Science in Christian Perspective

Christian Theism and the Empirical Sciences*
Professor of Education, 
Calvin College,
Grand Rapids, Michigan

From: JASA 7 (June 1955): 3-7.

It is entirely clear to A. Cressey Morrison that "Man Does Not Stand Alone" in his little volume by this title. There is only "one chance in a billion" he concludes, "that we and all else are the result of chance." According to Morrison this marvelous universe could be a product of chance, but the facts overwhelmingly indicate that "it did not so occur,"

Many scientists would agree with Morrison that some supreme intelligence infinitely more comprehensive in grasp and power than human intelligence is back of this great universe of ours. Many would agree that the facts so overwhelmingly point to design or purpose in the adaptation of natural phenomena to life that this conclusion is inescapable.

While we are glad to note such recognition of a higher power, it is a far cry from the acknowledgement of the supernatural God of the Bible. Some sincere Christian students mistake this conclusion of certain scientists for a confirmation of a Christian view of God and the world. The Christian view of God is not logically found at the end of some propositions or at the conclusion of some empirical observations. Quite on the contrary the God of Christianity as the Creator is the unconditioned Conditioner of all things, including the very facts and conclusions of science. The Christian view of God and the world and its relation to the sciences cannot be contained in the concepts of the scientists.

It is our purpose in this paper to ascertain what place the sciences occupy in the Christian life and world view. Christian theism is the view of God and the world founded on the Scriptures as God's infallible revelation of Himself and His work to man. The empirical sciences are the sciences based on observational and measurable data. It is more exact to speak of the sciences than of science. The latter is an abstraction. We do not study science, but the various data classified as physics, geology, etc. Is there a meaningful relationship between the content of our faith as given in the Scriptures and the thinking based thereon, and the data, hypothesis, and conclusions of the sciences? A world-life view cannot escape the challenge of this problem.

This problem is not the equivalent of the old prob-

*Editor's Note: This was originally published as ASA Monograph One in 1947 and is now out of print. The Council's decision was to republish it as a Journal article. It Is presented here with minor revisions by the author.

lem of religion versus science. This, problem of religion versus science was predicated on the proposition that religion gives us one set of data and science another. It was held that a conflict between their respective conclusions refuted one or the other, generally religion. We must recognize that while religion is central in the Christian view of the world, it does not give us the data for the knowledge of that world. Likewise, while the data of the sciences are legitimate sources of knowledge, they cannot be considered determining factors in the structure of things without the true presuppositions of that structure.

To deal with our problem with some degree of adequacy we should try to answer three important questions :

1 . What constitutes the Christian life and world view?
2. What is the nature of the sciences philosophical ly speaking?
3. What place do the sciences occupy in the Chris tian life and world view?

Before we can enter into this discussion we should clarify our thinking by a bit of historical perspective.

In Hebrew thought the problem under consideration never arose. "The heavens declare the glory of God," and "I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are thy words," express Hebrew thought on cosmology, anthropology, etc. To the Hebrew race were committed the oracles of God that they might give to the world the Word of Truth. The natural world was to their thinking the great arena in which transpired the great work of God.

It was for the Greek mind- which had no other light than the natural light of human reason to explore the natural phenomena for hidden truths of the universe. Science was to them natural philosophy, the data of their observation sources for speculation concerning the intellectual and moral problems of mankind.

Early Christianity which followed in the tradition of Hebrew thought clarified and enriched by the work of God in Christ and through the Christian Church came into conflict with the cosmology and the ethics of the Greek mind. The supernaturalism of Christianity had no basic common ground with the naturalism and idealism of pagan thought. The issue became especially clear in the great work of Augustine.

The Scholastics sought in various ways to show the relationship of revealed knowledge to the natural light of reason as developed in natural philosophy. Throughout the scholastic period we find continually the attempt to bolster the Christian faith with the logic of natural philosophy, or where this failed to permit a dualism of faith and reason, or even to suppress natural knowledge. It was under these confused conditions that the empirical sciences arose during the scholastic period.

Beginning with the sixteenth century philosophy goes its own merry way independent of the authority of dogma and church. The sciences still largely under the parental roof of philosophy joined in the breach.

It was during the eighteenth and especially the nineteenth centuries that the empirical sciences set up house for themselves, followed their own data and devised their own methodology. The sciences became increasingly proud of their achievements in the natural sphere of operation.

