Early Protestant Hostility Towards Science

Accustomed as we are to hearing about the Catholic Church and Galileo, it isn't often realized or recognized that classical "Reformational" Protestantism, generally speaking, was out and out hostile to the burgeoning scientific discoveries and endeavors of its time. No thoughtful and honest Catholic denies that the Catholic Church, too, had a less than perfect record of positive regard for modern science in its infancy in the 16th and 17th centuries (most notably with the Galileo case - which Pope John Paul II has recently acknowledged). The point of this essay, however, is to show that Protestantism has often, if not always, been guilty of the same shortcomings for which the Catholic Church is constantly harangued. In other words, one should not notice the speck in another's eye while neglecting the "log" in one's own eye! It's high time to balance the "historical scales" a bit on this topic. With that intention, and no malice, the following historical information is offered for reflection:

Will Durant, the noted (non-Catholic) historian, summarized: "Luther rejected the Copernican astronomy . . . Calvin had little use for science; Knox none." (1)

Luther vs. Copernicus

Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), a devout Catholic (one of his degrees was in Church canon law), originated the heliocentric theory in astronomy, in which the earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa. This new theory in particular provides fascinating insight into Protestantism's view of science, since it arrived roughly simultaneously with the Protestant Revolution. Thomas Kuhn, in his important book, The Copernican Revolution, notes Luther's reaction to Copernicus:

Luther's Cohort Philip Melanchthon Rejects Copernicus, Accepts Astrology

Meanwhile, Melanchthon (considered the father of German liberal arts education and one of the more "humanist" and rational-minded Reformers) thought superstition and astrology more worthwhile:

Calvin's Hostility to Copernicus and Science

Calvin's Academy of Geneva, which he founded in 1559, provided:

Examples of Catholic Acceptance & Protestant Dismissal, of Science

Johann Kepler (1571-1630), a German Protestant astronomer, was, in 1607, prevented from printing an article on comets by the Saxon theologians (14). Perhaps this type of antipathy to science was one reason why Kepler, two years earlier, "praised 'the wisdom and prudence of the Roman Church' for its public encouragement of scientific research." (15)

The Encyclopedia Britannnica reiterates the above:

Andrew D. White, in a massively-researched two-volume work on the relationship of science and Christianity (17), makes several shocking observations with regard to the outlook of Protestantism in this respect:

[the author also states that Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon rejected the sphericity of the earth]

Non-Catholics Whitehead and Harnack Praise Catholic Scientific Thought


Medieval and Renaissance Culture / Creationism / Main Index & Search

Edited by Dave Armstrong in 1991.