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Mary Baker Eddy and science

From the October 2022 issue of The Christian Science Journal

In the Preface of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, which sets forth the divine Science of Mind-healing that Jesus practiced, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Future ages must declare what the pioneer has accomplished” (p. vii). This occasional “Mary Baker Eddy and . . .” series looks at how the life and ideas of this extraordinary woman have pointed the way, and continue to point the way, to individual and collective spiritual progress.

Throughout history, humanity has been deeply engaged in the quest to understand the nature and cause of existence, and today the pursuit of science uniquely has the reputation of offering answers based on consistent proof. Though the modern definition of science is still a great matter of debate, fundamentally it will always be defined as proven and principled knowledge.

In many ways, the spiritual discovery Mary Baker Eddy made in 1866 and revealed to the world in a book in 1875 appears quite contradictory to modern science. But in that book, Science and Health—later entitled Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures—she didn’t hesitate to call her discovery Science. She explained it this way: “Christian Science differs from material science, but not on that account is it less scientific. On the contrary, Christian Science is pre-eminently scientific, being based on Truth, the Principle of all science” (pp. 123–124). In this statement, and throughout her writings, Eddy was presenting a teaching to humanity that was an affront, both theologically and scientifically, to the entrenched and nearly universal belief in the life, substance, and healing power of matter. 

What made her so sure of this? And how did she have the moral courage to state it at a time when opportunities for women to engage in public discourse were severely curtailed? 

It was her love of Spirit, God, and Christ Jesus’ teachings that empowered her deep conviction that Christian Science was a revelation from God. She understood this revelation to be the Comforter, or “Spirit of truth,” that Jesus promised would teach “all things” and testify of the ever-present, healing Christ (see John, chaps. 14 and 15). 

She knew that each of Jesus’ remarkable healings of physical and mental illness proved the truth she had discovered: the allness of Mind, Spirit, God, and the nothingness of matter. This most profound truth was also the vital scientific understanding behind Jesus’ many other extraordinary demonstrations, such as calming a storm, walking over water, and instantaneously moving a ship to shore. His resurrection was absolute proof to humanity that life is not in matter, but eternal in Spirit.

While Eddy had no doubt of the truth of her discovery, she understood that the world was not yet prepared for its universal acceptance. “We are in the midst of a revolution,” she said in a sermon entitled Christian Healing, given in 1880; “physics are yielding slowly to metaphysics; mortal mind rebels at its own boundaries; weary of matter, it would catch the meaning of Spirit” (p. 11). Eddy’s discovery was revolutionary because it presented a radically different view of matter—that it was the subjective formation of human consciousness. 

She had experienced and understood that, as she put it, “. . . spiritualization of thought destroys all sense of matter as substance, Life, or intelligence, and enthrones God in the eternal qualities of His being” (Unity of Good, p. 32). And so her discovery launched the most profound God-impelled scientific revolution of thought humanity has ever known.  

In 1962 Thomas Kuhn published his landmark book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, where he coined the now well-known phrase “paradigm shift,” describing a fundamental change in basic assumptions and practices within the development of science. Key discoveries by individuals engaging in extraordinary scientific inquiry are the initiators of almost every scientific revolution. As scientific inquiry inexorably progresses, anomalous evidence that is unbearable to the prevailing—and typically undisputed—paradigm slowly begins to build. If a new paradigm accounts for the anomalies, and is inevitably a better explanation, a subsequent “battle over its acceptance,” Kuhn writes (p. 84), will occur. It is a survival of the fittest, and from a metaphysical perspective it means scientific truth will ultimately prevail. 

For many years Eddy was engaged in a sincere search for a spiritual source of health, “trying to trace all physical effects,” she said, “to a mental cause” (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 24). This pursuit culminated in a moment of extreme human need following a fall. After three days of suffering, as she turned to her Bible and to God, she experienced immediate recovery from the severe injury she had sustained, a recovery she likened to the falling apple Newton witnessed. 

Her healing was accompanied by a profound breakthrough in understanding how Spirit healed. She later wrote, “That short experience included a glimpse of the great fact that I have since tried to make plain to others, namely, Life in and of Spirit; this Life being the sole reality of existence” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 24). 

This experience revealed to Eddy that existence is entirely mental, although it took some time for her to fully understand what she had discovered. She knew that matter, or the flesh, is not the product of Spirit—a truth grounded in Jesus’ words, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Infinite Spirit—expressed spiritually throughout creation in all individuality, form, color, and outline—was to Eddy the true substance and reality. Consciousness is not produced in or by matter, but is in and of Spirit, the infinite divine Mind, God.

