Science in Christian Perspective


The Historical Development of 
Christian Scientific Presuppositions

Department of History
University of Guelph Guelph, Ontario, Canada

From: JASA 27 (June 1975): 69-75.

Scientific presuppositions do not usually form an important part of the thought of the average student dealing with science today. He is interested in "the facts" or in the hypotheses of scientists, but when one begins to talk to him of the presuppositions of his scientific work, he usually replies either that he has none, or that they are irrelevant to his work. This point of view appears very frequently in a course on the subject of science, for the students feel that the religious and philosophical presuppositions of the scientist hold no interest or importance for them. As one student wrote when asked to evaluate such a course: "Why do we have to have all the philosophical bunk? This is supposed to be a course in the history of science, not in philosophy." Even Christians frequently have the same outlook on the scientific endeavor, but they also have their presuppositions that very definitely influence their work. In this paper, therefore, I seek to show the historical development since 1500 of these Christian presuppositions.

Two Levels of Christian Presuppositions

In thinking of the question of the Christian presuppositions to scientific understanding we must always keep in mind that the Christian has two levels of interpretation. He does not merely look at or examine the phenomena. He must of course do this, but as in the case of any other scientist, that is not enough. He has to look beyond his own particular situation, and even beyond the scientific system in which he is working. In fact, and in this he is no different from any other scientist, he assumes a position which is in accord with his religious beliefs. Whether he likes it or not, whether he is conscious of it or not, his Christian faith is at the basis of his thinking, just as the atheism, the agnosticism or some other "ism" is the starting point of another scientist.

What then are these basic "religious" presuppositions of the Christian? Without doubt the first is the biblical doctrine of the tri-unity of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet in this belief he is not thinking in merely metaphysical terms, nor is he speculating upon the idea of ultimate "being." Rather he is thinking in very concrete terms concerning God's actions. He approaches his work with the belief that God is ultimately the creator, sustainer and ruler over all things. Without his action at all times, laws, knowledge and understanding could not exist. Furthermore, the Christian scientist is deeply conscious of the fact that man, including himself, is a sinner who tends not only to disobey God's moral laws, but who also perverts and misunderstands God's creation. The only solution to this situation is that God in his grace has redeemed and reconciled rebellious man to himself through the Lord Jesus Christ, who makes his saving work effective in men by the inworking power of the Holy Spirit. One may say that the whole of the Christian's religious presuppositions are summed up in Colossians 1:15 ff, where Paul speaks of Christ in these terms.

These presuppositions, however, are not the product of metaphysical or scientific speculation. They are based upon the teachings of the Old and New Testament, which the Christian believes to be the very Word of God, revealing not only certain truths about God, but actually setting forth the ultimate nature of the universe and of the scientific endeavour itself. The Christian, therefore, in his approach to his work believes that he comes to it not with some humanly devised system of belief, but with what is absolutely true because it is the revelation of God, himself. Therefore, even before he begins his work he knows the ultimate meaning of it. True, he does not know it exhaustively nor perfectly, but he realizes and believes that behind the whole of reality is the sovereign Triune God.1

Because this is the case, his religious presuppositions are constant. Founded on divine revelation, they do not change nor alter from age to age. What was true in this sense for Abraham was as true for the Apostle Paul and is as true today. For this reason we cannot talk of the historical development of the Christian scholar's ultimate presuppositions. Each succeeding age may clarify them, formulate them more carefully and apply them more specifically, but they do not change. Consequently the Christian's religious presuppositions cannot be said to have any historical development. The position of the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century is in this respect still the same today. The Christian, even though he may not consciously realize it, still begins with the same starting point in his scientific work. At this level there is no change or historical development, for God does not change. (Heb. 8:13)
The Christian's presuppositions at the phenomenal level, however, are of a very different order. These are very liable to change and alteration, for no modern scientist would be willing to hold with many of the medieval thinkers who insisted that since "the Philosopher" Aristotle had stated some propositions, it must be true. The Christian recognizes that at the level of historical, sociological, political, physical or chemical phenomena there is a flux and change of opinion that prohibits anyone from adopting the attitude that the final word has been said. The Christian's scientific presuppositions, therefore, may alter and develop in many different directions as he carries on his work of research and investigation. his scientific understanding and knowledge should always be expanding, a process which inevitably forces him to change and develop his scientific assumptions, for in God's creation he may always find something new.2

