Wisdom from Above

The Apostle James differentiates between two types of wisdom, the kind from below and the kind from above (James 3:13-18). This is a really helpful distinction in thinking through contemporary challenges to a Christian approach to understanding the natural world. There is a wisdom that comes from below, and a wisdom that comes from above.

Skeptics often shake their head at the Christian notion of learning about our world from the Bible.  They are concerned with real life matters that can be know from the “bottom up.” Why, they might wonder, are believers stuck on the notion that revelation—communication from God—has anything to teach us?

How can Christians respond?

For starters, believers can point out that Bible was right about the universe not being eternal well before Einstein changed his mind and conceded that the universe had a beginning. That’s a relatively (pun intended) important feature that Genesis offered thousands of years before science reluctantly came around. Maybe the Bible has some value in understanding the world after all.

Second, Christians might focus on some rather germane issues that science is unable to touch, like the origin of the universe, life, morality, beauty, personhood, and purpose to name but a few rather significant issues that seem to make life worth living. If the Bible helps explain human values that are outside the scope of science, doesn’t that count for something? Might top down wisdom seem to fit very well here with common sense?

Third, Christians can confidently show that every worldview begins with basic assumptions that cannot be proven scientifically. The atheist accepts that nature is all that exists. The theist begins with God. While neither presupposition can be scientifically verified, one should consider which starting point, which hypothesis, makes the best sense out of the world and the human experience.

The Christian forms this assumption, this starting point, with information from above. The skeptic forms an assumption from below. Which one can shed light on the what it means to be human?

Fourth, the idea that Christians don’t care about science is silly. Sure, finding contemporary examples of crazy Christians might not be that difficult because anyone and everyone can own a website. But we can find crazy on both sides of the God debate issue via the Internet. If we are willing to consider the history of science we will find a long list of distinguished scientists who believed in God, Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler for example.

Fifth, it is important to note that the very enterprise of science is worked out with a trust in the regularity of the laws of nature, the notion that truth is knowable, and that we possess the right kind of mental equipment aimed at truth. This doesn’t flow from a a naturalistic perspective but fits hand in glove with a Christian worldview.

So, why do Christians find value, even authority, in “top down” revelation?

Because they believe that God is there and that he is not silent. Because Christians believe that this assumption of an existent and personal God leads to a certain way of seeing the world that makes sense of science. Because the process of science grew up in the fertile soil of a Christian worldview. Because the history of science is peppered with scientists whose faith in God only grew as their science progressed. Because this perspective gives a foundation to the conviction that the world is orderly, that truth is knowable, and that we can grasp it.

This doesn’t mean Christians don’t gain any information bottom up. We do. But we bring a set of knowledge—received from above—that shapes how we approach the world below. Which, it turns out, makes good sense of science and in the end makes good sense of humanity as well. And, it should be noted, it also has the added advantage of being true.