Science in Christian Perspective



Richard H. Bube, editor

From: JASA 23 (March 1971): 1-4.

The journal Torch and Trumpet, Vol. 20, No. 10, October 1970, page 18, carries the final installment of a reprint by the above title from The Banner of Truth. The author is Gordon J. Kedclie. The conclusion of this article sums up the author's criticism of what he terms "neo-evangelicals."

"It is the contention of this paper that the neo-evangelical "trend" is a down-grade movement from truly evangelical Christianity. We shall briefly summarize the characteristic views of this group and comment thereupon by way of conclusion."

Included in the company of "neo-evangelicals" are F.H.T. Rhodes, R.H. Bube, and M.A. Jeeves, as well as Bernard Ramm, N.H. Ridderbos, Jan Lever, Carl F.H. Henry, and J. van de Fliert. What the author calls "the characteristic views of this group" form such an important area, that this response is given in the hope that we may come to grips with the basic issues and cease to be shunted into blind alleys.

In what follows, the quoted items in the summary of Gordon Keddie are printed in italics. Comments on each point follow; I can speak only for myself.

1. Scripture, while held to be divinely inspired and infallible, is nevertheless handled in such a way as to subordinate it to modern science where the Bible speaks on topics common to theology and natural science (e.g., creation, miracles).

The Scriptures are not subordinated to modern science when the Bible speaks on topics common to theology and natural science, e.g., such topics as creation, miracles, the resurrection etc. Only the Scriptures have the authority to speak about the reality of the creation, the miracles and the resurrection. These questions cannot be touched by modern science, much less settled.

We may know that God created, for example, only through the revelation of the Scriptures. We may know that we are not the chance results of a "collocation of atoms," to quote Bertrand Russell, only by the authority of the Word of God. We may know that the entire universe depends for its very existence moment-by-moment upon the sovereign power and will of Cod only because He has spoken in the Scriptures. Divine Creation is always revealed, never discovered. Of the fact of creation there can be no debate.

What the Scriptures do not necessarily tell us, however, is the mode of creation. Scientific mechanisms were generally not within the purpose of Scriptural writers who aimed to present a revelation in terms understandable by all men in all times. It may well be that they did present the mode or mechanisms by which God worked. It may also well be that they had no intention of presenting such a mechanism, and in fact did not present such a mechanism. How are we to decide? It is at this point that we can admit the investigation of God's natural revelation in His creation (Romans 1:20) to act as a guide in our interpretation of the content of the Biblical revelation as to mechanism.

(a) The Bible is assumed, a priori, not to reveal "scientific" information, that not being the purpose of special revelation.

This is not an a priori claim. It is arrived at, when it is, only by the guidance of the interpretation of God's natural revelation as this bears on our interpretation of God's special revelation.
That we may not expect the Biblical writers to be concerned with the revelation of specific mechanisms of God's activity (electromagnetic fields, DNA code, nuclear forces etc.) is a consistent reaction to the Bible's own commentary on its purpose. The Bible tells us that it was written to reveal the redemption of God in Jesus Christ (John 20:31), to comfort and strengthen the faith of God's people through the witness of men who had known and experienced God's life (Luke 1:3,4), and to present a guide for Christian living (II Timothy 3:16).
An analogy may be helpful at this point. In a way the situation to which some portions of the Biblical revelation address themselves, particularly the early chapters of Genesis, is like that of a mother attempting to explain the "facts of life" to her 5-year old daughter. To her she speaks of growth, love between man and woman, and the beginning of a new life that flows from that love. She does not give the technical details of sexual activity. When the child is older she will learn these things too. Her total understanding of the role of sex will depend on her appropriation of both these kinds of information, that dealing with interpersonal relationships of love as well as that dealing with technical details of reproduction and sex fulfillment. The mother has spoken truly to her 5-year-old daughter. She has told her what she needs to know, things that will always be the most important part of her knowledge in this area. So in his infinite wisdom, God has revealed to us the most important things-things that we could never really find out for ourselves. The details of mechanisms we will learn in His providence as we grow and understand more of such things.

(b) General disregard for strict exegesis of the Scripture is evident. This also holds for the practice of comparing Scripture with Scripture before arriving at any interpretation.

Exegesis is guided by hermeneutics. Presumably it is the purpose of the Biblical exegete to derive the content of the Biblical revelation, to set forth the revelation which God gives to us. He cannot do this without an understanding of the proper hermeneutics. These cannot be chosen arbitrarily, but must be consistent with the nature of the Biblical revelation. Before we talk of "strict exegesis," therefore, we should talk of "Scriptural hermeneutics." We cannot understand what it is that the Word of God says to us if we impose some arbitrary system of hermeneutics in our exegesis.
There remain Biblical areas where the appropriate hermeneutics need further work. Since God's truth is one, any guidance that can come to the formulation of these hermeneutics by an understanding of God's natural revelation in creation, must be welcomed and not rejected.

