Confession of an Incurable Evidentialist, Part 2

Read Part 1.

Thoughts on Christianity and science

In the imposing Munster Church of Strasbourg, France there is a clock which stands over two stories tall. Built in 1359, it shows not only hours and minutes but also motions of the planets and the phases of the moon. But through its moving figures and adorning paintings it also tells a message, namely, that time began with the creation and is heading toward the judgment of God at its end. This view of time was deeply embedded in the mind of Europeans before the Strasbourg clock was built.

We see few things as being as truth-telling or meaning-giving as time. We claim the right to vote on the basis of age. We celebrate athletes because they covered a distance in record time. We honor couples who have been married 50 years. People’s lives depend on how experts calculate according to minutes and seconds on the clock: airplane flights, space flights, train-track switches and hospital operations, just to name a few. Even Einstein’s theory of Relativity, which presents time-dilation, requires a constant related to time: the speed of light (299,792,458 meters per second).

The beginnings of science

All of the success of modern scientific venture goes back to the idea of the Strasbourg clock: a worldview based on the creation story. Alfred North Whitehead, hardly a believer in biblical Christianity, wrote (Science and the Modern World, 1925) that the basis of modern science is found in “the medieval insistence on the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher.”

Before the spread of Christianity civilizations believed in the cyclical view of time and history: birth → growth → apex → degeneration → cataclysmic destruction → rebirth, and so on. In addition, they believed the world was filled with and dominated by spirits whose activities in nature were often despotic.

Even for Aristotle the earth and heaven were divine and eternal. Time itself was to be regarded as a circle. Christianity has been spreading the Jewish world view for over 2000 years. The Jewish world view is found in the Bible, beginning in Genesis 1. There time, matter, motion, and history begin. The earth turns in a 24-hour cycle. The earth and the heavens are not divine, nor are they eternal. They are created entities. Since creation has a starting point, effects in nature can be traced back to their causes. In her recent book, Saving Leonardo, Nancy Pearcey writes, “by exorcising the gods of nature, biblical monotheism freed humanity to investigate it without fear. It taught them to think of nature as regular, predictable, and open to systematic study.” (p.106)

It took over a thousand years after Christ for people to understand how to apply biblical monotheism to the study of nature. The European people of the middle ages were caught in the web of fatalistic thinking. Outwardly Catholic, many were personally pantheistic, agnostic and atheistic. “The high middle Ages,” says Stanley Jacki, “were intellectually a turbulent era. While orthodoxy could be imposed through patently unevangelical methods, man’s inner assent proved itself to be doggedly elusive to enforcement.” (Science and Creation, 220) Most people, being fatalists, were followers of astrology. Again, to cite Jaki, “Medieval investigators of nature fell short of their goals in the measure in which they fell under the sway of the fundamental tenets of astrology.”

The end of fatalism

Beginning in the 1100s, some of those investigators began to challenge tenets of astrology and the maxims of Aristotle about the universe. They used the Bible to make those challenges. The turning point from fatalism to a biblical view of investigating the world took place at Paris in 1277. There, Bishop Etienne Tempier assembled a group of intellectuals to deal with the growing tensions in theology and philosophy. The end result, according to Pierre Duhem, was that “Without exception, these theologians condemned every proposition that refused God the power to accomplish an act, under the pretext that the act is in contradiction with the physics of Aristotle and Averroes.” (Medieval Cosmology, edited by Roger Ariew, 181) Or, more simply, God created and controls the universe. He can cause any action in it that He desires. Fate is not in control. It was this council that proved to be the starting point for the scientific venture.

Until the days of the Enlightenment, scientific thinking was never in conflict with the Christian faith. In AD 1230 Jordanus Nemorarius formulated the law of lever movements. By 1300 Theodonis of Fribourg had explained rainbow formation. John Buridan (d. 1358) proposed the concept of gravity as innate in all bodies. In 1494, Giovanni Pico wrote a massive refutation of astrology. In 1543 Andreas Vesalius published the first accurate textbook on human anatomy. From 1609 to 1619 Johannes Kepler formulated his three laws of planetary motion. In 1628 William Harvey published his De Motu Cordis (The Circulation of the Blood). All these, and many other, discoveries happened ahead of the Enlightenment. With few exceptions, the founders of modern scientific method and discovery were firm believers in Christianity and the truth of the Bible. The idea that modern science is a product of Enlightenment thinking is commonly repeated, but it is a complete distortion of history.

