Home > politics, theology, two kingdoms > God the benevolent Scientist

God the benevolent Scientist

Modern Two Kingdoms theology has never, ever made sense to me.  In very short summary, the position of Two Kingdom advocates (spearheaded by David VanDrunen) is that there is no such thing as a Christian worldview.  They are emphatic that the Bible is only supposed to be used in the church and that it must not be used in issues of civil government, work, or even family.

The most absurd part is that they argue everything that is not governed by the Bible, which is everything except church, is to be governed my natural law.  It does not matter if you point out to them that natural law is simply the law of God written on the hearts of all men, the same law that has been clarified for us in the Bible.

When I attempted to point this out to a Two Kingdoms advocate recently at Darryl Hart’s blog, they insisted that natural law provides us with all kinds of information necessary to live life.  Because this person was a plumber, his example was plumbing:

Anyway, Christian plumbing is my turf here, your talking to a 4th generation plumber (I worked on the business end mostly though). I would argue that observation and natural revelation and all true domains of human knowledge are inextricably linked. General revelation functions to point to a Creator who sets up a functional cosmos; it also informs us on how the cosmos functions. All cosmic functions necessarily operate within the laws of nature whether they are moral or amoral. Plumbing is entirely dependent on natural revelation/natural law even though it is amoral. Let me explain…

There are many laws of nature that have to me navigated in even the most simple plumbing process such as soldering copper pipe which has taken mankind a few thousand years to master. It takes a understanding of the metallurgical properties of copper that make it desirable as a potable water delivery system: copper is malleable and resistant to corrosion and relatively abundant and easy to extract (which makes it inexpensive in relation to other non corrosive metals). Soldering itself requires an understanding of welding, which in this case requires the binding of two different metals to form a seal sufficiently tight so as to be impenetrable by water molecules, which again is governed by fundamental laws of chemistry. I could go on to explain how hydro-mechanical principles govern waterflow, but I won’t bore you with more details. I am sure though that nearly every vocational discipline, including the justice system interact so much with natural law that it would be staggering to draw out the processes in entirety.

When I pointed out that the “law” of gravity is something completely different than the law of God, and advised not to confuse the two, I received the following reply:

We must be using different dictionaries. I am really not sure how you can maintain that functionally physical laws and moral laws operate on different planes. They can be violated, but there are consequences. Yes, I do agree that natural law includes the moral code written on the human heart, but that is simply because these exist in a larger cosmic system where God created a good universe that worked just as he designed it to. It is precisely because of this that governments operate off of general revelation even if imperfectly and/or unknowingly. Why else would we have similarities in Hammurabi and Moses, Roman law and American law. Discontinuities are a given, but the commonality of law, and prevasively political nature of human history even in the absence of special revelation testifies to the sufficiency of natural law in the political arena.

I’m not making this stuff up. I suggested we go ahead and look at the dictionary, naively thinking it would help clarify things with this man:

law: 1a: a rule or order that it is advisable or obligatory to observe
synonyms law, rule, regulation, precept, statute, ordinance, canon mean a principle governing action or procedure. law implies imposition by a sovereign authority and the obligation of obedience on the part of all subject to that authority

Precept: 1 : a command or principle intended especially as a general rule of action
2 : an order issued by legally constituted authority to a subordinate official

That is what law means when we talk about the law of God and natural law. Way down in definition 6 is a different definition for things like the “law” of gravity:

6 a : a statement of an order or relation of phenomena that so far as is known is invariable under the given conditions

synonyms: see in addition hypothesis

God’s law is not God’s law because God saw what would naturally occur if we committed adultery and he wanted to protect us from those natural consequences. It is God’s law because He sovereignly imposed it on those bearing His image as a rule for what ought and ought not to be done.

Furthermore, are you suggesting that the “law” of gravity is just a statement of what ought to be done? Are you suggesting that we should all obey the law of gravity, meaning we should not violate it by floating around? I didn’t think so.

In sum:
one definition is prescriptive, the other is descriptive.

The response?

The prescriptive nature of moral law is something that I believe flows from the descriptive nature of natural law…

…The prescriptive command: “Don’t jump off of a cliff” presupposes (the is) gravity. Assuming a person values his life, the moral implication of the isness of gravity is that one ought not act out in a way where gravity becomes a life-threatening reality. I would argue that the Decalogue extrapolates its prescriptions from the ises of God’s character and from the world he creates.

How else can the psalmist claim that the heavens tell of the glory of God if there is no revelatory value in nature itself that cannot be extracted from even cursory observation?

So the Decalogue is really just a hypothesis about nature. Maybe God should have submitted it to a peer review journal?

