Science in Christian Perspective


JASA BOOK REVIEWS For December 1967

Table of Contents
THE BIBLICAL FLOOD & THE ICE AGE, Donald W. Patten, Pacific Meridian Publishing Co., Seattle, 1966. 336 pp., $7.50.
by Ian G. Barbour. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1966. 470 pp. $5.95.

THE BIBLICAL FLOOD & THE ICE AGE, Donald W. Patten, Pacific Meridian Publishing Co., Seattle, 1966. 336 pp., $7.50.

The dust cover of the book plainly identifies it as another "catastrophic refutation" of the prevailing uniformitarian view of terrestrial history. Webster (Merriam) defines uniformitaxianism as "the doctrine that existing processes, acting as at present, are sufficient to account for all geological changes." Catastrophism, the alternative view, is defined as "the doctrine that changes in the earth's crust have generally been effected suddenly by physical forces."

With the discussion of The Genesis Flood by Morris and Whitcomb still fresh in our memories, members of this Society ought to be permitted at least one question. Strangely enough, the author anticipates this by opening his first chapter with, "Why write a book on the Biblical Flood?" His answer to this eminently reasonable but rarely asked question deserves some comment.

Although this book and The Genesis Flood both deal with the same general topic from comparable evangelical perspectives, vast differences exist in emphasis, content, and style. Whereas Morris and Whitcomb place primary emphasis on biblical authority in the conflict, Patten stresses the scientific inadequacies of prevailing positions. For example, one would hardly expect Morris and Whitcomb to make the statement, "Genesis, like job is a valid historical document, and may be a valid spiritual one, too." (p. 307). Yet, by the manner in which be identifies the origin of uniformitarianism, the contemporaneous movements of humanism, biblical criticism, evolution, and communism he unequivocally establishes his theologically conservative stance. He contends that the uniformitarian views of Lyell, Kant, Darwin, and others are philosophically grounded and totally unsupported by critical scientific analysis. With his emphasis on hard evidence, Patten makes use of the Bible primarily as the most reliable among many ancient historical sources.

In developing an independent stance, Patten also points to certain weaknesses of his "catastrophic" forebears such as Price and Velikovsky. He also stresses a physical mechanism, a step apparently neglected by his predecessors; that astral catastrophism can better account for all the evidences of astronomy, geology, glaciology, meterology, biology, and history and yet preserve consistency with conservative views of Scripture. In response to his own question, Mr. Patten appears to offer as much justification for writing as one can reasonably expect of any author.

But what of the book, itself? Should you spend your valuable time with it? Should you recommend it to your skeptical colleagues, lay members of your evangelical church who respect your erudition, or to your own teenage son who probably does not? These are relevant questions, for its style is clearly that of a book written for laymen, some of whom may too easily be impressed by "something I read in a book."

The book will not score high as a literary effort. Long explanatory footnotes and a lack of thorough editing suggest a hasty preparation. For example, we read four consecutive sentences dealing with strata, each beginning with the same words, "They seem to have been laid down . . ." (p . 205). Occasionally he becomes dramatic, ". . . unless the mechanical cause of the Flood is adequately explained by catastrophists, geology may easily hibernate in its uniformitarian bed for another 100 years."

But what of the main thrust of the book? Let us look further into the book, beyond mere literary criticism.

Briefly stated, Patten postulates that by chance an icy body from the remote regions of our solar system approached Earth closely enough for a near capture. During the encounter that continued for about one year, the planetoid orbited Earth a few times, approaching close enough to have drastic effects on the earth. Enormous forces were produced in the earth's magma that led to devastating tidal waves, the biblical "opening of the fountains of the deep." He also postulates that the icy planetoid shattered as it reached the Roche Limit, cascading gigantic quantities of exceedingly cold ice upon the earth. This twin mechanism, he contends, can account for the observed phenomena associated with the ice ages and geological structures far more consistently than uniformitarianism.

In support of his hypothesis, Patten offers evidence from astronomy that seems sound and convincing. That the serenity of Earth in a uniformitarian mode could be interrupted by an icy intruder from the neighborhood of Jupiter, Neptune, or beyond is plausible. He cites the well-known observations of the high eccentricity of Pluto's orbit, the strange orbits of Neirid and Triton about Neptune, the existence of asteroids and some of their strange orbits, the unique inclination of Uranus' axis and rotation of its satellites, the retrograde rotation of four of Jupiter's 12 moons, the icy rings of Saturn, and the prevalence of ice in the outer reaches of the Solar System. That catastrophic events have occurred in the Solar System seems undeniable; indeed modem cosmogony contains many cataclysmic elements.

