Christian Science (officially, the Church of Christ, Scientist) is a rather ‘quiet’ organisation that rarely hits the headlines. It is of interest, however, because of its apparent claim to link science and Christianity. But like the American breakfast cereal ‘Grape Nuts’, which contains neither grapes nor nuts, Christian Science it is neither Christian nor scientific – as I hope to show.
It had its beginnings with Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866) lived in the north-eastern United States, and has been variously described as a master clockmaker, inventor, and ‘an ignorant, nonreligious blacksmith’.1
In his early thirties he became fascinated by hypnosis and soon became an expert mesmerist, developing a philosophy he referred to by various names, including Science of Life and Happiness.
His medicine-free healing techniques were based on the theory that disease was due to false reasoning and that truth was the cure for all illness. He soon established a growing reputation as a healer, but he would probably warrant no more than a footnote in history had he not been consulted in 1862 by one particular patient.
Mary Ann Morse Baker, born in New Hampshire in 1821, was the sixth and youngest child of God-fearing farming parents. Highly sensitive, intensely religious and a devout Bible student, she was chronically sick from childhood – her problems included paralysis, hysteria, seizures and convulsions.
By her early forties, having dabbled in hypnosis, auto-suggestion and clairvoyance, she went to Portland, Maine to consult Phineas Quimby.
Quimby convinced her that illness and disease could be cured through positive thoughts and healthy attitudes (in other words, by changing one’s beliefs about the very nature of sickness).
Although some of her own symptoms were to return, she not only insisted that Quimby had fundamentally healed her, but developed a psychic dependence on him, even claiming visitations by his apparition.2
A few weeks after Quimby’s death Mary Patterson (as she now was) suffered a life-threatening fall on a frozen pavement. Crippled and in severe pain, she turned to the Bible for comfort and a few days later was profoundly affected by reading the account of Jesus healing a paralytic man.3
Although medical testimony denies it, the ‘official’ version of events says she was miraculously healed after just three days.4 She immediately set about pulling together her interpretation of the Bible with Phineas Quimby’s teaching, and later claimed, ‘In the year 1866 I discovered the Christ Science or divine laws of Life, Truth and Love, and named my discovery Christian Science’ (emphasis added). 5
She began conducting healing sessions and teaching her techniques and philosophy to interested students (at an exorbitant $300 for twelve lessons). She also began writing on the subject and in 1875 produced her blockbuster – Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
While referring to ‘manifest mistakes’ in the Bible, she described her own work as ‘echoing the harmonies of heaven in divine metaphysics’. Not surprisingly, she claimed, ‘I cannot be super-modest in my estimate of the Christian Science method’.6
Not everyone agreed. Her literary advisor James Henry Wiggins was appalled at what he found: ‘The misspelling, capitalisation and punctuation were dreadful, but these were not the things that fazed me … There were passages that flatly and absolutely contradicted things that had preceded, and scattered all through were incorrect references to historical and philosophical matters’.
He decided that the only way to tackle his task was ‘to begin absolutely at the first page and rewrite the whole thing’.7 – a devastating indictment of a book said to have been dictated by God!
Christian Science Monitor
By this time Mary Baker’s first husband George Glover had died, she had divorced her second, Daniel Patterson, on the grounds of desertion and she had married Asa Gilbert Eddy.
Mary Baker Eddy founded the first Christian Science church in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1879 (it was renamed the First Church of Christ, Scientist thirteen years later). In 1881 she opened the Massachusetts Metaphysical College in Boston (it was closed and re-opened in 1889) and in 1883 she became the founder and first editor of the monthly magazine The Christian Science Journal.
She established a publishing company in 1898 and in 1908, two years before her death, she founded the widely respected daily newspaper The Christian Science Monitor, which has won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize six times.
Although she believed and taught that suffering and death were illusions of the mind, she was constantly dogged by ill-health. She needed repeated morphine injections and wore glasses and dentures. She eventually died in 1910, leaving an estate worth $3,000,000.
In 1995 she was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame as the only American woman to found a worldwide religion, which at its peak in the 1930s had a membership of some 300,000.
