Towards a Christian View of Science: How Big is Your Bible? (continued)

III. “New Evangelicalism” – The Old Dualism?

1. Proposition.

The neo-evangelical understanding of the relationship between the Bible as the special revelation of God and science as the legitimate investigation of his general (natural) revelation in the works of creation and providence closely resembles the dualistic thought of Thomas Aquinas, the medieval scholastic who gave the world the so-called Thomistic philosophy, still fundamental to modern Roman Catholic philosophy. This is an unscriptural position which has far-reaching consequences for evangelical theology, philosophy and special science.

2. Dualistic thought.

In this system there are two means of achieving a knowledge of absolute truth. One is using “reason”—the so-called “light of nature.” The other is by means of revelation from God’s Word—this is “grace.” These two aspects, nature and grace, are quite separate and independent means of learning truth, and so the system is said to be dualistic.1

Dualism considers the facts or findings of the sciences to be philosophically and theologically neutral, and so may be known as true by believer and unbeliever alike without reference to God. The facts may be apprehended by reason (nature) without any recourse to grace. (This is an over-simplification since obviously many facts can only be obtained by faith. The dualism extends in Romanist thought to two classes of fact—the natural order and the faith order. The point is that faith is not required prior to understanding truly facts of the natural order. This is in contradistinction to the Calvinistic view.) Thus it is claimed that the non-Christian can know some ultimate truths about the universe without first understanding them as facts made and interpreted by God. Facts, that all may know by use of reason alone, are assumed to be autonomous and reality is viewed as a “sea of factuality” over which may roam with equal facility, theist and anti-theist alike.2

3. A Reformed evaluation.

Professor Cornelius Van Til has asserted that the dualistic view of facts as neutral “brute facts” is tantamount to denying that God created the facts and even now sustains them. It denies the centrality and absolute sovereignty of God.3

Central to the Reformed system of truth, argues Herman Dooyeweerd, is the basic ground-motive of the sovereignty of God in creation, fall and redemption.

(i) God created all things ex nihilo, with the crowning act of creating man in his own image as a perfect and free moral being.

(ii) The fall of Adam (a literal first man) into sin whereby all men become totally depraved and are blinded to the truth of God.

(iii) The redemption through the blood of Christ of an elected people, who by the grace of God are saved through faith in him.4 These regenerated people recover, in principle, the perfection of Adam as created, so that they can now see the Truth, i.e., are no longer spiritually blind.

(a) Sin and the apostate scientist. Sin is a vital issue in the whole discussion, for it cuts off men from God and a knowledge of the truth.5 Professor Nigel Lee, in his recent Calvin all the Sciences, writes,

“In fact, the results of sin are of cosmic proportions, for ‘the condemnation of mankind is imprinted on the heavens, and on the earth, and on all creatures’” (quoting Calvin, Comm. on Rom. 8:19).6

The non-Christian, consequently, always, in principle, views the facts from a standpoint antithetical to that of the Creator of these facts. Whenever any fads impinge on religious and philosophical questions, they will be interpreted according to the anti-theistic ground motive of the fallen man, i.e., in terms of justifying his continued rebellion against God.7 A scientist who is an unbeliever is therefore an apostate scientist in principle and his science is accordingly apostate science.

(b) Common grace and the apostate scientist. One may justifiably wonder if what has just been said is not too extreme. Is it not saying that it is impossible for the non-Christian scientist to find out anything that is really true? Is it not also an easy way out—whereby any scientific findings that conflict with our own views are rejected as fictions because they are the products of unbelievers? Certainly not! Calvin, as noted above, emphasised the disastrous effects of sin but he also recognized that in spite of sin God was still immanent in the world of men and actively sustaining the order of creation by means of common grace. Calvin asserts that God has been “pleased to assist us [Christians] by the work and ministry of the ungodly in physics…” and describes the work of unbelievers as a gift of God.8 This means that although the theoretical thought of the apostate scientist is anti-God, his actual scientific work, to a degree dependent on the common grace of God, may be based on Christian principles of which he is not aware.9 The apostate scientist “possesses goods as a thief,” the goods being made available solely by the grace of God.10

