The Light Has Come!

Quotations on the History of Christian Contributions to the Progress of Civilization


The following quotes demonstrate broad areas where Christianity has significantly contributed to the progress of civilization. I could also make a long list on contributions by individual Christians to the progress of Christian civilization, such as the many scientists that have made discoveries in a self-conconscious attempt to pursue science to the glory of God, men like Copernicus, Keplar, and Pastuer.  But to keep the list more managable, I have tried to avoid that in favor of quotes about ideas and movements.  Also, I have primarily used quotes from non-Christians to avoid the charge of bias that would be levelled against Christians, although some are from Christians in cases in which they expressed the Christian contribution to civilization in a succinct and accurate manner.  After all, truth is truth no matter who says it.



Contributions of the Old Testament Worldview

Contributions of the Medieval Period

Contributions of the Post-Reformation Era


Contributions of the Old Testament Worldview:


     All evidence points to there having been, in the earliest religious thought, a vision of the cosmos that was profoundly cyclical.  The assumptions that early man made about the world were, in all their essentials, little different from the assumptions that later and more sophisticated societies, like Greece and India, would make in a more elaborate manner.  As Henri-Charles Puech says of Greek thought in his seminal Man and Time:  "No event is unique, nothing is enacted but once . . . ; every event has been enacted, is enacted, and will be enacted perpetually; the same individuals have appeared, appear, and will appear at every turn in the circle."

     The Jews were the first people to break out of this circle, to find a new way of thinking and experiencing, a new way of understanding and feeling the world, so much so that it may be said with some justice that theirs is the only new idea that humans beings have ever had.  But their worldview has become so much a part of us that at this point it might as well have been written into our cells as a genetic code.

  Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews:  How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, (New York, NY:  Nan A. Talese, 1998), p. 5.



But, even at their most hairsplittingly bizarre, these laws remain testimony to the fact that the Jews were the first people to develop an integrated view of life and its obligations.  Rather than imagining the demands of law and the demands of wisdom as discrete realms (as the Sumerians, the Egyptians, and the Greeks), they imagined that all of life, having come from the Author of life, was to be governed by a single outlook.  The material and spiritual, the intellectual and the moral were one:


            Hearken O Israel:

            YHWH our God, YHWH (is) One!


The great formula is not that there is one God but that ‘God is One.’  From this insight will flow not only the integrating and universalist propensities of Western philosophy but even the possibility of modern science.  For life is not a series of discrete experiences, influenced by diverse forces.  We do not live in a fragmented universe, controlled by fickle and warring gods.  .  .  .  God and "the poor man’s son" belong together.  Because God is One, life is a moral continuum – and reality makes sense.

  Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews:  How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, (New York, NY:  Nan A. Talese, 1998), pp. 156-57.



      Because of their unique belief – monotheism – the Jews were able to give us the Great Whole, a unified universe that makes sense and that, because of its evident superiority as a worldview, completely overwhelms the warring and contradictory phenomenon of polytheism.  They gave us the Conscience of the West, the belief that this God who is One is not the God of outward show but the ‘still, small voice’ of conscience, the God of compassion, the God who ‘will be there,’ the God who cares about each of his creatures, especially the human beings he created ‘in his own image,’ and that he insists we do the same.

      Even the gradual universalization of Jewish ideas, hinted at in the story of Ruth the gleaner, the woman, the Moabite, the non-Jew, the classless nobody capable of friendship, was foreseen by Joel, a late prophet who probably rose after the return from Babylon:


"And it shall come to pass afterward

that I shall pour out my spirit on all humanity.

Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,

Your old people shall dream dreams,

And your young people see visions.

Even on slaves, men and woman,

Shall I pour out my spirit. . . ."


The Jews gave us the Outside and the Inside – our outlook and our inner life.  We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish.  We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes.  Most of our best words, in fact – new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice – are gifts of the Jews.

  Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews:  How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, (New York, NY:  Nan A. Talese, 1998), pp.240-41.



Nor can we imagine the great liberation movements of modern history without reference to the Bible.  Without the Bible we would never have known the abolitionist movement, the prison-reform movement, the antiwar movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the movements of indigenous and dispossessed peoples for their human rights, the antiapartheid movement in South Africa, the Solidarity movement in Poland, the free-speech and pro-democracy movements in such Far Eastern countries as South Korea, the Philippines, and even China.  These movements of modern times have all employed the language of the Bible; and its is even impossible to understand their great heroes and heroines – people like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Mother Jones, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Helder Camara, Oscar Romero, Rigoberta Menchú, Corazon Aquino, Nelson Mendela, Desmond Tutu, Charity Kaluki Ngilu, Harry Wu – without recourse to the Bible.