Having established the plausibility of a catastropic encounter of Earth with an icy space-wanderer, Patten develops the consequences of this event upon an antedeluvian Earth. With substantial reliance upon ancient historical sources, both biblical and secular, he contends that the earth was covered by a canopy of clouds, with water comprising from 5 to 10 per cent of the atmosphere. This is comparable to the perpetual cloud cover over Venus that John Strong recently identified as ice crystals and Kuiper as acid dust.

Some familiar, but nevertheless interesting, observations related to the ice ages are cited as conflicting with uniformitarianism: great numbers of frozen mammoths, their flesh unspoiled and their mouths and stomachs still containing identifiable, undigested vegetation; ice-encased trees complete with ripe fruit; ice caves situated between layers of lava. Patten  reasonably contends that these could only be the result of catastrophic events, involving temperatures far below zero and with time measured in hours or days but not years.

Less convincing is Patten's discussion of the photochemistry of the atmosphere. The primary event in production of atmospheric ozone is described, "In the upper atmosphere, the solar wind beats down unrestrained upon the atmosphere until the solar rays, especially of the ultra-violet frequency, strike the oxygen molecules and ricochet. When they strike the nucleus of the oxygen atom in just the right way, they will split the oxygen molecules (02). The free oxygen atoms immediately recombine into another form of oxygen known as ozone (03) -" (p. 211). Elsewhere he refers to both ozone and carbon-14 as atmospheric radicals and speaks of "ammonias, cyanogens, hydrides of nitrogen, hydroxyls, ionized carbon monoxides, and nitrogens." These plural nouns are confusing, to say the least. Because photochemistry of the atmosphere is a fundamental element in dating methods that use carbon-14, the ambiguity of this section of the book is a serious flaw.

This book serves to remind us that members of the ASA do not uniformly agree on the degree to which certain sections of the Bible should be regarded as literal. On some matters, however, we do agree. We believe that God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, in the Bible, and in Creation; and that these levels of revelation are consistent with one another. We also believe that God continues His revelation through science to the degree that its study accurately reflects the truth. We also recognize that Scripture speaks to us in simple, non-technical language to convey its essential Gospel. Both the wise Revealer and the faithful transcribers mercifully avoided mechanistic explanations for the divinely ordered events we regard as miracles. Thus, Peter was enabled temporarily to walk upon the sea, not by a drastic increase in the density or surface tension of the water, but by the power of God.

In all likelihood, we also differ in the depth of our commitment to the various theories of science. Although arguments surrounding the Theory of Evolution gathered more headlines, the great scientific battle of the 19th Century was waged between proponents and opponents of the Wave Theory of light. Shortly after he had experimentally verified Maxwell's equations, Hertz very reasonably stated in 1889, "The wave theory of light is, from the point of view of human beings, a certainty." This unfortunate statement was soon followed by Hertz's own experimental discovery of the photoelectric effect that Einstein used so effectively in establishing the Quantum Theory of light. A few years later, Newtonian laws of motion were "amended" by Relativity. In the space of 30 years both physics and chemistry had been reconstructed.

To reconstruct prehistoric events from degraded residues in a manner that is consistent with all observations and the firmly based knowledge of experimental science is formidable, indeed, as is demonstrated by the lack of agreement among eminent astrophysicists on the nature of the Venusian cloud cover and the origin of the moon. To offer new theories of cosmogony or orogenesis requires courage. To do so in the face of a contradictory and prevailing theory requires deep conviction. But these qualities are not enough.

No laws of science have been more successful than the Wave Theory and Newton's Laws as practical tools in the building of our Machine Age. Yet these theories do not speak The Truth. One wonders whether Evolution and Uniformitarianism are more reliable or whether they too are still part of the 19th Century.

Reviewed by Alvin 0. Ramsley, Physical Chemist, US Army Natick Laboratories, Natick, Mass. 01760.

ISSUES IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION by Ian G. Barbour. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1966. 470 pp. $5.95.

