Rise of the Scientific Worldview

Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (March 2014)

This article explores the major reasons for shallow theological thinking in the modern world. A falling away from the spiritual truths of the Bible is promoted by the strong influence of a scientific worldview which denies the supernatural sphere simply because it falls outside the scope of scientific inquiry which is based upon the collection of observable data. Spiritual impoverishment is inevitable among people who yield to a man-made theory aimed at explaining away the living God and His Son, who is not only the Creator but also the Saviour of the world.

 

There are a number of factors which account for the rapid advance of a scientific worldview in the developed world. One of them is modern technology with its electronic media which allows for increased global communication on an unprecedented scale. This intensive interaction promotes the narrowing or elimination of differences and the fostering of global values and a global mindset, thus emphasising our interdependence and common destiny on planet Earth. Scientific discoveries in various disciplines create new possibilities for progress and the solving of a wide range of human and ecological problems while, at the same time, exposing the actions of certain influential political, cultural and religious groups as destructive, irrational, obsolete, fatalistic or redundant, and therefore a threat to world peace and human rights. However, on the trail of modern science’s immense material success, the scientific worldview is often impacting negatively on the moral and spiritual side of human life and is therefore not an unmixed blessing.

What is a worldview?

A concise definition of a worldview may be useful to clarify the objective with this article. A worldview refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs which an individual, a cultural group, or a religious group hold with regard to the formation and functioning of the physical world with all its life forms, the position of the world in the vast universe, the spirit world and its interaction with the natural world, and, more specifically, the origin of human beings, their nature (e.g. body, soul and spirit), their societal institutions, moral norms and relationship with the natural world, as well as views on their final destiny. There is a wide range of divergent worldviews:

Naturalistic worldviews (e.g. the scientific worldview and secular humanism) advance theories of the world and the universe that deny and exclude the supernatural or spiritual realm. Only empirical knowledge is taken into account, which is derived from perceivable, testable and quantifiable data. Logic reasoning, not faith, is applied to investigate and explain all phenomena. Moral behaviour is related to the functioning of natural instincts and therefore does not need to be associated with religious precepts and values to ensure orderly behaviour. Man is seen to be at the summit of the process of evolutionary development, and should be challenged to continue refining and practising his creative skills until he realises his full potential. Man’s natural intellect and ability towards critical thinking explain his success in the discovery and beneficial application of the laws and powers of nature, thus rendering him the master of his own destiny.

Monotheistic worldviews (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) give recognition to a transcendent God who is the Creator of everything that exists. Monotheistic worldviews vary greatly in accordance with the specific revelation of God which each faith adheres to, giving rise to completely different values and lifestyles among their members. A common feature of these three faiths is the belief that the supernatural world is also home to the opposing kingdom of darkness under the authority of the devil, who is able to wield extensive influence over people. The polarity in the spirit world leads to an intensive struggle between light and darkness, and therefore demands a thorough knowledge of divine revelations to discern between truth and error. Monotheistic believers all have a utopian future expectation, which will materialise after a dramatic intervention by God to strip Satan of his powers and eradicate evil in the world.

Pantheistic worldviews are entertained by followers of the major Eastern religions, and also by the New Age Movement. This belief is based on the idea that everything in nature – animate and inanimate – is characterised by a pervading element of divinity. Everything is God, and God is in everything. People are taught to use psycho-techniques such as transcendental meditation to experience altered states of consciousness whereby they come into contact with their inherent divinity. The latter is sometimes described as the higher self, the deeper self, the god within, the Buddha within, or even a cosmic consciousness. In this way, divine wisdom is acquired on how to solve problems and heal diseases. Those who are experienced in exploiting this source of wisdom may spiritually develop to the level of masters of wisdom who can give guidance to other people. After their death they become members of a hierarchy of ascended masters, who may return to the physical world for another life cycle by way of reincarnation.

Polytheistic (spiritualistic) worldviews are commonly encountered among people who worship their deceased ancestors and/or a number of different gods. In such cultures, the natural and supernatural are intertwined in a unified experience of reality. Consequently, people fail to recognise the principle of natural cause and effect, and therefore do not engage in empirical research to find natural solutions to problems such as disease. They believe that both blessings and adversities are supernaturally caused, which renders it impossible to clearly distinguish between natural and supernatural phenomena. Because of this belief, they practise a religion of appeasing the gods and ancestral spirits through sacrifices to ensure their benevolence. In most spiritualistic societies there are, apart from the spirits and gods, also impersonal supernatural powers that may be harnessed to the advantage or detriment of people by those who have been trained in the secrets of manipulating magical powers. So-called “white magic” is practised by traditional healers, or witchdoctors, who do divination by means of bone-throwing and other techniques, prepare herbal and other remedies, provide good luck charms and plant protective medicines around homes to safeguard them against witchcraft. Those who practise “black magic” are the witches and sorcerers who are evil-minded and intent on harming and killing people by bewitching them. When sorcerers are exposed through divination conducted by traditional healers they are usually executed in public with the full approval of society. People in such societies are relieved to be rid of evil persons who endangered their lives.

