The Impact of Christianity on the World

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Henry Morris explains in his book The Biblical Basis for Modern Science that the Bible’s approach to worldview issues is comprehensive and includes science, technology, the humanities, commerce, law, civil government, and education, in short, every facet of human culture:

[L]ong before [the Great Commission] another great commission was given to all men, whether saved or unsaved, merely by virtue of being men created by God in His image. It also had worldwide scope, and has never been rescinded. It had to do with implementing God’s purpose in His work of creation, just as Christ’s commission was for implementing His work of salvation and reconciliation.[1]

Morris says that the command to subdue the earth means “bringing all earth’s systems and processes into a state of optimum productivity and utility, offering the greatest glory to God and benefit to mankind.”[2]

The church has a long history of applying all the Bible to all of life. “Throughout American history, the moral principles of Judeo-Christian ethics have been used as one of many effective tools to evaluate and reform a wide variety of social structures, and have continued to be invoked in political debates.”[3] This perspective is best exemplified in the life and work of the Puritans who applied the Bible to work, marriage, economics, family, education, politics, social ethics, social action, as well as personal piety, devotion, worship, and theological study. “Puritanism was a movement in which the Bible was central to everything.”[4] They found these principles in the Bible and applied them to their current and unique circumstances.

The history of Western civilization is the history of the development and implementation of the Bible to all of life. While a book like James A. Haught’s 2000 Years of Disbelief[5] tries to counter this assertion by claiming that for two millennia no one of any significance believed the truths of the Christian religion, especially in the realm of science, the facts of history demonstrate that Christian scientists, explorers, philosophers, artists, inventors, and writers have dominated their fields. Rodney Stark argues there is “no inherent conflict between religion and science” and “Christian theology was essential for the rise of science.” After a thorough study of the Scholastic period, he shows “that the leading scientific figures in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries overwhelmingly were devout Christians who believed it their duty to comprehend God’s handiwork.”[6]

Haught makes no mention of Bible-believing scientists Isaac Newton, Lord Kelvin, Joseph Lister, Johann Kepler, Robert Boyle, and Gregor Mendel; patriot and governor of Virginia Patrick Henry; artist and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse who, on May 24, 1844, chose the biblical verse “What hath God wrought?” (Num. 23:23) as the first telegraphic message transmitted over a long distance (160 miles); airplane inventors Wilbur and Orville Wright;[7] Supreme Court Justice David J. Brewer who, after a thorough study of the historical record, declared that America was a “Christian nation”;[8] scholar, Christian apologist, social commentator, and fiction writer C. S. Lewis; social reformer and anti-slavery advocate William Wilberforce[9]; lexicographer Noah Webster, developer of America’s first comprehensive dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828).[10] The list could go on.

In the book 1,000 Years, 1000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium,[11] we find a picture quite different from the one painted by Haught. Of the first ten entries, six of the rankings were Christians. Johannes Gutenberg (1394?–1468), inventor of the printing press, is first on the list. The first book that came off his press was the Bible. Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) fills the number two spot. It was Columbus who saw in the Bible a directive to take the gospel— “the Holy Christian Faith”—around the world.[12] He is followed by Martin Luther (1483–1546) who set the Protestant Reformation in motion and whose translation of the Bible into German brought uniformity to the German language. Following him is Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) who systematically attacked the church’s reliance on Aristotle’s cosmology over against the Bible and changed the way we view the cosmos.[13] Isaac Newton (1642–1727), in addition to his scientific discoveries and laying the foundations for differential and integral calculus, wrote numerous works on Christian theology.[14] One of his most noted works is Observations Upon Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John, published six years after his death. He is ranked sixth on the list.

He read the Bible daily throughout his life and wrote over a million words of notes regarding his study of it.

Isaac Newton believed the Bible is literally true in every respect. Throughout his life, he continually tested Biblical truth against the physical truths of experimental and theoretical science. He never observed a contradiction. In fact, he viewed his own scientific work as a method by which to reinforce belief in Biblical truth.[15]

Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), who wrote extensively on the proofs for God’s existence, is ranked eighth. He argued that the mind, using reason to think through the reality of God’s existence (Isa. 1:18), is a gift given to us by God, an attribute that separates us from the animal creation.

We know very little about William Shakespeare’s religious beliefs. He is fifth on the list. We do know that he was a member of the Church of England where he and his children were baptized.[16] While Peter J. Leithart correctly notes that there is a “deeply Christian worldview embodied in his plays,”[17] and Louise Cowan maintains that “his perspective was not simply spiritual, but overtly Christian,”[18] we must be careful not to read Shakespeare as a symbolic literary course on the Bible. Even so, “it is seen that Shakespeare drank so deeply from the wells of Scripture that one may say, without any straining of the evidence, without the Bible Shakespeare could not be.”[19]

Like Shakespeare, little is known of the specifics of Leonardo Da Vinci’s religious commitment. We do know, however, that his most memorable art subjects came from the Bible (Adoration of the Magi, The Baptism of Christ, The Last Supper, The Resurrection of Christ). Leonardo, ninth on the list, also applied his talents to mathematics, music, anatomy, botany, and engineering. He was the epitome of what it meant to be a Renaissance Man.