They made bold to make pronouncements on philosophical and religious issues. Thus the sciences ushered in a scientism in which the sciences claimed for themselves the whole sphere of human knowledge, leaving to faith and reason the unproved and the nondemonstrable. Philosophy was left the little corner of speculation beyond verifiable knowledge. And faith, far from being considered a source of knowledge, became at best an asylum for ignorance.

What happened to Christian thought during these centuries? It was relegated to religion which was variously interpreted as a feeling of dependence or the expression of deeper spiritual urges unrealized * At any rate, it was considered to have no determining significance in the field of knowledge. Those who still held to the evangelical historical Christian faith either turned their backs on the sciences as a source of temptation to digression from the faith, or entertained the findings of the sciences dualistically with no attempt at integration. So today we find evangelical historical Christianity without a message for the culture of our time except that of evangelism.

Christian educational institutions in so far as they are still loyal to the historical interpretation of Christianity have almost without exception confined their distinctiveness to worship, Bible teaching, and evangelism. The academic fields of learning remain as secular as in any non-Christian institution of learning.1 Indeed, modern fundamentalism should have (I am afraid it does not have) a very uneasy conscience. They deny in the academic fields the very Christ they profess in the religious life. This amounts to nothing less than an intolerable and paralyzing dualism.

From this brief historical survey the challenge of

1 There are a few notable exceptions to this generalization. It should be added that I know of a few Christian colleges which are making a real attempt to integrate their educational pro graan in terms of a world-life view founded on the Scriptures.

our problem should be evident. We must see the field of the empirical sciences, as we should the entire field of culture 2 in the light of the whole Christian truth. To this discussion, then, we turn at this point.

Christianity is first of all a religion. That is, it involves the personal relationship of the creature to his Creator. As lost sinners, saved by grace, we are restored to fellowship with God. All things have become new. In the presence of God our entire life's perspective has changed. We are living from a new principle, not merely in our moral and religious life, but in our intellectual life. Accepting Christ by faith did not require that we set aside our thinking, but our thought life has been reoriented. From the structure of thought of our own making, we have entered into the structure of thought of the Creator, who only is the source of true knowledge.

It becomes evident then that Christianity is more than a religion. As religion, Christianity gives us the very structure or framework of thought. As a system of thought, it comprises the Christian view of God, man and the world. These three concepts, God, man, and the world, have constituted the subject of philosophy throughout the ages. Historically philosophies can be classified according to which of these three concepts they made primary in their systems. If God is primary, we are dealing with some kind of theism. If man is primary, with some kind of humanism. And if the world is made primary, we are dealing with some form of naturalism or realism. Christianity recognizes the God of the Scriptures as primary, and is therefore known as Christian theism.

What is the basis for a Christian life and world view, a Christian view of God and the world, of Christian theism ?

The primary basis for the Christian life and world view is the fact of God. He is the supreme fact, the one unconditioned fact that conditions every other fact. In the beginning God. This "in the beginning" has not only chronological significance, but logical importance. Facts have no being without God, nor can they continue as facts apart f rom God. He is the presupposition of all things. The fact of God must be taken into account to give adequate, yes, true interpretation of other facts.

The Scripture clearly teach this primary position of God. "In the beginning God . . . "; "I am that I am"; "I am the beginning and the end." These and similar statements in the Scriptures point out what God says concerning Himself in relation to other beings. He is the Being of all being. From the Scriptures it is also clear that He is the Upholder, Sustainer, and Provider of all being. He makes final disposition of all things according to His eternal counsel. All

2 See 0. N.. Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, a940.

things operate within the sphere of His eternal counsel and decree.

On the ground of Scripture we speak, therefore, of God as the Absolute, Personal God, the wholly selfsufficient, unconditioned Being who is personal in character.

This supreme fact of God is the presupposition of all other facts. It gives structural significance to all facts, for all things are of Him. He only is originally, and all things are of Him, therefore, derived. Facts have their true interpretation only when viewed in relation to the all-conditioning fact, God.

From the supreme fact of God follows the great fact of creation. It pleased God in His infinite wisdom to call forth out of nothing and according to His own eternal decree a universe which is to realize His purpose. The fact of creation is clear from the Scriptures, and "its (the Scripture's) account of creation has not been changed by the knowledge acquired since it has been written". 3 The world and all things in it are creature of the Absolute, Personal God. Man will understand himself and the world only when he views all things in the light of their creaturely relationship to God.

