Science . . . and art

One of the conversations going on in the church that is very old but currently as lively as ever is the one about the relationship between science and theology. Of particular interest to me here is the question from that conversation: To what extent should Christians let the theology they have learned from “special revelation” (scripture) influence their interpretation of “general revelation” (nature) in the course of doing science? I’ve written about this elsewhere before, but it continues to fascinate me, not least because of how many Christians give what is basically the secularist’s answer – “not at all!” It should be beyond dispute (we hear) that any compromise of objectivity is a compromise of science itself; a scientist must come to the data with an open mind and simply see where his investigations lead him.

I’ve thought a lot about this because, as a former attorney, I’m deeply sensitive to the problem of prejudging evidence. Make up your mind about a case before it is presented, and you will be deaf to anything that doesn’t fit your view. Such an approach inevitably yields miscarriages of justice. So it is with science, we understand: let people start believing in demon possession because they read about it in the Bible, and they may start burning people with “demonic” symptoms without ever bothering to consider what medical causes might be in play.

All right, but here’s a difficulty. Suppose we say theology is one domain of study with its own rules (faith working from scripture), and science is another domain of study with its own rules (reason working from nature), and the former mustn’t disturb the latter. Doesn’t this mean we have already placed the “supernatural” firmly outside the bounds of science? Doesn’t this define science in such a way that the evidence can lead nowhere but to purely “natural” conclusions? Isn’t this, then, a prejudging of the evidence? And doesn’t it completely secularize science?

Consider, for example, the Gadarene demoniac. If we met this man today, we would want to have him examined by a physician, and we would not want the interference of crazy religious ideas about demon possession. But suppose some physician, committed to what we now know as the “scientific method,” had run up to Jesus as He encountered the Gadarene, and told Him He was about to corrupt a brilliant opportunity for science with His wild ideas about exorcism. And suppose Jesus had said to this physician, “Your objectivity has blinded you to what’s actually going on here.” Would that have been a corrupting imposition of theology on science? Would that have been a theological prejudging of the scientific evidence on Jesus’ part? Or would it have been an exposure of the prejudging of the evidence on the physician’s part? Hmmm . . . .

I ask this because I recently read something in Jim Jordan’s Through New Eyes that is kind of obvious, but it’s also kind of radical. He says this (p. 29):

“According to the Greeks – and actually all pagans – the world was not made by God. Rather, the world, or the raw material of the world, has always existed. This always-existing stuff just is, and so it is called ‘Being.’ This ‘Being’ stuff is like a blank slate. It is silent and meaningless ‘raw material.’ It does not bear the impress of any Creator, and it does not joyfully shout His name (Psalm 98:4–9).”

If you let this sink in, it means that to look at anything in the world without seeing how it shows off the glory of God is to look at it wrongly; it is, in short, to misunderstand the thing before you. There isn’t anything that is “just there,” naked under the microscope, open to all interpretations. Whatever is already has meaning, because it is created; and this must govern our interpretation of whatever is. How do we know this? Because the Bible tells us so. We can’t very readily throw out our Bible, or we cease to be Christians; and we can’t very readily shelve our Bible when we walk into the laboratory, because it tells us how we must look at everything we find there. This isn’t to say the Bible is a scientific handbook, which scientists must consult for answers to all sorts of scientific questions. It is to say the scientist never deals with anything for which the Bible hasn’t already provided a supernaturalistic interpretive grid – and this surely rules out the possibility of “Christianized” naturalistic science.

Now here’s a kicker: If the biblical understanding that nothing is “just there” precludes scientific interpreting of the world in just any way we please (notably without reference to the Creator), does it also preclude artistic representing of the world in just any way we please? In other words, if the Bible forbids a certain kind of objectivity in science, does it simultaneously impose a certain kind of objectivity in art?

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