See related: Karl Popper and the Emperor’s Clothes

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  1. jedpaschall
    February 3, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Brandon,

    I will leave a few cursory comments here, and then I will spend some more time responding to your VanDrunen review. That will take some time however, since family and professional responsibilities preclude hours devoted to a blog war. Hopefully my delay in response will not be construed as an offense, none is intended.

    For those who might be wondering, the plumber is me (former plumber is more apt).

    None of us are immune to logical fallacies on this side of glory, myself included. However, your appeal to Webster’s here constitutes an appeal to authority, and then an off hand dismissal. No disrespect to Mr. Webster, but his dictionary is hardly sufficient to be deemed an authority in defining terms in a theological/philosophical debate.

    So that I am not accused of saying that the bible doesn’t speak to everything in some general way, I do believe that Scripture in Gen 1:1 does speak to a cosmos created by God. So in the broadest terms, yes scripture speaks to all of existence inasmuch as it testifies that God created it. However the Scriptures do not speak to everything with the same particularity, and in some respects (like in plumbing) scripture has nothing particular to say about it. Therefore, what scripture doesn’t speak particularly to, it becomes difficult to derive an authoritative stance on that issue.

    Critical issues like worship, doctrine, church governance are spoken to with great precision in scripture. However, many secular issues simply are not.

    All laws are not the same, some are prescriptive (Thou shall not kill), some are descriptive (Laws of Thermodynamics). I believe we are in agreement here. What I am arguing is that there is a coherence between prescriptive law and descriptive law, which is fundamental to the Natural Law position. The coherence is in essence, the natural law describes the way the universe works, prescriptive law is derived from this and informs us how we should live within it. The Decalogue is special revelation, and we would both agree on this, but an NL’er will most likely argue that there is remarkable harmony between NL and the Decalogue, simply because it shows man how he can live at peace with his creator, and with the created order.

    Would we be able to arrive at every tenet of the Decalogue through an analysis of natural law? Probably not. With that said, the broad agreement of human jurisprudence throughout history on common issues like murder, adultery, property laws, etc. leaves one with the impression that there is a created principle in nature that enables man to understand, albeit imperfectly, how to live within it justly.

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  2. Donald Ferguson
    February 8, 2010 at 4:37 am

    I hope I am not missing something here but did the plumber [no insult intended!] actually say: ‘The coherence is in essence, the natural law describes the way the universe works, prescriptive law is derived from this and informs us how we should live within it.’ If I understand him correctly the suggestion is that an ‘aught’ can be derived from an ‘is’. If this is the argument being made then it is patently wrong. No moral imperative can be derived from descriptive statement. Because something is the case does not mean it ought to be the case. Surely our friend the plumber cannot be making such an elementary mistake.

    This fallacy extends to the observation of human behavior. Because people behave in a certain way does not mean they ought to. Unfortunately, the prescription of types of behavior and the formulation of moral codes are [from a naturalistic perspective] no more than examples of types of human behavior. They are evolved responses just like sweating when we get hot. They carry no moral weight within a naturalistic framework.

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    • February 8, 2010 at 8:47 am

      Yes Donald, you understood him correctly. And he also took it one step further and argued that the 10 commandments simply come from God observing nature and thus deriving an ought from an is.

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  3. jedpaschall
    February 8, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Brandon, that’s simply not true. How do I come close to saying God observes nature and then gives the 10 commandments when my comment states,”Would we be able to arrive at every tenet of the Decalogue through an analysis of natural law? Probably not. With that said, the broad agreement of human jurisprudence throughout history on common issues like murder, adultery, property laws, etc. leaves one with the impression that there is a created principle in nature that enables man to understand, albeit imperfectly, how to live within it justly.”? You and I know that God stands prior to all natural descriptions and prescriptions. It’s not like God needed to figure this out, he made it all, which includes the way things are and the way things work.

    Many of the moral/ethical prescriptions in the Decalogue were present in Hittite, Babylonian, Akkadian, and Sumerian law centuries prior to Moses. How do you account for this? If there isn’t some sort of natural law principle at work here, then what is? How do these cultures have any sort of law at all that has any coherence with God’s law? Honestly, I am curious as to how you view this.

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    • February 8, 2010 at 4:26 pm

      Many of the moral/ethical prescriptions in the Decalogue were present in Hittite, Babylonian, Akkadian, and Sumerian law centuries prior to Moses. How do you account for this?

      Jed, I am honestly speechless that this question is asked by someone professing to be Reformed. Please read WCF/Savoy/LBC 19.1&2 (Savoy and LBC clarify this more fully, but note WCF reference to Rom 2:14-15 in 19.1). Do you honestly not understand this? If so I can clarify for you.

      http://www.proginosko.com/docs/wcf_sdfo_lbcf.html#LBCF19

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  1. May 3, 2010 at 3:33 pm

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