Christianity, Science, and the Pursuit of Truth

Dear Reader,

This is part of my ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. Find all the links here.

In recent weeks we have been discussing common grace and education (see this post and this one). One of the big questions we have been wrestling with is whether there is anything good and true that we can learn from non-Christians. The short answer is yes. I agree with Van Til and others that God can and does use non-believers to further His greater goal, whether they co-operate willingly with His Spirit or not. Truth and beauty can come to us through non-Christian sources.

But, as is often the case, the simple answer is not the full answer. The line of thinking goes something like this: God is the Source of truth; beauty and goodness are defined by Him. As Creator, God’s nature is seen in His works and is thus available to all people, but not all people recognize their Creator. God chooses to reveal Himself more fully to some people (in reformed theological terms: the elect). The Holy Spirit enables the elect to better see and understand the things of God. Thus we should expect those God has chosen to have a better grasp of what is good and true and beautiful than those who are still mired in sin.

I want to be careful how I say this. I am not saying that truth does not come to us through non-believers or that everything believers say is true (or that everything they do is good or everything they create is beautiful).  We should test all things claiming to be truth (1 Thess. 5:21; 1 Jn. 4:1) ,  no matter how they come to us. Nonetheless, we should expect more truth and beauty and goodness to come to us through Christians than through non-Christians.

Making the Argument, or a Whole Mess of Quotes

I’m going to overwhelm you with quotes today. While they are not all making exactly the same argument, their  conclusions tend to point in the same direction. Should you want to read more, a full, annotated bibliography is at the end of this post.

The work of God’s Holy Spirit in salvation and sanctification affects not just the heart but the mind. There is a sense in which the unsaved person cannot fully understand God’s universe:

“The Holy Spirit’s work in regeneration has an effect not only on man’s spiritual and moral nature, but also on his intellect; it opens the eyes of his understanding (Eph. 1:18). He begins to see facts in the light of God (Psalm 36:9); that is, he begins to see the true meaning of facts. The unregenerate person, on the other hand, continues to maintain that facts can be understood and explained in the light of man; he recognizes no higher category than the human mind, and he will never admit that his mind has been darkened by sin.” J.G. Vos, What is Christian Education?, p. 3

In other words, a true understanding of history or science or beauty is impossible without a godly mindset — that is, without participation in God’s mindset:

“The regenerate person, on the other hand, realizes that the human mind does not exist of itself; it is a created mind and is not competent to be the absolute and final interpreter of facts.” Vos, p. 5

“Another way to say this is that God doesn’t have a point of view; he has a complete view. And because he revealed himself, we can come to a true understanding of the world, thinking God’s thoughts after him — however imperfectly or incompletely — and knowing the truth as God knows it to be. All truth is God’s truth, and therefore, as Jonathan Edwards rightly said, all knowledge lies in the ‘agreement of our ideas with the ideas of God.'” Philip Graham Ryken, What is the Christian Worldview?, p. 15

On a very fundamental level, Christians and non-Christians do not and cannot view the world in the same way:

“The conclusion of the whole matter is this. There are two mutually exclusive principles for the interpretation of life.” Van Til, Essays on Christian Education, p. 88

The Christian, because he sees a unifying principle and a divine order in the universe, will understand and interpret the facts before him differently:

“There are no uninterpreted facts. In every area of life and thought, all facts derive their meaning from the religious presuppositions of man.” Rousas Rushdoony, Philosophy of Christian Curriculum, Kindle Loc. 993

Christianity, Scholarship and the Arts

We can see this in various fields. I am going to talk about science in more detail below, but let’s begin with the social sciences and the arts. Without a theistic worldview, we have no standard for right and wrong, no way to judge the events and people of history. Without a Creator, the universe has no meaning and no purpose. If we look at history with such a view, we see it only as a class struggle (much like the very struggle to exist which Darwinian evolution posits) or a mere series of causes and effects, a kind of determinism without any determiner.

“In our day, humanistic reason affirms that there is only the cosmic machine, which encompasses everything, including people. To those who hold this view everything people are or do is explained by some form of determinism, some type of behaviorism, some kind of reductionism.” Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (p. 164)

Christian belief also provides a justification for art:

“The doctrine of creation also affirms music and the arts. Although there is nothing specific about this in Genesis 1 and 2, what we do with sight and sound is part of the inherent potentiality of creation . . .

“Together these various aspects of human life give us what theologians call the ‘Cultural Mandate.’ We have a God-given responsibility to develop the possibilities of creation in ways that reveal our Maker’s praise, and this to fill the whole earth with his glory. We are to do this in science, politics, business, sports, literature, film and all the arts.”  Ryken, pp. 23-24

Christianity and Science

Because Christianity and science are often portrayed as opposites in modern society, I’ll take  a few extra moments to address their relationship specifically.  Christianity is the basis of science because it assumes a world that makes sense (something many Christians today need to be reminded of):

“Science and the scientific method arose in one and only one place: Western Civilization (Western Europe, to be precise). Why is this the case?   . . .

