What caused the scientific revolution? How did science advance from the relatively static medieval philosophies of nature to the dynamic technologies of modern science? Secular historians have argued that the church opposed this progress at every turn. But in fact a set of new theological ideas ushered in the scientific innovations of men like Galileo, Descartes, and Newton.

First, Christian thinkers applied God's sovereignty to the natural realm in a new way, asserting that nature was governed by God-designed mathematical laws. Then, concerned to protect that sovereignty against Aristotle's notion that natural entities possessed intrinsic drives, Christians began to strip nature of her divinity, positing instead mechanical processes.

"Laws he himself fix'd"


Nature and Nature's laws lay hid
    in night
God said: "Let Newton be!"
    and all was light.

Alexander Pope's famous couplet gives the impression that Newton's genius lay in his discovery of previously hidden laws of nature. This disguises what was both a novel feature of the science of the seventeenth century and its enduring legacy—the idea that there existed "laws of nature" to be discovered in the first place.

What are laws of nature? For the Middle Ages, natural laws had been universal moral rules established by God. The injunction against murder, recognized by all cultures, was a typical example of a natural law. The concept of a physical law of nature was completely absent. That came only as Christian thinkers extended God's legislative power to the natural world. As philosopher and scientist René Descartes (1596-1650) expressed it, "God alone is the author of all the motions in the world."

For its time, this was a radical claim. Following Aristotle, medieval scientists ...

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