Scientism 4: “Science and Grace,” Part 1

The first book on my list is Science and Grace: God’s Reign in the Natural Sciences, by Tim Morris and Don Fletcher. Right off the bat, it’s a no nonsense treatise. Very Reformed (and therefore excellent). They determine that a Christian worldview of science…

…should be based on a principle able to provide special insight into three relations: man’s relation to God, man’s relation to man, and man’s relation to the world. All these relations are relevant for us in considering science along with one more: God’s relation to the world.

Before ever tackling the issue itself with modern theology, it’s first important to consider those who have come before, both good and bad. The historical treatment of the philosophy of science here is worthy of a review all in itself.

If we seriously question whether we are actually experiencing the thing we are perceiving, science is stillborn before it takes its first breath.

Further Hume questioned a central explanatory and investigational rational tool of science, the cause-and-effect relationship. He pointed out the fairly obvious fact that one never “sees” a cause, even though one may see apparently related events take place. How can we maintain that one thing can be said to cause the other without introducing a metaphysical principle from outside of science—something rigorous scientists were supposedly prohibited from doing?

In other words, in the nineteenth century the “egocentric predicament” was discovered. That is, no person can claim to have a completely objective viewpoint, but each can only see from his or her own perspective, or worldview. In our day, this seems to be fairly obvious, but with the confidence in autonomous objectivity that accompanied Enlightenment thought, this was by no means apparent at the time.

This history also deals somewhat with the development of Modernist theory (everything can be determined by some form of reason) into Postmodernist theory (there are in fact no absolutes). Scienctism is struggling to retain the principles of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, but Postmodernism is driving that away.

Thus quantum theory, with its strange statistical description of the world, not only rudely undermined confidence in the strict cause-and-effect mechanistic universe, but also caused scientists to question whether the actual underlying events of any process could be described objectively at all.

Perhaps the nail in the coffin of foundationalist philosophy was driven in by Thomas Kuhn, who maintained that scientific revolutions are as much socially driven as they are driven by the data.

Now of course, WE are FAR superior to those ignorant cavemen:

Almost every recent text on the history of science now apologizes for our historian predecessors for their blindness in not seeing that presuppositions, or worldviews, have played an important part in how scientific theories are adopted.

The presuppositions in question are of course Christian fundamentalism. Every famous science responsible for the Scientific Revolution was a Christian (and mostly Calvinist at that). Now, modern scientism scoffs at their “blindness,” while fostering a foolishness and blindness all their own.

In contrast to the idea that men were suddenly snapped out of ignorance into the “light,” these examples illustrate the currently popular thesis that a more continuous development took place in the history of ideas. While in the supposed conflicts, such as that surrounding Galileo, good arguments were with the side of the fledgling science, they were also with the church, and the same goes for bad arguments. Perhaps more importantly, the examples also serve as a warning to the church. In John Hedley Brooke’s words, “Certainly the Catholic Church had a vested interest in Aristotelian philosophy, but much of the conflict ostensibly between science and religion turns out to have been between new science and the sanctified science of the previous generation.” This provides an important warning for us. It is entirely possible for the arguments of the church to be based not on a proper interpretation of the revealed Word, but rather on a regurgitated version of the supposed knowledge that had already been accepted by those in the not too distant past.

“What is called ‘common sense’ in any age frequently turns out to be the half-digested remains of earlier philosophical theories.”

In other words, your conclusions depend on how you look at the mechanical laws. Depending on your presuppositions, you might see a watchmaker, or alternatively you might see a mechanism that runs by itself.

The Modern pretense that autonomous human reason and objective method on their own can penetrate the ultimate truth and bring order and fulfillment to humans has been exposed as a false hope. Such is the message of the Postmodern world.

There is no reason why faith and reason should be placed in opposition:

Revelation and reason, faith and science, theology and philosophy agree, for they proceed from the one God who cannot contradict himself.

“Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it. It is merely feeble if it does not go as far as to realize that. If natural things are beyond it, what are we to say about supernatural things?”8 Ultimately, therefore, reason must include a submission to faith in that which is revealed by God: “Know then, proud man, what a paradox you are to yourself. Be humble, impotent reason! Be silent, feeble nature! Learn that man infinitely transcends man, hear from your master your true condition, which is unknown to you. Listen to God.”

