For decades Western Christians as a whole have not succeeded in integrating faith and scholarship. (Mark Green discusses some of this in his Sacred Secular Divide booklet.) I was asked by WYSOCS to speak on my story, as an academic, of bringing my faith and scholarship together. I was surprised at the long, meandering journey it was, and the number of issues I went through to get there. There is, perhaps, a more direct route that others could follow, but the issues I encountered on the journey might be useful to others.
Some already think that God is happy for us to engage in scholarship, Some see scholarship (or 'reason') as the servant of faith, to be harnessed to the task of, for example, proving that God exists. Some see scholarship as a high human activity (a favourite version of this a hundred years ago was: separating us from animals) and since God is all-loving towards humans he must be happy with it. While there is some insight in both of those views, I beg to differ. The first one is based on the Scholastic assumption of the triumph of faith over nature. The second is based on the Humanistic view of the centrality of humankind in all things.
When evangelicals in England (I don't include Scotland) try to bring them together it is usually with a Scholastic flavour ("How to last three rounds against Richard Dawkins", as Mark Surey recently put it). I want more than that.
Neither Scholastic nor Humanistic satisfy me, nor ever has done so. So I had to find a different route. Could I just take the Celtic view (if such exists)? Not really: I need to find a view that does justice to my evangelical and charismatic roots too - one informed by John Calvin, John Knox and John Wesley, one inspired by William Wilberforce, Evan Roberts and Eric Liddell, one steered by Roy Hession and Peter Gillquist, one that embraces missionary endeavour - and yet is positively critical of each of them.
So I begin with something even more basic than my Christian roots: I follow Jesus Christ, and put Him first in my life. I treat the Bible as the God's written Word to humanity - authoritative and reliable to provide genuine insight about God's dealings with His creation.
Unfortunately, there is little evidence that scholarship was important to Jesus - though also no evidence that it wasn't. I wanted a view and understanding that is compelled by God, not just acceptable to God. I have now arrived at something that satisfies these requirements. But it took a lifetime to get here, with a journey much meandered. Each stage provided a component in my eventual position, though often I did not realise it at the time. "Man might plan his way, but the LORD orders his steps." To follow these steps, read on; to get to the end, jump.
(You can check things out in more detail, and get background to this journey, from my Spiritual Journey.)
What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I be inspired to worship through nature? Instead, nature inspired fascination, curiosity and sense of belonging by its own being, functioning. It was meaningful without having to relate it to a Creator (even though I believed in, and had a relationship with, the Creator). Was my love for nature contaminated and even sinful, idolatrous in some way? I worried.
Likewise, when I learned electronics science as an undergraduate student and did my PhD in computer-aided design, I just loved the topic. It was interesting, challenging and even beautiful in its way, and I wanted to understand it deeply. But, again, I didn't link it consciously with my faith. What was wrong with me?
The topic of my PhD was automated layout of electronic circuit boards, and in order to find ways to do this, I wanted two things: to properly explore the nature of the spatial aspect of reality, and to match the way human designers did it. I did not, at the time, link these with my faith, but now I see there might be a connection; see later.
All I did in the area of my faith was to try to be a better person for Christ, learn that God loves me as I am and love him in return, learn how to evangelise, and become interested in theology.
However, perhaps there was a hidden connection that I can only see now. Whatever I was doing, I took an interest in it and tried to do it well, and enjoyed it - whether it was working in a bakery or a woodworking department, or developing a medical records database for general practice or building expert systems in the chemical industry and the surveying profession. I learned, and liked learning. I always tried to understand and question "Why?" and "What else?"
Three things I learned, and which had an impact on my future academic life, were:
These things happened partly because I was, at heart, an academic who wanted to understand, but I also had a certain attitude to the world, of interest, curiosity and respect.
In 1987 I re-entered academic life as a lecturer in the new Information Technology Institute a the University of Salford. The above three experiences from my 'real world' set me off in three different directions.
With knowledge elicitation and the development of expert systems, things were better, and we developed methodologies for this. Again, I enjoyed developing rather different styles of methodology than were then available in the literature - more human-centred, more flexible, giving more attention to respect and generosity than most did, which focused more on technique and efficiency. I was slightly aware that these probably arose from my commitment to Christ, but the link was not causal, and the reason I emphasised these was an intuition, based on my 'real-world' experience, that they are important.
