Science in Christian Perspective
From: JASA 38 (June 1986): 103-109.
This paper introduces a model for "doing science" which seeks to establish a proper relationship between the various arenas of scientific activity. The author suggests that the "theological sciences" must be permitted to serve as a backdrop against which all scientific activity should be pursued. At the same time, theology must remain open to input and interaction with the physical and human sciences in order to remain relevant as well as true to the whole spectrum of divine revelation.
The purpose of this paper is to add to the growing discussion concerning the relationship between Christian faith and modern science by setting forth a model for scientific endeavor within the framework of evangelical Christianity. After the model is presented, various alternative models will be briefly considered; then the model itself will be explained, its justification and uses described, and, finally, a series of questions suggested by the model will be set forth in the hope of encouraging further discussion and investigation.
First, however, it seems necessary to provide some rationale for the model which is here to be proposed. Why is such a model even necessary?
We live in a period which has been described by various writers as being a time between two eras.1 An old and inadequate world view is being effectively challenged and, by many, discarded, while a new and yet amorphous Zeitgeist is struggling to be born.
One aspect of that new order which is beginning to make its presence felt in ever increasing ways is the evangelical Christian community. So manifest has the evangelical presence become that numerous writers both secular and religious-have taken special note.2 Its expressions are many and diverse: a broad-based and rapidly growing Christian day school movement continues to thrive; a variegated evangelical media front has been opened up; new journals and publications sympathetic to the evangelical perspective have appeared; at least two evangelical publishers (Zondervan and InterVarsity) have initiated series expounding a distinctively Christian world view; and thousands of intelligent, thinking men and women continue to discover a home within the evangelical religious tradition.
There is, moreover, a gathering momentum of discussion and activity among evangelicals oriented toward the application of evangelical Christianity to the larger issues of everyday life in today's world. With respect to the role of Christian faith in the activity of modern science, numerous scholars have contributed to what is rapidly becoming a vibrant discussion with far reaching implications and applications.3 In this vein, the provision of a simple but effective model may be helpful to guide the efforts of evangelical scholars who are laboring to apply the old, old story in ever new ways to every aspect of human life and interest.
The model here proposed may or may not be sufficient for that purpose. At the very least, however, it
may serve to generate some discussion among others
more qualified than this student to elaborate the
parameters and benchmarks for evangelical activity in
the areas of science and knowledge in general.
The model which I am suggesting takes the following
To summarize by way of introduction, this model
shows a high degree of interaction and interdependency between three spheres of knowledge: Theological Sciences (TS), Natural Sciences (NS), and Social or
Human Sciences (HS). The latter two spheres of knowledge are seen to be open, though not without definable
form, while the Theological Sciences are seen to be
closed. The significance of this will be discussed later.
The importance of this model would lie in its role both in establishing some boundaries for human knowledge and in demonstrating the essential interdependence of the various sciences.
One set of four models can be dismissed as unacceptable for an evangelical Christian approach to scientific endeavor. These may be variously portrayed as follows:
The first pair of models (A and B) shows the various spheres of scientific study as open and unrelated (except that the second model shows the Theological Sciences as appropriately closed). This pair of models is unacceptable for two reasons. First, it portrays each sphere of knowledge as independent and unrelated to
the others. Thus, it suggests that work done in any one area may be pursued without reference to the requirements or implications of research in either of the other areas. This is a prescription for epistemological relati,. - ity and chaos of the highest degree. Second, this pair of models is unacceptable because it leaves that sphere of knowledge most peculiarly relevant to the articulation of a Christian world view altogether incapable of impacting the other spheres. No Christian scholar can be satisfied with such an arrangement. There can, in fact, be no Christian world view in such a context as this, except within the narrow confines of pure theological discussion.
The second pair of models (C and D) is also unacceptable. These do show the relationship between two of the spheres of science, yet they leave the Theological Sciences cut off from the other areas of study. This approach might be seen as that which obtains among those secular scientists who hold that religion should not be encouraged to "interfere" with the work of modern science.4 Again, the Christian scholar will not be able to find this a suitable approach to doing science. That these models could find supporters, however, should not be doubted by anyone who has paid attention to recent discussions in such areas as politics, education, and the life sciences in this nation.
Two other models come closer to satisfying the requirements of a Christian approach to scientific endeavor. The first may be set forth in the following manner:
This model is a vast improvement over the previous alternatives because it shows the need for interaction between the sciences and gives a place for the Christian world view to impact the other areas of human knowledge.'