The result of the Enlightenment

So how did the Enlightenment philosophers take a product of Christian thinking and turn it against the Christian faith? Peter Gay explains:

The philosophes [sic] liked to visualize themselves reenacting historic battles, to denounce religious fanaticism and popularize Newton wrapped in the toga of Cicero or Lucretius. This is how they gave their polemics the dignity of an age-old struggle between reason and unreason, a struggle that had been fought and lost in the ancient world and was now being fought again, this time with good prospects of success. (The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, 32)

Devout Christian thinkers had exorcized the spirits from nature. The Enlightenment philosophers banned God from nature. They were propagandists, and they knew it. And they had the idea “that until the time of Bacon, Newton and Locke people had lived for almost two thousand years in utter darkness” (James Livingstone, Modern Christian Thought, 9). For the philosophers of the Enlightenment, the priests of the church were scoundrels who suppressed the truth. They were determined to overturn the priests’ authority. Enlightenment scientists became something that earlier scientists like Isaac Newton never foresaw: the new priests who were the channels of truth.

Europe, tired of centuries of religious warfare—of killing, atrocity, devastation and torture in the name of God—was ready to listen to the philosophers. But despite its hijacking by the Enlightenment philosophers and scientific materialists afterward, the scientific enterprise has worked very well: a tribute to its biblical basis. An atheist does not self-destruct when he denies God. The Bible critic doesn’t court disaster when he follows Bible principles in spite of himself. Modern science succeeds in spite of being practiced by unbelievers.

The impact of Immanuel Kant

One man who was thoroughly saturated with the ideas of the Enlightenment was Immanuel Kant. In his essay, “What is Enlightenment?” he wrote the following:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] “Have courage to use your own understanding!”—that is the motto of enlightenment.

As Michael Polyani shows in his book, Personal Knowledge, what Kant gives us is an impossible proposition. Every PhD graduate in the natural sciences has gained ninety-five percent of his knowledge not from the laboratory, but second, third or fourth hand. Essentially, scientists gain knowledge because they put their trust in other scientists. Pity their “lack of resolve”! But knowledge progresses in no other way.

Even Kant could not fulfill his admonition. His mind was saturated with Newtonian physics, and he wrote a treatise on the formation of the solar system on the basis of this help from Newton. Given his reliance on the work of believing men, Kant should have looked beyond the rationalists who had been teaching him to the faith of Newton and the faith of the men responsible for the scientific enterprise. It was an unflagging faith in the truth of Scripture that gave the pre-Enlightenment scientists their impetus to examine and interpret nature. They were convinced that Genesis 1 is literal history, and that was their starting point. For centuries scientists had already “dared to know,” but they had put their minds under the authority of Scripture. That is what made them successful.

We deplore the perversion of scientific knowledge for immoral means. We call it arrogance when some claim that natural science will one day answer all questions and establish utopia. The pompous and erroneous pronouncements of Albert Gore and his followers in the name of science are absurd. Richard Dawkins’ application of disproven scientific arguments to belittle the Bible is deceitful. But Bible believers should embrace the practice of scientific discovery: a practice which begins with the idea that we are able to encounter, test, and measure the realities of God’s creation.

We can do all these things because the world and space are created entities. They are neither eternal nor divine, and fate does not rule their movements. They had a beginning in time, and they movie irresistibly toward the goal of God’s coming judgment. Scientific discovery is after all, a biblical pursuit.

[node:bio/jeff-brown body]

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There are 17 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Jeff, appreciate this piece. Definitely resonates with me.
How would you compare and contrast it to Kevin Bauder's take on the relationship between our observations vs. truth vs. reality, etc? I realize Kevin hasn't gone into science much specifically here (yet) but what we believe are the powers and limitations of human observation has been one of his topics... which obviously has a lot of implications for how we view science.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Great job, Jeff!

You are right: science is based upon Biblical assumptions that the universe is orderly because it is created by an orderly God.

"The Midrash Detective"

Jeff Brown's picture

Aaron, you have asked a question with a big answer. I cannot give it all. But I will make an attempt.

