Science in Christian Perspective

Book Reviews


JASA Book Reviews for March 1975

Table of Contents
Theology of Evolution by Ervin Nemesszeghy S. J. and John Russell S. J., Notre Dame: Fides Publishers Inc., 1971. 96 pp. $0.95.
SCIENCE AND CREATION by Stanley L. Jaki. Science History Publications, 156 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010 (1974). 360 pages. $15.00.

Theology of Evolution by Ervin Nemesszeghy S. J. and John Russell S. J., Notre Dame: Fides Publishers Inc., 1971. 96 pp. $0.95.

The Catholic press during the last three or four years has printed over forty paperbacks in the Theology Todav Series which sell for 95c each. The above book is # 6 in this series. All have evident1v been ,written to help the increasing number of laymen who are manifesting a genuine interest in the beliefs of their church to come to grips with what leading scholars and theologians consider to be a workable and wide-ranging theology for the last half of the twentieth century.

Nemesszeghy and Russell are Britishers, who at the time of the publication of their Theology of Evolution were lecturers at Heythrop College, London. Both have numerous articles appearing in scholarly journals in Britain. One of the first things apparent as one glances through this little book is the influence of Teilhard de Chardin ( 1881-1955 ) on their thinking. The last chapter deals almost entirely with the evolutionary vision of Teilhard.

In their introduction the authors point out that they desire to steer clear of any head-on-clash-view of science and religion. In the first chapter evolution is considered as an accepted scientific theory. The theories of natural selection and micro- and macro-evolution are discussed, and in the concluding paragraph (p. 26) it is stated,

So long as the theory of evolution is the only available natural explanation of the biological history of the
world, it will continue to be accepted as a matter of course, both by Catholic and non-Catholic biologists.

The second chapter contains a discussion of theological problems which come naturally from any literal interpretation of the Scriptures that the Church has usuallv held. A brief historical sumnary of the pertinent orthodox beliefs of the church from the Pelagrian Controversy in 418 A.D. to the year 1950 when Pius XII published his encyclical, Hionani Gencris, is presented in the first few pages of the chapter. For the authors, the encyclical leaves the doctrine of evolution an open question as long as it confines itself to speculation about the development of the human body from other living matter already in existence, but the y realize that the encyclical does not allow any speculation concerning the spiritual origin and nature of man and original sin (p. 47ff).

In chapter three the authors begin in earnest to justify what they personallv, and other Catholic writers with them, consider to he a more reasonable approach to the interpretation of tile Scriptures. This is an approach which would have somehow to reason around the doctrines of original sin and the creation of the soul that the Church has held for centuries; for if evolution is accepted, a new theological understanding of these two basic dogmas is called for. To do this they summarize the writings of other churchmen:

Adam is not an individual who lived on earth at remote period of history but the concrete, individual representation of every man. He is, therefore, not a historical figure in the sense in which, for example, Napoleon is; nor is he a figure of pure imagination for what he represents is realized historically in every human being. Adam's sin is the concrete, symbolic representation of every human sin. . . . In its origin it is a sinful personal act carrying with it personal guilt and remorse; in its consequences it brings about a sinful situation, a state of separation from God, and leads man to sin personally, and so to make Adam's sin his own. Once it is fully apppreciated that the docrine of Original Sin speaks primarily of the present situation of man, it will become of secondarv importance h ow this sin is 'inherited' or 'transmitted (p. 54, italics theirs. )

They thus consider the traditional concept of 'biological transmission' as being inadequate, and that:

It seems more helpful to ground the 'inheritance' of original sin in the social character of man's life and that of his sins. The individual man in his whole biological psychological roake-up is to a great extent produced by the human society in which he lives. He is born into a situation where sin and evil are a sad realitN and prior to his own choice. He 'inherits' a sinful situation simply by being a member of the human family. . . . He is utterly powerless in face of the iness of mankind's sins and cannot remain unaffected. Thus, God's grace in Christ for him is not a special free gift, a privilege, but a saving power, a redemption (p. 54ff).

To seek scriptural and scientific justification for the above views, they point out that science assunies a polygenetic origin of mankind, and the ha-adam of Genesis 2 and 3 can readily be translated "inan," "all men," "any man," or even "human race" (p. 56). Further, there is cosmic evolution, and the Paradisal state of Adam does not vet exist; it is part of God's original plan and will that it be the final state. Man cannot fall from a Paradisal state lie does not yet possess, but lie can, by refusing God's will, frustrate his own Completion.