Nevertheless, there are three important reasons why this model is yet unacceptable. First, it portrays the Theological Sciences as open and, therefore, susceptible to being reshaped and reformed according to ideals and paradigms emanating from either of the other two areas. Over the last century we have seen what this approach can do to the place of the Theological Sciences in an academic setting. It was convictions similar to this which led to the reduction of religion's place in the college curriculum from a foundational discipline to something vaguely called the "sociology of religion." The devastating effects of higher criticism on the theological discipline of hermeneutics is another example of how this model can negatively impact the theological realm. Developing out of the new science of literary criticism in the middle of the last century, higher criticism subjected the Scriptures to the same kind of manuscript scrutiny which was being given to classical literature, leaving no place for the doctrine of the providential preservation of the text. The result in many Christian circles has been that the authoritative role of the Scriptures in Christian life has been seriously undermined. I will explain more fully the importance of holding to a closed perspective on the Theological Sciences in just a bit.
Second, this model is unacceptable because it indicates that the Theological Sciences have only a tangential relationship to the other areas. The Bible cannot be considered as a final bar of appeal in such an arrangement. Rather, it must be taken as merely one of three competing voices which need to be balanced and weighed against one another before statements of truth can be set forth. Given the anti-supernatural an quantificationist bias of the modern era, we might well expect that the role of Scripture in intellectual discourse would again be minimized.
Third, and closely related to these other objections, this model suggests the equal ultimacy of all three scientific spheres. That is, it leads to the conclusion that no one area of knowledge should be allowed to give final guidance to the others, either in settling on the meaning or determining the application of science to modern life. No Christian who believes that in the Bible we find the light in which all other light becomes comprehensible will be comfortable with such a framework for scientific endeavor (Psalm 36:9).
A second model which represents yet another improvement on those already suggested can be represented as follows:
Yet the only improvement which this model represents is that it effectively closes the Theological Sciences. All the other problems previously mentioned remain, however, and, for this reason, this model should also be rejected by serious Christian scholars interested in developing consistent guidelines for scientific endeavor within the evangelical Christian framework.
I will proceed now to elaborate on what my proposed model attempts to communicate.
There are four primary messages embedded in this model of Christian scientific endeavor. The first is that there are three distinct areas of human knowledge concerning which Christian scholars and the Christian community at large need to be informed. The Theological Sciences are those aspects of human knowledge which have their touchstone in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and which are finally appropriated by faith alone. This does not preclude the use of a rational and scientific approach to understanding both the broad outlines as well as the intricate details of the Theological Sciences. Rather, it asserts that the true meaning and value of the Theological Sciences can only be appropriated within a context of faith in the living God of Scripture.
Basically, there are only three subdivisions of this sphere of scientific activity, although numerous subsubdivisions could be elaborated. These are hermeneuties (or the study of how we understand the message of
T. M. Moore holds degrees in theology and Christian education and has engaged in doctoral studies at the Universities of Pretoria and Miami in theology and educational leadership. He is presently serving as Pastor of Ministries at Church of the Saviour in suburban Philadelphia.
the Scriptures), Biblical theology (or the study of the organic development of the message of God's special revelation), and systematic theology (or the synthesis of what Scripture teaches across the whole spectrum of what we must believe).
The second sphere of science includes all the Natural Sciences. These are the areas of human knowledge dealing with the material cosmos, how it is to be known and understood and how we may most wisely and efficiently subdue it for the benefit of mankind. The Natural Sciences include such familiar fields as chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology, botany, geology, astronomy, and all the rest. Also included in this sphere
Only the Scriptures as explained in the areas of Biblical and systematic theology are adequate to serve as a touchstone for every aspect of human life and interest.
of knowledge are the various methodologies and technologies appropriate to the study and application of the Natural Sciences to human life.
The third area of knowledge is that of the, Human Sciences. These include such areas of study as psychology, education, economics, sociology, politics, history, the arts, and so forth, These also possess their own methodologies and technologies, which are likewise included in this area of knowledge.
The proposed model suggests that everything which we can know may be located within one or the other of these spheres. Certainly there will be some areas of science which are difficult to classify and which, more than the others, partake of features of more than one sphere to what may appear to be almost equal degrees. Nevertheless, careful investigation will enable us to use this model to classify our research and study as a helpful first step in the pursuit of useful truth.