“The surprising answer is Judeo/Christian theology.

“In most ancient societies, nature was viewed as capricious and erratic, as were the gods themselves . . .

“Science and the scientific method could arise only if the universe and world were orderly, predictable, and inherently rational.” Rick Stedman, 31 Surprising Reasons to Believe in God, pp. 134-35

“That is, scientific exploration assumes that there exists an underlying order of the world that is inteligible even when it is yet undiscovered, as secret code ciphered into the natures of things themselves, a knowable order rather than mere gibberish.” Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, A Meaningful World, p. 123

“Far from conflicting with science, creation is what makes science possible by establishing an orderly universe . . . The people of God have been keenly interested in the study of science ever since, as a way of exploring the mind of their Maker.” Ryken, p. 23

Francis Schaeffer makes the argument from a more philosophical point of view. Christianity not only assumes a universe that makes sense, it also assumes that we can use our senses to know  and find out about that universe:

“In brief, science, as it is now usually conceived, has no epistemological base  — that is, no base for being sure that what scientists think they observe corresponds to what really exists.” Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (p. 199)

But it is not just our assumption of a logical and perceivable universe that leads us to truth but also our innate love of beauty. This love, of course, can drive both Christians and non-Christians. But I would argue that it should be more of a motivating force to Christians:

” . . . there would be no periodic table without our very human love of beauty. Elaborating on this point, the great mathematician Henri Poinare said, ‘The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing and life would not be worth living.'” Wiker, Meaningful World, p. 115

A specific example of how Christian belief makes a difference in scientific thought:

“Materialism erases the distinction between nonliving and living things, and that misses the essential nature of the way proteins exist in cells. A functional protein structure depends on the living unity of the cell; that is, it is by its function as a part in relation to the living whole, one whose particular, complex arrangements of parts is necessary to carry out its intricate function.” Wiker, A Meaningful World, p. 211

The Flip-Side, or Everybody Has Presuppositions

I tend to get frustrated with Christians throwing around the term “worldview,” but the truth is how one perceives the world and its purpose will affect one’s thoughts in all areas. For this I would point you to a whole book: Benjamin Wiker’s The Darwin Myth. Wiker gives what I think is a very fair treatment of the man but shows how Darwin’s lack of faith (and he does argue that Darwin was not a believer) skewed his view of evolution.  Darwin, for example, starts with the assumption that there is no absolute morality:

“According to Darwin, morality doe snot govern evolution. If it did, then we might expect a divine overseer. Darwin would not allow that; and in order to disbar it, Darwin had to argue that morality was created by evolution. It is, in Darwin’s scheme, an evolutionary after-effect of sociability.” (p. 92)

Indeed, Darwin’s whole theory is based upon not just a godless foundation but on the antithesis of God:

“Death, Darwin thought, was the key to life, a complete inversion of [his wife] Emma’s superstitious belief in a creator God and the idea that death was the punishment for original sin. Death was, is, and always will be, the creator.” (p. 66)

Wiker contrasts Darwin’s take on evolution with that of his contemporaries who were believers, showing that the views of each were shaped by his underlying beliefs:

“The chosen scientific hypothesis or paradigm, the lens through which the investigator attempts to scrutinize nature, both magnifies and distorts, bringing objects nearer and crowding them within a particular field of vision, but at the expense of what lies outside and beyond the frame.” (p. 120)

The conclusion for Wiker is not a rejection of evolution per se but of Darwinian evolution in particular.

Wrapping up

The point of all this is not to beat up Darwin, or any other non-Christian thinker. We should not ignore the truth that comes to us through non-Christians whom God also uses to further His plan. But we should expect more truth and beauty and goodness to come to us through Christians —  because the minds of Christians are being transformed by the Holy Spirit (this, in truth, is education), because their eyes are opened to the divine revelation that comes to us through Creation, because they have the philosophical and theological framework from which to understand and make sense of science and history.

Nebby

[1] This post focuses on the presuppositions behind an idea; we can also look at its effects. A tree is known by its fruit (Matt. 7:15-16). It is no coincidence that the wide-spread acceptance of Darwinian evolution was followed by a host of other bad ideas from the Waldorf method education (which is predicated upon the idea that kids evolve into people) to the rise of sociology which seeks to control human progress through social manipulation to the attempted extermination of the Jews and other (slightly) more benign attempts at eugenics.

Bibliography

Rushdoony, Rousas. Philosophy of Christian Curriculum. Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books, 2001 (originally published 1981). I was not crazy about Rushdoony’s book but I think he is right on this point: there is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact. No one ever views anything without their worldview coming into play.

