Science in Christian Perspective



JASA Book Reviews For March 1959
Table of Contents
Essentials of Physical Science. John DeVries (Geological section by Donald C. Boardman). Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1958. 375 pp. $6.95.
Matter, Earth, and Sky.
George Gamow. PrenticeHall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1958. 593 pp. $6.95.
The Story of Life. H. E. L. Mellersh. G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1958.

Essentials of Physical Science. John DeVries (Geological section by Donald C. Boardman). Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1958. 375 pp. $6.95.

Matter, Earth, and Sky. George Gamow. PrenticeHall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1958. 593 pp. $6.95.

Reviewed by W. R. Hearn, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Iowa State CoZlege.

Here are two new textbooks for general science courses for the non-science major, with many things in common with other texts--coverage of physics, chemistry, and geology (astronomy also in Gamow's longer book), good illustrations, study questions, and considerable space devoted to up-to-date topics such as nuclear fission (and in Gamow's book, rockets and satellites as well). But these two books also have in common a feature which distinguishes them from most other texts-and curiously enough it is this feature which also sharply distinguishes them from each other. For it is the personal viewpoint of the author, in each case, which makes these books unusual.

You may wonder why a religious publishing house such as Eerdmans would publish a general science textbook. John DeVries, Professor of Chemistry at Calvin College and a member of A.S.A., in his Essentials of Physical Science has tried to place the emphasis "on the relation of the basic facts of science to our commitments as Christians." He has done this not only in a 40-page introduction on the philosophy and methodology of science, but also in comments scattered throughout the book pointing out the unity of phenomena as evidence of design in nature. The section on geology, written by Professor Donald Boardman of Wheaton College and also an A.S.A. member, is devoid of teleological commentary. Although little or no reference to biological phenomena is made in the text, evolution is briefly referred to disapprovingly in the introduction. Probably the major use of this text will be in Christian colleges in which a large proportion of the students will have a definite Christian commitment, and for this purpose I think Dr. DeVries has written a useful book. He has avoided the two extremes of either presenting bare science with a dab of Christianity tacked on at one end, or of molding scientific facts into a theological polemic, and has produced a serious-minded, philosopbically-oriented textbook.

Believing that "we can appreciate the present only in so far as we understand the past," DeVries has given the student a historical approach throughout; this approach is used effectively to present each topic in a logical framework, but for some reason does not seem to convey as much of the excitement of the scientific adventure as might be hoped for. Perhaps the author's serious purpose in writing has consciously or unconsciously caused him to place his emphasis on the logical at the expense of the romantic in the development of science. The value of this book. apart f rom its intrinsic worth as a science text, will be in its encouragement of Christian students to face the facts of science fearlessly and to deal with scientific theories intelligently in the context of a Biblically-based Christian philosophy. Men like John DeVries and Donald Boardman bring credit to the American Scientific Affiliation by publishing a work in such close harmony with the objects of the Affiliation.

George Gamow's book, Matter, Earth and Sky, gives one a completely different impression. Here you will find no philosophical arguments or even much his. torical background-instead you will see the buoyant personality of the author woven into every paragraph of the book. If you are a Gamow fan, as I am, you will be delighted. For Gamow, now Professor of Physics at the University of Colorado, thinks that science is terrific fun and it is obvious that he had fun writing this book. The science content is solid, and in fact seems to come at a faster pace than in DeVries ' book, making one wonder a bit whether an average undergraduate liberal arts student could keep up; but the style is light and thoroughly enjoyable. There is nothing at all stuffy about this book-photographs of famous 20th century scientists are liable to be snapshots of them riding a motorcycle or strumming a banjo! The illustrations, pictorial and verbal, are often whimsical (some taken from the author's Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland, for example), and there are a few outright jokes scattered here and there (The populace of Alexandria paid little attention to Archimedes shouting "Eureka"; undoubtedly they thought he bad found a missing cake of soap in his tub). A few serious-minded folk might object to these undignified goings-on in a science textbook, but what better way could there be to capture the imagination and enthusiasm of students? Science is fun; why not let our students know that we think so?

The Story of Life. H. E. L. Mellersh. G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1958. 263 pp. $3.95.

Reviewed by W. R. Hearn, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Iowa State College.

This book is a popular presentation of evolution written by a Britisher who is apparently a novelist rather than a biologist, and addressed, interestingly enough, to Christians. It is written in the hope "that it may help to heal the breach between the scientist and the theologian, or, to put it a little lower, that it may help to persuade the orthodox Christian-or even the Laodicean but professed Christian-that evolution is not something taboo." The author goes on to say, "Evolution is not worthy of taboo, it is important and it is interesting; and perhaps one day soon parents and guardians and other responsible people will not only find this out for themselves but insist that school teachers should have a little more courage and see that evolution is brought into the study of biology in schools from which as far as I can discover it is at present very largely excluded."

This book is much easier to read than a standard textbook (and also not so well illustrated) but still presents enough information to give an ordinary layman a satisfactory grasp of the major facts which evolutionary theory has been evoked to explain. Some A.S.A. members might disagree strongly with Mellersh's point of view, but he seems to be reasonably accurate and unusually fair in his presentation. He is never dogmatic nor guilty of overstating his case. An idea of his attitude can be obtained from this paragraph in the introduction:

"I hope, naturally, that people will care to open this book (the closed book of most of natural history). I hope even that people who still say ruggedly that they do not believe in evolution will open it. Organic evolution is not a provable fact; but as one biologist has said, with commendable restraint, it is a demonstrably likely proposition. Unfortunately not all biologists are restrained, nor for that matter are always their opponents. I have tried to keep a fair balance. If in any of these pages I have been rude to the Fundamentalist and the intuitive mystic, or rude to the more narrow, humourless or superior of the scientists-, I apologize in advance: at least I do not mean to be rude."

Recently a student asked me if I had a small tract stating the case for evolution; his pastor had announced that he intended to preach a series of sermons on evolution and had requested up-to-date information on both sides of the question. I thought such openmindedness was refreshing and regretted not having at hand what the student wanted. Now that I have discovered Mellersh's book, I think I would have recommended it to his pastor. It may be a bit long to call it a pro-evolution "tract", but it was written for the same purpose, with good will and with good sense.