New Article: A (Very) Brief History of Christians in Science

This article came out yesterday but we were having some technical difficulties over here, so it slipped my mind to post!

It’s another book excerpt from Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity. It’s a nice primer into the Christians who were practicing science long ago, and on in to today! Hope you enjoy.

READ: A (Very) Brief History of Christians in Science - Article - BioLogos

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Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and James Clerk Maxwell were not just Christians; they were Young Earth Creationists.

You will want to read a bit more about Maxwell before you try to paint him as a Young Earth Creationist. [spoiler alert … He isn’t.] But I’m glad you brought him up as his writings on these sorts of things is quite instructive and creationists (of all sorts) would do well to pay attention to Maxwell’s attitudes. I’ll include a bit of a quote of what I’m talking about (found beginning near the middle of page 178 of Maxwell’s correspondence found here.) We all would do well to heed Maxwell’s approach to science - all the remaining words below are his.

The Rule of the Plan is to let nothing be willfully left unexamined. Nothing is to be holy ground consecrated to Stationary Faith, whether positive or negative. All fallow land is to be ploughed up, and a regular system of rotation followed. All creatures as agents or as patients are to be pressed into the service, which is never to be willingly suspended till nothing more remains to be done; i.e. till A.D. + ∞. The part of the rule which respects self-improvement by means of others is: – Never hide anything, be it weed or no, nor seem to wish it hidden. So shall all men passing by pluck up the weeds and brandish them in your face, or at least display them for your inspection (especially if you make no secret of your intention to do likewise). … Again I assert the Right of Trespass on any plot of Holy Ground which any man has set apart … to the power of Darkness. Such places must be exorcised and desecrated till they become fruitful fields. Again, if the holder of such property refuse admission to the exorcist, he ipso facto admits that it is consecrated, and that he fears the power of Darkness. It may be that no such darkness really broods over the place, and that the man has got a habit of shutting his eyes in that field, which makes him think so.


You could of course follow up the quote that is given in the article.

None of those people believed in DNA or General Relativity either!


I did. What little snippet is there appears to be hearsay from much later - and even at that, doesn’t carry your point even if it was true since any number of Christians including present company also believe in the truth of what is taught in Genesis. But the paper you provided had no more in the way of elaboration about how this alleged conversation unfolded.

Meanwhile, the paper I linked is extensively documented and includes many of Maxwell’s own words from his own correspondence. And from those it becomes quite apparent that he was no friend for science-deniers then and would not be now.

Newton, of course, would have had no reason to think in anything other than thousands of years age since he preceded the geology that was soon to challenge that.

And there may well be more to say about Faraday too, though, I would have to research that to know. But given what you have been fed about Maxwell (probably from Creationist publications that aren’t known for their veracity or full disclosure of relevant information) any such lists almost certainly need to be fact-checked.

And as Jim has already observed as well, their failure to be on board with newly developing (or even yet-to-be-developed) theories in other fields really does nothing to help the young-earther’s case. But even catering to the YEC desire to have a few historical “trophies”, they ought to at least see if the person actually thought that way.


What you have established there, Chris, is that Maxwell apparently believed that the Flood was a real, historical event. Nothing more, nothing less.

You have not established that he believed that the Flood was global, that it carved out the continents and created the fossil record, or that it affected the dinosaurs. You have not established that he rejected Darwinian evolution in its entirety. And you have most certainly not established that he believed that the earth was only six thousand years old.

As Charles Petzold said in his essay, the idea that Maxwell was an anti-Darwinian young-earth creationist is based on nothing more than exaggerations, misinterpretations, and (probably most of all) wishful thinking.


Actually it’s an eyewitness account, and the plain reading is that Maxwell believed in Noah’s Flood as presented in Genesis; a global flood.
I read your reference and the author is making an argument from silence so I have no trouble accepting the eye witness confirmation that Maxwell was a Young Earth Creationist.

Well … and likewise, I have no trouble accepting Maxwell’s very own words about how he thinks of these things as being the more reliable guide than “eye witness” accounts from somebody else’s (possibly prejudiced) recollections about him. You can believe what you want, of course, but there is something to be said for protecting a good man’s name from having known falsehoods heaped upon him. While it would be no great surprise to learn that he accepted the flood as a real event, it would be shockingly out of character with his own expressed convictions for him to ignore such geological science as had already accumulated in his day regarding the age of the earth and the implausibility of one global flood being responsible for all the geological features already then known.

It is telling that creationist sources must lean so hard on the one “non-evolving molecules” paragraph to attempt to establish his alleged like-mindedness, because Petzold revealed the rest of the context around that quote (tellingly omitted from creationist literature) which makes it clear that this is not the anti-evolutionary screed that YECs so wish it to be. Indeed if Maxwell did feel so hotly against Darwin or against Lord Kelvin’s millions-of years old earth, then Maxwell’s silence on all these things would be stunning (if ‘silence’ it could be called - because what he does say makes it incredible that you could attribute anything like modern YECism to him.) Maxwell gratefully considered Lord Kelvin his mentor (who almost a decade before Maxwell’s quoted ‘molecules’ lecture had already published his 20 to 400 million year age earth calculations.) Instead of hearing any critique or distancing of himself from this ‘heresy’, we instead see an apparent acceptance of all this science when its casual mention does come up. [not to mention his full and enthusiastic embrace of science generally.]