Ryken, Philip Graham. What is the Christian Worldview? Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2006. This is a wonderful short book, more of a pamphlet actually. I find the title a little deceptive. I think it is more of an introduction to reformed theology. I make this one a must-read for my kids when they are middle school aged.

Schaeffer, Francis A. How Should We Then Live? Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005 (originally published 1976). Schaeffer’s subject is more philosophy than anything else though he covers big trends in art as well. A Christian classic and a must-read.

Stedman, Rick. 31 Surprising Reasons to Believe in God. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2017. This is a fairly simple and somewhat redundant read but is good as an introduction or for tweens/teens to read. My review is here.

Van Til, Cornelius. Essays on Christian Education. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1974. Van Til is a solid reformed thinker. More than any other, his book on Christian education is one I find myself returning to. See my review here.

Vos, J.G. What is Christian Education? Pittsburgh, PA: Reformed Presbyterian Church of N.A. This is a very slim little pamphlet but with a lot of good nuggets packed into it. I highly recommend picking this one up.

Wiker, Benjamin. The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin. Regnery Publishing, 2009. This is an easy book but a must-read. I find Wiker’s treatment very fair and well-researched. He does not reject evolution as such but Darwinian evolution. His own love for and awe at Creation comes through.

Wiker, Benjamin and Jonathan Witt. A Meaningful World. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006. I am in love with this book. It is a tougher read but well worth it. The authors show how Shakespeare and chemistry and astrophysics all point to the Creator. They clearly love and appreciate the beauty of God’s world and it shows in their writing.

17 responses to this post.

  1. […] by feeding them the things of God that we will become better people as well. As I discussed in this post there is an intimate connection between faith and […]

    Reply

  2. […] books do not need to be written by Christians. We have discussed previously that all truth is God’s truth and, as God uses the efforts of non-Christians, with or without […]

    Reply

  3. […] have argued many times before, God’s knowledge can come to us through non-Christian sources (though we should also expect more truth to come through Christians).  Our “teachers” — live or on paper– will come to us from many walks of […]

    Reply

  4. […] scholarship, see this post in which I argue that all truth is God’s truth and, conversely, this one in which I argue that we should expect more truth to come to us through Christian […]

    Reply

  5. […] is even more vital. As he says elsewhere, there are no uninterpreted facts (p. 88; see also this post for a number of quotes from other authors on this point). We see history through a lens. If we […]

    Reply

  6. […] I am a little less convinced of the need for Christian teachers, or perhaps I should say for exclusively Christian teachers. For me this is an issue of who and what a teacher is. As a homeschooler, and also as an effect perhaps of my coming out of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, I do not regard a teacher as always a peron that stands in front of one (or beside, if you prefer). Which is to say, a book or a piece of art can be as much a teacher as a live person.  And, as all truth is God’s truth, we can learn from non-Christians as well. […]

    Reply

  7. […] afraid to read it. I have read a number of his other books — one of Darwin (see the end of this post); A Meaningful World which is on everything from astrophysics to Shakespeare; a few on philosophy; […]

    Reply

  8. […] (p. 219). The tension here is one I tried to address in some earlier posts (see here and here). On the one hand, there is very real knowledge that comes to us through non-believers. A common […]

    Reply

  9. […] of. Another way to put it is to say that Christians should be the best scholars (as I said inthis post). On the other hand, there are a couple of assumptions behind this statement that I do not agree […]

    Reply

  10. […] was perhaps true at one time, but sadly is often not the case these days). I argued this point here. On another level, however, God is the God of Truth and He works through even His fallen, […]

    Reply

  11. […] The unregenerate say many true things and their scholarship and creative arts may be useful to and appreciated by us. (Common Grace, Part 1; Christianity, Science and Truth) […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply to What We Study and Why: Science | Letters from Nebby Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Calvinist day-school

...bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ

Sabbath Mood Homeschool

Desiring That a Sabbath Mood Rest on Your Homeschool

dayuntoday

my musings, wise or otherwise

StrongHaven

A Literary Homestead

journey-and-destination

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Harmony Fine Arts

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Sage Parnassus

Blogging about education, theology, and more

A peaceful day

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Living Charlotte Mason in California

Blogging about education, theology, and more

weeklywalrus

Weekly Walrus Whatevers

Creations by Maris

Handwoven Textiles

Fisher Academy International ~ Teaching Home

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Afterthoughts

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Homeschooling Middle East

A Homeschooling/Unschooling Adventure from Bahrain to Dubai that's a story for anyone, anywhere who's interested in offering their kids an educational alternative. Please have fun visiting and have even more fun commenting! We have now moved to Granada, Spain and I will write again once we've settled down!!

Exclusive Psalmody

For the Encouragement and Preservation of Biblical Worship

Charlotte Mason Institute

Supporting an international conversation toward an authentic Charlotte Mason education - awakening to delightful living