Book Review: Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art

Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art, Abraham Kuyper, edited by Jordan J. Ballor & Stephen J. Grabill, Trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman, Christian’s Library Press, 2011.

Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art, Abraham Kuyper, edited by Jordan J. Ballor and Stephen J. Grabill, Trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman, Christian’s Library Press, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2011, e-book edition.

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With the rising faith in science in Western culture, there needs to be further investigation into the theological and philosophical underpinnings of the phenomenon called science. Abraham Kuyper holds that when we put the “destruction of many people’s faith brought about by the so-called results of science” and “the mocking tone with which people of science almost systematically speak about the revelation of Scripture and about things that are holy” (pg. 50) it makes sense that many in the church are at least suspicious of science, and at most, hostile towards it. Yet, for Kuyper, this does not need to be if we understand what science truly is. In his book, Wisdom and Wonder, Abraham Kuyper explores what science is and what it rests upon.

In the beginning of this book, Kuyper argues that science is independent from theology, that it is “a unique creature of God, with its own principle of life, created to develop in conformity with that principle of life, that is, to develop in freedom.” (pg. 35) Science is a created entity, with a divine purpose that is not theological in form, and should not be chained to theology. For “Science has not demanded such independence in overconfidence . . . (and) neglects its divine calling if it permits itself again to become a servant of the state or the church.” (pg. 34) Here Kuyper opens science to itself, and calls it to be itself. We often want science to conform to theology, or theology to conform to science, but this is not the way that they are designed. Science and theology are distinct and separate disciplines and should be permitted to be. They are not antithetical in essence, but in what they are called to achieve.

Before moving too far, Kuyper has to shore up his understanding of where science comes from. He states that “science rests in the creation of humanity according to God’s image.” (pg. 35) In this divine image, we are imbued with independent critical thought. The creation of man, for Kuyper, is the creation of science. Science is not a product of the fall of man, for it is with us with from the first breath. “Without sin,” Kuyper holds, “there would be no state, and apart from sin there would have been no Christian church, but there would have been science.” (pg. 35) Science was with us in the garden when Adam named and categorized the animals. It is part of the fundamental structures of man’s intellect.

The foundation of science, as a creational aspect, is three-fold. “First, the full and rich clarity of God’s thoughts existed in God from eternity. Second, in the creation God has revealed, embedded, and embodied a rich fullness of his thoughts. And third, God created in human beings, as his image-bearers, the capacity to understand, to grasp, to reflect, and to arrange within a totality these thoughts expressed in the creation.” (41) If we hold that God gave us the intellectual capacity to rationalize, then we have to conclude, as Kuyper does, that God gave us the capacity for science. Which means, in line with Kuyper’s thought, that to do science is to worship God. Kuyper states that “God has organized science in this way (as a system of knowledge) for the magnifying of his holy name.” (pg. 49)

As much as science is creational and a vehicle for worship, it is subject to sin. This subjectiveness to sin leads to what Kuyper calls false science. False science is “outside of a relationship with God” which seeks to steal science “from God, and ultimately turning . . . against God.” (pg. 50) Although Kuyper does not call it so, false science is a science that has fallen prey to the sin of Sloth (Acedia). Contrary to false science, “true science . . . exists exclusively in the knowledge of God’s grace in Christ.” (pg. 50) The distinction for Kuyper between true and false science “lies not in the arena where people perform their investigations but in the manner in which they investigate, and in the principle from which people begin to investigate.” (51) From this Kuyper can hold that science will always properly come a heart directed towards Christ for the glory of Christ. All other science is perverted. Kuyper walks a tight line here, as he does not deny the truth of the claims that secular scientists make. He holds that science not directed towards Christ can discover truths about the creation, but will never be able to reveal the complete truth.

The secular scientist can discover truth to what Kuyper calls common grace. Common grace allows that people “can acquire at least some knowledge of the external side of things and can learn to understand the appearance of things together.” (pg. 61) Kuyper emphasizes the partially of knowledge that is bestowed here, arguing yet again that to truly understand the surface we have to have access to the depths behind that give meaning. Kuyper continues to say that common grace also allows a guiding hand in the passing down of the tradition of science. This grace “preserved some remnant of paradise and enriches our life” (pg. 60).

