Dear Theophilus: Christianity and the Scientific Method

African-American female scientist putting a solution in test tube to use scientific method in a lab

Dear Faculty,

How might a Christian work in the sciences in a way that is faithful to both the scientific method and the Christian faith? – Theophilus

Dear Theophilus,

One excellent way to both honor the Creator and serve His creation is to work within the sciences and the scientific method. Years ago, my analytical chemistry professor clicked through several slides on an overhead projector. He showed the nearly identical titration curve observed when different bases were added to different reactants.

Rapidly flipping through slide after slide, he showed the phases and predictability of the reaction through several different bases and reactants and exclaimed, "There is a God!" The orderliness of it all pointed to something larger than molecules reacting in a flask.

God and the History of the Scientific Method

For a long time, non-Christians maintained that nature was chaotic and without order. Christians, on the other hand, argued that since God was orderly and gave humanity an orderly moral law, so too His creation, nature, would be orderly and would have natural law.

While there are elements that reach back much earlier, theologian Thomas Aquinas became a significant voice for natural theology in the 1200s AD. He argued that the reason and observation of nature would lead to evidence for the orderliness of the Creator seen in an orderly creation. Aquinas had laid important groundwork for discovering natural laws through the scientific method.

In the 1600s and 1700s, through the work of philosophers Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, and physicist Isaac Newton, the scientific method was formed. Though all three of these men had doctrinal disputes with orthodox Christianity, they believed in God and that the Creator could be seen through His Creation. Thus, they consider themselves Christians.

Through a long line of thought, the scientific method came to form. A scientific inquiry begins by defining the question. This question is the basis for designing your study. Through scientific observation, a hypothesis is developed. The hypothesis is tested through controlled experimentation and analysis. From these results, a theory with explanatory power and predictable results is developed.

Later, this theory will be tested through further experimentation. Through controlled experiments, analysis and theory revision two results emerge through this cycle of: 1) a stronger and stronger theory with explanatory and predictive power and 2) a scientific law that summarizes accepted facts and perhaps provides equations.

From this brief history, we see that the scientific method itself was developed to honor the Creator and to see God through His creation. The steps show a structured formula to get closer to the truth. Just as an orderly God created an orderly moral law, so too they predicted, the Creator would create an orderly natural law.

Honoring the Creator and Serving Creation in the Sciences

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky above proclaims his handiwork." – Psalm 19:1, ESV

More importantly for your question, Theophilus, the method that great thinkers of the past developed to honor the Creator and serve His creation can be practiced today for the exact same reasons. Since the Garden of Eden, care for creation was an important part of our human purpose (Genesis 1:28).

This care would include the natural world and the community of people that would one day inhabit the world. Today, answers to many of the great questions around caring for both the natural world and humanity are found in the sciences. Christians especially should seek to serve in this way. One can remain faithful by following some Christian principles along the way.

See the Fingerprint of the Creator in His Creation

The whole purpose of the scientific method is to find a theory that explains what is going on in nature that also predicts the outcome of controlled experiments. That orderliness is the fingerprint of the Creator. By recognizing God's design in nature, one we foster a spiritual sense of wonder in scientific discovery.

In Humility, Remain a Skeptic of Scientific Conclusions

Interestingly, the most important aspect of being a good scientist is to be skeptical of conclusions. This healthy and humble skepticism of scientific conclusions is what leads to better controlled experiments and in turn, creates better scientific theories. Humility is not only a key Christian value; it is a key value in good science.

Seek to Serve

The solution to some of the world's greatest problems will be found through the application of the scientific method. Whether technologies, medical cures, or ways to care for nature and our human community, suffering can be relieved and greater flourishing can be achieved by being faithful to Christian ideals and the scientific method.

Have your own theology questions? Get your questions answered by emailing cotblog@gcu.edu using the subject line “Dear Theophilus.” If you would like to learn more about the College of Theology and our degree programs at Grand Canyon University click on the Request Info button at the top of your screen.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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