21 December 2008

Christian Commitment and the Christian Scholar

In his little book, Reason within the Bounds of Religion (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976) Nicholas Wolterstorff discusses, among other things, the role of the Christian scholar’s religious commitment. Briefly, his commitments provide “control beliefs.”

[T]he religious beliefs of the Christian scholar ought to function as control beliefs within his devising and weighing of theories…. The Christian scholar ought to allow the belief-content of his authentic Christian commitment to function as control within his devising and weighing of theories. For he like everyone else ought to seek consistency, wholeness, and integrity in the body of his beliefs and commitments. Since his fundamental commitment to following Christ ought to be decisively ultimate in his life, the rest of his life ought to be brought into harmony with it. As control, the belief-content of his authentic commitment ought to function both negatively and positively. Negatively, the Christian scholar ought to reject certain theories on the ground that they conflict or do not comport well with the belief-content of his authentic commitment. And positively he ought to devise theories which comport as well as possible with, or are at least consistent with, the belief-content of his authentic commitment (76).

This notion is, of course, objectionable to some. Rejecting a theory because it does not comport well with one’s ultimate commitments is illegitimate in science.

Is it? Wolterstorff goes on to discuss an unquestioned “conformism with respect to science.

[T]he person who exhibits authentic Christian commitment cannot take for granted that the data, beliefs and theories of contemporary scientists are true. The most obvious reason is that contemporary scientists as scientists disagree. One has to choose. But even if that were not the case within some branch of contemporary science, if all the “experts” in that field agreed, why should the Christian (or anyone else) surrender all his critical faculties in the face of it? The “experts,” after all, will have practiced their science with their control beliefs. There is no reason for me to assume that mine are theirs, or that a science in accord with theirs will be in accord with mine (82).

Non-Christian scientists and scholars practice their craft with their control beliefs intact. On Wolterstorff’s view, the Christian scientist and scholar should freely do the same.


About Me

James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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