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One of the debates surrounding the “celebration” of the 400 the anniversary of the Jamestown colony is that the English “invaded” the land of a native people. It’s true; it was an invasion, an invasion of a superior worldview even if the people who did the invading weren’t always moral in the advance of that worldview. Can you imagine what the world would be like today if the invasion was the other way around? Native cultures knew nothing of progress. They believed in the circularity of life and a world controlled by unpredictable forces.
Living in the twenty-first century, we often take what we know and have for granted. The light bulb was developed in 1879, and today Lasers (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) are used for everything from guiding bombs to performing delicate eye surgery. The first airplane flew in 1903, and we landed a man on the moon in 1969. The first computer filled an 1800 square foot room and weighed thirty tons. Today, more computing power than that first room-size computer can be held in the palm of your hand. Letters that once took months to deliver can now be sent in seconds via email to almost any spot on the globe. What brought about these advances in scientific knowledge? Why didn’t science develop, for example, in India or China? China was using moveable type long before Gutenberg, and India came up with place notation in mathematics and the concept of zero. Try adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing with Roman numerals. Multiply the following numbers with no conception of Arabic numerals and place notation: CCCLCXII plus CMLXVIII. Islam advanced in the sciences by borrowing the best ideas from conquered peoples. Even so, Islam experienced what Stanley Jaki called a scientific “stillbirth.” Islam’s conception of God as capricious and a lack of development of natural law stopped any forward scientific momentum.
If we are to believe secularists, religion has been the enemy of science. In reality, “it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear, articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself.” Before science could get started in proposing theories, certain assumptions about the way the world works had to be assumed to be valid and operationally consistent. Isaac Newton’s encounter with a falling apple and the theories that followed did not immediately change the way people lived. Everyone knew the effect of gravity, even though they did not always understand it or consider it a law. When people stepped outside, they never considered that they would float away. Rain always fell down from a cloud-filled sky, and sailors knew the daily change in the tides. Water was wet, and when it got cold enough, it froze, even if no one knew its precise freezing point.
For millennia, people from around the globe operated in terms of these assumptions even though they did not always comprehend them theoretically or scientifically. They came to be designated “natural laws,” the “laws of nature,” or the “laws of Nature’s God,” a critical assumption that did not exist in India, China, Islamic nations, or among Native Americans. These universal laws operated predictably because the majority of people—scientists included—accepted that they were God’s laws, established and upheld by Him. Christian historians aren’t the only ones who postulate such assumptions. John D. Barrow, writing in The World Within the World, comments:
It has even been suggested that such a view played a key role in the successful development of science in the Western cultures, and did so because they were influenced by the Judaeo-Christian tradition which fostered faith in the underlying rationality and orderliness of Nature during periods of history when human ideas were inbred by all manner of magical and occult notions.
Life is predictable because God is predictable. Even those who did not embrace a biblical worldview knew that they could not develop an ordered world without the shared belief that God was necessary to make it happen.
In cultures where progress was made in mathematics, science, medicine, political theory, and law, people assumed that the world was not an illusion, that truth mattered, and man was a rational being created by a rational God even though at times man behaved irrationally and believed irrational things. Cultures that believed that spirits inhabited trees, rocks, and animals made very little progress culturally and scientifically because they never knew what the spirits might do. There was never a guarantee that what people did one day could be repeated on another day. They were at the mercy of what they believed were impersonal forces controlled by capricious gods who were always changing the rules.
Pagan religions are typically animistic or pantheistic, treating the natural world either as the abode of the divine or as an emanation of God’s own essence. The most familiar form of animism holds that spirits or gods reside in nature. In the words of Harvey Cox, a Baptist theologian, pagan man “lives in an enchanted forest.” Glens and groves, rocks and streams are alive with spirits, sprites, demons. Nature teems with sun gods, river goddesses, astral deities.
These false operational assumptions meant that the world could not be studied in a reliable and systematic way. “As long as nature commands religious worship, dissecting her is judged impious. As long as the world is charged with divine beings and powers, the only appropriate response is to supplicate them or ward them off.” As James B. Jordan writes:
Technology is a purely Christian thing. It is impossible to take a technological view of the world in a pagan culture, partly because the world is seen as inhabited by spirits who will be offended if we manipulate the world, and partly because the means of manipulation is seen as magical, the use of mental and/or ritual occult powers.
It is Christian faith which pronounces the world free of demons and spirits, and which encourages men to manipulate it. It is Christian faith which says that men cannot and must not try to play god (via magic), and which directs men to the use of tools (technology) as a means of dominion. In fine, the development of tools (technology) is exclusively Christian, and has happened beyond a very marginal degree only in the West. Indeed, the two great eras for technological development were the Christian Middle Ages, and the protestant industrial Revolution.
With these thoughts in mind, spend some time considering what the world would be like if Native Americans had won the war over worldviews.
1The ENIAC was built in 1947 for $500,000. It contained 17,468 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, 1,500 relays, 6,000 manual switches and 5 million soldered joints. When turned on, its power consumption caused the city of Philadelphia to experience brownouts.
2Loren Eisely, Darwin’s Century (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958), 62. Quoted in Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 18.
3John D. Barrow, The World Within the World (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1988), 23.
4Pearcey and Thaxton, The Soul of Science, 23–24.
5Pearcey and Thaxton, The Soul of Science, 24.
6James B. Jordan, “Popular Fictional Literature,” The Geneva Review (April 1984), 2.