The causes of such changes and developments are at least three in number, and probably more. Most obvious is the growth of knowledge of the universe. As man works at his scientific task, he comes to an increasing understanding of what makes it operate in the way it does. Consequently the Christian finds it necessary to adjust his perspective, as most have found it necessary to give up Archibishop Ussher's estimate of the age of the earth and of man. This means, however, a deeper and more thorough study of the biblical text in the light of the new knowledge. Not infrequently this has led to a changed view of what the Bible does actually say about creation. What has often at first been regarded as a conflict between science and the Bible turns out to have been instead a conflict between science and the biblical interpretations of earlier exegetes who have accepted the science of their day as the key to the understanding of the Scriptures. Frequently a third factor in changing the Christian's scientific presuppositions has been a greater understanding of man, himself, whether as scientist or as object of investigation. One could cite the work of Sigmund Freud, Flans Selye, Abraham Kuiper and others who have contributed to a new comprehension of man within the last century or so. Whether one will always agree with all that the new theories and hypotheses claim is another matter, but there can be no doubt that they have all given new "angles" to the understanding of man as a whole personality.

And yet from the Christian point of view, while specific changes may come in the Christian's scientific presuppositions, it is his religious presuppositions that make possible not only Christianity, but also science. It is the belief in the sovereign triune God that provides the background and foundation for belief in a coherent universe so necessary if science is to accom plish anything.3 It was the belief that conditions which prevailed upon earth under certain circumstances also prevailed upon the moon that made it possible for American astronauts to walk upon the moon. But on the other hand, it is the Christian's acknowledgement that the universe is God's handiwork that enables him to look for the new and the novel, conscious of the fact that God is not bound by rational systems devised by his human creatures. Moreover, he also recognizes that to the scientist, as to everyone else, ultimate reality is a mystery that man cannot solve. As Max Planck stated in one of his essays, ultimate reality is not physical but metaphysical.4 For this reason the Christian has the conviction that his duty is to try to understand the universe as far as he possibly can, but his knowledge will never he exhaustive. This is the mandate that God has placed upon him in this life (Gen. 1:28).3

The Christian's religious presuppositions cannot be said to have any historical development . . . The Christian's presuppositions at the phenomenal level, however, are of a very different order.

The Christian working in the field of science because of his two levels of presuppositions, to use a navigational expression, obtains a fix on his work. He seeks to interpret the universe, he seeks to carry out his scientific activity, in the light of God's Word, recognizing that the heavens declare his glory and the firmanent shows his handiwork. At the same time, he also is quite conscious of the fact that both he and his fellow scientists are but fallible men, limited by time and space and tainted with sin, which limits and confuses all attempts to see the fullness of God's sovereign creative, providential and redemptive action.

The Christian also recognizes however, that God in his grace has not left even the unbelieving non-Christian without a witness in this world. By his Common Grace he has enabled even those who deny him to attain to much knowledge and understanding at the immediate phenomenal level. Yet while this is true, when the non-Christian scientist attempts to go farther in his explanations than the phenomenal level, he ultimately accepts some system of chance or determinism that would destroy both a coherent universe and the possibility of knowing it. The Christian, on the contrary, redeemed by the grace of God and enlightened by the holy Spirit sees all things sub specie aeternitatis [in the light of eternity] as God's creation, which gives it meaning, coherence and comprensibility. The Christian alone, therefore, has the necessary presuppositions for true science.

The Three Points of Development

In attempting to see how the Christian presuppositions to science have developed since 1500, we cannot in the space allotted give a complete history of their unfolding down to the present day. Nor do we need to do so. Instead it seems best if we look at what we might call the three main turning points in western science, to see how the ideas put forward at those crucial times have affected and influenced Christian thinking. Certainly the views of Copernicus, Newton and Darwin have had what we might call a revolutionary impact on scientific thought of all types, including the Christian approach to a scientific understanding of the world.

