Science in Christian Perspective



The Idea of Christian Scientific Endeavor in
the Thought of Herman Dooyeweerd*


From: JASA 6 (June 1954): 8-12.

Just 27 years ago, in the year 1926, Dr. Dooyeweerd assumed his professorship at the Free University of Amsterdam. He had already had experience as a successful lawyer, and in seeking the theoretical foundations of his own f ield, he was driven to broader ontological and epistemological questions. The result was his effort to develop a distinctively Christian philosophy, which has come to be known as the Philosophy of the Idea of Law. This system is deep and thoroughgoing and it demands the attention of the Christian philosopher. It is of significance for the Christian working in the special sciences as well as to the Christian philosopher especially since it was conceived while Dooyeweerd was grappling with the problems of jurisprudence and since it has always sought fruitful contact with the special sciences,

Other thinkers are associated with this movement, men of no mean philosophical ability; however, I have chosen to limit myself to the philosophy of Dooyeweerd himself because of limitations of time and also because I believe his thought is especially significant for us in America as we try to develop a Christian approach to scientific endeavor. I shall then outline Dooyeweerd's position as it bears on the problem of Christian scientific thought.

In everyday life, Dooyeweerd says, we have a living contact with concrete reality in its manysidedness. The world with all its aspects is experienced in its wholeness and undividedness. The various sides of reality are not articulated. This attitude of naive experience is not a theory about reality, a naive realist theory of knowledge. We only develop theories when we assume the theoretical attitude. This attitude is quite different from that of naive experience. In it we create a distance between logical thought and one of the aspects of reality. In theoretical thought these aspects, which are unarticulated in everyday experience, are abstracted from the unity of cosmic time and are set over against each other as the fields of investigation for the special sciences, such as biology, physics, and psychology.

That there are various aspects of experience may become clear if we use an illustration. Let us suppose a fruitgrower has a shipment of apricots which he wishes to sell to a cannery. He meets with the cannery agent to talk business. This agent has $1000 in bills, which he will use to pay for the shipment. These bills

*Paper presented at the Eighth Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation, Winona Lake, Indiana, September
1-3, 1953.

are physical things, which have various symbols printed on them. Now the fact that the cannery agent has bills with the face value of $1000 does not determine the economic worth of these bills. He plans on paying this sum, while several years before the shipment might have been worth only $500. The apricots are of the same quality and quantity, but inflation and devaluation have decreased the buying power of the dollar. But we are not finished. The apricots themselves are not simply valued at an absolute figure. The cannery can take perhaps only a portion of the grower's apricots because its market is not large enough to handle all the fruit produced in this good season. If no market for the other apricots can be found they are economically worthless, and they will be allowed to rot on the trees and fall off. The location of the apricots is also of significance. If the orchard is far removed from the cannery and the consumer the apricots will be less valuable than those of a grower who is more conveniently located. Without going into a full analysis of the problem we see at least that econoinic value is something different from the face value of money and the apricots as physical objects. In order to see the real value one must look beyond the things that are the most obvious, the physical apricots and the dollar bills. When our seller and buyer have agreed on a price and have signed a legal document many factors have come into play. What we wish to note is that in this short sketch we have already distinguished a physical, an economical, a spatial, and a legal aspect of reality. Dooyeweerd now differentiates fifteen aspects of the Cosmos: the mathematical, the spatial, the physical, physical effect, the biological, the psychological, the logical, the historical, the linguistic, the social, the economic, the aesthetic, the legal, the moral, and the pistic. In every concrete act all these aspects are included in some way or other,1 though in naive experience they are not theoretically distinguished.

In theoretical thought these aspects are articulated, abstracted from the unity of cosmic time, and they become the fields of investigation for the special sciences. In the theoretical attitude, therefore, there is an abstraction from full, concrete reality. Theoretical thought is characterized by ". . . an antithetical relation in which the logical aspect of our thought is opposed to nonlogical aspects of reality."2 In this antithetic relation the non-logical aspect presents a problem, which offers

1. Dooyeweerd, Transcendental Problems of Philosophic Thought, p. 30. (Hereafter designated, TPPT.) 2. TPPT, p. 29.

resistance to solution. The non-logical aspect stands over against thought and offers resistance to it as its Gegenstand. In this relation the theoretical problems are first raised, which are met in the special sciences.

