A Christian World View: The Framework of History
The world was created for man’s body, man’s body for his spirit, and man’s spirit for God:
the spirit that it might be brought into subjection unto God, the body unto the spirit, and
the world unto the body. Hugo St. Victor
1968 Doorway paper No. 29, published privately by Arthur C. Custance
1975 Part V in Noah’s Three Sons, vol.1 in The Doorway Papers Series, published by Zondervan Publishing Company
1997 Arthur Custance Online Library (html)
2001 2nd Online Edition (corrections, design revisions)
THE KEY to the existence of a universe such as we live in lies, I believe, in the fact that God wished to show forth that aspect of His Being which the angels have never comprehended, namely, His love, yet without at the same time surrendering that part of His Being which they do comprehend, namely, His holiness. God’s plan was therefore to create Man with such a nature and in such a situation that he would need to be redeemed, and so to order events that this redemption could only be achieved by the Incarnation and Self-sacrifice of the Creator Himself on man’s behalf. Only at such a cost was it possible for God to make manifest His love for His creatures without diminishing His holiness. Both the lncarnation and the Crucifixion were dependent upon the existence of a physical order, a time-space world in which the creatures to be redeemed were embedded and in which the Creator Himself could also voluntarily confine Himself for a season. Granted this plan and granted a natural order in which reasoning mind could exist and physical death could be a meaningful reality, then man in God opens to us the meaning of the physical universe, because this was the basic framework within which the plan of Redemption was to be worked out. Athanasius has these words about the Incarnation: (1)
The achievements of the Saviour through His Incarnation are so astounding and so numerous that any one wishing to describe them in detail would be like one who gazes at the expanse of the sea, and attempts to count its waves.
So then, the Incarnation and Crucifixion, on man’s behalf, are the key to the physical order in which man lives, and dies.
This is the basic thought that I put before the reader. The rest is an unfolding of it in terms of the Scriptures. It is my hope that the reader will find much to stimulate him and give him a fresh realization of the unfathomable riches to be found in the Word of God. The Lord grant that it may be so.
1. Athanasius, De Incarnatione, Chapter 54.
A RABBI WAS explaining to his pupils how strongly God condemns the worship of idols. One of them asked, “If God so abhors idolatry, why does He not destroy the idols that men worship?” The Rabbi replied, “Because some of them, the sun and the moon for example, are an essential part of the fabric of God’s economy.” After a moment’s pause, the student said, “Then why does He not at least destroy those that are not essential?” To whicll the Rabbi answered, “Because it would then appear He was condoning the worship of the idols He did not destroy.”
The literature of antiquity is full of little exchanges like this; neat, satisfying in a way, wise too, and not without genuine force. Such answers were common when men believed that the universe was created by God with man particularly in mind. It was assumed that God had created the heavens and that therefore He could “tamper” with it if necessary ï¿½ for man’s benefit: for, after all, man was of greater importance than the sun and the moon. It seemed self-evident to man, after the Incarnation, that the Earth was paramount among the heavenly bodies and that man was paramount on the earth. The heavens and the earth were created for man’s sake.
But during the past hundred years the universe has been studied without reference to God as its Creator and without any thought that man might be its raison d’etre. It seems that as its immensity has become increasingly apparent so has man’s insignificance in terms of size, until he has dwindled in importance virtually to the vanishing point: as Leslie Paul put it: (2)
The entire term of humanity is but a minute episode in a scarcely longer history of life on a cooling planet which for the most of its existence knew no life at all. And that planet in the
2. Paul, Leslie, Annihilation of Man, Harcourt Brace, New York, 1945, p.154. 219
infinite immensity of the universe is a tiny scrap of matter rushing with all other scraps — and from all other scraps ï¿½ at colossal speed to heaven knows what destination in the curvature of space.
In no one knows what time, thoughit will be soon enough by astronomical clocks, the lonely planet will cool, all life will die, all mind will cease, and it will all be as if it had never happened. That, to be honest, is the goal to which evolution is traveling, that is the “benevolent” end of the furious living and furious dying. . . . All life is no more than a match struck in the dark and blown out again. The final result . . . is to deprive it completely of meaning.
Significance has thus come to be defined either in terms of size ï¿½ and man is very small relative to the vastness of the universe ï¿½ or in terms of duration ï¿½ and what is man’s life relative to the four billion years or more estimated for its age? By every standard of assessment of which science is capable ï¿½ and its standards can only ever be quantitative ï¿½ man judges his own worth to be virtually nil.