The year 1543 was for the scientific world a crucial date, for in it two important and ultimately influential works appeared: Nicolas Copernicus's On the Revolution of the Celestial Orbs and Andrea Vcsalius's Concerning the Fabric of the Human Body. Although neither had any intention of destroying the Christian's faith, they did in fact have a disturbing effect upon contemporary scientific thinking, since they both laid, however unwittingly, the groundwork for a mechanical concept of the universe and of man himself.

This became fairly clear within the next half century in the development of astronomical studies. Johann Kepler (1571-1630), a Copernican who used the observations of Tycho Brahe, sought to give a mystical interpretation of the universe in the Pythagorean tradition. When he found that this did not work, he turned to a more purely mechanico-mathematical approach that eventually enabled him to formulate his three laws of planetary motion. At the same time in Italy Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) had not only worked out a number of hypotheses concerning the mechanics of motion, but by means of his telescope he was able to observe the movements of the heavens that manifested a mechanical type of operation. Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), who was burned at the stake for his temerity, went to the length of insisting that all things in the universe operated purely by mechanical laws, and that there is no center to the universe which is expanding in all directions. Thus as one enters the seventeenth century, the whole world picture has changed radically from that set forth by the Egyptian, Ptolemy, or the Italian, Dante Alghieri, in earlier days. Spirits are out and physical laws are in!

  The Calvinists in particular, with their stress upon the doctrines of divine sovereign creation and providence, were prepared to admit that they could find things in God's creation that they had never foreseen or imagined.

At the same time a new approach to man had begun to become current. Paracelsus (1493-1541) attempted to introduce the techniques and ideas of alchemy into medicine by using both chemical experiments and a certain amount of mysticism. Vesalius had laid the foundation for the view that man's physical structure was fundamentally that of a machine. This view was carried further by Servetus, burned in Geneva in 1553, and by William Harvey (1578-1657), who in his On the Motion of the Heart sought to set forth the idea that the blood in the bodies of both men and animals moved in a circular pattern similar to the orbits of the planets. As a result of these discoveries and theories, man himself began to take on a different aspect from that held during the Middle Ages. Even as the Aristotelian belief in the four elements of earth, air, fire and water began to falter, so did the idea of man being made of the four humours of blood, phlegm, choler and melancholy.

What was the Christian reaction to all of this? There was at first no unanimity. Although Rheticus and Osiander, both Lutheran pastors, took part in the publication of Copernicus's work, Luther said that it was nonsense to say that the earth went around the sun. On the other hand men such as Thomas Digges (ob1595) and William Gilbert (1544-1603) seemed to feel that the Copernician system was quite in accord with their Christian faith. We must also remember that Kepler was a devout, albeit mystical Lutheran, who found nothing in his three laws of planetary motion which contravened his faith, Similarly while Francis Bacon (15611626) rejected the Coperoician view of the universe, he nevertheless insisted that God had revealed himself in two books, that of nature and that of Scripture, for which reason he could say:

Let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill applied moderation think or maintain, that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or in the book of God's works: divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficiency in both.6

The only result could be that by 1650 Christians had generally accepted the heliocentric description of the universe. They had learned that God did not confine himself to the syllogisms of Aristotle, nor to the rationalisms of the medieval philosophers.

With regard to the Christian's reactions to the mechanical interpretation of man, there seems to have been few difficulties. Ambroise Pare (1510-1590), the Huguenot surgeon, was quite prepared to accept the idea of man's physical consitution being mechanical in its construction. He did, however, insist that man's physical image was not the "image of God." He distinguished between the two, with the result that he had little or no trouble with the concepts set forth by Vesalins, nor is there any sign that Protestants objected to Harvey's explanation of the circulatory system.

The Roman Catholic authorities, on the other hand, faced serious problems as can be seen from their treatment of Galileo. Aristotle and his leading medieval disciple, Thomas Aquinas, had formulated a physicotheological system that predetermined any investigation of the universe, with the result that an attack on one side of the partnership meant an attack upon the other. The Protestants, however, as in the ease of Pierre de la RamCe (1515-1572), usually rejected Aristotle as well as Thomas. The Calvinists in particular, with their stress upon the doctrines of divine sovereign creation and providence, were prepared to admit that they could find things in God's creation that they had never foreseen or imagined. Calvin had stressed the importance of empirical investigation and study of not only the Bible, but also of nature, and his followers adopted the same approach which was set forth most clearly and distinctly by Francis Bacon in his Advancement of Learning and Nocum Organamn. The Calvinists linked their evolving scientific knowledge closely to their fundamental religious presuppositions.

