basic presuppositions of scientific work.

29 Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise on the Sociology of Knowledge (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967).

30 Dales, Scientific Achievement, 40; idem, "Twelfth-Century Concept," 182-3.

31Kaiser, Creation, 137-8, 172-4, 199-200.

32In contrast to Howard Van Till, I regard this theme as the most needed message of the creationist tradition for us today (cf. note 22 above).

33 Matt. 12:28; Acts 3:6, 16; 4:30-31; 8:12; 14:9-15.

34 Kaiser, Creation, 37-40.

35 Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (10 vols., Buffalo and New York, 1885-96), 1:409.

36 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, 7:416b; cf. Oration XLIII.35 (ibid., p. 407).

37 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff (14 vols., Buffalo and New York, 1886-90), 11:451.

38 On the Advancement of Learning (1605); Works of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding et al. (14 vols., London, 1857-74), 6:134.