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Christianity & Science

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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February 18, 2022 12:01 am

Christianity & Science

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 18, 2022 12:01 am

Do you have to oppose science in order to be a Christian? Today, W. Robert Godfrey explains that Christianity has never been the enemy of science--but science has its limits.

Get the ‘A Survey of Church History, Part 5 A.D. 1800–1900’ DVD with W. Robert Godfrey for Your Gift of Any Amount:

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... The rise of natural science, the rapid advance of natural science in the West that has led to so many remarkable accomplishments in our time, whether we think of astronomy or medicine, so many things that have changed. That development of science really began in the 17th century, moved on into the 18th century, and began to develop an even more rapid pace in the 19th and of course 20th centuries. In the 17th and 18th century, Christianity and the developments of natural science were seen as completely compatible and friendly. Indeed, many of the finest scientists of that period were Christians, some of them even clergymen. And so the notion that there is a necessary or inevitable opposition between Christianity and science is just a false dichotomy, a false opposition. Christianity has never been the enemy of science.

It has never been the enemy of learning. It has never been the enemy of an exploration of God's universe. Certainly at least Protestantism has never been an enemy of science in that sense. But as the 19th century wore on, explorations in science seemed to be developing in ways that conflicted with traditional Christian understandings of the Bible. And that's where tension between natural science and Christians began to emerge. Although recent studies of the war between religion and science in the 19th century have revealed something very interesting. That the war was initiated from the side of the scientists, not from the side of the theologians. By and large in the 19th century, Christian theologians continued to believe that they could have friendship with science and that science would not develop in ways that fundamentally undermine Christianity.

But increasingly there were scientific leaders and thinkers who were themselves anti-Christian and began to use their scientific convictions in opposition to Christianity. So when your friends tell you there's a war between Christianity and science, depending on how antagonistic you want to be and obnoxious, you can smile and say, yes, there is a war and science started it. Christians should still to this day believe in science and believe that ultimately science can never come to any conclusions at fundamental odds with what God has revealed. All truth is one.

All truth is God's truth. We are not opposed as Christians to science. We are opposed to the claims of scientists that they have reached a final truth that finally disproves the truthfulness of the Bible. Because if you study science in the last four hundred years and you study theology in the last four hundred years, who's changed most do you think? Not the theologians, it's the scientists who keep changing.

And each time they change, they assure us that they know absolutely what is true. There was a time when scientists knew absolutely that the atom was the smallest component of material reality. And then you found things inside the atom. Those were the smallest things. And now there are things inside those things.

I don't know what they're called. I'm sure some of you do. I have a theory. It's only a theory.

It's a speculation. God has created this universe, and He's made it finite. But He's also made it finite in a way that finite creatures can never reach the edges. No matter how far out we look, we'll never reach the edges of the universe. No matter how far back we look, we'll never find the beginning of history.

No matter how far in to the atom we look, we'll never find the smallest material. I think God's playing games with us. Not mean-spirited games, but a game that reminds us we are finite and we're part of a finite creation and there's no getting out. And it should lead us to humility. It should lead us to investigation. It should lead us to a fascination with the world that God has made. It's right to be fascinated with the stars and learn all that we can learn, but it's God's universe.

It's finite, but we're not getting out. Just a theory, but I'm entitled to my theory. But in the 19th century, this war begins to emerge gradually at first and then with more ferociousness in part because for increasing numbers of people, science is beginning to be the real explanation of who we are, why we live, what's the meaning of life. Science is beginning to take on a philosophical component that is becoming explanatory not just of a narrow area of natural knowledge, but of what life is all about. And increasingly for many people in the 19th, 20th, 21st century, science will become the great authority. Science will be revered. And again, I think our Christian response is not to despise or disparage science, but to say doesn't science have limits as to what it knows.

The fact that you're a brilliant scientist does not guarantee that you're a brilliant philosopher about the meaning of science beyond its empirical reality. Well, what are the areas where science begins to develop in the 19th century that begin to challenge Christians and challenge some received aspects of Christian truth? Well, the first area we've already talked about, the so-called science of Biblical criticism, the so-called science of the study of the Bible to find out where it came from, how it was put together, how it's composed, that was all proclaimed to be an entirely scientific enterprise. We'll be able to evaluate the styles of different writers of people in the Bible, and that will tell us where different hands have been involved in the creation of the Bible. It will show us how the Bible has evolved, how books of the Bible have been pasted together. It was all claimed to be a very scientific endeavor, but it didn't really have the essential characteristics of science of real ways of external evaluation as to whether these claims by very learned scholars were actually true.