(c) There is increasing use of the inductive method of studying Scripture-a methodology inconsistent with the Biblical doctrine of inspiration.
If the Scriptures are indeed divinely inspired and therefore authoritative and trustworthy in conveying the revelation they were written to present, as we believe them to be, then any Spiritguided method of approaching Scripture, whether inductive or deductive, can lead us only to God's truth in terms of the proper hermeneutical principles to apply.

2. Science, in its widest sense, is regarded as complementary to the Bible in contributing to a view of reality. The two are independent but interdependent. Thus science is autonomous and speaks for the realm of nature as the Bible does for that of faith.

This statement expounds a commonly held confusion of categories. Science is not regarded as complementary to the Bible. The created natural world is regarded as complementary to the revealed word of the Bible. Science is a human interpretation of data derived from sense contacts with that created natural world. Its complementary category in Christian faith is not the Bible (which corresponds to the created worldthe data) but rather theology, which is the interpretation by men of the revealed word of the Bible in the light of the Bible and their experience. God made the world, and God gave the Bible. Men make science and men make theology.
Men make mistakes in interpreting the natural world where their scientific hermeneutics are faulty. Men make mistakes in interpreting the Bible when their theological hermeneutics are faulty. The theology of men can no more be accepted as superior to the created world, than the science of men can be accepted as superior to the Word of God.
Any attempt to juxtapose science vs. the Bible, to plead that men accept the Bible rather than science, is a result of a misunderstanding of the categories involved. The revelation of creation and the fossil record must confront each other; the theory of fiat creation and the theory of organic evolution must each be justified. There is no more possibility, or perhaps I should say there is just as much possibility of "accepting the Bible" as there is of "accepting the natural world." Both can be accepted in that we accept their trustworthiness. What we then apply to ourselves on the basis of this trustworthiness depends on the results of our hermeneutics and our exegesis.

(a) Modern science is regarded as the study of natural revelation and its best authenticated results (according to its own standards of course!) are considered to represent a valid picture of that revelation.
This statement in itself is not a condemnation. Its counterpart would be that modern theology (orthodox fundamental Protestant, if you will) is regarded as the study of the special revelation and its best authenticated results (according to its own standards of course!) are considered to represent a valid picture of that revelation. I do not consider this latter statement offensive, and so I do not consider the statement of Gordon Keddie offensive either.
On the other hand, modern science is not regarded as presenting a "valid picture" of the natural revelation, if by "valid picture" is meant any more than a relative pragmatic approach to the nature of physical reality. The Christian man of science regards his scientific understanding as a helpful guide, not as a source of ultimate truth. As his science is more and more faithful to the created structure of the physical universe, he believes that his scientific picture is more and more like that of the reality of that created universe. Also, although his scientific picture may not be able to describe completely what physical reality is like, it may well be able to give a definite indication as to what it is not like.

(b) Any conflict between "traditional Biblical interpretation" and modern scientific discoveries must result in a re-examination of the former with a view to reinterpretation.
I would agree that when traditional Biblical interpretations come into conflict with any type of experience, whether scientific or personal, it is good to re-examine them. I demand the same of traditional scientific interpretations. Not to be willing to re-think interpretations is to forsake the pursuit of truth. Because interpretations may be faulty never implies that the ground of revelation is faulty. Because a scientific interpretation of the physical world is in error casts no doubt on the trustworthiness of the revelation contained in that created physical world. Because a theological interpretation of the Bible is in error casts no doubt on the trustworthiness of the revelation contained in the Bible.

(c) No distinction is recognized in principle between the science practiced by Christians (true science) and that of unbelievers (apostate science). There is no consistently Christian philosophy of science.

There is a consistent Christian philosophy of science. The Christian believes in the structure of reality, a created structure given by God Himself. Truth is that which is in conformity with this structure of reality. Thus it is possible for an unbeliever to know partial truth, but never total truth.

The Christian philosophy of science is this: Christian science is good science. And good science is science that is faithful to the structure of reality. Science that is honest, open, seeking to capture and to reflect the structure of the world that is really there-that is good science, and that is Christian science. The unbeliever is successful in science, successful in apprehending partial truths of the universe, when and only when he appropriates for himself the Christian approach to the world without recognizing that he is doing it, and without acknowledging the ground of reality that makes it possible for him to do it successfully. Thus the success of the nonChristian in science can be attributed to his use of Christian principles of scientific investigation, principles which seek above all else to be faithful to the created structure of the world.

It is becoming for the followers of Christ to be informed and perceptive as well as militant. We spend so much time and effort in battles that need not be fought that we do not have the strength left to engage where we are desperately needed. If we recognize that we have trustworthy revelation from Cod both in the natural world and in the Bible, can we not then cease from pursuing these false dichotomies: science or Scripture, evolution or creation, natural or Godcaused, chance or providence?