      Beyond these movements, which have commonly taken the Book of Exodus as their blueprint, are other forces that have shaped our world, such as capitalism, communism, and democracy.  Capitalism and communism are both bastard children of the Bible, for both are processive faiths, modeled on biblical faith and demanding of their adherents that they always hold in their hearts a belief in the future and keep before their eyes the vision of a better tomorrow, whether that tomorrow contains a larger gross domestic product or a workers’ paradise.  Neither ideology could have arisen in the cyclical East, in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, or Shinto.  But because capitalism and communism are processive faiths without God, each is a form of madness – fantasy without a guarantee.   Democracy, in contrast, grows directly out of the Israelite vision of individuals, subjects of value because they are images of God, each with a unique and personal destiny.   There is no way that it could ever have been ‘self-evident that all men are created equal’ without the intervention of the Jews.

  Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews:  How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, (New York, NY:  Nan A. Talese, 1998), pp. 248-49.



It is to a remarkable group of men whom we call the Prophets [of the Old Testament - M.W.] more than to anyone else that Western civilization owes its double conviction (1) that the future of any people depends in large part on the justice of their social order, and (2) that individuals are responsible for the condition of their society as well as for the tidiness of their personal lives.

  Huston Smith, The Religions of Man  (New York, NY:  Harper & Row, 1986),



As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews:  namely, that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws.  This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation of modern science.

  Melvin Calvin, Chemical Evolution (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1969), p. 258; quoted in Nancy R. Pearcy and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science:  Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway Books, 1994), p. 25).



Contributions of the Medieval Period:


Christianity introduced other new ideas. It was not the domestic religion of any family, the national religion of any city, or of any race. It belonged neither to a caste nor to a corporation. From its first appearance it called to itself the whole human race. Christ said to his disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” . . . Between nations religion no longer commanded hatred; it no longer made it the citizen's duty to detest the foreigner; its very essence, on the contrary, was to teach him that towards the stranger, towards the enemy, he owed the duties of justice, and even of benevolence. The barriers between nations or races were thus thrown down; the pomoerium disappeared. “Christ,” says the apostle, “hast broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” “But now are they many members,” he also says, “yet but one body.” “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”

  Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, The Ancient City:A Study on the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome (Kitchener, Canada: Batoche Books 2001 [1874]) pp. 337, 338, at http://socserv.socsci.mcmaster.ca/oldecon/ugcm/3ll3/fustel/AncientCity.pdf.



For, as the Roman Empire fell, as all through Europe matted, unwashed barbarians descended on the Roman cities, looting artifacts and burning books, the Irish, who were just learning to read and write, took up the great labor of copying all of western literature – everything they could lay their hands on.  These scribes then served as conduits through which the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the civilization they had overwhelmed.  Without the Service of the Scribes, everything that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable.  Without the Mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly re-founded European civilization throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, the world that came after them would have been an entirely different one – a world without books.  And our own world would never have come to be.

  Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization:  The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the , (New York, NY:  Anchor Books, 1995), pp. 3-4.  (The Irish monks made a significant contribution, but I am sure that there would have been some books in the world without them. - MW)



In response to the unique problems faced by an institution intent on renouncing traditional social bonds, an innovative type of health care system emerged within monasticism.  Within the monastary, the sick were guaranteed health care from a variety of professional and nonprofessional providers, a system that was without precident in ancient Mediterranean society.  The sick had access to a range of medical treatment corresponding to the best types available outside the monastary:  dietary treatment, pharmaceuticals, surgery, rest, and comfort care; they also had access to health care institutions that were new to the monastic health care system:  a corps of professional nurses and an infirmary, a protohospital.  The monastic health care system was an integral component of monasticism.  Furthermore, the emergence of the monastic health care system was not only important for the growth of the early monastic movement but also fundamentally transformed the health care system of Late Antiquity by providing the template for the late antique hospital, which emerged in the 370s.

  Andrew Crislip, From Monastery to Hospital:  Christian Monasticism & the Transformation of Health Care in Late Antiquity (Univ. of Michigan Press, 2005), p. 8.



[The state of marriage among Romans after the Punic victories:]  To this loose and voluntary compact religious and civil rites were no longer essential, and between persons of a similar rank the apparent community of life was allowed as sufficient evidence of their nuptials.  The dignity of marriage was restored by the Christians, who derived all spiritual grace from the prayers of the faithful and the benediction of the priest or bishop.

  Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. II (New York, NY:  The Modern Library, n.d.), p. 701.



Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violence and ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.

  Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1996), p.166.



The impious Galileans [i.e., the Christians] support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.

  Roman Emporer Julian ("Julian the Apostate"), "Letter to Arsacius" (c. A.D. 360)



Christian belief in the goodness and integrity of the physical universe . . . played an incalculable part in transforming the ancient worldview.  It destroyed the Platonic and Aristotelian idea that matter is, if not evil, the raw material of corruption and unreality and the source of disorder in the universe, and it also ruled entirely out of consideration the pessimistic views of nature that emanated from the dualistic sects such as the Manichaeans and the Gnostics, thereby emancipating the material reality of the universe for serious scientific attention.