Philosophy is also theoretical in character. It is broader than the special sciences, however, and lies at their foundation. Dooyeweerd defines philosophy as theoretical, thought directed to the totality of weaning of our cosinos.3 While the special sciences limit their attention to the variable phenomena within par ticular aspects of reality philosophy investigates the nature of these aspects in their diversity and mutual relationships.4 This unity can be found only by refer ring to the origin of the cosmos. Dooyeweerd says that the cosmos is ineanbig. By this he intends to express the insufficiency of the cosmos with relation to its origin. No aspect of the cosmos is sufficient to itself. Each part points beyond itself and finally to the origin. There is an inner restlessness in all being, which
Augustine expressed in his famous sayin g, Thou hast made us for thyself and our soul is resless, until it finds
its rest in thee. Philosophy seeks on the theoretical plane this direction to the origin. It is thouglit out and to the origin. All philosophic thought is led by a transcendental idea of the origin, unity, and the relation of the aspects of the cosmos. This idea Dooyeweerd calls the Wetsidee (Idea of Law), the term from which his philosophy gets its name. 

Philosophy is not external to the special sciences. It is not bare speculation apart from sober investigation of the facts. It is not merely a summa of the results of the special sciences. In order to get a clear idea of any field of investigation it is necessary to see it in its relationship to the other sciences. This is not merely a luxury, but is necessary for successful scientific endeavor. A deep study of any special field must lead to philosophical questions.

At the core of Dooyeweerd's Christian philosophy i s his transcendental critique of thought. He uses the term "transcendental" in the sense Kant used it, to refer to the direction of thought which seeks the theoretical foundations of its own possibility. Dooyeweerd claims, however, that he has put the critique of thought on a broader and deeper basis than did Kant. Though he initiated a critique of thought Kant was dogmatic and uncritical in his starting point.5 The problem of Kant is that of all immanence philosophv, which seeks to proclaim the autonomy of theoretical thought as the starting point of philosophy. It does not allow 'chat thought be influenced by revelation. It sees no problem in the theoretical attitude itself, but seeks there the starting point which it assumes is the only guarantee for a truly undogmatic and critical way of thought.6 But

3. Dooyeweerd, De Wijsbegeerte der wetsidee, 1, 6.
4. Dooyeweerd, Inleiding encycloPaedie der rechtswetenschap, p. 13. (Hereafter designated, IERW.) 
5. TPPT, p. 20. 
6. IMW, p. 15.

Dooyeweerd sees an inner problem in the theoretic attitude itself. His critique is directed at theoretic though itself, seeking its presuppositions.

There is room for a true transcendental critique only when ". . . in a radical-critical attitude we can fix our theoretical thought itself on its necessary presupposita, . . . which are postulated by this structure."7 Presupposita differ from the subjective presuppositions, which are the subjective view of the presupposita, and which vary from system to system. The presupposita are the universal and necessary conditions of theoretical thought as such.

That there is a problem hidden in this theoretical attitude is seen, Dooyeweerd says, from the fact that it has been conceived of in different ways. For instance, in Greek metaphysics theoria was presented as the way to the true knowledge of Divinity in contrast to the popular pistis (faith) and doxa (opinion).8 In Thornist thought theoria was conceived as a natural base for the higher supernatural knowledge of revelation, and pistis was conceived as a gift superadded to the natural reason. To say that theoretical thought is autonomous is to fail to see its problematic character which makes it unsuited to be the starting point for a critique of thought.9

As we saw, Dooyeweerd claims that the theoretic attitude is characterized by an antithetic relation between the logical and particular non-logical aspects of reality. We also saw how the various aspects of reality are linked in the hierarchy of cosmic time, and that only in the theoretic attitude are they abstracted and become a Gegenstand. Now the central question in Dooyeweerd's investigation of thought is this: From what standpoint is it possible to apprehend in a synthetic view the various aspects of the cosmos which are articulated in the theoretic attitude?10 In answering this problem immanence philosophy is inescapably involved in an embarrassment. It takes theoretical thought as its unproblematic starting point; but by its very nature theoretical thought is bound to the non-logical aspects of reality. It must effect a theoretical synthesis; however, there are as many possible theoretical syntheses as there are aspects of reality. One can have a synthesis of a biological nature, a psycholoical nature, etc. Because it takes its starting point in theoretical thought immanence philosophy will be forced to elevate one aspect of the cosmos, a particular synthetic view, to the absolute arche of all the rest. Dooyeweerd sees this embarrassment as the true source of all the isms in philosophy, which war against each other and which seem irreconcilable by purely theoretical debate. In the Lebensphilosophie as it expresses itself in Bergson in the opposition of the living force (elan vital) and the petrification of conceptual thought

7. TPPT, p. 25
8. TPPT, P. 23. 
9. TPPT, p. 24. 
10. 7?PT, p. 36.

we. find an absolutization of the biological aspect. In Leibniz, with his application of the infinitesimal calculus to the realm of philosophy, we find an absolutization of the mathematical aspect. These isms are by no means limited to philosophy; they crop up also in the exact and empirical sciences. Among the rnathematicians we have the formation of opposing schools, according to whether the thinkers find the origin of mathematics in logical thought, sense perception, and intuition of time, or a complex of linguistic symbols arising from convention." One's position with respect to these problems determines one's appreciation of whole branches of mathematics.