Kevin is brilliant. You will note that he is writing three articles to every one of mine. It is good stuff. When Kevin tells us that there is a difference between fact and truth, he is right. Truth requires judgment about fact. Most who read Sharperiron have probably not thought much about that. So it is a helpful contribution. Much of my doctoral work under Kevin was simply talking about how to do the task of theology. People who are energetic as thinkers tend to set the bar high for those they are training. I can confess that his was high. If you are a Baptist, conservative, and dispensational and are wanting to get a doctorate in theology, he is your man. Get in line before the line gets too long.

Much of what he is saying in this series sounds like Michael Polanyi. Polanyi has been one of the great thinkers in science and philosophy in the last half-century. Kevin got me to read Polanyi's Personal Knowledge, which for me became a seminal book. We obviously both take different things away from what he wrote. I see Polanyi as criticizing the supposed complete objectivity of natural science, which does not exist. But Polanyi still firmly adheres to the basic scientific method. Kevin does not give much emphasis to the last point. That is one place we differ. I grew up in a home thoroughly seeped in the thinking of natural science. Then got a bachaelor's degree in Biology. Thinking like a scientist will never go out of me. For me, in theology or philosophy theory and logic are insufficient in themselves. I also need evidence. That isn't just scientific thinking. It is how we are built. One finds this requirement all the way through Scripture if things are to be held as credible.

Another difference Kevin and I have is on the matter of how people perceived things before the Enlightenment and how they are perceived now. I am not convinced about the superiority the mystical view of the world held in centuries past. In one sense, people in Bible times thought just like we do now (notice the scepticism in the story of the Philistines returning the ark of the covenant). Christianity is a Jewish religion. Christians took the Jewish world view (including creation, ethics, and history), and spread it everywhere. As mentioned in my article, it changed people's view of nature. No longer is nature filled with unpredictable gods. We now look at nature as definable and predictible: the creature and not the god. Oddly enough, the Enlightenment philosophes, who so much demanded objectivity and science over religion became the people most responsible for re-introducing the occult to the western world. Biblical objectivity gives humans the right view of nature. Any other concept ultimately will lead one back to the worship of the creature instead of the creator.

Thus I see humans as creatures built to carry on empirical investigation. It fits us, and facilitates correct judgment, even if we will always be limited in what we investigate.

What Kevin and I are talking about is neither heavy nor cutting edge. You find those discussions in other books and journals. We are simply interested in addressing our brothers and sisters in Christ about concepts we feel they need to get exposed to. Kevin and I are very much on the same page. We have a different emphasis in our way of approaching the same subject. And I still have plenty to learn from him.

And Aaron, you wanted me to interact with Kevin when this subject finally came up on SI, so I am doing it.

Jeff Brown

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

That does help.
Sometimes short writing ends up sounding like "Hurray for Option B" when the intent is more like "Let's not be attach so much weight to Option A."
Differences in emphasis.

But I grew up with a high view of science and scientific process as well, so your angle on it is encouraging.
I'm also inclined to see the common man's approach to "what is real" today as being more similar than different compared to how we've viewed reality across the ages.

Right now, it seems like our culture has an intense love-hate thing going on with science. When we like where it seems to point, we say "Science has revealed" as though it had God-like wisdom. But when we don't like where it points, we (as in westerners in general) like to celebrate mystery, paranormal and supernatural--often in fantasy but not always. So in daily life we scream our reverence for "Science" but in our arts we insist that there is More Going On than Science is able to work with.

I find it all fascinating.

Not sure what you're getting at with the skepticism about the Philistines returning the ark... can you elaborate?
Edit: Perhaps this...

NKJV wrote:
1 Sa 6:7–9 Now therefore, make a new cart, take two milk cows which have never been yoked, and hitch the cows to the cart; and take their calves home, away from them. 8 Then take the ark of the LORD and set it on the cart; and put the articles of gold which you are returning to Him as a trespass offering in a chest by its side. Then send it away, and let it go. 9 And watch: if it goes up the road to its own territory, to Beth Shemesh, then He has done us this great evil. But if not, then we shall know that it is not His hand that struck us—it happened to us by chance.”

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jeff Brown's picture

We are all born with the capacity to think skeptically. By the time we are adults we are all pretty good at it. This ability didn't just arise in modern times.