In objecting to the orthodox teaching of the Catholic Church that souls are immediately created by God, they turn to a book of Karl Rahner (Hominisation, Burns and Oates, 1965). Rahner objects to the traditional account on the grounds that it insinuates a Platonic conception of the soul-body relationship, and it also degrades God to the level of a secondary cause or makes soul-creation a miracle (p. 65). They then summarize Rahner's suggested theory of "becoming," in order to explain the creation of a soul:

Evolution implies a real 'becoming,' a 'self-transcendence': an agent is moving beyond and above its own limits, and produces something that is genuinely greater than itself. Hence evolution appears as a movement from a 'lower' form to a 'higher' one, from a 'less' to a more . But without God a finite being can never give itself it true increase of being. God however does not destroy the real self-trancendence of a finite being. He should never be conceived as a 'part cause.' He is the ground of the very possibility of every becoming. Any true development, any new being, is produced not partly by finite causes and partly by God, but wholly by the finite causes in virtue of tfe evolutionary dynamism God endows them with. For this reason God's creative activity is not an item in our experience; it is always mediated to us through finite things. . . . God is the transcendent and immediate ground of the whole evolutionary dynamism. The creative relation between God and man is different from the relation between God and brutes . . . because the two creatures are different and different in kind. . . . Thus, the creation of man, including his spiritual capacities, should not be regarded in itself as an exceptional, extraordinary or miraculous occurrence but an event which exemplifies in an eminent way all true becoming and selftranscendence (p. 65ff).

Nemesszeghy and Russell believe that Ralmer's suggestion is not only compatible with the Bible but even more so than the traditional view. Earlier it bad been hinted that the Church is slowly moving towards new interpretations which would be more compatible with the findings of science-after all, did not her theologians earlier work out a theology of redemption which embraced the Immaculate Conception (p. 63)?

In the last chapter, which deals with Teilbard, it is pointed out that this man has done more to help the world see that evolution can be understood in the context of Christian faith than has any other individual. For him the entire universe is oriented around Christ, not through redemption only but through creation as well, and even within the natural order its completion is to be found in him. The historical process is, for Teilhard, a vast phenomenon of Christification. First came biogenesis, then noogenesis, with the cosmic eventualizing process culminating finally in Christogenesis. "The whole of creation is, and was from the first moment, oriented towards that participation in the divine nature which Christ brings to the human race." (p. 87).

In the last paragraph of this paperback, the authors admit that Teilhard's synthesis has its defects, for its terminology is often obscure and unsatisfactory; it tends to overemphasize certain aspects of the picture; and the final conclusions are given an air of inevitability which may not be justified. But they feel that when all legitimate criticism is in, his vision of the universe as a unity in which all things are oriented toward the final consummation in the Mystical Body of Christ is both reasonable and important.

In this work Nemesszeghy and Russell have given some logical reasons for hoping to see the Catholic Church change some of its orthodox theology so that a theology of evolution could be incorporated within the doctrines of the Church. Evangelicals would do well to read the entire book, and at the same time if they wish to strengthen their own orthodox beliefs regarding, creation, monogenism and the results of the fall, they can go to at least two recent books by Francis A. Schaeffer-Pollution and the Death of Man, 1970; and Genesis in Space and Time, 1972.

No doubt this book could have value for individuals in the scientific community who are theistic and seeking for a world-view which embraces evolution. Enough Scripture is quoted to spark a scientific interest in the Bible for further information. It might also cause a thinking individual to want to read from the writings of Teilhard, where he could find some spiritual food in The Divine Milieu, 1960, and in numerous collections of his letters. Yet to the reviewer, after reading Sir Julian Huxley's long introduction to Teilhard's Phenomenon of Man, 1959, it is evident that it is easy for the scientist to see what he wants to see and to miss entirely the emphases on the things of the spirit. He highly values Teilhard's friendship and considers him to have been a great man and that his ideas regarding evolution coincide in many respects with his own; yet he states that he finds it impossible to follow Teilhard "all the way in his gallant attempt to reconcile the supernatural elements in Christianity with the facts and implications of evolution" (Phenomenon, p. 19).

Reviewed by Henry H. Howell, Department of Biology, Asbury College.

SCIENCE AND CREATION by Stanley L. Jaki. Science History Publications, 156 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010 (1974). 360 pages. $15.00.