The importance of benefits of information systems was similarly an intuition that arose from my real-world experience. Again, perhaps there was a slight link to my faith commitment to 'doing good', but it was not strong. However, a question arises if benefits are important: What are benefits? If the use of a computer reduces costs, but requires the employees to work extra hours, so they get back later to their families, family tensions increase, they never see their children, marriages break down, and so on - if these things happen, then is that computer system a 'success' or not? Is it 'beneficial'? Could we 'balance' benefit and disbenefit? On what grounds could we do so? Cost-benefit analysis seemed completely wrong for this. (My abhorrance of CB analysis did come from my faith.) The problem was: I did not find any academic literature in my field that discussed benefits. Often when I brought it up, other academics responded with incredulity and complete lack of awareness that it could be important or of interest. (This was before Fred Davis published his ground-breaking but flawed paper that differentiates ease of use from usefulness.) Again, I did not know it, but I needed philosophy to answer those questions.
However, I was not to find the philosophy needed for the above things, except by an unlikely route.
In this Party, I encountered many belief systems that Christians at the time saw as 'The Enemy', and had to find a way of engaging with them that would not deny my Lord. For example, New Age thinking. I felt, deep down, that the hostility that some Christian writers had towards this was both wrong and unhelpful, and so had to develop my own response to the New Age in which I worked out that Green approach was not New Age. You can read more about this in part of my spiritual journey account.
At the same time, I found lots of different 'green' views - deep ecologists who treated humanity as merely one more species, green economists, who wanted environmental responsibility to be at the centre of economics, social greens, who emphasised community and 'small is beautiful', greens who emphasised justice, greens who emphasised spirituality (include the New Age and others, but also including Christian spirituality8). It was refreshing to find all these important aspects of life being recognised by a political party, but it posed a problem: What is environmental sustainability?
At a Christian gathering, Spring Harvest, I met Richard Russell, who asked me whether I knew the basis of Paul Marshall's thought. No, I didn't. Richard told me it was based on a Dutch Christian philosopher called Herman Dooyeweerd, and he began to explain one portion of Dooyeweerd's thought that has helped me ever since, his notion of aspects.
Human life has a variety of aspects, each of which has laws that, when humanity 'obeys' them, then things will go well. For example, there is a social aspect of relating well, an economic aspect of frugality and care, a juridical aspect of doing justice, an aesthetic aspect of fun and beauty, an ethical aspect of self-giving, and a 'pistic' aspect of belief, faith, vision and commitment, and nine others.
Immediately I saw that this answered my question, What is environmental Sustainability? Answer: Sustainability occurs when we function well in all aspects. I could see that the different views among greens could be seen as each emphasising a different aspect. This helped me keep all the different views in perspective. No longer did I have to decide that one was right and the others wrong; they each contained some important insight. More, since these aspects were created by God, it gave an even firmer foundation to the link between my faith and environmental responsibility.
Immediately reading up about it, I began to apply Dooyeweerd's aspects to my academic work.
The ironic thing was that the reason I used Dooyeweerd was not because he shared the faith that I had, but that it was useful and rich. So, though there was an obvious link between my faith and my scholarship there, the link was not all that important at that time. The link was at a deeper level, in that I realised that the style and attitude of Dooyeweerd's philosophy, which attracted me, do emerge directly from a faith commitment that lies at the root of his philosophy. Also, I began to think that in a loose way, what Dooyeweerd called aspects could be what God wove into the very fabric of creation in order that it would work well in a rich way.
One important part of Dooyeweerd's philosophy is that he demonstrated both historically and transcendentally that at the root of every philosophy and all reason lies a religious presupposition. The implication of this is that every philosophy should state its religious presupposition clearly (its 'ground motive') and then there can be genuine dialogue between different philosophies. I liked this, and it augured the possibility of Christian thinking engaging with the mainstream. It also was in tune with the latest critical thinking, which recognises that reason is not neutral and demands that every thinker express their presuppositions.