I always think back on Abraham Kuyper as a student at the University of Leiden. He said he went to lectures, a very distinguished professor, the New Testament Professor Scolton, and one year Professor Scolton said that the book of John was written by the Apostle John and was a reliable witness to what Jesus said and taught. Two years later, he heard lectures by the same Professor Scolton, and he said the Gospel of John was not written by the Apostle John and has no reliable witness value to what Jesus thought and taught. He said, why is the science there that this same man within two years can say the opposite things about the Bible? He may have those opinions, but they're not really scientific. They're not really verifiable.

They're not really certain. So biblical criticism, however, grows and is accepted far and wide as sort of proven, as definite, as assured. And when conservative scholars over and over again showed that these arguments really are not very persuasive, not very convincing, conservative scholarship was regularly dismissed as prejudiced. Somehow the critics of the Bible were not prejudiced, but the defenders of the Bible were prejudiced. So there's one scientific enterprise that shook the confidence of Christians, not so much that they were shaken personally in their confidence in the Bible, but it led them to worry about what was happening in the world and happening to the church and whether things were going downhill for the church rather than uphill. And then secondly, we can think of the impact of Charles Darwin. In 1859, Darwin published his The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, and in 1871 he published The Descent of Man. And this begins the long efforts of biology to prove that human beings arise by natural selection and evolution from lower species, and begins the whole question and conflict as to whether the early chapters of Genesis are reliable, whether the story of Adam Eve is reliable. Is man created from the dust of the earth in the image of God, or is man descended, as it was often put, from the monkeys?

Who's right here? And of course, the challenge that Darwin and Darwinism presented is that not only is the Bible wrong, but now we have a fundamental different way of understanding who human beings are. We're not those created with an immortal soul in the image of God, but we are those who are just animals, more highly developed animals in certain ways, but still fundamentally animals. And as time went on, this vision of Darwin of natural selection, of the survival of the fittest, became not just a biological notion, but became increasingly a social notion with really calamitous results in Western history. Now, those who want to defend Darwinism and want to continue the attack on Christianity are often very hesitant to really face the historical reality, in my judgment. Everything I'm saying is in my judgment. I won't keep saying that because you should be able to figure out this is in my judgment. But I think many moderns are unwilling to face the fact that when Adolf Hitler came around and said some races are superior to other races, that's really an effect of social Darwinism.

Some races will survive and others will not survive. That's just evolution. Why should we object to that? One of the first things that Adolf Hitler did when he took power in Germany was to begin a program of euthanasia to kill off handicapped people and handicapped children.

He had to stop it because parents didn't like that. There was a continuing witness in the hearts of people that even disabled people were made in the image of God. Even disabled people had a value.

They can't just be taken out and killed so that the master race might be stronger and pure. But don't think for a minute that part of the attraction of the message of Adolf Hitler wasn't that he seemed so scientific. I remember talking to a young man whose parents had been very pious Lutherans in Germany, and with the rise of Nazism he had gone off to the Hitler Youth. And he said, we were overwhelmed with a sense. We were the wave of the future, facing the brave new world. We were being scientific. Our poor parents were just benighted, caught up in the past.

We were modern people. And I don't want to say that all of that is Darwin's fault personally, but that if you really embrace the notion that we're all just animals, that it's a survival of the fittest, that weaker species do die off over time, how exactly do you answer the racists who insist that they are the wave of the future and supported by science? That has to be faced as a serious question if there's no alternative.

And of course, part of what goes on here is a kind of determinism, isn't it? You can't determine your race. You can't change your race. You can just live or die. You can kill or be killed. And that's one of the really disturbing factors of a lot of the alternatives being offered to Christianity in the 19th and 20th century.

A lot of these alternatives are deterministic alternatives. The prize of freedom is being taken away. It's ironic they hate Calvinism because of its view of the sovereignty of God. They get rid of God, but they don't maintain human freedom.

They plunge humanity into an even greater loss of freedom. And so the sense that science is opposing the faith, is undermining the Bible, is changing our notion of who human beings are is a big factor of a changing mood amongst Christians in the later 19th century. And then there's Karl Marx. Karl Marx in 1848 with Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto, there is a specter haunting Europe, the specter of communism.

One wag late in the 20th century said, there is a specter haunting communism, the specter of Europe. But here in the middle of the 19th century was this notion that there's this new social political economic movement, the movement of communism. And in 1867, Marx published the first volume of his Das Kapital, which was his view of history and economics and where history was going. If Darwin was something of a biological determinist, Marx becomes an economic determinist. How is history driven?

Where is history going? It's driven by economics. Now regrettably, we all know that Karl Marx is nearly always right.

An awful lot of human decisions are driven by economics, but not all, not everything. And Marx's vision was not just that history is driven by economics, but it's driven in a particular way and to a particular outcome, a particular destination. And societies will go through a definite inevitable pattern from the agricultural to the formation of capital to the overthrow of capital and the eventual introduction of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

And therefore, there is an inevitably revolutionary dimension to the movement of history. And you know, in fairness to Marx, his vision is somewhat utopian. There's going to be this grand day coming when all of us will share equally in the wealth of the nations, and there'll be freedom for everybody.