Up to the end of the sixteenth century, natural philosophers had spent their time attempting to work out an empirically verifiable description of the universe and of man. They had not, however, attempted to answer the question of why the universe or man acted in the way that they did. Kepler thought in terms of the sun having arms extended on which the planets moved, while the concept of 'vital spirits" still dominated much of medical thinking. Men such as Richard Baxter (1615-1691), the Puritan divine, insisted that Thomas Hobbes and the contemporary materialist philosophers were really destroying everything when they attempted to explain all of creation, including man, on purely material lines. He contended that they

do give so much more to racer Matter and Motion, than is truly due, and know or say so much too little of Spirits, active Natures, Vital Powers, which are the true principles of motion, that they differ as much from true Philosophers, as a Carcas or a Clock from a living man.7

The next step in scientific advance would therefore be somewhat more difficult.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) did not originate the attempt to discover why the universe acted as it did, but he put the finishing touches to work that had been going on for about a century. With his theory of universal gravity, he presented two relatively new ideas that he proved both empirically and mathematically. He demonstrated that the law of gravity operated uniformly throughout the physical universe. Furthermore, what was even more important, and to many disturbing, he clearly indicated that the universe did not operate by means of Baxter's "Spirits, active Natures, Vital Powers" but by such things as mutual attraction which could be measured in terms of mass and distance. Here was a new approach which the poet Pope could say made all things light, but which must have shaken a good many Christians who had long held to a "vitalistic" interpretation of the physical world.

Yet there were also many Christians who did not find these ideas disturbing. William Gilbert, one of the founders of this physico-mechanical approach, thought of the world as a great magnet, but does not seem to have believed that this destroyed the Christian approach to nature and nature's God. Certainly Robert Boyle (1627-1691), who discovered much concerning gases and their actions, was in no way shaken in his deep Christian faith. Even Newton, himself, although he was perhaps not as evangelical as one might wish in his theology, in no way felt that his discoveries and formulations ushered God out of the universe. The creation was still God's creation that operated according to his laws, which he in turn constantly oversaw and renewed when things tended to run down. Consequently Christians gradually came to accept the view that God was still sovereign, even over the Newtonian universe, As Joseph Addison (1672-1719) expressed it:

The spacious firmament on high, 
With all the blue ethereal sky, 
And spangled heavens, a shining frame, 
Their great Original proclaim ............. 
In reason's ear they all rejoice,
  And utter forth a glorious voice, 
For ever singing, as they shine, 
'The hand that made us is divine.'

Yet while Newton's work seemed to take very little away from the Christian view of the physical universe, the fact was that it opened the way to a new naturalism. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the philosopher, had insisted that everything including man operated by purely physical forces. With the discoveries of Newton this interpretation seemed quite valid to many. The position of Bacon had now been deserted by such thinkers, for the Bible was no longer God's Word and nature ceased to be God's work. All ultimate explanations of natural phenomena were to be purely natural and physical. The position of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), for instance, which stated that God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence according to his infallible knowledge . . . . God in his ordinary Providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work, without, above, and against them, at his pleasure, (cap. V, i, iii) was rejected as being unscientific and contrary to the empirical evidence concerning the nature of the world. This, of course, meant that the interpretation of man and his world experienced a radical change in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. While Bishop Butler (1692-1752) and Archdeacon Paley (1743-1805) could attempt by the use of reason alone to prove the validity of Christianity, the general trend was in the direction of a denial of any concept of God behind the universe. Consequently Buffon, d'Holbach, Laplace, Erasmus Darwin, Lyell and Wallace came to regard man as primarily a product of natural forces and nothing else.