Polytheism and superstition in Europe

Worldviews derived from polytheism and the irrational belief in magical powers are not only characteristic of the underdeveloped Third World but were also widespread in Europe until long after the dark Middle Ages. Linder (2005) says that it was only at the end of the medieval period (ca. 1500 AD) that a clear concept emerged of a witch as a person who acted in league with the devil, and that full-scale persecution began, often leading to mass executions. Authorities in Geneva, Switzerland, burned 500 accused witches at the stake in 1515. Nine years later in Como, Italy, a spreading spiral of witchcraft charges led to as many as 1 000 executions. Over the 160 years from 1500 to 1660, Europe saw between 50 000 and 80 000 suspected witches executed. About 80% of those killed were women. Execution rates varied greatly from country to country, from a high of about 26 000 in Germany to about 10 000 in France, and 1 000 in England. In 1643-1645, the largest witch-hunt in French history occurred. During those two years there were at least 650 arrests in the Languedoc region alone. The same time was one of intense witch-hunting in England, as the English civil war created an atmosphere of unrest that fuelled the hunting, especially under Matthew Hopkins.

In his article, Douglas Linder (2005) describes the fate of witches under the rule of King James VI of Scotland, who later (in 1603) became King James I of England: “Scotland’s witch-hunting had its origins in the marriage of King James to Princess Anne of Denmark. Anne’s voyage to Scotland for the wedding met with a bad storm, and she ended up taking refuge in Norway. James travelled to Scandinavia and the wedding took place at Kronborg Castle in Denmark. After a long honeymoon in Denmark, the royal newlyweds encountered terrible seas on the return voyage, which the ship’s captain blamed on witches. When six Danish women confessed to having caused the storms that bedevilled King James, he began to take witchcraft seriously. Back in Scotland, the paranoid James authorized the torture of suspected witches. Dozens of condemned witches in the North Berwick area were burned at the stake in what would be the largest witch-hunt in British history. By 1597, James began to address some of the worst prosecutorial abuses, and witch-hunting abated somewhat. The Enlightenment, beginning in the late 1680s, contributed to the end of witch-hunts throughout Europe.”

The Enlightenment

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (2014) defines the concept of Enlightenment as follows, thereby also reflecting revised ideas about religion and the involvement of God in creation: “A European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which ideas concerning God, reason, nature, and man were synthesized into a worldview that gained wide assent and that instigated revolutionary developments in art, philosophy, and politics. Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and the celebration of reason, the power by which man understands the universe and improves his own condition. The goals of rational man were considered to be knowledge, freedom, and happiness.”

Some of the Enlightenment theories were secular, being aimed at fostering an ideological consciousness which is conducive to initiating a movement away from the socio-economic and intellectual deprivation caused by oppressive governments, and furthermore to liberate people from religious institutions that were equally oppressive and prescriptive. However, there were also those reformers who insisted on less radical changes on the religious front. They warned against throwing out the baby with the bath water by altogether abandoning the Christian religion because of the malpractices in certain churches. To enlightened believers it was imperative to believe in God as Creator and in His Son as the Saviour of humanity, who has come to set people free from the bondage of sin and superstition, and also to introduce high moral and ethical standards for governments and individuals.

In their review of US and European history, Hall Association (2014) says: “The Age of Reason, as it was called, was spreading rapidly across Europe. In the late 17th century, scientists like Isaac Newton and writers like John Locke were challenging the old order. Newton’s laws of gravity and motion described the world in terms of natural laws beyond any spiritual force. In the wake of political turmoil in England, Locke asserted the right of a people to change a government that did not protect natural rights of life, liberty and property. People were beginning to doubt the existence of a God who could predestine human beings to eternal damnation and empower a tyrant for a king. Europe would be forever changed by these ideas.”

Some of the prominent thinkers of the Enlightenment promoted religious reforms by rejecting the Calvinistic tenet of divine predestination, which denied the free will of humans and severely limited the fulfilment of personal aspirations. These enterprising Christians, whether they were theologians, philosophers, scientists or political leaders, made a major contribution to laying the foundation for the emerging Enlightenment period in European history. Three examples of these early pioneers are King James I of England, Sir Isaac Newton, and John Wesley.

King James I. Initially, he personally supervised the torture of women accused of being witches, but after 1599 he became sceptical about the widespread belief in witches. In a later letter written in England to his son, Prince Henry, James congratulates the Prince on “the discovery of yon(der) little counterfeit wench. I pray God ye may be my heir in such discoveries ... most miracles now-a-days prove but illusions, and ye may see by this how wary judges should be in trusting accusations” (Wikipedia-1).