Matter, therefore, was revealed to her as only the finite, subjective form of a suppositional consciousness that she called mortal mind, because it is the self-deceived belief in a life apart from God, where the opposite of all-good Spirit seems real. But matter, having no part in eternal Truth, is incapable of being intelligent, and so it cannot enact laws that govern the universe, heal man, or create consciousness. 

This answers one of the most bewildering questions being posed by science today, commonly known as the “hard problem of consciousness.” In Christian Science matter is a formation of mortal mind, and eternal Mind, God, takes its rightful place as the one supreme cause. This spiritual cause brings change to the physical universe as matter yields to Spirit. To exclude a spiritual or mental cause in our fundamental assumptions—which physical science attempts to do—is to exclude the sole Principle of all reality and all true effect. Christian Science declares that without this divine Principle—which is unerring, unchanging, everlasting Love—creation would collapse: “All true Science represents a moral and spiritual force, which holds the earth in its orbit” (Mary Baker Eddy, Rudimental Divine Science, p. 4).

Physics is one of the most, if not the most, primary and all-encompassing of the sciences. It profoundly affects society’s view of the nature of reality and the universe, and is fundamental to all scientific development in engineering, industry, and medicine. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, progress within physics began to uncover the uncertainty and emptiness of matter, culminating in 1913 with the Rutherford-Bohr model of the atom. In this model, almost all the mass was now known to be contained in a nucleus that can be compared to the size of a grain of sand in a football field. In a striking coincidence, Eddy’s radical discovery of matter’s essential nature as nothingness—in that it is not the eternal substance of reality—preceded this progress in physics. This suggests that the advent and proof of her ideas were a spiritual leaven impacting this scientific development.

These key discoveries in physics soon led to the establishment of quantum mechanics, which has brought to light the effect of the observer on the thing being observed. One widely voiced implication, after more than a century of research results that have continued to perplex the physics community, is that the world we perceive is not revealed by material observation, or consciousness, but created by it. 

Quantum mechanics also led to what was arguably one of the most world-changing scientific advances. Under pressure that Nazi Germany would do so first, the United States assembled physicists and engineers to develop the atomic bomb, with the first one detonated in a test in the southwestern United States on July 16, 1945. Never had the self-destructive nature of matter become so evident, as Eddy had foreseen that it would. But she also saw this tendency ultimately leading to the recognition and proof of its unreality. She wrote, “The more destructive matter becomes, the more its nothingness will appear, until matter reaches its mortal zenith in illusion and forever disappears” (Science and Health, p. 97). 

Mary Baker Eddy departed from the traditional steady-state view of the physical universe by defining matter as fleeting, finite, even illusory, and grounded in uncertainty.

Albert Einstein, the most prominent 20th-century physicist, broke away from the traditional view of space and time as fixed and absolute with his revolutionary theory of relativity. For modern physics, concepts of “infinite,” “eternal,” and “now” have become increasingly less applicable to matter and time. Quantum physicist Carlo Rovelli says, “Nature appears to be telling us that there is nothing truly infinite” (Reality Is Not What It Seems, p. 233). He also says, “The idea that a well-defined now exists throughout the universe is an illusion, an illegitimate extrapolation of our own experience” (The Order of Time, p. 44). 

Eddy likewise had departed from the traditional steady-state view of the physical universe by defining matter, being the opposite of eternal and infinite Spirit, as fleeting, finite, even illusory, and grounded in uncertainty. She even defined time as “matter” (see Science and Health, p. 595). Physics, it appears, has finally begun to agree. 

And Christian Scientists have been modestly proving the insubstantiality of matter and time—even building a body of evidence in support of Eddy’s discovery—through tens of thousands of healing testimonies that defy physical explanation, often comparable to the types of healings Jesus demonstrated. Besides the list of diseases termed incurable that have been healed, from epilepsy to multiple sclerosis, some more extraordinary examples of healing have been those of broken bones, with some taking place in a matter of days, or hours, or even instantaneously (for example, see William D. Ansley, “Healings through mental surgery,” Christian Science Sentinel, July 16, 2007). 

The discovery and establishment of Christian Science came at the same time as tremendous advances in technology. Between 1876 and 1903 the telephone was first patented, electricity was being harnessed for urban use, and the gasoline automobile and airplane were being developed—to name a few. Metaphysically interpreted, these indicate humanity outgrowing the limiting bonds of materiality into a greater freedom of movement and communication. Not only were mortals emerging out of mental darkness into spiritual light, but this progress of thought found symbolic expression in the invention by Thomas Edison in 1879 of the first commercially viable incandescent lightbulb. 

