Scientism 5: “Science and Grace,” Part 2

We return to our erstwhile study of "Science and Grace"

The so-called laws we speak of are only expressions of the regularities we observe that are subservient ultimately to the purposes (teleology) of God.

That quote, or the many others like it here, needs to be pasted across every lab and classroom in the world.

What makes a miracle a miracle?

In order to recognize that something miraculous occurred, on the one hand we need a contrast; we must be familiar with the notion of what is usual or “natural” in order to identify what is not. But on the other hand, if God is to be seen as the sustainer or upholder of the usual laws of nature at all times, as well as the worker of miracles, why do we think of them as so distinct, so as to ascribe them to different realms? Why do we think of God’s regular activity as “natural,” and when He surprises us, we think of it as “supernatural”?

In other words, how can God be so free as to possibly be capricious, and yet we can in fact rely on His faithfulness?

Anselm and Damian had come to agree that God acts by choice rather than necessity and that omnipotence meant not arbitrary power, but power to do what is in keeping with His nature.

Two things are of note. First, the notion that God’s ordained power represented all His actual action slipped into a dualism between the ordinary action and the extraordinary, each pertaining now to different categories of God’s action. So a cleavage in God’s action had taken place. His action was no longer entirely accounted for by His ordained power but originated in His absolute power as well. Second, the notion of law began to be associated with the ordained power as a sub-category of His total action.

First, we saw that in the medieval period, a two-pronged dilemma arose, largely due to the adoption of certain assumptions inherited from Greek philosophy.

[A] new dilemma arose, this time from contrasting the claims of Christianity to the Modernist mechanistic science. In this case, one far more familiar to us, the view that nature is an autonomous machine of cause and effect clashed with its dependence upon God.

In both cases, the dialectic based on the dualism between form (God’s providence, laws of nature, determinism) and freedom (God’s freedom, miracles) comes into play. In both cases then, the cultural worldview of the time caused a tension with the principles of Christianity. However, the latter dilemma seems still to be with us in our habits of thought today, perhaps lingering as a false dilemma from a bygone era.

For those of you not familiar with quantum mechanics, it essentially says that we cannot know everything, and in fact, the universe appears to be both completely random and at the same time, a lot more clearly defined than we’d previously thought.

While these laws are no longer typically viewed as mechanistic in the sense of nineteenth-century determinism—quantum theory has upset all that—nevertheless, in our culture we certainly have a tendency to think of the laws as mechanistically embedded in the universe in some way, even if they are taken as statistical in nature.

No, rather we ought to say that He is equally upholding the universe as always, but at the moment the miracle occurred, He (as legislator behind the scenes) decided to govern in a way somewhat out of the ordinary.

Now we get into a free will vs. omnipotence of God debate, relating to the way nature seems to work.

On the one extreme, emphasizing the view from providence, one thinks of everything that happens as merely what God wills at any given moment, thus not allotting nature any real autonomy itself.

On the other extreme is the notion that nature has a real autonomy within which the laws of nature operate, in some sense independent of God, but (if the view remains within orthodoxy) that God is free to intervene with miracles if He so desires.

We thus have arrived at a twofold perspective regarding knowledge within a covenantal understanding. On the one hand, we should expect some general principles to emerge from our general knowledge of the covenantal relation with creation, the regularities that we consider as laws. (We will address this more fully in the next chapter.) But on the other hand, we should not expect knowledge in an absolute sense nor in complete details about these so-called laws. Only God can know His purposes absolutely and exhaustively. This truth demands therefore a humble posture on our part where science is concerned.

In other words, the fact that the universe is contingent does not imply that it has in itself an autonomous freedom of any sort.

Emphasis mine.

So Lewis here makes the same point we made earlier, that miracles can only be recognized by virtue of their contrast to the backdrop notion of the laws of nature, whether we know what these laws are in some precise mathematical sense or not.

