Science in Christian Perspective
PSCF Book Reviews
for March 1965
Table of Contents
PHYSICIST AND CHRISTIAN-A DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE COMMUNITIES, by William G. Pollard; Greenwich, Conn.: Seabury Press, 1961. xiii, 178 pp., $1.65 paperback.
All knowledge comes through community-this is the theme that runs through Dr. Pollard's book. As a well-respected member of two communities, physics and Christianity, he relates how his insights in these two areas have developed. He is both a Ph.D. physicist, acting as executive director of the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies, and an ordained priest in the Protestant Episcopal Church. In an earlier book, Chance and Providence, he gives his views on God's action in a world governed by scientific law.
In the first part of Physicist and Christian, the primary focus is on the nature of community and its function in physics and Christianity. The latter part deals with the relationship of community to acquiring knowledge within both of these fields.
If one's conception of physics is solely that of classified subject matter, then one will find disturbing the suggestion that "physics is what physicists do"; but from the perspective of physics being a community of disciplined, imaginative human beings working together, this idea has profound implications. For example, the author writes that he became a physicist by grace not by works or knowledge in a way completely analogous to the way one becomes a Christian.
He deals with several incorrect or irrelevant contrasts commonly found in comparisons of science and religion: facts vs. faith, public vs. private knowledge, impersonal vs. personal knowledge. Faith is just as essential an element of science as of Christianity; there is personal, passionate participation in knowing in science as well as in Christianity; science has its orthodoxies, heresies, creeds, and beliefs; science exercises its authority and discipline over members of its community.
In his discussion of science and Christianity as communities, he uses several viewpoints found in the book, The Little Community, by anthropologist Robert Redfield. These ways of studying community include examination of social structure, a typical biography of a community member, the type of person produced by the community, the world view or outlook on life held by its members, its history, and the community within various communities. Untouched by this approach are important areas of content and subject matter: also serious questions about verification, revelation, nature and supernature require attention. But their treatment is always affected by the community within which such insights and understandings have been acquired. Thus the author defends his prior emphasis on community.
After a discussion of the reality of spirit and the reality of the supernatural, Dr. Pollard concludes that the "contingency of nature implies that which is transcendent to nature-namely the existence and reality of supernature" and that our experience of reality is both conceptual and non-conceptual. He cautions that science does not lead us to a knowledge of God or even to the recognition of his existence. "We are absolutely dependent for our knowledge of God on his initiative in revealing himself to us through Israel and Christ."He concludes his book with chapters on knowledge and the problem of revelation. He adapts Margenau's perception plane-concept field diagrams to depict his views of three kinds of knowledge: conceptual knowledge from experience, non-conceptual knowledge from experience, and knowledge from encounter.
He compares knowing truth in physics and Christianity in dealing with the problems of revealed knowledge and the authority of the Bible. The difficulty again is the common assumption that scientific truth alone is capable of verification. "It is not possible for anyone but a physicist to really know the truth of physics; everyone else has to take it on faith. Equally so it is not possible for anyone but a fully involved and committed Christian to really know~ the truth of Christianity."
Some readers will welcome and others will shrink from the statement: "One small portion of the Bible which has received attention out of all proportion to its length as a result of theories of verbal and propositional revelation is the creation story of Genesis . . . Our task today, if we would be true to the spirit and method of the Bible itself, is not to attempt to make fifth-century B.C. Babylonian cosmology conform with twentieth-century A.D. science but rather to illuminate our scientific view of the world in the same way that the Biblical authors illuminated theirs."
Just as no man is an island, so no community of men is an island. This book should help one in the understanding of the nature and mission of the community to which he belongs. It should stimulate one to explore better ways to communicate the Good News to men now separated by the boundary lines of other communities.
Donald D. Starr, Professor of Chemistry and Dean of
Eastern Nazarene College, Wollaston Park, Quincy,
Some of the ideas expressed In Physicist and Christian were also expressed by Dr. Pollard in his article "Science As a Community" published in this Journal 15(2):38, 1963 (June). (K.K.)