“Banishing” God from the Classroom

from Jun 19, 2021 Category: Ligonier Resources

While the medieval universities embraced theology as the “Queen of the Sciences” that holds all learning together, the Renaissance sought to separate the study of creation from the knowledge of God. In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul connects this shift in thinking to our own day.

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The first challenge that came to the medieval synthesis, or what we call the classical synthesis, was the challenge brought by the Renaissance. In this were the initial movements that were going to (sooner or later) displace the medieval structure of the university. It was commonplace to think that the “Queen of all the Sciences” was theology, and philosophy was called her handmaiden. So, the theological faculty would be the dominant faculty of the entire university. And then, second in command was the department of philosophy. Well, as you know, today that’s not the way it is, and some radical changes were already starting to take place as a result of the impetus of the Renaissance. Also at this time, as part of the Renaissance mindset, was a challenge to teleology. I remember when I was a senior in college, I still had not yet taken my required course in freshman biology. The reason for that was scheduling. When I was a freshman, I took Greek, and the only time I could take Greek conflicted when courses were offered for what they called “bonehead biology”—Biology 101. So, I didn’t take it until I was a senior; I had been a philosophy major. I remember that the first day in class, the biology professor said something that disturbed me greatly. In her opening lecture, she said, “You must learn, if you’re going to be scientific and to engage in the pursuit of the knowledge of living things, you have to set aside any concerns of teleology.” I said, “Wait a minute! That’s like telling me I can never ask the question, What is the purpose of these things that we’re studying?’” And I had real problems with that: philosophical problems and theological problems. What I didn’t realize was that she was merely reflecting an attitude towards science that had been deeply rooted already in the Renaissance. The Renaissance reacted against the medieval education’s “fixation” (they believed) on trying to interpret everything we learn in this world according to how it fit with the divine plan and the divine purpose. You think God was banished from the schoolroom only in the 20th century? But this challenge was that we are to study things for their own sake and not to be concerned with how they fit in with the ultimate purposes of God, and so on. This was a serious challenge to Christian thinking, because the Christian worldview was such that wanted to understand everything that we learn in light of its relationship to the purposes of God.