  Thomas Torrence, Divine and Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 67



As noted, science consists of an organized (that is, sustained and systematic) and empirically oriented effort to explain natural phenomena—a cumulative process of theory constuction and theory testing.  This enterprise arose only once.   As the historian Edward Grant explained, "it is indisputablethat modern science emerged in the seventeenth century in Western Europe and nowhere else."  Other leading historians and sociologists of science may date the rise of science somewhat earlier, but all of them agree that it was a development unique to Europe.

The crucial question is:  Why?

My answer to this question is as brief as it is unoriginal:  Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as his personal creation, thus having rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting human comprehension.

  Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God:  How Monotheism Led to the Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton,NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2003), p. 146-47.



I do not think, however, that I have even yet brought out the greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation of the scientific movement. I mean the inexpugnable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles. Without this belief the incredible labours of scientists would be without hope. It is this instinctive conviction, vividly poised before the imagination, which is the motive power of research: that there is a secret which can be unveiled. How has this conviction been so vividly implanted on the European mind? When we compare this tone of thought in Europe with the attitude of other civilizations when left to themselves, there seems but one source for its origin. It must have come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and the rationality of a Greek philosopher. Every detail was supervised and ordered: the search into nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality. Remember that I am not talking about the explicit beliefs of a few individuals. What I mean is the impress made on the European mind arising from the unquestioned faith of centuries. By this I mean the instinctive tone of thought and not mere creed of words. In Asia, the conceptions of God were of a being who was either too arbitrary or too impersonal for such ideas to have much effect on the instinctive habits of mind. Any definite occurrence might be due to the fiat of an irrational despot, or might issue from some impersonal inscrutable origin of things. There was not the same confidence as in the intelligible rationality of a personal being.

In the first place, there can be no living science unless there is a widespread instinctive conviction in the existence of an Order Of Things. And, in particular, of an Order Of Nature . . . The inexpugnable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner . . . must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God . . . My explanation is that the faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology.

  Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World  (New



The sheer act of faith that the universe possessed order and could be interpreted by rational minds . . . The philosophy of experimental science . . . began its discoveries and made use of its method in the faith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a Creator who did not act upon whim nor interfere with the forces He had set in operation. The experimental method succeeded beyond man's wildest dreams but the faith that brought it into being owes something to the Christian conception of the nature of God. It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption.

  Loren Eisley, Darwin's Century: Evolution and the men who discovered it  (Garden



Although we seldom recognize it, scientific research requires certain basic beliefs about the order and rationality of matter, and its accessibility to the human mind . . . they came to us in their full force through the Judeo-Christian belief in an omnipotent God, creator and sustainer of all things. In such a world view it becomes sensible to try and understand the world, and this is the fundamental reason science developed as it did in the Middle Ages in Christian Europe, culminating in the brilliant achievements of the seventeenth century.

  P. E. Hodgson, 1974. Review of Science and Creation (by S. L. Jaki) in Nature, Vol.



...  the early medieval society was a pioneer society living on a frontier both geographical and intellectual, and engaged in advancing it. It is remarkable that historians of the West should so long have failed to apprehend this absolutely vital truth about the origins of their own tradition.

  William Carroll Bark, Origins of the Medieval World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1958) pp.27-28; quoted in James Nickel, Mathematics:  Is God Silent? (Vallecito, CA:  Ross House , 2001), p. 72.



Today we recognize that one of the great technological revolutions took place during the medieval millennium with the disappearance of mass slavery, the shift to water- and wind-power, the introduction of the open-field system of agriculture, and the importation, adaptation, or invention of an array of devices, from the wheelbarrow to double-entry bookkeeping, climaxed by those two avatars of modern Western civilization, firearms and printing.

  Frances and Joseph Gies, Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages (New York: Harper Collins, 1994), p. 15; quoted in Nickel, p. 74.



The reputation of the Middle Ages has never really recovered from the attack launched by the Renaissance upon the centuries that preceded humanism. Being passionately interested in the literature and poetry of classical civilization, people in the Renaissance were convinced that their forebears in the Middle Ages—later to be termed the Dark Ages—were altogether ignorant of or indifferent to ancient Greek and Roman authors, whereas in actual fact the medieval men were passionately interested—not so much in the literature and poetry of the classical world, as in its philosophical, scientific, and technological works.

  Jean Gimpel, The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), p. 237; quoted in Nickel, p.73.



Indeed, the technical skill of classical times was not simply maintained: it was considerably improved. Our view of history has been too toplofty. . . .  In technology, at least, the Dark Ages mark a steady and uninterrupted advance over the Roman Empire.

  Lynn T. White, "Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages," Speculum, 15 (1940), p. 151; quoted in Nickel, p. 73.



