Social Science and Scripture (Part 1)
by Steve Huerd
Brad Pitt played the entrepreneurial Oakland A’s baseball manager Billy Bean in the film Moneyball in which he goes against conventional wisdom by following the advice of a statistician in changing his team. Though the film was nominated for six academy awards including best actor and best picture, it raises interesting questions we must address in Christian Education.
For example, how do we really know what is true? This is not a new question per se, as the study of epistemology in philosophy directly studies these phenomena. But, it does pose continual questions as we in academia seek to lead and influence the new generation in discovering truth.
For centuries the church based its epistemology upon revelation or the idea that truth was directly given to us by God through the writing of the Holy Scriptures. However with the rise of the Enlightenment period, man’s reason gradually grew to occupy a more central place in the search for truth. This led to the rise of science, which while being originally created to study God’s universe, eventually became an alternative means of discovering truth in the world. Francis Schaeffer (1976), in his classic book How Should We Then Live, traces this independent and autonomous thinking back to the Renaissance period, placing man in the center of the universe.
Today, centuries later, science and the scientific method of investigation have largely supplanted revelation in the secular world as the chief means of discovering truth and knowledge. Revelation as a means of epistemic knowing has been subjugated to the realm of person opinion or even superstition as there is no way to empirically verify its findings through experimentation.
Thus, when it comes to doing research in the social sciences of academia, empiricism and the scientific method rule. You can’t really say anything unless you can support it with empirical evidence.
Those of us in Christian education, who still hold to God’s revelation through scripture as a means of knowing, must constantly wrestle at the task of integration. We maintain that all truth is God’s truth whether it is found in nature through general revelation (i.e. empirical research) or in special revelation (i.e. the Bible). If we have as our premise the knowledge that “all truth is one and all ways to truth are one because the Author and End of truth is One” (Green, 2007, p. 63), then integration becomes an essential task we must engage with great care.
And, like Billy Bean of the Oakland A’s, we face constant temptations to ignore conventional wisdom in favor of a more scientific approach. Even in the writing of my dissertation, I confess to spending far more time reading and summarizing empirical research than I did in writing about how the scriptures interact with my topic. Yet, if we truly believe that God has revealed truth in the Bible to us, than this truth must have supremacy over human reason being argued through statistically based empirical research.
Integrating truth discovered through empirical research with truth being revealed via scripture is no easy task. The scriptures will always hold epistemic supremacy for me in my thinking, but anyone who has ever read the Bible knows that the Bible doesn’t speak about every little truth God has created. For while God has given us everything we need for a life of godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), there remains much more truth to be discovered in the universe. Social science and scripture need not conflict and it’s not always one or the other, nevertheless we in Christian education need to be prepared so that we don’t lose our way in the midst of the fog in our search for truth.
Schaeffer, F. A. (1976). How should we then live? The rise and decline of western thought and culture. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company.
Green, B. (2007). Ch. 3: “Theological and Philosophical Foundations,” in Shaping a Christian worldview: The foundations of Christian higher education, ed. David Dockery and Gregory Thornbury. Broadman & Holman.