Butler (2006) reviews some of the religious aspects of King James’ role in paving the way towards the Enlightenment: “James also wrote some rather moving Meditations on the Lord’s Prayer and a justly famous essay, A Counterblast to Tobacco (1604), one of the first, and surely one of the best attacks on smoking ever written. Smoking, James tells us, is ‘a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless’.” Butler (2006) continues: “James I consistently strove for peace both at home and abroad, with varying success, but was determined never to go to war if it could be helped. His impact on English literature is considerable, not least because of his encouragement of and participation in the translation of the Bible into English (1611), the translation that many people still consider the best, and which bears his name, the King James Bible. That, above everything he wrote, is James’s monument.”

Isaac Newton. Wikipedia-2 (2014) says: “Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was, as considered by others within his own lifetime, an insightful and erudite theologian. He wrote many works ... dealing with the literal interpretation of the Bible. Newton’s conception of the physical world provided a stable model of the natural world that would reinforce stability and harmony in the civic world. Newton saw a monotheistic God as the masterful Creator whose existence could not be denied in the face of the grandeur of all creation.” Answers in Genesis (2014) corroborates this view: “Isaac Newton is well known as one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. Less well known is his deep belief in God and his conviction that scientific investigation leads to a greater knowledge of God the Creator of the universe.”

John Wesley. According to a biographical account (Wikipedia-3), a great spiritual awakening followed upon the preaching and writings of John Wesley (1703-1791). He travelled generally on horseback, preaching two or three times each day. He rode 250 000 miles, gave away £30 000 and preached more than 40 000 sermons. John Wesley always emphasised the personal responsibility of every person to make a choice about Christ’s offer of salvation, and rejected the Calvinist doctrines of election and reprobation. He formed societies, opened chapels, examined and commissioned preachers, administered aid charities, superintended schools and orphanages, and received at least £20 000 for his publications but used little of it for himself. Because of his charitable nature he died poor, leaving as the result of his life’s work 135 000 members and 541 itinerant preachers under the name Methodist. Wesley was a logical thinker and expressed himself clearly, concisely and forcefully in writing. His written sermons are characterised by spiritual earnestness and simplicity. As an organiser and religious leader he was eminent. He knew how to lead and control people to achieve his purposes. He used his power, not to provoke rebellion, but to inspire love.

Consequences of the Enlightenment

During the Enlightenment, many people were philosophically and intellectually enlightened through the abandoning of primitive superstitions such as the irrational belief in witchcraft. In stead of trying to determine supernatural (magical) causes for diseases and other calamities they now resorted to empirical research in accordance with the principle of natural cause and effect. They became aware of the fact that mankind need not be the fatalistic victims of powers emanating from the spirit world, but as intelligent and thinking beings they can choose their own lifestyle and work it out.

Much greater emphasis was placed on education, also literacy programmes for adults, while many more tertiary educational institutions were established. These developments gave rise to increased research programmes in diverse fields of knowledge, including the natural sciences, engineering, medical sciences, social sciences, economic sciences, etc. Despite economic impediments in developing countries, educational institutions steadily increased, often leading to groundbreaking discoveries that changed the further course of human development.

It was evident that the laws of nature should be investigated, discovered and used to enhance the quality of our lives, irrespective of whether we are believers or not. Anyone can conduct scientific research and benefit from the discoveries that are made. Christian ethics demand that the exploitation and control of natural resources should be done in a responsible and sustainable way, so both people and nature itself can benefit from these actions. Our first parents were in fact commissioned to subdue the earth and have dominion over it (Genesis 1:28). A great deal of knowledge and expertise is needed to do so in a proper way. Christians have a divinely-determined work ethic, and therefore also the responsibility to study and work towards the common good of all. The natural world functions according to natural laws, and all of us should gain the necessary skills to exploit and manage the natural resources in our environment in the most efficient way.

Critical thinking

It is incumbent on all researchers to follow a methodological approach which is based on the principles of critical thinking. The University of Canberra (2014) formulated a concise but very relevant definition of this concept: “When you are thinking critically, you are not just thinking passively and accepting everything you see and hear. You are thinking actively. You are asking questions about what you see and hear, evaluating, categorising, and finding relationships.” This is the only way in which new insights can be gained, new fields of knowledge can be discovered, and new applications of existing knowledge can be made.

The following is an exposition of critical thinking posted by Critical Thinking Web (2014):

“Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. Someone with critical thinking skills is able to do the following:

·      understand the logical connections between ideas;

·      identify, construct and evaluate arguments;

·      detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning;

·      solve problems systematically;

·      identify the relevance and importance of ideas; and

·      reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values.

