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What good has Christianity ever done for the world?

Unsplash/Paul Zoetemeijer
Unsplash/Paul Zoetemeijer

This new year, it’s fitting to reflect on what came of Christ’s coming. How did it change the world for the good? Foundational tenants — fundamentals, if you will — are key, and those of Christian biblical faith ignited a cultural revolution that continues to this day.

Atheist philosopher Luc Ferry asserts that human rights stem from the Judeo-Christian idea that each human is made in the image of God, and therefore has dignity and rights.

Jurgen Habermas, Europe’s preeminent philosopher, stated, “Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity … human rights and democracy, is the direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love … To this day, there is no alternative to it … Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.” British Historian Tom Holland (no, not the British Spiderman actor) bailed out from the Christian faith of his upbringing for the study of vain, cruel and selfish Greek and Roman gods which held “the allure of rock stars” to him. Further study of history gave him pause. “It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value.”

Holland recognized the stunning contrast of the suffering Christ with the ancient world’s gods that ruled by imposing suffering. He credits Christian heritage as the reason why even post-Christian societies “still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value.”

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University of Wisconsin Professor David Lindberg wrote that the accusation that the Christianity church was anti-intellectual “is a major distortion.” Lindberg asserted, “The fact is that the majority of the early church fathers valued their own classical educations…” and that “Christianity became the major patron of education in the Latin West and a major borrower from the classical intellectual tradition.” Early Christian intellectual leaders were scholars of classics, trained in Greek, Latin, philosophy, rhetoric, drama and history. That was not true of the original disciples, but Paul was the model for the next generation, very educated and distinctly not a “cave dweller.”

Christian beliefs and actions had consequences. Here is a small starter sampling. The Benedictine monastic order preserved European culture for centuries through the so-called “dark ages,” and without them, Europe as such would not have survived. Their contribution is acknowledged in Euro currency notes bearing images of Benedictine monasteries. Don Sweeting wrote of the Magna Carta on its 800th anniversary in 2015, “Rule by law, rule under God, religious liberty: these are all theological ideas with deep Biblical roots. They are all affirmed in the Magna Carta.”

Thomas Aquinas saved Christianity in Europe from intellectual Islam in the 13th century. William Wilberforce and the abolitionists, the women’s suffragists, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Rev. D. Martin Luther King all used pointedly biblical Christian reasoning for their efforts (as seen herehere and here). It is difficult to envision how the world would be better if they had kept their teaching “within the four walls of the church.”

In his article “How Christianity invented children,” Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry shared, “As the historian O.M. Bakke points out in his invaluable book When Children Became People, in ancient Greece and Rome, children were considered nonpersons.” Examples included: exposure or abandonment of unwanted babies, often girls; and sexual exploitation and abuse of children, especially boys in either child brothels or as house slaves, often including castrated as infants for this. Gobry adds, “This is the world into which Christianity came, condemning abortion and infanticide as loudly and as early as it could.” And this was “an outgrowth of [Christianity’s] most stupendous and revolutionary idea: the radical equality, and the infinite value, of every single human being as a beloved child of God.”

The experimental scientific enterprise, hospitals, many universities, orphanages, hospices, care of widows and orphans and many mercy ministries were all Christian applications of the biblical teaching. The absence of social services in Roman Empire prompted Christians to act on this deficiency.

Medical contributions

Medical historian H.E. Sigerist wrote, “Christianity came into the world as the religion of healing….”

In sharp contrast to the Roman and pagan attitudes toward the sick and dying — prompt rejection and contempt — Christians brought care and compassion, first treating the sick in homes (persecution prevented formal facilities for such early on), filling the “pagan void.”

Professor David Lindberg put forward, “… a Byzantine contribution that has benefitted humankind ever since: hospitals as institutions offering medical care and the possibility of a cure, rather than merely a place to die … as early as the fourth century.” The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD instructed bishops to build a hospice (hospital) in every city containing a cathedral. These xenodochia (stranger + to receive) delivered care for the sick and shelter for the poor and for Christian pilgrims. The first hospital or nosocomium (disease + take care of) constructed by St. Basil in Caesarea in Cappadocia circa 369 AD was a complex including a rehab unit, workshops and industrial schools for occupational training, plus housing for the workers — way, way ahead of its time!

