Yesterday I posted a piece from Dallas Willard's book Knowing Christ Today in which he condemns the audacious claims made by hardline naturalists. In short, Willard contends that the hard sciences are unable to provide certain conclusions to matters outside their realm of study. While I agree with Willard and welcome the warranted critique of the sacred cow of epistemology (science), I think that it is of the utmost importance that we condemn the church for doing the exact same thing. In other words, we must reflect upon where the church and/or Christian institutions draw conclusions to matters that are outside of their own domain.*
This is a point that Willard seems to neglect. He writes, "The discrediting of the church as a moral teacher and guide was accentuated by the advances of knowledge that came with the development of science and with the increased knowledge of the past and of other parts of the earth. These advances threatened the authority of the church at a more fundamental level. As widely interpreted, they called into question the basic documents - especially the Bible - and the founding events and personalities of Christian traditions and institutions. The initial result of all this was, as we have noted, the rejection of Jesus Christ and of his core ethical teachings." (Willard, 74-75)
How is it that "advances of knowledge" and "development of science" became a threat to the Christian tradition? Is it not because Christian institutions themselves had overstepped the "province of their responsibilities" (Willard's term) when it came to certain matters, for example, the sciences? The only reason that the Copernican Revolution "threatened the authority of the church" is because the church had arrogantly drawn conclusions from an ancient text that is not the least bit concerned with what qualifies as modern science. Hence, it was not merely Enlightenment advances but also the church's epistemic overreaching (and stubbornness) that contributed to its decline.
Can the church answer questions about science? Absolutely. But not without participating in the domain of modern science with other scientists. When Christians draw conclusions about science solely from Scripture they are overreaching the domain of Scripture's own responsibilities. To paraphrase Willard, Scripture as Scripture is not even about such issues.
So rather than only calling out hardline naturalists for their overzealous conclusions about God or ultimate purpose, let us also call out Christians for their overzealous conclusions about the hard sciences.
*Ultimately, nothing is outside the domain of the church in theory. The church is concerned with the whole of life and reality to the extent that we might possibly come to know it. This clearly includes the hard sciences and all other fields of possible study. However, this endeavor requires the utmost caution and responsibility to pursue knowledge unceasingly. It cannot be done lazily and without study; for this leads to the overreaching of our domain.