Science in Christian Perspective



JASA Book Reviews for March 1956

Table of Contents
CHRISTIAN FAITH AND NATURAL SCIENCE by Karl Heim, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1953
CONVERSATION WITH THE EARTH by Hans Cloos. Translated from the German by E. B. Garside. A. A. Knopf 1953

CHRISTIAN FAITH AND NATURAL SCIENCE by Karl Heim, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1953

This book is not a popular treatise on the subject, but a rather heavy metaphysical treatment demanding real concentration by the reader. Many American scientists will find that it requires more knowledge of philosophy to follow Heim closely than is usually afforded in the curriculum of a science major in American Universities.

Professor Karl Heim, of Tubingen, is well acquainted with science, but his approach is almost entirely ~hilosophical. He does not explicitly define "Christian faith" or "natural science". His theological presuppositions are fairly clear, however, since his approach is that of existential philosophy. His attitude toward the New Testament is interesting, He refers to it as a "profoundly significant document" (p. 119). Later he says, "If, then, we wish to assign the New Testament to its proper place in the line of development which leads from the primitive phase of human thought to the present day, we must say that it is already beyond the initial stage of human thinking" (p. 120).

Heim's book is divided into three parts: I Introduction; II The Ego and the World; III God, the Ego, and the World. His introduction is a masterpiece of analysis of the contemporary tension between secularism and theism. We can applaud Heim when he says that our age is not characterized by a questioning atheism, but by a serene secularism. "We are living in a time when in all civilized countries the tide of secularism is slowly but continually rising.... Amid this rising flood of secularism there floats the ark of the church. The church is like a ship on whose deck festivities are still kept up and glorious music is heard, while deep below the water-line a leak has been sprung and masses of water are pouring in, so that the vessel is settling hourly lower though the pumps are manned day and night" (p. 24).

Heim considers the following questions raised by the secularist:

(1) Is it not illusory to think that the power which moves the galaxies cares about us?
(2) Are not consciousness of guilt and inward peace mere conditions of the brain?
(3) Is any philosophy other than secularism possible for the modern scientist ?
(4) In view of the modern world-picture, is it still possible to believe in a God who works miracles and grants prayers ?

Heim then asks, "How are we to face these questions?' His answer: "We do not start out from the conclusions of natural science, but begin by constructing a philosophical basis" (p. 33).

Heim points out that "we need a firm basis which will render us independent of momentary currents of scientific opinion . . . some position which is entirely beyond the range of the scientific method . . . a position which does not have to be defended against scientific objections" (p. 32).

The author proceeds to build his philosophical structure on two realities: (1) the Ego, and (2) God. The Ego must be presupposed if there is to be any science in the first place. The existence of God may be denied, but the question whether God exists or not is not amenable to the scientific method (p. 33). For Heim, however, it seems that if the Ego is admitted, then inevitably God must be admitted also.

The purpose and plan of Heim's book is stated on page 34: "to demonstrate . . . that not only the ego, but also the reality of the personal God in fact belong to a dimension which is different from those of everything which is accessible to scientific investigation."

In parts 11 and III Heim borrows freely from the existentialists Heidegger and Jaspers. He dwells extensively on the meaning of the "I" and the "'Thou" as discussed by various existentialists. He defines "non-objective space" as that in which the "I" and the 'Thou' encounter one another. From this he traces the history of the preparation for discovery of this "second space", which must be distinguished from the "objective space" of science as revealed by telescope and microscope.

The crux of Heim's book has to do with the concepts of various spaces. He argues that philosophy has at last come to realize the existence of a "supra-polar space, which has wrought a revolution in modem thought". This supra-polar space, Heim tells us, is the "space in which God is present for us" (p. 163).

The contemporary tension between natural sciences and philosophy is due to the fact that the concept of space accepted in physics conflicts with the theory of space at the foundation of the Kantian system. Kant says that space is from "intuition a priori, whereas modern physics says that the concept is from "outward experiences". Heim inquires, "how can a new space manifest itself ? There is only one possible way. In the second space something is possible which, in the first space, was contradictory. There are spaces which, although we cannot conceive them intuitively, still possess structures which can be adequately expressed in algebraic terms."

The reviewer was particularly impressed with Heim's treatment of "Relativism and Positivism". He asserts that so long as we are confined to polar (objective) space, we must accept either positivism (sovereign decisions of human legislators), or relativism (all values are the product of historical development) (p. 186). The escape from this dilemma is possible only by granting a supra-polar space. A synthesis of relativism and positivism is declared to be realized in "Christ the preeminent'.

In the two final chapters Heim comes to grips with this question: "Is supra-polar space a fact or an illusion?" If it is a fact, then there are four inescapable consequences:

(1) There is a personal God
(2) Each of us receives his personal existence directly from God
There is a sanction for our actions
(4) There must be a plan derived from a Universal Mind

If, on the other hand, it is an illusion, then there are four contrary conclusions:

(1) There is no personal God; only impersonal fate
(2) Personal existence is a meaningless coincidence
(3) There is no sanction for our activity
(4) The whole process of nature is a meaningless interplay of forces.

Secularism, Heim asserts, to be consistent, must necessarily attack the belief in suprapolar space as being purely illusory.