. . .yet to Western man since the Renaissance, the historian as well as the philosopher, the artist, and the scientist, it has been all but unpalatable.  Blinded by our prejudice in favor of classical "civilization" as contrasted with medieval "barbarism," we have grossly misinterpreted the creative character of what was taking place in late Roman and early medieval times.  We have confused adjustment with decay, and failing to recognize what may be called a change of pace and direction, we have branded it as exclusively an ending. . . .  What may seem today to have been quite simply retrogression and nothing else, may from another point of view be regarded as a cutting away of dead Wood.

  William Carroll Bark, Origins of the Medieval World (Stanford:  Stanford University Press, 1958), pp.  27-28; quoted in Nickel, p. 72.



It can indeed be said without exaggeration that the Western world lived until the advent of the steam engine on technological innovations made during the medieval centuries.

  Stanley L. Jaki, Christ and Science (Royal Oak, MI: Real View Books, 2000), p.22; quoted in Nickel, p.76.



Armed with innovative technology, both borrowed and homegrown, the European civilization that Edward Gibbon believed had been brought to a long standstill by "the triumph of barbarism and religion" had in reality taken an immense stride forward.  The Romans so congenial to Gibbon would have marveled at what the millennium following their own era had wrought. More perceptive than Gibbon was the English scientist Joseph Glanville, who wrote in 1661: "The last Ages have shewn us what Antiquity never saw; no, not in a dream."

  Frances and Joseph Gies, Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages (New York:  Harper Collins, 1994), p. 16; quoted in Nickel, p. 76.



The engineers of the classical world - men like Hero of Alexandria - knew the use that could be made of the cam, but applied it only to animate toys or gadgets. Although the Chinese operated trip-hammers for hulling rice as early as A.D. 290, the use of the cam evidently failed to spread to other industries in the following centuries. In fact, it is a feature of Chinese technology that its great inventions — printing, gunpowder, the compass — never played a major evolutionary role in Chinese history. The introduction of the cam into medieval industry, on the other hand, was to make an important contribution to the industrialization of the Western Hemisphere.

  Jean Gimpel, The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), p. 13-14; quoted in Nickel, p. 76.



. . .it is characteristic of medieval Christendom that it put to industrial use technical devices which in classical society had been known but left almost unused or regarded simply as toys.  

  Alistair Crombie, The History of Science from Augustine to Galileo (New York:  Dover Publications, [1959, 1970, 1979] 1995)



The mechanical devices and instruments invented in classical times, pumps, presses and catapults, driving wheels, geared wheels and trip hammers, and the five kinematic 'chains' (screw, wheel, cam, ratchet and pulley) were applied in the later Middle Ages on a scale unknown in earlier societies.

  Alistair Crombie, The History of Science from Augustine to Galileo (New York:  Dover Publications, [1959, 1970, 1979] 1995), 1:203; quoted in Nickel, p. 76.



The Christian Church, whose pioneering monastic orders made many practical and material contributions to medieval technology, also supplied a noncyclical, straight-line view of history that allowed scope for the idea of progress.

   Frances and Joseph Gies, Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages (New York: Harper Collins, 1994), p. 288; quoted in Nickel, p. 77.



It is clear that through monasticism Christianity did something to give dignity to labour and added greatly to agriculture and so to the increase in the supply of food. Under the Benedictine rule work was obligatory. Although in many of the Benedictine houses food and clothing came from estates cultivated by serfs and while in several monastic orders manual work in the fields was assigned to lay brothers and the choir monks gave themselves to prayer and study, in others all the monks, even those of aristocratic birth, toiled in their gardens or on the lands of the monastery. Whether by all members of the community or only by the lay brothers, monasteries did much to clear land, bring it under cultivation, and develop improved crops and methods of tillage. The first use of marl to enrich the soil is attributed to them and they were noted for their vineyards and their wines.

  Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity (New York: Harper & Row, [1953] 1975), 1:556-557; quoted in Nickel, p. 77.



That so much was preserved in spite of the gradual collapse of Roman political organization and social structure under the impact, first, of Goths, Vandals and Franks, and then, in the 9th century, of Norsemen, was due to the appearance of monasteries with their attendant schools which began in eastern Europe after the foundation of Monte Cassion by St. Benedict in 529 (here St. Benedict had also established an infirmary.  The care of the sick was regarded as a Christian duty for all such foundations). The existence of such centres made possible the temporary revivals of learning in Ireland in the 6th and 7th centuries, in Northumbria in the time of Bede, and in Charlemagne's empire in the 9th century.

  Alistair Crombie, The History of Science from Augustine to Galileo (New York:  Dover Publications, [1959, 1970, 1979] 1995), 1:32; quoted in Nickel, p. 78.



