Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) on Calvinism and science

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Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) gave the Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary in 1898-1899 on the topic of Calvinism. He argued that Calvinism had made important contributions to the development of science and cited as an example the founding of the University of Leyden:

“In my fourth lecture allow me to draw your attention to the nexus between Calvinism and Science. Not, of course, in order to exhaust in one lecture such a weighty subject. Four points of it only I submit to your thoughtful consideration; first, that Calvinism fostered and could not but foster love for science; secondly, that it restored to science its domain; thirdly, that it delivered science from unnatural bonds; and fourthly, in what manner it sought and found a solution for the unavoidable scientific conflict.

First of all then: There is found hidden in Calvinism an impulse, an inclination, an incentive, to scientific investigation. It is a fact that science has been fostered by it, and its principle demands the scientific spirit. One glorious page from the history of Calvinism may suffice to prove the fact, before we enter more fully upon the discussion of the incentive to scientific investigation found in Calvinism as such. The page from the history of Calvinism, or let us rather say of mankind, matchless in its beauty, to which I refer, is the siege of Leyden, more than three hundred years ago. This siege of Leyden was in fact a struggle between Alva and Prince William [of Orange/the Silent] about the future course of the history of the world; and the result was that in the end Alva had to withdraw, and that William the Silent was enabled to unfurl the banner of liberty over Europe. Leyden, defended almost exclusively by its own citizens, entered the lists against the best troops of what was looked upon at that time as the finest army of the world. Three months after the commencement of the siege, the supply of food became exhausted. A fearful famine began to rage. The apparently doomed citizens managed to live on dogs and rats. This black famine was soon followed by the black death or the plague, which carried off a third part of the inhabitants. The Spaniards offered peace and pardon to the dying people; but Leyden, remembering the bad faith of the enemy in the treatment of Naarden and Haarlem, answered boldly and with pride: If it is necessary, we are ready to consume our left arms, and to defend with our right arms our wives, our liberty and our religion against thee, O tyrant. Thus they persevered. They patiently waited for the coming of the Prince of Orange to raise the siege,… but… the prince had to wait for God. The dikes of the province of Holland had been cut through; the country surrounding Leyden was flooded; a fleet lay ready to hasten to Leyden’s aid; but the wind drove the water back, preventing the fleet from passing the shallow pools. God tried his people sorely. At last however, on the first of October, the wind turned towards the West, and, forcing the waters upward, enabled the fleet to reach the beleaguered city. Then the Spaniards fled in haste to escape the rising tide. On the 3rd of October the fleet entered the port of Leyden, and the siege being raised, Holland and Europe were saved The population, all but starved to death, could scarcely drag themselves along, yet all to a man limped as well as they could to the house of prayer. There all fell on their knees and gave thanks to God. But when they tried to utter their gratitude in psalms of praise, they were almost voiceless, for there was no strength left in them, and the tones of their song died away in grateful sobbing and weeping.

Behold what I call a glorious page in the history of liberty, written in blood, and if you now ask me, what has this to do with science, see here the answer: In recognition of such patriotic courage, the States of Holland did not present Leyden with a handful of knightly orders, or gold, or honour, but with a School of the Sciences, — the University of Leyden, renowned through the whole world. The German is surpassed by none in pride of his scientific glory, and yet no less a man than Niebuhr has testified, ‘that the Senate chamber of Leyden’s University is the most memorable hall of science.’ The ablest scholars were induced to fill the amply endowed chairs. Scaliger was conveyed from France in a man-of-war. Salmasius came to Leyden under convoy of a whole squadron. Why should I give you the long list of names of the princes of science, of the giants in learning, who have filled Leyden with the lustre of their renown, or tell you how this love for science, going forth from Leyden, permeated the whole nation? You know the Lipsii, the Hemsterhuizen, the Boerhaves. You know that in Holland were invented the telescope, the microscope and the thermometer; and thus empirical science, worthy of its name, was made possible. It is an undeniable fact, that the Calvinistic Netherlands had love for science and fostered it. But the most evident, the most convincing proof is doubtless found in the establishment of Leyden’s University. To receive as the highest reward a University of the Sciences in a moment, when, in a fearful struggle, the course of the history of the world was turned by your heroism is only conceivable among a people in whose very life-principle love for science is involved.”

– Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), Calvinism, p. 143-146 

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One thought on “Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) on Calvinism and science

  1. Thanks for the post, brother. Just wanted you to know I live in Kuwait and have several from South Africa on our music team at church. Blessings and keep up the God work!

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