As we move on, we will see that Pascal’s very early criticism of the use of reason alone, as it was emerging in association with the rise of modern science, was almost prescient. He already understood that a humble posture should be taken before God when claims are made concerning Him and His creation, a stance we too would like to affirm. But we have the benefit of three centuries of hindsight; Pascal remarkably saw this important truth even in the fledgling stages of the Enlightenment. We will continue to see this same theme developed in the ensuing Enlightenment dissenters from later ages as well. In addition, Pascal’s notion that knowledge does not come from reason alone, but also from the heart, is forward looking as well, a notion that is perhaps not even fully appreciated today.

Philosophers such as David Hume realized that belief must occur in order for reason or logic to be possible at all.

Hume gives a role to belief, as prior to reason, in accepting our own existence and that of the external world without rational proof.

The contrast between faith and reason is for him a profound fallacy. There are no ages of faith followed by ages of reason. These are fictions. Reason is built on faith, it cannot replace it; there are no ages that are not ages of both: the contrast is unreal. Irrational religion is a contradiction in terms. A religion is true not because it is rational but because it is face-to-face with what is real:

In other words, there is really a faith at the bottom of the commitment to the system, and this faith is not itself founded upon reason.

Of course, every rationalistic system must have a foundation somewhere. Christians simply accept that the foundation exists and choose the correct one that won’t wash away. Secular scientism denies that there is a foundation (especially in Postmodernism) and therefore has no basis for stating truth.

There is no such thing as theistic evolution. Either the Bible is right or it is wrong – if you deny even a yoht or tilde, you deny the whole, for the whole is truth.

We have thus arrived at the answer to our question, What is Darwinism? It is Atheism. This does not mean, as before said, that Mr. Darwin himself and all who adopt his views are atheists; but it means that the theory is atheistic, that the exclusion of design from nature is, as Dr. Gray says, tantamount to atheism.

In other words, he uses philosophical and theological “laws” inferred from the data of Scripture in order to critique a scientific theory. That is, we know from Scripture that creation, and indeed all of history, is purposeful, and it is God who has given it purpose. Thus a theory built on merely (not just apparently) random events is a theory that denies what we clearly know from other sources.

Abraham Kuyper, of course, is a champion in this battle.

What can oppose a comprehensive system that puts natural man in the center? In Kuyper’s view only a comprehensive system that unapologetically puts God in the center. And according to Kuyper, this is precisely what Calvinism does, a fact that can perhaps be summed up best in his oft-quoted statement, “. . . there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” Thus Calvinism, in Kuyper’s view, provides the foundational principle upon which to elaborate a comprehensive life system that can speak to all of culture, including science. With God fully at the center of all aspects of culture, no sacred/secular split down the middle of life can be allowed to exist, because “at every moment of our existence, our entire spiritual life rests in God Himself.” Thus armed with God at the center, Kuyper first offers a critique of Modernism and then provides some positive direction for Christians to view science anew.

Perhaps I should add some Kuyper to my list. I think I shall.

Thus, at the root two different kinds of people, the regenerate and the unregenerate, are doing two different kinds of science, science in a fallen world or science in a natural world continually evolving.

It’s a mistake, Kuyper says, to assume that we’re studying the same world. We aren’t. Of course, there’s only one world that exists to study. But the secular scientists study it backwards, upside-down, inside out, and just plain wrong.

Thus from Kuyper’s point of view, those who insist that there is only one science deny the reality of sin, and consequently of two aspects of God’s grace in working against our fallenness: God’s power in revealing himself to rebellious people (revelation) and God’s power to change us by creating in us a new heart (regeneration or palingenesis). Ignoring these facts will result in a distorted science. But since the unregenerate inevitably ignore these facts in their science, we must acknowledge that two different sciences are in play. Faulty foundations will inevitably have their consequences in how scientific facts are interpreted.

Again, this is not to say that facts don’t exist. They do. God works in certain ways, and there’s a pattern to his will that he desires us to seek out.

Everything astronomers, or geologists, physicists or chemists, zoologists or bacteriologists, historians or archaeologists bring to light has to be recorded—detached of course from the hypothesis they have slipped behind it and from the conclusions they have drawn from it—but every fact has to be recorded by you, also, as a fact, and as a fact that is to be incorporated as well in your science as in theirs.