Ian Barbour teaches a course at Carleton College which is listed like this in the catalog:

RELIGION 54 Science and Theology The interaction of scientific and theological thought and its influences on world views since the sixteenth century. Implications of theories in the natural sciences for such issues as "creation and evolution" and "freedom and determinism". Problems of language and method in science and theology. Interpretations of the relation of God to nature (e.g. pantheism, deism, theism, existentialist and process theology.)

Issues in Science and Religion is the central textbook for that course. Barbour uses it to provide a background for the various authors and ideas which must be discussed in a course of this type. It is first a survey of the relevant history and the important theories and ideas; it is second a fairly cautious presentation of critical realism and process philosophy as valid ways of relating the worlds of the scientist and the theologian.

Issues is divided into three parts, dealing with history, methods, and theories. In the first of these, the author leads us quickly from the static, geocentric view of the universe as held in the middle ages through the major new ideas of Galileo, Newton, the enlightenment, and Darwin to the modem ways of looking at the world. Along the way, he manages to sketch the basic philosophies that shaped science as it grew, as well as the theological changes and schisms of each century.

The second part sees a careful exposition of the methods of scientific theorizing, accompanied by a statement of four common philosophies bearing on such theorizing (positivism, instrumentalism, idealism, realism). Barbour suggests that critical realism, recognizing both the relationship of theory to actual phenomena and the arbitrary qualities of theory as created by men, is the way he would like to look at the world. He analyzes the methods of theology by comparing them with the methods of science. He finds considerable similarity, particularly in the comparison of the interpretation of religious experience and the interpretation of scientific data to produce theologies or scientific theories. The element of personal commitment, he holds, is a difference in emphasis rather than an absolute dichotomy. God's revelation in history is unique and different from ' the materials science works with, but it too is interpreted by men in ways that are not completely different from the ways men interpret scientific data. Barbour acknowledges the contribution of linguistic analysis in delineating the realms of religion and science, but he feels the similarities in method mean that these realms cannot be split as completely as they have been by recent philosophers and theologians.

In the third section of the book, he looks at the relation of science and theology in three crucial areas: 1) physics and indeterminacy, 2) the origin and basis of life and the meaning of the mind, and 3) evolution and creation. In each area he explains the scientific experiments and theories that brought the problem to the surface; he summarizes the present state of the controversy; he proposes some solution; finally he makes applications from the problem to his view of the world in general. His expositions of the problems are complete and understandable, particularly in his own area of physics. The reader may, however, feel a bit perturbed as the author presents one or another particularly attractive possible solution but then arbitrarily discards it in favor of some different way out of the problem.

In his final chapter, "God and Nature", Barbour divides the views of the relationship of God and the world into three groups: The classical views (God as omnipotent ruler), the existentialist and linguistic views (God who works only on a personal level), and the process views (God as an influence on the process of the universe). Working in the methodical way which characterizes this book, Barbour presents the views as culled from a few (he hopes representative) authors who hold each position, and he points out the strengths and weaknesses of each. In a concluding section, he plugs the holes that he sees in process philosophy with material from the other two views, and he presents the result to the reader as a way of looking at God in nature that will hold water.

A large part of Issues is summary and discussion of various viewpoints on the broad range of topics the book covers. Each summary is well documented by reference to the works of men holding each position, but the choice of positions to summarize and men to refer to is open to question. For instance, in the section of evolution and creation he ignores the recent contributions in fields like population genetics and outlines the theories of evolution working from sources ten years old and more. As another example, in his examination of classical views of nature and God, he somewhat arbitrarily divides these classical views into Barth, Neo-Thomism, and William Pollard, thus leaving out more than he includes. This detracts from the effectiveness of his criticisms, since a number of seemingly tenable positions not falling under his criticisms are not mentioned. This is perhaps excusable, considering the breadth of the material he is trying to cover, but it does leave the evangelical wondering where his position might fit into Barbour's scheme, and what criticisms Barbour might have of it.

Considering only those views he does choose to cover, the book is quite helpful as an outline and summary of some of the problems in the area of science and theology, and the history of these controversies. With his careful style of summarizing what he is about to say, saying it by dividing it into short sections, then once again summarizing what he has said, drawing conclusions, and fitting the whole topic into place, Barbour makes all the concessions he can to the reader. The book is an excellent introduction to certain selected issues in science and religion from certain selected viewpoints. Perhaps this is the most I can expect from this type of book.

Reviewed by Jay Cassel, Carleton College, Northfield, Minn.