Creation is not hypothesis of the sciences, nor a conclusion of scientific research. It constitutes a basic principle of interpretation as a structure of thought given us by divine revelation. In creation the thought of the Creator is expressed as a revelation of Himself. The non-Christian scientist in his research would deal with facts as brute, uninterpreted facts. What he is really doing is using facts as raw materials for his own structure of thought. He presupposes that human experience can furnish the structure of thought for correct interpretation of the facts of experience. But, according to Scripture, his presupposition is seriously in error. The structure of thought in the universe and the structure of thought in the human mind find their correspondence in the Logos of God. In the principle of creation the supreme fact of God in His creative word is evident. In the principle of creation we enter into the structure of thought in the Creator, who only is capable of interpreting truly the facts of created being.

In creation the Self-revealing God makes Himself known to minds of His own creation. In his original perfect fellowship with God, man knew God perfectly as a created finite intelligent being who can know God from the Creator's handiwork and from his communion with God. In the fullness of His Being God was even then incomprehensible to man. When sin broke off this original relationship of man with God and God's creation, the God of grace stepped into the breach and revealed Himself in a special manner of which the written word infallibly recorded for us is the culmination in this New Testament day. The

3 A. Creasey Morrison, Man does Not Stand Alone, p. 101.

through the word.

To the natural man of sin the world of human experience is so much raw material which he orders into his own thinking process. His vision is closed to the revelation of God. Hence, the Christian student of science can never share with the unregenerate the common ground of supposed brute fact. He cannot join in the slogan, "let facts lead where they will." In truth facts do no such thing to any mind. The thought structure of the unregenerate mind directs the facts in the case of non-Christian thinking.

The Christian student of science frankly, without apology, and legitimately take the position of a Godinterpreted reality in revelation. He takes this position over against the non-Christian scientist who presupposes the autonomy of the human mind in experience.

Another important consideration that enters into the discussion of the Christian life and world view is the nature of faith. For our purpose faith may be defined as the mind resting in the sufficiency of the evidence. We believe this or that to be true when we consider the evidence adequate, though not all the evidence is at hand. The Christian faith is the mind's response to the evidence of the gospel, a response wrought in the unregenerate heart by the Holy Spirit, in regeneration and conversion. The great truths of God's recorded Word extend and enlarge the evidence for saving faith. The supreme fact of God, the creation of God as recorded for us, and the revelation of God to us and in us are fundamental in the evidence of the faith implanted within us.

So considered, faith is not the asylum of ignorance to which are assigned the things we believe but do not understand. Nor is faith the sphere of religion, and reason or understanding the sphere of knowledge. Neither is faith based on reason in the sense that we believe a thing true or false because we understand it. The Christian faith is the source of knowledge which is basic to the true understanding of 'all things experienced.

The Christian life and world view is the framework of thought, the thought structure based on the supreme fact of God as Creator who reveals himself to man. It is in this framework that the Christian views the facts of created being. To lose sight of this orientation to thought is to lose the only source of true interpretation of experience.

Nature of the Sciences

When we speak of science or the sciences today, we generally refer to that restricted field of knowledge which deals with the objective, measurable, demonstrable, data of our experience. Sometimes referred to as the exact sciences, they can demonstrate objectively and measurably the nature and operation of their data. The observation of given data can be repeated by the same person or other persons at various times and at various places for continued verification and for extension and improvement of hypothesis.

Objectivity, verifiability, and measurability, and in some sciences experimental control make the sciences distinct from the humanities and the arts. The latter do not furnish data for continued verification and measurement.

When we speak of empirical sciences we restrict the field still further and refer very specifically to data that are sensible, that are subject to and dependent upon the sensory processes in our experience. The data of the empirical sciences are manipulated as external to and independent of our mental action. They are reported and recorded as observed. These characteristics give the sciences their objective and universal verifiability. No personal reference or rational proposition may enter into the objectivity of their data. They must be reported and recorded for what they appear to be.

There can be objection to this objectivity and verifiability from any source. The laboratory scientist is true to his profession and loyal to the truth only when he reports what he observes under the circumstances indicated. No philosopher, no theologian, no artist, no moralist may tell him what he may or may not observe or report. In this sphere the sciences determine their own data, their own methodology, and their course of research. Dogmatism has no right to encroach upon the search for truth in the sciences.

