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Vern Poythress: Redeeming Science

Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 381 pages.

Vern S. Poythress is Professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he has taught for over twenty-five years. Holding degrees in New Testament studies, apologetics, and mathematics, Poythress is also a minister in the PCA. Within this text, Poythress seeks to demonstrate how a proper understanding of biblical theology allows consonance with scientific truth. Based upon a strong commitment to Reformed theology, this text makes explicit the beauty and complexity that is inherent within the universe that points toward an intelligent designer. Although an advocate of Intelligent Design theory (IDT), Poythress’ approach to the sciences is balanced and open-minded (he focuses upon the ‘hard sciences’ of physics, chemistry, and biology) . In what follows, important points from the text shall be examined, and if apropos, critically engaged.

In the introduction, aptly entitled ‘Science Mixing with People’, Poythress notes that ultimately this is God’s world, and as such, science reflects his wisdom. He acknowledges that whether one appreciates the contributions of science or not, everyone has to deal with it on the practical level. Poythress asserts that science should serve as a pat for praising God and a instrument of service for humanity (10). A God-Centered science restores the correct response by humans to scientific study, one in which people praise the God who created nature and sustains it. This view is somewhat counter-cultural in that the dominant form of contemporary science stresses an ideology of ‘objectivity’ that virtually ignores or outright banishes fascination, delight, beauty, and mystery from the objects of inquiry. This malaise within science, unfortunately, is also indicative of the larger malaise of meaninglessness that engulfs (post)modern society.

Poythress begins with one of the most important chapters, ‘Why Scientists Must Believe in God: Divine Attributes Of Scientific Law’, and lays the foundation for the remainder of the text. He boldly posits that all scientists – due to the nature of their work – believe in God, whether they do so openly or not. The very regularity that is the foundation of practical science necessitates the steadiness imparted by the Judeo-Christian Godhead. Indeed, according to the bible, the divine is responsible for the regular and predictable events found in nature, the repeating patterns throughout the natural world, and the exact mathematical formulations in nature. Poythress construes the ‘natural law’ studied by scientists as the law of God, or better, the word of God, which is approximately described by human investigations (15). Indeed, all scientists are ‘realists’ in the end analysis with respect to scientific laws, as the scientists to not invent the laws, but merely discover them instead (16). Regarding the characteristics in common between the nature of God and natural law, Poythress notes that both are omnipresent in the since of pervading the cosmos, both are eternal in the sense of being applicable at all times, and both are immutable in that that they do not change. Moreover, both God and the natural law are ideational in character insomuch as we do not directly experience the reality of the natural laws, or the direct reality of God; rather, both are essentially immaterial and invisible, known through their effects and not in their essences (17-18). Note, however, that these statements do not implicate a divinization of nature, but rather are an admission of God’s presence throughout the environ, as the natural law stems from the creative activity of the Godhead.

Chapter two describes ‘The Role of the Bible’, and makes several significant statements to the relation between science and religion. Therein, Poythress states that because both nature and the bible are, in effect, the ‘word’ of God, they harmonize with each other seamlessly when properly approached. When discrepancies appear between the two, Poythress suggests that one should be ready to examine both their thinking about science, as well as their thinking about the bible (43).

In chapter four, which is simply titled ‘Creation’, Poythress begins his examination of the account of creation presented in Genesis 1, the examination of which continues through chapter ten. Poythress avers that the ‘beginning’ spoken of in Genesis 1 is an absolute beginning, a creation out of nothing; however, it is a creation that is initially unformed, which necessitates further refinement over time (73). It is apparent, then, that Poythress does not support a literal depiction of six, twenty-four days, comprising the creation event. Indeed, he makes this point explicit when he examines, in chapters six through ten, the popular interpretations of Genesis 1 known as the 24-hour-day view, the local creation theory, the mature creation theory, the gap theory, the day-age theory, and the analogical day theory. He notes that Genesis 1 does not use modern ‘scientific’ language, but ‘phenomenal’ language instead (92). In supporting the analogical day theory, Poythress contends that the passage in Genesis 1 simply teaches that God made the world in six ‘days’ of undetermined length. Moreover, this analogical view affirms the chronological progression of complexity as well as the reality of the structure of work that humanity should emulate (145).

In the concluding chapter, Poythress emphasizes the primacy of serving God, which all who read this essential text would do well to remember. Because we who operate in science merely think God’s thoughts after him, we must be cautious as to not allow our discoveries to displace the reality of God. Poythress is forthright in stating that his intended audience is Christians who already believe in God, and the independent reality of the world around us. As such, it is not an apologetic tome, as per se, though it does contain apologetic overtones. His overarching theme is that the relation of science and theology does not result in the antagonism that some popular thinking suggests. In sum, I recommend this title to those who are interested in how the Christian faith interacts with the scientific enterprise.

Reviewed by Bradford McCall

 

Publisher’s page: https://www.crossway.org/books/redeeming-science-tpb/

This review originally appeared on the Pneuma Foundation In Depth Resources page on May 11, 2009. The Pneuma Foundation is the parent organization of PneumaReview.com.

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Category: Fall 2016, In Depth

About the Author: Bradford L. McCall, B.S. in Biology (Georgia Southwestern St. University, 2000), M.Div. (Asbury Theological Seminary, 2005), grew up on a cotton farm in south Georgia. A graduate student at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Bradford has particular interest in teleology, causation and early modern philosophy.

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