To summarize, we see Kuyper as perhaps the most comprehensive Christian critic of the Enlightenment philosophy of his time, with many positive contributions toward how Christians should view the enterprise of science. With his staunch adherence to orthodox theology and his avid support for the grounding of science as an appropriate Christian endeavor, he was led to see deeply into the problems involved. Thus he laid out for us a clear contrast between the way believers approach science as opposed to how unbelievers do so, while at the same time pointing the way for understanding how we can work together in view of God’s grace, both special and common.

You can either serve God or Man – but not both. And the one whom you serve will affect every single area of your life, whether you like it or not.

Although scientists may wish to “escape from themselves,” they cannot in reality escape from “the deepest root of their life,” which arises from deeply held convictions of the heart as to whom they serve.

Reason is not neutral as the Enlightenment philosophy would purport, but rather is controlled by the ground motive(s) involved. Indeed, according to Dooyeweerd, the logical aspect of creation is only one of many aspects; so to take it as the absolute arbiter of truth is to elevate reason above its proper place before God as His creature and servant. Such an improper elevation of reason occurs whenever, supposedly on the ground of reason, a theory elevates one (or more) aspects of creation and takes it (them) to be what all the rest of creation depends on. But taking any aspect as independent and making the rest of creation to depend on it is the same as taking this aspect of creation to be divine; it is a substitute for God. Moreover, any such deification of aspects of creation would permeate not only philosophy but scientific theories as well. Thus the theories of science cannot help but reflect the religious beliefs of those who hold them, and this is the reason why there are varying interpretations of any theory depending on the religious standpoints involved. Therefore the result of elevating the logical or rational aspect of reality results in an idolatry—a deification of some aspect of creation—resulting in a limited and distorted understanding rather than an appropriate understanding of all of reality. This potential idolatry is important to understand when approaching science.

Anything created is relative to God, without any absolute in itself.

Of course, it’s a common error that all of fall into to assume that God works in the heart and soul exclusively.

If we take God’s role to be primarily “spiritual,” we set up a dualism that only considers God’s power at work in our hearts and forgets about the power with which He upholds His creation. In other words, God is only the God of redemption and not the God who also upholds the creation He redeems. The mechanistic idea of the universe tends to do that to us.

(This also means that death is not an unnatural thing as taught in Scripture. Death is the rending of the soul and body – if they belong to different realms, death should be welcome, and God should be called Death instead of Life. This is a gnostic view, but unfortunately very easy to fall prey to.)

So how should we approach science, knowing the historical pitfalls?

Science involves a study of the creation made by a God who reveals Himself. In other words, what we scientists study is a creation, and it is created by a God we know about from His own self-revelation, which comes most clearly through His Word. Therefore a fundamental starting point in discovering how we are to view science is to first ask what the Bible teaches us about God and in particular about the relation God has to His created world.

This God is Triune and Covenantal. This is essential.

Meredith G. Kline argues that the presence of the Spirit at the beginning, when compared with other subsequent images of the covenant God made with His creatures, is an indication that right from the beginning, God’s creation was a part of His covenant.

A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered. When God enters into a covenantal relationship with men, he sovereignly institutes a life-and-death bond. A covenant is a bond in blood, or a bond of life and death, sovereignly administered

By implication, all of creation, though mysterious to us in many ways, answers directly to God who upholds it. This anticipates the themes of the next two chapters: We should not expect the world to act entirely predictably as a big machine; we should expect that it holds surprises for us that we will never entirely uncover and comprehend.

The Spirit of God is active as the Spirit-presence of Christ in His work of sustenance in His creation. As John Calvin says in his Institutes: “For it is the Spirit who, everywhere diffused, sustains all things, causes them to grow, and quickens them in heaven and in earth.”

There are a few books on my list that deal with pantheism (God is nature) and panentheism (nature is a part of God). Although the books deal favorably with panentheism, it’s a heresy. Or rather, it’s another pitfall. Heresy’s a bit harsh.

The interesting thing is that they arise from emphasizing one side or the other of a dialectic, that of immanence and transcendence.

What we call natural laws are merely God’s way of normally working.

The laws are but generalizations of God’s method of working with the particulars.

 

And that’s as far as I’ve gotten. It’s a lot of material, and I apologize for the long post, but it’s just so dang good. People, buy this book. There is no reason you shouldn’t have a copy of this (and Rediscovery of Man. But that’s a different story).

 

More to come. No, I’m not even close to being done with the book. Cheers!

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