The Decline and Fall of Christianity: Scientific and Intellectual Indicators
Christianity, science and learning
The universities, seminaries and research centers of Medieval Christianity played a central role in the origins of modern science. The earliest scientists of this era began their work with the assumption that the universe was intelligible because a rational God had made it that way. The church was the center of all academic and intellectual life, and religious officials the guardians of knowledge both secular and sacred.
Over time, naturalism displaced supernaturalism. As knowledge of the world advanced, it became clear that supernatural forces were not needed to explain anything. Science became a naturalistic endeavor, with the working assumption that there is nothing except this natural world. Secularism also became a feature of the academy generally. Social sciences such as history, anthropology, political science, economics and law were all secularized, their practitioners having progressively less use for gods, angels, hell, sin or witchcraft.
Scientific research and advancement once occurred almost exclusively in entities tied to the church. Today it is contained within the walls of secular universities, research centers and laboratories. The original European university grew directly out of the church, and institutions of higher learning for centuries were dominated by Christianity in their curricula, faculty and identity. Today, out of roughly 7,000 post-secondary institutions in the US, only around 700, or about 10%, have a clear religious affiliation. Higher education is a primarily secular endeavor in the modern western world.
A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. - Francis Bacon
I think one of the great historical contributions of science is to weaken the hold of religion. That's a good thing. - Steven Weinberg
The most prominent early western scientists shared a strong belief in God. Isaac Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, Blaise Pascal, Francis Bacon, Johannes Keppler and others were believing Christians.
Today, studies indicate that both natural scientists and social scientists have much lower belief in God than the general public. In 2009, 83% of Americans believed in God, while only 33% of scientists did. The plurality of scientists, four in ten, did not believe in God or a higher power. Almost half of all scientists considered themselves atheist, agnostic or "nothing in particular" religiously.
In 1914, 42% of American scientists believed in a personal God, and an equal number did not. Thus while outright nonbelief has remained stable, belief in a personal God has notably declined in the American scientific community over the last century.
Among American college professors, about 56% believe in God at least some of the time. More than one in five (23%) qualify as atheist or agnostic. And this number rises to 37% at the elite institutions. Atheism and general secularism are very high among the leading thinkers and academics of the United States.
Among Americans, belief in God declines with education. Of those with high school education or less, 88% believe in God, while only 71% of postgraduates do. Non-belief in a higher power rises from 5% to 9% as Americas go from high school to postgraduate education.
Christianity vs Science
Aside from the overall de-Christianization of human knowledge, traditional Christianity sometimes directly clashes with the findings of modern science. Traditional Christians give priority to the Bible above all else, so where there is no conflict (such as the germ theory of disease), Christians do not have a problem. But where there is a conflict, they defer to the Bible and must fight science.
Evolution, creationism and origins
The theory of evolution, which is accepted by the vast majority of modern scientists, claims that the various life forms of the earth arose from simpler predecessors and common ancestors over many years of change and development. By contrast, the Christian Bible claims in the book of Genesis that all living things were created in one fell swoop by God. Christian creationist views range from a literal interpretation of the Biblical narrative to a middle ground where God created all original forms, which subsequently "micro-evolved" into their current forms.
A literal interpretation of the Biblical creation story and the genealogy of Adam's descendants leads to the conclusion that the earth is about 6,000 years old. The universe as a whole is not considered to be much older than that, again, given the account in Genesis. By contrast, modern geology, archaeology and astronomy indicate that the earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old. The universe is estimated to be roughly 13 to 14 billion years old.
Modern science indicates that the first forms of life arose from the mix of chemicals present in the early earth, a theory that has been verified in laboratory experiments. This naturalistic account clashes with the Christian or Biblical view that the origins of life are with God.
Science, while owing much of its origins to the thinkers and institutions of Christianity, today has left the religion far behind.