Science in Christian Perspective



Robert D. Knudsen, S.T.M.

From JASA 9 (June 1957): 19-20.

The so-called "crisis of science" has been the occasion for a considerable share of contemporary philosophical and theological reflection. Our purpose is not to give our own interpretation of this crisis but only to mention a recent publication or two that bears on it. However, the terms in which this "crisis" is described are familiar to us. There is the complaint that our moral knowledge has not kept up with the advances in scientific knowledge of facts and with technical progress; there is the complaint that the empirical data have become so extensive that science has become lost in them and is in desperate need of a synthesis; there is the complaint that where science has sought a synthesis it has become enmeshed in one or another "ism," e.g., psychologism; there is the complaint that science transgresses its proper bounds in seeking a unified view and that it should be critically limited to particular investigations, while all total views (world-and-life-views) are limited to a superscientific perspective, perhaps called "philosophical" (Jaspers) or "mythical" (Berdyaev) ; there is the complaint that in transgressing its limits science has become "scientism", and that it has thus plunged us into a crisis of human freedom and personality.

Where diagnoses are partially or completely different there will be also different cures. So we have the attempt in the Encyclopedia of Unified Science to bring together the loose ends of empirical facts into a synthesis. On the other hand, we hear Jaspers say that such an attempt is not in the interests of true science and is destructive of philosophy.

I hope in the following column to enter into more detail concerning the position of Jaspers. In this issue, however, I shall limit myself to mentioning a publication or two that deals with this "crisis of science."

I have had occasion before to mention several of the volumes of the collected works of Edmund Husserl, being published by Martinus Nijhoff, the Hague. A notable recent addition is the publication of Husserl's last major work, which deals with the crisis of European science: Die Krisis der europaischen Wissenschaften und die transcendentale Phanomenologie, eine Einlettung in die phanomenologische Philosophic. Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1954. This is the sixth volume of the Husserliana. Volume VIT has also appeared, under the title, Erste Philosophic, vol. 1. There is a review and discussion of volume VI by Aron Gurvitsch of Brandeis University in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, XVI (Mar., 1956), 380-399.

When he speaks of the crisis of science, Husserl does not refer to the technical validity of science. The crisis is that the sciences have become mere techniques. That has come about because Western man has lost sight of the idea which made him what he is and out of which the drive for Western science arose. Husserl wants to recapture this idea by means of his phenomenological philosophy and thus restore to man the idea of the meaning of his historical existence. Only then, thinks Husserl in rationalistic fashion, can he lead an authentic existence as a rational being, ordering freely and reasonably his relation to his environment and to his fellow man.

A very recent publication is the third volume of Herman Dooyeweerd's A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1957. Volumes I and IT appeared in 1953 and 1955 respectively. The third volume rounds out the trilogy, which is a revised and enlarged edition in translation of the first (Dutch) edition, which appeared some 20 years ago with the title, De wijsbegeerte der wetsidee(The Philosophy of the Idea of Law). An index to the present work is to appear as a fourth volume, but as far as I know it will not contain any text.

Dooyeweerd tries to approach the problem of the crisis of science from a Christian point of view. Any attempt to gain a total view of things while holding to the dogma of the autonomy of reason is bound to degenerate into one or another "ism." "Immanence philosophy" lands in psychologism, historicism, loyicism, etc. Science can be freed from these "isms" only in terms of a truly transcendent starting point, which is obtainable only in the light of God's revelation in Holy Scripture.

The third volume of the New Critique contains much interesting and significant material. One who is familiar with the Dutch edition will find that there has been considerable revision and expansion, some of the new material being drawn from Dooyeweerd's latest researches. The volume contains many insights that would interest not only the Christian philosopher but also the Christian physicist, biologist, political scientist, and especially the sociologist. The American Chris tian sociologist should not proceed further without taking note of Dooyeweerd's position, which is a re finement and elaboration of the theory of sphere sovereignty developed first by the Dutch statesman and theologian, Abraham Kuyper. Now that Dooye weerd's sociological views have appeared in the Eng lish language, there will be little excuse for ignoring them.

Schiedam, Holland

April 18, 1957