We know now that the Dark Age was not that dark.  Ignorance, lethargy, and disorder existed then as now, but they were far from blighting an age eager for learning, vigorous in living and in expressing itself, and idealistically constructive. Perhaps it is not too much to say that medieval society was functional in ways not even dreamed of by antiquity and leading to ends beyond the imagination of earlier times. By "functional" I mean that it was a working, striving society, impelled to pioneer, forced to experiment, often making mistakes but also drawing upon the energies of its people much more fully than its predecessors, and eventually allowing them much fuller and freer scope for development. That conditions, events, and peoples came together as they did in the early Middle Ages was extremely fortunate for the present heirs of the Western tradition.

  William Carroll Bark, Origins of the Medieval World (Stanford:  Stanford University Press, 1958), pp.  99-100; quoted in Nickel, p. 79.



Westerner's advantage, I believe, lay at first not in their science and technology, but in their utilization of habits of thought that would in time enable them to advance swiftly in science and technology and, in the meantime, gave them decisively important administrative, commercial, navigational, industrial, and military skills. The initial European advantage lay in what French historians have called mentalité. . . . [T]hese people were thinking of reality in quantitative terms with greater consistency than any other members of their species.

  Alfred W. Crosby, The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. x-xi; quoted in Nickel, p. 81.



The record indicates that cycles of advance and retreat, in this case of combining abstract mathematics and practical measurement, and then of nodding and napping and forgetting, is the norm of human history. The West's distinctive intellectual accomplishment was to bring mathematics and measurement together and to hold them to the task of making sense of a sensorially perceivable reality, which Westerners, in a flying leap of faith, assumed was temporally and spatially uniform and therefore susceptible to such examination.

  Alfred W. Crosby, The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600 (Cambridge:   Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 17; quoted in Nickel, p. 82.



. . . [I]t was within a general framework of philosophy closely bearing on theology, and specifically within the system of university studies run by clerics, that the central development of medieval science took place.

  Alistair Crombie, The History of Science from Augustine to Galileo (New York:  Dover Publications, [1959, 1970, 1979] 1995), 2:126; quoted in Nickel, pp. 85-86.



In the universities were laid the foundations of the scientific culture of our modern world, in them grew up the habit of disciplined thinking, followed by systematic investigation, which made possible the rise of the natural science and of the technical civilization necessary to large industrial societies.

  Freidrick Heer, The Medieval World, trans. Janet Sondheimer (New York: New American Library, 1961) p. 235; quoted in Nickel, p. 86.



This adaptation [the mechanistic picture of the world - M.W.] . . . led to a positive and empiricist conception of science . . .  It formed the basis of that rational empiricism which has become the legitimate method of modern science. The scientist of today, when using mechanical or other pictures or models, considers them as means of rational description and not as explications of the essence of the world. The world of the physicist is a translation of the world of phenomena into symbols that are more liable to mathematical manipulation and whose consequences may be easily translated back into external phenomena ... Most scientists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when taking this view, may have been unconscious of the fact that the metaphysical foundations of their discipline stemmed, in spite of all secularization, in great part from the biblical concept of God and creation.

  Reijer Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1972), pp. 25-26; quoted in Nickel, p. 93.



Inertia, momentum, conservation of matter and motion, the indestructibility of work and energy - conceptions which completely dominate modern physics - all arose under the influence of theological ideas.

  Stanley L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (Edinburgh:  Scottish Academic Press, 1978), p. 157; quoted in Nickel, p. 94.



The blending of theological, philosophical, mathematical, and scientific considerations which has so far been evident in Scholastic thought is seen to even better advantage in a study of what was perhaps the most significant contribution of the fourteenth century to the development of mathematical physics . . . a theoretical advance was made which was destined to be remarkably fruitful in both science and mathematics, and to lead in the end to the concept of the derivative.

  Carl Boyer, The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development (New York:  Dover Publications, [1949] 1959), p. 65; quoted in Nickel, p. 94.



Living within the concept that the world was created by a reasonable God, scientists could move with confidence, expecting to find out about the world by observation and experimentation. This was their epistemological base -- the philosophical foundation with which they were sure they could know. . . .  Since the world had been created by a reasonable God, they were not surprised to find a correlation between themselves as observers and the thing observed. . . .  Without this foundation, Western modern science would not have been born.

  Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?  The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Old Tappan:  Revell, 1976) p. 134; quoted in Nickel, p. 106.



The possibility of an applied mathematics is an expression, in terms of natural science, of the Christian belief that nature is the creation of an omnipotent God.

  Robin G. Collingwood, An Essay on Metaphysics (London: Oxford University Press, 1940), p. 25; quoted in Nickel, p. 106.



. . .the history of science with its several stillbirths and only one viable birth, clearly shows that the only cosmology, or view of the cosmos as a whole, that was capable of generating science was a view of which the principal disseminator was the Gospel itself.

  Stanley Jaki, The Origin of Science and the Science of its Origin (Edinburgh:  Scottish Academic Press, 1978), p. 99; quoted in Nickel, p. 143.



We must also observe that in one of those strange permutations of which history yields occasional rare examples, it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself.