“Kuyper, Abraham”. Photograph. Digital Library of Abraham Kuyper. Web. 13 Nov. 2013. http://kuyper.ptsem.edu/ Note: The Digital Library of Abraham Kuyper is a collaborative project of the Princeton Theological Seminary Library and The Historical Documentation Centre for Dutch Protestantism (1800 to the present day).

What we need to judge, Kuyper concludes, is whether or not science has its starting point with the spirit of the world or with the Spirit of God. The former will always lead us to destruction and the latter towards greater knowledge of our Creator.

When it is all said and done, Kuyper leaves us with a framework to judge science from. We are not to reject science, as that would be a rejection of God. We should not discount science, as it can inform our world. We should not try to proof-text science, and make sure that it conforms with a literal view of scripture, as this would be doing both scripture and science a disservice. Kuyper’s section on science although not written in a contemporary manner (he has some sections that bring forth the cultural standpoints on gender, for instance, that we would find objectionable) seems to be calling out to us today. It is issuing forth a call that needs to be heeded by the church. We need to embrace and embody science.

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From the desk of the editor . . .

Thank-you to Dan Jesse for his contribution to the Emerging Scholars Network Blog. Next week, the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) will feature another review of Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art, by a pastor who also responded to ESN’s call for reviews. To God be glory! ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV, Associate Director of ESN, editor of ESN’s blog and Facebook Wall.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art

  1. Andy Walsh

    I’m not sure I understand the point that science is not connected to theology. As I understand the idea of general revelation, God uses nature to reveal himself to us; thus, studying nature (i.e. science) can expand our knowledge of God, which is theology in the most literal sense. Perhaps what is meant here is the more academic notion of theology?

    From a theistic perspective, I can understand the notion that secular science cannot lead to a complete truth. If one starts from the assumption of pure materialism and do not allow for even the possibility of God, then it will be impossible to learn about God from such a premise. However, from that materialistic perspective, isn’t it possible to come to a complete truth that is consistent with its starting assumptions? To phrase the question differently, would a secular science be incomplete in any other way besides not including the existence of God?

    Reply
    1. Daniel Jesse

      Andy,
      Great questions, thank you for asking them. Kuyper has a notion called Sphere Sovereignty, which means that every discipline and institution is separate and distinct. Why does he hold to this? Kuyper believes that if the disciplines and institutions are not separate one will try to control and pervert the other. So if theology and science are connected, science would then have to conform to everything that is in the Scriptures and nothing else. Think about the ultra right-wing Muslims that do not believe the earth is round because the Quran does not mention it. This is a giant problem.

      Kuyper also does not seem to hold that science can teach us anything about God proper, but about God’s creation. We can try to extrapolate from Creature to Creator, but no true knowledge of the Creator is gained.

      As for your second question, a secular science is incomplete preciously because it can only tell us the how, and not the why. Science cannot answer metaphysical or teleological questions for Kuyper. The materialistic worldview also offers us no meaning or purpose, so there can be no teleology.

      In a way of summary, This is due to the fact that a strictly materialist understanding of the world has certain underlying and overlying presuppositions that misguides it. If the guiding and grounding principles are off, then everything built on that foundation cannot be wholly correct.

      Reply
      1. Andy Walsh

        Thanks for the clarification, Daniel.

        As described, it sounds as if Sphere Sovereignty stems from a slippery slope argument — if we don’t keep disciplines separate, we wind up at geocentricism (for another example). I’m not sure the slope is so slippery; there seem to be plenty who are able to stake out a consistent position that allows for interaction across disciplines without one dominating another. This also seems consistent with the Biblical treatment of the natural world as a source of concepts/metaphors with useful theological applications.

        When Kuyper judges that the guiding and grounding principles of materialism are off, is that assessment from a theistic perspective? Or does he identify internal inconsistencies from within a materialist perspective?

        Reply
  2. Daniel Jesse

    Andy,
    I am glad you asked a question about Sphere Sovereignty. My initial comment was a simplification of the concept and the reason it exists. I am working on putting together a series of posts on Kuyper’s theology and legacy, including his conception of Sphere Sovereignty.

    To answer your second question, Kuyper judges science’s inconsistencies from his theistic perspective in this book, but it seems like someone with a more scientific mind could take this further and point out the non-theistic problems of science.

    Reply

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