It also helped me in other ways, such that eventually I published a monograph in which I show how Dooyeweerd's philosophy can be used to provide new ways of thinking (new paradigms) in five main areas of research and practice in information systems, Philosophical Frameworks for Understanding Information Systems. (A near-final version of this book is available free.)
Moreover, Dooyeweerd made clear the difference between philosophy and theology. This freed me to be able to think philosophically in my work in a 'Christian' way, without having to impose theological ideas on it.
However, I This led me to begin to engage, as a Christian thinker, with mainstream thought, rather than keeping my faith-directed worldview to myself. This was an important step in linking faith and scholarship.
I began introducing Dooyeweerd's aspects to my colleagues and one day, around 1994, one returned from the European Conference on Information Systems and told me that an Anita Grahn had presented "those aspects you are talking about." Anita was then doing a PhD in the University of Luleå in northern Sweden, I wrote to her, and received a reply from her supervisor, Prof. Donald de Raadt. I went up to Luleå to visit them.
Whereas Donald was a Christian believer, Anita was not. Why should someone who was not a believer take an interest in it? For exactly the same reason I picked it up: because with it, we could explore the richness and complexity of life, which had begun to challenge the systems thinkers, social theorists and professionals of the end of the twentieth century. She had been introduced to it by Donald, also an innovative systems thinker, and in discussions with him I began to find my understanding of Dooyeweerd rather unsophisticated, and began to see wider horizons in Dooyeweerd's philosophy.
Anita (now Anita Mirijamdotter), and her colleague, Birgitta Bergvall (now Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn) took me under their wing, we explored Dooyeweerd's aspects together, and as a result I began a website, which I called The Dooyeweerd Pages, to record the outcome of our discussions (example: part of that early discussion still remains at the end of the page on the analytical aspect). A Chinese materialist made a contribution to my understanding of the aesthetic aspect, the kernel meaning of which Dooyeweerd suggested was harmony: for true harmony there must be an element of disharmony. I was beginning to see that non-believers have genuine insights into the fabric of God's creation.
These 'insights', I began to discover, were being unearthed by those whom Christians view as 'the enemy' - such as thinkers rooted in Marxist, New Age or Postmodern worldviews, like Jürgen Habermas and Michel Foucault.
The encouraged me no end, and I subsequently published a paper in a leading journal entitled 'The Critical Theory of Herman Dooyeweerd ?'.
Then the hard work began - the hard work of properly understanding Habermas and other thinkers in their own terms and trying to understand how Dooyeweerd's thought might relate to them.
So I discovered Habermas, a humanist modernist thinker of the 'critical' Frankfurt School, which had emerged from Marxist (so that the word 'critical' meant deeply questioning the social structures and assumptions that make up the status quo). In his Knowledge and Human Interests he argued that reason and knowledge are never neutral - agreeing with Dooyeweerd against scholastic assumptions. Challenged by others, he sought the root on this non-neutrality in his Theory of Communicative Action, which, amongst other things, rests on there being distinctly different kinds of rationality (three 'worlds'), and on the notion of the lifeworld. Dooyeweerd believed that each aspect gives us a different rationality, and Dooyeweerdian thought can contribute significantly to our understanding of the lifeworld. (An initial attempt to compare Habermas and Dooyeweerd may be found in A Comparison of Dooyeweerd with Habermas.)
Others were advocating Michel Foucault, a humanist thinker beloved of postmoderists also explored the non-neutrality of knowledge, in terms of power. He explored the 'genealogy' of knowledge, i.e. the human processes by which it comes about, and that belief or commitment is part of that process - something that Dooyeweerd also explored in his 'transcendental critique' of theoretical thought that unearthed the deep religious presuppositions. (See also Knowledge, Power, Truth and Sexuality: Foucault Situated in Dooyeweerd.)
Over the years, I read more widely and listened more intently to a wide range of thinkers. Initial reflections on how some parts of their thinking relate to Dooyeweerdian thinking may be found in the mini website Dooyeweerd Pages - Links to External Thinking.