The elevation of one of the aspects to the absolute arche involves an attempted reduction of the other aspects to it. This can take place with a show of success because the aspects are really related to each other. But just because of this interrelatedness the false absolutization of one evokes the protest of the others and thought is enmeshed in the theoretical antinomies. These are a study in themselves. We can mention, however, the famed antinomies of Zeno. Dooyeweerd says that these are the result of the attempt to reduce motion, which is the central meaning of the physical aspect, to space, and that thought of as a series of infinitely small mathematical points. It would be truly impossible for Zeno's arrow to move if the meaning of motion were to traverse an infinite number of spaces. However, motion has its own meaning, which is irreducible to space and number.

Synthesis of the logical with non-logical aspects of reality is possible because the aspects are not divorced

from each other but are related in cosmic time. But for the possibility of theoretical thought we need also a transcendental idea ". . . of the deeper root unity of the distinguished aspects, an idea which can be gained only when we choose our standpoint above their theoretical diversity."12 "The starting point, the Archimedean point, that first makes the theoretical synthesis possible, must lie per se above the theoretically articulated aspects." 13 Dooyeweerd says that this standpoint can be found only in relation to the self. Self

transcendental critique of thought. It is one of the presupposita, of theoretical thought. Kant also realized the necessity of this direction to the self, and through it he tried to find a standpoint above the isms of philosophy. However, he found this point in what he called the transcendental unity of apperception, the I think which accompanies every act of thought but which can never become the Gegenstand of any possible experience. But this self is not the concrete self which thinks, but is merely the subjective pole of the antithetic relation. If one takes his starting point in the logical there is no way of bridging

11. TPPT, p. 39.
12. TMW, p. 14.
13. IERW, P. 14.

the gap between the logical and the non-logical aspect.14 The starting point must be above both the logical and the non-logical aspect if one is not to be absolutized at the expense of the other, and the theoretical attitude is not to be annihilated.15

The self which transcends the poles of the antithetic relation is not the I think, but the concrete self which acts. Knowledge of this self is necessary for the transcendental critique. But self knowledge is never possible in a purely theoretic way.16 Self knowledge is necessary for theoretical thought, but it is not gained by theoretical thought itself. This is apparent in that self knowledge is always correlative to knowledge of God.17 By an inner law of its own nature, which Dooyeweerd calls the "religious concentration law", self knowledge seeks its divine origin.18 Theoretical thought is not apart from self knowledge, nor is self knowledge apart from a religious commitment as to the origin, the unity, and the relationship of the various aspects of reality. All philosophy is led by such a transcendental idea (Wetsidee) which though theoretical in character is religiously conditioned.

The starting point of philosophy can not be purely individual. Dooyeweerd finds that the superindividual starting point is the religious root-community of humankind, in which the individual has a part, but which is of superindividual character. The self is not isolated but exists within a community, which is ruled by a motive force which brings it into being and gives it its form. Dooyeweerd distinguishes four such communities and motives in our Western world: 1) the motive of form and matter which dominated Greek thought; 2) the Christian motive of creation, fall, and redempgrace, which found its high point in the thought of Thomas Aquinas; 4) the motive of nature and freedom, which rules modern humanistic thought. Behind all the logic and systematizing of the philosophers these fundamental motives are at work. Kant's distinction of the theoretical and practical reason, for instance, is not just the result of logical reasoning, but is the expression of the covert dualism in the religious motive ruling his thought, that of nature and freedom.18

Dooyeweerd finds all of these motives except the Christian one to be composed of two antagonistic motives which battle against each other. Modern humanistic thought is dominated by the motive of -nature and freedom. Nature is the sphere of- the externally conditioned. Freedom is man's self-determination. The ideal of science is to construe experience as a concatenation of causal relationships; but this leaves no room for the self-determination of free personality. In our country this problem comes to very clear exprestion; 3) the motive of nature and

14. IERW, pp. 14-15.
15. IERW, p. 14.
16. TPPT, p. 55.
17. TPPT, p. 53.
18. TPPT, p. 24.

expres sion in the though of Reinhold Niebuhr, especially in his earlier writings.19

Thus, according to Dooyeweerd, theoretical thought is not autonomous. It is carried and formed by the motive of one or the other religious community. It is only the Christian motive which can give an integral view of reality, because it has a starting point in which it is possible to account for the origin, diversity, and the relation of the various aspects of the cosmos.