But this very judgment is self-contradictory, for if man is of no consequence, then neither is his judgment of what is of consequence. His very opinion about the Cosmos can carry little weight in a Cosmos which scarcely recognizes his existence and would be no different if he ceased to exist altogether. These presumptuous statements about the insignificance of man, by writers like G. Gaylord Simpson, can logically be ignored for, by their own admission, if man is of no consequence so, then, are his opinions of no significance even if his knowledge of the “facts” is tremendous.
To an increasing number of people this philosophy of science, which is of necessity a philosophy of materialism, is proving to be quite inadequate for man because it is quite unable to deal effectively with purposes, and man must have purpose to live by. This is particularly true of young people whose power of dedication is strong and who feel the futility of modern life so keenly. Some years ago Edmund Sinnott wrote eloquently on this matter. He points out how well dictators have learned this truth and how easily they can rally people who, having no other commitments and feeling the deadness of life, are eager to dedicate themselves to some cause. The inconsistencies, the cruelties, and the blind intolerances that are demanded of their followers can safely be ignored: enthusiasm will carry the day: as Sinnott wrote: (3)
3. Sinnott, Edmund, “Ten Million Scientists,” Science, vol.111, 1950, p.124.
Something precious outweighs all else, and to underestimate their tremendous appeal to the troubled and
uncertain is folly. Today, when easygoing tolerance so often is the ideal attitude anh security is commonly
reckoned as the highest blessing, we may well forget man’s tremendous capacity for dedication, his eagerness to nourish convictions. . . . The significance brought into his life by a cause and a creed often seems compensation enough for loss of freedom.
If we cannot understand how readily people may surrender their liberty, it is because we have forgotten how stimulating dedication can be. Sinnott believes that the “adventure” of a scientific career can be compensation and stinulus enough, and in his article he is therefore appealing to younger rnen and women to fling themselves into such a vocation. Yet the evidence in England and the United States (where surveys have been made) seems to show that young people are opting out of science courses and turning to the arts and the humanities with renewed interest, believing that the pursuit of science stultifies man’s life rather than enriching it. (4) And much of the blame for this impoverishment is the philosophy of science that inevitably creates a sense of purposelessness by reducing man’s importance in the universe almost to zero. To many thinking people. it is becoming apparent once again that there is much truth in Dryden’s view of man as “the measure of all things,” and that the universe has meaning only when man is made the key. (5) The size of man;s body and the length of his earthly life cannot be used as guides
4. The swing from Science to Arts courses has been reported from both the United States and England, where it is causing some concem because it increases the shortage of scientific and technical personnel (See “Dainton Report: British Youth Swings Away from Science,” Science, vol.159,1968, p.1214). The situation in England has been remarked upon several times in The New Scientist during recent years. See for the U.S., a report in Scierce, vol.160, 1968, p.396f.
5. A simple illustration! Gabriel W. Lasker in his paper ”The ‘New’ Physical Anthropology Seen in Retrospect and Prospect” in Human Evolution, edited by Korn and Thompson (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1967, p.15), remarks: “Several species of primates, above all in importance the gorilla, are near extinction, and it is of the utmost practical importance that these species be preserved. Even the common varieties of monkey are needed in such numbers for testing polio vaccines and the like that there is a real threat of depopulation. Some non-human primates may become as useful to man as domestic cattle have been, since they can synthesize substances similar to man’s, just as the cow synthesizes a milk which can substitute for human milk, and the maintenance of herds of these animals is an urgent necessity.” The assumption is that these non-humam primates have no importance in their
All the philosophers say you cannot get an “ought” from an “is.” Science establishes facts, but that doesn’t give you the knowledge of what you ought to do. To make the transition, you need a third factor, teleology; if you are convinced that the developing universe disclosed by science has an ascertainable purpose, then you begin to get a standard by which to judge good and bad.
But such a “purpose” must be with specific reference to man, or it has no power to affect his behaviour where selfish interests conflict, or to satisfy his mind in moments of solitary reflection when he comes face to face vith ultimate things. Mascall has written eloquently on this: (7)
The difficulty which civilized Western man in the world today experiences [is] in convincing himself that he has any special assigned status in the universe, and upon the sense of instability which this uncertainty produces. Many of the psychological disorders which are so cormmon and distressing a feature of our time are, I believe, to be traced to this cause.
