Bavinck and Certainty (II)

Moving on in the booklet, The Certainty of Faith, we note how Bavinck talks about science and certainty.  He briefly praises science for giving us so many benefits and insights into the universe.  Then, he states:

“But although it may have a lot to offer to our senses and understanding, it leaves the heart unsatisfied.  In the hour of suffering and in the face of death, what good comes from the conquest of nature, the blessings of civilization, the triumphs of science and the enjoyment of the arts?  What good does it do a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

He continues to show the inadequacy of science concerning the heart. “Science may say what it wills about guilt and punishment, death and the afterlife, but it cannot ask us to hang eternity on a flimsy spider web.  When our highest interests, our eternal weal or woe is at stake, we must be satisfied with nothing less than infallible, divine certainty.  There must be no room for doubt.  But it is not hard to see that science can never offer us such certainty.”

“Every human soul is beset by a restlessness that no scientific reasoning can remove.”

More precisely, how is science inadequate when it comes to the religious heart?  “Science may honor the mystery of being but it can never explain it.  Precisely at the point where it would serve us the most, it has to admit its impotence and leaves us mute.  [It cannot] speak the word that will give life to our souls.  After only a little inquiry it keeps bumping into the unknown, the knowledge of which is indispensable for us.  It finds itself surrounded by an invisible world which it cannot enter.”

Finally, Bavinck also notes how science does offer a kind of certainty: that provided by the senses and that provided by reason.  The latter has to do with immediate certainty “derived from the first principles of science.”  The former has to do with “mediated certainty derived from demonstration and proof.”  However, “Scientific certainty, no matter how strong and fixed, always remains based on human argument and can, therefore, always be overturned by further and better investigation.  Such a doubtful, fallible certainty is insufficient in the area of religion.  Here [in religion] we need an infallible, divine certainty, one that transcends all human doubt and can never let us down.”

Stay tuned for more – next time on the role of testimony in science and religion/faith as well as divine certainty.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

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