Science in Christian Perspective



[Two] Reflections on the Book [The Christian View of Science and Scripture]

Clark H. Pinnock                                                                                                 Pinnock, Kaiser 
Professor of Systematic Theology 
McMaster Divinity College 
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

From: JASA 31 (September 1979): 191-192..

Bernard Ramm was the first to write on issues in science and religion from the neo-evangelical viewpoint. I myself purchased the book in Manchester on the occasion of hearing a lecture by F.F. Bruce at the John Rylands Library and went right home to read it avidly. That was on November 9, 1960, five years or so after it first appeared. I found myself at that time theologically very much where Ramm himself was, burdened with the concern to vindicate the reliability of the Bible in every respect, and therefore I found Ramm to be very reassuring. At the same time I was surprised and delighted to learn from the author that I was not bound to accept a number of facts I had thought the Scriptures taught. For example, it does not teach, Ramm said, an instantaneous creation or a universal flood, but something much more compatible with what modern science too was saying.

Modern science has had a massive impact upon recent theology. It has brought about a radical rethinking in a host of directions and on a wide range of topics. Often in liberal theology it has inhibited Christian thinkers from venturing any authoritative assertions about concrete matters of fact and caused them to restrict their attention to myths and symbols, producing a kind of shaky truce. Bernard Ramm does not go along with this trend fully, but it must be said that he goes a very long way to reconcile the Bible with the modern understanding of the world, even to the point, some will feel, of supplying implausible exegesis to get Scripture off the hook. The intellectual significance of Ramm's book, which seems clearer to me now than it did then, lies in the rapprochement he attempts between biblical faith and contemporary scientific ideas. No more warfare between the two for him. So long as evolution is a complementary language alongside theological dogma it is no more in competition with it than is relativity theory.

How does he know the flood was local? By applying the modern scientific rules of evidence to the question. Too much water would be required, astronomical disturbances would occur, clearer evidence of such a catastrophe would be evident, and so forth. Without denying that God could have sent a universal flood (what theist could deny that?), Ramm argues on the basis of modern scientific reasoning, that He did not do so, the very reasoning which earlier con servatives warned against. The same procedure can be seen in his treatment of the long day of Joshua and the dial of Ahaz where he is able to eliminate from the accounts any untoward astronomical disturbances which, as we know, could not have occurred without leaving some evidence. Although I personally support Ramm's logic in such cases, I am compelled to point out that a basic shift in theological reasoning has taken place in the evangelical thinking which has succeeded fundamentalism.

If I were to make a conjecture, I would guess that in 1979 Ramm and many of us are less anxious about vindicating the Bible on such points as these and are even open, as we were not in 1954, to recognizing legendary elements in them. If so, then the intellectual revolution which Ramm was in on at the beginning a few decades ago has continued to unfold and is probably not over yet. I am sure that Richard Quebedeaux is correct to call attention to this liberalizing tendancy in Worldly Evangelicals, and well justified in wondering out loud where it will all end.

Christopher B. Kaiser
Assistant Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology Western Theological Seminary
Holland, Michigan

When Bernard Ramm's Christian View was published in 1954, I was still in high school. It was not until my seminary days fifteen years later that I first discovered the work. Even then it was quickly supplanted in my ongoing quest for more adequate treatments, first by Richard Bube and Malcolm Jeeves, then by Ian Ramsey, T.F. Torrance, and Wolfhart Pannenberg. So much has changed in the world of ideas since 1954! Michael Polanyi (among others) has taught us to be suspicious of any sharp distinctions between fact and value (pace Ramm, pp. 31, 34f.). Thomas Kuhn has taught us not to regard the paradigms of the ancient world as "filled with blunders" just because they do not conform to modern ones (Ramm, p.70). And Mircea Eliade has even taught us not to write off archaic cosmologies as "fantastic, absurd, mythological, or superstitious" (Ramm, p. 89). As a result the worldview of the biblical writers need no longer be a source of embarrassment for us, and many of the problems Ramm was struggling with turn out to be superfluous.

On the other hand, the effects of the divorce of scientific research from social and ethical norms, the resulting ecological crisis, and the ambivalent impact of science and technology on all that is human have caused me to be more and more concerned about the presuppositions of the modern worldview, and from this angle I find Ramm to be full of contradictions. He says that "This is not a universe operating at the natural level or material level as if there were no God.. ." (p.108). But, then, how can it be that "in the vast majority of cases of matter of fact the scientist who is Christian and the scientist who is not Christian concur" (p. 31)? Again he says that "The theological, the ethical, and the practical are so conjoined in the Bible with the statements about Nature or creation that it is impossible to separate them. . ." (p.33 italics mine), yet he urges us to distinguish statements directly referring to natural things from those which are "theological or didactic," the former being "transcultural" and still binding! (p. 78). The net result is an instrumentalist, pragmatic approach to nature which effectively removes it from the province of prophetic address and subordinates it to the interests of economic man (pp. 92-95). When I read that "It is part of our probation to learn how to capture or control the tiger and the lion . (p. 95), I sense that the all-prevading influence of modern Western secularism has dulled the religious imagination and suppressed sensitivity to the images and themes of scripture (Ps. 104:2lff, Job 38:39f, Gen. 49:9fl.

Please understand that what I am sharing with you is not a criticism of Ramm's book so much as a confession of my own change in consciousness since the fifties and sixties. It is a change that has affected all of us to one degree or another. I believe that it is a change for the better.