I received a copy of a book that I could not review intelligently. It is by Vern Poythress and it is on science and faith, so I asked my friend, RJS (a science professor at a research institution), if she’d like to review it. Here is her first installment. She’s got some good questions at the end.
1. Premise of the book and introduction of basic ideas:
Vern S. Poythress, Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has come out with a new book entitled Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach. With doctoral degrees in New Testament (University of Stellenbosch, 1981) and Mathematics (Harvard 1970), and a life-long interest in and appreciation for science, he is well qualified to discuss this topic. In fact it is apparent in this book that he has a solid understanding and enthusiasm for the scientific exploration and understanding of God’s creation.
He has written a clear book that is a must read for Christian scientists, especially those in the academy, and for all Christians interested in the coherence between science and faith. This book is not an apologetic for Christianity, but a route to rethink the meaning of science, the relationship between science and the Bible, and the action of God in the world, from a point of view that is thoroughly Christian, and consistent with the protestant, reformed understanding of scripture.
Poythress starts with the statement “All scientists – including agnostics and atheists – believe in God. They have to in order to do their work (13).” This statement may surprise some, but arises from his foundational hypothesis that God is not to be confined to the gaps. Speaking of God, Poythress asserts that “According to the Bible he is involved in those areas where science does best, namely areas involving regular and predictable events, repeating patterns, and sometimes exact mathematical descriptions (14).” Belief in the reproducibility of nature, the universality of scientific laws, is either belief in the personal God responsible for those laws or idolatry – the substitution of devotion to the idol of impersonal naturalism in the place of God.
The next three chapters deal with the role of the Bible, the source and authority of knowledge, and the nature of creation. The word of God comes to us in special revelation (scripture) and in general revelation (providence and nature). In fact the Bible teaches us that both are valid forms of the Word. “The word of God in providence and his word in Scripture are both completely true and trustworthy. But we misunderstand the one word unless we have the other. (47)” But make no mistake, Poythress holds to a high view of scripture claiming (pp. 56-58): (1) that the Bible is fully the word of God, although the Holy Spirit must interpret the Bible to us, (2) that as fallen and sinful human beings we are in no position to make accurate and independent judgment about the character of the Bible and its truthfulness, (3) that we desperately need the Bible as part of the remedy for our mental and spiritual corruption, and (4) that the Bible must reform the life of science along with every other area of life.
The Biblical teaching of creation (pp. 75-77) affirms that there is one and only one God. He is all powerful, the creator and originator of everything of his own free will – there is no uncreated “prime matter,” there is no law, there is no knowledge, there is no reality apart from God. The world is wholly created and not to be worshipped. Although the acts of creation took place long ago and are now finished, God continues to be actively involved in the governance of the world.
So some questions to consider here: What role or priority do we assign to special versus general revelation? Is it appropriate to assert that evolving understanding of general revelation (science) can guide our interpretation of the special revelation contained within scripture? Are the laws of nature, the laws of physics, a manifestation of the Word of God (John 1: 3) and thus reliable and authoritative?