Heim never quite gets to a discussion of revelation and redemption in Christ as a means of arriving at certainty about God. The revelation of God in Christ is not as clearly delineated as an evangelical Christian would desire. He does approach this, however, in the last chapter, when he inquires ". . . how the space of eternity . . . can become certainty for us, if it can be reached neither by . . . observation . . . or inference from ... facts. . . . There is only one answer ... there must first have taken place in the depths of our existence a transformation which is not within our control" p. 241). For Heim, the "encounter" with God brings this trans formation.

The reviewer has great admiration for Heim's masterful handling of the problem at hand. He has brought it into sharp focus. A careful reading of the book will be stimulating and rewarding. It is seriously to be questioned, however, if the author has succeeded in his purpose. Will a "serene secularist", after reading this book, agree that there is a reality beyond the pale of scientific investigation? Only time will tell. We can agree with Heim that knowledge of God comes only by a "second birth" p. 248).

Reviewed by
0. Carroll Karkalits

CONVERSATION WITH THE EARTH by Hans Cloos. Translated from the German by E. B. Garside. A. A. Knopf 1953

The head of the Geology Department at Bonn, a real lover of nature, takes the reader with him in his investigations of distant lands. It is pleasant to follow, with hammer and knapsack, through the Black Forest, the veldt of the Transvaal, and Bright Angel Trail of the Grand Canyon.

The book is more than a travelogue, however, for successful geological work is reported. For instance he mentions Johannes Warmer, who "showed the Hollanders where to find petroleum on their so richly endowed islands of Sumatra, Borneo, and Celebes. He grew wealthy doing this, but, being an altruist, he used his money for the promotion of pure science. He explored, sought, and found, and brought back with him a small shipload of fossils. Now, this heart being already a little wearied, he divides his time between the beautiful and the utilitarian branches of his profession. Besides splendid sculptures of the fat buds and blooming cups of sea lilies from distant Timor, he produces exhaustive maps and tables; acts as consultant on the conditions of soil and water, of stone and ore-the kind of information a practical man must have if he intends to deal profitably with the earth." p. 348

Another successful feat, this one by the author himself, was the interpretation of the Rhine Valley. The Rhine River flows through a trough (graben) formed between two parallel faults. Was the land on either side of the trough pulled away, allowing this slice to sink, or were the two sides pushed together, forcing them to rise higher than the trough? Of course the fault lines at the surface were covered with talus and vegetation which locked their secret. But when, fortunately, a railroad tunnel was bored through the mountain, it cut through the fault plane. Cloos could see, from the angle of the fault and the lines formed by one side sliding upon the other, that the first theory was correct. The sides of the valley had been pulled apart, allowing a V-shaped strip of land to sink and so form a trough.

These two examples are types of the service which geology has rendered. Local problems have been solved, many of which are economic in nature. just as one should expect, the author frankly mentions formations which are yet to be interpreted, for instance gneiss near the gorge of the Hollental. (p. 317)

But it may surprise the reader to learn that even some basic principles of earth science are not settled. The author gives lip service to popular geology, based upon evolution, but does not add to the proof, and on the other hand, states his misgivings. Spending 56 hours at the Grand Canyon, "All this while I was asking questions of myself and probing, but getting no answers. Constantly I was being astonished and overwhelmed." p. 235. We should expect this trained geologist, at this deepest rift through the sedimentary rocks, to say how clearly it provided the doctrine of uniformity, and orderly succession of periods. But he admits, "An attempt to compare the strata of the Colorado Valley with the corresponding ones in California was unsuccessful. The strata of the Coastal Ranges are much thicker, much more marine than continental, and much more complete. There are hardly any gaps. They have been intensely folded, in addition, and altered by the folding process." p.239 Again, "I have often wondered elsewhere whether the huge masses of rock missing from valleys have simply been carried away by surface agencies, or whether stronger subterranean forces were needed to excavate the enormous hollows. These parts of the landscape may have subsided, after which surface agencies merely completed what has been prepared by underground forces," p. 240. If a river does not make its valley but only finds and finishes it, we can not determine time by its erosion. This suggestion of the author does not support uniformitarianism but rather the cataclysmic doctrine of Cuvier.

A gem of reasoning is the following paragraph based upon ice. "How fortunate that ice still exists for comparison! Where would we be if by chance there were no more ice on the continents or at the poles; perhaps no glaciers, nor even the tiniest ice pocket in the remotest corner of the highest or most northern mountain ranges? That is, if the earth's climate today were such that no water would ever be found anywhere in, the solid state? Could we then visualize the geological effects of ice? Would any human brain have the intricate notion that water can crystallize and form large cohesive masses which flow through valleys, overrun plains, climb over hills and mountains, and permanently alter the face of the earth? And if someone had thought of it, would such a humorous hypothesis ever have been taken seriously? And finally, are we not today in the same serious situation with respect to other terrestrial phenomena, a situation in which, accidentally, no events take place now which can be compared to the geological events of the past? May not this be the reason for the difficulty in interpreting many geological events, and for the controversies these interpretations raise?" pp. 53, 54

While Cloos does not mention religion frequently, he does not hesitate to say that nature is a revelation of God. He looks upon creation as a continuing process, however, to which this reviewer does not agree.

The book is informative and interesting, and should be read thoughtfully.