In passing, we should also note that the fruits of the work of the ungodly will accrue to the redeemed and to the Lord’s glory and that although that work may be uncovering ultimate truth, the unbeliever is never in a position to recognize God’s interpretations of the facts for what they are. It follows that it is incumbent on Christians to use the fruits of unbelieving scholarship and show how they reveal the glory of God. This is part of the cultural mandate of the believer (Gen. 1:28). To lapse into anti-intellectual obscurantism is simply sin.11

(c) The nature of true science. As we noted earlier, neo-evangelicals have a penchant for viewing modern science as the valid study of God’s natural revelation. This naturally begs the question, “Is modern science in fact. the God-ordained study of the works of creation that it should be?” Is it true science or just a counterfeit? What is true science and who are its rightful practitioners?

The Christian pbilosopher, Hendrik Van Riessen, has given us a definition of true science. He writes,

“Inherent in the vocation of men on earth is the goal of knowing God through his creation. That is the area of inspiration for science. The general goal of science is to know God’s creation through the laws by which God reigns and which enable every creature to walk on earth with trust. God is trustworthy. This is the sale basis for every scientific effort.”12

Science should never bc thought of as independent of God. Christ is the Lord of science and he desires that men acknowledge him in their scientific labour and knowledge.13 An the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in him and so only through Christ may we in our science come to know any of that truth for what it really is.14

Professor Nigel Lee reminds us that Calvin emphasized that,

“…special grace (and its resultant faith in Christ ) is not only indispensable to salvation, but that it is also essential for the pursuit of true science.”15

Calvin further stated that a true scientist was one who was born again to life in Christ and, while highly intelligent, submitted himself to the Word of God in general and “the foolishness of the cross” in particular.16

What of modern science and scientists? Ever since Laplace assured Napoleon that the successful pursuit of science did not require the “hypothesis” of God,17 the presuppositions of the mass of scientists have rendered any supernaturalism quite irrelevant in this sphere. It should appear obvious that a scientific method which presupposes no God and no supernatural can only produce “findings” which support these original presuppositions. Basic naturalism will not produce a picture of the glory of God in nature. Modern science, affirms Prof. Van Til, “assumes that what Christianity teaches with respect to nature cannot be true.” The ideas of creation and a controlling providence are “assumed to be intolerable.” On the contrary, it is claimed that the “order of nature…is what it is because of an impersonal unchangeable regularity.”18

Modern science as a whole is not true science. In essence, it is apostate and, as such, needs to be redeemed to the service of God. The Christian engaged in scienti6c work should be a true scientist, i.e., one who investigates nature with Biblical presuppositions and in accordance with Biblical norms.19 Modern science needs a reformation. Considering its present status, the Christian believer has no warrant to assume that it is a valid study of God’s natural revelation producing results which bear some correspondence to that revealed truth. In principle, the opposite is the case as sinful men turn the truth of God into a lie (Rom. 1:25). It should be noted, however, that the unbelieving scientist is better in practice than his basic presuppositions in principle allow. This is due, as we noted earlier, to the “common” or temporal conserving grace of God20 overruling the apostasy in order to the fulfillment of his will. Conversely, the believing scientist is worse in practice than in principle, because the depredations of indwelling sin tend to draw him into conformity with the worldly pattern of the apostate. The distinction is not a simple case of black or white. Rather the situation is a dynamic one with a whole spectrum of inconsistencies between the two principal extremes. Notice also that science can never be neutral, for however inconsistent a man may be he is always governed by the god of his camp—either the living God or the god of this world.