“Critical thinking is not a matter of accumulating information. A person with a good memory and who knows a lot of facts is not necessarily good at critical thinking. A critical thinker is able to deduce consequences from what he knows, and he knows how to make use of information to solve problems, and to seek relevant sources of information to inform himself.

“Critical thinking should not be confused with being argumentative or being critical of other people. Although critical thinking skills can be used in exposing fallacies and bad reasoning, critical thinking can also play an important role in cooperative reasoning and constructive tasks. Critical thinking can help us acquire knowledge, improve our theories, and strengthen arguments. We can use critical thinking to enhance work processes and improve social institutions.” (End of quote from the Critical Thinking Web).

The Critical Thinking Community (2014) defines this concept as follows:” Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions. ... Critical thinking – in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes – is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.”

The same source states that critical thinking is not always strictly adhered to by all researchers, as many of them keep on making untested assumptions and still hold to scientifically irrational beliefs: “Critical thinking of any kind is never universal in any individual; everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought. Its quality is therefore typically a matter of degree and dependent on, among other things, the quality and depth of experience in a given domain of thinking or with respect to a particular class of questions. No one is a critical thinker through-and-through, but only to such-and-such a degree, with such-and-such insights and blind spots, subject to such-and-such tendencies towards self-delusion. For this reason, the development of critical thinking skills and dispositions is a life-long endeavour.”

It is obvious why critical thinking is an essential disposition for the conducting of empirical research in various disciplines, but it is equally obvious why this approach could have devastating effects if it is applied to the study and evaluation of divine revelation. Human reasoning based on the evidence of scientifically verifiable facts has severe limitations as it cannot probe the supernatural sphere. By their own admission unbelieving, rational scientists are not able to prove or disprove the existence of a transcendent God who is above His creation; neither can they, without faith, become enlightened on the sphere of the supernatural since their research methods based on critical thinking cannot investigate such phenomena. If they do not subject themselves to the acceptance by faith of divine revelations which defy laboratory tests, they wilfully confine themselves to the category of agnostic naturalists. In that case they become utterly presumptuous, to the extent of claiming that there is no evidence of intelligent design in the universe, and that their rational scientific research is quite able to fully explain the origin and functioning of the entire creation. To them, there is no God.

Expanding application of the scientific worldview

The Way of Science: Finding Truth and Meaning in a Scientific Worldview is a significant new book in which Prof. D.R. Trumble (2013) makes bold statements on the usefulness of the scientific worldview. Dennis Trumble is a scientist in the Biomedical Engineering Department of the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. The motivation for writing his book is explained in such a way that scientific rationality is offered as a skill which can even assist in fulfilling people’s spiritual aspirations:

“My reason for writing this book is to make the case that scientific rationality and critical thinking are not only good for our physical well-being but also for the soul – and essential to our achieving the kind of global stewardship worthy of our spiritual aspirations. ... The scientific process has been proven to be far and away the most open, direct and dependable way there is to tell truth from fiction. And there has never been a time when making that distinction has been more important. Now more than ever we need to recognise that scientific literacy and critical thinking are not just tools for professional scientists; they are basic life skills. ... The surprising thing – and what I hope to convey with this book – is that these reasons have less to do with advancing our ability to solve emerging technological challenges than establishing an informed, rational foundation for our moral attitudes and behaviour. The link between scientific knowledge and moral reasoning is so fundamental that it can be summed up in a single sentence: In order to have a true sense of right and wrong one must first know what is true” (Trumble 2013:14, 18).

Trumble then continues to show that false (unscientific) beliefs were responsible for the most horrific things that people have done in times past: “In Mesoamerica, for example, rituals involving human sacrifice were once performed on a routine basis in order to appease gods that every sane human being now agrees existed only in the imagination of the faithful. These days everyone familiar with this chapter of human history understands that the religious beliefs of the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs were tragically misguided and that, because of those beliefs, hundreds of thousands of people were systematically tortured and killed for no real reason at all” (Trumble 2013:18). Despite the subsequent advance in knowledge, the author contends that an irrational faith is still the driving force behind the actions of many of the present-day societies:

“Fundamentally speaking, things are not so different now as we would like to think. The fact is, we are still some five hundred years and one scientific revolution later, largely governed by hand-me-down beliefs for which there is no rational justification. And like the Aztecs, many of us still treat those beliefs as though the world depends on them. ... Indeed, the instant our beliefs become set in stone we lose the ability to recognise and thus learn from our mistakes, at which point all intellectual progress ceases and our ability to think for ourselves withers away” (Trumble 2013:18).