  Loren Eiseley, Darwin's Century (Garden City: Doubleday and Company, 1958), p. 62, quoted in Nickel, p. 143.  Eiseley (1907-1977) was an evolutionary anthropologist.



All great cultures that witnessed a stillbirth of science within their ambience have one major feature in common. They all were dominated by a pantheistic concept of the universe going through eternal cycles.  By contrast, the only viable birth of science took place in a culture for which the world was a created, contingent entity.

  Stanley Jaki, Science and Creation:  From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe (Edinburgh:  Scottish Academic Press, 1974), p. 357; quoted in Nickel, p. 143.



Moreover it was not the "wisdom of the East" that gave rise to science, nor did Zen meditation turn people's hearts against slavery.   By the same token, science was not the work of Western secularists or even deists; it was entirely the work of devout believers in an active, conscious, creator God.  And it was faith in the goodness of this same God an in the mission of Jesus that led other devout Christians to end slavery, first in medieval Europe and then again in the New World.  In these ways, at least, Western civilization really was God-given.

  Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God:  How Monotheism Led to the Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2003), p. 376



     The university was a Christian invention that evolved from cathedral schools established to train monks and priests. . . .  There is a widespread misconception that these places were "universities" in name only, being nothing more than three or four teachers and a few dozen students.  Not so.  Early in the thirteenth century, Paris, Bologna, Oxford, and Toulouse probably enrolled from 1,000 to 1,500 students each—approximately 500 new students enrolled in the University of Paris every year.  It is estimated that during the first 150 years of their existence, European universities enrolled approximately 750,000 students—in an era when the population of London was never more than 35,000.

       The university was something new under the sun—an institution devoted exclusively to "higher learning."  It was not a monastery or place for meditation.  Rather, as Marcia L. Colish put it, "The scholastics who created this heady educational environment rapidly outpaced monastic scholars as speculative thinkers."  The key word here is "speculative."  The medieval universities were unlike Chinese academies for training Mandarins or a Zen master's school.  They were not primarily concerned with imparting received wisdom.  Rather, just as is the case today, faculty gained fame and invitations to join faculties elsewhere by innovation.

  Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God:  How Monotheism Led to the Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2003), p. 62-63



 [Speaking of the sixteenth-century scholastic School of Salamanca in Spain:]  It is within their systems of moral theology and law that economics gained definite if not separate existence, and it is they who come nearer than does any other group to having been the ‘founders’ of scientific economics.

  Joseph Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, ed. Elizabeth B. Schumpeter (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), 97.



Contributions of the Post-Reformation Era:


This is the very motif that recurs in constant measure in the very writings which often contained considerable scientific contributions: these worldly activities and scientific achievements manifest the Glory of God and enhance the Good of Man. The juxtaposition of the spiritual and the material is characteristic and significant. This culture rested securely on a substratum of utilitarian norms which identified the useful and the true. Puritanism itself had imputed a threefold utility to science. Natural philosophy was instrumental first, in establishing practical proofs of the scientist's state of grace, second in enlarging control of nature; and third, in glorifying God. Science was enlisted in the service of individual, society and deity. That these were adequate grounds could not be denied. They comprised not merely a claim to legitimacy, they afforded incentives which cannot be readily overestimated.  One need only to look through the personal correspondence of seventeenth century scientists to realize this.

  Robert K. Merton, The Sociology of Science (Chicago:  U. of Chicago Press 1973), p. 232.



            The men at Philadelphia echoed the history of the 1640s and 1650s when they wrote the Constitution with its limitations on the power of Congress, the Presidency and the Courts.

            When they said in the Constitution that this nation would not have en Established Church, they reflected the experience of their forebears with Laud and his successors.

            When they spoke about open doors to all, open careers to all, they spoke in the accents of Cromwell and the Calvinists; the Independents and the Congregationalists and the Puritans and the Presbyterians and the Levellers and those who fought under these banners.

            All this and more came from the great Christian revolution; all the liberties men know have come from Christianity, from its lessons about the individual and State; God and His Covenant.  The Christian revolution that Cromwell came to lead was the only one of modern times that had for its inspiration not the attractions of power, but the transcendental purpose of life, which is to fulfill God’s Will by bringing justice, truth, faith and joy to the world.

  Otto Scott, “The Great Christian Revolution” in The Great Christian Revolution:  The Myths of Paganism and Arminianism by Otto Scott, et al. (Vallecito, CA:  Ross House Books, 1991), p. 309.



In 1688 England contracted to the Netherlands the highest debt that one nation can owe to another. Herself not knowing how to recover her liberties, they were restored by men of the United Provinces; and Locke brought back from his exile in that country the theory on government which had been formed by the Calvinists of the continent, and which made his chief political work the text-book of the friends of free institutions for a century.

  George Bancroft, History of the United States, Vol. 5, p. 229.  



