Van Mastricht on the Relationship Between Science and Scripture

20 January 2010 by Wes Bredenhof

I’m reading Aza Goudriaan’s Reformed Orthodoxy and Philosophy, 1625-1750.  In this fascinating book he describes and evaluates the conception of the relationship between theology and philosophy in the thought of Gisbertus Voetius, Petrus Van Mastricht, and Anthonius Driessen.  An important thing to keep in mind is that, during this era, philosophy included what we today would call science.

Goudriaan notes that Van Mastricht followed in the line of Voetius and insisted that philosophy must be subordinate to Scripture; reason must always bow to revelation.  This became important in struggles with the Cartesians.  While Descartes himself “professed willingness to adjust his philosophical thoughts to theology” (59), later Cartesians were not of the same mind.  Van Mastricht rejected the later Cartesian claim that philosophy is revealed by God or that it is divine.  Likewise, he rejected the notion that philosophy “has an evidence Scripture lacks.”  Indeed, says Van Mastricht, “what God says deserves more credit than the musings of humans whose rational abilities are fallible” (59).

The fact that all of this has reference especially to natural philosophy (or what we would call ‘science’) becomes clear in the next paragraph:

Van Mastricht notes that while the previous Cartesian claims concerning the relationship between theology and philosophy tend to equate the two, the steps that follow imply the “superiority and domination” of philosophical thought.  One of these steps is the hypothesis that the Bible “speaks in natural matters in accordance with the erroneous opinion of the people.”  Moreover, “the judgement about places of Scripture regarding natural matters — of whether they are accurate or popular — is to be left to philosophers.”  In addition, the conclusion is drawn that the Bible should not be considered a source book for physical knowledge.  A further step is made when philosophical criticism suggests that “Scripture, in practical and moral matters, speaks in accordance with the erroneous opinion of the people.”  Then, the suggestion is made that even “in matters of faith” the Bible is not to be taken at its word, as it is claimed to “speak in accordance with the erroneous opinion of the people” in this realm too.  It is not difficult to see that on this trajectory finally the conclusion seems inescapable that philosophy is a superior means to finding out truth.  Accordingly, the final chapter of this first part of Van Mastricht’s Gangraena discusses the claim “that philosophy is the infallible interpreter of Scripture.”  (59-60)

George Santayana call your office!  Indeed, ” those who don’t learn from the mistakes of history…”  There’s evidence here of what happens when science is allowed to determine our interpretation of Scripture and when biblical inerrancy is discarded.  This is an important reason why historical theology is valuable and much needed in our day.

3 responses to “Van Mastricht on the Relationship Between Science and Scripture”

  1. […] Van Mastricht on Scripture and Science Posted on January 20, 2010 by R. Scott Clark Wes summarizes some recent research on the 17th-century conflict between Reformed orthodoxy and Cartesian rationalism. There’s a […]

  2. Thanks for the post. I am not familiar with this book and plan to check it out now. For many, science has become the ‘infallible revelation’ of the atheistic, naturalistic worldview. May we be those who give Christ preeminence in all things and submit every thought we have to His holy word!

  3. Slabbert says:

    Were Galileo not also influenced more by Cartesian philosophy than by theology, when he wrote ” … ‘Scripture tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go’ … Now Galileo not only considered the Book of Nature to be as significant as the Book of Scripture, but he assumed that the Book of Nature also spoke more clearly than the Book of Scripture.” (See John Byl, God and Cosmos – A Christian View of Time, Space and the Universe, p.33)

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