The author says that modern technology has now pressed us to the point where global cooperation is an absolute must, but dogmatic beliefs are still an impediment to consensus-building between groups of people. He indicates that while evidence-based worldviews tend to converge upon a single objective version of reality, faith-based worldviews can assume any form and brook no compromise. Instead, they are responsible for the extreme expressions of sectarian violence that pepper the news with depressing regularity. He then continues to expose the “dark side” of the human nature by describing the incentives to evil behaviour as coming from the “demons” of traditional beliefs:

“These are but a few of the demons of our lesser nature unleashed by our blind allegiance to traditional beliefs. ... So even if the long history of faith-based atrocities – ritualised murders, genocides, inquisitions, subjugations, holy wars, 9/11, the whole lot – were somehow secreted away in an effort to conceal the dark side of unthinking belief, the glaring facts of modern-day life should nonetheless make it blindingly obvious to every educated person on the planet that basing our moral sense on anything other than tangible reality is fraught with the worst kind of danger. And yet, despite mountains of evidence attesting to the unrivalled power of the scientific method to separate fact from fantasy, the idea that science might offer the most accurate account of the human condition, and thus provide the best measure of our moral obligations, is a notion that few people are prepared to even consider, much less accept. The question is why?” (Trumble 2013:19-21).

It is obvious from this book that science is absolutely committed to Darwinian evolution, thereby advancing an animal-like nature of man as the product of a natural process of evolutionary development in which there is, according to rational scientists, no sign of divine intervention. The author says:

“The main goal of this book is to advance this cause by explaining in the context of Darwinian evolution what science is, what it is not, and why it is important that everyone understands the difference. ... There is a large and growing body of evidence in the scientific literature indicating that our sense of right and wrong is an inherent feature of our mental makeup – and that of many other species besides. In short, science has shown in no uncertain terms that morality is something we come by naturally; an empathic instinct that can be either nurtured and developed or starved and stunted. It need not be imposed from the outside by threats of reprisal in this life or the next. Thanks to science, we now understand that we are better than that” (Trumble 2013:25-27).

Towards the end of his book, Dennis Trumble expresses his dismay at the poor reaction of many Americans to the principles of the scientific worldview: “After nearly three and a half centuries of scientific insights regarding the antiquity of the Earth and the amazing evolution of its inhabitants, nearly half of all Americans still believe that our planet was formed less than ten thousand years ago and that human beings are the focal point of all creation. Whether we like it or not, the world is getting smaller by the minute, and we can no longer hope to escape the bad consequences of irrational thinking, even if that thinking is taking place half a world away. Modern technology has brought us closer together than ever before, and in that proximity the friction between competing dogmas is becoming ever more intense. And everyone is feeling the heat. In order to be effective ambassadors for science and reason we must understand that scientific literacy and critical thinking, like peace and democracy, are not the kinds of things that can be imposed from the outside. People will have to want to learn to think for themselves and accept the burden of responsibility that comes with that knowledge. This is why it is incumbent upon scientists and educators everywhere to provide compelling reasons for people to take on this challenge” (Trumble 2013:301).

There are many others who fully support Dennis Trumble in his arguments in favour of a scientific worldview. Ben McGee (2010) says: “Does science provide an exhaustive list of things that are known to exist? Yes it does. Can any given religious worldview offer the same? None that I have ever encountered. From this perspective, the scientific worldview is the most comprehensive and utilitarian worldview to date. Nothing is presumed to exist under a scientific worldview that has not been observed or measured to exist, directly or indirectly. [This knowledge] would have certainly saved our ancestors much trouble from the weather demons and illness demigods of old.”

In the republished book by Harold Schilling (Science and Religion, 2013) he ascribes supreme significance to science, even to the extent of becoming a god: “Not only has a powerful new cosmic faith come out of science, but science has itself become the object of faith, a god to be depended on and adored. This is understandable, since mankind is deeply in debt to science, not only for technological but for intellectual and spiritual blessings.”

Matthew Orr (2006) feels that many of the assumptions in religious worldviews have been proven wrong, and that believers should adopt a more scientific way of reasoning in stating their views on subjects such as faith and taboo: “Organized religion traditionally has played a central role in defining moral values, but it lost much of its influence after the discovery that key principles (such as the personal Creator of Genesis) contradict empirical reality. The apparent conundrum is that strictly scientific worldviews are amoral, while many long-held religious worldviews have proven to be unscientific. The way out of this conundrum is to recognize that nonscientific ideas, as distinct from unscientific ideas, are acceptable components of a scientific worldview, because they do not contradict science.”

Limitations of the scientific worldview

Despite some of the extreme claims that the scientific worldview is comprehensive by its shedding light on the origin and nature of the universe with its biodiversity, as well as the evolution and dynamics of human life, including innate morality, there are also those scientists who are a bit more cautious by defining limited parameters for the applicability of the scientific worldview. On the website of Science for all Americans (2014), the following statement is made on the areas of human experience which cannot be properly addressed by the scientific worldview:

“There are many matters that cannot usefully be examined in a scientific way. There are, for instance, beliefs that – by their very nature – cannot be proved or disproved, such as the existence of supernatural powers and beings, or the true purposes of life. In other cases, a scientific approach that may be valid is likely to be rejected as irrelevant by people who hold to certain beliefs, such as in miracles, fortune-telling, astrology, and superstition. Nor do scientists have the means to settle issues concerning good and evil, although they can sometimes contribute to the discussion of such issues by identifying the likely consequences of particular actions, which may be helpful in weighing alternatives.”