Why did science suffer a stillbirth in so many thriving cultures which had developed some of the mathematical tools and experimental techniques necessary for an ongoing and systematic investigation of nature which is the essence of science? Why did science start and become a self-sustaining enterprise only in Western European culture at the end of the so called "Dark Ages?" These are the questions that Dr. Jaki addresses himself to in this new and stimulating book.

Before going any further, it should be stressed that Jaki is primarily concerned with the birth of science and not technology, for many ancient cultures had developed thriving technologies. Technology concerns itself with invention and utilization of devices that serve some material, economic advantage. By science is meant the seeking of greater understanding of physical reality by utilizing systematically both quantitative observation and experimental manipulation of natural phenomena coupled with systematic mathematical analysis and theory formulation. Science is primarily concerned with the discovering of those regularities and relationships that are intrinsic to a variety of natural phenomena; basic science seeks to discover those recurring patterns and relationships that are truly universal in scope.

Jaki is concerned with the question of why science as defined above was born and grew to a self-sustaining enterprise only in one culture, that of Western Europe. Jaki argues that religious presuppositions deep1v embedded in the fabric of many cultures prevented the healthy birth of science after promising starts had been made. He starts by giving a detailed analysis of the ancient Hindu, Chinese, Mayan, Egyptian, BabyIonian, and Greek cultures. All of these cultures, especially the Greek, could boast of a valuable start in science. Yet in all of them science suffered a stillbirth; it did not become a self-sustained enterprise. A detailed chapter is devoted to the lack of development of science as a vital enterprise in each of these cultures; the book must be read in order to appreciate the careful documentation of the effect of a particular (p. 156) Only by seeking the truth and committing culture's basic presuppositions (or world view) on ourselves to this goal can we be truly free. Jesus also beginning efforts to study nature scientifically: continued the Old Testament teaching of creation:

Great cultures, where the scientific enterprise comes to a standstill, invariably failed to formulate the notion of physical law, or the law of nature. Theirs was a theology with no belief in a personal, rational, absolutely transcendent Lawgiver, or Creator. Their cosmology reflected a pantheistic and animistic view of nature caught in the treadmill of perennial, inexorable returns. (P. viii)

These ancient cultures, often tacitly, thought of nature and God (or the Gods) as one, in many ways like a huge world organism which by its very nature is capricious, governed by whim. Such a view of reality which was further thought of as repeating itself in endless cycles gave insufficient motivation to explore and change reality for the better. Such world views did not provide "in sufficient measure, confidence in the rationality of the universe, trust in progress, and appreciation of the quantitative method, all indispensable ingredients of the scientific quest." (p. viii)

Why did science undergo a successful birth and grow to maturity in Western Europe beginning in the late 1200's? The Medieval World's whole culture was permeated by a set of presuppositions arising from Hebrew and Christian convictions. The early Hebrews and Christians were not directly interested in scientific endeavors. A major portion of their time ,vas spent on surviving, amid antagonistic, much stronger pagan cultures; they did not have the time to develop scientific inquiry into nature, but they left a legacy to the Medieval World that eventually resulted in the birth of science. That legacy is present in both Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament resounds again and again with:

. . . the natural echo of the theme which sets the tone of the first pages of the Bible about the ultimate cbaracteristics of external nature; It is good. The exclusion of an evil principle of equal rank with God entails in turn that the biblical world view has no room for a concept of nature in which capricious, dark forces dominate. Again, within the context of the Covenant, the world is not an all-encompassing entity containing the source of all life, human and divine, and unfolding that life through inexorable, blind cycles. The world, being the handiwork of a supremely reasonable Person, is endowed with lawfulness and purpose. These are the direct result of the never failing and benevolent surveillance by Yabweh over the entire world. The regular return of seasons, the unfailing course of stars, the music of the spheres, the movement of the forces of nature according to fixed ordinances are all the results of the One who alone can be trusted unconditionally. Thus, the prophet Jeremiah praises the faithful recurrence of harvests as the sign of God's goodness. Moreover, he establishes a remarkable parallel between Yahweh's unfailing love and the eternal ordinances by which Yahweh sets the course of stars and tides of the sea. (p. 150)

Jesus's teachings reaffirmed the message of the Old Testament on God's creative activity. He clearly pointed out that truth must be looked for in an honest, open fashion. This attitude is essential for science, "For it is the very soul of science to call a fact a fact in all truth and honesty. Such an attitude cannot emerge in the relatively narrow field of scientific pursuit if parodies of facts, norms, and values are taken for genuine along much of the gamut of human experience."

