“The Evangelical Love Affair with Enlightenment Science”

“The Evangelical Love Affair with Enlightenment Science” December 3, 2017

The above is one of the wonderful chapter headings in George Marsden’s classic book, “Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism” (Noted before, but see here).

It is important to remember that secular fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism are always two sides of the same coin.  They may arrive at completely different conclusions, but they begin with some of the same presuppositions or faith beliefs.  They also display the same sort of sensibility, which is a curious mix of certainty, lack of imagination, and a wooden/literal surface reading of everything/existence.  Always a toxic brew.

In that chapter, Marsden gives an example of what is referenced in the chapter title.  He recounts the noted dispute B.B. Warfield had with Abraham Kuyper of the Netherlands in 1902.  B.B. Warfield was the well-known Princeton theology professor and Kuyper was a theologian in his own right and would go on to be Prime Minister.

Kuyper was one the Calvinist Netherlands theologians who promulgated the idea that the presuppositions we bring to bear, to whatever it may be we are considering or reflecting upon, will determine the boundaries of what we are able to “see” or think is possible.  They will determine what it is we think is meaningful, the point, or true about what is before us.  And he thought this about science too.

Kuyper, well before Thomas Kuhn, asserted that even science is value-laden.  We come to new discoveries in science, not necessarily because of new facts or new information, but by “paradigm shifts,” wherein we are able to “see” what was already present but in a different way now.  These “shifts” are the result of considering different presuppositions—different metaphysical frameworks.

So, for Kuyper, two scientists, both rational, both competent, both considering the same facts and evidence—but who started with different paradigms or presuppositions—would come to different conclusions as to what the evidence should mean or point toward (Quick note–this obviously doesn’t apply to disputes where one asserts the earth is 93 million miles from the sun, and the other it is more like 100–in other words where a measurement can settle the dispute).  For instance, a scientist who is also an atheist might tell us that the available evidence should “mean” or “point toward” the conclusion that God(s) or transcendence of any type simply does not exist.

Kuyper’s view clearly went against the grain of the Enlightenment view; the view there was a universal, objective, rationality that all are capable of and will lead them to “see” or understand the same facts/evidence/science, in the same way.  To see or understand it differently, was clearly to mean one was not being logical or rational—that one was in error.

And it was Warfield, one of the 20th Century champions of fundamentalism/evangelicalism who sided with the Enlightenment view against Kuyper.  Marsden writes:

“To B.B. Warfield, Kuyper’s view was sheer nonsense.  Warfield was a man of his age at least to the extent of believing that science was an objective, unified, and cumulative enterprise of the entire race.”

He notes further on:

“Building on such assumptions, Warfield’s confidence in demonstrating rationally the truths of Christianity knew no bounds.  ‘It is not true,’ he insisted, ‘that he [the Christian] cannot soundly prove his position.  It is not true that the Christian view of the world is subjective merely, and is capable of validation in the forum of pure reason.’”

And, clearly, we would hear an atheist, or secular fundamentalist, mimic the exact same Enlightenment reasoning and confidence in “pure” reason.  The above sounds like something Richard Dawkins might assert regarding atheism.  Each draws their certainty, their confidence, from the same Enlightenment view and, yet, neither seems to see or understand the irony.

Again then, we see how modern the FG world is and continues to be, all the while imagining they hold to something ancient or Biblical.  It is neither.

PS: For any who missed it, my last post was also published here.


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