Science in Christian Perspective
From: JASA 16 (September 1964): 65-67
It is the purpose of this paper to focus on two areas of study, not just one, which we face continually in both the American Scientific Affiliation and in the Evangelical Theological Society. I do not expect to prove that either is without problems. In fact I would like to demonstrate that both societies must work together closely just because there are problems in both areas. We must be careful to endeavor to strike a balance. We must work cooperatively.
A paper delivered in Wilmore, Kentucky, at the joint meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation and the Evangelical Theological Society, on June 19, 1963.
Dr. C. Douglas Young is Director of American Institute of Holy Land Studies, Evanston, Illinois.
Charles Hodge once wrote: Theology is the analysis of our religious consciousness, together with the truths which that analysis evolves.
There are, however, two kinds of people who have religious consciousness: the non-Christian and the Christian. Christian theology is not the analysis of the religious consciousness of the non-Christian. It is not even the analysis of the religious consciousness of the non-Christian as he might modify it by the use of the Christian Scriptures. It is more than that for even the Moslem religious consciousness, for one example, has been modified by both our testaments-yet it is not Christian. The Christian consciousness has experienced a radical change, a change from non-Christian to Christian by a new life transmitted from Christ. Even after that total reorientation, the Christian consciousness is modified and determined further by the truths presented in the Scriptures.
Theology, Christian theology as a science, is the result of the analysis of this regenerated consciousness as modified by the Scriptures. It is the analysis of the facts of the Scriptures, of the facts of divine revelation, as they are experienced by the regenerated person. These facts relate to the nature of God, to sinful man, to redemption. Some of these facts, however, are revealed by the works of God. They are revealed in his handiwork - in the world and in the nature of his creatures including man. The analysis of these facts is called natural theology as distinct from the other.
That there is a natural theology is taught in Scripture. It has values. It teaches.The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line (sound) is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun. (They make no audible words but their voice has gone out to all the world.) Psalm 19:14
And saying, Sim, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful season, filling our hearts with food and gladness. Acts 14:15-17
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that
he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not In temples made
with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as
though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and
breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and
hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds
of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply
they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not
far from everyone of us: For in him we live, and move, and
have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said,
For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the
offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead
is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's
device. Acts 17:24-29
I Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Romans 1:19-21
It is important to recognize that it is not only God's being, his mere existence, that is revealed in natural theology - so are his eternal power and Godhead, at least. This is a trustworthy revelation, a trustworthy theology. But, it is incomplete. It is confirmatory, but it needs interpretation, and it may be inconclusive. It adds to the probability that our observations are true as revelation - and thus has value. I am thinking of such evidence as that of design in nature, or the argument from effect back to cause. These are the arguments usually called teleological and cosmological. Further, natural theology does illustrate Scripturally revealed truth.
Before the Fall, before sin entered the picture, Adam was able to think God's thoughts after Him. He was able to argue directly from nature to nature's God. He had the ability to name all the animals, for an example. This is only true when man can see the true relationship of all things in nature - and that includes man's relationship to God. When man had God's image in him marred by the Fall, his knowledge suffered. It could no longer be as fully true as before, or as it becomes after regeneration. Nor could man make the mental jump from nature to God's nature as triune, or to the way of redemption, or to the knowledge of God's saving destiny for man, etcetera. He needed a supernatural revelation. Man is blind at these points. His picture is blurred elsewhere.
Thus natural theology has a serious limitation at this point. It is uncertain. It has no sure validity. It tends to divorce "science" from religion or faith. It causes men to act as if there were between the regenerate and the unregenerate a completely "common conscious ness." It leads men to confuse God, the incomprehensible, with the universe, as if the universe were ultimate.Reason - natural theology - cannot be the ultimate source of knowledge. Man in his present condition as
A. A. Hodge once said that rationalism is strong only for attack and destruction. It has not produced a positive construction by which men can stand and live and die. Even regenerate man in his state of posse pecare (able to sin) cannot reach certainty or comprehensive knowledge by natural theology. Natural theology is good and scriptural, but it is limited as far as the knowledge of salvation, and many other pieces of information as well, are concerned. Natural theology is good and scriptural, but there is no way to double-check it, unless it be by the Scriptures, and the Scriptures are limited on scientific matters.