Ludwig van Beethoven, who holds the tenth spot, was a Roman Catholic who mistrusted the clergy. While little is known of his religious convictions, “many of his musical works reveal definite Christian imprints. These are plainly evident in Missa Solemnis [Solemn Mass] and in Christ on the Mount of Olives as well as in other religious compositions.”[20]

As these and many other historical examples would show, western civilization cannot be explained without reference to a biblical worldview.

Modern biographers of scientists seem oblivious to the fact that up to the end of the eighteenth century “most intelligent men, and thus most scientists, held that divine revelation could tell them what had happened in the beginning, how the Creator had so to speak, set the stage of the world which their science was now newly investigating.[21]

Charles Darwin, seventh on the 1,000 Years, 1000 People list, is the exception that proves the rule. Darwin’s radically new secular worldview was a bold attack against what was a prevailing Christian view of origins. Charles Hodge (1797–1878), a theology professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, was the first Christian scholar of distinction to write a comprehensive assessment of Dawinism. In his book What is Darwinism?, Hodge concluded simply, “It is atheism.” He did not mean by this that “all who adopt [Darwin’s] views are atheists; but it means that his theory is atheistic, that the exclusion of design from nature is . . . tantamount to atheism.”[22] At the time, few people saw the radical educational, political, racial, moral, and scientific implications of evolution as they are now manifested today. Many in Hodge’s day believed that Darwin’s theories could be reconciled with the Bible with no harm coming to the Bible, the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, or the Christian worldview. Today’s prominent evolutionists seek no such reconciliation.

From helping the poor, widows, and orphans to the development of science, the abolition of slavery, and the development of art and music, and so much more, the Christian worldview has been the instrumental document. With changed hearts through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the life transforming power of the Holy Spirit in renewing the mind, the world has changed. Humanists, secularists, and materialists are seeking credit for these great achievements, but neither the Bible nor history is on their side.

Endotes:

[1] Henry M. Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984), 41.
[2] Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science, 41.
[3]
Susan Pace Hamill, “An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics,” Alabama Law Review 54:1 (Fall 2002), 3–4. I do not agree with all of Hamill’s conclusions or application of a Judeo-Christian ethic, but her underlying historic claims are correct.
[4] Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Academie, 1986), 13.
[5] James A. Haught, 2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People with the Courage to Doubt (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1996).
[6]
Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 123. See the “Roster of Scientific Stars” on pages 198–199.
[7] After a successful demonstration of flight while in France, Wilbur was asked if he would fly the machine tomorrow. “Wilbur told him no. Tomorrow was a Sunday and he would not break the Sabbath.” (Barry Combs, with Martin Caidin, Kill Devil Hill: Discovering the Secret of the Wright Brothers [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1979], 281).
[8] David J. Brewer, The United States: A Christian Nation (Philadelphia, PA: John D. Winston, 1905). Reprinted by American Vision (Powder Springs, Georgia) in 1996.
[9]
John Pollock, Wilberforce (Belleville, MI: Lion Publishing Co., 1977) and Kevin Belmonte, Hero for Humanity: A Biography of William Wilberforce (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002).
[10]
Harlow Giles Unger, The Life and Times of Noah Webster: An American Portrait (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998).
[11] Agnes Hooper Gottlieb, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers, and Brent Bowers, 1,000 Years, 1000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium (New York: Kodansha International, 1998).
[12]
Christopher Columbus, “The Log of Christopher Columbus,” in The Log of Christopher Columbus, trans. Robert H. Fuson (Camden, ME: International Marine Publishing Co., 1987), 51.
[13]
Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 38–39 and Philip J. Sampson, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), chap. 1.
[14] Stark, For the Glory of God, 167-172.
[15]
Arthur B. Robinson, “Introduction,” in Isaac Newton, Observations Upon Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John (Cave Junction, OR: Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, [1733] 1991), viii–ix.
[16]
Ronald Mushat Frye, Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963), 3.
[17] Peter J. Leithart, Brightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide to Six Shakespeare Plays (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1996), 7.
[18]
Louise Cowan, “The Importance of the Classics,” in Louise Cowan and Os Guinness, eds., Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You’ve Always Wanted to Read (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 19.
[19]
William Burgess, The Bible in Shakespeare: A Study of the Relation of the Works of William Shakespeare to the Bible (Chicago, IL: The Winona Publishing Co., 1903), xiii.
[20] Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 329.
[21] Schmidt, Under the Influence, 243.
[22] Charles Hodge, What is Darwinism? And Other Writings on Science and Religion, eds. Mark A. Knoll and David N. Livingstone (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994).

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