Among Macdonald’s unspoken sermons is his sermon: The Truth which, while not being about science, nonetheless contains this discussion about science within it. I’ll include an extended excerpt from the section of interest, but even this long inclusion does not cover all that he says about science there. Read the whole sermon for yourself as your interest may require. Before cutting to Macdonald’s words, though, I’ll just add my own little reactive commentary and summary.
Macdonald is not equating Truth with “mere facts” or even correct formulations of how things work (science). The thrust of this sermon (as I take it) is in fact to distinguish and acknowledge an elevated meaning for Truth as being “the Person” [spoiler alert: Christ] and our relationship to Him. Other lesser formulations of truth, such as what we call facts or other things, such as science might dwell on, can certainly be (and are) a part of that whole, to be sure. But without that larger context of a Divine Will to give those things their proper ends, all of it falls short of having any Truth in it.
I do think Macdonald may sell scientists just a bit short in his rather jaded view of what scientific “analysis” must itself be, (and as you can read in the given excerpt), Macdonald indulges in a more stark dichotomy between scientists and poets than I think is warranted. [A dichotomy that Biologos does well to dismantle with its labors.] Christian practitioners both in his time and now would remind him that their study of creation can be just as much a worshipful encounter with Truth as any poet or worshipper might experience in any cosmic temple or standing in front of any altar. But given the times, Macdonald can probably be forgiven for such glosses - especially since this sermon was not intended as a treatise about science. And in fact, I don’t think Macdonald would disagree with what I just noted above - not based on this sermon anyway.
But my main point for putting all this up here, is that I am fascinated by his characterization of science as a tracing back along God’s footsteps in such a way as that science will never encounter “the face of God.” I wouldn’t mind thoughts and reflections here from any others here who don’t mind extended reading and meditational delving (how I’m obliged to take in most of his stuff). The rest of the words below are from the aforementioned sermon.
But there is a region perhaps not so high as this from the scientific point of view, where yet the word truth may begin to be rightly applied. I believe that every fact in nature is a revelation of God, is there such as it is because God is such as he is; and I suspect that all its facts impress us so that we learn God unconsciously. True, we cannot think of any one fact thus, except as we find the soul of it—its fact of God; but from the moment when first we come into contact with the world, it is to us a revelation of God, his things seen, by which we come to know the things unseen. How should we imagine what we may of God, without the firmament over our heads, a visible sphere, yet a formless infinitude! What idea could we have of God without the sky? The truth of the sky is what it makes us feel of the God that sent it out to our eyes. If you say the sky could not but be so and such, I grant it—with God at the root of it. There is nothing for us to conceive in its stead—therefore indeed it must be so. In its discovered laws, light seems to me to be such because God is such. Its so-called laws are the waving of his garments, waving so because he is thinking and loving and walking inside them.
We are here in a region far above that commonly claimed for science, open only to the heart of the child and the childlike man and woman—a region in which the poet is among his own things, and to which he has often to go to fetch them. For things as they are, not as science deals with them, are the revelation of God to his children. I would not be misunderstood: there is no fact of science not yet incorporated in a law, no law of science that has got beyond the hypothetic and tentative, that has not in it the will of God, and therefore may not reveal God; but neither fact nor law is there for the sake of fact or law; each is but a mean to an end; in the perfected end we find the intent, and there God—not in the laws themselves, save as his means. For that same reason, human science cannot discover God; for human science is but the backward undoing of the tapestry-web of God’s science, works with its back to him, and is always leaving him—his intent, that is, his perfected work—behind it, always going farther and farther away from the point where his work culminates in revelation. Doubtless it thus makes some small intellectual approach to him, but at best it can come only to his back; science will never find the face of God; while those who would reach his heart, those who, like Dante, are returning thither where they are, will find also the spring-head of his science. Analysis is well, as death is well; analysis is death, not life. It discovers a little of the way God walks to his ends, but in so doing it forgets and leaves the end itself behind. I do not say the man of science does so, but the very process of his work is such a leaving of God’s ends behind. It is a following back of his footsteps, too often without appreciation of the result for which the feet took those steps. To rise from the perfected work is the swifter and loftier ascent. If the man could find out why God worked so, then he would be discovering God; but even then he would not be discovering the best and the deepest of God; for his means cannot be so great as his ends. I must make myself clearer.
Ask a man of mere science, what is the truth of a flower: he will pull it to pieces, show you its parts, explain how they operate, how they minister each to the life of the flower; he will tell you what changes are wrought in it by scientific cultivation; where it lives originally, where it can live; the effects upon it of another climate; what part the insects bear in its varieties—and doubtless many more facts about it. Ask the poet what is the truth of the flower, and he will answer: ‘Why, the flower itself, the perfect flower, and what it cannot help saying to him who has ears to hear it.’ The truth of the flower is, not the facts about it, be they correct as ideal science itself, but the shining, glowing, gladdening, patient thing throned on its stalk—the compeller of smile and tear from child and prophet. The man of science laughs at this, because he is only a man of science, and does not know what it means; but the poet and the child care as little for his laughter as the birds of God, as Dante calls the angels, for his treatise on aerostation. The children of God must always be mocked by the children of the world, whether in the church or out of it—children with sharp ears and eyes, but dull hearts. Those that hold love the only good in the world, understand and smile at the world’s children, and can do very well without anything they have got to tell them. In the higher state to which their love is leading them, they will speedily outstrip the men of science, for they have that which is at the root of science, that for the revealing of which God’s science exists. What shall it profit a man to know all things, and lose the bliss, the consciousness of well-being, which alone can give value to his knowledge?
MacDonald, George. The Complete Works of George MacDonald … Kindle Edition.