The claim that theoretical thought is not neutral but is dependent upon a religious commitment is of immense significance. It would provide an integral, internal relation between faith and scientific endeavor. It opens the way for a Christian scientific activity. If theoretical thought is neutral with respect to the Christian faith ' then it is not possible to have Christian scientific endeavor. There is then but personal Christian faith and neutral scientific attitude. If an internal relation between the Christian faith and scientific endeavor exists it will be possible to have science also under the kingship of Christ.

But does not the idea that science is religiously conditioned open the door to a flood of subjective prejudices that would destroy the objectivity of scientific endeavor and erase the possibility of fruitful communication between opposing positions? That such might happen is undeniable. But Dooyeweerd says that such would be a misunderstanding of the true nature of his critique. He claims that thought, while obeying the most rigid canons of procedure, must come to the conclusion that it has necessarity religious commitments. The recognition of these presuppositions does not destroy the critical character of thought. That the critical investigation of thought is dependent on a supertheoretic starting point would injure its scientific character only if thereby a really scientific problem should be eliminated by an authoritative dictum.20 His critique shows, that thought which refuses to recognize its religious presuppositions and which holds to the independence of theoretical thought is dogmatic and uncritical in its starting point, Failure to see the religious root of thought has resulted in a fruitless battle of the various isms in philosophy, without the possibility of true communication between the opposing systems. Only when the source of the mutually destructive isms is uncovered is there again the possibility of fruitful contact between systems.

In stressing the antithesis between Christian and non-Christian also in the realm of theoria, Dooyeweerd follows in the footsteps of Abraham Kuyper. We should not interpret their views of the religious apriori subjectively, however, as if the Christian investigator were to come simply laden with subjective prejudices. Such would really destroy the scientific character of

19. See his, Does Civilization Need Religion?. pp. 6, 19, et passim.
20. TPPT, pp. vi-vii.

his effort. But to establish the fact that a true critical investigation of thought uncovers a religious apriori in all thought opens the way to establishing an organic relationship between faith and science. The way is then prepared for showing the fruitfulness of the Christian world view for science.

Seeing such an organic connection of faith and science will save the Christian from various pitfalls. It will free him, in the first place, from binding science to the proof of the Bible. The Christian is sincerely interested in the trustworthiness of the Scriptures, and he will be engaged in defending them from unbelieving attacks. He should not, however, confine the meaning of science to the support of Biblical passages. Whether or not it is their conscious intent, many orthodox Christians give the impression that this is all that science means to them. The Christian must establish the possibility of working at the sciences f rom a distinctively Christian point of view. He must in a positive way try to show the fruitfulness of the Christian world view for scientific effort. In the second place, it will save Christians from using scientific information just to find analogies to spiritual truth in nature. That there is some analogy between nature and the Christian life may be supposed from Christ's use of parables from nature. However, it is a mistake to assume that the "Christian" in Christian scientific endeavor is the discovery of some such analogies, perhaps vestigia trinitatis in the structure of the universe. In the third place, it will save the Christian from assuming that there is a neutral f actuality that can be grasped and understood alike by Christian and non-Christian. A neutral factuality is almost bound to push religion back into the corner of the subjective. On the other hand, to see an organic connection between faith and science will make the Christian faith fruitful in every aspect of life, subjecting all, to the kingship of Christ. The Christian can deepen himself in the sciences with the confidence that the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof.

Dooyeweerd does not see theoria as the sole way to truth and to true humanity, as did the Pythagoreans with their idea of the bios theoretzkos. He does not degrade naive experience into an impossible theory of reality. In naive experience we encounter reality as it is given. It is the theoretical attitude that is strange to reality, because it breaks the original unity of the cosmos and seeks to regain it again in a theoretical synthesis. There are many activities in a developed culture for which theoretical activity is necessary, however. Theoretical thought itself is a deepening of thought as used in everyday life, and it is an instrument in the development of culture. Though it is not the calling of all Christians, it is a necessary task for the Christian community. Some members of the Christian community, who have been endowed with the particular gifts for thought, should. engage in theoretical activity on a distinctively Christian foundation. This will be one form of obedience to the command to subdue the earth. As the secrets of God's universe are unlocked, and as its potentialities are developed, there will be a testimony to the honor and glory of Him by whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, in heaven and on earth.