When the sciences claim for their data and for their methodology inclusiveness, science becomes scientism. It is then that the non-Christian's autonomous position begins to count, for then the scientist begins to claim for his results more than the data and the circumstances permit. The scientist brings to his data a structure of thought which implicitly or explicitly gives to his data a relevancy not contained in the data themselves. He works upon presuppositions which have determinative significance for his conclusions. When the scientist is not aware of these presuppositions, the outcome of his research may carry him far beyond the conclusions justified by his study. Frequently he will become involved in gros error having misconstrued his findings. Very pertinent data are omitted because they are excluded by presumption. When the primary fact of the Self-revealing, Absolute, Personal God is ruled out as a d-terminative factor in the interpretation of data and the operation of these data, erroneous conclusions are inescapable.

To avoid the fallacy of scientism the empirical sciences should recognize several limitations in their field of research. First of all the empirical scientist is dealing with sensory data which, though being independent of mind, manifest characteristics dependent upon mind. Furthermore sensory data are not permanently segregated from non-sensory data, though for purposes of analysis such separation may temporarily be made. Likewise, if he fails to recognize his creaturely relation to His Creator he will substitute for that conscious relationship an autonomy which will condition his interpretation accordingly.

Empirical sciences must recognize that there are other sources of legitimate knowledge than the sensory processes and their manipulation through perceptions in thought. Other forms of knowledge are not merely speculation, but frequently as much the fruit of research and inquiry, as legitimate and frequently more fundamental than the knowledge gained in the laboratory.

Neither can the empirical scientist appeal to the scientific method in its spirit and attitude as the key to all search for truth. The agony of suspended judgment which is the spirit and attitude of the scientific method has its place in human inquiry. Premature judgment is the source of many woes, intellectually as well as in action. But this agony may arise from the scientist's failure to give an account of his own thinking to himself. This seems often to be the case rather than the absence of adequate evidence.

The empirical sciences are very reluctant to give up their recently conquered territory to the philosophical disciplines, but many students of the sciences are once again beginning to realize that the sciences belong to the whole family of human knowledge and that they by no means occupy the commanding positions recently claimed for themselves. Few, very few, recognize that the sciences of our day operate in complete ignorance of, and in entire indifference to, their only source of true understanding.

What Place Do the Emperical Sciences Occupy in the Christian 1ife and World View?

From our discussion so far I trust it has become clear that as Christians we are implicitly, if not explicitly (the latter should be true of all of us) committed to a distinctive view of man and the world because we are born of God. Our Christian faith implies a view of man and the world centered in the supreme fact of God.

The empirical sciences do not escape the revolutionary effect of this change that has been wrought in the Christian student of science. He views all data of hi3 observation revelationally. This means that the preinterpretation of God is primary and the only avenue to true interpretation.

Let me state, then, the place of the empirical sciences in the Christian life and world view in terms of certain definite propositions. These statements make no claim to be exhaustive of course' but they represent an attempt to integrate our thinking in the field of knowledge.

As a creature of God, the Christian student of science recognizes the following basic truths with reference to his field of study:

1. The object of scientific exploration is the handiwork of God in which His thought is manifest and disclosed.

2. The world has being independent of our knowing, but not independent of God's knowing. God's knowing is the conditioning factor of all being and the true interpretation thereof.

3. Man was charged originally with dominion over God's creation. This charge has not been relinquished and remains man's responsibility and his opportunity. This charge should be the scientist's motivating factor in research.

4. Man's dominion is to be subordinate to God and in harmony with His purpose for the world.

5. Scientific truth is part of the great unity of truth, the many and the one. There can be no conflict among the various manifestations of the great unity of truth.

How Does the Christian Student of Research Operate?

1. He recognizes that all fact is conditioned by the supreme fact which is God. The interpretation of facts is determined by Who God is and what God says about man and the world.

2. He recognizes the validity of the scientific method in the gathering and classification of data, in the formulation of hypotheses, and in the verification of hypotheses. He uses this method, however, acknowledging not only its limitations as a restricted field of search, but employing it rightly oriented in the presupposition of Christian thought.

3. All hypotheses and theories he formulates in full consciousness of the unity of all truth, the center of which is the Word, the Logos of God. 

4. He recognizes the deductive nature of truth, though he employs the inductive to extend his under standing and the application of ordained truth.


1. As students of science we are first of all Christians by faith, according to the Grace of God.

2. This faith in the God of the Scriptures, in His revealed Word, and in His redemptive work implies the very presuppositions for all our thinking.

3. The empirical data of the sciences are given their true structure when integrated in the unity of Christian thought based on revelational presuppositions.

4. It is the responsibility of the Christian student of science to extend man's dominion in the objective realm of nature under God.

5. In this relationship the empirical sciences acquire apologetic value for the Christian faith and strengthen the proclamation of the gospel.