It should be readily admitted that the scientific worldview does not consider the reality of the supernatural sphere, simply because the application of scientific methods which were developed to investigate the intricacies of the natural world are inadequate to be applied to a spiritual realm which is not part of the perceivable reality of the universe. However, it is highly presumptuous to discount the supernatural world, including the existence of God Himself as Creator, merely because scientists have developed a theory of the origin and evolutionary development of natural phenomena by which they attempt to explain away any form of divine intervention. In the process they are wilfully casting suspicion on faith, also the Christian faith, as a mindset based upon irrational suppositions pertaining to an alleged supernatural world. To many scientists, faith thrives where ignorance prevails and this lack of knowledge is regarded as a popular doorway to superstitions and a fatalistic lifestyle under the control of imaginary spiritual powers.

Dennis Trumble (2013:281) admits that the theory of evolution is little more than a hypothesis which is subject to further refinement: “Scientific beliefs (theories) are bound to real-world observation and are, in principle, always subject to revision.” One of the obvious weaknesses of the evolution theory is the inability of scientists to convincingly explain the origin of life in all its complex forms. They also rely on very vague evidence on transitional species to prove the dynamics of the alleged evolutionary process. They try not to offend religious people, including some of their religious colleagues, but nevertheless cannot help to cast doubt on religion as a vain dream:

“Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing inherently anti-religious about science. ... The scientific process can only confirm or refute; it does not define or limit what is possible ahead of time. If what you believe is true, you can rest assured science will not prove you wrong. If, on the other hand, what you believe is not true, then you should ask yourself: what is it, exactly, that I am holding on to? A hope? A dream? And at what expense?” (Trumble 2013:27). Religion and faith relate to the supernatural sphere, and since that falls outside the scope of rational science, how can scientists approve or disprove matters of faith?

Christian scholars who excelled in the sciences

It is quite possible, and in fact expedient, that there are Christian scientists who demonstrate their competence in the natural sciences, while at the same time positively reacting to the claims of the Creator God in His divine revelations by maintaining a relationship of faith with Him. Dan Graves (1996) has published a book in which he reviews the biographies of 48 historic scientists who were all Christian believers. In his book he states that contrary to popular belief, Christianity has not impeded science but rather advanced it. He says the following on the lives and faith of the 48 scholars:

“None of these men was perfect. I have deliberately shown each one’s faults because that is how the Bible depicts the saints. The weakness of great men strengthens us in our weakness. It reminds us that God can manifest His grace through us despite our flaws if only we will persevere in the work He has laid before us and walk in faith, setting ourselves apart for His use. I have chosen to respect all Christians who have honoured the living God with their lives and work, regardless of theological differences. They began their search for truth with the assumption that God exists, that His Word is true, and that He has created an orderly universe that reveals Himself when studied from the perspective of the principles set forth in His Word” (Graves 1996:9-10).

The author argues that God provided two revelations, Scripture and nature, and since both come from the same source they must be reconcilable. He says: “Scientifically-minded Christians ... first attempted to synthesise all knowledge into a unified whole, setting the stage for later minds who would establish self-replicating science, that is, a methodology for building on prior discoveries to systematically and efficiently make new discoveries. Christian theologians first constructed the basis on which modern science has subsequently built” (Graves 1996:11).

However, in the wake of its greatest technological triumphs during the 20th century, science forgot its Christian roots and has become largely a secularised enterprise. The vast increase in knowledge gave rise to an epistemology in which God does not feature as Creator. The discovery of more of the laws of nature enabled man to harness and control the forces of nature, while the establishment of a large body of scientific disciplines offer guidelines for the conducting of every aspect of life on this planet. All these developments gave rise to the humanistic conclusion that modern man is the master of his own destiny and does not need intervention by a remote God.

Science and Christian theology

Over a very wide front, modern theology is experiencing a falling away from biblical truths on an unprecedented scale. Only relatively small evangelical churches and their theological seminaries are remaining true to the revelation of God in His Word, but they are increasingly being marginalised in society. The main cause for the process of apostatising is the increased impact of the scientific worldview on people of faith.