Christian Science is most easily recognised by its Reading Rooms. The name given to these meeting places is significant, as the church has no preachers or sermons. Instead, without giving any explanation or interpretation, First and Second Readers are obliged to read passages from the Bible and Science and Health.
The all-important question to ask here is whether the Bible and Christian Science are compatible. The simplest way to find out is to compare their teaching on major issues. Here are nine examples.
The authority of Scripture. The Bible claims to be ‘the living and enduring word of God’.8Christian Science says it has thousands of errors and that Science and Health is the ‘first book’ that has been ‘unadulterated by human hypotheses’.9
The nature of God. The Bible says that God is living and personal, the creator and ruler of all reality outside of himself: ‘The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all’.10 Christian Science says that God is ‘a divine, infinite principle’.11and promotes the pantheistic idea that ‘God is All-in-all’12and ‘identical with nature’.13
God as a tri-unity. The Bible states that God exists as three persons, the Father14the Son15 and the Holy Spirit.16 Christian Science says, ‘The theory of three persons in one God (that is, a personal Trinity or Tri-unity) suggests polytheism’17 and redefines the Trinity as ‘life, truth and love’.
The deity of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that Jesus is ‘the true God’.18Christian Science says that the words ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ do not refer to the same person, that Jesus was only human and that Christ is ‘the divine idea’.19
The deity of the Holy Spirit. The Bible clearly identifies the Holy Spirit as being divine.20Christian Science defines him as merely ‘the Science of Christianity’.21
The material world. The Bible teaches that while ‘God is Spirit’22 he created the material universe and everything in it.23 Christian Science says that there is no reality except Mind and Spirit and that ‘matter is … unreal’.24
Evil, sickness and death. The Bible teaches that sin and sickness are everyday realities25 and that as a result of sin ‘man is destined to die’.26 Christian Science says, ‘Man is incapable of sin, sickness and death’.27 All three are ‘states of mind – illusions’.28 ‘The only reality of sin, sickness and death is the awful fact that unrealities seem real to human, erring belief’.29 In practice, this means that Christian Science does not promote ‘faith healing’ but rather the idea that one is not really sick.
The death and resurrection of Jesus. The Bible says that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for human sin, rose from the dead three days later and is eternally alive.30 Christian Science says, ‘In Science, Christ never died’31 and that he left the grave knowing that this was the case.
Heaven and hell. The Bible teaches the existence of both heaven32 and hell.33 Christian Science calls heaven ‘a state of mind’ and hell ‘mortal belief, self-imposed agony’ 34 – the result of the guilt of imagined sin.
Many other examples could be given. By insisting that Science and Health was the only way in which the Bible could be properly understood, Mary Baker Eddy denied the authority and integrity of Scripture.
This article is adapted from: Has Science got rid of God?, published by Evangelical Press. ISBN 0-85234-568-2
1. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas, p. 328.
2. Ruth Tucker, Another Gospel, p.152.
3. Matthew 9:2ff.
4. See Anthony Hoekema, Christian Science, Eerdmans, pp.12-23.
5. Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health, p.1.
6. Cited at http://automatic writing.com/Chapter 4.
7. Paris Flammonde, The Mystic Healers.
8. 1 Peter 1:23.
9. Science and Health, p.99.
10. Psalm 103.19.
11. Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings, p.16.
12. Science and Health, p.113.
13. Miscellaneous Writings, p.13.
14. See Isaiah 64:8.
15. See Colossians 2:9.
16. See Genesis 1:2.
17. Science and Health, p.256.
18. 1 John 5:20.
19. Science and Health, p.473.
20. See 2 Corinthians 3:17.
21. J.Oswald Sanders, Heresies Ancient and Modern, p.47.
22. 22. John 4:24.
23. Genesis 1:1.
24. Science and Health, p.468.
25. e.g. Romans 3:23; Matthew 8:16.
26. Hebrews 9:27.
27. Heresies Ancient and Modern, p.48
28. Science and Health, p.283.
29. Science and Health, p.377.
30. See 1 Peter 3:18.
31. Heresies Ancient and Modern, p.48.
32. See Acts 1:11.
33. See Matthew 5:22.
34. Heresies Ancient and Modern, p.49.