I have been thinking recently about science and its relationship to theology. In the Middle Ages, theology was the queen of the sciences. This held true even through the time of the Reformation, when theology was taught at universities. With the rise of the Enlightenment, specifically the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, all that changed. Kant’s philosophy was that there are two realms, if you will: the noumenal realm and the phenomenal realm. The former had to do with the nous, the mind. It was the realm of what is unseen. The phenomenal world is that of our senses. Kant argued that we cannot know anything about the noumenal world. That is, nothing from the noumenal world can reveal itself to us. At one stroke, therefore, he ruled out of court any such thing as revelation from God. Because of this philosophy, theology was no longer taught at universities. Departments of religion replaced departments of theology. All other fields became more and more fragmented, since theology is the only science that can hold the others together in any kind of unity, since theology is the only science that bridges natural and special revelation.
But this raises a problem when it comes to our understanding of science today. Science today looks at the data of what is in the universe, and seeks to understand it by positing theories that might explain how things came to be the way that they are. Science, therefore, can only exist in the theoretical world. Science cannot arrive at truth, since the data could theoretically be explained in another way. People thought the earth was flat until Pythagoras came along. People thought that the sun revolved around the earth until Galileo and Copernicus. People thought that the sun was the fixed center of the universe until Einstein came along. Theories come and go. But if this is so, what is to prevent us from seeing theology in the same way, if we posit that theology is a science? Why isn’t theology mere theory?
The answer to this question lies in the nature of the data. Although natural revelation and special revelation are both from God, the latter is like a pair of spectacles (so says Calvin) that helps us to understand everything else. Natural revelation was sufficient before the Fall. And if Adam and Eve had not fallen into sin, it still would be sufficient. The Bible only came about because of the Fall. We can’t see properly unless we put on the spectacles. We will ultimately come to wrong conclusions about natural science unless we first put on the spectacles! Modern science is starting to see, in one sense, that our conclusions are not merely determined by the data. Our presuppositions play a large part in how we read the data. Unfortunately, when it comes to a theory like evolution, the role of presuppositions is typically ignored by modern man, such that he holds evolution to be fact and not theory. But does a theory about origins have more or less authority than the spectacles of God’s Word? Which is the pair of spectacles? Natural science or theology? I just started reading Peter Enns’s newest book, and he definitely believes that evolution is part of the frame of reference for reading the Bible, and not the other way around. He speaks of evolution as fact, and not theory. Whatever else we can say, then, we can certainly say that Enns does not understand the nature of science as theory, not fact.
Theology needs to reign once more as the queen of the sciences. Only then can we halt the progressive fragmentation of knowledge and seek to reunify knowledge again. Kant was wrong. God can and has revealed himself to man. Only by that revelation can our nous (“mind”) be renewed. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Scripture does that by the power of the Holy Spirit. This has far more authority than science ever could.
The case of Galileo is usually misunderstood as the church persecuting Galileo for his views on heliocentrism. However, if you read Owen Barfield’s book Saving the Appearances, you will see a different facet at play. The church was actually more concerned about the relationship of science to Scripture and theology. They were far more concerned about the fact that Galileo posited science as fact, and that he was putting science over the Bible as more authoritative. The issue of heliocentrism was involved, certainly, but the case was more complicated than simply “the church persecuting the misunderstood-but-correct scientist (bad church, bad church!).”