Since it is now held almost without exception by modern philosopher-scientists that man has quite by accident heen thrown up in some blind and purposeless cosmic process, the unhappy consequences of such a view are at last being recognized and an effort is being made to engender some kind of ersatz purpose. Thus Julian Huxley speaks of the “glorious paradox” (8) of a process that through eons of time and quite without direction finally produced a creature, man, who by reason of his possession of self-consciousness and his ability to make delayed decisions is freed from the previous all-pervasive determinism of the natural order and can therefore undertake that which no creature before him had been able to undertake, namely, the directing of his own future. No goal has been set: only the promise that if he can think up a goal appropriate to his potential he can now do something toward the attainment of it and thus fulfill himself in a new way.
6. Aldis, A. S., “Science — Its Own Arbiter?” a paper published by The Christian Medical Fellowship, London, 1967, pp.9-10.
7. Mascall, E. L., The Importance of Being Human, Columbia University, New York, 1958, p.19.
8. Huxley, Sir Julian, refers to this “glorious paradox” in the Rationalist Annual, 1946, p.87.
Although the statement that no goal has yet been agreed upon is essentially correct when applied to individual effort, Huxley sees a goal “worthy” of the human race as a whole, and this goal is the ultimate production of a Super-race! (9) Huxley nevertheless woefully admits that his “new religion” is still in need of a prophet to whip it into compelling shape and shake the world with it. (10) Bertrand Russell appears to be quite unenthused. He wrote mournfully: (11)
That man is the product of causes which had no pre-vision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms, that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspirations, all thle noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system; and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins ï¿½ all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.
The kind of goal such men do foresee is entirely unlike the goal which moved Augustine to write his City of God or Aquinas his Summa Theologica or Dante his Divine Comedy. Theirs was essentially a goal for man in God, as Bunyan’s was a goal for man in Christ, and as such both had the power to inspire ï¿½ which without a shadow of doubt the goal of Simpson, Huxley, and a great host of other scientists of modern tirnes does not have.
Many will object that we cannot now return to a Christian view because it was once and for all undermined by the expansion of knowledge. But it was not in itself the Christian philosophy of earlier days that was so much at fault as it was the proofs from the study of the order of Nature by which men sought to rationalize it. Far better would it have been to hold to the
9. Huxley, Sir Julian, “New Bottles for New Wine: Ideology and Scientific Knowledge,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, London, vol.80, Pts. I and 2, 1950, p.20. Huxley’s words are: “Man is enabled, and indeed, forced to view his destiny as the trustee, spearhead, or effecrive agent of any further evolutionary progress on this planet. He has been thrown up by the cosmic process as an instrument for the further carrying out of that process.”
10. Ibid., p.20. It is clear that Huxley saw in Teilhard de Chardin this new prophet. Hence the enthusiasm which he exhibits in his Introduction to the latter’s The Phenomenon of Man.
11. Russell, Bertrand; as quoted by J. N. D. Sullivan, Limitations of Science, Pelican Books, England, 1938, p.175.
spiritual view of rnan as an act of faith and allow thereafter that humanly derived knowledge might illuminate or elaborate the details of that faith, but never supply its foundations. Why should we fear to admit that our understanding stems in part from what we believe? Contrary to what rmany Christians suppose, science itself progresses by the formulation of hypotheses which are nothing less than acts of faith. The essential difference is that science demands that a hypothesis must be subject to experirmental validation by the uncommitted experimenter. The kind of faith with which a Christian undergirds his philosophy is similarly experimentally verifiable, but not in the laboratory sense, for the rules are not the same. But this does not mean it is any less real or valid. The basic assumption which he makes is that God exists as a personal but purely spiritual Being, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. The existence of God can be demonstrated by any individual who is willing to accept the conditions which God Himself has imposed upon such an experiment: but he can only make this denonstration with absolute certainty for himself. In other words, there is a kind of knowledge here which each man must gain personally and cannot acquire vicariously. Hence demonstration is not of the same kind that exists in a laboratory situation. But it is real knowledge, and such knowledge is the key which gives meaning to history, both the history of the individual and of the universe.
Let us then once more boldly declare our faith that man is indeed the measure of all things, not man by himself but man in Cod. Hugo St. Victor so aptly stated it: (12)
The world was created for man’s body, man’s body for his spirit, and man’s spirit for God: the spirit that it mighlt be brought into subjection unto God, the body unto the spirit, and the world unto the body.
And let us see what evidence there might be for such a tremendous claim that in the final analysis the very universe itself was made for man.
12. Hugo St. Victor: quoted by H. O. Taylor, “Medieval Mind,” in Bk. 2 Early Middle Ages, Macmillan, London, 1938, p.91.