Here is why I say that the Philistines exercised skepticism just like we do. The people of Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath were all convinced that the Ark of Yahweh had special powers. It was causing disease of epidemic proportions for seven months (and sexually selective) everywhere it was taken. Even then, the lords of the Philistines were not willing to say, "We are certain Yahweh has done this." So they set up not only a religious gesture, but also an experiment of impossible proportions. The ark of the Covenant had to arrive at its exact destination, back in the people of Yahweh's territory under the following conditions:

1. The cows pulling the cart were started on their way, but were left with no one to guide them or prod them.
2. The cows pulling the cart had to keep going, non-stop until they reached Beth Shemesh, nine miles away.
3. The cows were separated from their calves, but would not turn back to be with them.
4. The cows would take exactly the right route, and never the wrong turn.

Even though the Philistines wanted to get rid of the ark, if the cows did not pull the cart directly to Beth Shemesh, they could declare the outbreaks of sexually-selective disease in the three cities where the Ark of the Covenant had resided as a chance event. The Lords of the Philistines were thinking pretty much like modern scientists. Common sense tells you it all had to do with the ark, but scientific investigation would have had no way to prove that.

Verse 12 is pretty interesting: "Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh." (NIV) The cows were complaining, but they kept on going on their own: no grass, no water, and no returning to their calves. For the Philistines, it was obvious then that Yahweh alone made the cows take the ark straight back. The event was beyond the natural. Yahweh had likewise afflicted the Philistines because of their presumption of taking His ark into their temples. Their skeptical thinking was answered.

It is interesting, too that the Philistines did not become believers in Israel's God. Scientific proof does not necessarily lead to conversion.

Jeff Brown

Jeff Brown's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
Great job, Jeff!

You are right: science is based upon Biblical assumptions that the universe is orderly because it is created by an orderly God.

Ed, I have a certain amount of passion about this subject, and wish it were better understood among Christians. For 200 to 300 years we have conceded our weapons to non-believers. You don't have to be trained in natural science to counter the claim that Science disproves faith. You only need to know that if there had been no Christian faith, there would have been no modern science. There have been very good books written about this subject on an academic level. Few have been written on the level of the average reader, with some of the history provided. I hope my little article can inspire someone to do that.

Jeff Brown

RPittman's picture

Jeff Brown wrote:
Ed Vasicek wrote:
Great job, Jeff!

You are right: science is based upon Biblical assumptions that the universe is orderly because it is created by an orderly God.

Ed, I have a certain amount of passion about this subject, and wish it were better understood among Christians. For 200 to 300 years we have conceded our weapons to non-believers. You don't have to be trained in natural science to counter the claim that Science disproves faith. You only need to know that if there had been no Christian faith, there would have been no modern science. There have been very good books written about this subject on an academic level. Few have been written on the level of the average reader, with some of the history provided. I hope my little article can inspire someone to do that.

Jeff, would you please list the books that you are referencing for our information? Thank you.

Jeff Brown's picture

Here are several:

The earliest work on the Christian origin of Science is Pierre Duhem's Le Systeme du monde, 5 vol. It has been edited to one volume and translated by Roger Ariew as Medieval Cosmology, Chicago University Press. 600 p. It is heavy reading.

Stanley Jaki was probably the finest scholar for this whole subject. He wrote many books about it. Two of the most often cited are The Savior of Science, Eerdmans (reprint, I think, 230 p) and Science and Creation, my copy is University Press of America. (370 p). At present, you can only get it via Kindle, or otherwise pay over $150 for a used copy. It is a shame it has not been reprinted. I was part of a project to get it done, but the project fell through. If you want to read it, my suggestion is go to a university library where ther is a copy (there are perhaps 1500 copies extant in the world) and photocopy it.

There are plenty of discussions of Jaki's writings on the internet by university science and philosophy departments. He passed away in 2009.

Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton, The Soul of Science, Crossway Books (300 p)

James Hannam, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, Regenery Publishing (450 p) - this is the newest book on the subject. I have not read it, but it has received many positive scholarly reviews. Historians love it. Evangelists of Evolution are highly irritated by it.

There are more, but I think that is plenty for a start.

Jeff Brown

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I was going to ask if you'd read Soul of Science. What's your overall impression of it? I haven't read it but got the impression it was fairly accessible.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jeff Brown's picture

Pearcy and Thaxton wrote a good book. I read it over 10 years ago, so I don't remember everything about it. It really does take you through the whole development of the sciences, from the time of the middle ages up to Quantum Mechanics. It demonstrates clearly how the whole idea that rational thinkers finally overcame the Christian theologians and came up with modern science is totally contrived - really, totally contrived. If you read through it, unless you are a committed Kantian (faith and science are two wholly separate areas of knowledge), you will wind up agreeing that Christian thinking was at the root of modern science, and that the scientific method squares with both reality and the Bible.

