International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Religion and the Rise of Modern Science

by R. Hooykaas

Introductory Essay by D. Gareth Jones

Hooykaas was intent on demonstrating the centrality of what he termed “the biblical view” [7] in the emergence of modern science. Early on in Religion and the Rise of Modern Science he draws a radical contrast between the deification of nature in pagan religions and its de-deification in the Bible. The Bible knows nothing of ‘Nature’ but only of creatures who are dependent for their origin and existence on the will of God. The result is that the natural world is admired as God’s work and as evidence of its creator. It is never adored.

From today’s vantage point when so many groups within religious communities are displaying intense scepticism towards science, Hooykaas’ writings are a breath of fresh air. Both are working from an allegedly biblical base, and yet Hooykaas reaches a diametrically opposite conclusion. For him there is a distinct place for scientific investigations within a God-centred framework. For Hooykaas the Bible has a certain world view, its total dependence upon God, but not a definite world picture. This allows for an empiricist conception of science (a la Pascal, Berkeley, Boyle and Newton) that, in turn, formed the basis of the rational empiricism of modern science.

It is at this point that the ‘two books’ analogy emerges – the books of God’s word and God’s works. Both are legitimate and both need to be consulted and held in tension. No matter how problematic aspects of this have proved, nor how much it has contributed to the secularization of science, Hooykaas, as he looks back to Bacon and Newton, sees it as a means of freeing science from the human authority of theologians and philosophers. For him this is a biblical conception, since “rational empiricism recognized that Man, as the image of God, could find a certain order in nature, but that he had also to accept reality even when it did not appear rational to him” [51].

Contemporary debate at the borders of science and religion, especially in biomedical technology, tends to stumble over the intrusion of the artificial into natural processes. Coupled with this is an aversion to the ever-increasing power of technologies with the potential to control human processes. Hooykaas, though, argues that there is little in the way of a hard and fast dividing line between the natural and the artificial. From this it follows that humans can and should compete with nature and even surpass nature.

To modern ears, the frequent references to “man’s dominion over nature” may sound ominous. However, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this was balanced by humility and the realization of how much science did not understand. The scientific enterprise was closely linked to religious imperatives pointing to a humble acceptance of what has been given in nature. For Bacon, mankind lived in continual fear of the powers of nature, as evidenced by the very high death rate in childhood, pointing to the pain and toils of life at that time. Science was to serve humanity, with its inspiration in Christian thinking and attitudes.

Despite the dangers of modern technology, Hooykaas emphasizes that our task is to search for truth in both Scripture and nature. Following Calvin, he contends that Scripture does not speak about astronomical matters; those statements come from scientific investigations. Such an attitude, also found within Puritanism, created a spiritual climate favourable to the cultivation and freedom of science.