Such [Calvinism] was the system which, for a century and a half, assumed the guardianship of liberty for the English world. "A wicked tyrant is better than a wicked war," said Luther, preaching non-resistance; and Cranmer echoed back: "God's people are called to render obedience to governors, although they be wicked or wrong-doers, and in no case to resist." English Calvinism reserved the right of resisting tyranny. To advance intellectual freedom, Calvinism denied, absolutely denied, the sacrament of ordination, thus breaking up the great monopoly of priestcraft, and knowing no master, mediator, or teacher but the eternal reason. "Kindle the fire before my face," said Jerome, meekly, as he resigned himself to his fate; to quench the fires of persecution forever, Calvinism resisted with fire and blood, and, shouldering the musket, proved, as a foot-soldier, that, on the field of battle, the invention of gunpowder had levelled the plebeian and the knight. To restrain absolute monarchy in France, in Scotland, in England, it allied itself with the party of the past, the decaying feudal aristocracy, which it was sure to outlive; for protection against feudal aristocracy, it infused itself into the mercantile class and the inferior gentry; to secure a life in the public mind, in Geneva, in Scotland, wherever it gained dominion, it invoked intelligence for the people, and in every parish planted the common school.

  George Bancroft, History of the United States, Vol. 1, pp. 608-10



The relatively democratic form of church government in Presbyterian Scotland passed over to Presbyterian churches in America, and presently began to influence the pattern of colonial politics. The idea of a Covenant, as declaration and frame of a common national purpose, would form part of the background of the Americans' Declaration of Independence and of the federal Constitution.

  Russell Kirk, The Roots of American Order, p.256.  See an extended quote from Kirk here.



A belief in the certainty of science was no doubt supported by the belief in a God-ordered universe. We see this in Descartes’ belief that God would be no deceiver, in relation to empirical knowledge, and the belief of Newton, for example, and indeed the whole Deistic bias of Enlightenment thought, in a God-designed orderly universe capable of being understood by man’s reason. It was to knowledge of a God-given and therefore real existent order of real things that man’s reason was to win through. The order of things could be known with certainty, and reason leads to certainty, and therefore the literally true. This conviction is only slightly eroded by the advent of hypotheticalism, and, in some quarters, an awareness of the analogical or metaphorical nature of the new philosophy.

  W.H. Leatherdale, The Role of Analogy, Model and Metaphor in Science (North-Holland, Amsterdam 1974), p. 231f. Quoted in Paul Gosselin, "The Judeo-Christian Cosmology and the Origins of Science," Christianity & Society, Vol. XVII., No. 2, October 2007, p. 25.



           My colleagues and I have engaged in a rather thorough investigation of the concepts of laws of Nature in East Asia and Western culture. In Western civilization the ideas of natural law in the juristic sense and of the laws of Nature in the sense of the natural sciences can easily be shown to go back to a common root. Without doubt one of the oldest notions of Western civilization was that just as earthly imperial law-givers enacted codes of positive law to be obeyed by men, so also the celestial and supreme rational Creator Deity had laid down a series of laws which must be obeyed by minerals, crystals, plants, animals and the stars in their courses.  There can be little doubt that this idea was intimately bound up with the development of modern science at the Renaissance in the West. If it was absent elsewhere, could that not have been one of the reasons why modern science arose only in Europe; in other words, were medievally conceived laws of Nature in their naïve form necessary for the birth of science?

           But in any case three things are clear: (a) that the highest spiritual being known and worshipped in ancient China was not a Creator in the sense of the Hebrews and the Greeks; (b) that the idea of the supreme god as a person in ancient Chinese thought, however far it went, did not include the conception of a divine celestial law-giver imposing ordinances on non-human Nature; (c) that the concept of the supreme being very early became impersonal. It was not that there was no order in Nature for the Chinese, but rather that it was not an order ordained by a rational personal being, and hence there was no guarantee that other rational personal beings would be able to spell out in their own earthly languages the pre-existing divine code of laws which had been previously formulated. There was no confidence that the code of Nature’s laws could be unveiled and read, because there was no assurance that a divine being, even more rational than ourselves, had ever formulated such a code capable of being read. One feels indeed, that the Taoists, for example, would have scorned such an idea as being too naïve to be adequate to the subtlety and complexity of the universe as they intuited it.

  Joseph Needham, The Grande Titration (University of Toronto Press, 1969). p. 35f. Quoted in Paul Gosselin, "The Judeo-Christian Cosmology and the Origins of Science," Christianity & Society, Vol. XVII., No. 2, October 2007, pp. 25-26. Gosselin points out that Needham is a Marxist.



