4.3 The Relationships of Various World Views with the Development of Modern Science

4.3.1 Platonic Dualism. Plato believed the real world is formed by absolute immutable "ideas"; therefore the visible world is but a shadowy image of ideas. Humans can know about eternal ideas only vaguely by observing natural phenomena. In other words, one can at most formulate "opinion" concerning ideas of which the visible things are only distorted and partly unreal images.

The Gnostics extended Plato's ideas into the dualistic perception of the material and the spiritual realms during the time of Christ. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) also incorporated aspects of Platonic thinking into his theology. Even up through the twelfth century, some forms of Platonism dominated the thinking of the European intelligentsia. The stress on the inscrutability of ideas suppressed the human search for truth. Therefore [238] this period of European history has been labeled the Dark Ages.

4.3.2 Aristotelian Monism. Aristotle deviated from Plato's conception by assuming that "nature coincides ideas." He believed that nature is the manifestation of ideas; therefore, it is eternally self-existing and self-rejuvenating. Nature is rational, and ideas are the essence of nature. Therefore humans should approach ideas by contemplating and interpret nature by contemplative insights.

Through the popularization of Thomas Aquinas, Aristotelian monism pervaded intellectual minds of Europe from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century. However, this rationalistic approach was not conducive to the development of modern science because it did not require the experimental method.

4.3.3 Mechanistic World View. The Greek philosopher Epicurus originated monistic materialistic thinking. He stipulated that everything in the universe can be reducible to "matter" that is eternal. His ideas fueled the later development of the mechanistic world view.

Descartes elaborated the mechanistic world view by treating the material world, including the human body, as a perfect machine reducible to exact mathematical and physical laws. He, however, maintained in his mind-body dualism that the mind is not under the control of these laws.

The naturalists extrapolated the materialistic and mechanistic perceptions to view the whole universe as a complicated machine definable in spatial-temporal terms. With the rise of empirical science, naturalists came to accept only statements that could be empirically verified as intelligible, and they precluded the existence of any non-spatio-temporal entities. To them, a person is but a part of the world machine, a product of chance, and people owe their ultimate accountability to none but themselves, for they can direct their own destiny. This naturalistic outlook of a mechanistic universe gave birth to the widespread acceptance of the evolutionary origin of life.

4.3.4 Christian Theistic World View. From the scriptural perspective, the universe is God's creation, and God established natural laws to govern nature. As contrasted with the mechanistic perception that God is not interested in His creation, God is constantly upholding the universe by "his powerful word" (Heb. 1:3 NIV).

The creation account gives humans two motivations for the pursuit of modern science. First, the Creation was good (Gen. 1), and "the heavens declare the glory of God; and the skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Ps. 19:1 NIV). Humans can know about the wonders of God by studying His creation. Therefore, the pursuit of scientific knowledge is not "thing-oriented" or "knowledge-oriented" but "God-oriented." [239]

Second, God gave humans a mandate: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground" (Gen. 1:28 NIV). Humans are to be stewards of God's creation, and the understanding of nature is a prerequisite of their effort to dominate and subdue it.

With these two strong motivating forces, Christians took the lead in the development of modern science. In fact, 90% of the membership of the Royal Society of Science in London during the early years of its existence were Christians who adhered to strict compliance with biblical doctrines. This was at a time when only 20% of England's population claimed to be Christians (1). Therefore it is well-recognized that Christianity was the mother of modern science (2). Although the naturalistic approach and the humanistic emphasis have since become the dominant world views among contemporary scientists, Christianity is a strong motivating force underlining the scientific endeavor, and it is the most consistent world view that can incorporate the scientific enterprise into the broad spectrum of the human search for truth (3).

References 4.3

1. Spradley, J. Faith and Learning Seminar. Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL: Summer, 1976. See also Merton, R. K. The Puritan Spur to Science. Sociology of Science. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press; 1973: 228-53.

2. Jaki, S. Science and Creation. New York: Science History Publication; 1974.
3. Sire, J. W. The universe next door. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 1976.