[W]e have learned that the laws of nature, those regularities that we observe on a daily basis, that we trust will continue in order that we can live a life with some predictability, these laws are related to God’s faithful unfolding of his covenant promises, mediated through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

A law of nature is God’s sustaining of, or man’s description of, that pattern of regularity that we observe in nature as God works out His purposes towards His own ends in His covenant faithfulness, through His Son, the eternal Word, by means of His Spirit.

Again, write it down, graffiti it everywhere.

What appears as randomness to us need not be randomness to God. In other words, why think that something that looks random to us cannot be used by God in a more definitive manner?

The Scriptures clearly teach us that He works in the apparently chaotic behavior of the weather (Ps. 107:29; Nahum 1:3-4; Luke 8:24); so why not affirm that He is also at work in such apparent randomness as found in quantum theory?

What should Godly scientific laws look like, as we attempt to understand creation?

In short, the laws should reflect creation’s creatureliness, creation’s contingency, the perspectival nature of laws, the incompleteness and irreducibility of creation, and the importance of teleology.

Because God is bringing His creation to the ultimate purposes for which He has created it, and these purposes are higher than any aspect of creation itself, we should expect to see incompleteness in creation that is expressed in some way in the laws of nature.

However, because God’s purposes are higher than those that mechanistic laws can express, there is no reason at all to expect the attempts of mere humans to formulate laws of nature to arrive at the possibility of predicting the future completely. In keeping with this, if God is working throughout history and in all details to bring about His eternal purposes, there is every reason to expect that the laws that we formulate would in some way reflect this.

This is an answer to many people who believe in the autonomy of science/nature. If that is in fact true, and there is no God, and science/nature operates on a strict set of self-defined laws (how??) then the future is precisely predictable, provided we had an infinite amount of knowledge about the motion and position of every particle (impossible, according to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle), and enough mental/computing power to model such a system.

The point again is that there is more to the design of creation than is embodied in it, and the Creator continues to interact immanently in the universe, upholding the laws of nature as He sees fit.

Everything is more than the sum of its parts: this is something scientism consistently fails to reach, because it is not able to be empirically determined by any means. You can’t weigh a soul (tho’ oft we have tried).

For Christians then “science and Christianity” issues boil down to one question: What does loving God and neighbor entail in the natural sciences, or how are we to love God in all our being, all our knowing, and all our doing in the natural sciences?

Think for a moment about why the consideration of “where you are standing” and “what sort of person you are” sounds so strange in the context of modern science.

Ironically, the success of scientific investigation, birthed as it was in a Christian context, has led to the common perception that science provides its own grounding and further that science somehow undercuts Christian convictions. There are many in modern science as well as in modern culture at large who would claim to adhere to a comprehensive “scientific worldview.” This outlook, which claims to embrace only concepts and views that can pass scientific muster, has often been referred to as “scientism.” While most Christians will recognize and reject the obvious idolatry of such a scientific “religion,” more subtle expressions of the cultural science of our day may impact the way we all think about science and what we now seem to “see and hear” in terms of science. And many of these instincts of our cultural science are alluring to us because they were originally rooted in Christian convictions, but now as we argue have become unhelpful and even dangerous distortions of those Christian convictions.

Hence the title of this series.

Now, how did Christianity cause modern science? In other words, it is impossible for modern science to exist outside of a fundamentally Christian worldview. Chew on that for a second.

First, Christian convictions about the comprehensibility of nature gave much needed hope that the systematic study of nature would increase human understanding.

Second, as modern science developed, confidence in the precision of the Creator’s work led to the dominance of investigational modes in which understanding was sought primarily by examining smaller and smaller components of larger systems and phenomena.

Third, while the Christian de-deification or disenchantment of nature (Christian teaching opposing the idea that nature is haunted by fickle spirits of some kind) encouraged scientific endeavor, the success of science in providing comprehensive material-based explanations encourages a mind-set that assumes that creaturely being is only properly to be understood in material terms.

Fourth, the orderliness of the universe and thus the predictability of interactions among various components has led to assumptions in which mechanical process—tight systems of material and logical cause and effect—tend to dominate our conceptions of “being.”