Around this time Eddy wrote: “This age is reaching out towards the perfect Principle of things; is pushing towards perfection in art, invention, and manufacture. Why, then, should religion be stereotyped, and we not obtain a more perfect and practical Christianity?” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 232). She clearly recognized that the motivation to excel, coupled with an untiring inquiry, integrity, and intelligence often expressed in the sciences, contributed not only to practical progress but also to the spiritualization of thought. When asked about “the pursuit of modern material inventions” in a 1901 interview with the New York Herald, she said, “They all tend to newer, finer, more etherealized ways of living. They seek the finer essences. They light the way to the Church of Christ” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 345). 

While Eddy clearly accepted that there was value to these inventions, in the same interview there was one science she specifically singled out as “false science”—that was “healing by drugs” (Miscellany, p. 345). Her discovery had revealed the mental nature of reality, and in her own experiments with homeopathy and the placebo effect, she had learned that the only power to heal that a drug or a hygienic method had was in the faith invested in it. This misdirected faith she saw as robbing man of his natural and complete reliance on God, omnipotent Mind, for healing. The so-called scientific development and use of drugs therefore increases humanity’s faith in matter, when the universal need is to lessen that faith through increasing trust in, and proof of, the reality of God. 

Likewise hypnotism (increasingly respected by modern medicine according to a November 9, 2019, New Scientist article titled “The healing power of your mind”) is a practice Eddy’s writings denounced. In Christian Science, which relies solely on the healing power of divine Mind, the seeming effects of hypnosis are nothing more than the illusionary imaginations of mortal mind. Drugs, hygiene, and hypnotism are deceptively alluring to the human mind because they claim to heal, but Eddy affirmed that “they do not heal, but only relieve suffering temporarily. . .” (Science and Health, p. 483).

It is also noteworthy that Eddy’s discovery came at the same pivotal moment in history when Charles Darwin published his major works: On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871). Darwin’s theories gave credibility to the assumption that man was evolved from self-created matter, even that the universe was in no need of God, Spirit, to explain or create it. Eddy, who addressed Darwin’s theories in her own book, took the completely opposite standpoint. 

Her understanding, based on her scriptural study and demonstrations of healing, was that God created an entirely spiritual and eternal universe, including the uninterrupted perfection of spiritual man, made in God’s image as described in Genesis 1. Not unlike the prophet Elijah, Eddy delineated a choice needing to be made, and she succinctly set forth the opposing scientific paradigms: “One only of the following statements can be true: (1) that everything is matter; (2) that everything is Mind. Which one is it?” (Science and Health, p. 270).  

All this may sound deeply metaphysical, and yet metaphysics—the way in which we define and interpret reality and all empirical evidence—is essential to science. The problem of trying to discover the nature of reality through the method of modern science was profoundly considered by Max Planck, a founding father of quantum physics, when he said in 1932, “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve” (Where Is Science Going? p. 217). 

A consequence of Planck’s insight is that we require a source, or intelligence, above and beyond the human mind to finally solve the “ultimate mystery.” Eddy would have heartily agreed with this assertion, for she already had stated that the “. . . erring, finite, human mind has an absolute need of something beyond itself for its redemption and healing” (Science and Health, p. 151). She could write these words based on experience—she had needed that source herself, and found it to be the divine Mind, God. This reiterates how her discovery and statement of Christian Science came to her by divine revelation—even that the “mystery of God should be finished” (Revelation 10:7).

Humanity is poised for a scientific revolution from belief in matter as substance to a universal acceptance of reality—including man’s true identity—in Spirit. Einstein (who toward the end of his life took some interest in Mary Baker Eddy’s teaching) had hopes of a unified theory for modern physics. But this new, yet old, Science is already here, and it is not just a unification of science, but a unification of science, theology, and medicine into one complete and satisfying scientific and divine explanation. Not only for the nature of reality, but for the complete healing and redemption of humankind. 

In his 2006 book, The Trouble with Physics, American theoretical physicist Lee Smolin stated, “When it comes to revolutionizing science, what matters is quality of thought, not quantity of true believers” (p. 255). We can think of many great individuals who have contributed to this quest—from Archimedes to Einstein—but to those who practice Christian Science it appears inevitable that history will ultimately recognize and honor the pivotal importance of Mary Baker Eddy’s contribution to humanity’s scientific understanding of reality. The revolution of thought she set in motion with her discovery of Christian Science, initiated and impelled by perfect Mind, has a pure purpose: the revealing of the one and only divine Science, for all mankind to understand and practice. This is brought about by unwavering Love, the one perfect Principle, ushering in the inevitable millennium.

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