We could illustrate the manner in which natural theology might lead us to erroneous conclusions. Natural theology might lead us to the idea that man came into being as the result of evolution, for an example. Evolution seems to explain all. We see variation and we see progressive development through variation. Given enough time it could seem logical to believe that all life that exists might have come this way. Natural theolgoy might lead to such a conclusion. If it did, it would be wrong since supernatural revelation contradicts it at least in regards to man. In Genesis 2:7 God breathed into the nostrils of that which was formed of clay and it was or became nephesh chayah - alive, alive at that point but not before. This is contrary to the idea currently being espoused by some, that there were many thousands of years between the clay or dust stage and the time of the inbreathing of the soul. The dust-to-man sequence covers all the time from the first living thing coming from the inanimate to the culmination of the evolutionary process in man when God made the man-like brute into a man by in-breathing a living soul. This is consonant with the evolutionary principle, they say. Why should we assume, they ask therefore, that evolution, an item derived from observing variation in nature, and the Bible are in conflict? This item derived from "natural theology" looks sound, but it is not so when we compare it to the data of supernatural revelation.
The evidence for this is clear. In Genesis 1:20 God said "let the waters swarm with living (nephesh chayyah) swarms." The American Standard Version sub stitutes "that hath life" for "living." In 1:21 God created "great whales and every living creature (every nephesh chayyah, every soul of life) that moveth." In verses 24, 28 and 30 the words "living creatures," "life" are all nephesh chayyah. That is to say, before the creation of man there were many things that had life, nephesh chayyah. It was life that came to the clay in Genesis 2:7 when God created man. It was not that a brute became man at that point. The Bible and the deductions from natural theology, in this case, do not agree. The conclusion must be that while natural theology is good, it is limited.
The story is not a one-sided one, however. There are also limitations associated with supernatural revelation. Rather, this revelation has to be determined and interpreted, and that creates certain "limitations." Since human factors are involved at this level, there are problems. We must analyze the evidence to be sure that the sixty-six books of our Bible are the supernatural revelation of God, and all of it. We must study the variations in the manuscripts, versions and citations to be sure of the correct text at each place where a variant exists in the manuscripts, versions or citations. We face the problem of the translation of the Bible text from three languages into our own. All are aware that there are problems associated with rendering one language into another in exact, or even near-exact, equivalents. Added to these three, there is also the great problem of interpretation. Is this particular part prose or poetry?, Is it a figure of speech or to be taken literally? Is it a parable or an historical event?
Inasmuch, therefore, as the understanding of God's supernatural revelation is subject to these limiting variables, and inasmuch as natural theology also has its limitations, can we conclude more than that both have values and both have limitations? The plea is, therefore, since this presentation is to the members of both societies (ASA and ETS), let not the scientist insist on ideas diametrically opposed to any part of God's supernatural revelation (the Bible) and let him not insist that the Biblical interpreter must find a way to make a given Scriptural text conform to his "scientific" conclusion at any particular point. But also, let not the theologian esteem too lightly that which is derived by the scientists from nature, natural theology. Let him, at the same time, always be willing to rethink the Scriptural data and interpretation in the light of information coming from scientific sources at an ever increasing pace.
Finally, let us not spend our major energies on debate and controversy. Nor let this be a continual thing with us. Let us debate. Let us argue. But may our major effort be constructive, a motion forward, an effort to use for the Glory of God and the good of man the information we are accumulating in both fields, looking ahead of developing events to the Christian solution to the problems that will arise and to the way we shall prepare for them, either to use them or to meet them.