The reason I find this a valid thing to do, as I "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" [Matt 6:33], is that all people are operating within God's good creation and subject to its laws, and that in us all is still the inner compulsion to 'name' and 'tend' [Gen. 2] everything. All thinkers are - often despite themselves - disclosing something of the warp and weft of God's creation.
'Aspect' there does not necessarily refer to Dooyeweerd's aspects, though I find his understanding of aspects helpful in identifying what is at stake and what is missing. 'Appropriate' means in Christ's eyes and also in the eyes of the field the thinker is in. This implies I do NOT argue theologically nor employ Bible verses. Rather, I try to open people's eyes to the diversity of meaningfulness around them.
A.C.E. seems to me to fit a Christian approach: To affirm them (rather than be antagonistic) requires my humility as a servant in Christ's Name. To critique (and not acquiesce) is wisdom with boldness. To enrich is to love.
That is what I found myself moving towards and doing in my academic work. But was it important in the eyes of God? Or would all such things come to an end and be 'burned up' in the end, like all proud empires do?
When I was a student, I had encountered the writings of Francis Shaeffer, which helped me feel these things were important to God (though I think Shaeffer himself went astray later). I found others of similar ilk, ranging from well known figures like Ron Sider, Tony Campolo, John Stott, to people like poet Stewart Henderson, artist Alan Flood, technologist David Lyon, and the managerial-visionary team of WYSOCS, Ruth and David Hanson. Calvin Seerveld published Rainbows for a Fallen World, David Lawrence published Heaven, It's Not the End of the World, Paul Marshall published not just Thine is the Kingdom but also Heaven is Not My Home.
All these pointed in the direction of affirming the environmental agenda, the academic agenda and many other so-called 'secular' agendas. All of life is created and waits to be redeemed. Over the years, I gradually absorbed this view of things and, after a time, timid I began to have the courage to act as though it were true. More recently, writers like Tom Wright and Mark Green have been developing similar views, which encouraged me further. Moreover, Dooyeweerd's aspects seemed useful in helping me do justice to each and every area of life that is created and waits to be redeemed - from those related to mathematics and physics through psychology and linguistics, sociology, economics and art, to politics, ethics and faith. But at the same time, many Christians still denigrate the importance of these things, either denying responsibility for the environment or disregarding academia.
(For a widening collection of writings on this theme, see Steve Bishop's excellent collection site All of Life Redeemed.)
So I had to find out: Was it true? I don't want to merely follow a fashion in thought, however attractive. Though all the world agrees on something, if God disagrees, then his vote outweighs all others! I had to find out for sure whether God Himself was in this. I had to find out from Scripture itself whether my feeling was valid.
The notion of 'dominion' is where I began because, if the deniers are right then I should not waste my time on environmental responsibility (at the time this rather than academia was my main worry). I discovered, however, that the Hebrew word radah, only seldom occurs and, though its main uses are descriptive, its use with normative force occurs also in relation to condemning the shepherds of Israel (Ezekiel 34). These shepherds treat the sheep as their own possession and convenience and use their dominion for their own ends rather than to exercise God's care and love; (see more on shepherds).
It seemed to me very likely that radah in Genesis implies that humanity should treat the rest of creation like a good shepherd treats the sheep, not like the evil shepherds do. This interpretation is strengthened by recognising the link with humanity being in the image of the One God, i.e. being his representatives to the rest of creation. Radah is distorted into the wrong, harsh, evil kind by what is known as the Fall, by deep, noetic human sin. This is the distortion that Christians who deny environmental responsibility are perpetrating.
This is what started what I then called A New View (and still call it today). I became excited because I began to find that this view gives new meaning to many pieces of Scripture that I had not realised before. It does not detract from the meaning I had before (and which many evangelicals, charismatics, etc. also see), but expands it into a new dimension. It began to provide new ways of addressing what had been thorny theological questions (such as whether the God's law applies to the whole world or only his people).
One passage that shone with new light was Romans chapter 8. I began to see that even salvation itself has three dimensions. In Christ Jesus not only are we made right with God (D1, v.1-3), not only does the Holy Spirit give us an intimate immediate experience of God (D2, v.14-17), but also we are made like our Father in attitude (Gal 5:22-23) and thus are like mature sons who will act instinctively as their Father would. This is why the creation rejoices when it encounters these 'sons of God' (D3, v.18ff). ==== that should go into previous section?
