...the concept of 'nature' is a socially mediated notion, not an objective entity in its own right.
- Alister E. McGrath, A Scientific Theology 1: Nature
The earth is the LORD's, and the fullness thereof...
- Psalm 24:1
Dr. McGrath's assertion will, I suspect, surprise many readers. What does he mean, there's no such thing as objective "nature"? Has Dr. McGrath fallen under the spell of some exotic Eastern religion?
No, he's under the "spell" of Scripture. The idea that "nature" exists as purely objective reality - stuff out there, but without any intrinsic meaning or purpose - is strictly a modern, Enlightenment idea. We all know there's lots of stuff out there - rocks, trees, creatures, quarks, solar flares, and whatnot. But is it just stuff? Creatures with no identity or purpose, except as human beings are able to identify and define them?
Imagine going to an art museum, looking at the paintings there, studying a few closely and with appreciation, and then heading down to the cafe to talk about your observations with a friend. You begin assigning names to the paintings and offering explanations not only of what they mean but how they came to be here and what their relationships are to one another - and everything you say is nothing more than what suits your fancy or interest. Clearly, you have wrongly assumed that all the "stuff" in those galleries had just been there forever, waiting for you to come along and offer your view of what they were, where they'd come from, what they meant, and what we might do with them.
This is the way secular science treats the "stuff" of the cosmos, and it's part of the hubris of science that troubles me.
The earth - and the whole vast cosmos, for that matter - is the Lord's, and everything in it. He made it all (Ps. 24:2). He created and sustains all the processes, particles, protocols, and patterns of the cosmos (Heb. 1:3). He loves the cosmos which He created and sustains, and He sent His Son, in part, to set the cosmos back in order again as the creation of and witness to God which He intends it to be (Jn. 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; Ps. 19:1-4).
The world is creation, not nature. And language like this matters. It may seem a small thing, a quibble, to insist - as I do - that "nature" is neither an accurate nor appropriate way to refer to the creation of our God, and that therefore Christians working in the sciences ought to make a point of speaking of the world in appropriate Biblical ways. But we will not make headway in bringing the glory of God to light through our work in the sciences if we don't even have the gumption to call things what they are in God's view.
Believers have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Let's not set that mind aside as we take up the work of science.
Or as we talk about the world God has made.
T. M. Moore
Senior Theologian and Historian