Science in Christian Perspective



Robert D. Knudsen, Th.M.

From: JASA 7 (June 1955): 18-20.

Of all the courses I have organized, I have had the greatest difficulty with Introduction to Philosophy, a difficulty occasioned not merely by the complexity of the subject and the impossibility of squeezing all the needed material into the confines of a three unit course, but also by the scarcity until recently of Christian textbooks in the field. Part of the dilemma of teaching this course is to balance 1) a first hand acquaintance with the original sources, 2) a systematic acquaintance with the various terms and positions, and 3) a vigorous Christian interpretation of the subject matter. I have found the varying demands so time-consuming that something has to give way somewhere.

Fortunately the situation has been eased by three recent publications: Clark, Gordon H., A Christian View of Men and Things (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), Spier, J. M., An Introduction to Christian Philosophy (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1954); and Young, Warren C., A Christian Approach to Philosophy (Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1954).

The method I have used in teaching is to give a firsthand acquaintance with the original sources. Instead of using a standard text presenting a single non-Christian position, I took selections from Bronstein, D. J., et. al,, Basic Problems of Philosophy (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1947), a book of readings arranged under various heads, e.g., Ethics, Politics and History, Science. Parenthetically, there are three other books of readings which deserve attention: Melden, I. A., Ethical Theories (New York: PrenticeHall, 1950) ; Wiener, P. P., Readings in the Philosophy of Science (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953; and Bronstein, D. J. and H. M. Schulweis, Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1954). While using Basic Problems of Philosophy I supplied a Christian interpretation on the side'. Though 1 differ somewhat in viewpoint, I gave the students additional Christian material by assigning Clark's text as collateral reading. I found that Clark and Bronstein could easily be synchronized.

Reading and discussing original sources stimulated student discussion and interest. I believe the interest was further aroused by the fact that it was easy to arrange the material, as Dr. Clark has done, in order from the most obvious and pressing to the least obvious and farthest removed. I found, however, that having the students read a number of sources made it difficult for them to synthesize. They had difffficulty seeing the woods for the trees.

Spier's An Introduction to Christian Philosophy sets forth in a popular way the new Christian philosophy being developed at the Free University of Amsterdam, Holland. This is the Philosophy of the Idea of Law, more recently dubbed the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea, at the suggestion of H. De Jongste of Rotterdam. I have found this new philosophy of great interest, and I have been stimulated by it tremendously. Mr. Spier's introduction to it has met with considerable success, as is seen from the fact that the translation is from the fourth edition. Its great lack as a textbook, however, is that it concentrates entirely on giving a popular survey of the new philosophy, without presenting a survey of various systems or first hand acquaintance with original sources.

The last book, that of Dr. Young, is one which has real promise for use as a text. I believe every Chris tian instructor in philosophy should get it and consider its adoption. It is generally patterned after the successful text by E. S. Brightman, An Introduction to Philosophy (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1952), which accounts both for some of its virtues and faults. Among its virtues are the same kind of short but concise surveys of philosophical systems which make Brightman's book a good text. I would like to have seen Dr. Young depart from Brightman more definitely, however. For example, he does not present a distinctively Christian epistemology, but he takes over bodily the ways of knowing as presented by Brightman, who seems to me to be syncretistic in this area.

One of the outstanding things about Dr. Young's book is that he is trying to reach for a distinctively Christian approach. Where he should be strongest he often shows weakness, falling back on positions by faith and not presenting a well-worked-out theoretical justification; but he takes into account the more recent Christian discussion, which is indicated by the fact that he is moving in the direction that thought and man's whole life are fundamentally religiously conditioned. I see this position behind statements such as this: "In other words man cannot get rid of theism, and the only theism with which he can ultimately rest is that of revelation itself" (Young, op. cit., pp. 211-212).

That this is his position is more clearly brought out when he objects to what he calls the coherence approach of Dr. E. J. Carnell and Dr. Gordon H. Clark. Both rest the argument for Christianity on the fact that it is the most coherent position. This method, Dr. Young says, commits the "coherence fallacy" (Ibid. 221, note 1). In discussing Carnell he goes so far as to say, "Christianity would appear as most incoherent to one who rejects special revelation" (Ibid.). He also states, 'Instead of saying . . . . 'Christianity is a coherent religion', he (Carnell) ought to have said, 'Christianity is a coherent religion for the Christian'." (Ibid). Here, it would seem, Dr. Young definitely takes the position that logic is not neutral, that reason cannot operate successfully apart f rom Christian revelation.

Does such a position plunge us into subjectivism? Dr. Young might suggest that when he says, "Who is to determine which view is consistent and which is self-contradictory? Sidney Hook? Edgar Sheffield Brightman? Or Gordon H. Clark?" (Ibid.). He is on better ground when he says, "The significance of specific data is always relative to some world-view" (Ibid.).

In his position Dr. Young approaches the philosophy of Dooyeweerd (Cf., J. A. S. A., VI, 2, pp. 8 ff.), Vollenhoven, and Spier in Holland and Van Til in America, all in one way or another adherents of the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea. He does not go as far as Van Til, however. He says, "If human experi ence by itself be the standard of all attainable truth, then one's choice of world-views is limited to some type of idealism or naturalism" (Ibid., p. 201). Van Til would go farther and say that if one rejects the Christian starting point, logically the possibility of philosophy, and of all thought, has lost is ground and is destroyed.

What are we to say about this problem of the relation of Christian faith and philosophy? It is evident that everyone admits that de facto thought is conditioned by religious attitudes. The believer in the autonomy of reason will see these influences as accidental, however, as able to be transcended by reason that is, if he has not succumbed to a modern skepticism. But certain Christian philosophers have been claiming recently that faith is essentially connected with reason and conditions it fundamentally. If such a position is taken, the autonomy of reason and of science is destroyed, one of humanistic philosophy's most cherished citadels has fallen.

I do not believe that Dr. Young has penetrated this question as deeply as some, at least in his Introduction: but he appears to question the autonomy of reason. He must know what he does, and how radically he is attacking! But the radical approach, it seems to me, is ultimately the only fruitful one.

After speaking so much of the need for Christian texts in philosophy, it might appear strange that I now say that the greatest need facing us is for a thorough discussion of the problems between, e.g., Clark and Carnell, on the one hand, and Dooyeweerd, Van Til, and shall we say Dr. W. C. Young, on the other. Our Christian philosophic thought does not present a united front. On the deepest level of discussion among evangelical philosophers the forces are clearly split. There is much need for deep study and for fruitful discussion.

In the meanwhile, even though Dr. Young has not given its a work where we can discern that the more ultimate problems are adequately thought out, I believe his text will help f ill a real need.

Rockmont College, Longmont, Colorado
May 7, 1955.