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H. Henry Meeter Center: Specializing in John Calvin, Calvinism, the Reformation, and Early Modern Studies

 

"Science-Fostering Belief, Then and Now"

Christopher Kaiser of Western Theological Seminary

Given on October 13, 2005

The Meeter Center was proud to welcome Dr. Christopher Kaiser for a lecture entitled, “Science-Fostering Belief, Then and Now.” Kaiser, professor of historical and systematic theology at Western Seminary, sought to explicate the relationship that exists between religious belief and scientific inquiry in the minds of prominent scientists both past and present. Kaiser first turned to an investigation of the historical origins of this relationship by referring to the work of Johannes Kepler (1571-1630). Kepler’s assumption was that science is grounded in twin beliefs: a). the universe is ordered by God-given cosmological laws (like those of geometry); b). humans have the God-given capacity to comprehend those laws. For Kepler, this meant that God must have ordered the orbiting planets in a discernible fashion. And yet it also meant that Kepler was working from a belief system that fostered scientific inquiry.

Kaiser then proceeded to bring us into the present by introducing the work of the prominent modern scientist Paul Davies, who shares Kepler’s assumptions, but is struck by the

notion that scientists generally take for granted the twin beliefs of Kepler and others. That is, a certain system of belief – an ordered, knowable cosmos – underlies scientific endeavor, which belief itself is a “tantalizing mystery.” The idea that the universe is essentially comprehensible and rational was shared not only by Henry Margenau (1901-1997), physicist and philosopher at Yale, but also by Albert Einstein. It was Einstein who noted that there is a certainty of conviction in the rationality and intelligibility of the world which “lies behind all scientific work of a higher order.”

The combined evidence from scientists past and present led Kaiser to observe that modern science involves implicit assumptions – beliefs – that give scientists the courage and faith to sustain their endeavors. From a theological perspective, this suggests a response of heightened sensitivity and appreciation for the scientific enterprise.

Marcus Johnson, Ph.D. Student
Trinity College, University of Toronto