Today, Christian mercy ministries of all sorts blanket the globe. This calls to mind the prophetic scriptures Habakkuk 2:14 and Isaiah 11:9, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (NKJV). Here I will add that early universities (Bologna, Oxford, Salamanca, Paris, Cambridge, Padua, etc.) and later ones (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.) were founded to ensure Christians, and ministers in particular, weren’t imbeciles. Whatever the Islamic contribution to universities, the global spread of them was not one.

According to Professor Rodney Stark, many of the advances attributed to Arab or Islamic culture were products of those they conquered: the dhimmi — largely the Judeo-Christian-Greek culture of Byzantium, the Coptic and Nestorian heretical Christian sects, Persian Zoroastrians, Jews and Hindus. It was they under their Arabic names who translated great works into Arabic. The huge Nestorian medical center at Nisibus, Syria trained the leading Arab and Muslim physicians, which also provided “the full range of advanced education,” as did the Nestorian center in Jundishapur, Persia, considered “the greatest intellectual center of the time” by science historian George Sarton. Abd al-Jabbar wrote in circa 995 that “kings in Egypt, al-Sham, Iraq, Jazira, Faris, and in all their surroundings, rely on Christians in matters of officialdom…administration, and [finances].”

The experimental scientific enterprise

Robert Oppenheimer said modern science was born out of the Christian worldview.

Mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead noted that Christianity was the mother of modern science because of “the medieval insistence on the rationality of God.” Astronomer and agnostic Dr. Robert Jastrow offered this on the point, “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.” A big bang for the Big Bang Theory, and the Bible had it first.

America’s foremost Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga gives his opinion, “Modern science was conceived, and born, and flourished in the matrix of Christian theism.” Philosopher and theologian Ken Samples said, “When secularists assert that religious ideas have no place in science, they seem blatantly unaware of the historical role that Christian theology played in shaping, encouraging, and sustaining the general character and presuppositions of modern science.”

2019 Templeton Prize winner and Brazilian-born Dartmouth theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser, an agnostic, claims, “I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method.” Why? “It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief … It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations. We say, ‘Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that.’” In his 1995 Templeton Prize address, Paul Davies (also not a Christian) said this regarding some presuppositions of science, “However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least part comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.”

Here are some Christian founders of their branches of science: Copernicus and Kepler (celestial mechanics), Francis Bacon (called “the major prophet of the scientific revolution”), Blaise Pascal (hydrostatics and the Shakespeare of the French language), Robert Boyle (chemistry), John Ray (natural history), George Culver (comparative anatomy), Lister (antiseptic surgery), Pasteur (bacteriology) and Mendel (genetics). The first vaccination was developed by Dr. Edward Jenner, a devout Christian, who in 1798 published his research that administering fluid from a cowpox sore would immunize against smallpox, thus founding immunology. Our Christian forebearers were not sitting on their hands, it would appear.

That is but a brief and non-exhaustive glimpse at what Christ’s coming has brought for the common good. Through the Lord and we His body, more is added daily, most of which may never know the limelight in this world. Indeed, as Gabriel told Mary about Jesus, “…and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33, NKJV). 


This article originally appeared on CMDA

André Van Mol, MD is a board-certified family physician in private practice. He serves on the boards of Bethel Church of Redding and Moral Revolution (, and is the co-chair of the American College of Pediatrician’s Committee on Adolescent Sexuality. He speaks and writes on bioethics and Christian apologetics, and is experienced in short-term medical missions. Dr. Van Mol teaches a course on Bioethics for the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. He and his wife Evelyn — both former U.S. Naval officers—have two sons and two daughters, the latter of whom were among their nine foster children.

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