The second message communicated by this model is that the Theological Sciences are to be allowed to provide the integrating framework for all human knowledge. Or, as Calvin Miller puts it, it conveys the idea that "the cosmoswide God, unacknowledged by the cynics, is still the vast arena where all human struggle takes place."6 This suggests that any scientific undertaking which is pursued outside the framework of theological awareness will be rootless and incomplete.This argument has been elaborated somewhat more fully by Frederick Turner in a recent issue of Harper Magazine.7
This should not be construed as calling for a return to the medieval curriculum in which the Theological Sciences were understood to be the "Queen of the Sciences." Then theology and its related discipline were not open to input from the natural realm, witnessed by the case against Galileo. Theology tyrannized rather than collaborated with the budding Natural Sciences. Indeed, the model signifies that the Theological Sciences must be in constant conversation with each of the other spheres of knowledge if all three spheres are to move in the direction of completion and be truly relevant to vital and effective Christian living in the world.
Third, this model intends to convey the idea that the Theological Sciences are a closed category. That is, we must understand that there is nothing beyond the area-, dealt with by the Theological Sciences which may serve as an ultimate frame of reference either for scientific endeavor or for life. Only the Scriptures as explained in the areas of Biblical and systematic theology are adequate to serve as a touchstone for every aspect of human life and interest. These Scriptures have been once and for all delivered to the Church. No further special revelation from God is anticipated prior to the return of Christ. Therefore, the Word of God has been closed up in a Book, and the teaching of that Book must be allowed to guide our scientific endeavor as well as our lives. This has been the conviction of historic Christianity from the earliest councils of the Church.
At the same time, however, I want to re-iterate that the Theological Sciences are not to be an isolated category. They must be seen as closed, yet they may not be understood as isolated. Instead, they are incomplete and inadequate unless and until they have effectively interacted with the other spheres of science. The preacher or theologian who does nothing more than elaborate the subtleties of pure theology without indicating their meaning for life is less than thorough in his labors. Theology in all its forms must be made meaningful to human life if men are to realize their God given purposes.
This requires that the Theological Sciences both receive illumination from the Natural and Human Sciences and endeavor to participate in spelling out the implications of their conclusions for each of these areas. It also requires of theologians a breadth of general understanding which is all too frequently lacking and, of scientists working in other areas of knowledge, a familiarity with and ready grasp of theological truth.
Finally, this model suggests that the Natural and Human Sciences are not closed categories of knowledge. Although they have defineable form at any given time, those forms are not necessarily static. Instead, scientists working in these areas must be open to fundamental and even radical changes in perspective as knowledge and understanding grow, a point more fully elaborated by Thomas Kuhn and others.8
This means that the Natural and Human Sciences interact with one another necessarily. Examples of the benefits of this interplay are already in evidence. The Public Broadcasting Service's recent series, "Connections," which showed the relatedness of the Natural Sciences and human life down through the ages, is one such example. Another may be seen in the excellent discussion of teaching as both art and science which is being pursued by educators such as N. L. Gage.9 The development of computer graphics and computer art is another example of the value of this interplay, as are recent developments in high-rise architecture.10
This means further that these areas must agree to be guided by the light of revealed truth as expounded by and in interaction with theological scientists of all kinds. This has enormous significance, especially in the applications to which advanced technologies may be put in the social sphere. One thinks especially of such issues as abortion, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, genetic engineering, and other life-related questions currently within the public purview.
Finally, it means that the implications of the work and research of natural and human scientists must be attached to different works, yet theologians in all disciplines must be ever concerned to reflect on the question, "What do these findings tell us about God and His purposes for men?"
This, then, in the broadest of terms, is the message of
our model. How may we begin to justify it?
First Steps in justifying the Model
In what I take to be a manner consistent with the model I have proposed, I turn to the Scriptures in an attempt to begin to justify this model. As a matter of fact, other insights from the Natural and Human Sciences could be referenced to support the justification set forth here, yet such detailed documentation should be left for a more thorough treatment of the subject." Here let it suffice to hang up some Scriptural pegs which can support the overall framework herein recommended. Six brief references will indicate the general drift of this argument.
The first is Genesis 1:1, 26-31. Without stopping to argue the subtleties of the creation account, I would suggest that several things appear as certain and beyond dispute from these verses. The first of these is that God is the Designer and Architect of the created order, and He fashioned it according to criteria and for purposes which suited Him. Thus, He intends that His creation should be developed and cared for in the same manner, that is, to reflect and display that which He describes as good. Moreover, to that end He has made man in His image to exercise vice-regency over the creation. Man is to use his hands and his mind to subdue and order the creation and to work out relationships with his fellow men such that what God describes as good will obtain on earth, even as it does in heaven. This seems to be supported as well by our second passage, Genesis, chapter 2. Man's work and man's arranging of his human interactions must proceed against a backdrop and in the knowledge of what God has declared.
