Nature is schoolmistress, the soul the pupil; and whatever one has taught or the other learned has come from God–the Teacher of the teacher.
Tertullian (160-ca. 230), De Testimonio Animae
How often do we think of ourselves as the pupils of nature? More often we think we are controlling nature or at least trying to avoid it. We curse the rain when it ruins our vacation. Even scientists seem to think primarily of themselves as in control of nature. As we amass more knowledge about the world, we begin to think we are the ones actually in control of the world. This leads us to reduce nature to what we know about it at the present moment, but there is always more that we don’t know, as we continually discover.
Tertullian puts the source of nature’s teaching in God. In reaction to the Enlightenment and the development of science many Christians are extremely skeptical of relying on empirical evidence (although people do so more than they realize). This quote helps remind us that learning through the observation of nature is a perfectly acceptable practice when rightly ordered, with God as the Teacher and ultimate source.
I’ve written before about how we need to return to science’s original intention to learn by observing nature. This will mean unlearning some of our scientific assumptions about nature in order to see nature again in a new light.
This is an ongoing series exploring Teachings on Creation Through the Ages. Quotes are taken from the article of that name in The Green Bible.