Whatever imperfections may be justly ascribed to them [i.e., the Puritans], which, however, are as few as any mortals have discovered, their judgment in framing their policy was founded in wise, humane, and benevolent principles. It was founded in revelation and in reason too. It was consistent with the principles of the best and greatest and wisest legislators of antiquity. Tyranny in every form, shape, and appearance was their disdain and abhorrence; no fear of punishment, nor even of death itself in exquisite tortures, had been sufficient to conquer that steady, manly, pertinacious spirit with which they had opposed the tyrants of those days in church and state. . . .  [T]hey saw clearly, that popular powers must be placed as a guard, a control, a balance, to the powers of the monarch and the priest, in every government, or else it would soon become the man of sin, the whore of Babylon, the mystery of iniquity, a great and detestable system of fraud, violence, and usurpation. Their greatest concern seems to have been to establish a government of the church more consistent with the Scriptures, and a government of the state more agreeable to the dignity of human nature, than any they had seen in Europe, and to transmit such a government down to their posterity, with the means of securing and preserving it forever. To render the popular power in their new government as great and wise as their principles of theory, that is, as human nature and the Christian religion require it should be, they endeavored to remove from it as many of the feudal inequalities and dependencies as could be spared, consistently with the preservation of a mild limited monarchy. And in this they discovered the depth of their wisdom and the warmth of their friendship to human.

  John Adams, A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765)



Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it much respect, Servetus notwithstanding.

  John Adams, "Discourses on Divilia, XIX" in The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, with a Life of the Author, Notes, and Illustrations (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1850-1856) 6: 313n.



A pointing out in detail, with even some degree of completeness, of the traces that Calvinism has everywhere left behind in social and political, in scientific and aesthetic life, would in itself demand a broader study than could he thought of in the rapid course of a lecture. Allow me, therefore, addressing an American audience, to point out a single feature in your own political life. I have already observed in my third lecture how in the preamble of more than one of your Constitutions, while taking a decidedly democratic view, nevertheless not the atheistic standpoint of the French Revolution, but the Calvinistic confession of the supreme sovereignty of God, has been made the foundation, at times even in terms, as I have pointed out, corresponding literally with the words of Calvin. Not a trace is to he found among you of that cynic anti-clericalism which has become identified with the very essence of the revolutionary democracy in France and elsewhere. And when your President proclaims a national day of thanksgiving, or when the houses of Congress assembled in Washington are opened with prayer, it is ever new evidence that through American democracy there runs even yet a vein which, having sprung from the Pilgrim Fathers, still exerts its power at the present day. Even your common school system, inasmuch as it is blessed with the reading of Scripture and opening prayer, points, though with decreasing distinctness, to like Calvinistic origin. Similarly in the rise of your university education, springing for the larger part from individual initiative; in the decentralized and autonomous character of your local governments; in your strict and yet not nomistic Sabbath-observance; in the esteem in which woman is held among you, without falling into the Parisian deification of her sex; in your sense for domesticity; in the closeness of your family ties; in your championship of free speech, and in your unlimited regard for freedom of conscience; in all this your Christian democracy is in direct opposition to the democracy of the French Revolution; and historically also it is demonstrable that you owe this to Calvinism and to Calvinism alone.

  Abraham Kuyer, Lectures on Calvinism: The Stone Lectures of 1898 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1943), pp.192-93.



Let it suffice to have shown that Calvinism protests against State-omnipotence; against the horrible conception that no right exists above and beyond existing laws; and against the pride of absolutism, which recognizes no constitutional rights, except as the result of princely favor.  These three representations, which find so dangerous a nourishment in the ascendancy of Pantheism, are death to our civil liberties. And Calvinism is to be praised for having built a dam across this absolutistic stream, not by appealing to popular force, nor to the hallucination of human greatness, but by deducing those rights and liberties of social life from the same source from which the high authority of the government flows –even the absolute sovereignty of God. From this one source, in God, sovereignty in the individual sphere, in the family and in every social circle, is just as directly derived as the supremacy of State authority. These two must therefore come to an understanding, and both have the same sacred obligation to maintain their God-given sovereign authority and to make it subservient to the majesty of God.

  Abraham Kuyer, Lectures on Calvinism: The Stone Lectures of 1898 (1953), p.85.


Comparative historical analyses show that CPs [conversionary Protestants] consistently initiated and spread factors that past research suggests promote democracy: mass printing, mass education, civil society, and colonial rule of law.  In cross-national statistical analysis Protestant missions are significantly and robustly associated with higher levels of printing, education, economic development, organizational civil society, protection of private property, and rule of law and with lower levels of corruption. . . .  Moreover, wherever they have been tested,these patterns repeat at the subnational level . . . .  Finally, statistical analysis suggests that Protestant missions are strongly and robustly associated with democracy. In fact, missions seem to explain about half the variation in democracy outside Europe and survive dozens of controls and robustness checks.

  Robert D. Woodberry, "The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy," American Political Science Review, Vol. 106, No. 2 May 2012, pp. 267-68, at https://www.academia.edu/2128659/The_Missionary_Roots_of_Liberal_Democracy.



Also see:

Loraine Boettner, "Calvinism in America"

America & John Calvin

The Root of America -- The Tree of Liberty is watered with the blood of Calvinists



Revised 6/2/2015