The Disciplines of Knowing: The Sciences (1)
As a way of knowing, we expect science to teach us about Jesus.
If the clouds are full of rain,
They empty themselves upon the earth;
And if a tree falls to the south or the north,
In the place where the tree falls, there it shall lie.
He who observes the wind will not sow,
And he who regards the clouds will not reap. Ecclesiastes 11.3, 4
A way of knowing
King Solomon was a keen observer of creation. Both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes record many of his remarkable observations, together with the lessons and conclusions he drew from those. He observed the ways of animals, patterns of weather, human social interactions, the varieties of plants, and the differences between the seasons of the year. We would not say that Solomon was a scientist, but what Solomon did – to gain the wisdom promised him by God – is very similar to what scientists do.
And Solomon insisted that this kind of observing, thinking, processing, and learning for the sake of gaining wisdom is a duty appointed to all of us: “I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised” (Eccl. 1.12, 13).
This is not a call for all of us to strap on our white coat and head out to the lab; but Solomon’s mandate certainly makes being aware of, learning from, and making good use of science a matter of concern for all who want to increase in wisdom, and in the knowledge of Him Who is the very Treasury of divine wisdom.
Russell Maatman explains, “Physical science consists of observations and laws that relate to the world that exists” (The Unity in Creation). Vern Poythress reminds us that what we observe in those “laws” are only “the regularities of God’s own commitments and actions” (Redeeming Science). He elaborates, echoing a similar thought by Jonathan Edwards, “Scientists describe the regularities in God’s word governing the world. So-called natural law is really the law of God or word of God, imperfectly and approximately described by human investigators.”
Science is thus a way of knowing, a collection of protocols and procedures by which we may study and learn about the operations of the physical world, keeping in mind that all those operations are the result of Jesus Christ’s upholding Word of power, and thus should provide us some insight into His wisdom, power, majesty, faithfulness, and love (Heb. 1.3).
Still too short
My dad was not a very good carpenter, and I have inherited his paltry skills with saws and hammers. Whenever he had to fix something around the house – especially something that involved sawing and hammering – the finished product never quite turned out like new. But he would just smile and say, “I don’t know, I cut it off twice and it’s still too short.”
This is the problem with modern science, and it’s why, for many Christians, science is regarded as the enemy of faith, and why they think we ought have nothing to do with it.
But science, as we shall see in this part of our study on knowing, loving, and serving the Lord Jesus, is not the enemy. It just keeps coming up short in its work of observing and describing the operations of the universe. As far as modern science goes in discovering and making use of the workings of the cosmos, it is an amazing endeavor. But soon after the beginning of the scientific revolution (around 1700), European thinkers worked to “cut off” God from the field of science and all other disciplines of knowing. The French philosophes who created the Encyclopedia project redefined all knowledge apart from God, or they made God subservient to reason and philosophy. Then, almost 100 years later and following the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, scientists “cut off” God from their labors one more time, insisting that the laws of the universe are independent and objective, and are only under the influence of four material forces – gravity, electro-magnetism, and the strong and weak force of the atom. God, they insisted, has nothing to do with the material cosmos.
So, having “cut off” God twice from the process of knowing through science, it should not surprise us that the studies, discoveries, and products of contemporary secular science are “still too short” to incite wonder, praise, thanks, and obedience to God. Indeed, in many ways, modern science is using its discoveries to foment outright rebellion against God.
And we call this kind of science scientism. Scientism makes a religion out of science, insisting that only science can show the way to truth, and that only what science shows to be true should be regarded as such. Scientism bullies the humanities and banishes theology as it pounds the table of learning, insisting that it alone can lead us to the truth that sets us free.
No reason to reject science
But the fact that some scientists have become carried away by secular winds should not cause us to turn a blind eye to the work of science. Science opens up windows on the creation, allowing us to peer into its operations, marvel at its mysteries, and discern in it the voice and Presence of God, making Himself known and calling us to enjoy and glorify Him forever.
As Russel Maatman reminds us, “created reality is the sum of everything that is linked by the strands of the creating and upholding power of God.” Our calling, as those who have been given dominion over the creation (Ps. 8; cf. Heb. 2.5-9), is to set our focus on Jesus and explore and make good use of the protocols and products of science in loving God and our neighbors.
We need a vision for how science can help us increase in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, just as we need a vision to guide us in taking up the work of theology and exploring the bounty of the humanities. Vern Poythress asks, “Where is a vision for the whole world that would draw us into an appreciation of the human significance of science?”
It is the outlines of such a vision that we hope to supply in this series.
1. What do we mean by saying that science is a way of knowing? Knowing what? Why are the findings of modern science “still too short”?
2. Why should we expect a better appreciation of science to help us in knowing, loving, and serving Jesus Christ?
3. Do any aspects of science help you to love the Lord more? Explain.
Next Steps – Preparation: How many different ways do you make use of science in your daily life? Keep a list throughout the day. At the end of the day, give thanks to Jesus – the upholding Word of God – for making these benefits available to you. Share this exercise with a Christian friend.
T. M. Moore
Science has been taken captive by the secular temper of the times, and we need to understand how this has happened. Our book, Understanding the Times, is a valuable guide to understanding the world we live in and how we as Christians can understand how to live in it. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.