“In the intellectual battle of the present day there can be ‘no peace without victory’; one side or the other must win”1J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism
I started reading this book over the weekend and I was amazed at how clearly this line of thought speaks of (to) our current sociopolitical climate. These thoughts by Machen were put into writing nearly a century ago, and yet we find their relevance applicable to today. Like a son of Issachar (1Chron 12.32), Machen understood (it would seem better than his peers) the time in which he lived. His insights into the heartbeat of America in the early 20th century were on point. And, like today’s generation, his generation does not appear to have taken the warning seriously. At least not the majority of them anyway.
As in our day Machen was faced with an antagonistic mindset regarding the Christian faith (religion) and scientific theory. A certain sector of Machen’s culture wanted to pit science and religion against each other. Could the two “ever stand in company”2 with one another? This growing mindset, had also began to infect the Evangelical Christian Church in the early 20th century. The belief that was gaining popularity was that if the two came into conflict (Christian religion vs. Scientific Consensus) the biblical testimony was a hopeless (pointless?) position to defend.3 However, the conclusion that Machen and those that shared his convictions came to was that the only view compatible with the Christian faith was:
“If science comes into contradiction with the Bible so much the worse for science!”4
Meaning what? That science needs to be thrown out with the bath water? Many people struggle with this line of thinking by Machen and other Christian’s who share his sentiment in our day. Why? Because of a false narrative that has been adopted and grafted into the way we think.
When science and biblical thought are found to be at a crossroad, and the Christian says—“If there is a problem with our interpretation of the world around us, then the problem is to be found with the scientific premise and not biblical teaching! Go back to the drawing board and correct the interpretation of science; reform it, not our Bible’s!”—many hear the following: “I’ll do away with reality, rather than give up my faith!” Tied with foolish notion that faith is a mere wishing upon a star, is the conviction that “science” is concerned with the real world; those things I can touch, taste, smell, see, and hear.
To be fair both the Christian faith and “science” are concerned with the real world. Where they depart is found in their governing spheres. The Christian faith pertains to all of life. It is an all encompassing worldview that is concerned not only with what we observe in the world about us, but also speaks authoritatively on those things that we do not directly observe; namely the Triune Creator God.
A Conceptual Tool…
Science is, as Dr. Jason Lisle has pointed out, “a conceptual tool.” Science helps us make sense of the world that we directly observe.5 Science does not touch. Science does not hear. Science does not taste. Science does not smell. Science does not feel. Neither does it reason, think or speak. And so, science has necessary limitations, even though it is a wonderful process by which we are not only able to understand the world we live in a little more clearly, but it helps living situation here as well (i.e., a tool of dominion; Gen 1.26, 28).
On this ground…
Now it is the limitations that Machen, and every Christian worth his/her salt, identify with science that enables them (us) to say, when a particular scientific hypothesis, theory or so-called fact butts up against what the Bible clearly speaks about, “Go back to the drawing board;” or “You are in error here.” Science has natural limitations and those limitations are tied to the creatures that utilize it.6 As material beings we are fixed in observing a material world, even though not every thing in this world is material. There are many things that are of an immaterial nature (e.g., laws of logic).
In fact, it is the biblical worldview (and no other!)7 that makes the use of science as a conceptual tool justified. For without these axiomatic truths (1. uniformity in nature, 2. nature is understandable) scientific inquiry would be impossible.8 Science is dependent upon identifiable patterns (the future will be like the past) and those patterns are usable for making sense of things directly or indirectly seen.
Speaking to today…
Leap frogging through time a bit, we come to our present generation. As I said earlier I have been somewhat astounded that many of Machen’s conclusions about his own sociopolitical climate, for they are in many respects, lock, stock and barrel akin to our own. In his day, it was science vs the Christian faith, in ours this attitude has stuck and something else has developed alongside of it: the belief that the Christian faith and politics cannot be wed. And yet, political theory is directly tied to the subject of ethics. For policy that affects society as a whole is largely based on what is perceived as right versus wrong behavior.
If I may I would like to use the remainder of the moments I have with you and address something that has bothered me for sometime. It pertains to what some have identified as the mask cult that has gripped American culture (and many other parts of the world). Celebrities, politicians, scientists and medical professionals—even silicon valley—have pushed the “science” of mask wearing. It used to be that certain preconditions allowed for a person to refrain from wearing them. But due to social pressure and the fear of being sued or in some cases charged with a crime the general consensus has been adopted that there is no good reason not to wear a mask. Those in favor of universal mask wearing will use whatever weapon available to them in their verbal arsenal. It will be argued that it is the loving thing to do. It will be argued that it is the ethical (law-abiding) thing to do. It will be argued that it is the “scientific” thing to do. I have heard all of these differing strands or argumentation, but the one that I’m honing in on in this article is in relation to “science.”
A popular saying is that “Mask wearing is not political, its about the science.” Paul Rudd, a fairly popular A-list celebrity made a similar assertion when doing a commercial for the state of New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo. I don’t recall him saying the phrase above verbatim, but the idea was without a doubt expressed. If mask wearing were about the science, then why is there a suppression of all counterarguments? Much like the Climate Change enforcers any argument counter to the one held by “general consensus” is vilified as pseudoscience. Challenge the current narrative and you are a “cotton headed ninny-muggins.” A “science denier!” A downright fool!
Machen realized that what was going on in his culture was a declaration of war. He rightly concluded that there can be no peace without victory. Peace promised must be peace won. Thus the cry of one of our nations founders, “Give me liberty or give me death!” A sign of warning that ought to cause us great alarm is when the seeming majority of a given culture—both inside and outside the Church of Jesus Christ—is crying “Peace, peace” when there is no peace (Jer 6.14).
1J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (West Linn, OR: Monergism Books, 2015), Kindle Edition, loc. 80.
2Ibid., loc. 50.
5Del Ratzsch, Science & Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective, 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 12.
6This is a very important point. Science as a conceptual tool is used for human investigation, thinking and reasoning. Science’s limitations are human error. For example, a hammer is used to drive a nail. But the inability sometimes to hit the nail squarely, drive it in a few steady strokes, or miss it entirely is the result of the human application. As valuable as science is, it is only as good as the person utilizing it. Errors are brought into the hypothesis process, the testing process (empirically evaluation observable phenomenon), and the reasoning process (guiding by presuppositions that may or may not be accurate themselves).
7The most popular theory to date that attempts to offer a counter to the biblical worldview is Darwinian Evolution. Evolutionary theory has permeated all of the sciences (biological, cosmological, and social to name a few). And yet, all models of evolutionary thought are based on the premise of an accidental/chance creation of all material things from a previously immaterial beginning. Therefore, evolution like the Christian faith seeks to offer insight for the beginning of all things, the reason for all things existence, and the ultimate end all things will experience. Like Christianity, Evolutionary thought is a religious faith with dogmatic positions believed and upheld.
8Ratzsch, Science & Its Limits, 14-16.