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danger and duty in studying science


I'm currently reading Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art (Christian's Library Press; English translation, 2011) by Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920). Kuyper was a Dutch Reformed theologian, founder of the Free University of Amsterdam, who also served as the prime minister of Holland from 1901 to 1905. Based upon his view of common grace he demonstrates that, despite the dangers inherent in scientific and artistic studies, Christians are called to participate and dignify these disciplines that God has given graciously to be shared by all humanity.  

In part one, Kuyper is arguing for Christians to maintain their work in the sciences without succumbing to materialism (philosophical naturalism) in their worldview and approach. He observes that the western world has been "led to the increasing materializing of all science, feeding the false notion that spiritual life arose from material causes." Below are some excerpts taken from this section. 

On the nature of the observer, Kuyper holds that "...we must boldly maintain the twofold nature of the terrain of investigation. On the one hand, there is a terrain of external things, where everything depends on seeing and hearing, weighing and measuring. On the other hand, there is a terrain of invisible, spiritual things, where our own internal spirit deserves the right of first action and where the outwardly observable can and may function only as a servant."

The true scientist, aware of his own consciousness, "cannot help but inquire about the origin, the coherence, and the destiny of things, whereas observation neither can nor does teach us anything about these." His mind cannot free itself of the "three principial questions about which the spirit within us always muses again and again: From where? How? And to what end?"

But for the scientist who was committed to a purely materialist philosophy, "There was no soul any longer; there was no God any longer. There was nothing more than matter and manifestations of matter. This resulted in the complete materialization of all science. This is the main feature that characterizes all of modern science." And such a person "closets himself within his self-sufficient thinking so that he places God outside his field of vision..."

Kuyper argues, "You must perceive and acknowledge that your thinking also belongs to that spiritual life. You must see clearly that because of this, the researching person cannot remain satisfied with observing, measuring, and weighing." And, "The scientific researcher who takes his starting point in the world around him, and stakes his honor on grasping for neutral objectivity, is doomed by his very method to seeing the independent existence of his own ego finally perish." He will end up "ultimately idolizing the material."

Believers, however, must not abandon the sciences, and "retreat to their ecclesiastical corner and, satisfied with simply having faith, abandon the building of the temple of science to unbelievers, as though science does not concern them. This they may not do, because the scientific enterprise is not an exercise in human pride but rather a duty God has laid upon us." ... "God’s honor requires the human spirit to probe the entire complexity of what has been created, in order to discover God’s majesty and wisdom and to express those in human thoughts with human language."

Neither does the Christian adopt a naturalistic view of the world: "The inevitable result is that gradually his faith begins to yield to his scientific view, and without noticing it, he slips into the unbelieving mode of viewing the world." We cannot live, and observe, and study, as those who think they live in a closed universe. Kuyper says, "The whole creation is nothing but the visible curtain behind which radiates the exalted working of this divine thinking."

We should, as believers, pursue excellence and advancement in scientific studies: "There is only one means for preventing this, one that requires Christian thinkers to establish a university-level movement, and by means of that academic movement manifest a different mode of perceiving and thinking, reproducing it among people who pursue these university studies." If we do not, then we are abdicating our role as God's children who have been given dominion over the earth.                 

In concluding the section on science, Kuyper writes: "In the nature of the case, the general mentality among the populace receives its imprint from the academics. The universities stipulate the direction of thought for people of influence. From the universities this mode of thinking is reproduced among politicians, lawyers, physicians, teachers, and writers. By means of such influence that mode of thinking is carried over into the press, to secondary and elementary schools, and to the network of our bureaucratic officials. If that university life and the influence it produces on the populace remain exclusively in the hands of unbelievers, then public opinion will ultimately be turned entirely in that direction, also morally and religiously, and will have a most injurious effect in our Christian circles as well."


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