This was the grand vision. This is what attracted so many people to socialism and to communism in the 19th and 20th century. They looked around, and they saw so much economic inequality. They saw so much grinding poverty. And they said there has to be a solution to this. There has to be a way to improve this.

And the message of socialism, and for some the more radical message of communism, Marxism, really seemed to be the wave of the future. And they were assured, get on the bandwagon now. This is inevitable. This is going to work out.

It's going to be glorious. And again, the reality fell somewhat short of the promise. And what became of the great communist experiment? Well, it degenerated into Stalinism. Adolf Hitler was not a prince, but Stalin was worse. Stalin killed millions more than Hitler killed. And it was murder in the name of building this just, equal society. But it's remarkably parallel to the French Revolution that started with such ideals and descended into terror and into dictatorship, exactly what happened with Stalin. And the promise of social equality was betrayed, the party bosses had the big cars and the good apartments and the good food. And yet, for a long time, that vision of Marxism gripped intellectuals in the West.

As one cynical friend of mine says, Marxism has ceased to exist except in American universities. But there were many who, even when they knew what Stalin was doing, said, well, this is just part of that inevitable conflict of history that we have to work through. The vision remains, the hope remains, and it will happen because it's determined.

Scientific study of economics and history assures us that this is what is going to happen. And there were millions of people caught up in that vision, just as there were millions of people caught up in the vision of fascism resting on a foundation of racism. Then we can come to a fourth science that emerges in the latter part of the 19th century, the psychology of Freud, Sigmund Freud, who assures us that what really drives human life is impulses from the unconscious. And if we can only explore the unconscious, we can come to understand the tensions within us between the id and the ego and the superego. Whereas Darwin and Marx gave us sort of mega visions of the movement of human history, Freud now is focusing on the individual, what's going on in the individual mind.

And the good news, it's all your parents' fault. But again, a kind of determinism. Now supposedly through psychoanalysis you could gain a measure of self-understanding, a measure of overcoming who you are and what you've been, how you've been formed. You can overcome the Oedipal complex and all the various things that operate within you. But there's still this sense that it's not the open world, it's not the apparent world that really controls us and runs us. It's the subconscious, it's the unconscious, it's forces that we don't see and fully understand. And it's hard to believe how much Freudian language and Freudian ideas have seeped in to who we are as a culture.

Marilynne Robinson, some of you may know her novels Gilead and Lila, she teaches writing and she says she's mystified about how her students, when they try to write something creative, can't think of any way to talk about human emotion except in Freudian terms. That's their only worldview. And this is the science that has threatened Christianity. And I think it's fair for us as Christians to say, is the world better off for Darwin and Marx and Freud?

Is it better off for the kind of determinism that has been brought into many lives? And doesn't modern anti-Christian man at some point have to face up to the millions and millions and millions who died in the name of these ideals? Now they always talk about the checkered Christian past, the violence of Christians.

We're not trying to say we have no faults in our past. And it may be that we killed only hundreds because of technology, but it remains true we didn't kill millions and millions and millions and millions and lead people to hopes of utopias that were never to be built. Hitler was going to build a thousand-year Reich.

It lasted 12 years and nearly took down the whole of Western civilization with it. We need a more effective historical apologetic for Christianity in our time, but that's getting ahead of the picture. Our lecture today is just showing how these new forces of science brought to many Christians a sense our culture is out of control. We're becoming pessimistic, and that led to new forms of Christian life and experience. We learn when we study church history that the cultural, the economic, and the political have all played a role in how the church has grown into what we see today. It's important for us to keep that in mind and to do our best to make sure it's the biblical that sets the direction for our churches. Dr. Godfrey has made it clear this week here on Renewing Your Mind that studying church history is no peripheral endeavor. In fact, it's vital. His full series covers 2,000 years of church history, and we'd be happy to send Part 5 to you for your gift of any amount.

You can make your request and give your gift online when you go to or when you call us at 800-435-4343. Dr. Godfrey mentioned a laundry list of men from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in today's lecture—Darwin, Marx, and Freud. Now they are infamous for different reasons, but they do have one thing in common.

They each tried to make sense of the world without a biblical lens. And we see that being repeated today, don't we? We here at Ligonier Ministries are doing everything we can to combat that by proclaiming, teaching, and defending the holiness of God in all its fullness to as many people as possible. When you support this ministry, you become part of the mission to equip future generations to know the God of the Bible. So we thank you for your generosity. While early in the twentieth century a battle for the very soul of the church was raging, one of the strongest voices standing for biblical truth belonged to J. Gresham Machen. We'll learn more about this stalwart of the faith Monday as we wrap up highlights of Dr. Godfrey's series, A Survey of Church History, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-03 16:31:47 / 2023-06-03 16:40:09 / 8

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