What are the views which rational science with its methodological approach of critical thinking is trying to instil in society, and particularly among Christian theologians who hold positions in tertiary academic institutions? The following are a few of the agnostic statements which they make, and some or all of these ideas have already found there way into the educational curricula, political ideologies, and even theological seminaries of most countries:

·      The creation account in Genesis is mythological and cannot be regarded as plausible within the confines of a scientific worldview. Scholarly research on evolution suggests a very long and slow process of evolution, leading up to the appearance of Homo sapiens at the end of the continuum. The universe also developed into its present form through various periods of millions of years each.

·      The laws of nature can all be scientifically accounted for and are responsible for the dynamics of the evolutionary process. There is no evidence of supernatural intervention in the form of intelligent design by a Creator.

·      The fact that there was evidently no Creator-God explains why there is also no need for a God who is responsible for the sustainable existence of created reality. In terms of scientific views there can at the very most be an impersonal element of divinity in creation (pantheism, or Mother Nature) which means that God should be seen as a dynamic force in nature and in human beings to propel their further evolutionary development.

·      In the absence of a personal God there is obviously not a Son of God who can claim to be God by virtue of his alleged heavenly origin and supernatural conception. Jesus can therefore not be the impersonation and earthly representative of God. However, as a moral role model His example may be followed, but it is irrational to believe in Him as a deity and to spiritually experience His presence. He was only a good man and moral teacher, and for that reason moralising should be the main concern of churches.

·      It is also completely unscientific to assume that Jesus was born from a virgin as that is genetically impossible. Because of the same laws of nature He could also not have risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. All statements to this effect should not be related to real events. He rose metaphorically in the hearts of his disciples and only exists in their thoughts. The scientific worldview insists that a historic Jesus be proclaimed who had no divine attributes. Because of this premise, Christians are encouraged to also read and recognise the extra-biblical gnostic gospels.

·      The Bible cannot be regarded as the literally inspired and inerrant Word of God. The various books were written by ordinary human beings, and mostly only applied to the times in which they lived. Everything which Jesus had said was in terms of a primitive worldview which was based on irrational mythological concepts. During that time there were primitive peoples who believed in an alternative kingdom of darkness which existed somewhere in the sky, and which was under the control of the devil who was depicted as a mythological snake or dragon. According to agnostic scientists, it is completely unjustified for Christians to accept these ancient assertions as convincing evidence that there is a devil, evil spirits or a hell.

·      From a scientific perspective of critical thinking, biblical prophecies have no reference to the modern world, and are therefore not accepted on face value. Because of this viewpoint, messages on the prophetic word are seldom if ever heard in churches that have been influenced by the scientific worldview. They regard views on the second coming of Christ, the rise of a personal Antichrist, the great tribulation, and the war of Armageddon as irrational symbolism and therefore deceptive future expectations.

Christian theologians are making a fatal mistake if they yield to a scientific worldview which demands the denial of everything which is supernatural and therefore beyond the abilities of modern scientists to investigate. If theologians (or any other Christians) subject themselves to the dictates of modern science they would deny all the fundamentals of their faith, e.g. God as Creator, Jesus as the eternally existing Son of God who is equal with the Father, the supernatural conception of Jesus during His incarnation, the redemptive value of His atoning death as the perfect Lamb of God, the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the completely reliable source of divine revelation which we have in the Bible, and also the work of the Holy Spirit who convicts people of all these truths and spiritually regenerates those who believe.

Theologians who are critical of these truths do not only deny solid biblical evidence on the Person, works and life of Jesus, as well as His miracles by which he substantiated His claims of divinity (Hebrews 2:1-4), but they also disregard extra-biblical sources which confirm His earthly ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. More than 500 people saw the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15:6). The testimony of the true Christian church throughout the centuries also bears strong witness to the truth of the doctrine of Christ as Saviour of the world (Acts 4:12).

Faith and knowledge

The Christian religion functions in association with both faith and knowledge – it does not expect of us to blindly put our faith in irrational beliefs which make no sense and were revealed to humanity in a questionable manner. We have the coherent, true and dependable Word of God as an authentic and divine revelation of Himself and His plan for humanity: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Faith is instilled in our hearts when we hear and accept the gospel message (Romans 10:17). Once we become believers our spirit and intellectual faculties are illuminated by the Holy Spirit, who enables us to study, analyse, discuss and apply the Word of God. Paul prayed for the believers in Ephesus that, “... the Father of glory may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling” (Ephesians 1:17-18).

There is a close association between knowledge and divine grace, which demands that the knowledge of God and His Word must also be appropriated by faith and put to practice in our lives. It would be a futile exercise if we only gain more knowledge through study, but fail to surrender ourselves to the dictates of the Word, and to become rooted and grounded in it spiritually. We have a lifelong obligation to increase in knowledge and grace: “... but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The American revivalist, Charles Finney (1988:281) says the following on this Scripture:

“Growth in knowledge is not conclusive evidence of growth in grace. Knowledge is indispensable to walking in God’s favour; and growth in knowledge is a condition of growth in grace. But knowledge itself isn’t grace, and increased knowledge doesn’t constitute growth in grace. A person can explode in knowledge, yet have no grace at all. Knowledge of the Bible must lead to a deeper dedication to God and thus be transformed into a spiritual asset.”

