POSTED BY GABRIEL WILLIAMS; REFORMATION 21; August 28, 12017
Many Christian social commentators have lamented the devolution of American culture into a form of anti-culture. It is certainly true that the rejection of the Christian religion in our society has led to moral degeneration within our culture. However, sin not only affects the moral faculties of a person (or society); it also affects our rational/intellectual faculties. In other words, the rise of the anti-culture has also been coupled with irrationalism. It may be a surprise to some, but the secularization of our society has not led to a more rational society. Rather, the rejection of the Christian religion has led to a more speculative, less rational, and at times, a more superstitious society.
In a number of ways, this can be thought of as an expected result. Science historians have pointed out that modern science arose in the context of a Christian worldview, and was nourished and sustained by that view. An example of this can be found in a consideration Psalm 19:1-4:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech,and night to night reveals knowledge.There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.Their voice goes out through all the earth,and their words to the end of the world.
Regarding Psalm 19:1, John Calvin comments,
“As soon as we acknowledge God to be the supreme Architect, who has erected the beauteous fabric of the universe, our minds must necessarily be ravished with wonder at His infinite goodness, wisdom, and power.”
Calvin was deeply moved by both the beauty of creation and the wonder of providence. As mentioned in a previous blog, Calvin lived the same kind of scholarly piety exemplified by the scribes, teachers, and biblical scholars of Wisdom School. Consistent with mode of devotion from the Wisdom School, Calvin often speaks of the spiritual benefits of meditating on the glory of God in creation. Regarding Psalm 19:2, Calvin noted:
“[Natural] Philosophers who have more penetration into those matters than others, understand how the stars are arranged in such beautiful order, that notwithstanding their immense number there is no confusion;… David, therefore having spoken of the heavens, does not here descend from them to other parts of the world; but, from an effect more sensible what we just now said, namely, that the glory of God not only shines, but resounds in the heavens.”
What is interesting here, and is quite typical of the wisdom theology of the Old Testament, is that the glory of God is not only seen but heard. The sages of Israel (and the saints of the early Church) were inspired by what we might call the intellectual beauty of creation. They perceived in it a certain divine law – a certain order or purpose. The creation is understandable and this understandable order is beautiful because it teaches about the order and purpose of live. The creation has a didactic structure which witnesses to the Creator and His righteousness. It has both an intellectual and a moral beauty. One has only to look at creation to feel its beauty and its glory is that it speaks to us of divine things.
Glory is usually thought of as being seen, but in this instance it is being heard. The beauty of the heavens, the order of nature, according to Calvin, is a “visible language.” Calvin commented:
“David here metaphorically introduces the splendor and magnificence of the heavenly bodies, as preaching the glory of God like a teacher in a seminary of learning… the glory of God is written and imprinted in the heavens, as in an open volume which all men may read… Thus we are taught that the language of which mention has been made before is, as I may term it, a visible language, in other words, language which addresses itself to the sight; for it is to the eyes of men that the heavens speak, not to their ears; and thus David justly compares the beautiful order and arrangement, by which the heavenly bodies are distinguished, to a writing.”
Using more modern language, this is not a mere “God of the gaps” theory in which people only invoke God to account for gaps in modern scientific explanation. God’s works of creation and providence include all of the regularities of our natural world (cf. Genesis 8:22; Psalm 104:14, 20; Psalm 147:15-18), which includes those areas where science does best (i.e regular and predictable events, repeating patterns, etc.). From the perspective of the Scriptures, natural/scientific law is really the law of God or word of God (albeit imperfectly and approximately described by human investigators). It is His word that order, harmony, and beauty to our natural world. The mere existence of such “beautiful order and arrangement by which the heavenly bodies are distinguished” implies a rational lawgiver whose speech can be clearly articulated, illustrated, and understood. In examining Psalm 19, we see that the natural and moral order of our world all come from the same source – the Word of God.
It was this observed harmony and order that led the saints of old to ponder the works of creation and stirred the thoughts of early scientists to study the natural world. In contrast to this, one should notice the unhinged speculation associated with modern scientific theories today, particularly scientific theories which address origins. For example, in response to the harmonious order of our universe, there are now well-known scientists who postulate the existence of up to 10500 universes in order to explain the “apparent” fine-tuning of cosmic laws. Such a theory is not immediately disregarded because there is now discussion that science now longer needs to be falsifiable in order to be considered science.
Along with this, there are scientific theories that now require very little evidence in order for them to be discussed. One recent theory postulates that the origin of life follows as an inevitable consequences of the “laws of nature” and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.” No theory on origins can be devoid of philosophical presuppositions and the prevailing thought today is that the origin of life is completely natural. This perhaps will explain the relatively new confidence among scientists in finding extra-terrestrial life (despite the lack of evidence) and the continued in belief in the existence of UFOs, ghosts, and other paranormal phenomena in from many Westerners (and let’s not discuss the rise of flat earthers).
As is often the case, the appeal for secularism has not produced what it has promised. The rejection of the Christian religion has offered liberation, not from the bonds of superstition but from the burdens of evidence and rationality. Christians should be honest and forthright about this and we must address the fact that increasing numbers of young people are embracing this form of liberation.