This interpretation of man and his origin received its classic exposition in Charles Darwin's Origin of Species (1859). This was the third crucial point in the development of scientific thought that called in question Christian presuppositions. While earlier geologists and biologists had attempted to describe how man had come into existence, Darwin like Newton went beyond description to explanation. Basing his thinking upon Thomas Malthus' Essay on Population (1798) he offered "natural selection" and "survival of the fittest" as the sources of man's evolution from the lower forms of life. Man was simply an animal who through the fortuitous concatenation of events had risen to his present superior state. Man was simply the product of blind chance.

Accepted at first by a few as an hypothesis, it soon became to the anti-Christian thinker an incontrovertible dogma. T. H. Huxley seized upon it to attack any concept of supernaturalism, although he did rather inconsistently hold that man, the product of evolution, now had to fight it." Taken up by Sigmund Freud, the doctrine became largely the basis of his theories of psychoanalysis. Those working in the bio-medical field, behavourist psychology, sociology and even politics have now all adopted the evolutionary approach to their subjects. Even the organized church seems to have given in on many points, for much of biblical criticism is based on evolutionism, as is also situational ethics. No longer the "image of God", man is simply a combination of physical forces to be manipulated by psychological experts, the real scientists. As F. W. Matson has pointed out, such thinking leads to a flat denial of the individual's responsibility and freedom, which cannot but end in a police state that will make George Orwell's 1984 look like a rather pleasant senior citizens' tea party.)

As is well known, the Christian reaction to the dogma of evolution has been generally negative, from the famous Oxford debate between Huxley and Bishop Wiberforce, through the Scopes "monkey" trial down to the present time. Some have attempted a compromise on certain points, talking in terms of "theistic evolution," while the more determined have denied any possibility of God creating by means of evolutionary processes. The important thing, however, is that the theory of evolution strikes not at the theories of Christians concerning how God in his providence governs the world, but at the basic doctrine of the nature of man. It even substitutes chance for God himself. In the earlier developments of Copernicus, Kepler and Newton, demands were made for the alteration or modification of Christian presuppositions in the scientific field. Darwinism, particularly as set forth by some of its advocates, however, destroyed even the religious presuppositions of the Christian.

While Christians were battling with this difficult problem, one Christian, Abraham Kuiper, founder of the Free University of Amsterdam and later prime minister of the Netherlands, was clarifying the matter of presuppositions themselves. He showed that whether they recognize it or not, men always begin their scientific activities with certain "religious" presuppositions. They must of necessity begin all their thinking with certain points that they take on faith. Furthermore, the crucial difference between the Christian and nonChristian is that the former, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, strives to see all things "in the light of eternity," while the nonChristian under the influence of sin seeks to explain all things merely in terms of that which is "under the sun," i.e., he denies any ultimate meaning beyond what he can give. Professor Herman Dooyeeweerd also of the Free University has sought to carry this idea farther by working out a whole system of philosophy, while Professor Cornelius Van Ti! of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, has applied it to Christian apologetics.10

Yet although these men have clarified the nature and importance of presuppositions philosophically, Christian thinkers and particularly scientists have been slow to present a Christian approach to modern science, especially to the problem of origins. It is one thing to talk about Christian presuppositions, but what about their application in the lab? A Christan student going to class on biology, genetics or even history or sociology, finds little assistance in setting his thinking straight if he is simply told that the modern theory of evolution conflicts with the Bible. The question remains: Can the specific and known facts of paiaentology, geology, biology, genetics, anthropology etc. he fitted into a biblically grounded creationism? Christians have been able to fit Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton and similar scientists of past ages into their Christian scheme of thought based upon Christian religious presuppositions, by changing some of their interpretations of the Bible, thus modifying and altering some of their scientific presuppositions. Darwin and his followers have proven to be more difficult to deal with, since they have laid siege to the very inner keep of the Castle of Man-Soul.