This means that not everything which man can imagine is necessarily a legitimate area for his involvement. This seems to be the clear lesson of the knowledge of the tree of good and evil and man's subsequent fall into sin. At the level of the Natural Sciences, where observation and investigation were involved, and at the level of the Human Sciences, where human interplay came into the picture, all systems appeared to be "go"
It would appear that our labors are incomplete if they stop short of compelling our attention toward the God Who put everything in place.
for eating the fruit. Conveniently forgotten were the Theological Sciences where red flags were waving brilliantly in the breeze of God's revealed but ignored truth. Had the proper theological framework been permitted to obtain in this situation, the catastrophe of the fall might never have occurred.
The third passage is Ecclesiastes 1:13 in which the narrator advises that God has mandated men to search out everything in wisdom "under the heavens." In the book of Ecclesiastes the interplay of the phrases "under the heavens" and "under the sun" is crucial to an understanding of the message of the book. The author tells us that God intends everything to be understood 11 under the heavens," that is, with reference to its place in the divine scheme of things (cf. Eccl. 3). The problem which the narrator continually encountered throughout his own life, and of which he seems to have been repenting in this book, is that he consistently chose to try to understand his life only as "under the sun,"
Science is incomplete that does not enrich the Christian experience of the believing community at the same time it contributes to the well being Of mankind.
that is, with reference only to events and matter in the created order. Such an approach to "doing science" led Qoheleth only to despair and disappointment. He came to see that fearing God and keeping His commandments provides the only proper backdrop for gaining true wisdom and understanding (cf. Ecel. 12:13).
Next, we consider Psalm 19:1. Here the psalmist advises that, as we go about to investigate the breadth and depth of matters in the created order, we can expect to encounter the knowledge of God at every turn, Paul also holds to this point of view (cf. Rom. 1:18ff.). Thus, as a community of scholars and believers, we must be ever asking ourselves what it is about God and His will that is revealed in any of our work or research in the created order. It would appear that our labors are incomplete if they stop short of compelling our attention toward the God Who put everything in place.
Fifth, Psalm 119:105 advises that God's Word must be allowed to cast its light on our path regardless of where we walk. This holds true for any work in the scientific arena as well. Jesus told a crowd of "social scientists" that they had gotten grievously off the proper track because they had pursued their endeavors apart from knowledge of God's Word (Matthew 22:29). Such must not be allowed to be the case with today's Christians working in any field of knowledge.
Finally, all our studies and all our labors must redound to a better knowledge and understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ and His ways with men. If it is true that in Him "are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3), then all our scientific research should lead us ever more deeply into the knowledge and adoration of Him. Science is incomplete that does not enrich the Christian experience of the believing community at the same time it contributes to the well being of mankind. This is the very essence of "taking every thought captive to Christ , ' (2 Cor. 10:5). It must be a part of the duty of the community of Christian scholars to orient the whole of its labors to this end.
This much, then, should serve to indicate the direction which a more thorough justification of this model
Uses for the Model
There are at least three ways in which this model can be useful to the Christian community. First, it can aid in classifying the various fields of knowledge and study. Classifying the sciences, in turn, can be important for curriculum development in colleges and secondary schools. The model might also be useful in this vein to stimulate new thinking in the area of interdisciplinary studies and research. Finally in this regard, this model, more fully elaborated, discussed, and debated, might serve as a stimulus and guide to work in the area of developing an encyclopedia of Christian knowledge and scientific endeavor."
Second, this model could be useful in guiding research in any of the three spheres of scientific endeavor. It could help to keep the spheres in touch with one another-through journals, conferences, interdisciplinary studies, and so forth-and could lead practitioners in those spheres to articulate more fully the implications and applications of one area of study for the other two, as well as vice-versa. This, in turn, could be a great stimulus to further research and development in all the areas of knowledge.
Finally, this model could be of much benefit in serving to enrich the Christian experience of every member of the believing community. If the implications and applications of this approach to doing science were made to filter down (through popular books and magazines, films, television specials, day school curricula, and the like) to the pulpits and classrooms of local churches and Christian schools, as well as Christian homes, the effects on students, parishioners, and families could be signal, indeed. Theology-including preaching and teaching-could become more powerful and relevant to everyday life as well as to current events and developments in all fields. The understanding of God and His world which individual believers gain through home, school, and church could become vastly more polychromatic and down-to-earth. One might envision the Christian community taking more seriously its obligation to articulate a comprehensive Christian world view and to work more fervently for the implementation of that world view in a wide range of new and exciting Kingdom-building enterprises. More horizons for work and ministry would be opened up for generations of Christian students and workers to come. Certainly our apologetic in the face of an unbelieving world would be greatly enhanced by so broad and visionary an approach to our responsibilities as this model suggests.
