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.
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).
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.
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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About the author:
Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Grand Rapids Community College and Kendall College of Art and Design. MA in Philosophical Theology from the Institute for Christian Studies, BA in Philosophy and Worldview Studies from Cornerstone University.