Friday, April 24, 2020

Pro Rege Polemics

The last few issues of Pro Rege contain an interesting debate regarding the relative authority of Scripture versus science. Should science cause us to modify our reading of Scripture? Or should we base our science on the plain sense of Scripture?

1. A Defense of Biblical Authority
The discussion was initiated by the article "Science vs. Faith: the Great False Dichotomy", in the June 2019 issue of Pro Rege (a quarterly publication of the faculty of Dordt University, Iowa). The authors were Dr. Sacha Walicord and student Ben Hayes, both from Dordt.

As the title suggests, the authors contend that the notion that science is pitted against Christian faith is a false dichotomy. Secular science is not worldview neutral, as is often claimed. On the contrary, a scientist must choose which presuppositions to accept concerning metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. The secular scientist will adopt presuppositions that accord with naturalism; the Christian scientist should work from a Christian worldview, based on the Bible.

It is thus not a case of Christianity, or the Bible, versus neutral science. Rather, it is a clash between the Christian worldview versus an anti-Christian worldview, each with their own faith-based science.

They lament the fact that many Christian scientists, in actual practice, use the same naturalistic, anti-Biblical presuppositions as secular scientists. Then, when their scientific results clash with the plain reading of Scripture, they claim that Scripture can be interpreted in many ways, so that we need the “neutral” study of general revelation to interpret Scripture properly. Such fallacious reasoning has created the perceived tension between science and the Bible.

The authors charge,
Thereby the Christian scientists, with their counter-Biblical presuppositions, lift themselves and their personal interpretation of general revelation above God’s Word.”
This is an excellent article promoting the classic Reformed position, as found in the Reformed confessions, that stresses the full authority of God's inerrant Word, the Bible.

It is indeed regrettable that currently most scientists at most Christian universities do their science from essentially naturalistic presuppositions, with a corresponding rejection of the traditional reading of Gen.1-11.

2. A Contrary Reaction
This article, with its criticism of Christian scientists using anti-Biblical presuppositions, must have been on target, hitting a raw nerve. It provoked an indignant Letter to the Editor by Dr. Arnold Sikkema in the following (September 2019) issue of Pro Rege.

Introducing himself as a “science and faith scholar”, Dr. Sikkema expresses "dismay" that the authors
"felt the need to bring the perspective of Jason Lisle to the attention of the academic world and the Dordt constituency, giving the impression that Lisle’s perspective lines up with the Reformed Christian thinking of Bahnsen, Machen, Schaeffer, and Kuyper.”
Dr Sikkema claims that the article contains "numerous misunderstandings" about science and faith. In particular, he rejects the notion that there is such a thing as a "plain reading of Scripture", which he deems to be an unsupportable idea that is the main cause of science and faith controversies.

In closing, he expresses regret that the student co-author

 "was not afforded expert direction by a qualified scholar of science and faith in any of the various Dordt departments where such matters are rigorously treated."
What are we to make of this? Dr. Sikkema makes various allegations that are not substantiated. His closing statement is a blatant ad hominem, implying that Dr. Walicord is not a "qualified scholar of science and faith”. 

It should be noted that the interdisciplinary field of "science and faith" draws upon expertise in science, theology, and philosophy. In that regard, Dr. Sikkema, having formal degrees only in science, is no better qualified than Dr. Lisle (both have a Ph.D. in physics), whereas in theology and philosophy Dr. Walicord and Dr. Klautke (see below) have better credentials than Dr. Sikkema.

Of course, anyone can acquire expertise through informal studies. Hence, the actual substance of a work is far more pertinent than the formal academic title of its author. In that regard, does Dr. Sikkema really believe that defending the "plain reading" of Genesis automatically disqualifies one from being a bona fide "scholar of science and faith"?

As to the “qualified scholars” at Dordt that Dr. Sikkema recommends, do any promote the “plain reading” of the Bible, in opposition to evolutionary science? Apparently not, sad to say (see, for example, the Dordt Study Guides for Science and Faith Integration, promoting theistic evolution).

3. A Sound Rebuttal
Most recently, the latest issue (March 2020) of Pro Rege has a rejounder: Thoughts on Dr. A. J. Sikkema's Reaction to the Article "Science vs. Faith: The Great Dichotomy" by Dr. Jurgen-Burkhard Klautke. Dr Klautke teaches ethics and apologetics at the Academy for Reformed Theology in Giessen, Germany.

Dr. Klautke wonders why Dr. Sikkema has a problem with the original article's main point, namely, that science is based on faith. After all, this merely follows Kuyper's notion that God's sovereignty extends over all creation, which reflects our Reformed legacy.

Also, he asks, what motivates Dr Sikkema to disparage Dr. Jason Lisle so aggressively? After all, the authors merely refer to Lisle regarding the role of presuppositions in science and the necessity of upholding Biblical authority. Dr. Sikkema, although not explicitly mentioning Dr. Lisle's creationism, implies that this renders him unworthy of even being mentioned in academic publications.

Regarding the "plain meaning of Scripture", the disputed portion is primarily Gen.1-11. But, Dr. Klautke shows, Scripture itself, whenever referring to Genesis, always takes it in its plain sense. Indeed, the plain reading of Genesis has been the dominant view of the Church Fathers and the Reformers. He notes that the view defended by Sikkema is more in line with the modern, liberal hermeneutic of F.W. Schleiermacher, W. Dilthey, and H.G. Gadamer.

Dr. Klautke finds, not only that Dr. Sikkema's criticism of the authors' hermeneutics is unsound, but that he misrepresents what they actually write. He drily comments,
 "but we have already learned that Dr. Sikkema does not like plain reading too much--obviously not only when it comes to the Word of God."
He concludes,
"In short, none of the points of criticism that Dr. Sikkema puts forward against the article by Dr. Walicord and Mr. Hayes are convincing. However, what bothered me more than the argumentative deficits is the patronizing tone in which he speaks..."
A spot-on refutation.

It is good that Pro Rege is having this discussion. Unhappily, history shows that most Reformed institutions of higher learning, founded to defend the faith, eventually end up undermining it. Look, for example, at what happened to Calvin’s Academy in Geneva, Kuyper’s Free University in Amsterdam, Harvard, etc.  

Why do Christian universities become secularized? According William C. Ringenberg in his The Christian College: A History of Protestant Higher Education in America (1984) acceptance of evolution was the major factor. It inevitably led to a decline in the belief that the Bible was divinely inspired. See my posts Freedom in Christian Academia and The Evolution of Calvin College.

Hence, faculty, administrators, and board members at Dordt—and other Christian universities—should be put to the question of whether they are honestly committed to advancing a genuine, consistently Christian worldview – or not.

1 comment:

JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:
Well, there you have it. On the blogsite Reformed Academics the authors, of which Sikkema was one, they denied inerrancy; now he's denying sola Scriptura.

Makes you wonder whether he talking about the same theology at all.

Though I agree with Hayes and Walicord that naturalists can stand on no other epistemological ground than that established by the Word of God, I think all that is really needed is to point out that: if Sikkema cannot know the plain meaning of Scripture then he also cannot mix evolutionary theory with it. All he is doing is mixing evolutionary theory with his own "interpretation within a particular context".

That about ends it there.The churches still may not allow themselves to teach anything but God's own precepts; they're still not allowed to teach the doctrines of men. But Sikkema considers that an unsupportable idea. That puts his theology, never mind his science, outside the pale of the church.

Because our churches confess Belgic Confession art. ii, we must strive to hold to sola Scriptura for theology and to objectivity for the witness of nature. We have no choice.

Sikkema doesn't really interact with either science proper or theology proper.