This problem is all too common today. Many theologians have high qualifications in theology without a convincing testimony of being spiritually renewed to become a “new man” in Christ (Eph. 4:24). One rather gets the impression that their religious views were tailored to suit the demands of the scientific worldview. Paul warned his contemporaries against a similar form of deceit: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). The discussions of deceived theologians do not render proof of the fact that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Instead, such academics rather join modern agnostic scientists who deny the virgin birth, deity, resurrection, ascension and promised return of Christ from heaven, as well as the verbal inspiration of the Bible as God’s Word. What is the value of a doctorate in theology if these basic facts are denied? It is obvious that vast knowledge of the Bible alone, without the saving grace of Christ and the illumination of the person’s mind by the Holy Spirit, is not a virtue to be proud of.

The liberating effect of the gospel has set millions of people free from the bondage by sin and spiritual blindness imposed upon them by agents of the kingdom of darkness. The power of superstition and false religions was broken and they were endued with enlightened eyes of the mind to fully understand the gospel of Christ. Liberated people of this nature are challenged to fulfil their obligation of controlling and creatively improving their natural resources, they respect human rights, become peace-makers in a conflict-ridden world, and observe the Protestant work ethic to be economically active members of society.

In matters pertaining to the material world they fully endorse the scientific and rational principle of natural cause and effect, and therefore also engage in research to enhance the quality of their lives as well as the fate of others. Those who are Bible believing scientists are in a position to make valuable contributions in both the natural and spiritual spheres of life.

As Christians we are indeed living in two worlds, the material and the spiritual, and we should fully express ourselves in both of them. Precedence should be given to the spiritual side of our existence: “For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). In spite of this prioritising we must never neglect our duties in the transient, material world as we are called upon to shine as lights for the kingdom of God in a morally depraved and spiritually deceived world (Philippians 2:15).

Soon, there will be great new revelations of God’s kingdom when Christ returns to planet Earth. The kingdom of darkness will also reveal itself under the rule of an evil king (the Antichrist) who will quickly rise to a position of world domination (Revelation 13). Scientific knowledge alone will not be enough to guarantee safe passage though the coming crisis. We need Christ as Saviour if we are serious about our final destiny (1 John 5:12).

References

Answers in Genesis, 2014. Great Creation Scientists: Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727). http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/cm/v12/n3/sir-isaac-newton

Butler, John, 2006. James I of England (1566-1625). http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/james/jamesbio.htm

Critical Thinking Web, 2014. Tutorial C01: What is critical thinking? http://philosophy.hku.hk/think/critical/ct.php

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2014. Enlightenment. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/188441/Enlightenment

Finney, Charles G., 1988. Lectures on Revival. Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Graves, Dan, 1996. Scientists of Faith: 48 Biographies of Historic Scientists and their Christian Faith. Kregal Publications, Grand Rapids , MI.

Linder, Douglas, 2005: A Brief History of Witchcraft Persecutions. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/witchhistory.html

Hall Association, 2014. US history: The impact of Enlightenment in Europe. http://www.ushistory.org/us/7a.asp

McGee, Ben, 2010. Scientific Worldview. http://astrowright.wordpress.com/

Orr, Matthew, 2006. What is a Scientific Worldview, and how does it bear on the Interplay of Science and Religion? http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9744.2005.00748.x/abstract

Science for all Americans, 2014. The Scientific WorldView. http://www.project2061.org/publications/sfaa/online/chap1.htm

Schilling, Harold, 2013. Science and Religion. Routledge. Originally published in 1963.

The Critical Thinking Community, 2014. Defining Critical Thinking. https://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766

Trumble, Dennis R., 2013. The Way of Science: Finding Truth and Meaning in a Scientific Worldview. New York: Prometheus Books.

University of Canberra, 2014. Critical Thinking. http://www.canberra.edu.au/studyskills/learning/critical

Wikipedia-1, 2014. James VI and I. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_VI_and_I

Wikipedia-2, 2014. Isaac Newton’s Religious Views. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton%27s_religious_views

Wikipeadia-3, 2014. John Wesley. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wesley

Author

In August 1978, Johan Malan was appointed professor of Anthropology at the University of the North (presently the University of Limpopo) near Polokwane in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, and in January 2006 he retired. He and his wife, Wilma, now live in Mossel Bay in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. His father was a missionary in South Africa and Swaziland. During his career at the University, Johan also supervised a Ph.D. programme in cognitive anthropology, in which people’s attitudes and behaviour were investigated in terms of three different worldviews.

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