Van Til Tool

Using the Van Til Perspective as the tool to discover what life means and how it ought to be lived.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Science From The Van Til Perspective:

A Good Start

A Review of

Vern S. Poythress Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (Crowssway, 2006)
381 pp $20.00 ISBN-13: 978-1-58134-731-9
ISBN-10: 1-58134-731-6

Reviewer: Forrest W. Schultz

I first met Vern Poythress when he became a student at Westminster Seminary around 40 years ago. In our conversation, after learning that he had just received his doctorate in mathematics from Harvard, I asked him a Biblical philosophy of mathematics question: "Which is the true view of math: the rationalist view, the empiricist view or the linguistic conventionalist view?". He said he did not know. I replied, "Well, after you learn some Van Til here, you will figure it out!". Well, I was right. He did learn some Van Til at WTS and as a result he did figure it out. The result can be found in his essay on mathemnatics in the essay collection entitled Foundations of Christian Scholarship: Eassys In The Van Til Perspective edited by Gary North.

And over the years he has devoted his great mind to studying other things, including matters in the philosophy of science. Like me, he believes that the Van Til Perspective is a tool which should be used to figure out things like this. Also, like me, he had John Frame as a teacher at WTS and has continued to learn from him since then by reading his
published books. (I regard Frame as the best theology teacher I ever had, although I do not agree with him in everything.)

The latest results of the thinking of Poythress in philosophy of science are found in the book under review here, which is a very thought provoking work, well deserving of serious study and full of great insights into all kinds of things too numerous to even list, let along discuss here. From the text itself and the footnotes one can see the ongoing influence of Van Til and Frame, who are repeatedly quoted and referred to. And Frame provides a very adulatory recommendation: " far the most important book on the subject. I recommend it without reservation."

I also recommend reading it but I am sorry that I cannot say "without reservation." I will say, though, that this book takes creationism seriously and is much closer to it than Frame was when I knew him at WTS, when he, as my thesis advisor, was not happy with my full creationist position and my quoting from Morris & Whitcomb's The Genesis Flood. But Frame has learned a lot since then: for example, moving away from Westminster's hostility to Christian Reconstruction to his present position in which he now calls himself, "not quite a reconstructionist". In like manner, since then he and Poythress have moved closer to creationism and hopefully will continue to do so until they, in similar fashion, will be at the position of "not quite a creationist" and then, a few years later still, (maybe by the time of the Dort Quadricentennial), they will be full creationists and reconstructionists.

Poythress does discuss, usually with intelligence, all the various views on Genesis One but he seems to be unaware of the fact that all except the full creationist postion were developed by those christians who wanted to have an excuse for effecting a compromise with evolutionary theory. He also never mentions the interesting fact that all the creation/evolution debates on college campuses are being won by the creationists. Now he is quite correct in noting that the creationist position is in need of development, but he appears to be unaware that it is the only one which sets forth the teaching of Genesis. And he continually tries to find ways of avoiding the conclusion of literal 24 hour days. And it is very interesting to note that when he does so, he departs from his usual careful thinking! For instance, the reason God decided to take 6 days to create the world was that He was thereby setting an example for man to follow -- work 6 days and then rest on the seventh. Now this paradigm ONLY works if these are real days -- not long periods of time. It is noteworthy that Poythress does not use the word "paradigm" and instead actually wants to put it into a totally different category, which he calls the Analogical Day Theory!

Poythress has become known ( as has Frame) for what is sometimes called perspectivalism, and good examples of that are provided here, which show what he means and are helpful in clearing up confuison about various matters. He also has some interesting discussions of analogies between intra-Trinitarian relationships among the Three Persons and various matters in mathematics and science. His discussion of scientific laws is about the best I have ever seen. His book is also excellent in showing God's great concern for nature and for science. And for His concern for beauty, including beauty in matters which are not usually thought of as beautiful, such as mathematics and scientific laws. And, finally, the book is God-centered in principle and is a good start at developing philosophy of science from the Van Til Perspective.


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