Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 14 (September 1962): 90.

In present-day philosophy there is a renewed interest in man. This interest arises primarily from the conviction that the attitude of positivistic philosophy, which took the natural sciences as its model, did not do justice to the phenomena of man's life. For the positivist there was little or no place for the study of man apart from the special sciences, as anthropology, sociology, etc. The philosophical study of man was considered to be speculative and unfruitful. Recent thought has reintroduced what was largely eclipsed by the growing empirical sciences-philosophical anthropology. The Socratic dictum, "Know thyself!", is again very much at the forefront of interest.

The viewpoint has taken increasing hold that the positivistic orientation in the special sciences has missed in some fashion or other that which is specifically human and even that which is fundamental to the foundations of the sciences themselves. Thus there has been the attempt to supplement the genetic method, which searches for causes, with a descriptive method. In the field of psychology, for instance, the genetic method was thought to involve the reduction of psychology to physiology. In contrast, a descriptive, phenomenological approach has been developed, which is supposed to view the phenomena of, e.g., the psychological life of man without reducing them to something else. Others, for instance the existentialists, have gone further. They have taken the position that the special sciences, each from. its own standpoin% view man as an object.- The objective, scientific point of view is supposed to miss that which is "specifically" human. The existentialists say that man, as he is amenable to the study of the special sciences, is alienated from himself, or as others have put it in less technical language, "sick." One of the fundamental interests of existentialism (if not the most fundamental interest) is to overcome man's alienation from himself. In this endeavor they are in their own way carrying on the project of Hegel and Karl Marx. 

If there is to be a rebirth of philosophical anthropology, there must be a method which is able once again to open up the area of the "specifically" human. For the existentialist, Karl Jaspers, this method is the transcending method of philosophy in contrast to the objectivating methods of the special sciences. The transcending philosophical attitude is the way to, Existenz, true selfhood. For Martin Heidegger this method has been a hermeneutic of Dasein, the sphere of the typically human, that which has the ability to ask the question about itself.

Of interest is the way in which these methods have had influence within the area of the special sciences themselves. Karl Jaspers did his initial work in the field of psychotherapy, seeking to develop a method that would avoid reductionism. and would allow for the phenomena of man in their fullness. Others like Viktor E. Frankl apply an existential method similar to that of Jaspers. On the other hand, the psychopathologist, Ludwig Binswanger, follows a method like that of Martin Heidegger.

A full exposition and critique of the new attempts at philosophical anthropology 'from a Christian point of view is needed, and some progress has already been made in this direction. One of the foremost interests of Herman Dooyeweerd is to develop a philosophical anthropology along Christian lines. Donald F. Tweedie has recently published a book on the method of Frankl, Logotherapy and the Christian Faith. We content ourselves at this point, however, with mentioning a ew orientations of the newer philosophical anthropology, some of which are also shared by the newer Christian approaches.

There is a marked critique and rejection of the older dualism of mind and body, which is attributed to the objectifying methods of Rene Descartes and of those comprising the major stream of Western humanistic philosophy who have followed in his footsteps. There is a pronounced emphasis on the unity of man, conceived of in terms of the unity of his bodily functions.

There is also a stress on the self as act, with a consequent attack on the older idea that.the body and the soul are substances with relatively hard and fast qualities.. By some the human act is thought to have a structure, by others not. There is, however, a definite turn away from the idea that man is a being with a set of fixed qualities to a view that might be called "activistic."

There is also an emphasis on the finiteness of the human self. By finiteness we do not mean human finitude as it is expressed in the Scriptures but the idea that man is integrally bound up with his world and with its situations. Man's self does not hover above the world; in his freedom he is also bound.

Wes tminster Theological Seminary
Chestnut 'Hill, Philadelphia 18, Pa.