To the problem of evolutionism has now been added that of relativity. With the publication in 1915 of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity the Newtonian universe disappeared. Absolute time and space became

The principal stumbling block and source of conflict still seems to be evolution, which forms the basis of the whole modern concept of man not only in biology, but in sociology, psychology and even in the humanities.

space-time, and the Newtonian presupposition of God the great artificer dissolved into pure chance. This tendency has been carried even farther by Einstein's followers who have dissolved all reality into absolute atomism.11 But even while this development has been taking place there have been voices raised in opposition. In 1941 Max Planck set forth the idea that "ultimate reality" was not something physical but metaphysical. Others have likewise come to the conclusion that "behind" all physical reality is a spiritual reality that cannot be understood by purely physical means. The problem of presuppositions is again raising its head even for scientists without any apparent religious convictions. They are faced with the question of the possibility of scientific knowledge in a completely atornistic world. Only a coherent reality can make science possible, and coherence presupposes "something" beyond the physical to give the coherence. Most scientists at this point are content to declare that ultimately the universe is opaque, but some believe that a spiritual reality must be posited to make sense of scientific work and discovery.

Where does the Christian stand in all of this? Some Christian scientists have contented themselves with doing their work without attempting to work out any over-all explanation from the Christian point of view. Others such as P. Croon, C. A. Coulson, H. Hooykaas, E. L. Mascall and E. C. Rust have sought to integrate modern scientific thought with their Christian faith.12 Yet as one reads their work, one sometimes has a rather strong feeling that something is lacking. In some cases one finds that Christianity is watered down to fit the scientific scheme, while in others one cannot help feeling that more might he said to elucidate the whole picture. But they have pointed out quite clearly that for science to he possible a coherent universe is necessary, and since its coherence is seen in the fact that even the apparent random actions of atoms follow a statistical pattern that can be plotted and predicted, only the Christian presuppositions make sense.

Thus as we look at the present situation of the Christian viz a vis the scientific world, we find that he has accommodated himself to the earlier developments that did not conflict with his basic religious presuppositions. The more recent theories of relativity and q,uanturn mechanics, however, do not seem to have yet been assimilated, although some moves have been made towards an acceptance of these physical theories. The principal stumbling block and source of conflict still seems to he evolution, which forms the basis of the whole modern concept of man not only in biology, but in sociology, psychology and even in the humanities.

The Need Today

As we look at the scientific situation today we cannot but wonder what may be the outcome of present

The Christian scientist must insist that his presuppositions are not merely one set of starting points among others, one hypothesis among a number, but that they are the only presuppositions that make science possible.

developments. As Bernal has pointed out, Einstein's theories are really nineteenth century in character since he posited a coherent universe, while today scientists are tending to accept a completely atomistic, chance universe. Sir James jeans' aphorism that every possible accident will take place if only time lasts long enough, seems to he the basis of much scientific thought. Yet as Coulson has insisted, without belief in a coherent universe science is not possible. The result, if atomism becomes the prevailing philosophy, may well he the complete collapse of scientific activity, which is perhaps forshadowed in other developments such as the swing to occultism, magic and witchcraft now so widespread. On the one hand we have the behaviourist psychologists attempting to control man absolutely by means of conditioned reflexes or "brain washing," while others are seeking to do the same through spells, satan worship and drugs. Science today seems to have reached a crisis situation that may well spell its breakdown together with much of western society and culture.

In this state of affairs scientists with Christian convictions are needed more than ever. Christians have often tended, particularly since Darwin, to shun scientific studies and investigations as leading to unbelief and loss of conviction. But this is God's creation, The Christian believes God has established it according to certain basic laws that give a certain coherence to reality, thus enabling man to study, explain and use it. Bacon's view that the Christian has a responsibility to read intelligently the book of God's works as well as the book of God's word, still stands. The danger is that Christians often forget this, with the result that in an age that has come almost to worship science, Christians have had relatively little impact on any type of scientific thinking. The outcome has been the introduction of a completely mechanistic, materialistic view of all things, including man, which has led us now to the threatened breakdown of science and the replacement of it by the occult. The only answer seems to be a revival of the Christian approach to scientific endeavour.

