Christianity and the Nature of Science: A
by J.P. Moreland
Baker Book House (1989), 263 pages, $14.95
Reviewed by Doug Jones in
Antithesis, January-February 1990, Volume I, Number 1
The myth that science is the model of truth and rationality
still grips the mind of much of our popular and scientific
culture. Even though philosophers of science over the past few
decades have gutted many of the claims of this scientific
imperialism, many thinkers, knee-jerk agnostics, and even
judges persist in the grip of this notion.
J.P. Moreland's latest work, Christianity and the
Nature of Science, aims to refute scientific imperialism
argument by argument. To this aim, Moreland defends three
theses: (1) that there is no definition of science or single
scientific method that we may use to demarcate science from
non-science; (2) that certain epistemological limits (e.g. the
presuppositions of science) dethrone science from an
imperialistic stance over philosophy and theology; and (3) that
attempts to integrate science and theology (especially
conflicts) should not automatically assume scientific
realism, the view that successful scientific theories are
true or approximately true models of the world.
The particular challenge which motivates most, if not all, of
Moreland's discussion is the question concerning the status of
Scientific Creationism. The chapter criticizing the naive
definition of science used by Judge Overton in the famous 1981
Arkansas creationism trial is worth the price of the book
Though, as we will see, serious drawbacks arise in this book,
persons interested in these important topics should not miss
Moreland's valuable contribution. No other Christian text is as
current or has the relative depth as this text.
>From the very beginning of the work, Moreland, to his
credit, strongly opposes dichotomized Christian thinking, which
is so common to believers struggling as undergraduates in
non-Christian colleges. Also to his credit, Moreland opposes the
Christian trend toward fideism and the lack of an objective and
critically reasoned understanding of the Christian perspective.
The most notable aspect of any of Moreland's chapters is that
they are chock-full of arguments. This feature is a breath of
fresh air. The text is also full of helpful footnotes, and and
an extensive select bibliography.
On the negative side, the text loses much of its use as a
resource work because it has no index. This omission should be a
criminal offense for a text of this sort. Moreover, the author
allowed several unacknowledged redundancies to remain. We find
redundant and space consuming discussions of the Correspondence
Theory of Truth, the Raven Paradox, Chisholm's distinction of
epistemic right, the bizarre Kekule discovery, and an anecdote
about a psychologist's confusion about mature adulthood. Such
unacknowledged redundancies leave the impression of a hurried,
On a bizarre point, in Moreland's trendy effort against
sexist language in philosophical examples, we see him refer at
times to "Nature herself." This usage is doubly strange for such
an avowed opponent of pantheism.
One very significant drawback is the conflict between the
level of the discussion and the intended readers. Moreland
suggests that the readers may be students or even members of an
informal church study group, but the discussion often introduces
terms and questions without the slightest bit of background
On a more technical note, Moreland breezes over some areas
that are central to his overall argument. The discussion of the
nature of scientific theories is more of a list than a
discussion, and even at that it fails to mention some of the
general categories which students will encounter (Received,
Semantic, and Historicist).
Similarly, Moreland's discussion of the problem of induction
does not mention some of the more prominent "solutions." The
author's own solution to the problem leaves so many basic
questions unanswered that it would not be of any help to a
struggling undergraduate. The same sort of problem is found in
the discussion of Goodman's Grue paradox. This discussion is
placed in a chapter which is supposed to inform the reader of
the basic issues, yet Moreland attempts to abbreviate Goodman's
already sticky definitions by conflating them.
Moreland's introduction of Realism and Antirealism might also
confuse the inquiring student by its failure to note an equally,
if not more, dominant discussion using the same terms. The
Realism and Antirealism debate in the philosophy of language,
involving Dummett, Devitt, etc., and focusing on whether
statements have realist or verificationist truth conditions is
clearly distinct from the question of unobservable entities in
the dispute over scientific realism. Though all of the above
points, in and of themselves, are minor, they do show that the
text has a pattern of assuming too much knowledge on the
Regardless of all of the above, the most serious
drawback to Moreland's work is its lack of a Biblically founded
antithesis between Christian and non-Christian thought.