This restores the right kind of radah, overcoming the distortion by the Fall, and enabling humanity again to be environmentally responsible. Indeed, I realised, all three dimensions are necessary for this. Though other people might desire environmental responsibility, they cannot sustainanbly achieve it without Christ, because the heart of the people is not changed.
From several sources (from things people had written, from other parts of Scripture, and from Dooyeweerd's philosophy), it seems like that God intended radah to cover the whole of creation. It can be reinterpreted as not just dominion over things, but as opening up the structures of temporal reality. That is, humanity has a mandate to understand the way creation works and to apply that understanding for the good of all in creation. By this, I began cautiously to think, God is pleased.
(I have not yet found any Scripture pieces that explicitly state that, but several Scriptures give examples of it happening, and it is commensurate with the whole narrative of the Bible. For example, Genesis 2 seems to point in this direction, where the man is given the task of understanding ('naming', where naming is more than a label) the animals: maybe the first example of scientific research? I am not yet satisfied with this, and so hold the idea of opening up reality slightly lightly. But decided to act on this, in that the servant who refused to act on what he was given, in Jesus' parable of the talents, was condemned. I go with the light I currently have, and trust I can hold it lightly if needed.)
What this means is that humanity is meant by God to undertake good research that discloses the structures of creation. That is, the laws of its various meaningful aspects. I found that Dooyeweerd's list of aspects can help me differentiate them; he had the notion that history or 'progress' is constituted in humanity opening up the potential of each of the aspects, and it is (an inescapable part of) humanity's mandate and glory.
It is the role of the sciences to reveal and establish theoretical understanding of each aspect, which should then be applied wisely in life. Here is a table of sciences and some of their research methods, by aspect; for more see Science: A Dooyeweerdian Perspective.
|Aspect||What is meaningful in it||Science(s)||Research Methods|
|Quantitative||quantity, amount||Arithmetic, Statistics, Algebra||Deduction and theorem proof|
|Spatial||continuous extension, space||Geometry, Trigonometry||Geometric proof, trigonometric investigations.|
|Kinematic||movement; flowing movement||Kinematics, Fluid dynamics||?|
|Physical||energy + mass||Quantum physics, physics, chemistry, materials science, mechanics.||Laboratory experiment, with physical reasoning.|
|Biotic||life functions||Life sciences, physiology, biology.||Greenhouse experiments, field studies, taxonomic analysis|
|Sensitive||sense, feeling, emotion||Psychology, Sensory sciences.||Stimulus-Response trials, control groups, etc.|
|Analytical||distinguishing||Logic, Analysis.||Logical proofs; some overlap with the above, esp. for cognitive science.|
|Formative||history, culture, technology: shaping and creativity||'Sciences of the Artificial' [Simon]. Also historical studies.||Game playing, puzzle-solving, various others, etc. Model building. Forensic methods.|
|Lingual||symbolic communication||Linguistics, Semiotics.||Cognitive studies, Model building, theorizing. Hermeneutics.|
|Social||social interaction and institution||Social science.||Surveys, questionnaires, interviews. etc.,Model building.|
|Economic||frugal use of resources||Economics, Management science.||Statistics is used a lot, but that is not restricted to economics. Modelling, Theorizing.|
|Aesthetic||harmony, surprise, fun||Aesthetics.||?, theorizing|
|Juridical||what is due; 'retribution', rights and responsibilities||Juridics, Legal science.||Theorizing; review of cases and long term histories.|
|Pistic||vision, aspiration, commitment, creed, religion||Theology, also some of anthropology.||Reference to sacred writings, hermeneutics, theorizing, anthropological studies.|
Scientific research is part of scholarship. If this is God's definite will for humanity, then we can now integrate faith and scholarship.
Scholarship includes both research and teaching (what we call 'science' is often research in some of the early aspects). Research fulfils our mandate to disclose the ways that God's creation works (the laws of each aspect), and integrate our understanding of this into humanity's 'common body of knowledge' about each field. Teaching means conveying the understanding of our field to those who wish to learn, so that God's creation will function better.