Neo-evangelicals consistently treat modern science as if it were true science. They do so by ascribing neutrality to the scientific enterprise on the basis that the facts of nature are themselves neutral (See sec. III [2]). Having thus accepted the findings of a science inimically disposed to the Biblical view of nature that they are attempting to defend, they are faced with the colossal and somewhat embarrassing problem of synthesizing two irreconcilables into a meaningful whole.

(d) A schizoid approach. The neo-evangelical solves this problem first by making the Bible and science complementary and then by separating the two so that each is supreme in its own sphere with hardly even an overlap. This position is basically schizoid since the authority of the Bible is only applicable to the sphere of faith, while the sphere of physical reality is the domain of science alone.21

The practical consequences of this view are exemplified by the dichotomy in the published writings and utterances of F. H. T. Rhodes, Professor of Geology at Swansea and a well-known evangelical Christian. As an evangelical believer, on the one hand, he has addressed conferences of evangelical scientists on the relation of the Bible to science,22 while, on the other hand, he has written a popular textbook on evolution,23 in which there is not a single reference to God and where the only reference to creation describes the Biblical teaching on creation as something we “now regard as a naive concept.”24 The account of evolutionary development would do credit to the most ardent evolutionist.

(e) Implications for evangelical theology. The implications of the neo-evangelical recension of the doctrine of creation for the Reformed system of theology have received scant consideration. There are a number that might be mentioned,25 but we shall con6ne our attention to one that is of crucial importance—the creation of man.

If, as Bube et al,26 Kuitert27 and Jeeves28 have suggested, “Adam” was not necessarily the literal first human being created out of actual dust, how are we to interpret such clear comparisons between the first Adam and Christ, the last Adam? as we have in Rom. 5 and I Cor. 15:22, 45? Dr. Gleason Archer, Prof. of Biblical Languages at Fuller Theol. Seminary, states that,

“it is virtually impossible to accept the authority of Romans 5…without inferring that the entire human race has descended from a single father.”29

Archer further affirms that,

“the inspired record tells of a literal Adam and Eve, and gives no indication whatever that the account is intended to be mythical. It was certainly taken as historical by Christ and the apostles.”30

Surely it is the heart of the gospel that is being hazarded in the attempt to remove interpretations objectionable to modern science. If Adam is merely a hypostatization of sinful mankind in general rather than the actual federal head of the human race who fell into sin for himself and his descendants, then how can we comprehend the work of Christ in the new covenant? If by no one man death reigned, then what assurance have we that through Christ’s death many shall have eternal life? What sort of soteriology do we have left?

The implications for theology do not stop at the rejection of an old “literal reading of the creation account.” Why? Because the science of theology reveals the system of truth in Scripture and if a system is more than the sum of its parts—it is an integral and interdependent whole reflecting the self-consistent nature of God—then any undermining of the foundations must eventually have profound consequences for the whole body of doctrine. The above example serves to emphasize the present necessity for Christians to examine, in faith, the foundations of their belief and to cast themselves on Christ, putting their trust in his Word as their sufficient authority in all things.

IV. Conclusion – Evangelical Declension

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.

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).

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

(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.

(c) There is increasing use of the inductive method of studying Scripture—a methodology inconsistent with the Biblical doctrine of inspiration.

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.

(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.

(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.

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

In practice, this un scriptural dualism divests the Scriptures of their absolute authority in all matters of faith and life. The announcement that they are inspired of God and therefore infallible becomes a hollow assertion when the plain teaching of the Bible is sidestepped to accommodate the most recent discoveries of science. Not that all neo-evangelicals deny, for instance, the historicity of the first Adam—there is considerable variance in views held -but all take the creation account out of history and either use it as a literary framework on which the process of evolution, euphemistically termed “progressive creation,” is worked out (Ramm, N. H. Ridderbos, Lever, Henry) or reduce it to a few grand theological statements about God, man and the universe (Bube et ai, van de Fliert, Kuitert). Thus the conflict between the Bible and (apostate) science is neatly circumvented. Hear the words of Carl F. H . Henry, “If by the evolutionary fact is meant that the universe is billions of years old, and that millions of years were required for the development of all the various species of plant and animal life, and that the antiquity of the human race is somewhat greater than the brief span of six thousand years assigned by scientists and theologians alike a few centuries ago, then warfare between science and Christianity is at an end.”

