A review of The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science by Peter Harrison
Cambridge University Press, New York, 1998
In the nineteenth century secular activists made an effort to claim a position of dominance in the academy for the natural sciences, and sought to unseat the reigning “queen of the sciences” theology.1 The partisans of secular science painted an image of warfare between science and religion. By their account, progressive, inquiring, empirical science was—and always had been—arrayed against old-fashioned, dogmatic religion.
The image of warfare has been highly influential, but more because it painted a vivid image than because it was true. Serious historians of science have come to view the warfare thesis as overly simplistic at the very least.2
Indeed, a number of historians and sociologists have come to view modern science itself as the historical product of Christianity.3 It’s hard to get much further from the warfare thesis than this. This is an important point for Christian apologetics. If it is true that Christ is the source of all wisdom and truth, then it is only to be expected that Scripture would have helped, not hindered, the pursuit of good science.
Peter Harrison’s The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science is an important study of how Christianity helped birth modern science. At the time of publication, Harrison was a professor of history and philosophy at Bond University in Queensland, Australia (he now holds a professorship at Oxford University). In this book, Harrison does not attempt to present a comprehensive account of the birth of modern science. He presents instead a detailed examination of how biblical interpretation influenced the interpretation of nature. His conclusion is that a literal reading of the Bible led to a literal reading of nature and the birth of modern science. The story Harrison tells should be of interest to historians, scientists, and theologians alike….
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