Given all this, and especially Maxwell’s actual words where he himself is far from silent about the general scientific attitude to which he adheres, I’m afraid it’s the creationist textbook from the 1970s that is bearing false witness here. You should go back to the ICR web page sources that keep repeating this and demand that they stop misleading their followers. If they have no commitment to truth and actual investigation of what people actually taught and thought as a matter of public record, then what is it exactly that they are promoting? You should rightly feel miffed that they sold this to you.

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Newton, Maxwell, and Faraday certainly stand among the greatest scientists of all time and, yes, they were men of faith, although Newton was a bit sketchy on orthodoxy. Their general beliefs may have aligned with some general form of young earth creationism, but it is anachronistic to induct them in the fraternity of YEC as it stands today. It is sheer speculation as to what the positions of these men might be had they access to the successive discoveries after their time.

Towering figures from the past do not necessarily map well to the present. Nelson was a great admiral, but maybe not the best choice for a modern carrier fleet. Napoleon was a military genius, but we wouldn’t hand him the codes for the strategic nuclear missile defense. We live in a dramatically different world, especially in terms of scientific knowledge. A search for Nobel prize winners who subscribe to a young earth comes up empty, although certainly there are theists among them.

Getting back to Maxwell and Faraday, their work was to reinforce a challenge for YEC. Faraday’s measurements in electricity and magnetism, and Maxwell’s equations found that electromagnetic waves would propagate at the speed of light. The constant of light velocity, c, was determined independent of direct observation. It is there at the base of electromagnetism and therefore chemistry and therefore us. Einstein was propelled to show that c is invariant despite the inertial frame of reference. Maxwell’s equations are part of what makes the distant starlight problem so intractable for YEC.


Calling anyone who died before 1859 a creationist is downright absurd. That rules out Newton.

People who died shortly after that is not much better. It is the nature of science that any new theory needs the test of time and the accumulation of evidence before it is fully accepted by the scientific community.

Faraday died 1867, 18 years after Darwin published when he was 76 years old, and however much people like to speculate that he would have been opposed because HIS CHURCH interpreted the Bible very literally, we have no conclusion from Faraday on the matter. That he expressed doubts about the theory at such an early stage is only natural and proves absolutely nothing – even Darwin had doubts at times. This just goes to show how thoroughly the theory of evolution has been tested by the scientific community.

Maxwell died 1879, 20 years after Origin of the species came out at the age of 48, so this is a much better candidate in that regard. But the reality is that Maxwell did not engage in the debate over evolution. Creationists have jumped on comments opposed to the application of “evolutionary thinking” as to particles in physics in support of the idea that he was strongly opposed to evolution.

Sorry… but this effort to paint these three physicists as creationists is empty rhetoric. These are certainly excellent examples of men of faith who played foundational roles in science, but to claim they also support creationism opposed to the findings of the scientific inquiry into this question is just wrong.


Then calling anyone who died before 1859 an evolutionist is also downright absurd, which rules out Erasmus Darwin.

Never heard of him.

…okay … your point being? The world was short on geneticists, airplane pilots, and computer technicians back then too I’m guessing.

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Don’t forget that in the YEC dictionary, the word “evolutionist” is defined as “anyone subscribing to any scientific theory that I don’t like, regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with biological evolution.”

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Moderator, I think this does not conform to the standards of this forum.

Erasmus Darwin, Grandfather of Charles Darwin.
Darwin’s most important scientific work, Zoonomia (1794–1796), contains a system of pathology and a chapter on ‘Generation’. In the latter, he anticipated some of the views of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, which foreshadowed the modern theory of evolution.
Erasmus Darwin also anticipated survival of the fittest in Zoönomia

Evolutionary thought, the recognition that species change over time and the perceived understanding of how such processes work, has roots in antiquity – in the ideas of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Chinese as well as in medieval Islamic science.

Thus there is no reason why someone should be or not be either an evolutionist or a creationist before the hallowed year of 1859.

Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and James Clerk Maxwell were not just Christians; they were Young Earth Creationists.

Indeed. The argument is similar to whether or not Augustine was a Roman Catholic (in the modern sense) or Reformed. Since he predated both he can’t be either. He is a category of his own, or, by way of analogy, a common ancestor or transitional fossil to both Reformed Theology and modern Roman Catholicism.

The same goes for scientists pre-1859, they were neither were either YEC nor EC (I don’t think anyone here is disputing that). Again they are more like transitional fossils. The question is when we look at their views and theories, what might they logically transition to? Morden science or creation science?

To me, one thing is clear, arguing over who should be on who’s ‘team’ is to commit historical anachronisms.


Jesus was an Independent Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian Dissenter, Brethren division, wasn’t he? :smile:


True story, bro! :rofl:

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