To me, the difference between Christian and other scholarship is not that we use Bible verses as part of the content of the knowledge of our fields, not even that we use Bible verses in testing the validity of research. Nor is it bringing God in as an object in our theories. Nor that we use our teaching or research as an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. Rather, it means always taking into account the wide diversity of God's creation, even when focusing on a single aspect. Doing justice to every aspect though focusing on one. And doing this justice in a gracious manner worthy of our Saviour.
When arguing about a theory proposed by someone, we need to use arguments that are appropriate for the main aspect on which the theory focuses. However, since all theoretical activity is founded on extra-theoretical presuppositions, which Dooyeweerd argued are religious in nature and Foucault argued are related to power, it is appropriate to articulate them, so that everyone can know our starting point. A good example of doing this may be found in Eriksson . Articulating our starting point is well-known in critical-social research, but it is also good to do in positivist and interpretivist research, because it lets the community understand the basis of our arguments.
Should not God's people be in the lead in developing new theories and paradigms in each field? Should we not be the ones introducing new paradigms and ways of thinking? Why is it, then, that we usually seem to be lagging behind, confining our engagement to either making tiny modifications or to defensively resisting the new paradigms? If we are responding to existing ideas, our attitude should be, as mentioned above: neither antagonism, nor acquiescence, but to affirm, critique and enrich existing thought. The table below gives an example.
However, God's people should also be introducing new paradigms, new approaches. Where is the Christian Jürgen Habermas, the godly Michel Foucault, the Christ-centred Stephen Hawking, the Spirit-filled Anthony Giddens? To do this, it is useful to see which aspects are being overlooked in our field and then work out how it impacts the field. The table gives examples.
Sally Clark, in the U.K., had two children die of cot deaths, and was convicted of their murder in 1999. Though her conviction was overturned in 2003, she developed psychiatric problems from the experience and died from from alcohol poisoning in 2007.
She was convicted because of mathematics. The probability of one cot death is 1/8500. By probability theory, the probability of two in coincidence is therefore its square, 1/73000000. But that is true only if the two events are independent of each other. In the case of cot deaths there might be factors that make the second one more likely.
Such factors are invisible to mathematics (the science of the quantitative aspect) on its own, and can only be thought about if we take other aspects into account. For example the dependency between cot deaths is biotic.
Each aspect has a different kind of 'causality' that creates statistical dependence. Has anyone studied this? If not, might it be a contribution that Christian mathematicians can make?
Createdness implies Meaningfulness. All we do, and all the physical, plant and animal worlds do, is Meaningful. Meaningfulness is therefore more fundamental than Being or Process. Yet in each field, Meaningfulness has been overlooked. This gives God's people great opportunities. Examples:
The conviction that we should be in the lead, is what has motivated the Christian Academic Network in its workshops on Shaping our Disciplines for Christ.
A more direct journey might be possible if we take Jesus' radical suggestion in Matthew 5:13-16 seriously:
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by me.
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house."
This passage is often related to our functioning in the world. We usually focus on the salt, working from its two functions we know about. Just as salt, when mixed into food, makes it tasty or preserves it, so Christians, when mixed among other people, make life interesting and/or preserve society. In academic life, we can indeed help people find their work interesting and can indeed help preserve what is good. However, to be in a position to be salt in these ways requires that our own discipleship is high quality. So, in the U.K. for example, the Christian Academic Network aims to support academic faculty in their discpleship; Transforming The Mind and WYSOCS Faith in Scholarship might do the same for postgraduate students.
But what about light? Jesus actually gives us two functions of light.
Both these are often best done, not by making proposals but by asking well-considered questions that make people think differently. It is often useful to draw attention to aspects that are ignored. For example:
May God be glorified in all this.
Eriksson DM, (2003) "Identification of normative sources for systems thinking: inquiry into religious ground-motives for systems thinking paradigms" Sys. Res. and Behavioral Sci. 20(6), 475-87.
This page is offered to God as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2013, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.
Written on the Amiga with Protext. Number of visitors to these pages: .
Created: 18-25 February 2013 Last updated: 26 March 2013 table with examples of Christian research. contents