Towards a Binocular Worldview

In an address about the Reformation and Dutch national life Herman Bavinck says:

The Dutch are realistic, they have an open eye for reality; they are not brilliant, not intuitive; they neither have deep thoughts, nor spectacular speculations, nor proud and daring systems of philosophy. . . . But then again the Dutch look at reality precisely and patiently, and they notice the light of divine glory that descends into it from above.

Bavinck says that the Dutch have an open eye, but his description suggests that it is even better to say that they have two open eyes. They see the world in two ways: a. they look at it precisely and patiently; b. they notice the light of divine glory that descends into it from above. The exact-scientific and the religious view on the world do not conflict with each other but complement each other; together they offer an overall picture with depth.

We can also look with two “eyes” when we consider the question of where babies come from. One can tell children that they are brought by the stork, but nowadays they tend to soon know that things are different. Christian friends often send me birth announcement cards with sentences like “God gave us …” or “From God’s hand, we received ….” Are these attempts to make family and friends believe that the baby does not originate from sexual intercourse but has been brought by the Superstork? I do not think so. Much more likely, God’s hand is noticed in the natural course of affairs. Neither does “From God’s hand, we received …” seem to mean: of course, everything happened in a natural way now, but once in a distant past God created life and in this indirect sense the child is a gift of God. No, the idea is: this child here and now has come into being in a fully natural way and is at the same time a wonderful gift from God’s hand.

The above shows that in principle a sensus naturalis (an awareness of the natural connection of things, a “natural eye”) and a sensus religionis (an awareness of the religious, a “religious eye”) can well go together. When humans who are blessed with two normal physical eyes use these two eyes together, they do not see two entirely different objects, but they see the same from two slightly different perspectives, and because of this they can see depth. Maybe this also applies to the natural and the religious eyes: with them, we do not view two separate worlds, but the same world from two perspectives, so that we can see depth in it.

This may require some exercise, just as when we use a pair of binoculars for the first time. Maybe we first have to focus the left glass separately and then the right glass and only then we can adjust the two glasses to each other, so that we can see depth. It requires scientific education to develop our natural eye and religious education to develop our religious eye, and an integrative type of education to learn to use both eyes together, but once we have mastered this, we will see depth and have a binocular worldview.


This post is adapted from section 5.1 of Willem J. de Wit, On the Way to the Living God: A Cathartic Reading of Herman Bavinck and an Invitation to Overcome the Plausibility Crisis of Christianity (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2011).

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