Finally, we have come to assume that the ideal belief-forming “machinery,” in science at least, is a sensory/logical unit that keeps subjective (i.e., non-mechanistic) humanness out.

Created being has its existence and meaning only in relation to its Author and Sustainer and the story He intends to tell in and through it.

How then should we study?

Science is a gift given to humans in our times and is thus a means by which God’s holiness, power, and grace will be demonstrated. And for Christians, science can never be considered as an endeavor totally isolated from God’s church.

Christian engagement in science then must reflect in multifaceted ways the unified Christocentric focus of the one grand story of the universe as it unfolds through the work of the Spirit under the reign of the triune God.

The Christian doctrines of the Fall and of supernatural redemption are of central relevance for our ontological “who we are and where we’re standing” discussion. These two doctrines have also been especially scandalous to Modernist thinking. These doctrines directly attack Modernism’s conceptions of human individualism and human potential and its optimistic assessment of humanity’s ability to develop and complete its own grand self-help programs.

A more conventional expression of this relationally defined ontology comes from the central use of what is usually referred to as federal representation in the doctrines of redemption. Both Adam and Christ act as representative “heads” of the human race. All humans alike are under judgment “in Adam” as our federal head and upon Christian conversion, the perfect Christ becomes our federal representative before God; our sins are federally focused on him by relationship, and He dies for those sins in our place. We moderns find the federal motif challenging because we can’t find a material or mechanical explanation to connect those federally represented to their federal head, and so we too easily retreat into taking these teachings as somehow symbolic. But federal representation something like what we’ve described seems to be clearly taught in Scripture as central to the story. Taking these relational descriptions as symbolic doesn’t seem to work. The Scriptures teach that we actually participate in the Fall in Adam; we are “organically” related to Christ in salvation; we become spiritual children of Abraham and thus actually become the righteous children of the King.

Oops. Don’t use them bad words "Federal head" and "representative" and the implication that those teachings are more than just symbolic. Don’t wanna step on any close-minded toes.

The universe itself is shot through with evil and corruption—destined only for destruction if left to itself, with no hope of self-generated healing.

Total depravity.

One’s call to science is not just about “finding out stuff” about God’s creation. The call is to a science that has an integrally transforming character as aspects of creation are brought into explicit relation to the Christian scientist himself and thus are connected through him to the transformation of all things that has come and will come in Christ. What a glorious scientific task in the kingdom!

It is a flawed approach to merely assume that science is a hobby, as many well-meaning Christian scientists assume. "Well, I do research during the week, but I’m really finding my calling as a youth minister." Well, that’s a good thing to do on the side. But "science" is a job. It’s part of dominion.

Institutional church authority has been and continues to be a thorn in the flesh of the Modernist mind-set because the ultimate source of its authority transcends the human and the natural. But the fact remains that the Scripture gives the church the task of representing in institutional form the authority of Christ in the context of its institutional calling. While the authority is from God Himself, the exercise of that authority is in and through human agency. Individuals are called by God to offices of service in the church, and the service that some of these officers render is to be the means through which Christ’s authority can be expressed in concrete forms among His people. The responsibility of church officers to exercise this authority and the responsibility of members to submit is not without bounds; nor is the exercise of this authority isolated from sinful and creaturely limitations. The Scripture itself is the ultimate touchstone for judgments concerning sound doctrine and godly behavior.

Most modern American Christianity recoils in horror at the thought of any kind of ecclesiology. Too much modernism.

The work of Christians in science should be consciously seen as work done in the context of an explicit commitment to extend the church as organism into all areas of life. Neither the scientist nor the community of believers should see science as a vocation best carried out in isolation from the people of God.

The connection Christian scientists have to the church is not just in general organism terms but is also in institutional terms. This means that at various times scientific judgments might properly come under scrutiny in terms of the church’s institutional responsibility to exercise Christ’s authority in guarding sound doctrine. The idea that the church has real authority runs counter to Modernist perceptions of the church as ultimately a voluntary social and cultural institution with authority only in terms of the rules its members set up for themselves. In addition, in situations in which judgments related to science are made in a church context, it is particularly tempting for Christian scientists to take on the Modernist posture of the scientist as a courageous spokesperson for objective scientific truth over against the misconceptions and superstitions of outdated religious dogma.