These are but a few of the uses and benefits which one might imagine stemming from the adoption of the model here proposed. I turn finally to suggest some further questions which the model would seem to beg.Further Questions
First, can evidence in support of this model be gleaned from existing literature in each of the spheres of knowledge? That is, does this model help to concretize current discussions, and is there truly supporting evidence to be found for the reliability of this model apart from the appeal to Scripture alone?
Second, how can a proper "trialogue" among the sciences be established and maintained? What is the role of professional associations, periodicals, publishing houses, and colleges and seminaries in this effort? What new kinds of conferences might be envisioned? Is there a role for the electronic Christian media in this endeavor?
Third, what are the implications of the model for Christian education at all levels and in all educational contexts? What would such a model mean for the propaedeutic and curriculum of a theological seminary, for instance? Of a Christian liberal arts college? A Christian high school?
Next, to what new kinds of discipline does the model obligate Christian scholars in any and all of the spheres of knowledge? How should his or her research be guided? Of what kind of general substance should scholarly works consist? Popular works?
Further, can this model achieve a credible place in academe in general, or is it doomed to remain a paradigm useful only to Christians? How might an effective apologetic be developed on the basis of this model?
Finally, will Christian scholars in all spheres of knowledge be willing to discuss or debate the model or the necessity of such a model for Christian scientific endeavor? What are the merits and demerits of the model? What other alternative models might be imagined?
2. Cf. Jeremy Rifkin, The Emerging Order (New York: Random House, 1979); Herman Kahn, The Coming Boom (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982); John Naisbitt, Megatrends (New York: Warner Books, 1982).3. Cf. the works of Ramm, MacKay, Barbour, et a].
4. This view tends to be very prominent in the popular works of Carl Sagan, especially toward the end of such widely read volumes as The Dragons of Eden and Cosmos.
5. it would be fair to say, I think, that this approach is represented in the works of W. A. Whitehouse. Cf. Creation, Science and Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981).
6. Calvin Miller, A Hunger for Meaning (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984), p. 11.
7. Frederick Turner, "Escape From Modernism," Harper's, November, 1984, pp, 47ff. Turner observes that "We are at a curious junction in the history of science and technology. The empiricism of the Renaissance gradually flattened out the ancient hierarchy of the universe and broke up the Great Chain of Being. But just when the world seemed to have been reduced to a collection of objective facts-the world view of modernism-a new order came into being." This new order was that of materialism which, though dominant for a time, now is beginning to disintegrate from a lack of internal consistency and is being rivaled by new religious and philosophical world views arising in various parts of the world. He remarks that, "All over the world, revolutionary forces are championing complex and traditional value systems-ethnic, religious, and political-against materialism, whether it be liberal, fascist, capitalist, socialist, or communist."
8. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962). Cf. also Reney Myers, "Thomas Kuhn and the History of Science," Continuity, Number 6, Spring, 1983, pp. 95-111, who gives a strong vindication of Kuhn's argument.
9. N. L. Gage, The Scientific Basis of the Art of Teaching (New York: Teachers College Press, 1978).
10. Jonathan B. Tucker, "Superskyscrapers: Aiming for 200 Stories," High Technology, January, 1985, pp. 50ff.11. Cf. works by Jaki, Jastrow, Maslow, Polanyi, et al.
12. Cf. Abraham Kuyper, Sacred Theology (Wilmington, Del.: Associated Publishers and Authors, n.d.). In his preliminary discussions of the subject of encyclopedia, Kuyper notes that "no writer of encyclopedia can carry an argument, save from the view-point which he himself occupies, and except he start out from the hypothesis upon which his general presentation is founded." He goes on to note that, while Christians can acknowledge as valid the contributions of unbelieving scientists, they must at the same time accept the responsibility for working to bring that knowledge to completion by developing it further within a proper theological perspective. He says, "A theologian can acknowledge truth in another position, without recognizing the truth of the position as a whole. The start is taken from one's conviction, with an open eye to one , s own imperfections so as sincerely to appreciate the labors and efforts of others, and to be bent upon the assimilation of their results."