Book Review: Bavinck on Science

Book Review: Bavinck on Science

Ultimately, it is only when scientific investigation is directed and grounded upon Christian presuppositions that it is capable of achieving what it was designed by God to achieve. In contrast to secular science, Christian science always ends in doxology, for the God who gave us the means to study the world is the one to whom all glory rightly belongs. While Christianity and Science is certainly not a book for all, it is an excellent resource for those with a scholarly bent. I suspect its enduring significance will be manifest when debates concerning the relationship between science and Christianity are reignited in years to come.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the works of Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). Bavinck scholars in the likes of James Eglinton, Cameron Clausing, Nathaniel Sutanto, and Greg Parker have made significant contributions to the field, not only in their analysis of Bavinck’s theology, but also in providing contemporary translations of his works. Christianity and Scienceis one such translation, which we can be thankful to Sutanto, Eglinton and Brock for producing! I think the book is worth purchasing if only to read the 39 page ‘Editor’s Introduction’ which summarises Bavinck’s work and underscores its relevance for today.

At its heart, Christianity and Scienceshows the Christian foundations that lay beneath the study of science. Bavinck insists why they are necessary if the discipline of science is to flourish the way God intended it to. Bavinck intendedChristianity and Scienceto be read as a companion to Christian Worldview, which he wrote as a biblical response to modernity and the challenges facing believers at the turn of the 20th century (A new translation of this work was published by the aforementioned scholars in 2019!). Though I cannot comment on the quality of translation itself given my inability to read Dutch, the subject matter of Christianity and Scienceis as relevant today as when it was first penned.

The central thesis of Christianity and Scienceis that Christians have in Jesus Christ an anchor not only for salvation, but also truth itself. Bavinck writes: “The apostles of Jesus planted the banner of truth in that world of unbelief and superstition. After all, the Christian religion is not merely the religion of grace. It is also the religion of truth.” (p. 50)

By implication, science is not to be seen as a secular discipline to be undertaken in separation from theology. Rather, it is only because we bear the image of a loving God that we have the capacity to study the world using scientific methods. Yet, we live in a time when many continue to insist that faith and science are separate entities, with even many Christians treating them in such a way. Bavinck insists that this must not be so.

Science versus Christianity?

Today it is almost assumed that science and Christianity are in conflict. Many believe that science deals with facts, whereas Christianity deals with fiction. Science deals with objectivity, while Christianity deals with subjectivity. Science presents evidence, whereas Christianity demands faith. Bavinck destroys these false dichotomies and gets to the heart of the issue. According to Bavinck, faith and reason must be understood as two sides of the same coin.

Bavinck wrote in the shadow of Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859), in a socio-religious climate which saw naturalistic ‘science’ as the emancipator of man. Nevertheless, it would have been helpful if Bavinck had presented a theological and philosophical critique of Darwinian Evolution and its incompatibility with the Biblical creation account. After all, this is often the crux of the science-Christianity debate. Nevertheless, the principles and presuppositions presented in Christianity and Sciencecan certainly be applied to the evolution/creation debate.

While Bavinck never uses the term ‘scientism,’ this philosophy is the bullseye of his work. Scientism is the notion that ‘science alone can render truth about the world and reality.’ Yet, as apologist Frank Turek aptly put it: “Science doesn’t say anything — scientists do.” Therefore, when conflicts between science and Christianity appear, our instinct should not be to throw aside Scripture in pursuit of ‘science.’ Rather, we should analyse the arguments through the lens of God’s Word, recognising the theological implications of the issue at hand.

While scientism does not have the same momentum it had during the heyday of Richard Dawkins, many still hold to its erroneous presuppositions. The post-Christian, postmodern society in which we find ourselves continues to bear marks of its faulty presuppositions. In many ways, Bavinck’s critiques of scientific positivism — the 19th century dogma which argued all knowledge can be gained apart from supernatural revelation —can be applied to scientism today.

All science is conducted through the lens of a worldview, and Bavinck is adamant to emphasise this. He writes:

As such, by its very nature, each religious confession lays claim on the entire world. If each religion is accompanied by a certain view of the world and humanity, of nature and history—which it always is—then through this it binds the whole of a person’s life and also, specifically, [his] science. The degree and extent to which science is bound to these religious convictions can differ, but the principle is always the same.

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