This means that the Christian man of science must have an extensive and accurate knowledge of his own field of endeavour. lie must be as good a scientist as possible. This goes without saying. But it also means that he must have a firm conviction that all things in this universe were not only created but are from moment to moment sustained by the providential action of God. He is to take seriously Paul's statement in Colossions 1: 16 and 17 that "in him [Christ] were all things created in the heavens and upon the earth and he is before all things and all things in him hold together." He is not to think of the physical world and man as operating on their own in some deistic fashion with God intervening occasionally to wind up and repair the machinery. Rather he is to keep in constant remembrance that God by the secret and mysterious action of the Holy Spirit maintains and governs all things at all times. The God-of-the-gaps is an impossible concept for both the scientist and the Christian.13

But the Christian cannot merely talk in terms of his religious presuppositions. He must work out the implications of his presuppositions to show how they apply to science in terms of coherence, comprehensibility and applicability. We need desperately scientists who are Christians, who can think creatively. for themselves, and who do not merely parrot the very often un-scientific views of some theologians and evangelists who have little knowledge of the scientific field. They must see ever more clearly that there can he no division between their religious and their scientific activities, and that the biblical doctrine of the Triune, Sovereign God makes science possible.

They should not, however, merely hold this viewpoint as a kind of "private" faith, but they must seek increasingly to work out the implications of their Christian presuppositions at the level of scientific endeavour. This does not mean that they are to content themselves with saying that all causation is the result of God's activity and let the matter go at that. Rather, they have the responsibility of investigating the physicochemical universe, of discovering the causes of its existence and continuance as far as in them lies, and then to point out that only on Christian grounds is this possible. They will also have the work of showing to their fellow Christians that not infrequently their presuppositions have been more Aristotelian than Christian. This may involve much education and at times even recrimination, as when Luther rejected Copernicus's concept of the universe, calling him a "fool."

When they do this, the scientists will not only manifest that Christianity is not anti-scientific, but that at both the ultimate or metaphysical level and also at the spacio-temporal level, Christian presuppositions are the only presuppositions that make scientific work possible. Yet while the Christian presuppositions at the physieo-chemical level may change, the ultimate meaning and purpose of the universe in Christian thinking still remains. God is still the creator, sustainer, governor and redeemer of the universe, the ultimate reality behind all the things which appear. Thus the Christian scientist must insist that his presuppositions are not merely one set of starting points among others, one hypothesis among a number, but that they are only presuppositons that make science possible.

Science today is not merely facing abstract philosophical problems. Its most pressing difficulties are in fact moral with the development of behavioral psychology through which men such as B. F. Skinner hope to be able to control all human thought and action according to the psychologist's whim. Likewise there is the problem of cloning and the production of mechanically devised people who may well be so many robots. The results of such thinking and achievement can lead to a horror situation that even the wildest imagination of scientific fiction writers has never contemplated. The answer again to this, and the one hope of salvation from such possible developments, is none other than the Christian belief in the sovereign God and the fact that he has created man in his own image. While man has indeed wandered far away from his creator, denying that the creator is the creator, yet the creator has provided a way of return through his Son, that man may once again see all things truly "in the light of eternity" and do all things "to the glory of God alone."


1C. Van Til, In Defense of the Faith, (1967), I 2ff deals with this in great detail, Cf. R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1972) PP. 7 ff.
2lbid., pp. 39ff.
3C. A. Coulson, Science and Christian Belief, (London, 1960), p. 75.
4Quoted in: F. Le Van Baumer, Main Currents in Western Thought (New York, 1970), p. 677.
5Cf. Van Til, op. cit., pp. 2; H. Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Transcendental Thought (Philadelphia, 1955), II, 264ff..
6The Advancement of Learning, (London, 1954), p. 8.
7Quoted in: Science and Society, 1600-1900, P. Mathias ed. (Cambridge, 1972), p. 26.
8Quoted in: Baumer, op. cit., pp. 556ff.
9F. W. Matson, The Broken Image (Garden City, N.Y., 1966), chaps. II & III.
10A. Koyper, The Principles of Sacred Theology, (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1963), pp. 150ff; Dooyeweerd and Van
Till, op. cit.
11 J. D. Barnal, Science in History (Pelican, 1969), 3:742ff.
12. P. Groen, "Faith and Physics," Free University Quarterly, (Amsterdam, 1964), IX, 148ff; E. L. Mascall, Christian Theology and Natural Science (London, 1956); E. C. Rust, Science and Faith (New York, 1967)
13R. H. Bube, "Man Come of Age," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, XIV (1971) pp. 206f.