Abridged from “The History of Science and Christianity” by Mark A. Noll, in “When God and Science Meet: Surprising Discoveries of Agreement.”

Middle Ages (500-1500)

  • Thomas Aquinas taught that God was separate from the world and that experience was necessary to discover what God had done in creation.
  • The idea of “God’s Two Books” (i.e., knowledge from Scripture and knowledge about the physical world come from God and cannot be contradictory) took root.

The Reformation Period (1517-1648)

  • Martin Luther and John Calvin denounced the theory that planets moved around the sun, which was proposed by Copernicus, a Roman Catholic.

17th Century

  • German Lutheran Johannes Kepler credited God for his understanding of the behavior of planets.
  • Many of the English scientists who founded the Royal Society in 1660 had some connection with the Puritans, whose questing spirit spurred study of nature as well as church reform.
  • Isaac Newton described the universe as functioning like a grand mechanism (i.e., matter in motion is governed by regular mathematical laws). In discriminating appreciation of Newton, a few important Christian thinkers agreed that Newton’s conclusions revealed the world accurately, but only because God at every moment upheld observable relations of cause-and-effect.

Age of Enlightenment (1800s)

  • William Paley wrote that if someone found a watch on an empty heath, it would be necessary to conclude that a watchmaker existed.
  • Charles Darwin published “The Origin of Species.” Most Christian scientists accepted some variety of evolution (though not always natural selection), while affirming that it reflected order and design consistent with a divine creator.

Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy (1920-1940)

  • Modernists criticized fundamentalists for defending literal biblical interpretation in Revelation and Genesis. As a result, loyalty to the Bible for many in the United States moved easily into loyalty to a strictly literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3.

The Present

  • The Christian world contains a diversity of opinion on questions related to evolution and considerable controversy over proposed responses to climate change.
  • Ethical questions about the application of science conclusions to genetics and stem cell research can also be controversial.

This article originally appeared in the NAE Insight.