The Church absolutely has a right to critique scientific dogma. Whether or not it proves to be sound is one thing…but if the Church somehow thinks she has no place in science, as is the case today in many parts of the world, then she has already lost the battle.

In science then there is no aspect of His world that cannot be related to Christ and thus no aspect that is excluded from the calling of those involved in the sciences.

History might better be seen as suspended from and being pulled into the Consummation rather than being driven from below by forces and events that mechanistically interact to generate the next event.

It’s like Marxism, only it doesn’t end with death and poverty.

By contrast in the terms of the Christian story, we should recognize that our science need not be bounded by naturalism. We are free to theorize in broader ways without the constraints of naturalistically understood closed systems. As discussed in chapter 6, we should not expect to find ultimate closure from within the created realm itself. We should not entirely be wedded to reductive analysis and should be more open to seeing non-reductive relations and interactions. Finally, we should strive to see our work as individuals as important and valid as we contribute our part of the story; yet we should find our ultimate human identity not in individualism, or in a scientific discipline, but as members of the community of Christ.

We suggest that the most basic question in scientific issues is not, “Does a particular knowledge claim qualify as scientific knowledge?” (and thus in Modern terms qualify as “real” knowledge). The most basic question should be, “Whom am I ultimately trying to please in my scientific knowing?”

True human knowledge gained about the world through careful scientific investigation is rooted in God’s revealing faithfulness as He enables faithful human responses to His revelation.

The main point here is that created reality exists apart from any human conception or lack of conception of it.

Take that, philosophy. Objective truth exists regardless of whether you’re right or not. Everyone has their own truth? No, I don’t think so. God doesn’t either. And it doesn’t matter if we like it or not, there is a right and a wrong, and you’re in one camp or the other.

What about the inerrancy of the Word, if given though fallible men?

The position we affirm, historically often referred to as “verbal plenary” inspiration, has often been misunderstood and misrepresented by friend and foe alike. Simply stated, this position holds that the individual words as well as the grammatical, textual, and literary contexts of the words in Scripture are the ones God intended them to be, and as such they tell the truth as God intends it to be told. The basic sense is that God has spoken in Scripture, and “He ain’t lyin’.” This is where the first characteristic of revelational forms comes in—the words of Scripture and their contexts (with the standard qualification “in the original manuscripts”) exist as objective revelation.

Thus it is proper that the non-scriptural forms of revelation be viewed through the “spectacles” of scriptural revelation as the Reformer John Calvin described it.

Cough Through New Eyes cough.

At the end of time it will be clearly seen that all things and historical events in the universe explicitly demonstrate the preeminence of Christ in one way or another. As a result no one will be able to deny the reality of His absolute rule.

I find this quite logical.

This familiar passage [Romans 1:1] teaches that though the revelation is clear, human responses to it differ.

Again, the same objective truth is often misinterpreted.

By the Fall, all aspects of human being were corrupted and perverted. The result is that human knowing is truncated, human knowing capacities don’t work as they should, and human knowledge is sought and utilized in rebellion against God.

This has often been used as an argument against the Calvinist influence on science, believing in the corruption of the human will as we do. Nice try, Rome. I’ll tackle that later.

And believing God is different from merely believing in God. We are told in James (2:19) that even the demons believe in God, but they ultimately don’t believe God, and believing God on a moment-by-moment basis is at the root of redeemed human doing.

For Christians, science is to have a distinctive element of doxology and of deliberate praise-giving, an awareness of the priestly duty to further uncover the wonder of His works and to consciously “wave” them in His presence as an offering of praise, to call attention to the Author of it all. He is personally watching, and He takes pleasure in what He is doing in and through us. Christian scientists are to be scientific priests, personally bringing pleasure and praise to the Maker of it all.

Worship is a holistic activity, requiring that we bring all we are and know to all we do mentally and physically on a moment-by-moment basis.

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