Jeff Brown

Jeff Brown's picture

I have one more point, Aaron, are you game?

Jeff Brown

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

More than welcome.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

RPittman's picture

Jeff Brown wrote:
Here are several:

The earliest work on the Christian origin of Science is Pierre Duhem's Le Systeme du monde, 5 vol. It has been edited to one volume and translated by Roger Ariew as Medieval Cosmology, Chicago University Press. 600 p. It is heavy reading.

Stanley Jaki was probably the finest scholar for this whole subject. He wrote many books about it. Two of the most often cited are The Savior of Science, Eerdmans (reprint, I think, 230 p) and Science and Creation, my copy is University Press of America. (370 p). At present, you can only get it via Kindle, or otherwise pay over $150 for a used copy. It is a shame it has not been reprinted. I was part of a project to get it done, but the project fell through. If you want to read it, my suggestion is go to a university library where ther is a copy (there are perhaps 1500 copies extant in the world) and photocopy it.

There are plenty of discussions of Jaki's writings on the internet by university science and philosophy departments. He passed away in 2009.

Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton, The Soul of Science, Crossway Books (300 p)

James Hannam, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, Regenery Publishing (450 p) - this is the newest book on the subject. I have not read it, but it has received many positive scholarly reviews. Historians love it. Evangelists of Evolution are highly irritated by it.

There are more, but I think that is plenty for a start.

Thanks, Jeff. Your enthusiasm for Jaki is interesting. If memory serves me correctly, he was a theistic evolutionist. I'm afraid that I've relegated him pretty much to the likes of Teilhard de Chardin, a liberal Roman Catholic evolutionist. Am I mistaken? Also, is there any relation between de Chardin's and Jaki's views of science?

I have Hannam's book on my to read list, so I'll reserve further comment until I've done my homework and gotten up to speed.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

If Jaki is wrong about the means and timing of creation, he must be wrong about everything else. Wink

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jeff Brown's picture

Hi Roland. I haven't read enough of Jaki's writings to authoritatively say that he was a theistic evolutionist. But I would guess that he could be described that way. He affirms evolution. I am not sure where he would put God's interventions in the development of the universe, life, and life forms. Most theistic evolutionists make God's creative act the Big Bang, and that is it. I am not sure that Jaki followed this line. In all I have read of his writings (he wrote lots), I do not recall his discussions of de Chardin. He probably has discussed de Chardin, but I have only read a small fraction of his writings. There have been plenty of Roman Catholic theologians who have incorporated de Chardin's ideas into their theology, including Dr. Ratzinger. Others have been quite opposed to de Chrardin's ideas.

In Science and Creation Jaki says little about evolution, and even less about Darwin. In the area of Philosophy of Science, he methodically and incisively argues the point that the belief, that God created the world is what lies at the foundation of modern science. Where nature itself is the divinity, science has no chance of forming.

Unfortunately, Jaki's books have not sold in the thousands (of course, they are much too academic to be interesting to the average reader). Creationists however, should have picked up on his writings long ago and popularized his ideas. Evangelical seminaries should have interested their Ph.D. students in his ideas and gotten them to write on them. If they had, all evangelicals would have had very strong arguments against atheistic books which say that Bible-believers are anti-science. We have tended, instead to fuss with Richard Dawkins and others like him. We could have been at work undermining the basis of his books before he wrote them.

Jeff Brown

Jeff Brown's picture

When you read Hannam's book, I would be interested in hearing about it. I have not read it, but only reviews of it.

Jeff Brown

RPittman's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
If Jaki is wrong about the means and timing of creation, he must be wrong about everything else. Wink

Although there's not enough time or space here to thoroughly lay it out here, theistic evolution has insurmountable internal contradictions. To propose that evolution is driven by a body of natural principles and then posit various divine interventions at strategic internals to make it work is inevitably doomed to self-contradiction. Either natural laws are in control or God controls. It is thoroughly unscientific to think that natural laws can be variable. Otherwise, we have no replicability, which is necessary for scientific thinking. Thus, we are lost in randomness.

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