Henry is quite correct if he means neo-evangelical Christianity–obviously the war is over when one side has capitulated! The above statement has the ring of an epitaph. No more do we need to contend for an embarrassingly realistic Genesis account of creation! It is now dead and buried! We have reinterpreted the Light of the Word of God in the light of evolutionistic science!

The words of the apostle Paul are surely apposite here,

“O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so-called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith” (I Tim. 6:20–21a).

1. E. L. H. Taylor, The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics and the State, Nutley, N. L Craig Press, 1965, pp. 142 ff.

2. C. Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, Philadelphia, Pa., Presb. and Reformed, 1967, pp. 67 ff.

3. C. Van Til, Christian-Theistic Evidences (Syllabus), 1961, pp. 85–86.

4. H. Dooyeweerd, The Secularization of Science, A.A.C.S. (mimeo) a.d., pp. 3 ff.

5. Isa. 59:2–8.

6. F. N. Lee, Calvin on the Sciences, S.C.U., 1969, p 15.

7. Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 48.

8. J. Calvin, The Instiutes of the Christian Religion (Beveridge trans.) 11, 2.16.

9. Lee, 0p. cit., pp. 16–19, cf. Taylor, 0p. cit., pp. 46 ff.

10. R. J. Rushdoony, By What Standard?, Philadelphia, Pa., Presb. and Ref., 1965, p. 24. See Rushdoony, Van Til (Modern Thinkers series, P. and Ref.) for an analysis of Van Til’s thought on this point, pp. 16 ff.

11. C. Van Til, Particularism and Common Grace, L. J. Grotenhuis, n.d., p. 15.

12. H. Van Riessen, The Christian Approach to Science, Hamilton, Ont., A.R.S.S., 1966, p. 58.

13. H. Van Riessen, The Society of the Future, Philadelphia, Pa., Presb. and Ref., 1952, p. 137.

14. Col. 2:3.

15. Lee, op.cit., p. 20.

16. ibid. p. 20.

17. R. E. D. Clark, The Christian Stake in Science, Exeter, Paternoster, 1967, p. 29.

18. C. Van Til, The Doctrine of Scripture (Syllabus), den Dulk, 1907, pp. 48–49.

19. The Bible is to be understood as being normative for science (and all things). For instance, the Biblical fact of miracles means that our science must never rule out the possibility of the miraculous, i.e., the intervention of God in the world in such a way as to use means other than the natural laws that he has established. Modern science consistently denies this normative principle.

20. Taylor, op.cit., p. 60.

21. The Bible is not a “textbook” of science (not even of theology)—rather it is the ultimate primary written source of information—it is given. When the Bible speaks on any topic, therefore, it is authoritative in an ultimate way. Thus statements hearing on scientific subjects lire normative for the prosecution of the science concerned. (Sec note 58.) The precise nature of such statements is to be decided on the basis of faithful exegesis of the best texts available.

22. See IVF Symposium, Christianity it, a Mechanistic Universe ( D. M. Mackay, ed.) and Jeeves, op. cit., p. 164.

23. F. H. T. Rhodes, The Evolution of Life, London, Penguin Books, 1962, p. 302.

24. ibid. p. 276.

25. e.g., The questions concerning many miracles, the resurrection, the nature of history in the Bible.

26. R. H. Bube, op. cit., p. 105.

27. M. H. Woudstra, op. cit.

28. Jeeves, op.cit., p. 108.

29. C. L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Chicago, Moody Press, 1905, p. 190.

30. ibid., p. 191.

31. In R. Mixter (ed.), Evolution and Christian Thought Today, London, Paternoster, 1961, p. 219.

Reprinted from THE BANNER OF TRUTH