The principal aim of the Master from Nazareth consisted in bringing out the basic feature, love, in the image of Father and Maker of all. If what he said about the love of God and neighbor was already extraordinary, no less astonishing was the effectiveness of his words and his matchless remarks concerning creation. He kept his own life in utter compliance with the Father's will. That will, to recall some of his inimitable remarks, governs the whole of creation, keeps clothing the lilies of the field, prevents sparrows from falling to the ground haphazard, and instituted the human race, as man and female, from the creation. Deep-seated consciousness of the unique importance of the creation sets the tone of one of his few recorded utterances of prayer that starts with the exclamation; 'I bless you, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth!' (p. 156)

The theme that the reasonability of the Creator is coupled to the constancy of nature provides a background from which one can think of the autonomy of nature and its laws. It took centuries, however, of crises facing believers in one God, Hebrew and Christian, in order to show the enduring vitality of the biblical heritage of the Creator. Once the vitality of the trustworthiness of the biblical heritage becomes embedded in the mind set of an entire high, medieval culture it became possible for scientific exploration of the world to begin and become self-sustaining.

There was one other culture, besides the HebrewChristian culture, that had access to many crucial biblical presuppositions; that was the Arabic, Muslim culture. At the same time that the Medieval, Western European world was acquiring knowledge of the science of antiquity through contact with Arabic culture, the Arabic world was studying these same documents and making attempts to explore nature. Arabs made many original contributions to mathematics and to medical science; yet their efforts to improve and build from the rudimentary science of the ancients never blossomed forth into an ongoing scientific examination of the world. Why? Jaki provides detailed documentation that their Muslim religious faith emphasized a transcendent creator of all reality, but greatly overemphasized the essentially unknowable will of God as creating and holding in moment-to-moment being of all nature. The Arabs, in turn, deemphasized the essential biblical teaching that an intrinsic part of God's nature as loving Father is rationality and trustworthiness. Such a set of religious presuppositions provided no sustained motivation to look for rational laws undergirding physical phenomena and science eventually came to a standstill among the Arabs despite many worthy accomplishments. The conflict between consistent laws of nature and the willfulness of Allah was ultimately resolved in Arabian culture by the former being sacrificed for the latter; thereby, science suffered a stillbirth in Arabian culture.

In the latter half of the book Jaki traces the beginnings and developments of science from the socalled "Dark Ages" to the present day. There were many false starts and much overreliance on Aristotle's faulty physics, but men slowly began to see that Sys tematic observation and experimentation were necessary in order to understand nature.

Jaki traces this change of outlook to three biblical presuppositions that kept asserting themselves in late and Renaissance medieval culture. First was the affirmation that men were made in the image of a rational God who created and continually holds in being all physical reality. In those times men believed that:

. . . nature was the work and a faithful symbol of a most reasonable Supreme Being. Therefore, nature, in analogy to her maker, could only be steady and permeated by the same law and reason everywhere. From permanence and universality of the world order followed, for instance, that the same laws of motion were postulated for the earth and the celestial bodies. It also followed that regularly occurring phenomena, such as tides, baffling as they might appear, should not be assigned a miraculous cause. The most important consequence of the permanence and universality of the world order anchored in the Christian notion of the Creator was the ability of the human mind to investigate that order. Such was an inevitable consequence if both nature and the human mind were products of one and the same Creator. . . (p. 278)

Second was the affirmation that man was given the universe to subdue and maintain as God's steward. Man was commanded to gain dominion over all physical reality. Certainly experimentation was a reasonable way to gain dominion by first seeking to understand physical processes.

Third was the affirmation that the universe is a created universe; it is contingent in every respect of its existence on the creative act of God. Many ancient cultures including the Arabs thought of the universe as necessary, not contingent. If it were necessary, a priori reasoning could perhaps determine the basic nature of physical reality. If, however, physical reality is contingent, then the only way that man could seek to understand it is by observation and experiment.