Moreland comes close at points but ultimately fails to offer a
powerful critique of a non-Christian understanding of science
because he grants that the unbeliever can offer a justified
account of science. The antithetical or Van Tilian approach
would demonstrate the complete inability of the unbeliever to
successfully carry out such a task given the worldview in
An example of Moreland's failure is found in the chapter,
"The Limits of Science." Moreland examines many of the
presuppositions on which science depends for rational
justification. Yet instead of demonstrating how the
non-Christian perspective destroys such foundations and thus
destroys science, Moreland merely uses this information to show
that science requires philosophy for its foundations.
According to Moreland, this is not even a distinctively Biblical
philosophy, but philosophy in general.
This lack of epistemological antithesis also allows Moreland
to offer a very weak argument to demonstrate the "scientific"
nature of theology. At the end of the chapter "Scientific
Methodology," Moreland, follows Patrick Sherry in arguing that
sanctification can serve as a proof for God's existence, since
sanctification, like an electron, receives meaning from a
conceptual framework, ties together various phenomena, admits
predictions, can be falsified, and is public.
This argument may have merit within the Christian worldview,
but this cannot serve as a proof for unbelievers since they must
reject our conceptual framework. They will also reject that "the
presence of saintliness" is "something visible and recognizable
to everyone." The unbeliever will reject any non-humanistic
interpretation of such facts. Moreland fails to see the radical
dichotomy between the Christian and non-Christian interpretation
of objective factuality.
A final example of this sort of thinking is Moreland's
attempt to resolve the tensions between scientific realism and
Scripture by suggesting that in some cases we may adopt an
Antirealist understanding of science to resolve the tension.
Though Moreland's general discussion of this point is helpful,
he balks in a footnote over the question of whether this
assumption regarding the truth of the Bible is question-begging.
Moreland claims that a response to this question depends upon
one's approach to apologetics:
If one is a fideist or a presuppositionalist (roughly the
view that rational argumentation and evidence cannot be
offered as epistemic support for Christian theism from some
neutral starting point), then one may say that begging the
question is not a problem...If one is an evidentialist as I
am, then one can suspend judgment about the theological or
biblical component of the apparent conflict by viewing it as
a rationally justified conceptual problem for the scientific
theory in question (p.205).
This sort of confusion prohibits Moreland from offering
a powerful critique of non-Christian thought. First,
Moreland confuses, along with the Ligonier group,
presuppositionalism with fideism. Though this may be true of
Gordon Clark's Dogmatic Fideism, this is simply
false regarding a presuppositionalism of the Van Tilian or
antithetical persuasion. The latter rejects fideism and offers
objective, rational grounds for the Biblical view of reality. In
fact, Moreland's position turns out to be a form of fideism
itself, since it merely offers Christianity as an inference to
the best explanation. 
Secondly, Moreland's view forces him
into thinking in a dichotomized manner himself; yet this is the
very view he originally sought to reject. In the above quote, he
states that he is not begging-the-question because in a dispute
over a tension between science and Scripture, he "suspends
judgment" about God's word.
As a Christian, Moreland is called to trust God's word on
pain of humiliation—"Let God be true
though every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4); God alone is the foundation
of knowledge (Prov. 1:7), and Christ alone is the Truth who
holds all the treasures of knowledge (Jn. 14:6; Col. 2:3). Yet,
as an evidentialist Moreland is forced to deny all this and
think as an unbeliever—"suspend
judgment" on the truth of God's word and Christ.
This dichotomy is absurd. But it is not a
minor point. This unwillingness to note the radical
antithesis between believer and unbeliever pervades Moreland's
work. This lack of antithesis severely weakens his
critique of non-Christian thought.
We should heed Moreland's concluding call to enter the fields
he discusses and use a sound, objective form of argumentation,
but we must do so with the best weapons. Moreland's approach
fails to do this.
-  Moreland, J.P., Scaling the
Secular City (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987).