The men, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, who today's science textbooks state first studied motion (on earth and in space), thereby starting modern science, were an unusual group. They relied on the insights into motion of their medieval successors such as Buridan, often not acknowledging their indebtedness to this earlier work. (Jaki clearly documents the first steps that were made toward an experimental study of motion, divorced of many of Aristotle's tenets. These steps were made, in the so-called "Dark Ages" by men with Christian mindsets that made them open to attempt experiments and consider concepts other than those of the ancients.) They often did not even acknowledge work by others of their own time. Both Kepler and Galileo saw nothing inconsistent in casting horoscopes for kings and patrons while pursuing serious scientific study of motion on earth and in space. Yet these early founders of modern science had a firm conviction that the universe was structured rationally and that structure could be determined by observation, experiment, and mathematical description. Copernicus was typical as Jaki points out:

The simplest ordering of the planets according to Copernicus was 'the sure scheme for the movements of the machinery of the world.' This had to be as the machinery in question 'has been built for us by the Best and most Orderly Workman of all.' (p. 260)

Jaki presents the Renaissance as an attempt to deviate from the linear world view implied in the belief of creation to the pagan idea of eternal recurrences. Such efforts stifled science's growth in all pagan cultures in Greek and Arabian efforts toward scientific understanding. Jaki also shows in confirmation of this thesis that the anti-scientific trends of the 19th century, largely derived from German idealism, instinctively went back to the pagan notion of eternal returns.

Jaki then traces the growth of modern science, with particular emphasis on cosmological questions, to the
present day. This reviewer has attempted to give the reader a brief introduction to some of the major themes in the book. The book must be read in its entirety to appreciate the wealth of detail it contains on both pre-scientific cultures and Western culture where science has grown to maturity. It is an exciting and stimulating book. It should be read by all Christians and non-Christians who have scientific interests and want to see how religious convictions have had a healthy impact on world history by aiding in the birth and growth of modern science.

Modern scientists of our age have been looked upon as "religious" prophets by a large percentage of the lay public. Yet the scientific community has become increasingly appalled as they observe the knowledge gained of nature in nuclear physics and in biology being used to create weapons of mass-destruction and techniques to manipulate and alter the human personality. Some sincere young people (and some elders) have turned away from science as a profession, seeing it as lacking in emotional, moral, or religious content. These people could benefit much from reading Science and Creation concerning a the true nature of science as a human activity with its own peculiar strengths and limitations. Indeed the history contained therein as to how science gave birth and grew in only one culture should clearly indicate to all sincere persons how science is intiminantly linked to human presuppositions embedded deeply in the fabric of a particular cultural climate. As Jaki points out. today there is a: 

. . . steadily growing realization that the man of science, no less than his counterpart in religion, lives ultimately by faith. With the mirage of positivism now being unmasked, it is easier to recognize that the scientific enterprise rests on a conviction which pre-supposes far more on man's part than the mere juxtaposition and correlation of the data observation. The conviction in question is nothing short of a faith which, like religious faith, consists in the readiness of going beyond the immediately obvious. The step is not a glib connection about a deeper layer. It is rather a recognition of the indispensible need of such a layer if the scientific enterprise is to make any lasting sense. It is in that deeper layer that notions like the intelligibility, simplicity, and lawfulness of nature are taking on a meaning which demands absolute, unconditional respect and acceptance. It is that deeper meaning which science must command if its laws should be considered not merely lesser manipulations of terminology and data, but a concrete encounter with the real structure of nature.

That real structure is not an a priori construct. Efforts, ancient and recent, aimed at deriving the shape and structure of the cosmos from preconceived considerations have one thing in common: their miserable failure. The universe is an entity which is given, in the most ontological sense of this word. This feature of the universe . . . is again imposing itself on the enquiring mind with elemental force due to the rather recent but inevitable acceptance of the finiteness of world in matter and space. There will, of course, be many who keep trying to show up their Spinozean pantheism and immanentism by desperately claiming infinity for the universe along the perimeter of time. Neither science nor scientific history will be their ready allies . . . science owes its only viable birth to a faith, according to which the world is a created entity, that is contingent in every respect of its existence on the creative act of God, that its existence has an absolute origin in time, majestically called 'in the beginning' . . . The presence and past of scientific history tell the very same lesson. It is the indispensibility of a firm faith in the only lasting source of rationality and confidence, the Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. (pp. 356, 357)

Dr. Jaki is to be highly commended for his sensitivity, graciousness and fairness in analyzing the religious presuppositions of cultures other than the Judaic- Christian culture of the Western world. His book is a most original synthesis carefully documented in every detail. Science and religion are seen as allies in a new, broader perspective.

Reviewed by W. Jim Neidhardt, Dept. of Physics, Newark College of Engineering, Newark, N.J. 07102